Learning To Drive home

I've done about 80% of this live on stage. Some has never seen the light of day before

I was eager to learn to drive, so I got a driving instructor - somehow the gym teacher I started with just wasn't good enough, he kept urging me to go faster, try harder, and after going round a roundabout correctly for the first time, he told me to do a lap of honour. Finally, after forgetting to bring my copy of the highway code one day and being told I'd have to do the entire lesson in my underpants, I gave him the push (he made me repeat this another 50 times, but he finally got the message).

My driving instructor was quite good at his job, but a bit nervous. On our second lesson he took me on the dual carriageway. He told me to try and do forty. I went into first gear and started accelerating, then - just as you're supposed to do when you're learning or if you're very old - as the car was nearly getting above a saunter, I went into second gear. I put the pedal down and started crawling up to forty.

At about 35, the engine was screaming and the instructor started twitching nervously. He kept doing this until he eventually shouted "Gear Gear". So, I pulled over and sold him 15grams of cannabis. That soon calmed him down.

He wasn't a bad instructor though. He knew the importance of checking the mirror and he drummed it into you. Apparently on the test you're supposed to check your mirror once every 15 seconds. In order to teach me this, in the earlier lessons he would say "Check your mirror". As time progressed, he would say it quieter "check your mirror" abbreviating is as he tried to stop himself saying it when I should be doing it myself. It would be "cheymirror" "che" "ch". I think he got addicted to it, though. He'd throw it into conversation.

"Hi there how are you"
"Eh, not bad checkmirror"

I didn't speak to him much after that.

Soon it was time for my test and I was worried that I'd fail. Examiners can be quite tough. A friend of mine once failed just for opening the car door to let the clutch out.

I was determined I would pass first time. In order to demonstrate my good use of mirrors, I didn't just look at it, I gave it a full-on stare (exaggerated turning of head) and said a good "Chmirror" for good measure.

During the test the examiner said that he would put a hand out and I was to act as if a small child had run out into the road. He did this. I started screaming, shut my eyes, slammed on the brakes and then ground to a halt. Then, I put the car in reverse and backed up a bit. He asked me why I'd done that. I said that I'd hit the child and was backing up to finish the job properly.

He said "Thank you, I won't ask you to do that again."

In fact, despite all of that, I did pass the test. I think the examiner fancied me, halfway through the test, after I'd finished a particularly hard mirror-signal-manoeuvre, he put his hand on mine over the gear stick. I knew this was my chance. I said to him;

"I love you. I've loved you ever since you told me to take you backwards round the corner."

And that clinched it.

But the problem is that the test doesn't teach you everything you need to know while driving.

When me and my friends had learnt to drive, we discovered the pleasures of "picking people up". All of a sudden, we could get in a car and transport people somewhere. We started on each other, but soon we'd be driving along the streets looking for lone people to pick up. Usually women. On the rare occasion that the line "Fancy a lift… DARLIN'" actually worked, we'd take the unfortunate soul directly to their door whereupon we would let them out of the car without expecting anything in return.

This phase of our teenage development is apparently called the "Profitless taxi-driver" phase and is not mentioned in the highway code at all. I think this is stupid since this happens a lot more than some of the other things in the highway code - like letting buses pull out.

Little is mentioned of road rage. The highway code would probably suggest that you turn on your car fan so that you can cool down a bit, but that's it. I'm a pretty placid person normally, but put me behind the wheel of a car, and I become psycho-mad-driver my only purpose is to drive and to win.

At one point I got so frustrated that I drove up and down the M62 shouting "damn you all" over and over. (disbelief) And I got stopped by the police.

Now the biggest problem when the police stop you is knowing how to deal with their stupid questions. The might say

Is this your car sir? Hell no officer, mine's blue.
Well do you know what speed you were doing? No, officer when I'm going this fast I like to keep my eyes on the road.
You were doing 80 miles an hour! Well you must have been doing 90 to catch me.
Have you been drinking No office, I prefer to stay sober, I appreciate the speed more.
Driving like that you'll lose your license I haven't GOT a license.

It's probably not a good idea to fall foul of the police. On some occasions they can even be right. I was nearly in an accident, because I have a pocket TV and I'd put it on the seat so I could listen to it. However, I couldn't help glancing over at it. I lost concentration and nearly ran into the back of a police car. He gave me 3 points on my license, my TV license. But as I always say, my driving must be good if the police want to endorse my license.

The police aren't much of a hazard when driving. Road signs are. I mean, they can be so confusing. I was in Gateshead the other day and I saw a woman in the middle of the road with a sign which read "Stop children" and lo and behold there were some children attempting to cross the road. SO, I stopped them, I hit them with my car.

Another sign I read said "Level crossing" and I only realised my misunderstanding after I'd completely razed it to the ground and then saw a train approaching.

You get some odd signs on country roads - "10:1" what's that? Is that the odds that the locals are not inbred?

"Keep in low gear" - I couldn't believe that, a sign telling me how to drive. Talk about backseat driving.

Generally I can work out most road-signs. By far the most valuable advice I was ever given was about a roadsign which is in the shape of a triangle and completely grey - it means you're on the wrong side of the road!

Written: between 1994 and 1996 (with some dating back to before were were all born)
Posted: 5 January 2001
Ashley Frieze