Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Switched Instructors

Okay, I was slightly offended when my driving instructor asked me ‘would you like to drive with my friend instead, who is much better then me I add?’

My instructor’s excuse was that he did not have enough time for all his pupils, but I knew I started to make him perspire cold sweats every time I let go of the steering wheel and started screaming ‘take over!.’ In addition to his complaints, I also started to feel frustrated that he would stop the car to chat to his mates.

So this was it. A new instructor: may be a better chance of passing I secretly hoped. Prior to meeting him, I was given a rundown by my ex-instructor that this guy had 92% pass rate. Now I am no genius, but apparently that is good news for me. Then there was some bad news. He only does ‘intense’ sessions, so these include three hour lessons in one go. Once again the nauseating feeling came back.

A car approached my front door at nine in the evening. I realised this was going to be a long night. There was a mini introduction, and then there was my rusty driving. I looked sheepishly as I stalled, not too many times thankfully, but the reply was decent- I think. ‘Wow, you are not as bad as your previous Instructor said.’

I am not sure if that was supposed to be a confidence booster, praise, or something else, but I was happy with the first lesson. Returning home worryingly at eleven, I realised I could not escape driving now. I had to be a part of the 92% pass rate and he was going to make sure of that.

The Accident

Now being an unconfident driver, I really dreaded to be in this situation; but inevitably it did happen.

I sat there, slightly bemused in what actually happened. My instructor looked at me horrified, shaking me to check if I was actually still animate. ‘That was not your fault,’ he kept telling me and I replied with a splutter ‘what the, huh?’

It was an ordinary day, the fact that it was sunny may have been less ordinary, but what seemed to be a nice urban drive turned out to be quite different. I stopped at a junction behind the traffic lights, awaiting and preparing for the green beam. Being on the left hand lane was the correct position to go straight or so I am told by my instructor, and that the right hand lane was for those turning right.

So of course the predictable thing happened to me. Stalling at the traffic lights, getting to biting point became customary to my driving. I tried not to panic, despite the various horning behind me, and noticing that the driver behind me was reading a newspaper anyway. I set off finally over the steep hill ahead, unprepared for what was about to happen.

A large impatient supermarket truck decided to overtake from the right-hand lane, regardless of the fact that the hill had only one lane and incoming traffic. Now, this was the clincher. It smashed the side of the driver-side, (yes the side I happened to be on). The outcome: several scratches, a broken wing mirror and an enormous inward dent on the car body and my confidence.

Hilariously, an angry truck driver ran towards the evident learner car shouting abuse. My instructor reassured me, ‘this is not your fault.’ I adjusted slowly to realise he was right, I was a learner and stalling was a natural process. His reason for overtaking, ‘you were taking too long.’

I was happy to have my lesson cut short as my instructor drove me home. Will I ever get back into the driver’s seat? Not for a while I think.

First Drive with the Parents

My mother finally confronted me, ‘So you have been doing lessons for a while. I think its time you come for a drive with me.’

This was a historic moment. I still remember sitting in the back seat, while my sister drove around aimlessly in a car park. That was as far as she would let any of us pass. But what I recollect was the amount of screaming of ‘dear god, don’t kill us all!’ in an Indo- English accent, coming from the front passenger seat.

So here I was being driven to the local car park. I was told that today I was only to practice turning and reverse if I am lucky. Now that was a big compromise from my mother so I was pleased.

There seemed a large change from unleaded fuel to diesel. As I put my foot down on the accelerator, I was unprepared for speeding towards a fence. My mother jumped up and down beside me screaming ‘stop, stop, stop!’ I gradually stopped with a lot of control I might add. ‘Mother, you underestimate me,’ was my reply.

For about 45 minutes I drove around a space that was the same size as my small bedroom. I was officially bored. But on the upside as we entered back to sane land, my mother patted me on my back, and said to her husband ‘she has good control, there’s hope yet.’

Although, I guess anyone would have good control driving around in first gear, but I relished in the compliments and hoped to drive some more with my folks.

My Theory Test

I could not swerve to avoid my driving theory test now. I had spent six months gearing myself up, so after persistent nagging and nudging from my instructor, I conceded to book my test.

I had exactly three weeks to learn what had seemed a steep hill of technical vehicle information. The fourteen sections of my driving manual did not even include the Highway Code; so this seemed a daunting task. Being a modern generation child, I decided to invest in the CD-ROM which became my oxygen over the coming weeks. I scratched my head over the documents and motorway rules section many a time.

Furthermore, I shrieked to find out about the ‘Hazard Perception’ part of the test. Now if you have been following my progress, you may recall that I am not visually very aware of my surroundings. To gather that there is an extra fifteen minutes to predict whether an old woman was going to cross the road from three miles away made my stomach turn.

After many late nights becoming utterly radioactive straining over my computer, the day came. With officially three hours of sleep mainly due to last-minute hazard perception panicking, I succumbed to taking a taxi to Croydon test centre. Being half an hour early proved vital as the driver gestured he was lost and I walked around aimlessly to find it in an inconspicuous building.

Thankfully, I made it on time and rushed into a waiting room full of nervous provisional drivers. An impolite man moved me towards my fate, which multiplied how bad the test was going to be. However, as I placed my deafening headset on, I realised I had pretty much memorised the whole manual. I finished the first half of the test in 10 minutes, with 5 minutes to ponder over a few of them.

Now onto the hazard perception part of the test. This was tricky. I was tempted to put matchsticks in my eyes to keep myself awake. My nose was about a millimetre away from the screen as I clicked on various potential dangers; wanting the ordeal to be over. I walked out mortified from lack of sleep and general computer exposure, waiting anxiously for my results.

There they were. I scanned down the page. PASS, you have received full marks for first part, and 62 out of 75 for the second. I had a mini celebration right there in the corridor by myself. All I thought was first stage done and now for the practical…

5. Broadening my Horizons

After my ‘intense’ driving session, I dreaded going back into the Ford Fiesta. However, I took a deep breath and stepped towards the grey car, hoping my prospects would not be the same.

As I drove around the predictable practice routes, lesson five was not exactly what I had imagined. I finally realised I had moved out of my safety zone of FurzeDown and was travelling slightly further than usual.

Becoming very wary and nervous, my braking became non-existent; I could not seem to stop at the end of road. Instead there came a nuisance; my replacement was that of stalling. I found it remarkable how fast I managed to travel in second gear.

It became apparent that my success at not stalling was short-lived as I managed to stall three times in the space of a minute. I appear to be setting a world record all by myself.

My clutch control had finally improved, and I was pretty sure that it was not my instructor fiddling with the dual pedals. What seemed to be a jerky start, nevertheless the driving had become much smoother.

4. The Fourth Amendment

From my previous session, thankfully I had improved. An ‘intense’ session is what my driving instructor had called it. I definitely had a different name for today’s lesson.

I was given commands at rapid speed, “Mirror, signal, manoeuvre, brake, clutch, and handbrake.” I honestly thought I was in an army boot camp. I squealed to myself ‘I have been good this year, what have I done to deserve the military on my back. ’ Amazingly, I was able to take all the orders as commanded.

The fear factor was actually quite useful as the shock from his screaming helped me to overcome confronting other drivers. My ‘mentor’ gave me a pat on the back as I was totally exhausted.

What was absolutely magnificent was that I stalled less and gained control over the gears, clutch and the steering wheel. Getting to biting point became an incredibly appetizing piece of cake now.

Although, after the lesson, the instructor turned around to me and said that I must do my theory test. I shook my head in dismay. I had tried reading the ‘Official Highway Code’ and found that I had driven myself in to a ditch. It did take a while to get the hang of the driving, let alone the book. I think I might leave that until later.

3. Slightly Worse for Wear

My family kept reassuring me that it was natural for the third lesson to be less spectacular than the previous sessions. Traumatised from my inability to drive today, I was worried I could ever drive again.

Although I finally got the hang of the second gear as well as clutch control, driving as a whole did not seem to be my main agenda. As the Ford Fiesta screeched down FurzeDown without any sign of braking, it was more like a joyride than a driving lesson.

The poor instructor, horrified in what he had just encountered, shook his head and squealed “Oh dear, oh dear Suswati. What happened here?”

“We were doing so well that I was even thinking of taking you down the main roads!” That was exactly what had frightened me, confronting fellow road users which slightly defeated the idea of driving. My instructor became increasingly worried when I stopped to wave to my friends; and then stalled. Not a great impression.

Like many other learner drivers, it was primarily confidence that held me back. I thought maybe next time though I will be able to face the main roads instead of giving up at the first hurdle.