Monday, 29 February 2016

My first car - a moving story

I remember very well when I passed my driving test.  I was the oldest in the class at 37 - everyone else was still in their teens.  The boys knew a frightening amount about car engines, the correct gear to drive up a steep hill, how to put in anti-freeze, stuff like that.
I went to driving school when I lived in Germany.  There was order, method and efficiency as you'd expect.  I had little trouble understanding the book of driving do's and don't's and the rules of the road.  But I was so timid that my driving was a disaster.  German roads are not a place to drive if you lack self confidence.  Unlike the UK, you do not have an "L" sign on your car to show that you are a novice and to incite pity when you conk out the engine on a roundabout or forget to turn off your indicator or any of those other things we all did from sheer nervousness and inexperience.   My driving instructor advised us all to visit Paris and sit and observe the traffic which flows around the Arc de Triomphe. There are no traffic lights, he said, and no general rules but there are also no accidents and except for shaking their fists and shouting abuse at each other, there is harmony among the drivers. 

I didn't own a car for quite a number of years after I got my driving licence.  I took the family car on short trips to the local supermarket, looking like a scared mouse on the road no doubt.  Then, when I had been working for a while and had a bit of credit at the bank, I bought a second-hand car.  It was a Renault 5, didn't have power-steering or anything like that, but it was small and - I fervently hoped - maneuvrable.  I can't park to this day - well I can but I have to have either a) loads of space or b) there's no one looking or even better c) I don't have time to think and simply fit into the parking space at the first try. 

Once I had got over the feeling that this couldn't be me, sailing along in my very own car, I enjoyed driving most of the time.  I loved the freedom it gave me.  Then one memorable Friday evening in January, many years ago,  as I was the last to leave the office, I looked out of the window and discovered that a snow storm was in full progress.  Panic would be too mild a word to describe how I felt.  I had never driven in deep snow, had only all-weather tyres.  I wasn't even sure my little Renault 5 would get me up the ramp from the parking garage.  I can proudly say that I underestimated my driving skills or to give it a more accurate name, my luck.  Because although the police were advising us over the radio to leave our cars and get public transport and it took me two-and-a-half hours to drive the five miles home, I did make it in one piece.  Which is more than can be said for the car immediately in front of me which got bogged down as we were crawling up a steep incline.  I had to move into even deeper uncharted snow to get past and my heart was pounding at double duty.  Not an easy task because this was where the road to the right branched off for the motorway.  My car did slip sideways and for a few horrible minutes I thought I was going to end up on that motorway but somehow I managed to keep straight on, overtake the stricken car, and continue on my way at a snail's pace.

That incident gave me more self-confidence that almost anything else.  Since then I have often had to battle with snow-covered roads but I never again experienced blind panic at the prospect.  And it made me a fan of small Renault cars forever.  Because of course I sold my beloved Renault 5 and moved on to the Twingo which proved to be just as efficient in snowy weather.

My heart still goes out to beginners when I see them struggling with gears, checking the mirrors, and all those other things that seasoned drivers do automatically.  I feel like going up to them, tapping the window and saying "look, if I can do it, you most certainly can".


  1. I too sympathize with new drivers struggling with the stick, they have no idea how soon they are going to need a new clutch as a result. The stick is a great alternative to the automatic, it just takes a little time to get that feeling down. Once they get it, it will become second nature in no time at all!

  2. Having an understanding, i.e. patient driver behind me was one of the nicest things I experienced when I started off.
    Thanks for this, Paul