... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Monday, March 07, 2011

227: “I hope you failed.”

Having just returned from my first ever driving lesson I think a cup of tea and some of last night’s beef brisket is in order.  Really I ought to have been driving for the best part of ten years, but it never seemed so important.  Now it’d be useful for work, family, all the usual, plus I got a voucher for a free two hour lesson for Christmas and it needed using.  My provisional license actually runs out this month, so there’s more than a finger needs pulling out to get my arse in gear. 

Picked up from Oxford Road station as in the voucher’s small print, we went to a quiet road near Chorlton Road/Stretford Road, and my instructor guided me through DSSSM (?); check the doors are all secured, seat adjusted, steering wheel adjusted, seatbelt on, mirrors adjusted (I can’t remember if that is the right order; the Ss may be wrong).  I’ve never seen an adjustable steering wheel and it was cheap thrills all ‘round.

Next I check the gear is in neutral and the handbrake is securely on.  He talked me through the functions of the pedals – Accelerator, Brake, Clutch (right>left) – explained checking mirrors and blind spot, using signals, how to position mirrors, how to line up visual aids for parking, a bunch of other things I don’t fully remember.  He had the calm methodical and confident manner of a good doctor; a good bedside manner.  Eventually we got to pulling out, driving along the road a bit, then pulling over again.  Let me see if I can remember it as he taught me:

Engine on.  Clutch all the way to floor.  Into first gear, then move hand onto handbrake.  Accelerator to bring revs up to between 18 and 25.  Ease off clutch looking for the bite.  Check middle mirror (what’s it called?) looking for anything in environment and also the little jump of the car as the clutch bites.  Check mirrors (in some order I can’t remember).  Check right blindspot and if safe release handbrake as I turn to face the front.  Move out about a metre from the kerb.  Left foot off clutch and resting on the floor.  Tootle along. 

After doing this a couple of times he introduced the gears.  Left foot hover on clutch, hand on gear stick.  Right foot off accelerator and push clutch to the floor.  Move stick into second gear.  Ease off clutch, and back onto accelerator.  Same drill to get up to third.  Now to pull over.  Check mirror.  If anyone needs signalling, pop on the left indicator.  Foot off accelerator.  Details a bit hazy at this point... Press clutch all the way in with left foot, and apply easy braking with right foot (I think).  Pull into side of road somewhere you’d be happy to leave the car.  Handbrake on.  Gears in neutral.  Feet off pedals.  Indicator off.  Engine off.

Setting off I stalled once by releasing the clutch too fast; and stopping I stalled once by doing something stupid with the clutch.  I think I didn’t depress it properly.  First journey went pretty well and I pulled over neatly.  Third I messed up the stop by being confused by the gear change and ended up parked about two feet from the kerb. Fifth go and I seemed to get the gears right, and managed to stop nicely close to the pavement.  At all points I was wobbling up and down the road, and looking at the pedals more than the road and mirrors.

Škoda Octavia interior
I have a new found amazement at the casual ability of good drivers to manage all this using the automatic function of the lower brain, while the senses and intelligence can focus on negotiating all the obstacles of a busy and unpredictable world.  As the instructor took me home he gave a calm blow by blow commentary of all he did: when he checked his mirrors, all the slight adjustments of speed, the pedal actions, the movement of all traffic and pedestrians, and also gave me tips about good driving habits.  I look forward to my next lesson.

As I stepped out of the car and walked over to my house, a spotty little teenage oik yelped “I hope you failed”.  I replied, “It was a lesson, you can’t fail lessons,” to which he just repeated his original insult.  His friend looked more bemused that amused, and we all got on with our lives.

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