When I was 16 I decided I wanted a yellow VW beetle. I started saving and begging my Dad, but neither worked. Any savings I accumulated ended up being spent on holidays instead and my Dad thought I should pass my test first. I’m still not sure of his logic, but it got him out of buying me a car!
I took some lessons in my late teens and loved it. Myself and my driving instructor would set off, him smoking rollies. It was easy, pedals, gears, mirrors, road markings, easy peasy. Uphill starts, reversing around a corner, three point turns, not a bother! I booked in my test and a load of pre-test lessons.
A week before my test I got a call to say my instructor had been taken ill. My last three lessons were taken with three different, very different, instructors. The first was a young, good looking, charming, funny guy, who I spent more time looking at than at the road. The second was a tiny little feminist who lectured me on going for my truck driving licence after I got my test. The third was a guy who worked in the office, either the manager or the cleaner, and hadn’t given a lesson in years.
I did not pass my test, and I had to walk home.
Over the following years I started college and then work, all within a 3 mile radius from home, with good public transport and nice routes to walk. I continued to spend my money on flights and accommodation rather than insurance and car tax.
Then the Celtic Tiger started pushing my friends further out, to the suburbs, commuter towns and Athlone. We were growing up and needed cars to see each other, and to buy jumbo boxes of washing powder when it was on offer.
So last summer I retook the plunge. I got back on to my smoking driving instructor, who had recovered but continued to smoke, just not in the car this time. I bought a car, not a yellow Beetle but a grey Golf, I loved it! I booked ten lessons, I hated it.
When you are 17 you have no fear of driving. When you are 31 you have millions.
I was scared of everything, including: driving into parked cars, driving into oncoming cars, driving into cyclists, cyclists falling in front of my car, kamikaze pedestrians, children running onto the road, roundabouts, turning right, turning left, reversing, stalling, ambulances, taxi drivers, buses, accidentally falling asleep, the steering wheel falling off, and some other things I can't think of right now.
My driving instructor told me I was doing fine and just needed to practice, practice, practice. So needing someone with a full licence I enlisted my Dad, which was a big mistake, huge! He was great, but it ended in tears and set me back. I also went out with my friend's ever helpful and extremely patient husband, who understood completely how it is to learn to drive in your 30s, but with my busy schedule and him living 30 minutes away it was difficult to schedule anything regularly enough for my needs.
Then last week I had a breakthrough. Bank holiday Monday, a friend home from London staying with me needed a lift. So we drove, and drove, and drove. Driving with purpose, running errands, on a sunny bank holiday morning. It clicked. On Wednesday I borrowed my friend's husband again, to practice the route to their house. On Friday I picked up a friend and drove us into the cinema in town!
It's still a work in progress but I'm enjoying it now. Enough fear has left me to get on with it, enough remains to keep me safe. My car is no longer a decoration, keeping my driveway dry.
Being a 31 year old learner driver has its drawbacks. I think people assume the L-plates are for show, or maybe they were just born knowing how to drive and that's why they beep me when I stall at traffic lights - a rare thing.
However, being a 31 year old learner driver also has its advantages. At 31 I care less what people think, so mostly ignore the beeping. Though I am secretly hoping I'll get an opportunity to go Dara Ó Briain on someone's ass!