Lone Driver: Life After Refresher Lessons

‘You either take a (BEEP) or get off the toilet,’ my sister told me on the phone. We had been discussing my recent refresher lessons, my neglected car and whether I could bite the bullet and drive it just once around the block.

I knew it was time. I had just returned from the supermarket with another puncture in one of the buggy’s tyres and, with two growing twins and a load of shopping, it had taken a gargantuan effort to push it home. The wind was against me as I walked along the main road, leaning into the side of the buggy so that it didn’t veer off the pavement. I could almost hear the pity coming from every vehicle that drove past us, as if they were gossiping about me in a secret automobile language.

When we finally got home, I was ready to collapse. My little Polo was waiting for us under the tree, with a fresh blob of bird poo on its roof and a collection of dead leaves around each of its wheels.

‘Are we going for a drive today?’
‘Not now. Buggy’s blown a tyre.’

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I had taken five refresher lessons in the end. The cocksure part of my character had imagined (or, perhaps, hoped) that I would only need three, but my instructor and I decided to go heavy on the motorway driving to try and conquer my slip-road discombobulations. During my last lesson, I must have joined the motorway a dozen times, coming off at each exit so that I could turn round and practise joining it again. I wouldn’t have managed this alone or with a friend or relative. My instructor, Stephanie, was great at giving me emotional space and, more importantly, clear directions.

The story goes that it takes 21 days to break a habit. I only had a one-hour lesson to convince my brain that motorway driving was nothing to be afraid of. Whilst I had no idea whether I was heading north or south, joining the motorway did begin to feel a little less terrifying. But let’s not get carried away; a low-level residual panic could still throw my gear-logic out the window every time I fretfully fumbled my way into the flow of motorway traffic.

Whilst I have become pretty good at mending our beloved off-road buggy, car maintenance is currently beyond my capabilities, and it would take more than a few online videos to get me to pop open the hood and tinkle with the dipstick.

I didn’t expect to feel ready to pack a bag and embark on a road trip up to Scotland but, after the final exhausting lesson, it did occur to me that the time we had spent driving back and forth between two motorway junctions could have been spent driving to my sister’s house or even half way to the coast.

Surely I could take my own car out for a drive around the block?

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A few days later, on a bright Sunday afternoon, I picked up my cars keys and casually told my husband that I was going for a drive. He was busy in the garden watching the twins as they frantically threw themselves (and each other) down the slide. He must not have heard me properly over the squeals of joy and screaming tantrums, because he just said ‘OK’ before rushing to moderate a very heated disagreement about the correct direction of slide-traffic.

As I left the house, feeling jittery and tense, I could hear the garden dispute escalating into hysterics. I opened the car door and sat at the wheel, regaining my composure by humming a song from ‘Moana’ (the kid’s current favourite movie).

Once I had closed the door and fastened my seat belt, it was just me and the stillness of the car. I took a deep breath and, grinning at my sheer gritty determination to get going, I turned the key in the ignition.

It was therefore a huge disappointment, but perhaps also a slight relief, when the engine failed to start. Whilst I have become pretty good at mending our beloved off-road buggy, car maintenance is currently beyond my capabilities and it would take more than a few online videos to get me to pop open the hood and tinkle with the dipstick. But I’m no fool – I knew it was the battery. It was as flat as the buggy’s tyre and my now deflated mood.

And so I returned to the house, immediately gravitating towards the kettle and adopting my wistful pose at the kitchen window. It was only then that I noticed the tree, under which the car had remained parked for so long, had completely and utterly died. Perhaps the car’s neglect had spread to its roots and it had tragically failed to bud into life, just like the devastating darkness that spread across the ocean and infected the coconut groves on Moana’s island village after the heart of Te Fiti was stolen by Maui (I might have seen it too many times).

And so, as the kettle gently simmered, I began to channel my inner Moana and thought it could be an appropriate moment to break out into a stirring song about triumph in adversity, overcoming self-doubt and set-backs. After all, what she wanted most in life was to be a voyager (yes, I’ve definitely seen it too many times).

But instead I made a cup of tea and looked up the number of the breakdown service.

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