[*note – this is out of sequence and should have come before yesterday’s effort. That’s what comes of scribbling here and in a word processor which is a bit more verbose.*]
One of the presents I got on my twenty first birthday was a voucher for a series of driving lessons. This must rank as one of the best presents I ever received.
I had been behind the wheel of my parents’ car a few times, mainly in the Phoenix Park. It was an ideal learning spot with many little roads all verged with soft grass. Visibility was also perfect as you could see other traffic easily on the flat park. The few times I drove were clichéd and predictable. I leapfrogged the car and stalled it; I tried to steer the car rather than guide it. I needed professional help.
After work one day I cycled on my motorbike into the heart of Dublin, to the driving school’s offices. I proudly presented my voucher and was introduced to my instructor. He brought me out to the street and told me to get in. I went to open the passenger door but he told me to get in on the driver’s side. I assumed he was going to tell me about the pedals and gears and the like before driving me up to The Phoenix Park. But no – he told me to start driving. I assumed he knew what he was doing so I started the car and moved off. He directed me onto The Quays.
I should explain that this was the late afternoon and as usual traffic on The Quays was chaotic. Hoping the instructor was going to guide me up to The Phoenix Park I did my best. I caused a bit of confusion with other traffic as I stalled a few times and after ten minutes was in a sweat of fear. The instructor told me to ignore all the other drivers [they were all learners once] and to carry on. We never got near The Park. We drove around The Quays again and again for a whole hour and eventually parked behind the school’s office again.
‘That wasn’t bad’ said the instructor. ‘You did well. How long have you been driving?’
‘Just over an hour’ I replied.
‘No. I mean how much have you driven in the past?’
I told him I had tried the parents’ car a couple of times in The Park. He nearly collapsed.
‘Your voucher is for a pre-test course, not a beginners! I assumed you were okay with traffic. I never would have asked you to drive in that traffic if I had known!’
So anyway, over the following weeks I had more lessons and he had been impressed enough with my first one to keep me jousting with rush-hour traffic. He was a great instructor and I learned a lot. As well as that, my parents encouraged me to drive whenever we were out so I got a fair bit of practice.
Eventually of course I applied for my driving test. The test took place in Wicklow Town which has narrow streets and a few hills. I thought I did very well. I failed. I remember having reasons to debate my failure but accepted it anyway. I applied for my test again.
The time of my next test I had a bad dose of the ‘flu. I had headaches, a temperature and aches all over but I wasn’t going to miss that test. So I arrived down there just as a thunderstorm sparked up. Not only was it pelting rain but it was Market Day in the town so the streets were full of tractors and lorries. Half way up the Main Street during the test I met a tractor coming towards me. There was no room to pass on either side so we both stopped. The tractor refused to budge. The only thing I could do was to reverse back down the street and into a side road, and because of the rain I could barely see out the back window. Once the tractor had passed I carried on up the street and pulled in and parked as soon as I could. The tester asked why I had stopped and I explained that my nerves were shot after that damned tractor and that I needed a moment to get my head together. He laughed. He had noticed I was rattled and said that what I had done was the correct thing and that if I had continued he probably would have failed me.
I passed the test. I was now a fully qualified driver. My father had accompanied me down to Wicklow and on the way home he suggested we had a pint to celebrate. My father suggesting a pint was an extreme rarity (he didn’t really drink), so I expressed surprise.
‘Well’ he said, ‘you can now drive. Maybe it’s time you learned to drink and drive?’
My father had a twisted sense of humour.