36… 35… 34… 33… test!

Don’t get excited. Four more driving lessons down the line and my theory and hazard perception test is all lined up for Wednesday 21 January.

I’ve had two brilliant lessons with P. when I felt relaxed and stopped operating the car like a wind-up robot. The gloriously sunny morning of the first one probably accounted for a degree of confidence, although it could easily have all gone wrong on my doorstep as a van hurtled around the 25mph-limited bend just as I committed to leaving the driveway. Dual-control is a wonderful preserver of learner driver in such instances, and is I think only about the second time P. has had to override what I was doing. After that it was a comfortable drive into Newport and beyond, exploring new routes that prevented me from anticipating what I should be doing. Reversing round a corner featured, and seemed surprisingly easy compared with reverse parking into a bay.

The second lesson with P. took me down a pretty notorious road on the Island: Betty Haunt Lane. This not only has blind bends with high hedgerows, but a hump-backed bridge that once used to straddle the Freshwater to Newport railway (a victim of Beeching’s axe). The bridge is blind in both directions and a completely unnecessary hazard given that there has been no railway for 40 years. Perhaps it’s just there for the benefit of the Island’s driving test centre.

Anyway, before the unnerving bridge and the blind bends, P. told me we were going to practise an emergency stop. I’ve been dreading this because all my experience of seeing this on TV involves the the instructor tapping the dash, which always seemed a very unclear signal. It’s also a misconception: the instructor raises his hand in front of the mirror and clearly says stop. So it was a fairly rapid acceleration down the lane, up into third gear, and…

I could almost have wee’d myself.

As it was I was a shaking wreck for the next 15 minutes. P. said it was very good: I’d reacted quickly on the brake, kept a straight line, and slammed the clutch down right at the last moment to avoid stalling. I just wasn’t prepared for how quick it all was. I now vaguely understand how even a near miss can be unnerving. And fresh from this revelation, and still twitching, I then had the bridge and the bends to handle.

Did I forget to say that these then come onto an uphill junction where, unless you’re an owl with a swivel neck,  it is virtually essential to wind down the window to be able to see down the road so you can commit to turning left up to the Blacksmiths Arms?

There used to be a sign that greeted arrivals on the Island that “Island roads are different”. They’re that different that someone should straighten the little beggars out: they are in essence nothing more than twisting farm cart tracks covered with tarmac, littered with potholes, and where the national speed limit is by and large legal (if not recommended). Removing some of the kinks and providing clearer stretches for overtaking would probably do wonders for the Island’s atrocious accident rate.

P. of course didn’t leave it at that, fitting in an in-road turn on a hill from a downhill start, and parallel parking into a restricted space. I felt pretty much put through the wringer.

In-between have been the lessons with C. who twice took me round the back roads of Wootton at night – an area of the Island I suggest everyone leaves well alone until I pass my practical. This is all 20mph or less stuff with sharp junctions, quick indicating, and severe slopes, which even in street-lighting I find more unnerving than all the daytime stuff with P. Both times are rounded off with a drive into Newport, when Chris takes over again so I can catch a bus home.

With the theory test three days away, I have of course been revising like mad. The Driving Standards Agency discs are invaluable, and with a lot more knowledge poured into me I was able to complete a mock test with 100 per cent success. The hazard perception disc works better on the computer than in the DVD, and I have a bit more faith in the system’s response time. I still find it sort of scary that potential drivers only need to be right 86 per cent of the time to pass.

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