'Misery With An L Plate - Learning To Drive' by Danny Bowes

The process of learning to drive was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life! I was so desperate to learn, even from an early age I was obsessed with cars. I wanted to drive so much it hurt.

I started my Grandad's car once, having offered to retrieve stuff from his boot. I was no philanthropist, I had a plan! I got down to the car, got the stuff out of the boot, then sat in the driving seat and imagined myself in a fantastic place, zooming down the road at a million miles an hour. I couldn't resist putting the key in the ignition, I had no free will, the car wanted me to drive it, I could feel it urging me on. Please bear in mind at this point that I had no absolutely no idea how to drive a car, I was 13, but I knew everything, and nothing, and it didn't matter.

I turned the key one click (mistake # 1), the dashboard lights came on, my heart was beating so fast it was going to jump out of my body. I turned the key one more click (mistake # 2), the car leapt forward into the back of the car parked in front, the crashing noise was huge, I was terrified. I now know my Grandad had a tendency to leave his car parked in first gear (years of old bangers with defective handbrakes), but at the time in all the sheer panic I assumed the car had to be faulty. I jumped out and surveyed the damage, there were bits of broken glass from the smashed headlight all over the floor, I ran inside and composed myself, gave my Grandad the stuff from the boot, and acted as if nothing had happened. I have carried the shame of that event to this day, and it feels good to confess it now.

I had my provisional licence on my 17th birthday, and immediately took as many lessons as my meagre wages would allow (1 x 60 minute session per week), and soon discovered I was getting nowhere. I spent most of the lesson each week trying to remember what I'd done the week before, it was hopeless, but I persevered. It was the most important thing to me at the time, it consumed my thoughts, for I knew that if I could drive I could get a driving job, and with it a van (the equation for the more scientific amongst you goes like this:- driving licence = job = van + band = more gigs = girls + sex = joy unconfined). They said it would be ages before I got a test appointment, so I decided to get ahead of the game, and applied before I was ready, in the hope that when the test came through, I would be the most competent learner on the earth (mistake # 3). This turned out to be a terrible plan, as the test came through really quickly, I was too desperate to admit I wasn't ready, so I took the test and not surprisingly, I failed dismally. I was bereft, miserable for weeks, nothing could cheer me up. My life was over.

Eventually I surfaced from my Pit Of Doom, and decided to try again, but this time I was going to do it differently. My Mum had decided to learn to drive also, and my Dad bought her an old mini (just like Mr Bean's to look at), so we both got to practice in it. I went out with my Dad once, and only once (mistake # 4), he rather unhelpfully laughed his head off the whole time, and I was instantly plunged back into the now familiar Pit Of Doom and self loathing. Weeks passed where I hated the world, especially all the people who could drive. I kept wondering why they could do it and I couldn't. I watched them driving about happily, blissfully unaware of how much I wanted to kill them all, but eventually (and thankfully) this phase passed, and not being the type who gives in easily, I decided another tack was in order.

I persuaded a friend from work (who had a full licence) to let me drive him to work each day, and this was how I got my much needed practice. I became pretty confident after a while, and decided to try another test. The day came and all was well, and I felt supremely confident of success as I left my friend Ronnie at the test centre, and drove off in my Mum's mini with the examiner. The test went perfectly, until near the end when he asked me to turn left (mistake # 5), I did all the right things and duly turned left, but the car carried on straight (the steering rack had broken). He looked angry and asked why I'd ignored him, as we drove at 30 mph along the road. I (panicking slightly now) explained that I hadn't ignored him, and showed him how I'd turned left by doing it again, still with no change in direction. He shouted "Oh my God! stop the car!". I duly stopped (under control, having looked in my mirror and indicated first) and we sat there, neither speaking, for a lifetime. He eventually informed me that I had failed the test, due to the fact that my vehicle was clearly unfit to be on the road. We walked back to the test centre in complete silence, but my Pit Of Doom was calling once again.

I applied again, and this time the test was called off on the day because the examiner was sick (they said he was sick, I believe he saw the mini in the car park and didn't want to take the chance). Back to the Pit for 6 more weeks until a re-scheduled test date arrived.

As you have gathered, getting my driving licence was not the happiest of experiences for me. Even on the day I passed, the moment of supreme joy was tinged with negativity. When the test was over, I got my bit of paper to say I'd passed, and ran into the test centre to my Dad who'd been in the waiting room. I burst through the door and shouted "da-daaah!" in true show biz big band stylee, only to find the room was empty.... My Dad had gone to the cafe with all the instructors. My examiner came in behind me and told me where they were, so I had to do the "da-daaah!" moment all over again, in the cafe, which somehow wasn't the same the second time. But they did all clap, and the Pit Of Doom disappeared.

I've had bad times since then of course, but nothing has been as excruciating.

Moral of the story, if at first you don't succeed, take the bus....

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