Secret Diary of a Female Petrolhead: Please Keep Your Hands Inside the Vehicle
If you’re wondering why I have been suspiciously silent over the last few weeks, rest easy. I’ve been preparing to sit my driving test by not killing people on a weekly basis.
The first person I didn’t kill was the bloke in the angry Merc behind me, who decided to respond to a downpour in London rush hour traffic by tailgating a car sporting L-plates and stalling at tricky junctions. I don’t understand the mindset of people like this. There you are, in your expensive and pointless car (because who cares about 0-60 when you’re gonna be doing 0-10 at most, and wearing out your left foot), and you think, “Hmmm, yes. I think my car could do with having a little more Fiat inserted up its nostrils.” So you start breathing down the neck of a tiny little 500 with a driver who clearly has yet to master indicators. Or the clutch. Or – worryingly – the handbrake.
It was worse with the second person I didn’t kill. That was me, by the way. It was a few weeks later, with the indicators now mastered but the elusive handbrake still outfoxing me at every turn. I turned right, as I am often instructed to do, and did NOT get rammed in the passenger side by on-coming traffic. I declared the turn a success, and exited the main road, entering the right-hand street, which had a rather steep gradient, almost hill-like in its ferocity.
At the top of the hill was a van.
We are all familiar with Van Man. He cat-calls with the firm conviction that he is somehow brightening up your day. He plays obnoxiously loud music and makes racist remarks, happy in the belief that he represents The Real England, whatever that might be. He also never – ever – gives way. Ever.
Spare a thought for the state of my pants when I saw Van Man accelerating down that hill towards me.
At my left was a car. At my right was a tiny narrow spare, then another car. Behind me was a busy main road. And in front of me was my rapidly-approaching death, in the form of a van so big it wouldn’t even see my tiny little Fiat before it squashed it like a bug. A small, white, L-plated bug.
At the very last second, when my eyes were like saucers and I was seriously regretting not having sorted that sodding will, he veered off into the tiny gap on my right. He didn’t even clip my car (although the car on the other side may not have been so lucky). By all accounts he didn’t even notice that he had nearly caused vehicular dismemberment.
“Well,” my instructor said brightly, after a horrifying and awkward pause, “shall we get on, then?”
Needless to say, I nearly burst into tears. “What the hell was that? That was like a cartoon death! I don’t want to die a cartoon death! I don’t want to be killed by a flying piano or a toilet seat, or a giant truck that doesn’t see me and runs me over!”
“Don’t worry,” my instructor soothed, looking a little rattled himself. “That sort of thing doesn’t actually happen in real life.”
That thought gave me pause. I wondered what, precisely, he thought we were doing right now. Maybe it was a rehearsal for real life? Maybe real motoring wouldn’t be like this. Maybe – and here was a horrifying possibility – it would be worse.
Over the next few weeks I’ve had parking spaces stolen by aggressive BMWs that more or less manhandled me out of the way, I’ve nearly been killed by drivers doing 40 in a 20mph zone down a sodding bus lane during restrictions, I’ve nearly squashed toddlers that decided to run out into the middle of the road while their parents looked on, oblivious, and – worst of all – I once nudged the rear bumper of another car. It was at less than 1mph and left no physical mark whatsoever, but I maintain that the psychological scarring will stay with me.
My conclusion is this: you would have to be absolutely mad to want to drive in London. You have nowhere to park, and everywhere there are people that view red lights as simply suggestions, bus lanes as express lanes, and children as speed bumps. If you are a woman in a small car, every large car will attempt to physically crowd you off the road, and if you are a woman in a large car, everyone will hate you because you are clearly being overly aggressive in daring to get behind the wheel of something bigger than an armchair.
I loved that stupid little Fiat. I called it Bertie, and the moment it was named, it leaped about like an eager little puppy. I did a little dance of triumph on discovering that my turns in the road were textbook-perfect, and that parallel parking really isn’t all that bad. True, my instructor was a closet sadist who decided to make things ‘more interesting’ by making me do obscenely complicated compound manoeuvres – reversing around a corner with obstacles and a time limit springs to mind – but once you choose to view the whole thing as an elaborate obstacle course, it’s fine. And the little Fiat 500 made me feel ridiculously proud of myself every time I got behind the wheel. Look at me, I’m driving!
It’s a shame it had to end. All things must, I suppose, but it made me tear up a little bit just the same to walk around to the passenger side and get in, knowing that this would be it. The thing about driving tests is, no one tells you that you don’t get to have any more lessons after you pass.
Bye bye, Bertie. You were a smart little car and you took a lot of abuse. I’ll come visit you over the summer for my advanced driving course.
In the meantime, though, I’m going to look up Bertie’s sexy two-wheel cousin and sit my CBT.
After all, what’s the point of a driving license if you only get to drive cars? There’s a motorbike out there with my name on it.
- Vik has now recovered from her driving ordeal, and is fully licensed to make cars go vroom. Stay tuned for Project Engine and further motorsport adventures.