If every other moron could drive, then so could I ...
Resolutions The time: 1996 The place: north london
Tuesday 30 December 1997
I was pathetic. I couldn't let it go another year.
My friend recommended this lovely lesbian instructor who understood about people like me. We had a meaningful conversation on the phone. She would love to teach me to drive but she didn't have a car, which seemed a bit of a drawback.
Then I remembered a highly dysfunctional friend who had miraculously been taught to drive. This man was a genius, but could barely walk along the road, and I thought whoever taught him must have something. So I phoned BSM and sought this miracle-worker out.
His name was Chas. He was profoundly depressed. He said something about having to have so many lessons for every year of my life. My life flashed past in driving-lesson years. I would need perhaps a million, but then again, said Chas - for Chas's trick was always to summon up a pupil worse than yourself - "I've got a 17-year-old at the moment. She had 100 lessons and she needs 100 more."
I wanted to talk to Chas about the deep psychological reasons why I could not drive; about my dreams, in which I was driving something like a sewing machine with just one pedal, and then even that would veer out of control. I wanted to tell him that I had explored the issue in therapy and thought it was somehow connected with my mother, who never drove, and that it was pertinent that now she was dead I was about to learn. I felt the urge to tell him that this was the most grown-up thing I had ever done - more grown-up than getting a mortgage, more grown-up than having children, even. Most of all I wanted to tell him that a huge impediment to my driving was that one of my favourite songs was Iggy Pop's "The Passenger", which summons up perfectly that crystalline, coming-down feeling of being driven through a city late at night when everything passes slowly by the window. For despite all the boy-racer mythology in my heart, I felt that there was something deeply cool about being driven rather than driving.
I didn't say any of these things. Instead I blurted out: "You have no idea of how useless I am," and refused to get into the driving seat. "I'm not doing that on the first lesson."
Chas gently coaxed me out of his seat and into mine, promising me that I wouldn't have to do anything I didn't feel ready for. I confessed that many years before I had had several bad experiences with driving instructors. One used to tell me that changing the gears was like making love, which I never understood. One used to smell of whisky, and just yell furiously at me. Another used only to let me play about with a cardboard steering wheel, and never made me do any actual driving.
Chas nodded. Chas could never believe how many bad driving instructors there were out there. He took his job very seriously. So seriously that he was made pretty miserable by it. He had, he explained, put on lots of weight since becoming a driving instructor, and he really wanted to do something else. Every lesson he would fantasise about a different job. Sometimes he wanted to be a cameraman. Some days a journalist. Sometimes a builder. Sometimes he wanted to run a restaurant. Anything, really, but be a driving instructor. I couldn't blame him.
While I listened avidly to his existential search for meaning, he knew and I knew that I never really listened whenever he started talking about the clutch, traffic lights, road markings, and all the rest of it. I pretended to listen, but something just happens to me when people start talking about cars, which I have never taken any interest in. "Do you know what kind of car you are driving?" Chas asked me one day in the nearest thing he ever had to a fit of temper.
"Er ... blue?"
Meanwhile, all my friends made encouraging noises, except the very close ones who thought that I should never be allowed behind a wheel. "It will change your life." "It will be so much easier for shopping." "You have to drive when you have children." These things I have never understood, either. You don't have to be a pilot to go on a plane, yet there is a massive conspiracy about cars. My children were happy and healthy despite a non-driving mother. We walked, or got buses or cabs. It was fine. I never felt particularly handicapped, but I realised that others regarded me as such.
No, I was learning to drive for myself. It was the final frontier. The ultimate in adulthood. If every other moron could drive, then so could I.
Chas was concerned that I take my test before the newfangled theory test came in. He didn't have much confidence in my ability to pass a written one. "It would involve you having to read some books," he said witheringly.
By now, I was semi-driving. Well, steering. Chas had his feet on the pedals and we would chat away. It was strange being taught something and not being invited to give an opinion. There was no point arguing with Chas about how to change gear or reverse. There was one way to do it and that was it. Driving, I realised, does not involve much space for personal expression. This was not an interpretative skill; no one cared about what you thought you were doing. You just had to do as you were told. All very difficult for someone as awkward as me.
By the day of the test I had secured so much pharmaceutical help that I could have flown to the moon. Beta-blockers from my doctor, some ancient Valium from Thailand, Librium from my sympathetic builder. When the driving test man announced, "Hello Miss Moore, I'm Mr Much", I cackled hysterically for about 10 minutes at this frightful joke about my name, until I realise that Mr Much was in fact this little man's real moniker.
"When you are calmer, Miss Moore," said Mr Much, "perhaps we could walk to the car."
"Ah, the car." I was confident I'd recognise the car. After all, it had a huge BSM sign on top. As we walked out of the test centre, I could feel the drugs beginning to take hold. I was breathing deeply; I was an oasis of calm; I would float away in the car, cruising smoothly into driving heaven.
Suddenly I realised that every bloody car outside the test centre had a BSM sign on top. For what seemed like hours I wandered about trying the key in different locks, with embarrassing alarms going off, until, as if by magic, it fitted one.
I got in and went through the drills that Chas had made so much of. Something to do with initials and seat belts and mirrors and things. BSE or BSM or MSM or something.
Then I heard a gentle tap on the windows. It was Mr Much. I had not let him into the car.
From there on in, things got worse.
Chas was waiting patiently for me when I came back. "I couldn't find the car," I cried. Dredging up yet another story about someone more inept than me, Chas sighed: "But you did find it in the end, didn't you? I had a man once ... well, after 20 minutes the inspector came back on his own. The guy couldn't find the car and he just made a run for it ..."
Chas drove me home. There would be another test. And there was. And another, which I somehow got through.
So, yes, I had done it. I had a driving licence.
This is the part when I am supposed to say what a difference it has made to my life. But I can't say it has. I still hate cars and those who go on about them. I am still amazed that everybody follows all the rules, that more people don't die.
I still get cabs, because there has never been any contest between drinking and driving. I would rather sit on a bus and read than sit in a traffic jam listening to crap radio. I would rather be asleep on a train than dodging down a motorway. In short, I am not a convert. But I stuck to my resolution. I did the thing that for some daft reason signified adulthood to me. I became some kind of grown-up, supposedly more in control than I was before. And now I have the proof of that, it means I can be as immature as I like.
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