The hour of doom was 2pm. I was having another driving lesson.
I am not proud of the fact that I waited until my advanced age to sit behind the wheel of a car, and turn the ignition. I had never felt the need.
Growing up in Limerick I navigated through my uncomplicated life with a bicycle. When I moved to Dublin first, I was simply happy to be in the city and never felt the urge to drive. Amsterdam was a no-brainer. A car was unnecessary – the cycle lane network is vast, and bicycling is the quickest means of getting from point A to point B. For journeys too long to cycle, the public transport system is a wonder. You’ll never wait for longer than fifteen minutes to get a bus, tram, train or boat. The fact that there are sixteen million people inhabiting a land area the same size as Munster, necessitates the massive network.
Driving has always been one of those tasks that I vowed, I would one day master. But it never seemed that essential.
I now live in Ireland. It’s an empty country for the most part – one of the least densely populated in Europe in relation to its size. It’s also incredibly beautiful. But to access that beauty you need a car – or a willing driver. You wouldn’t want to be relying on the buses, that’s for sure.
Although I live in Dublin which has the most extensive bus network in the country, it’s still a bit hit and miss. It takes me seventy five minutes door to door, to get to work. Driving it would take about half an hour. I am spending eight hours extra commuting each week, thanks to my lack of motor.
And with the current housing emergency in Dublin, I may be forced to relocate to a more affordable place when my lease ends. Affordable can be translated as ‘outside Dublin’. If that happens then a car will not be a luxury, it will be a requirement.
So for the past few months I have been taking lessons. Usually a two hour session once a week.
My driving instructor is actually a very pleasant individual – he is friendly and patient, and explains things in a very simple manner.
I am not enjoying the experience. I lack the ability to multi-task – accelerator, brake, clutch, steering, mirrors, indicators. How on earth could anyone (except for the billions of people who have passed their driving tests) be expected to use such an array of buttons and pedals, while keeping their eyes peeled on the road – in case some other driver or pedestrians or cyclist decides to be inconsiderate, and go for a spin while I am out and about?
They say that the later you learn to driver the more difficult it becomes. I can vouch for that.
When Attila (not his real name) tells me to check my mirrors, I have a tendency to swerve the car in the direction my eyes go. He told me (quite gently) that he would assume control of the clutch and brakes – just until I had mastered the gas and steering. The shuddering, and heaving of the engine as I tried to work them all – coupled with the look of blind terror on my face, seems to be what instigated this decision.
This all occurred in a sleepy little housing estate where there is no traffic on the road.
Today however there was progress. Attila kept control of the clutch and brake. But we ventured out onto the main roads. It was like an assault on the senses. I bit my lip on several occasions to prevent myself from shrieking ‘Oh my god, we’re going to DIE!!!’
We normally stay in the Raheny district, and Attila drives me home at the end of the lesson.
I drove myself home today.
It’s still hideous. But I am quite chuffed with myself.
Slowly, surely, wins the race.