Saturday, 6 September 2014

Roundabouts and L-Plates

Two weeks ago my son couldn’t drive.  Today, he can.  I’ve just realised those first two sentences sound like an advert.  Two weeks ago my son couldn’t drive.  Today, he can, thanks to Loopy Laura’s Learners.  Or some such other similar name.  Actually, I’m tremendously grateful to the driving instructor who devoted five days of his life (not to mention risking his life) to take my son through a course of intensive six-hour driving sessions.  On the morning of the test, Robbie couldn’t face any breakfast and went to the front door shaking like a jelly.
          ‘This is madness,’ he said.  ‘I have thirty hours’ driving experience and am about to take my test.  I’m nowhere near ready for this.’
          ‘Stop being silly,’ I said bossily.  ‘In an hour’s time you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.  Tell you what, to give you some real incentive to pass, how about we buy a car afterwards – providing you pass, of course,’ I added.
          Excuse me? piped up my brain.  Why are you making wild promises like this?  I swatted the voice away.
          ‘Car shopping?’ Robbie looked amazed. ‘Do you mean it?’
          ‘Absolutely,’ I said firmly, while my brain politely told me I was off my rocker.  Your son spends ninety-per-cent of his time in London.  Where would he park a car?  And why would he even need one?  He lives two minutes around the corner from his uni! 
          ‘Fantastic,’ Rob beamed and perked up considerably.  ‘In that case, bring it on!’
          He went off to greet his instructor.  I watched anxiously from the window.  My son appeared to be shaking slightly and visibly veering between terror and determination.  Eventually he put the car into gear and carefully set off.
          An hour later the phone rang.
          ‘Hi, Mum,’ said my son in a miserable voice.
          ‘Oh, darling,’ I gripped the handset and braced myself for bad news.  ‘How did it go?’
          ‘Terrible,’ he croaked.  ‘I stalled going out the test centre, exited a roundabout too quickly, stalled at some traffic lights, and later I stalled at a junction.’
          My heart sank.  ‘Ah, well.  Never mind.’
          ‘But the good news is,’ said Robbie perking up, ‘somehow I passed.’
          ‘Yes!  I can’t believe it.’
          ‘Well done!’
          ‘I was so happy I asked my driving instructor if I could give her a hug.’
          ‘And what did she say?’
          ‘She said no.  But I hugged her anyway.  So did you mean what you said about going car shopping?’
          ‘Sure,’ I quavered, while one half of my brain started to do frantic sums, and the other half simply sneered.
          Which is how, two hours later, I found myself prowling around a second-hand Micra on a local dealer’s forecourt.
          ‘Lovely little runner,’ said the salesman, hoisting up his trousers.  A huge beer belly pushed against a tight shirt.  The last button was doing a sterling job trying to stay on the shirt, and pale flesh peeped through a gap in the material.  ‘Why don’t you take it for a test drive?’ he urged my son.
          ‘Thanks,’ Rob beamed.
          ‘I’ll have to sit with you,’ he said, ‘company policy.  But your mum and sister are welcome to come along too.’
          I gulped.  The thought of getting into a car with a newly qualified driver wasn’t something that appealed.  I looked at my daughter questioningly, but she was oblivious, busily texting a friend.
          The salesman produced a key to the car.  It was a two-door jobbie.  ‘After you,’ he pulled back the passenger seat for me to get in.
          ‘Oh, er, no.’
          ‘No?’  The salesman raised his eyebrows.
          ‘No?’ asked Robbie, looking hurt.
          ‘Um, only because I get car sick.  In the back,’ I added lamely.
          ‘Not a problem,’ said the salesman affably, and squeezed his bulk into the rear of the Micra.
          Eleanor, sylph-like, slipped in beside him.  The front seat clicked back into position.  Offering a silent prayer heavenwards, I got in.
          ‘So,’ said the salesman cheerily as he fought to do up his seat-belt, ‘exactly how long have you been driving, young man?’
          ‘I passed my test two hours ago,’ said Rob proudly.
          ‘Right,’ the salesman squeaked, ‘well take it steady.’
          I glanced into the wing mirror on my left and caught sight of the salesman’s face.  It had paled considerably, and sweat was beading on his forehead.
          Rob popped the gear into first, found the bite on the clutch, and slowly the Micra crept forward.  We were exiting the garage forecourt onto a very busy main road.
          ‘Take your time,’ I murmured to Rob.
          ‘I’m fine, Mum,’ Rob assured, ‘just so long as we don’t come to any roundabouts.  They’re really not my thing.’
          ‘Well I hate to be the one to point this out,’ said the salesman, ‘but there’s a roundabout coming up – a big one.’
          ‘Oh help,’ said Rob.  His complexion now matched the salesman’s and it was debatable who had the most sweat on their forehead.  As the roundabout loomed, my armpits broke into a gushing mess.  ‘What shall I do?’ Rob quaked.
          ‘Turn left,’ I commanded, sounding a whole lot more confident than I felt, ‘left lane, that’s it.  Don’t forget to indicate.  Slow down.  All clear.  Go. Yes, now.  Well done.’  My hands were clutching the sides of my seat as the Micra neatly flowed into the traffic and exited the roundabout.  There was an audible sound of three people exhaling with relief.  The fourth person was oblivious and still texting.
          ‘Where to now?’ asked Rob.
          ‘Keep going left,’ I said feeling quite weak.  I really wasn’t enjoying this experience at all, and the sooner we got back to the garage the better.
          ‘This isn’t going to be a very long test drive,’ said Rob in disappointment.
          ‘It’s enough to get the feel of the car,’ I assured, ‘and could you move over to your right a bit only,’ my voice rose an octave, ‘you’re about to knock the wing-mirror off a parked car.’  I shrank down into my seat as we sailed past a stationary vehicle with a millimetre to spare.
          ‘My instructor was always telling me to move over,’ said Rob with a smile.
          ‘Very often?’ asked the salesman.
          ‘All the time.’
          ‘Ha ha,’ the salesman laughed nervously.
          We returned to the garage with the Micra intact.  The salesman and myself got out, our shirts stuck to our damp backs.  Only Eleanor remained unaffected by the whole experience.  Done with texting, she wedged her mobile phone into the back pocket of her jeans.
          ‘You drive just like one of my friends,’ she informed her brother.
          ‘Really?’ asked Rob looking quite chuffed.
          ‘Yeah.  Really badly.  My friend had only been driving a week when she wrapped her car around the college gates.  The car was a write-off.’
          ‘Okay,’ I glared at Eleanor, ‘enough of that.’  I turned to the salesman.  ‘Thank you very much.  We’ll go away now and have a chat about it.’
          ‘Sure,’ said the salesman, pulling a large cotton handkerchief out of his trouser pocket and giving his forehead the once over.
          So we thought about it, and instead bought something else.  My son is now the proud owner of a Citroen C1.  Which reminds me.  A newly qualified driver was driving his car along the motorway, when his mobile rang.  Answering, he heard his mother’s voice urgently warning him to drive carefully.  ‘I just heard on the news that there’s a car going the wrong way on the M25.  Please be careful!’ said the mother.  ‘It’s not just the one car,’ said her son, ‘it’s hundreds of them…’

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