house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Driving Past

I forgot his name a long time ago and frankly I wouldn't mind forgetting the whole of him. My first driving instructor was built like a Bulgarian wrestler and had the kindness of a rabid dog. He wore dirty jeans that bulged at the knees and pockets; a fake leather jacket; shirts the colour of February mud; white trainers. He arrived unshaven and stinking of bad tobacco. He roared and shook with anger at absolutely everything.
After the first lesson I went home and asked dad to change instructors. He gave a deep sigh, I remember, and explained that I would never pass my test if I dared ask for another instructor. Think about it, we're still in the Socialist Republic of Romania, 1987, the one driving school in town, instructors and examiners all in a clique and easily offended... But, I reminded him, just-as-easily-bribed: it didn't work, he never bribed anyone for my comfort or advancement.
I know I haven't described the first lesson (and I won't describe the other eleven).... enough to say that his method consisted in shouting and insulting until you figured out a particular maneuvre. Usually deep in urban traffic, besieged by the blare of horns and the smoke from his cigarettes, you would eventually stumble upon the clutch and change from first to second. At this, he'd throw you a disgusted look and grunt. Then he would look around and bark instructions, more outrageous tasks: overtake that bus; pull into the petrol station and fill the tank; do a U-turn; park between the tree and the motorbike; put it in reverse and fly to the Moon. Already lighting another cigarette and hawking out of the window in preparation for the next wave of abuse.
What he loved most was to manufacture and collect proof that 'women shouldn't be driving'. His students were mere specimens, used to illustrate the theory. We 'couldn't drive to save ourselves'. 'You might as well go home and learn to cook'. 'Why don't you get a husband with a driving licence and save us all this waste of time?' 'Women should be parked behind a boiling pot, you know, locked to a broom. No offence, but that's all they're good for...' And when I managed to cruise more or less peacefully around town, he'd find other drivers and flare up: 'Look at that COW, what's she doing? Stupid bitch.' At such moments, I would almost cry with gratitude that some other unfortunate had gotten his attention.
I passed the test. As predicted by dad, the examiner was his friend. Before the test they chatted and shared a cigarette while we waited in the rain. The theory was a lark, maximum points. The practice area test, no problem. Town driving (my nemesis) lasted exactly 17 seconds. I had to drive from one end of an empty street to another.
I collected the license, left the Driving Academy without saying goodbye, and refused to climb in a driver's seat for twenty years.
Oh, there were attempts. When I drove the Land Rover in Croatia. One freak (but surprisingly smooth) trip from Bucharest to my grandparents' place 2 hours' away. Another driving school in Edinburgh, and another test (passed first time). Three psychotherapy (and hypnotherapy) sessions. When the therapist asked me to express my anger towards Driving Instructor 1 (using a truncheon and a phone book) I surprised both of us by showing an off-the-scale level of violence that left both truncheon and phone book scarred for life.
Then, when I turned forty, my parents gave me a car and my brother gave me three driving lessons. I was overwhelmed and deeply grateful but also wished they would take the car back when they went home. At that point I had two immaculate driver's licenses and the firm notion that a driver's seat was far worse than daily dental work. I still had to rely on a miracle to stumble upon the clutch (blood roaring in the back of my skull) every time a change of gear was needed. I still thought all the other drivers, pedestrians, trees, street curbs, stray cats were out to get me.
I am now forty one and I still have the car. To be more precise I drive it, daily. Things are looking up. I even managed to write this blog. Two decades too late, I am finally giving that raging fool the finger.


At 28 July 2010 at 18:29 , Anonymous Rupert Wolfe Murray said...

Finally I can understand why so many Romanian women have driving licences but are unwilling to drive. Brilliant article Mica


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