I steered the car into a parking space, stopped, put on the handbrake and turned off the engine. The examiner looked at his clipboard and said: "I'm pleased to tell you that you have passed your test."
That was exactly one year ago today, D-Day, the day I at last passed my driving test. I'm not going to tell you how many attempts I took, as it dozen matter anymore.
I can't tell you just what a relief it was to pass. Until a few years ago, I had been quite happy to rely on public transport. But then the local bus company decided to change the timetable and made it impossible for me to get in from the village I live in to work on time. I looked at various options but in the end the only practical one was to start taking driving lessons.
But learning to drive wasn't as straightforward as I thought it would be. My instructor kept telling me that she thought I was a good driver, but I was a bundle of nerves when it came to the tests. As a result, I kept finding new and inventive ways to fail.
But I kept going and I'm really glad I did. Having my own wheels has made a real difference to my life. I feel much freer, able to go where I like when I like, without having to worry about timetables.
To take a couple of examples, earlier on this year there was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon which I decided was too good to waste at home. So I got into my car and headed out toward the west coast, eventually ending up at Ullapool. This was just stunning, with the sun shining on the boats in the bay. I had a delightful meal sitting outside looking out over the harbour, and the whole trip was just perfect. And it's not one I'd have been able to do had I had to rely on public transport.
Another trip I was able to take was a holiday to Berwick-upon-Tweed, the Yorkshire Dales, Shropshire and north Wales. I clocked up a total of 1642 miles over the fortnight, and it was an excellent trip, apart from the weather. Again, I wouldn't have been able to do it - or it would have been a great hassle - if I'd been relying on trains or buses.
But the greater freedom has also resulted in greater responsibility. I think my alcohol consumption has dropped significantly. I've also discovered the delights of low or non-alcoholic beers. I'm also far less likely to go out to a pub, as previously if I missed my bus home, I would normally just head to a pub. Now after work I just jump into my car and head home.
And over the past year, I've also discovered just how badly some people drive. Now, I'm by no means a perfect driver and I occasionally make mistakes, just like everyone else. But I do know enough to recognise that when I'm driving at 60 or 70mph, it's a good idea to leave a safe gap between myself and the vehicle in front. But not all drivers think the same way. The amount of drivers who think it's a good idea to sit right on someone else's tail is frightening.
Similarly, I think it would be a good idea for all cars to be fitted with flashing yellow lights which drivers could use to indicate when they're turning or changing lanes. You could even call them 'indicators'. The amount of drivers who never indicate when they're changing lanes or turning off is quite impressive. Why?? It's one of the few things in life you get to do for free, so what's the problem with actually using indicators?
And as for those who think it's a good idea to use their mobile phones when driving: Grrrrrr!
Obviously, becoming a driver has not been cost free, especially with fuel being at such a high price over the past year. And being a car owner also resulted in me becoming a victim of crime when a local ned decided it would be a good idea to smash my taillight. I also had the slightly frightening but ultimately rewarding experience of suffering a puncture when I didn't have any credit on my phone, but ultimately being rescued by a couple of good people who changed the tyre for me.
But overall, being a driver has been a positive experience for me and I now could hardly imagine living my life any other way.
A walk through Montpelier, Bristol
4 months ago