NUIG Sin's Aisling Bonner writes about a painful journey we know all too well; the road to getting your full licence.
It’s 1:29pm, I’m shovelling some supremely scrambled eggs into me, and reading over my notes on turnabouts and reversing around a corner in the hope that my study will compensate for my lack of practice. Lack of, meaning none. Zilch.
It’s a Monday. I know it’s a Monday because my instructor shows me the soles of his black and red striped socks with the word ‘Monday’ stitched on the bottom. Left out for him by the missus, he tells me. “Can’t be wearin’ Tuesday’s socks on a Monday – that’s a fair bad start to the week,” he warns.
Being my penultimate set of lessons, I’m feeling slightly emotional. Despite the occasional cardiac arrest, I’ve enjoyed learning about my instructor’s favourite chippers, pubs, songs and spice bags. Without revealing too many spoilers, this sentimentality would quickly be washed away as it became apparent that I, like many others, will no doubt be availing of an extra helping of lessons once my 12 are finished. I can almost hear the echo in my Ulster Bank vault.
This week’s lesson revolves around the test structure and route, leaving me utterly terrified with a week of nightmares about killer kerbs and haunting hill-starts. We head first for the conundrum that is the Naas Test Centre. “Pick any spot there, Ais,” my instructor says, pointing at the row of lovely wide accessible spaces outside the centre. All of a sudden my mind thinks I’m on Derek Mooney-era Winning Streak, in an internal battle to choose between Poulaphouca Dam, the Giant’s Causeway and Bunratty Castle. With the tick of the indicator mirroring the shouts from the RTÉ studio audience going “THE DAM GIANT’S POULARATTY CASPHOUCA”, I panic and swing a sharp right straight down the line dividing two of the lovely wide accessible spaces.
“Open the door there and check if you’ve space Aisling,” my instructor jeers. Sure enough I’ve a good metre and a half on each side. It looks good to me. Learner’s Best Friend a.k.a dual controls take over again as Derek Mooney steers us neatly into Bunratty without so much as the skim of a wing mirror.
The next while is spent going through the test layout, what you need to know and what they’re looking for. It’s more a case of not being too shit at one thing, rather than being unreal at everything. It’s slightly disconcerting to find out that you can’t fail your test even if you don’t know one road sign, road marking or vehicle mechanism. “Some lads can’t read,” my instructor says. How comforting.
We head on to the test hotspots to practice turnabouts and reversing around corners. This is when the real confessions of a provisional driver come in. I sheepishly admit to not having attempted either since I was taught them about two months ago (he hands me a cough sweet in memory of that fateful lesson). To put it simply, some practice wouldn’t have gone a-miss.
It’s all getting very finicky and my instructor is increasingly picky. Braking too early here, turning too wide there – it’s getting real. The days of being praised for not cutting out several times at traffic lights are long gone. We spend the rest of the lesson following a small red ’02 Renault Clio carrying two rather hairy gents also practicing driving “for the craic”.
“Jaysus, look at the beards on them.”
“D’ya like someone with a big beard?”
“Folley the bearded ones Aiso.” It turns out the bearded ones live rather close to me.
Upon arrival to my house I boldly ask to attempt the reverse around a corner manoeuvre into my driveway – save him the hassle, how sound. Here we go, fix the mirrors, look 360, reverse gear, all going well. I’m rolling back nicely and an unexpected force propels me forward just as I notice the glaring pillar in my rear view mirror. My instructor, foot firmly on his own brake pedal gives me a look which says our lessons are by no means numbered.