Driving Miss Ruth!

As a 17 year old with money in my pocket for my birthday I DID embark upon some ill fated driving lessons but… I didn’t learn to drive…

My first few were with a man I like to call the poisoned tangerine dwarf. He was smaller than me (and I’m 5ft 2″) and so badly fake tanned that he was practically glowing! He was miserable too and I was very miffed that he wouldn’t let me use the radio in our lessons and repeatedly turned it off as I repeatedly turned it on from the handy steering wheel controls JUST out of his greasy grasp while I was driving… Obviously, he HAD to go.

The second few were with an Ian Botham look-alike who taught one of my besties and got her through her test – I thought he was BOUND to be better than his predecessor but yet still we did not gel. There was a rather awkward moment when he nearly exploded with fury after I honked the horn at my then boyfriend and we parted company pretty swiftly. The boyfriend wasn’t far to go behind him! 

At that point I embarked upon 18 years of forever thinking up excuses as to why I should not drive.

And there were many over the years too! Too scared. Didn’t need to drive in London. Do we REALLY need more people polluting the atmosphere in little tin cans on the road… My list went on but the one I used most was that ‘I simply don’t want to’! However, that wasn’t strictly true…

I DID want to drive but the real reason I never properly persisted was time, money and sheer laziness.

  • The money factor always seemed an issue. Lessons don’t come cheap after all and after the birthday money went, frittered away in Top Shop and NOT on the road, I could never find expendable cash to let go of.
  • Then there was the time… I hate having to ‘learn things’ and find it extremely tiresome – driving did not come naturally to me so the thought of doing it but not being able to DO it was just totally yawn-worthy. HOW would I be able to make all this time for doing something so boring?
  • This brings me on to the laziness… I am, I suppose, very, very lazy. If it’s not something I feel amazingly excited about then I’m afraid I’m usually out, out, out…

My husband always drove, all my friends could drive… I just spent a lot of time cadging lifts and being the drinker at parties. Hey, there’s silver linings to not being able to do stuff! But as the years went on I became more and more embarrassed about the fact I couldn’t. It didn’t seem very grown up and after a chat with Florence’s very young teacher who seemed surprised when I said I didn’t drive, it made me feel a bit of a child. Something clicked and it was enough of a kick to make me determined I was going to do it. I suddenly didn’t want to say ‘I don’t drive’ anymore… And… at 35 years old (over two fully grown 17 year olds capabale of passing their test worth of adult) I started learning again.

It was February half term and I’d booked myself on an intensive course. I naively thought that I could do this in 7 days flat. I’m sure there are people who can. But, unfortunately, not me…

Test 1 – Learning for 7 days

This test was not a disaster. The car however WAS! I didn’t know anything about cars so when my instructor that week stopped every half an hour to refill his water I assumed it was normal. Actually the car was falling apart. It was so old and so cranky that everything was slightly slippy and every time I moved the wind screen wipers or the indicators went on and were impossible to turn off. WHIP them my instructor had told me in the lessons, demonstrating a whip like motion which rather resembled a spank and it drove me into a gibbering wreck. I shook my way around the test and managed to complete the whole thing but HOW I didn’t take the examiner out with one of my spank style whips is beyond me and needless to say, I failed with two majors and about 25 minors. I did say it wasn’t a disaster didn’t I… And I can see how you might think I’m stretching it there but wait until you hear about test number two!

Test 2 – Learning for 1 month

I’d switched cars by this point as there was no way I could pass my test in the croacked out old Corsa from test number one! Instead the manager of the intensive course place let me use his and  I’d been out for many lessons in it; it was a dream to drive, very easy in comparison anyway! I genuinely thought I had a chance this time and was quite hopeful. 

The examiner showed me a map of where we were going. THREE roundabouts and straight onto the dual carriageway. GULP. But, I was going to give it my best shot! I did the roundabouts, nailed them in fact and I got onto the carriageway with ease. And then it ALL went wrong. So wrong.

Coming off the dual carriageway, for some reason, I positioned myself in the right hand lane to turn right. This would have been fine except… My instinct was to go over into the left hand lane as I turned. And I did. I almost took out a motorbike, also on his test and when the examiner actually GRABBED the wheel I knew it was all over. 

My test was immediately cancelled. The poor man on his motorbike’s test was immediately cancelled. The examiner made me pull up in a side road shortly afterwards as he said I wasn’t allowed to drive back to the test centre and he couldn’t drive the car for some reason himself apparently. We had to stand there and wait for the manager of the intensive course place to come and pick my instructor up from the test centre, bring him to me and then take the examiner back too. I stood on the side of the road and sobbed. Especially more so when I found out the test AFTER me was ALSO being cancelled because this was all taking SO long. Oh the shame! 

So you can see, in comparison, test number one was NOT a disaster.

I decided I wasn’t going to go again but… was somehow persuaded.

Test 3 – Learning for 3 months

For this test I had worked super hard. I was having lessons in both London where I live AND in Norwich where I’d done the intensive course so that my Mum (who lives there) could look after the children for me while I did it. Both my instructors were lovely and so super helpful and, by this point, championing me all the way! My test was due to be back in Norwich but I was having lessons every other day at home with the kindest, most patient man who helped me absolutely every step of the way. I was hopeful for test number three. Third time lucky as they say… Or so I thought at the time.

I’d asked what the likelihood of getting the same examiner was and was told quite slim. But yep, you guessed it, examiner number three was OF COURSE, the same guy as examiner number two. His opening line? (With a very disapproving tone) ‘Oh, hello again!’

And it was down hill from there really. I drove quite well I think and if it had been anyone else I reckon I may very well have passed. He said my ‘major’ failure was when my back end was resting over a zebra crossing as I waited to turn left. Not my wheel let the record state,  so technically and in my mind I was NOT on it but the examiner has the last word and number three was doomed from the start!

Test 4 – Learning for 4.5 months

I decided not to take the test again in Norwich as I felt I’d clearly get old matey again and what was the point?! This time my test was booked for Loughton. This area required me to be Queen of the hill starts but my lovely instructor taught me how to do them in reverse and said if I could do that then I could do anything! He was right. I felt completely confident and when we got back to the test centre I was already grinning, waiting for the new and shiny and never before been seen by me, examiner to hand over my license. But the douche bag didn’t! For the FOURTH time in a row I hard the words ‘I’m sorry to say that you have not been successful!’ Oh for crying out loud!

I had been right to be confident though as I only had TWO minors. This guy failed me on TWO minors and a rather disputable major. He said that he saw me see a purple car at a roundabout and didn’t understand why I went anyway. I said that I of course saw the purple car but that I DID have time. It was his opinion against mine and it was was obviously not going to go my way… I think if it had been another examiner then I would have done it but no… It was onto number FIVE!

Test 5 – Learning for 5 months

Two week’s after the last one and this was getting silly now. So silly that my instructor and I had become such good friends he was just taking me out driving as a pal and not as an instructor, I was the butt of my friend’s jokes and if I DIDN’T pass this time I was going to have taken even more tests than my Dad who passed fifth time and we had ribbed him about it for forever! I HAD to pass. 

We got to the test centre and douche bag DIDN’T come out for me. SCORE! A new person, with a kind face came instead and although I hesitated quite a bit at junctions and roundabouts (because of purple car moment in test 4) I somehow made it round the track even though my left knee shook the whole time. I didn’t think I drove very well and I didn’t think I had passed but nothing major had happened and like test numbers one and three I thought this would be put down to just bad luck.

BUT! I only went and flipping passed! 7 minors, 3 of which were for undue hesitation, but who cares?! I’d passed my test! AT LAST!

All that was left to do, aside from scream and shout, was to make sure the insurance company knew and that I could legally drive my car. For the moment I am just on my husband’s insurance because I’d assumed it would be too expensive to get my own. This does mean I can’t build up my own no claims bonus which I think would be a better option if affordable but at least, for once, age is on my side. Being in my thirties does make it a little easier to brunt the cost and although if I’d learned at 17 then the bravado of youth might have got me through the test quicker, the insurance would have surely been astronomical. I’ve just heard about this great new way of making insurance for young people (and newbie oldies like me) easier on the pocket though and it sounds like such a good idea that I can’t believe it’s not been in use before now! MORE TH>N are offering to use a Telematics Driving Style Score to calculate your premiums.

So, what is it? Well, MORE TH>N SM>RT WHEELS is telematics (black box) Car Insurance. Once you’ve bought your policy they will give you a call to arrange a fitting of a SM>RT WHEELS Box somewhere out of sight in your car. Through this they’ll be able to build up a picture of your driving style. If you drive safely and get a positive Driving Style Score, then they can reward you. Simple as that! All you have to do is drive safely, smoothly, within speed limits and not brake excessively. I actually think this is blooming brilliant for just being a simple reminder! It gives new drivers the option of getting 10% back from their premiums after the first year and you can’t say better than that!

Learning to drive for me was exhausting. I relied on the help of many friends and family members to take me out driving (So sorry to my mate Carly – I flooded her engine in the middle of the road and made her swap seats with me INSIDE the car as I didn’t want to get out surrounded by all the horns and finger flipping of my fellow road buddies), look after the children and then mop up my tears at my many failures (or, as my lovely instructor put it, times when I was unable to demonstrate my ability to drive). It was all worth while in the end and when I took the car out for the first time last night on my own I realised how much freedom it has opened up for me!

Now, on the advice of my cousin, instead of thinking up excuses as to why I DON’T drive I have to think up excuses as to why I CAN’T in order that I can STILL be the drinker at parties… I’m thinking of going with ‘too scared to drive in the dark’ as my opening offering! 😉

In association with MORE TH>N.