Friday, 27 February 2009

Warning: learner driver

I’ve just crawled to the booze cupboard and swallowed a belt of Jack Daniel’s straight from the bottle. Then I staggered to the bathroom to put some iodine on the half-moon crescents my nails had gouged into my palms and take two paracetamol for the gigantic stress headache that has my forehead in a vice grip. There’s not much I can do about the heart palpitations or the layers of enamel I’ve ground off my teeth.

I’m teaching my 17-year-old daughter to drive.

This is my second attempt at driving instruction. The first was last year, with my son, and I gave up after he drove into a tractor. (‘Daniel, watch out for the tractor… Daniel, the tractor…! Daniel?! Daniel!! Watch out for the …. aaarggghghggh!’) Previously he had driven into someone’s garden wall by way of an acacia tree, but I reckoned all learner drivers are permitted to make one horrendously expensive mistake in their mother’s car (provided, of course, it involves only rubber and metal, and not flesh and bone). After the tractor incident, however, I forked out for driving lessons instead – and my poor son is still licence-less and doesn’t show much inclination to ever get behind the wheel of a car again.

When I learnt to drive, it was courtesy of a usefully besotted boyfriend – in his car. I recall being so panicky that I once drove all the way from his house in Emmarentia to ours in Parkwood without changing out of first. The smell of moving parts under stress was rank in the air by the time we arrived, and that was just my boyfriend. So I’m aware of how nerve-wracking it is to pilot a car as a learner.

My daughter has the twin advantages of good coordination and being keen as a bean (which, it must be said, my son never was – it took him FOUR goes just to pass his learner’s test). But there is still a very steep learning curve to negotiate.

My daughter can’t get her head around, for instance, not looking down at the gearshift when she changes gear. So we pull off (our teeth rattling in our heads as the car jolts down the road like a horizontal jackhammer), then it’s time to put the car into second, and suddenly we’re veering towards the nearest storm drain. ‘Eyes on the road!’ I shriek, and my daughter’s head jerks up as if on a spring, the car stalls, and for a few moments all you can hear is the blood thundering like a herd of buffalo through my aorta.

‘Hand brake. Clutch in. Put it in neutral,’ I say in a helium voice that would be funny if we weren’t both so freaked out.

But hey, everyone’s got to start somewhere. And although I’ve been my family’s chauffeur for 19 years, I’ve never enjoyed driving. So I can’t wait for the day when I can legally and with a modicum of confidence hand the car keys to my daughter and she can take over.

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tonypark said...

Helium voice... you inspire me to plagiarism, Muriel.

Shortly after she got her licence (I gave up trying to teach her and paid a professional) Mrs B took to the road with me and managed to drive UP a tree.

Not into a tree... UP a tree. Long story.

Muriel said...

C'mon, tell it!

My daughter managed to drive the round-trip to the seaside flat (about 160km) on the weekend and only made a few, non-fatal errors. So we're getting there...