Slatz tries to get a drivers licence but encounters a few obstacles on the way

Since last year, I have been taking driving lessons, attempting to get my licence at the grand old age of 25. I hadn’t attempted to go for it earlier probably out of a mixture of laziness and the fact that spending most of my time in central London; the necessity of having your own personal vehicle wasn’t too pressing.  Especially as getting from A to B was usually much quicker – and cheaper – on public transport.

But I finally went for it and took my first furtive steps onto the UK’s roads. My instructor was a Jamaican guy called Ray who was relaxed enough to make me feel at ease but would call me up on any mistakes I made (there were plenty early on) and explain the better course of action.

Ray, my instructor

After a few lessons spent pottering around the outer circle of Regents’ Park, I was unleashed the roads on the London areas of Maida Vale, Wood Green and Paddington. Ray’s advice varied from the standard mantras of MSM and the “two second rule” to more specialised areas.

Once – at the end of last summer – gesturing to a woman riding a bicycle he warned me “not to get distracted by the beautiful ladies.” He also criticised “jobsworths” who organised needless roadworks and would utilise the c-word when another driver did something he did not approve of.

Ray's car sans L-plates

But – regardless – he was an excellent teacher and though it took time covering the litany of typical driving situations, we eventually reached a stage whereby taking the test itself was viable.

I had already tackled the rather simple hurdle of the theory test at the end of November which took place in what resembled a call-centre in Southwark, south London. However due to the sheer volume of people trying to pass when Ray advised me in January to book a test date, the earliest slot I could get was in March.

This would happen in Mill Hill, an area of north London bookmarked by two large roundabouts – Barnet Roundabout and Apex Corner – and a test centre with a few tricks up its sleeve

Mill Hill test centre

We had been careful to book slot that interceded with neither the morning nor afternoon rush hour to make our lives that much easier. However the day before our scheduled test date, I received a letter informing me that due to unforeseen circumstances, the test had been rearranged for three days later, slapbang in the middle of the school run.

Due my post being forwarded from my parents’ house, the period in which to cancel or change the date had passed so we reluctantly settled on.

On the day; I met my examiner – an old chap probably in his fifties – and we headed off. The test was going relatively well despite the traffic that was beginning to build up around the streets but as we drove up a hill, he asked me to pull up and park and in doing so I clipped the curb – a major offence and thus a fail.

As we headed back to the test centre, going round a tight bend under a bridge, the wheel touched the curb again and my goose was cooked.

We pulled back into the test centre to find it deserted. My test had lasted an hour, around 20 minutes longer than expected and given that it was the last one of the day, all the other staff had already left.

Whilst my instructor felt the examiner had been a little harsh in some areas of his marking, there was no doubt about the result and we disconcelately tried to retrace the test route to analyse what had gone wrong as the sun set over the borough of Barnet.

Initially it seemed like we would have to go through the rigmarol for another couple of months as there wasn’t a space available until June. But one evening double-checking cancellations, I spotted one much sooner; meaning there would only be a matter of weeks between my first test and the “resit” as it was.

Ray initially seemed pleased but as we met up for the first time in around a fortnight, he expressed concern at a slight rustiness that had crept in to my driving. Thankfully the next lesson went very well and we arrived at the test centre for a second time in good spirits.

I went to use the toilets in the centre just before my scheduled test time and when I came out my instructor had a grave look on his face.

“You’ve got the same guy again.”

I entered and greeted the examiner who appeared not to recognise me. Whether this was because he had no recollection of taking charge of my test before or was simply being professional by acting as though he hadn’t spent an hour with me the week before last.

The test was going very well – or at least appeared to be. We had just performed the emergency stop successfully when he asked me to turn right. The road markings suggested this was a one-way street so I drifted to the far right to turn. It turned out the markings were wrong and that this was two-way; meaning I had just driven onto the wrong side of the road. FAIL.

Following the unpleasant verdict, Ray and me sat in our Vauxhall Astra two-door in frustrated silence. Once again, he offered some words of consolation.

“Everything happens for a reason. You don’t realise it at the time but you will someday”.

Perhaps that someday will be at the end of May when I will have my third test; attempting to avoid becoming another of Britain’s Maureens.


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