How this rusty driver became a van-reversing virtuoso

In Sickness and In Health: Nick moved again, further away, and so I had to get my motorway legs back

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The Independent Online

Last year, Rebecca’s husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident

Nick getting run over turned me into a driver again. Soon after my husband took up residence in intensive care, my dad asked me whether I should start thinking about selling Nick’s car, since the only times that I ever drove it were when Nick had nagged me to do so, and when he was my co-pilot. I’d learnt to drive as a teenager but since moving to London in 2001, I could count the number of times I’d driven if not just on my fingers, then definitely on my toes, too. At first I didn’t need to drive, and then I didn’t want to, because I was scared of city drivers and getting lost.

But getting rid of the car? The zippy white mini that Nick had bought nearly new with a work bonus? The convertible that I thought would be a terrible idea but soon came round to once I felt the sun on my face and the wind tangling my hair? Hang on a minute, dad. If there was ever going to be a time when I needed to get back behind the wheel, this was it.

That’s not to say that I wasn’t terrified, and every time I got into the car, I said an atheist’s prayer that I wouldn’t have a crash or knock someone down. I started with trips to the petrol station, the laundrette and drives round the block. I discovered a sat-nav app that made me incredulous about the way driving used to be – panicking with map in hand, raging about the lack of street signs, stopping to ask for directions, forgetting them after the first left.

So I persevered, driving to see Nick’s daughter and to stay with friends. Thank god I did – Nick ended up moving to a hospital almost an hour’s drive away, and it would have been even more of a nightmare getting to see him without wheels. And, once summer came, driving with the roof down and the radio on reminded me of what I had loved about driving when I was younger. It was my space, my songs on the stereo and my decision to come and go. Nick moved again, further away, and so I had to get my motorway legs back. And get over my fear of driving at night.

A few weeks ago, I unlocked another achievement – driving a (mini) van. Not just driving it, but finding a place to hire it from and picking it up. I know that this isn’t a big deal for most people, but it was all new to me. Especially how to reverse in the damn thing. I had to pull up and work out how to do it (I was NOT going back to ask). Apparently, with Vauxhalls, you have to pull up a little lever on the gear stick in order to get into reverse. Who knew?

And once I’d worked out how to drive it, I had to do so with Nick in the back. I’ve never been one for naming my cars (OK, I’ve only actually had two), but the motoring milestone of piloting Nick around, having wheeled him up the van’s ramp and secured him with myriad heavy-duty bits of safety hardware, must have addled my brain. So I christened the Vauxhall Combo Vanny Craddock. And long may we sally forth in her.