Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Driven To Distraction

I applied for my provisional driving license as I turned seventeen, receiving it once I reached the legal age to take lessons.

I was not champing at the bit to learn, counting down the days as some of my peers did. It was just something that was done – celebrate the milestone birthday, obtain license, find an instructor, book test, be allowed on the roads. My older cousins and my friends and schoolmates had been or were all in the throes of going through the same process. I did not really know what I was doing when I was seventeen, generally speaking, and being rather laid-back I simply followed the path that was prescribed for me. That is, stay in school until sixth year, sit my exams, spend three or four years at university, and then emerge with a degree and a sense of the career that would fill my twenties and beyond.

It did not happen like that. I went to Strathclyde University, started and dropped out of two very different degrees, and left to work in a shop for a while, before finally graduating from an unaffiliated institution seven years later. I remember that at the Open Days, when all the departments set out stalls to sell their courses, I completely flummoxed several of my prospective tutors – with no idea which path I wanted to follow, they asked what subjects I was studying. I was in the process of gaining my Higher Drama and my Certificate Of Sixth Year Studies in Maths – two unrelated subjects that failed to suggest any obvious route into further education.

Above: Bob Newhart’s classic take on Driving Instruction.

In the end, I did my degree in the technical side of theatre, specialising in scenic carpentry. It maintained my interest in drama, and utilised my maths skills too. Ultimately, it neglected to offer the steadiest of employment opportunities, as I discovered, but it did at least sustain my interest.

Anyway, with regard to my provisional driving license, I booked lessons and trained to the required standard to pass my test. My instructor found out that I played the guitar (in truth, I owned a guitar. To say that I played it is stretching the extent of my abilities), and we connected over that. His advice was always that I should treat my guitar like I would treat a woman, or maybe it was the other way round – I forget now. That was the upshot, though, and I shall rise above the cheap and crude hack jokes that arise from guitars having G-strings, and from what you do with your digits to elicit a pleasant sound.

I never sat my theory test, which prevented me from taking the practical, even though I was repeatedly told that I would sail through it, so to speak. I cannot now fathom why I did not put in the final bit of effort to secure my right to sit behind the wheel, and regret this shortcoming. I tried to get back into it several times in the intervening years, always being met by some obstacle or other – funding being the main one. it is not a cheap thing to acquire.

Above: Rikki Fulton and Tony Roper, Scottish comedy legends.

Part of me relates it to the time that, turning into a packed residential street with poor visibility, my instructor leapt on the brake to prevent me from driving into the back of an ambulance. The sight of an old woman lying on the road outside her church, in a compact area crammed with parked cars and now hosting a couple of police cars and the aforementioned ambulance, would stay with the most seasoned of drivers, far less an intermediate. He took care of all the footwork while directing me to do some exceptionally tight steering. I managed to negotiate around the parked cars; the emergency vehicles; the attendant paramedics and officers; the bystanders and fellow emerging churchgoers; and the oncoming traffic – but the image and the experience stayed with me.

Another part of me is reluctant to learn now, even if the funds were available, believing that it is just tempting fate. I have visions of crashing and burning within days of getting my license, leading to painful scenes at my funeral as people remark on the irony – “he waited fifteen years to get his license, got into a car and died the next day.” It would be a good story, one that people would enjoy telling thanks to the morbidity and the twist, but there are other stories that I would prefer to be part of instead. Given the choice.

This year I will be thirty-two, and I have held my provisional license for fifteen years. It has recently occurred to me that, In two years time, my provisional driving license will be old enough to apply for its own provisional driving license.

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