I have a love-hate relationship with cars. Cars don’t like me and I don’t much like them. But needs must and the auto-mobile has become a necessary evil for me.
I come from a family of non-drivers. My mother and father don’t drive. Of all the six siblings, only my two sisters and I took lessons – and went on to pass our driving tests. And out of the three, only my youngest sister and I are now drivers. I think if you aren’t brought up in and around cars from an early age, you develop a kind of healthy fear of them. Let’s face it; they are lethal weapons in the wrong hands. Off and on, it probably took me ten years to learn and five attempts to pass my driving test; I could barely afford the repeated lessons and the hideously expensive tests but I kept going. I must have really wanted it because dogged determination is not one of my strong points.
I’m a Londoner by birth, and I expect had I not migrated from London, I probably wouldn’t be a driver now. As with the majority of big cities, the public transport system is such that one never really needs to drive anywhere; there are multiple over-ground trains, tube trains and buses so getting about is relatively easy. And if you do decide to drive, you spend your entire life sitting in traffic anyway. But at the age of 20, I moved out to the West Country. This proved to be a dramatically slower pace of life (which was one of the reasons I left London in the first place), but that slow place came at the expense of decent public transport. It was only because of the anxiety of finishing a nursing late-shift at 9:30pm and knowing I had to catch a certain bus or I would miss a certain train home that finally made me knuckle down and become a driver. The fear of killing some hapless passer-by on the open road was outweighed by the fear of being murdered in some dark bus-shelter.
So now I’m a driver – my home and place of work are more rural than ever so I couldn’t live where I live or do what I do if I wasn’t. And like I say, it took me a long time to pass my test so I was twenty seven before I actually learned. Therefore, I am in no way a natural. In some ways that’s a good thing; I’m not a boy-racer, I never drive too fast, I am always cautious and I have never been involved in a real accident. Touch wood. So yes, I drive responsibly, but on the negative side, I am overly hesitant and ridiculously wary. There are so many things I dislike about driving that I couldn’t possibly cover it in one blog post, but here are just a few of my car-pet-hates…
Overtaking: I don’t especially enjoy overtaking and when I have to (you get stuck behind an awful lot of tractors where I live), I always strictly abide by the Highway Code (ensure there is no oncoming traffic and that you can pass the car in front easily, don’t overtake on a bend etc. etc.). But what I truly hate is when other people feel the need to overtake me when I’m doing the speed limit. Why? Where do you need to be so urgently on a Sunday morning? Are you racing to see your sick mother? And what was the point of that manoeuvre anyway? You’ve just ended up in front of me instead of behind me because the weight of traffic won’t allow you to go any faster, you freak (picture me shouting this at the top of my lungs, because I would be)!!
Satellite Navigation: I’m dreadful with direction (typical girl). I can’t read maps and I’m prone to getting lost. So when sat-nav came into being, I was completely overjoyed! But nothing is ever straightforward. So I have a love-hate relationship with satellite navigation as well as cars. I wouldn’t be happy to go on an unforeseen, unfamiliar journey without my sat-nav but I detest the way it seems to have unexplained mental breakdowns or constantly gets it spectacularly wrong. I live in a very small town which borders on being rural and sat-nav insists on sending me on the scenic route rather than sticking to main roads. Why? Why must I be sent on the narrowest of single-track lanes that very often just peter out to nothing at some farm gate or turnstile forcing me to do a U-turn to get back onto the nearest main road again! I’ve been known to be found slumped over the steering wheel of my car weeping in some dead-end street because the sat-nav has sent me on some bloody magical mystery tour. My children just sit there, looking on in bemused silence until I can stop blubbing and regroup. You really have to keep your wits about you and override some of the stupid directions that snobby female voice gives you, because a sat-nav would quite happily send you onto a railway track or off a cliff if you let it.
Parallel Parking: I’m ashamed to say I can’t parallel park. It was most definitely involved in at least one of my five tests so I was definitely instructed on how to do the manoeuvre, but I just can’t remember how. I recall something about pulling up parallel to the car you intend to park behind and lining up your wing-mirrors and then bla-bla-bla-bla-bla…it all goes murky in the memory centre of my brain. I once tried to parallel park in a tiny street in Bristol – I must have driven backwards and forwards fifty times. It didn’t help that the radio had chosen to play some incredibly tense music. ‘Turn it off!’ I yelled at my daughter as my anxiety levels reached a record high. Anyway, after about ten minutes inching ahead and reversing back, I finally made it in between the two cars, only to find a massive space had become available a little way up the street. So now I don’t even attempt it. If I see a space that is too small to drive directly into, I just drive on until I can find something bigger – even if that’s streets and streets away from where I want to be. Or I just do the sensible thing and pay to park in a car park. I’m sorry, I’m forty-three; it’s too late to learn now.
The Headlamp Flash: When the oncoming car flashes its headlamps to give you a warning. What does this mean? Very often you drive on expecting to see some Police doing speed-checks or an accident, but find absolutely nothing. So I got to thinking these drivers must be trying to tell me something else. Is my hair too frizzy? Was it a bad decision to wear spots with stripes today? Am a dragging a large piece of metal beneath the undercarriage of my car? What is it?! I think these drivers ought to make it more clear and write me a huge placard with a brief description of the problem as they pass me by. I’m not a mind-reader, y’know!
So, cars; you’ve gotta’ love ‘em but you’ve also gotta’ hate ‘em. They’re a necessary evil. They cost you a fortune to run, they break down in unfortunate places (I’ve never owned a new car and probably never will) and they’re a law unto themselves. When I’m in bed at night, my worst nightmares usually involve me driving around some foreign city being completely clueless as to where I’m going with an underlying sense of panic building throughout the dream (true story). I’m not a born driver but I’ve forced myself into auto-mobiles because I personally cannot function without one. I am the house taxi: Kids birthday party? ‘Jump on in! I’m not busy!’ Teenagers trip to the cinema? ‘Sure, do you want me to do the return journey too?’ After-school rehearsals finishing at some ungodly hour of the night? ‘I’m your girl! Do I look like I have a life?’ I’ve got to work, I’ve got to pick up kids, I’ve got to do the shopping; ergo I HAVE to drive. So all I can do is muse about the day when cars become ‘self-drive’ or when I can afford a limo-driver to chauffeur me about wherever I choose to go. But I’m not holding my breath.