Everybody has a great, white whale that they are desperate to conquer. It doesn’t matter what it is, deep down everyone could think of one if they had to. I found mine a couple of years ago and it isn’t particularly personal so others may share it with me. The good news is, unlike this post’s namesake (whose story I’m shamelessly ripping off to use as a comparison), I did not allow it to destroy me.
My white whale was driving or, more specifically, the Sharston roundabout system in Manchester, England. I say was, because two weeks ago I finally conquered it.
Let’s have some context, shall we? I first got my provisional license when I turned seventeen (fourteen years ago). It then took me twelve years before I actually had any lessons. Think about that for a second. I had to renew my provisional license before I’d ever actually used it to drive. I’d used it to get into bars and clubs, naturally, but I sure as hell hadn’t driven there.
At the time that I started my lessons, I also started this blog. Weird coincidence? Yeah, I think so. My first post, entitled Not Much of a Motorhead, was actually about getting behind the wheel and the challenge that would prove to be. My last post about driving (besides this one, obviously) was published a few months later. In that entry, entitled Public Transportation, I lamented the fact that my second driving test had been postponed due to some kind of issue. Without going into great detail about my first two tests, they each had been scored with one serious fault (and a few minor faults that didn’t really matter). I don’t know if it is different for those outside of the UK, but over here one serious fault is all you need to fail. Both of those faults occurred at or just after the Sharston roundabout system. It didn’t take much for my post-failure brain to accept that maybe I just wasn’t cut out to drive and that a piece of road upon which I have been a passenger for countless journeys was always set to beat me on test day.
And so, with that crushing realisation/self-fulfilling prophecy in my head, I put off doing any further lessons for over a year and half. I was convinced that I would fail once more and I wasn’t prepared to pay the money necessary to put myself through the torture all over again.
Time passed and, before I knew it, my Driving Theory Test was approaching its expiry date (they last for two years after you’ve passed it). July 7th, 2016 became my new deadline to finally get that license. I really didn’t want to have to take the Theory Test again (mostly because the test centre was so overwhelmingly depressing the last time that I’d been there).
I booked myself in for an intensive driving course, something that I probably should have done from the beginning. Four days long, with twenty-four scheduled hours of driving and a Practical Driving Test on the last day. It was difficult. That’s the simplest way to describe it. Luckily my stressy sweat patches got smaller each day whilst my driving ability got stronger. Throughout that weak I drove, I parked, I went through roundabouts and one-way systems and, most importantly, I attacked the Sharston roundabout system. After practice and coaching, I finally mastered it. Okay, mastered is a little too strong a word, but I at least managed to get around without leaving my car a smouldering ruin in the centre of a grassy verge. Progress!
Skip ahead to test day and I endured what was probably the most stressful forty-five minutes of my life. Taking this third test was huge. I knew deep down (although I didn’t vocalise it until afterward) that if I failed this time around I would most likely never take the test again. So (in standard Dave fashion) I piled the pressure on myself, but this time I was ready. I made a few mistakes, almost failing at one point (I think) by stopping just a little bit too suddenly when a van came around a corner, but overall I did alright. We pulled back into the test centre’s parking space and as I tensed waiting for the feedback, my examiner surprised me with a sentence as unexpected as it was incredible to hear: “I’m pleased to inform you that you’ve passed.” Obviously, I was a little bit pleased, although the fact that we had bypassed Sharston entirely made it feel a little like I’d cheated (it was on one of the test routes, but my examiner hadn’t taken me that way). Either way, I claimed victory!
In the couple of weeks that have passed now I have endeavoured to drive as much as I can. I don’t want to allow myself the chance to get rusty or to lose any skill I’ve so far gained. I want to get better and practice is the key (I also think I look awesome behind the wheel).
So, to finish off I’d like to leave you with the final paragraph from my first ever blog on this website. Consider it a prophecy from my younger self that has at last come true.
If I pass my tests I’d like to get an old car. Maybe even an old Nova. And you can bet your ass that I’ll be cruising around, listening to Dr Dre and pretending that I’m 17 again. That is before I climb out of the car and my knees and back remind me of my actual age.