Highway to hell

Susannah Goldsbrough reveals how she's driven herself around the bend

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Photo: flickr

I have a terrible vision of what it will be like to walk into Worcester bar on my first day back for Trinity term. I shuffle through the dark doorway, head drooping, shoulders hunched. Casting furtive glances from left to right, I do my best to keep a low profile. But despite my best efforts, people begin to spot me; heads turn, and the mutterings begin. Some nudge their friends enthusiastically, thrilled at the prospect of a sighting. Others cast questioning glances, and are quietly filled in. ‘No!’ They reel back in shock. ‘She didn’t! Not again…’ I gaze up at the arched ceiling, feigning indifference, and am struck for the first time by the room’s resemblance to a tomb. My friends approach hesitantly, unsure of what to say, or where to look. Then, finally, the tension breaks, as one student simply cannot contain her disbelief. “You have got to be kidding me!” she shrieks. “No one at Oxford fails their driving test four times!”

No one, that is, except me. Well, not even quite me, not yet at least. My collection of test sheets­—crawling with the shaky ink scrawl of examiners desperately trying to record all seventeen majors as we take a medium-sized village at 65mph–as yet only amounts to three. But the stage is all set for the fateful fourth attempt: 8.10 am at Dorchester Test Centre on the Tuesday of 0th (if anyone would like to come along, I’m charging five quid for passenger seat rides, but the disclaimer form must be filled in). Only three so far, yes, but rather like those long-suffering teenagers in The Hunger Games, the odds never do seem to be in my favour.

There’s no need to dwell on the sordid details of my first three attempts. Imagine red lights that went unnoticed, hedgerows massacred, children who will never quite be the same again, and you’ll get the general idea. For anyone interested, the injury count has been relatively low so far: a couple of cats, the odd pedestrian sustaining minor fractures. What has not been left intact however—along with the wing mirrors of most of Dorset—is my self-esteem. To be fair, a tiny part of me finds it strangely thrilling. As I’m sure is the case for most Oxford students, not passing an exam is a bit of an alien experience. So this is what it’s like to fail. Wow. But for the most part, I have found the entire process fairly soul-destroying. I waltzed into the driving seat of my sister’s Peugeot 104 eighteen months ago, young and carefree, brimming with confidence and hope. I now totter out of it daily, a pale and bony skeleton of my former self, before crawling across the front steps towards heavy liquor and oblivion.

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I really don’t know why I can’t do it. I’m not a hugely practical person, sure. I’ve never been much good at map reading or cutting in straight lines, or any of those things that reek of competence and career prospects. But what I can’t quite compute, the thing that snakes its way through the most fragile parts of my ego and seems to smack me in the face every time I crunch against the curbstone on a parallel park, or take out a passing cyclist, is that everyone can drive. I mean everyone. Roughly 75% of the UK population hold an active driving license, and the remaining 25% are mostly under-18. So, there we have it, in cold hard data. I am the only person in the country who cannot drive. It is a sobering thought.

And it’s not just my self-worth that this constant cycle of failure affects. My holidays for the past two years have been (and, let’s be real, probably always will be) spent secluded in the countryside, screeching across roundabouts in neutral, and terrorising local commuters. As one of the few friends I have left remarked the other day, as I produced yet another unconvincing excuse as to why I could not make it up to London to see her, “you used to have a social life. Now you drive.”

It is not just friends that have fallen by the wayside, however, even my family is beginning to crumble around me. My parents were at first amused, then confused, and now just abused by my abject incompetence. They take me out to practise—patient, helpful and outstandingly brave—while I gnash my teeth, bawl and berate them for their parental inadequacies as we rebound off lampposts. They spent the last two terms cowering at home, watching the days slide by with terrible inevitability to the beginning of the next vac, and the carnage that would ensue when I next got behind the wheel.

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So, if you enjoyed reading this, if you chuckled at my incompetence or smiled at my pain, if you pity the friends who no longer remember what I look like, or the family who can’t sleep at night, then set an alarm for 8.10 am on Tuesday of 0th. Wake up, get out of bed, and get down on your knees and pray. Because it’s gong to take a miracle.

 

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