The phone rang at seven. It was Atilla The Driving Instructor, arriving at my house to take me on my weekly driving lesson.
This is a call I dread.
Driving has become a life mission for me. I want a license. I want to be mobile. I want the ability to live outside Dublin, and still be able to totter about freely. When I came back to Ireland I turned down an interview for an interesting job in county Cork. Why did I turn it down? Well because it was in Charleville – and no public transport links from either Limerick or Cork would have enabled me to be at work by 9am. The only option would have been to live in Charleville itself. A charming town perhaps, but unless you are into the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) the only other potential hobby – in the absence of a car – would have been a slow descent into alcoholism.
But the process of learning to drive is fraught with anxiety. Now I’ve always had a slight problem with authority. If someone orders me to do something, the hackles on the back of my neck rise and my automatic but usually suppressed reaction would be to spit ‘Screw you, you’re not the boss of me’. If someone asks me politely to do something I am quite obliging. Proving the age old proverb that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar I suppose.
I understand that it’s not a driving instructor’s job to be polite; and that clear, stern, oft repeated instructions are the only way of emphasising the importance of the rules of the road. When you are commandeering a ton of metal, there is no room for mistake. An error could be fatal. But it still antagonises me slightly. Especially when my progress has been so snail like.
After a couple of lessons Attila told me that I wasn’t ready to deal with the brakes and gears and that my focus was to be solely on gas and steering. The humiliation. Driving is allegedly so easy. Everyone I know can drive with confidence. I feel like a person with stunted development, by reaching my age, not knowing how to drive. And then being told that my abilities were too underdeveloped to trust me with all the functions.
Well I’d just have to suck it up I suppose. No point in quitting because of a feeling of utter uselessness.
Last night however I was given full control of the car. And we went driving on some main roads, rather than merely on quiet streets in sleepy housing estates. At one point Attila warned me to slow down as I was doing 62km per hour in a 60 km zone. I flushed with pride. My first time speeding.
Only occasionally did he grab the wheel from me or use his brake. Not once did I feel like my time on the earth was about to end.
At the end of the class he told me that my progress was steady and that he wanted me to apply for my test. The waiting list for a test is up to four months, but he thinks that by the time I will be called I will be ready.
‘After Christmas, Attila’, I said. ‘I’m not made of money you know.’