Driving Lessons : Dark Days

Driving Lessons :  The #WickedWednesday prompt.  Hmm what can I say except that these were dark days for young Posy!

I am no great brain, yet I had always done quite well in class … but on the sports field, not so much.  It seems that I do something practical, physical the way I do it, and no amount of advice can help me correct bad technique.  I always assumed I had bad hand/eye coordination, and I’ve since found with things like aerobics, step, pilates, I have improved with regular practice.  My tennis, lacrosse, netball, 10 pin bowling do not get any better (or finessed) with practice, and I feared it would be the same when I learned to drive.

I started with high hopes, of course I did, but that first informal lesson, with my father in the family’s low-powered car, I couldn’t start the engine and flooded it with too much choke. We sat and waited for it to ‘recover’ but it didn’t bode well.  My dear old dad is not blessed with huge amounts of patience and I get panicky and tearful easily.  So after kangarooing horribly around the deserted commercial car park he suggested I take driving lessons.  Most of my friends could already drive, so no-one to recommended a good instructor, I found Dennis in the local paper.

Big mistake – this guy was old enough to BE my father but very skeevy!  His teeth and fingers were yellowed with nicotine and his hair was Brylcreemed back. He was, however, patient and he spoke kindly to me, he even rested his warm hand on my left leg to remind me which was the clutch foot and to go gently with it.  Soon we progressed to him picking me up outside work for a lesson in the rush hour traffic, I was dressed smartly as it was my first job and his hand really lingered, even wandered, on my thigh.  I wore stockings and suspenders (as that’s what my boyfriend and I preferred) and it seems Dennis liked it too.  It gave me the creeps so I tried to remember to wear smart trousers on driving lesson days.

My brother wanted to learn to drive so I recommended Dennis, and one day I happened to mention the way he rested his hand on my leg to remind me about clutch control.
“He does what?”  my burly brother stopped making his sandwich.  
I explained again.  “Doesn’t he do that to you?” 
“He most certainly doesn’t” came the furious reply.

No more lessons with Dennis then!  I later found out he’d left his wife and set up home with one of his pupils, who was about my age.  Young girls was obviously Dennis’ thing!

It was the 80’s – social constraints were not so tough then on male/female interaction.  One of my girlfriends had this happen.  On a summer’s day she wore a strappy top for her driving lesson.  She kept taking a hand off the wheel to put the strap back on her shoulders. Her instructor told her to pull over, went to the boot for some string and tied a loop round the straps of her top, fastening them at her back, so she wouldn’t keep fiddling with them!  I’m not sure he’d get away with that now, however well intentioned.

Onto my next instructor, let’s call him Trevor, He wasn’t too bad, fairly patient, very chatty but I think we talked too much to really concentrate on my technique (yep – I’m bad at multitasking that way!)  Any bad behaviour on his part was encouraged by me – he was divorcing and trying to get back into the dating scene so I’d encourage him to  talk about dates he’d been on and the Club 18-30 holiday he was planning that summer.  I was way too flirty, I skated on thin ice around dangerous subjects because (as you know from my blog) I love to talk about sex and relationships.  I liked thinking I was making him hot and uncomfortable.

He was my instructor for quite some time, I had a cancellation for snow, another for fog, 1 failed a test so I applied for another.  Trevor made the mistake of having a really critical rant at me on the morning of my test.  I’m sure it was a plan he’d calculated to make me pull my socks up and ‘really show him’ and it might have worked for lots of other personalities, but not mine.  I was so upset! I was a bag of nerves through the whole test, making stupid mistakes I’d never make in a driving lesson.  My mother had a go at him after the test and neither my brother nor I had any more lessons with Trevor (my brother took his test in my mother’s car and passed).

OK, maybe I didn’t need lessons, I had a boyfriend with a car, a sister with an old banger, lets try lots of practice with them!  Yikes!  My sister is NOT a calm person.  She had me jumpier than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs!  Another scary thing about driving with her was how bad the brakes on her car were!  Compared with the driving instructors’ new cars (with their dual braking system) it was terrifying to press my foot to the floor and not even feel a perceptible slowing down – perhaps my sister had a right to be so shrill!  

Driving with my boyfriend – hah!  He had a vested interest in me learning to drive … he wanted to be able to drink when we went out, so “Pass your test already!” was his mindset.  He was a mechanic (o yeah, you might remember him from a past story) so we had lots of cars to practice in, because he never kept a vehicle for very long!  As a novice driver, however, the last thing you want is to drive cars with stiff gearboxes, too much play in the steering or worn tyres – all problems he was going to sort out with each car before selling it on.  

He would start off calm and patient with me, but that would soon erode.  I would argue back (cos I’m bratty like that) so I can remember one journey out to a big shopping centre where I  drove with tears streaming down my face the whole way, totally upset and humiliated by his guidance/coaching technique.
“There you go!” he announced as we got out of the car, “I knew you could do it!  That’s the best you’ve ever driven.”  

Final driving instructor, let’s call him Bob.  Big gentle guy, shoehorned into a mini (lovely car to drive, you can see all around you like a greenhouse, no bits of the car are sticking out unseen, waiting for you to dink them when your reverse or park!)  Bob was also going through a divorce (I suspect being a driving instructor isn’t easy on a marriage) but totally chivalrous, patient and charming.  When I passed my test, he was truly elated for me and shyly asked if he could hug me!  What a gent, and his driving school is still going (I think that speaks volumes several decades later!)

I still wouldn’t describe myself as a great driver, but I get from A to B and I love the independence of it.  My OH has never had a problem with me driving the children around in my car, and they are precious cargos for sure!  I don’t much like motorways or London driving, and if we go abroad I avoid driving because I don’t trust my instincts at roundabouts – I fear I won’t be able to remember which side to give way to when I’m no longer driving on the left!

8 thoughts on “Driving Lessons : Dark Days”

  1. Even if it took you long, you eventually learned to drive and you passed your test! Good for you. I know someone who has tried over and over and over again and finally gave up. He uses public transport or his wife drives him.

    Rebel xox

  2. My instructor was called Murry. He was a nice guy and got me through my test. I love driving though and am happy driving anywhere but I guess learning in central London does that to you


  3. I can't even imagine trying to drive on the opposite side of the road, I'm not a big fan of driving, only when I have to… Good for you for sticking with the lessons. My one instructor was a grisly woman who seemed too interested in showing me her 'thank you' cards from students, talked non stop about property value and having me drive to strange places so she could run errands…

  4. The writing and the atmosphere you convey is, as ever with you, spot on!.
    Well done you for actually passing your test after so many instructor-obstacles in your way. I also failed my test first time around but that was because I actually fancied my driving instructor and was concentrating more on how impressed she would be with me when we returned than on the actual test.
    Anyway, an evocative and brilliantly written piece. T xx

  5. yeah learning to drive is a faff! I finally passed in an automatic, thou the examiner was so busy looking at my legs – had a short skirt on and was in my 20's – that he did not tick the "only auto" box – so i have a manual license 😉 xx

  6. Hi Julie – No I wouldn't generalise like that, but I do think the 80s were an environment where a a lot more inappropriate behaviour and attitudes were deemed acceptable. I experienced it at work and out and about socialising too, and I don't think it was just me.

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