It’s been one of those weeks where everything has felt a bit hectic. Today, Sunday, I’ve been able to stop and take a deep breath. My daughter has had a string of auditions recently, two this week alone. The driving has been tiring, the routes unfamiliar, conditions awful and the journeys somewhat hairy.
I’m a slow and steady driver. You will rarely find my car in the outside lane of a motorway unless there are lorries blocking lanes one and two.
On Tuesday’s excursion to Loughton, the traffic was slow and heavy. At the Dartford Tunnel, all umpteen lanes to the toll barriers were chock-a-block with traffic.
‘Do something, Mum,’ said Eleanor.
‘Certainly. Pass me my handbag.’
‘It’s where I keep my magic wand.’
‘Oh, very funny.’
At a snail’s pace, we attempted to filter onto the M25. I signalled to show my intention to flow into crawling traffic. In front of me was a lorry. To the right of me was another lorry. Behind me – you’ve guessed – a third lorry. My car is about the size of a 4 x 4 so I don’t usually feel insignificant, but at that moment, surrounded by huge vehicles, there was a definite sense of being hemmed in.
‘Are you going to let me out?’ I muttered to myself whilst looking over my shoulder at the huge HGV. The driver’s face was just about visible. His expression said it all: Bog off woman driver. Squaring my shoulders and offering up a silent prayer, I barged my way out and squeezed in front of him. From behind came the blast of an HGV-sized horn which nearly sent Eleanor and me rocketing into orbit. A glance in my rear view mirror revealed the lorry’s engine grill a hair’s breadth from my boot. ‘Why don't you just climb into the back of my car?’ I said under my breath.
In situations like this, I always wonder about the mentality of certain drivers. Is one vehicle getting in front of them truly going to impact upon their journey time?
My mind travelled back a few weeks previously to a similar situation when I was taking my daughter to college. Crossing a roundabout, I filtered into the correct lane only to have a lorry try and carve me up. That particular driver’s attitude was, ‘I’m bigger than you, so get out of my way.’ He might have been bigger, but his vehicle wasn’t as nippy as mine, so his attempt to squeeze me out failed. His outrage was obvious. All the way down the London Road I was subjected to blasts of horn and flashing headlights. I retaliated by driving slowly on an approach to traffic lights, caught them on the change, and then accelerated through so that he had no choice but to stop for the red light. I then took it to the next level by buzzing down the window to gleefully wave him farewell as I zoomed off.
I love small victories and chortled all the way to the next set of traffic lights. Things weren’t quite so funny five minutes later when I caught sight, in my rear view mirror, of Mr Lorry Driver bearing down on me. Uh-oh.
‘Come on traffic lights…change!’
But they didn’t. Moments later Mr Lorry Driver was parallel to my vehicle. His window buzzed down and the air turned blue. His finale was a two-fingered salute. Not to be outdone, I stuck four fingers up at him and waggled them about for good measure. I haven’t a clue if it means anything, but it felt good.
Yesterday’s journey wasn’t much better. We were travelling to Surrey University’s Guildford School of Acting. We set off in miserable weather. The air was full of fine drizzle. By the time we were on the motorway, lashings of road spray gave an illusion of fog. Just as I was steaming past a line of lorries, one of them decided to pull out on me. No signals. Just the usual attitude of, ‘I’m a lorry, therefore I’m King of the Road’.
‘Yikes,’ Eleanor and I chorused.
Actually we didn’t really say that. We said something a little more colourful which I will leave to your imagination. Once I’d put comfortable distance between the lorries and us, we exhaled in relief.
‘That’s one thing I’m not looking forward to when I start driving,’ said Eleanor.
‘Mm. I mean, my car is tiddly. What if I get squashed?’
‘Just keep your distance from big vehicles.’
Eleanor stared ahead thoughtfully. ‘It feels very odd knowing my driving test is booked and that I haven’t yet had a single lesson.’
Like her brother last year, Eleanor has booked a week’s intensive driving course over the Easter break. It’s bad enough being passenger to my twenty-two year old son, but the thought of sitting next to a newly qualified seventeen year old is one that fills me with more fear than taking on a lorry driver. Which reminds me.
The following are apparently true answers given by women drivers in the California Driving Test:
Q: What is the difference between a flashing red traffic light and a flashing yellow traffic light?
A: The colour.
Q: When driving through fog, what should you use?
A: Your car.
Q: What changes would occur to your lifestyle if you could no longer drive lawfully?
A: I would be forced to drive unlawfully...