The Dreaded Driving Test: Part One
I've been agonising over how to tell this story, since the 24-hours leading up to and including my test felt like a lifetime. How could I give all the details in one concise post when there seem to be so many details? Then I realised I could take a page from Laurie's book (or would it be a post from her blog?) and go with a three-part story. Maybe I've blown it by already revealing the ending yesterday, or maybe you'll find the journey as compelling as the destination. In any case, I'll start at the beginning...
The evening before the test, while it was still light out, I took Peter on a hill-start practise run. Since the hill start was the beginning of my unraveling in the last test, I'd worked very hard to make the entire procedure automatic in my mind.
Look for a place to pull over, check the left mirror, turn on the left indicator, pull over, turn off the indicator, pull the parking brake, and put the car in first gear. Check my blind spot, check the right mirror, turn on the right indicator, check the gear for good luck, gradually release the brake while releasing the clutch, feel for the little kick the clutch gives just before the car slips into gear, ease onto the gas to give the acceleration needed to glide up the hill.
When I put it like that, it doesn't sound so simple, does it? This is what the entire driving test is like - remembering to do each little part that is required for the whole task. Forgetting to check your mirror before you turn on your indicator won't make you fail the test outright, but forgetting to do several little things throughout the 5-mile course will cause you to walk away in abject defeat. When told to turn left, you can't just throw on your indicator and turn left. You have to check your mirror, turn on your indicator, shift into second gear, and turn left in the proper road position. (And remember to cancel your indicator, if it doesn't turn off automatically.)
You have to do all this and still react to other cars and pedestrians. Plus, the roads around the Skibbereen test center are narrow and often lined with parked cars. Several roads are barely wide enough for two cars to pass, let alone for two cars to navigate when one side is filled with parked cars.
But Wednesday evening, in the hills of Ballingeary with Peter pretending to mark down notes while I practised, it was easy. Even fun almost. And I started to feel the first shades of hope that I would be able to finally pass this damn thing.
It was after dark when I realised I should have Peter review the technical check with me and make sure my lights were all in working order. The technical check portion of the driving test involves opening the bonnet and pointing out where you'd fill the coolant, check the oil, which is the brake fluid, etc. I hadn't reviewed these items in a while and I have tendency to forget where the magic little lever is just under the bonnet to unlatch it from the car.
The technical check isn't really that difficult, since everything is pretty well-labeled. Getting the bonnet open was my biggest challenge, so I practised it a few times.
Then we ran through the light checks. I'd just had everything replaced for my NCT in September and my instructor had checked them out a few weeks ago, so I hadn't expected any difficulties. The front lights were fine, so Peter went to the back of the car. Left indicator. Right indicator. Tap on the brakes.
"Your left brake light isn't working," he said.
He had to be joking, I thought. But no, he wasn't joking. Just as well we checked. I was a little annoyed with him, since I'd asked him to buy me replacement bulbs this week. After being unable to buy them in Macroom, he'd checked with our local mechanic to verify the bulbs were in stock. His plan would have worked, had I had the foresight to check while the mechanic's garage was still open. So he was a little annoyed with me not thinking about this sooner. (It was okay though, our annoyances canceled each other out and we just got on with things.)
Peter rang the mechanic and arranged to run up to his place to get the bulb. We ended up buying a complete set of bulbs, just to set my mind at ease.
Back at home, I backed the car into the garage so Peter could replace the bulbs. (We don't really ever use the garage except for storage purposes - I'm not sure why, the thing is like a small aircraft hangar.) Peter was fantastic, spending close to an hour working on getting the bulbs to work. It turned out that the bulbs were fine, the connectors were just a bit loose and corroded. So he filed away the corrosion and made sure the bulbs were snug and connected properly.
He discovered that the right-rear reverse light was a bit flaky, so I rang my driving instructor to make sure that wouldn't disqualify me from taking the test. "The examiner will only check for your brake lights and indicators. There's no way he's going to stand behind the car while you put it in reverse." Which, of course, made perfect sense.
I went to bed Wednesday evening secure in the knowledge that my car was in nearly perfect working order. Sure, the rear lights had the possibility of slipping or malfunctioning, but I had a complete set of bulbs in the boot and would have ample time to take the car to a petrol station and beg some kind mechanic to help me. I had a Plan B and that was enough to help me get to sleep.
To Be Continued....