‘It doesn’t matter how long it takes and how many times it takes to pass your driving test,’ that’s what I always say in my defence. Well I have to say that because, actually, it didn’t matter. I got there eventually. In fact, it took me 12 years and 7 tests and I’ve never looked back since. (Mainly because I’m afraid to see how many accidents I’ve caused). Seriously though, I’m glad I persevered because I’d be lost without my car.
Whenever people ask me about my driving tests they either laugh or feel sorry for me. I must admit I was getting to the end of my tether by my last test. My driving instructor was beginning to wonder if I was a lost cause and even stated that, ‘ driving isn’t for everyone.’
‘Flipping cheek!’ I thought. I was so determined to prove him, and anyone else who thought the same, that I could and, more importantly, would do it.
Looking back to 1992 when I first started on my journey, (so to speak) I don’t think I was really ready to be let loose on the highways of Devon. I guess that goes unsaid really. I did it half-heartedly I suppose. Mind you I was pregnant at the time so I had a good excuse. My first test was absolutely dreadful. My problem was I got so nervous that it took over my body. My legs were jumping and my mouth dried up. I think I stalled the car every time I came to traffic lights so it was inevitable I’d failed. Still it didn’t matter, not many people passed on their first attempt. My instructor told me to put it behind me and he put me in for my next text there and then.
It wasn’t long before I’d failed my next two tests although I almost passed my second test. The examiner said that he was quite enjoying the ride and I had perfected my turn in the road and parallel parking so much so that he was impressed. (Well he looked impressed or was it shocked? I’m not sure) My biggest problem on that day was that he had asked me to take the next turn on the right, so I indicated right, the only thing was that, even though the policeman on the bike behind me was flashing to me to move over into the filter lane, I stayed where I was. That proved that I hadn’t looked in my mirrors. It just so happened that the examiner knew that policeman too.
Oh dear! The same old nerves had got to me again, so much so that I couldn’t cope with anymore driving for a while. It also coincided with the birth of my daughter and she took up any spare time I had so it didn’t worry me too much.
I didn’t give driving much more thought for another 9-10 years. That was when my daughter was due to leave primary school and I wanted to make sure that I could drive her to her new one.
This was the time when everything I’d learned all those years previously had almost been forgotten. The only thing I did right was to put the key in the ignition and start the car. I have to add that I did say to the instructor that I’d sit in the passenger side until I felt able to drive again. He didn’t know how much of a ‘scaredy cat’ I was at that point but it didn’t take long before he could predict every excuse I would come up with, so as to prolong the moment of me driving again. Of course he told me to get in the driver’s seat and to stop putting it off. (Thinking back now, he must’ve been such a patient person to put up with me).
I can’t remember much about that first lesson apart from the fact that all he did was talk. He never stopped. It had nothing to do with driving,(well he did say some things like ‘turn right at the next roundabout’ etc), he could talk the hind legs off a donkey. (I nearly said ‘monkey’ which refers to my previous blog and my sayings; read it and you’ll see what I mean). Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, he’d talk about his family, the lottery results, the Royal Navy where he’s served many years, he was 70 years old when I started my lessons with him, and anything else that would pop into his head really. Some days I didn’t know if he wanted me to go straight on, turn left or right or even stop because he would be talking so much. How on earth I passed my test I’ll never know. My partner’s probably thinking the same thing now.
Having said that, passing my test wasn’t a ‘doddle’ as I’d thought it would be. He had said that I wouldn’t need many lessons to ‘get me up to scratch’ although I think he regretted saying that when he realised how wrong he was.
I have to say my manoeuvres were impressive, even if I do say so myself. I could parallel park, turn in the road and reverse around a corner like a pro. Unfortunately, at the time of my tests, a new challenge awaited me and it was reverse parking in a bay. ‘Why?’ I asked myself many times. ‘When would I need this skill?’ Well, try as I did, (and believe me I tried too may times to remember) I could not master this one tiny evolution. Even up to 5 minutes before my final test, I couldn’t achieve it. I wouldn’t let it put me off though because, even though I felt inadequate in B+Q car park on numerous occasions, I am not a quitter. I’d like to think that I’m one of those people who doesn’t give up too easily, I like to persevere. I always try my best and if it goes wrong then at least I had a go. There I’ve said it now!
At the time I’d restarted driving another new thing was brought in and that was the theory test with the hazard perception test thrown in. I’d wished I’d passed back in the 90s when I found out. Anyhow, again, I didn’t let it delay my learning. The instructor said I was ready, (sounded like a roast chicken) and he applied for me to take it. Now, I was better at revising than I’d imagined because after a couple of weeks looking at signs and stopping distances, I found myself knowing all the multiple choice answers for the test. In I went, shaking a bit, I sat at the first available computer and ‘clicked’ away. I only had to change one answer when I looked back through. Something about ‘which gear would you select when starting your car in snow?’ I selected 2nd and ‘hey presto’ 100%. That part of the test was fine, obviously. The same could not be said about the hazard perception side. I had to watch a video with ‘me’ apparently driving along and I had to click the mouse when I first noticed a hazard. If I clicked too soon or too often it wouldn’t have counted. The hazards could have been anything from noticing bins out which would suggest a bin lorry nearby, to a cyclist passing a junction. As the screen wasn’t a lifelike size, it took me a while to adjust and I missed many a hazard. Having said that, I still managed to get a score in the pass rate zone which, for me, was an achievement.
Now that I’d done that it was time for the next four tests. It didn’t seem like a lot but then with each one I’d thought ‘this time I’m going to do it’.
As I have waffled on so much, I will spare you too many details when I retell my tests. I’ll just mention things that are funny now but weren’t back then. Firstly though, I have to say nerves always got the better of me and nothing makes me as nervous as going into a waiting room full of novice drivers waiting for a name call. It was always the same when the examiners came into the room. We’d all look up to see who would be taking us and for everyone else it would be a smiling person who would offer to call the pupil by their first name so as to put them at ease. I expect you guessed that mine was not like that at all. I had the same one 3 times and each time he would call my name in that nasally way the man in the ‘tunes’ advert would use. Added to that he would use my full name and never once smile and say, ‘Would you like me to call you by your first name?’ Oh no not for me. I had to put up with in that irritating voice saying, ‘at the next roundabout I would like you to turn left, then immediate right followed by a somersault off the bridge. (He didn’t say that last bit) In fact, on two of his tests I’d only just left the test centre when I knew I had failed because he had to apply the brake when I rolled backwards. The trouble with me is , once I knew I had failed, I couldn’t stop saying, ‘I know I’ve failed so I might as well stop right now.’ The first time I said it he just told me to continue. That was fine but all the way around I kept thinking negatively and he knew it. Needless to say I was right. Self fulfilling prophecy, I think that’s what they call it. By the 3rd test and it was him again, I think he had learned something from me. He knew that when I told him that I’d known I’d failed he decided to listen to me when I said I wanted to end it there and then. It was strange pulling out of the test centre and pulling into the car park next door to let him out. It was also very funny seeing him climb through the hedge, which was a short cut back, with his clipboard and shaking his head. What was even funnier was seeing my instructor, lost for words, climbing back through the other side. Of course it wasn’t funny at the time.
Transit of Venus 8th June 2004. My final test.
The day had come when I had decided to give up. I had told my instructor that if I didn’t pass this time then that was it. He didn’t even try and talk me out of my decision. The poor old man was looking more like an eighty year old now after all my trying had gotten me nowhere. He did have a lot to put up with considering I had become so ‘dippy’. I hadn’t told anyone that I was having a driving test either because they would have known if I’d failed again and I couldn’t embarrass myself further.
On my way to the test centre I felt more relaxed which was odd considering where I was going. This time when that same examiner came out and he saw me sat there, I actually felt sorry for him. I knew I could do this, it was only for an hour of my time and I would know by the end of it. He still spoke with that same voice but I had got used to it now. It also helped that my test route was where I had lived so I knew the area. I got out of the centre without any help from him, which was a good start. He didn’t talk apart from give directions but I could tell that he was impressed when I had to reverse when I came face to face with a bus at a ‘give priority to oncoming traffic sign’. I don’t know what had come over me. I was doing it all on my own which lifted my spirits. At least if I didn’t pass I had managed to finish a test. To top it all, I successfully reverse parked in a bay in the narrowest gaps I’d ever tried to enter. Even though he had said to park in any way I’d preferred.
I cried with joy when he gave me my certificate. I think I even saw a hint of a smile from him. His last words were, ‘I can’t believe you’re the same person who’d kept asking if you’d failed 5 minutes into your test.’