Aliens in the car

Building up to the practical test, which happens only on Tuesday, a mere three days away, I’ve been trying to prepare for the experience by having different people in the passenger seat of the car apart from P. or C.

C.’s wife S. bravely sat in with me last Sunday after C. had warmed me up for an hour to knock off the accumulated rust of the week: it takes a few minutes to redevelop the good habits when I haven’t been driving for a few days.

It wasn’t quite the experience I’d expected. Early on, an alien in the car was deeply unsettling and guaranteed to bring on an attack of nerves. S. however kept talking to me the whole time (she says to distract me) and this kept me entirely relaxed. S. is my “other wife” when my J. or her C. doesn’t care to go to particular events like garden or country shows, so we’re used to keeping each other company. We did the usual run of the back way from Wootton to Newport (via Staplers Road), into the driving test centre, practised reverse parking into a bay in the Honda “tractor”, and then whizzed up and down the dual carriageway a few times to practise roundabouts (there’s one at each end) and getting up to speed. You can hit 60, but pretty much have to slow down immediately afterwards; I did it just to show that I could.

The debriefing revealed that S. hadn’t felt the need to apply her imaginary brake once, which at least shows that I can drive with consideration for my passengers, even if it didn’t create the whole alien encounter I’d wanted.

The was another lesson with P. on the Tuesday, which ended early because we’d arranged that another instructor, M. should take me out on a mock test, thus fulfilling the needs of providing an alien passenger and marking my performance. He has the same type of car as P., a Renault Clio diesel, so switching between them wasn’t an issue. 

But first I had a quick coffee break, heading for Coffee Republic on the recommendation of Jimjams, who seems to hang out there a lot after school. I had an Americano, which had a good crema but lacked the full body of the ideal one I’d had at Gossips in Yarmouth a few weeks earlier. The taste of the coffee was excellent – a good strong roast – but it probably needed another shot of espresso. I’ll be customising this drink next visit. The accompanying raisin Danish was excellent.

M. picked me up at Newport bus station, and after 10 minutes or so of chat and a warm-up to get familiar with his car we were off on the proper mock test. I had two “moments”, one where I didn’t understand where he wanted me to pull up relating to the wording he used for relative positioning, and one when a double-decker bus came out of a width restriction on a hill and I pulled over  to give it the most room possible and, I thought, kerbed the car in the process (which would fail me). However, in the analysis M. said I’d only touched it, and would only get two minor faults on the encounter with the bus (undue hesitation and an observational fault). The manoeuvres of choice were reverse parking into a bay, reversing around a corner and a turn in the road, all of which went OK.

Despite previously discussing where I thought I made most of my faults – mirrors and gears – mirrors didn’t feature at all in my minor faults, and gears only twice, and the result was that M. would pass me with eight minor faults. My old friend the not fully released handbrake featured twice… I can do better.

Last night’s session with C. showed again that I can drive with confidence, and that when you’re learning at that point it the becomes a matter of coping with situations that other people create. Like cars parked on double yellow lines a short way before a traffic lighted junction that suddenly set off without indicating.  I went on about that for minutes…

So do I feel I can pass on Tuesday? Yes, and I feel ready for the test: but I think I should fail. I just don’t think that I have enough experience of different situations. And I finally watched the Driving Standards Agency’s DVD on preparing for the test that reveals the less that comforting statistic that the pass rate for the practical test is only 42%.

Anyway, as on test and mock days I’m sure that someone pays people to be idiots in front of learners just to test them to the limits, success may depend on how much these idiots are bank-rolled on Tuesday.

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