The End of the Road

As we entered the new year, I knew it was the end of the road for me and my skanky yogurt-pot of a car.

On a recent family trip to visit the in-laws in Scotland, I was seduced by the smooth, easy ride of an automatic hire-car that we picked up from the airport. I had a hunch that driving an automatic might change my life. I was right.

driving

Over the years, many people have tried to put me off…

‘Driving a manual car is an essential life-skill’
That’s what they used to say about long-division and milking a goat.

‘Driving and automatic isn’t real driving’
In that case, my two-year-old twins are perfectly qualified to get behind the wheel.

‘Driving a stick-shift gives you more control’
Tell that to the person whose driveway I once got stuck in doing a 6-point-turn on an incline.

‘You won’t easily find an automatic car for hire on the continent’
Fine. My husband is a terrible navigator anyway.

No more driving in first gear whilst struggling to thank a driver behind me with the customary three flashes of my hazard lights. No more sounding like a Formula One driver just to find the biting point.

Such a cultural aversion to automatic cars has never really taken hold in the U.S. and it probably won’t be long until the U.K. follows suit. Automatic cars are already becoming more and more popular and with constant advances in technology, the time will come when we won’t have a choice.

Switching to an automatic car isn’t always the right thing for someone with driving anxieties. A friend of mine, also a nervous driver, told me she actually feels more secure driving a manual car because the gear changes help her manage her fear of accidentally speeding up and knocking someone over.

But for me, it’s been a complete liberation. As I drove my family around the picturesque countryside of the Scottish Highlands, I was free from the constant preoccupation of forgetting which gear the car was in.

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No more touching the gear stick every 30 seconds to remind myself before promptly forgetting again. No more driving in first gear whilst struggling to thank a driver behind me with the customary three flashes of my hazard lights. No more sounding like a Formula One driver just to find the biting point.

Not only could I concentrate on traffic, lane changes and other drivers, I also enjoyed the beautiful vistas and huge skies.

And best of all, once the holiday romance was over and the keys to the automatic were handed back to the car-hire guy, I came home with such a huge confidence boost that I found myself driving my crappy old stick-shift much more regularly and with much less stress.

Having said that, I still hate it. It’s over. I have decided to trade it in for an automatic car this month and I’m looking forward to becoming a proper driver this year; running errands with the kids and nipping out to pick up groceries, maybe even driving up the motorway to go on family adventures (if I can get used to sat nav, that is).

So, that’s it. This little blog-journey is over and it has been hugely enjoyable to write. I’m off to finally clean the moss off that car and get it spruced up for the car dealers.

Thank you if you followed my story – wishing you a very happy new year full of new adventures!

Fits and Starts: Getting to Grips with Short Drives

It has been a beautifully fantastic summer in the UK, and the autumn is proving to be just as magnificent. Huge blue skies, bright sunshine and cheerful birdsong have all set the scene for idyllic outdoor happiness.

Sky-500x375It’s been the sort of weather that most drivers must relish. During an afternoon walk, the twins and I counted five or six convertible cars cruising around our neighbourhood. Middle-aged men in driving gloves. Young tribes of mates pumping out music and laughter. Dogs enjoying the wind in their fur, ears and tongues flapping in the breeze.

Of course, we were observing this all from the safety of the footpath. My recent efforts to overcome my fear of driving have come to a standstill for a number of reasons (in some cases, excuses) and so the twins and I had found ourselves demoted to the rank of pedestrians once again.

However, despite a few set-backs, there has been some real progress.

Each of my chosen destinations had one thing in common: utterly hassle-free parking. Despite being the furthest away, the flower farm was the most appealing option because the car park was a large open field with no bays to contend with, just the odd cow-pat.

After an anticlimactic failure to start my pathetic car last month, a breakdown engineer was called to bring it back to life. He was adorned in heavily stained bright yellow overalls, reflecting his jolly yet edgy demeanour, and adopted a slight penchant for sexism.

‘You aware you got moss growing?’ he told me after a pointless examination of the car’s bodywork, given the problem was a flat battery. At first I thought he was referring to the very dead tree under which the car had been parked for so long, but I soon noticed the spread of green spores framing the car’s windows. I felt a pang of sympathy for the neglected vehicle, followed by a sting of embarrassment.

I offered to make the mechanic a cup of tea, my ‘go-to’ solution in moments of unease, and left him to his work and whistling.

£200 later, the car was now fully functioning with a brand new battery, correct pressure in the tyres and oil in the… place where the oil goes. As the mechanic drove off, I made a mental note to swat-up on basic car maintenance during all that lovely free time that I was hoping to magic out of nowhere. My free time ‘to-do’ list looks a bit like this:

  1. sleep
  2. learn basic car maintenance
  3. clean moss off car
  4. drive the bloody thing

Whilst items 1 to 3 have yet to be addressed in any real sense, item 4 has finally been put into action.

‘Are we going for a drive today?’
‘Let’s do it.’

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There is a really interesting post about driving phobia written by Anxiety Care UK that I wish I had discovered before setting off on my first drive. As well as some fascinating insight into how a driving phobia is sometimes part of a wider ‘anxiety cluster’, there is a useful list of suggested ‘self-exposure’ steps to take when tackling it, ranging from the first stage: ‘sit in the car with the engine running‘ through to the final step: ‘take a long trip on roads that you are unfamiliar with.

My own approach has been a lot more haphazard. I have had to grab the opportunities to drive as and when they arose from the pandemonium of looking after my tiny little twosome. It has involved:

  • the odd drive around the block alone, pootling along at 20mph, smiling and waving at other drivers with a shaky hand
  • a two-minute drive to the local pub with my dad and the twins (no no, there is a soft-play area and they serve tea)
  • occasionally driving to the kids’ new preschool
  • taking my mum for a slightly more chaotic 15 minute drive to a nearby flower farm for a family day out (which involved a broken down bus and a slight panic attack in someone’s driveway)

Each of my chosen destinations had one thing in common: utterly hassle-free parking. Despite being the furthest away, the flower farm was the most appealing option because the car park was an open field with no bays to contend with, just the odd cow-pat.

Car-500x333

As well as my apparent aversion to any type of parking (I need to work on that), another unfortunate fact soon came to light. The car is horrible to drive. It is loud and revvy. The gear-stick is stiff and scrunchy. I can’t find a comfortable driving position however much I adjust the seat. The few skills that I had felt reasonably comfortable with (clutch control, turn in the road, hill starts) now all feel tricky and troublesome. None of this is conducive to keeping my stress levels in check behind the wheel.

I long for the quieter, smoother ride of my driving instructor’s car in which I launched myself up and down the motorway back in the spring – a brief (if a little turbulent) romance that gave me a taste of life in a pretty new car.

My current feelings about my own car are like those you might experience in a new relationship when you suddenly suspect that you may be totally wrong for each other. Faced with the decision about whether to call it quits or to persevere (just in case some of the annoying little things become more bearable over time), you tolerate each outing together in a state of low-level confusion and slight resentment.

And so, I find myself less and less inclined to take this dumpy little car out for a drive. My husband drives it more than me now, despite agreeing with me about the controls but clearly giving less of a toss about that sort of thing.

Perhaps it’s time to clean off the moss and give the car a good wash and polish. A bit of grooming and pampering may help me learn to like the scrappy old thing and strengthen our bond.

I suspect driving through a car-wash would feel like a ride in the house of horrors, so I’m off to buy a new bucket and some extra j-cloths.