Wednesday, 30 March 2016

If you don't like the way I drive, get off the pavement

If you don't like the way I drive, get off the pavement

Do you remember those few weeks after you’d passed your driving test? Those sweet firsts - the wonky bay parking, the petrol station visit, the multi-storey car park. Of course you don't remember, you were 17.

That was in a different lifetime. These days you can drive with your eyes shut (although hopefully you don’t), you barely think about how to start the car, or reverse, or tackle a big roundabout - all things that are a big deal for a baby driver. 

One of the big barriers for me is, literally, a car park barrier. There is no particular reason for me to be scared, no trauma or bad experience. Yet I am simply terrified that I won’t be able to tackle a simple job of pressing the button, getting a ticket, finding a spot a parking the car.

There are so many things that experienced drivers do on autopilot, but us, novices, have to really think about. First of all approaching the barrier, it has to be the right distance - not to close, so you don't scratch the car, and not too far, so that you can reach the button and get the ticket.

If you are too far and can’t reach the button and can’t reverse, you might just have to do the  most embarrassing thing ever - get out of the car to get it. By the time you are done, the traffic is building up behind you. All those big experienced drivers getting angry, shouting and tooting; and you just want the earth to open and swallow you.

And, of course, there is a possibility that the barrier doesn’t work. You have to find and press the help button and speak to an illiterate security man, who doesn't speak English very well, and is mostly annoyed that you interrupted him from playing Candy Crush. 

Before I passed my driving test and got my own car, Mr Chateauneuf used to drop me off at the station on the way to work, and pick me up on the way home.  Until a couple weeks ago when he told me he had a board meeting the following day. That meant that I had to drive myself to the station and face the scary barrier - for the first time.

What followed next was the worst night sleep of my life. In fact the term ‘sleep’ is used loosely here, it was more on the border of non-existent. 

All the driving horrors you can possibly imagine decided to visit me that night. There was the ghost of roundabouts (I wasn't even scared of those up until then), painting the pictures of me crashing into another car on the roundabout by Waitrose, next to Peterborough station. The stalling zombie dropped by in my dreams and took me though me stalling my car on in rush hour on Bourges   Boulevard and a big truck can crashing into me.

And finally the car park dragon barrier - first the barrier won’t open; then the car wouldn't move once I got the ticket; then there were no spaces. Somewhere around 3am, as the barrier was repeatedly hitting my car, I woke up with a massive headache.

By then I knew that sleep was simply not happening that night. So I got out of bed, found my laptop, painkillers and curled up on the sofa. Two hours, a bucket of tea and endless Google pages later I felt I was finally combatting my fears. 

I learnt that hazard warning lights aren't just a pretty triangle on the dashboard, they can actually be helpful. Or that I can always call the number by the barrier and ask them to help, in case there is a problem. I was feeling much better, I knew I could deal with the barrier and nothing could stop me.

By 5am, armed with freshly gained knowledge and a cup of tea for Mr Chateauneuf, I went back upstairs. I slid back in bed and shut my eyes. Five minutes later my alarm went off.

Mr Chateauneuf rolled over to my side and put his arm around me. ‘’Do you want a lift to the station?” - I heard his sleepy murmur. 

‘’Yes, please’’ - I replied.