I’ve never been much good in a car.
For a start, I was really old when I first started driving one – 22ish, which is old for beginning THAT sort of activity – and secondly, I was past the carefree sort of age where ‘it won’t happen to me’. In fact, I was exactly the age where I was convinced it WOULD happen. The minute I rolled out into the road.
My mother-in-law told me I would have to have a licence because I was having a baby. She said I might just need to take it to a doctor or to bagpipe lessons or something one day. Furthermore, she said I’d be sorry to find myself housebound for the rest of my life. I knew she was right. She even offered to teach me – in a little country town where there were no traffic lights, no hills – in my sister-in-law’s automatic car.
My MIL was very patient, too. Even when I backed the car into the cemetery gates, which were the only things around for several kilometres. So, after a while – or a few whiles anyway – we trotted on down to the local policeman to do the licence test. He was very nice, and his wife made scones for us afterwards.
So there I was, presumably able to drive. Sort of. I’d strap the baby in the back of the car, having stayed awake all night worrying about actually going out of the driveway and being responsible for both the baby’s life and my own. I’d reverse up to the street and hover uncertainly over the kerb. Then I’d go back down the driveway, unstrap the baby and go inside with an enormous feeling of relief, a bag of Kettle Chips and enough chocolate to give me the stamina to plan the next attempt as if it were an assault on Osama and his lads. Which would have been easier and far less scary.
It took a few more weeks of thrilling attempts before I was actually able to leave the premises – and several (decades, actually, if I’m being perfectly honest) years before I was able to go more than five kilometres.
This was most upsetting for the Rt Honourables, who frequently received invitations to birthday parties at a venue which happened to be on the outskirts of town and involved running the gauntlet of a highway and an industrial area – with trucks. We had to tell little untruths – like, ‘terribly sorry, we’re not going to be feeling very well on that date’. Nobody had the nerve to admit, ‘Mum can’t drive that far.’ All the other mothers apparently drove their kids to places 20 … or even 30 kilometres away – for the sheer hell of it.
There was a very unpleasant incident one rainy night when I absolutely HAD to get to a performance venue in an out-of-the-way location. I mapped and planned the manoeuvre, but hadn’t fitted inclement weather into the equation. It was impossible to see anything once I got on to the unfamiliar road, and I couldn’t find the turnoff. I was squinting hopelessly through the windscreen with my nose pressed to it like Quasimodo on an outing to Sydney Aquarium when I thought I saw it. So I turned right with hope and optimism. Unfortunately, the turnoff turned out to be a traffic island – and as fate would have it, there was a police car right up my jacksie. There I was, wheels stuck over the back of the little yellow strip of concrete and a car full of horrified and embarrassed progeny. The first thing the nice policeman wanted to do was make me blow into the little tube. In the circumstances, he found it extremely difficult to believe I don’t drink at all.
‘It was raining!’ piped up Child Four from the back of the car. I think it was his sad little face which won the policeman over. He was very nice indeed and insisted on giving us a police escort to my destination. I had a feeling he would have liked to have given me an escort home too – in the interests of protecting other road users.
I’m still not very good. And I don’t like doing it, either. When I’m tootling along I keep smelling burning – or hearing funny noises which probably mean bits of vehicle are going to start dropping off into the road. I know there’s stuff under the bonnet which can’t be trusted. And that the nut behind the wheel is the most dangerous part of all.