I remember standing in the queue at the post office, waiting to buy the £21 postal order I needed to enclose with the application form. I didn’t really know what a postal order was so I felt like a right dick when the horrible lady behind the plastic screen barked that I didn’t have enough money to buy one. “But why doesn’t a £21 postal order just cost £21?” I asked, genuinely confused and really, truly not trying to be a pain in the arse on purpose. “Cos it disnae”, she spat, helpfully. Still clutching the unsealed, brown envelope with my papers in, I returned home. I very matter of factly asked to borrow £3.00 from my mum, and, sensing the urgency, she duly obliged without any fuss. Now with £24 in my pocket, I turned on my heel and marched right back to the post office to rejoin the queue.
As I slid the stupid postal order into the envelope and stuck down the gummy edge, I imagined myself behind the wheel of the little white bubble car I’d get just as soon as I passed my test. Excited, I gave the envelope a wee stroke with my thumb. The first place I’d drive to? Troon.
I dropped the envelope into the post box and thought how nice it’d be to have cushions in the back seat of my car and wondered where I might find the perfect tissue box to sit on the parcel shelf. Would I actually keep gloves in the glove compartment? Would I dangle something fun from my rear view mirror? Definitely. Window stickers? Absolutely – but all that’d come after the tissue box and the cushions. And the mini stock of important car cleaning products I’d store in the door dookits.
When I received my provisional license, I immediately took to carrying it around in my wallet like a real driving license. Having a driving license of any sort meant I was a grown up.
I don’t remember too much about my very first driving lesson (in that I don’t remember a single proper thing my instructor taught me) but I do remember being a bit giddy. I also remember pretending to know what/where my blind spot was. I pretended my seat was definitely in the most comfortable position it could possibly be and I managed to convince the instructor that I understood, spatially, where the parameters of the car were even though I absolutely did not.
For a wee while at the end of the lesson, I was allowed to spend some time practicing my steering. In my mind, I was negotiating those Summerston streets from behind the wheel of my silver Rover Metro like I owned the place. Of course, I wasn’t really driving at all – the instructor was. But I didn’t know that and at the end of the lesson I thought I’d done rather well.
As it turned out though, aside from a couple of fairly enjoyable ‘wind in my hair’ moments (one ‘speeding’ along a perfectly straight dual carriage way and another whirring round the bends of a deserted country road), I hated driving. I hated driving lessons and I didn’t much like the instructor either. Roundabouts made me cry, big junctions made my arms wobble and by the time my instructor shouted at me because I was apparently late in avoiding a cone plonked in the middle of my lane under the Clarence Drive bridge (which, by the way, I DID see and did NOT hit), I’d had it. It took me weeks to realise the migraine I’d been suffering since the very day I started driving worsened the day before a lesson but it took just one hour on one particularly awful day to realise I absolutely did not want to learn to drive and that I didn’t care that much about the white bubble car, the tissue box or the damn cushions. What kind of prick has cushions in their car anyway?
It was a Tuesday afternoon. (That’s how all he best driving stories begin). I was driving along Dumbarton Road in the West End of Glasgow. I’d just driven over Partick Bridge and was slowing down to stop at traffic lights outside the Salvation Army shop. There were parked cars to my left and oncoming, moving cars to my right. As the lights changed from red to amber to green, I was prepared in good time to move off and manoeuvre myself into the proper spot to take a right turn onto Byres Road. As I nudged the silver Rover Metro forward in the queue, some fuckin’ idiot squished his car between mine and the line of parked ones. Needless to say, the gap wasn’t big enough. Regardless, he scraped his way down the left side of my car and just whizzed off. He whizzed off! Just like that! Of course, I got a fright.
“Have I just crashed? Does this count as an actual car crash? What does whiplash feel like? What even is whiplash? This wasn’t my fault! This wasn’t my fault, right?” but there was no time for questions.
“Hen, yer awrite. Yer awrite. Get after him! Go, go, go!” There was no time for answers either, apparently.
I sucked in my panic tears, wiggled the car out of the queue and jetted along Dumbarton Road in hot pursuit of my scrape and run motoring moron. With my instructor yelling sweary instructions at me and me now worrying, not just about the damage already done to the car, but the damage I might do to it by speeding through it like a lady Glaswegian Bo Duke after one too many Buckfasts, I drove and drove and drove. As the shouting and the swearing continued, I became increasingly concerned the damage my irate instructor might do to the other driver if I actually managed to catch up with him might far outweigh the stupid scratches on the car.
“Gas! Gas! Gas!” the instructor shouted, punching the dashboard with one hand and gripping the door handle, white-knuckled, with the other. I whizzed through the windy streets of Hyndland – all rules about speed limits, give way signs and listening to the radio out the window.
“Right hen, you’re gonnie slow doon a bit n Ah’m gonnie take the wheel, right?” Still in motion, we tried to switch seats, unsuccessfully. I’d have to keep up the chase and the instructor would have to keep up the vein-busting hollering.
In reality, this high speed ordeal lasted all of about 10 minutes before I finally caught up with The Other Guy but it felt like I’d been driving for hours. The instructor rolled the passenger window down and started shaking his fists around. “Pull o’er! Pull o’er ya fuckin’ idiot!” While he did that, I shook my body around (nerves were getting the better of me) and helpfully honked the horn and flashed my lights until the fuckin’ idiot did, indeed, pull o’er.
“Whit d’jye think yer daein’? That poor lassie’s TERRIFIED! Look at ‘er! TERRIFIED!”
The fuckin’ idiot nodded in my direction, seemingly agreeing that I did, surely, look to be quite, quite terrified. With a through-gritted-teeth threat of violence and a big dollop of guilt trip about damaging a learner driver’s confidence for life, the fuckin’ idiot reluctantly swapped insurance details with the instructor. I took the opportunity to switch seats and buckle myself in to the passenger seat.
I was 17 when that happened. I’ve never sat in the driving seat of a car since.
I’m now pretty much at peace with the fact it’ll never be me behind the wheel of some vintage convertible whizzing along the highways of America on a movie-style road trip. That said though, I do still fantasise about one day owning a Nissan Figaro (even if I never drive it) and I am still a little bit curious about what it would be like to drive one of those funny little one-person pod cars if only because I think I would maybe be able to reach the peddles, see out the windshield AND understand the spatial parameter of the vehicle all at the same time.