One of my New Year's resolutions was to do even more things just for the sake of a good story to tell afterwards. I wish someone had been around when I was 17, to tell me that the excruciating shame of CONSTANTLY failing driving tests would one day give me a great tale to recount at parties.
Sometimes, I don't even say the number of times it took me to pass my driving test out loud. When people ask, I just hold up all my fingers and wait for them to realise that I'm really not joking.
It's fairly average to have failed a couple of times; the few 'first timers' I know are unbearably smug and I'm convinced they don't understand the true concept of pain. But eight attempts is about, well, an eight out of ten on the embarrassment scale. Mainly because a) I'm not a complete moron and b) I'm a very good driver now.
So this is the story of the most epic learning-to-drive-drama that has ever been.
We lived in the middle of fricking nowhere when I was a teen. Seriously, there was one bus that ran from my village in Nowhereville to the nearest city and you had to book to go on it.
Essentially it was one of those 'dial-a-ride' vehicles that picked up pensioners who needed to go to the city hospital, which explains why my teenaged social sphere perhaps contained more 80 year old women than most of my peers.
This bus was my lifeline, except it only ran until about 8pm, which isn't ideal for a freshly of-age young lady *cough* who really wanted to GO OUT. Not just a casual pop out, a full blown, dressed up, at night, GOING OUT EVENT. So when my parents presented me with my grandma's old VW Golf for my birthday, I saw my future freedom gleaming under its bottle green paintwork. I just had to master the thing first.
I booked lessons with an old guy a friend recommended (there are a lot of characters in this story who are over 60. It's little wonder that I wasn't the most socialised of teenagers).
This instructor was a third cheaper than standard driving lessons, although it probably balanced out if you took into account the time he would make me drive back to his house so that he could get something/use the bathroom.
I wasn't a nervous learner driver - after my first lesson, I experienced a taste of the power that driving afforded me and I liked it. A lot. Maybe, a little too much. I loved driving and felt confident in my car. Some might have said slightly over-confident.
After a few weeks of meandering round country lanes, I mooted the idea of booking a test. My instructor mumbled something about me deciding when I was ready, so I went ahead and booked. It was only during my first actual test that I realised we hadn't yet covered the technicalities of roundabouts.
Thank God for dual controls or both the examiner and I would now be severely paralysed, if not severely dead.
My poor parents had booked a 'celebratory' meal for after my test, which they now had to endure with me quietly sobbing throughout. Freedom had been so close... I had been in a car with a stranger... and totally fucked it up.
More, equally calamitous tests followed. There were Clueless-style wingmirror clipping incidents, freezing at traffic light incidents... no matter what happened, I just kept re-booking, like a sick-minded glutton for automobile punishment.
Instead of getting upset when I failed (again) I began to get angry, slamming my hand on the dashboard and half-yelling "WHYYYY?!?" when yet another instructor told me I hadn't turned off my indicator quick enough or approached a junction slow enough.
Sheer, bloody-minded determination and the fact that none of the examiners wanted to test me again at my local centre led me to taking the test in different towns. At about the fifth or sixth go, my parents stopped asking how it had gone, instead they just ushered me home quietly, before I could have a total nervous breakdown in public.
'Practising' with them had nearly led to blood being shed on the tarmac: my dad forced me out of the car after five minutes driving together and my mum once yanked on the handbrake in the middle of a busy high street, because she didn't think I was going to stop at a red light. Thanks for the vote of confidence, mother dearest.
Finally, after hours of practise and thousands of pounds spent (on tests alone, probably) I booked a slot on 29th December at 8am in a nearby army town. There were approximately two other vehicles on the roads during my whole test, it being that brilliantly quiet limbo period between Christmas and New Year.
All seemed to go well, but I had learnt the very, very hard way never to count my chickens.
As we pulled in to the test centre, I waited for the list of fails... which somehow didn't come. I don't think I even heard the instructor say I'd passed, I was too busy leaping – like a crazy person - out of the car with extreme joy, doing a small scream of excitement and vindication.
I wasn't shit! I did know how to drive! I could, now, legally transport myself wherever I wanted to go! Oh, sweet freedom: Nothing Compares 2 U.
Driving completely transforms your life and enables you to do all the stuff that normal teenagers do. I was a young, independent woman now. Kind of.
Two days after passing my test, having never been on a night 'out' before, I drove myself to my first proper date with a proper boy on New Year's Eve, got my first kiss sometime after midnight and finally, reluctantly, drove home at 4am.
My parents promptly confiscated my car keys.