Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Scarlet Letter (L, not A)

After obsessing over my impending driving test for the last few days, I woke up in a surprisingly calm state. I went for a run with Toby, had a hearty breakfast, and read all the encouraging comments on my last post. It's about an hour's drive to the test centre and I gave myself enough time to get stuck behind a slurry truck and a tractor. The sun was out, the light was golden, and the traffic was co-operative. I did get stuck behind a yellow-reg (British) for a few miles on a twisty road, but they politely got the hell out of my way when a lay-by came up.

I was cool and collected until the moment I pulled into the test centre. Then my heart started dancing, my palms started raining, my mouth turned into a desert, and my legs were replaced with overcooked spaghetti. I sat in the reception area, trying to keep my feet still and concentrate on Rise and Shine, my current reading material. About 15 minutes before my test was scheduled to begin, the office door opened and Jean Reno's separated at birth Irish twin called me in to start the process.

He flew through the cursory examination of my provisional license, the insurance cover disclaimer, and the rules of the road quiz. (Biggest screw-up? Looking at this sign and saying "Ummmm? There's a fence ahead?") It wasn't too horrible but I did feel like he was talking too quickly so I asked politely if he could please speak more slowly and loudly, which he then did as he directed me to go outside, open the bonnet, and wait while he locked up the office.

Out at the car, we proceeded through the engine and safety checks at a more stately pace. Once inside the car, I was instructed to drive as I normally would (yeah, right) and start when I was ready. Deep breath and off we went.

I was instructed to take the second exit off the first roundabout and I was so Pleased with Self for having rung my instructor yesterday to get confirmation on how to use the lanes to reach that exit. I navigated the first street, which was clogged with parked cars, and then took the next right-hand turn without incident. We headed into a quiet residential neighbourhood, where I did my turnabout, although it took me 4 points rather than the traditional 3. (Not a problem though.) Back out to a main(ish) road, and up a steep hill, where I was instructed to park and roll down the window to go through the hand signals. No problem. Then I was instructed to move off. The dreaded hill start, which I'd performed flawlessly in all my practise tests after my instructor taught me how to feel for the kick in the clutch as my point for dropping the hand brake.

The instant I dropped the brake and eased off the clutch in favour of the gas, the car shot backwards. Not ideal, but sure, it's salvageable. I collected myself and tried again, only to shoot backwards. Deep breath and I tried again. And again. And again. Around try number 5, I just put my head on the steering wheel and started to laugh. As the hill start is one of the named parts of the test, I figured I had just failed.

I pulled myself together and gave it another try, but I couldn't understand what was happening as I didn't seem to be feeling that magical kick in the clutch. Either yerman too pity on me or he didn't want to wait for me to roll all the way to the bottom of the hill before the test could proceed. He said, "You want to check that you're fully in gear." Indeed I was not. "That would help, wouldn't it? Thank you." I said cheerily. Although the gear shifter looked like it was in first, it wasn't fully in. I nudged the gear into place and on my next start managed to stall the car. But then, on my umpteenth try, I managed to get the car moving up Heartbrake Hill and it took every ounce of restraint I had not to "Whoohoo" with relief.

I thought I'd be able to relax after that, knowing I'd failed. And I did for a bit. We returned to the roundabout near the test centre and I figured Monseiur Reno was going to put me out of my misery. But he directed me to take the exit back into town. I was still in this thing. The second I thought I had a chance of scraping by, my nerves kicked back in.

The rest of the test passed in a blur. I recognised some of my trouble areas from the practise tests and navigated them successfully. It wasn't the world's worst performance and I didn't hit the pedestrian who practically lept in front of my car near the construction zone. After the requisite five miles (yep, I zeroed out my trip counter before we started), we returned to the test centre. I nearly let myself hope that I'd passed, but, in my heart, I knew the Scarlet Letter L would be staying on my car for at least a few more months.

I followed yerman back into the office, where he told me that unfortunately, he didn't have good news for me. "The hill start?" I asked. "The hill start didn't help you, but you have some other problem areas. Namely the gears and the clutch." Seems I don't shift into higher gears quickly enough. He asked me was I more familiar driving an automatic and I nodded. He also asked me where I was from and I said "Chicago. We don't have hills there." He sent me on my way with a little advice, the results sheet, and more than a little disappointment.

Now that I've a little perspective, I can see I didn't really do too badly. Put me in an automatic and I'd have passed with a handful of Grade 2 faults. On the plus side, I had no Grade 3 faults (automatic fails). I had 14 Grade 2 faults (although, only 11 if you take out the repeated clutch and gear faults), so I didn't really fail by much since you can pass with 9. It was a good fail, if there is such a thing.

I'm reapplying for the test online after I finish this post and I've already scheduled 3 more driving lessons. Sod the test prep, I'm going to tell the instructor I want him to teach me how to drive as though I were a Martian who'd never seen an automobile. Next time, it'll be grand.


At 26 September 2007 at 19:56, Blogger wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Don't feel too bad. In the UK, apparently 50 percent of women fail on their first go. You'll ace it next time.

At 26 September 2007 at 23:35, Blogger Kaycie said...

You really have a wonderful attitude. My daughter just took her test a few months ago. She failed the first time, took note of what she did wrong, then passed with flying colors the next time. You'll do great when you take it again. It helps so much to know exactly what to work on. Good luck!

At 27 September 2007 at 05:59, Anonymous Primal Sneeze said...

When I took mine* they just said pass or fail - no reasons given. At least now you have something to work on.

*Way back when God was still in short trousers.

At 27 September 2007 at 06:04, Blogger -Ann said...

WUASTC - I'm feeling less and less bad about it. The national pass-rate here is only something like 53% for everyone taking the test.

Kaycie - Thanks, I'm working on it. :) I don't know that I would have had such a good attitude when I was your daughter's age.

PS - Now hold on a second, if God had really still been in short trousers, you would have just been automatically given a license. But geez, really, a pass-fail system just makes no sense. You need to know where you went wrong.

At 27 September 2007 at 12:52, Blogger John of Dublin said...

Hi Ann. I enjoyed reading that and I was in suspense wondering how you would do!! Well told story. You are a fighter like me and you will pass next time!

My current car is an automtic, they are great in town and hill traffic but it's most useful to be able to handle a manual car.

At 28 September 2007 at 14:07, Anonymous Primal Sneeze said...

Okay, okay, I admit he wasn't still in short trousers. He wore long ones, but he was still at college and and hadn't yet grown the bread.

At 30 September 2007 at 01:27, Blogger laurie said...

you'll do great. and you can drive in the meantime, right? you're golden.

(i used to drive all over duluth's steep hills in ice and snow in my little manual transmission car, without giving it a second thought. not sure i could do it anymore.... i've lived in flatland, with an automatic, for too long.)

At 2 October 2007 at 19:59, Blogger -Ann said...

PS - Thanks for clearing that up for me. I can't abide confusion or exaggeration. :)

Laurie - Yep. I'm on my second provisional license, which means I can drive unaccompanied. It's valid for 2 years and if I haven't passed a test by then, I'd have to have a qualified driver accompany me. (Same with the first provisional.)


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