Being a little lazy, and a little contrary, I shunned the chance to learn how to drive when still in the supportive bosom of my family home, where my father would have been able to take me out to practise between lessons. He did, in fact, take me out once or twice, but my lack of motivation (and probably lack of natural aptitude) meant I never progressed from stalling a few times on the disused runways of Thorney Island. There was a train station just down the road, and I spent much of the year at boarding school, so I reasoned that there was no rush to learn. It helped, too, that my siblings were all quick off the mark and got their licences pretty soon after turning 17, so I could abuse their generosity for the occasional lift.
Life then took me to a variety of places – Versailles, Oxford, Rome, London – where I would neither have desired nor been able to afford a car, so learning to drive was never anywhere near the forefront of my mind. I had a niggling feeling, too, that it was the sort of thing I wouldn’t be very good at; I’m not sure why not, but perhaps it was a confidence thing – either way, it kept the streets safe for a good few years.
Eventually, a few years ago, my lack of a licence caught up with me, when I wanted to apply for a job where it was necessary. I signed up for a relatively intensive course, assuming that after a decent number of lessons I’d have no trouble at all getting through the test. Admittedly I had no way of practising between lessons, as we had no car – and I’m not sure Mariacristina and I would have been willing to risk our relationship by spending too much time in one while I was learning – but ever the optimist, I hoped I’d breeze through it all.
It turned out I wasn’t too bad a driver, but unfortunately the British system means you cannot afford a single serious mistake during your test. You can drive perfectly for 99.9% of your time with the examiner, but that one moment of lost concentration can automatically earn you a fail. I can’t really complain, though, as unfortunately I had several of those moments, so that chance for a licence – and the job – disappeared.
Having lost that opportunity, there was no longer such an urgent need to learn, but a year and a half later, Mariacristina persuaded me it was worth trying again before my theory test pass ran out (you need to pass the practical within two years, or take another test). I failed again, but was more motivated (it’s handy to have a wife), retook the theory test, failed the practical again before finally passing, at the fourth time of asking, in February last year.
Meanwhile, Mariacristina’s first experience of driving in the UK was set to be in a rental car up in Scotland for the weekend of Ali’s and Tom’s wedding. On the way up to Edinburgh, though she realised her Italian licence had expired… With the help of old and new friends, we managed to get to the wedding and back again, but she hasn’t driven over here since – although she does now have a shiny new UK licence.
We haven’t needed a car, or been able to justify the expense, but we had hoped that I’d be able to rent a car, be it with a traditional rental company or one of the newer, pay-as-you-go schemes such as Zipcar. No such luck – you need to have you4 licence for at least a year, so I’ve spent the last nine months or so forgetting how to drive, in advance of their allowing me behind the wheel of their cars.
We’re now finally in a situation where access to a car would be useful, as I’m in a position of needing to and from the Royal Free in Hampstead, avoiding public transport, but unfortunately I’m still stymied by the fact it hasn’t been a year yet since I passed my test – not to mention my lack of confidence from not having driven since then. We may sign up to Zipcar for Mariacristina at some point, at least, but until then, and when she’s busy or otherwise unable to drive, we need to turn to friends and family to find out if any healthy car-owners fancy a visit to Hampstead at any point!
My schedule has become a bit clearer now: I need to visit the Royal Free every Monday, Wednesday and Friday; a potentially early start for 9.30 appointments and longer days on Mondays, but a bit later on Wednesdays and Fridays, and not spending so long in hospital then. One very kind friend has already helped on a few occasions and offered to help on further Mondays, but if you think you might be able to help on any of these days, do please let us know – we would be eternally grateful.
Meanwhile, the good news is that you’re still safe on the streets for at least the next few months, as we’re not in the position of getting our own car, and I still can’t hire one…