Back in 1971 I was given a voucher for a series of driving lessons.
Up until then, I had driven the family car a few times around the Phoenix Park, and had even been let take the wheel once or twice on the open road in the country.
My first appointment was at half five in the afternoon, so I headed in on my motorbike, feeling a little nervous.
The driving school was on the quays in Dublin, and of course I arrived bang in the middle of the rush-hour. Even then, traffic in Dublin was chaotic at that time of day.
The instructor introduced himself and brought be out to a lane at the back of the offices. There was a nice shiny Morris Mini sitting there.
I assumed he was going to bring me up to the Phoenix Park where there are miles of road that are ideal for learning. But for some strange reason, he insisted that I sit behind the wheel.
“Right,” says he. “What are you waiting for? Start driving and I’ll tell you where to go.”
Bloody hell! What was he playing at? But he was the instructor, so I started up and drove out of the lane. He directed me on to Eden Quay, which was solid with traffic. I had never driven in traffic before, so I went into a state of panic but tried not to show it.
We drove around the Quays for an hour. The sweat was pouring off me, and I didn’t hear half of what he was saying. I stalled the engine quite a few times, but managed to avoid hitting anything. at the end of the hour, I parked the car back in the lane. It was one of the longest hours of my life.
“OK,” he said. “That wasn’t too bad. How long have you been driving?”
I looked at my watch. “About an hour.”
“No. I mean how long were you driving before today?”
“A couple of times around the Phoenix Park, and once or twice on the Wexford Road,” I replied.
He went white. “FUCK!” he said, and then apologised. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“That you hadn’t driven before?”
“Because you are teaching me to. I assumed that you assumed that I had never driven. Isn’t that what driving lessons are for?”
He moaned softly. He flicked through the pages on my file where he had been taking notes, and checked my details.
“You have booked in for the Advanced Pre-test Course. You are supposed to have completed the Beginners course first….”
We both sat there in silence and sweated for a few minutes. He quietly said ‘fuck’ to himself a couple of times, but didn’t apologise.
“Well!” says he. “We’re still alive. And if you can drive around Dublin in the rush-hour on your first lesson, then I think you’ll be all right.”
Is that what they mean by ‘being thrown in the deep end’?