FUN

I'm Learning to Drive For The First Time Aged 25

My main difficulty so far is that I feel a bit embarrassed about the whole thing. One of the reasons I've been reluctant to learn to drive is that I'm not sure how good I am at learning things any more. I can't remember the last time I developed a physical skill from scratch.
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December 17, 2012
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driving, learning to drive, driving test, adult learning

As Usher so memorably sang: These are my confessions. I can’t drive. Eight years have gone by since I have been legally able to sit behind the wheel of a car in the UK, and I have done absolutely nothing about it.

“I live in London! I take the tube! We have civilised things, like taxis!” I yodelled whenever anyone brought it up. Also, I’m genuinely quite alarmed by the thought of being in control of a gigantic, heavy metal box on wheels.

But those excuses haven’t stopped quite a few of my friends from driving. Nor has it stopped six of my younger cousins from becoming fully-qualified drivers (there are a lot of family occasions where this fact comes up. I and my non-driving brothers and sisters are a source of great shame to my dad). Plus, I have a persistent daydream of spending my hols motoring around the South of France in a convertible, Jackie O sunglasses and headscarf in place.

I was starting to feel a bit pathetic that I’d never even had a crack at driving. Well, apart from when my dad tried to make me drive around a campsite in Scotland, when I was 16. I almost killed a rabbit that was taking its evening constitutional and then I screamed and took my hands off the wheel and my feet off the pedals, which, apparently, is not what you’re supposed to do.

I don’t think, by the way, that everyone who can’t drive is a feckless idiot. The last thing the world needs is more cars. But I’ve come to realise that there are lots of circumstances in which being able to drive would be helpful for me, both personally and professionally. Plus there’s the Jackie O thing.

So I booked a lesson for the weekend after my 25th birthday. The chap who’s teaching me already thought I was a bit of an idiot because I kept getting the time wrong (and the day), but I eventually made it into the car. And then into the driving seat.

I’m all of 5 ft, 1 ½ inches tall, so I had to pull the seat way, way up close to the steering wheel. And then I had to crane my head through virtually 360 degrees (we were in an empty street at this point) and check that no-one was going to be in imminent danger from what was about to happen. And then, all of a sudden, I was driving! My feet were in the right place and then I was breaking, and then reversing and it was all pretty cool.

Immediately, of course, I start to think to myself: “My GOD, this is easy! Why did it take me so long to do this? I’m going to need like four lessons and then I’ll be done! I’M GOING TO BE THE BEST DRIVER EVER!”...

Yeah. There’s a bit more to it than going forwards and backwards, it turns out. I’ve had two lessons now and my steering skills are definitely a bit dodgy. I keep forgetting which foot is supposed to be where. And my tendency to shriek in fear is still definitely present.

The teacher is quite nice, and very test-focused, which is exactly what I’m after, but he’s also quite stern. Not in a good, Liam Neeson/Mr Rochester sort of way, but in a “You need to stop trying to steer into parked cars right now” sort of way. Obviously he has a point.

However, apparently my hazard-spotting skills are on point, and I am slowly learning not to take both hands off the wheel to point at small children running out into the road, but rather to brake.

My main difficulty so far (and I know this sounds pathetic) is that I feel a bit embarrassed about the whole thing. One of the reasons I’ve been reluctant to learn to drive is that I’m not sure how good I am at learning things any more. I can't remember that last time I developed a physical skill from scratch – that’s the sort of thing that you tend to stop doing past the age of about 12, particularly if you’re not sporty (guess what: I’m not) – and I’m worried that maybe I’ve lost the knack for learning.

Perhaps this is ridiculous, but all the things I’ve learnt to do in the last ten years are either intellectual or emotional. Learning how to use InCopy for my job – fine. Learning how to live with a boyfriend – fine (apart from that business with the laundry basket...). Learning how to make my feet use the clutch and the brake and the accelerator in tandem until it becomes automatic – bit trickier.

Maybe I would find it less fear-inducing if I thought of driving as a mental exercise, and I’m basically getting through it right now by just pretending for an hour at a time that I’m not scared, and I’m soooooo sure that I’m overthinking it; I’m still freaking out that the “learning bit” of my brain won’t work.

And there’s more! (If I’m gonna tell it then I gotta tell it all – thanks Usher, I had no idea you were going to be so useful) I have set myself what already seems like a crazily unrealistic goal of learning to drive in just ten lessons. I can’t really afford to pay for more sessions than that - SIDE NOTE: Can we discuss how insanely expensive learning to drive is? – and I like to set myself awful challenges that cause me to lose sleep and be irritable to my loved ones.

So tell me, XOJaners, is this a stupid plan? Why do I need to drive in the first place? Is it odd to think of driving as a physical skill? If you’ve got a license, what did you find most useful when you were learning? TIPS, people, I want tips.

Molly will be live-tweeting her three-point turns on Twitter @mollyhpierce.