To my knowledge, the first time that Tristan got behind the wheel of a car was in Yorkshire.
He drove it straight through a hedge, over the edge of a three foot drop and onto an ornamental lawn. He and Geoff then panicked and attempted to improvise a ramp back out of the lawn using huge great railway sleepers somehow scavenged from the local farm store. Not being in the best state of mind he dropped one on his foot. Heavy fuckers covered in tar and filth. He took a big chunk out of his foot which complicated to blood poisoning that thankfully responded to antibiotics. They got the car out of the lawn using the sleepers propped on the wall. “Nobody will EVER know,” they thought.
They then discovered the next day that they could have just kept going and there would’ve been a gate to escape from. That was fifteen years ago. He had been pumping the clutch as if it was the brake. “I did quite an impressive figure of eight on that lawn,” he tells me with what could almost be pride. “The whole car immediately started stinking of fish. The next day we went over the lawn and tried to put the divots back … They didn’t have the actors back to stay the next year.”
Up until July this year he’s barely driven since. I’ve been the guiding light on this journey towards conduisance. God help us all. Today I took him on an extended lesson, broken up into segments.
“You made this,” he tells me at one point, after a good run of controlled driving. “There’s a long way to go yet,” I reminded him. Half an hour later he was stalling repeatedly while a police car with sirens on farted angrily at him at a turning and his usually calm instructor was growling “just fucking give it some welly” and encouraging him to over-rev in order to guarantee not stalling, which is the sort of behaviour that drove him through a hedge .
On balance though my unusual late starting pupil is beginning to make sense of things. He’s driven too much with me when I’m not teaching so will occasionally grumble eloquent sweary insults at other road users – a habit I’m trying to limit. He also has a tendency to drift over the speed limit which makes me a little nervous of cameras. But I can sense the shift from intellectual to instinctive process. It’ll be a long long time yet. But without my own set of pedals I rarely felt worried and never felt actively unsafe today.
It’s funny to think actively about all the bits and bobs involved in driving a car. The buttons you need to push without looking in order to blow air or open windows or adjust light or clean windows. All that fiddle with your left foot on the clutch that most Americans have never encountered. Feeding the wheel, observations, indicators, blind spots, handbrake. Time at the wheel has made it an embedded process for me that I’m having to pull out and examine in order to teach it. It’ll make me safer I expect, this active thinking about how to communicate the nuts and bolts. It’s always worth looking closely at the things we do without thinking.
Meanwhile it’s a pleasant enough way to pass the time, and I stopped to see my brother and spend some time with his family.
Now I’m getting a beautiful meal cooked for my efforts – one of my favourite Yorkshire things – a Barnsley chop. Those long summers in Yorkshire will stay with me in various ways it seems.