Having finally passed my driving test in June after six attempts and a small crash, I’m still not driving. There’s an irony there. Three weeks after celebrations, the turbo on my Focus imploded, piled out black smoke and started accelerating on its own towards a mini-roundabout with my daughter in the back seat; needless to say there was screaming and a very long tow home with my little gold car screeching protest like a bird having its neck wrung by The Bushwhackers.
Having scared the shite out of myself by attempting a journey to Hull – which involved driving the wrong way around a roundabout backwards, reversing into someone without checking my mirrors and then driving up the wrong side of a slip road for ten minutes before realising there was a car coming towards me – I did begin to consider whether driving really was for me. It’s not that I’m inept –much - it’s that I panic. I drive up to a roundabout, and immediately my brain goes, ‘fuck. Fuck! Which way am I going? Which lane? WHICH FUCKING LANE???’, and then I do the stupidest thing imaginable. I don’t take my time and think about it, I put my foot down and plough into the traffic like a kamikaze pilot in a rickshaw. Then I forget which direction to put my indicator in, weaving all over the road like a cunt and, naturally, incurring quite a few wanking signs from people who drive with the requisite safe composure.
There have been two main indicators that tell me I shouldn’t drive. The first was being pulled over by the police while I was travelling to Beverley. Apparently the car behind, following me for three miles, had phoned them with concern that I was pissed and should be apprehended. What had actually happened was that my then-partner had taken to making kung-fu style chops at the wheel to try and bring me back into the centre of the road. Rather than help, this had the effect of actually making me jump and veer violently into the central reservation. And so it continued until I was flagged down and asked to take a breathalyser test. And the thing about those situations is that you immediately begin to feel guilty and try and overcompensate for being sober by trying to act even more sober, even though you are. I found myself over-enunciating like I was talking to a deaf person, and doing stupid things like proving I could lean against my car in a nonchalant manner without falling over and throwing my keys in the air and catching them. They may have realised I wasn’t pissed, but they probably did think I had behavioural and/or emotional difficulties.
I drive up to a roundabout, and immediately my brain goes, ‘fuck. Fuck! Which way am I going? Which lane? WHICH FUCKING LANE???
The other key sign was my second driving test where I managed to crash the car. The examiner was uncharacteristically chatty, telling me all about her forthcoming holiday to Cyprus. ‘Listen’, something in my brain whispered. ‘If she’s talking to you, she might not notice all the fuck-up’s you’re going to make. Engage. Look interested’. Unfortunately, I was so engaged that I didn’t spot the temporary traffic lights straight ahead of me. As I braked like fuck, she actually held both feet off the floor in utter panic like a cat jumping for a hot chicken and the car behind went straight into the back of me. My driving instructor was delighted. ‘Fucking hell’, he said, circling the boot with masochistic delight. ‘I’ve wanted a new car for ages. Cheers, love’.
So I’m resigned to getting on the train now. I travel from Scarborough to Hull three times a week, and there are at least five inevitable certainties about this journey that affect me with varying degrees of horror.
1) Someone will have a flaky pasty. Like rats in London, in Scarborough you’re never more than six foot away from someone scoffing a pasty and dropping buttery flakes down their shiny chin. It’s not that I have a problem with people eating, it’s just they’re so noisy. Because it’s an early morning train the pasty is usually hot, piping a dog foody smell around the carriage; but more importantly, the heat means the perpetrator has to use the paper bag to eat with. So not only is there that stomach-churning smell, there’s also the soundscape of rustling and slurping like a hedgehog going at an unattended worm farm.
2) The Oddball. Last week a very dapper looking gent boarded the train, smiling away to himself. He set his trilby down on the table, laid out his Independent and put his briefcase on the floor. He then turned to me in a conspiratorial manner, and said; ‘I hope you don’t mind, but do you want to see what I’ve got in my bag?’. He was so polite that I couldn’t say no. So he laid the briefcase out on the table, undoing the catches with what I can only describe as an attempt at extended tension. He unfurled layers of brown greaseproof paper, lovingly folding them back. He reached in. He pulled out a fucking great big trout. ‘I caught her yesterday’, he said. ‘Look at the colours’. And what’s odder is that I didn’t feel I could move for the next two hours because we’d struck up a commuter’s relationship.
Maybe my New Year resolution should be to bite the bullet, buy another car and stop being such a fanny. But when you don’t know how to use your headlights, it’s maybe time to shelve the nodding dog and Top Gear driving album forever.
3)The Ticket Inspectors. Not content with wearing an expression of disgust that looks like their nose is too near their own arse, they’re fucking rude.
‘Can I have a day return to Hull, please?’
‘I’ll have to charge you the full fare. You’ve passed two ticket offices on the way to the train. Why didn’t you buy them there?’
‘I got up late’
‘Well maybe you should try getting up earlier. Or going to bed earlier’.
Not only does he earn commission on any on-train sales, but it’s not like he’s got anything better to do for the two hour journey apart from collect the abandoned copies of ‘Nuts’ and ‘Marie Claire’, is it? It’s like being enveloped in Satan’s breath; pure, bitter hatred for people reeking out of every pore and surrounding us in the darkness of their disgust.
4)The woman carrying bulky items and struggling. Hull in particularly is great for this. Last week I saw a woman pushing her own wheelchair (limping) which she’d filled with bags of cat litter, and an elderly lady pulling a tiny shopping bag on wheels with a standard lamp in it. Invariably they’ll take too long arranging their items in the suitcase rack and then the train will pull off, taking them by surprise and leaving them groping wildly for a pole or a handle to steady themselves. More often than not, they’ll usually grab at another commuter and the whole carriage ends up in a strange, embarrassed game of suit dominoes where no one talks.
5)The social etiquette of looking. I always trip up on this one. Some commuters are able to stare quite openly and without embarrassment. Some adopt the ‘I’m looking through the window but I’m really looking at your reflection in the reflection of my window’ tactic, which is cleverer. Often you’ll find the ‘sly eye dart’, which is perturbing in its sneakiness but marginally better than the ‘between seat peek’ which managed to be both unsettling and a little reminiscent of The Shining.
Maybe my New Year resolution should be to bite the bullet and buy another car; perhaps I just need to get back on the horse and stop being such a fanny. But I know that’s not going to happen. When you habitually forget you’re not driving in Europe and don’t know how to use your headlights, it’s maybe – regrettably - time to shelve the nodding dog and Top Gear driving album forever.
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