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GETTING BACK IN THE SADDLE – Pt2

By on Jan 27, 2016 in History | 0 comments

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I work and live in tied accommodation in London. I don’t need a car day to day, no one does, the city’s transport is brilliant. But my home is in Devon and I’m a keen canoe/ boat paddler. Travelling outside London and moving boats around is a challenge without a car. I’ve been lucky, many of my friends have cars.

Tracey is, like me, ex -army. Unlike me she’s a trained killer! Her close protection (bodyguard) duties in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan have left her with a habit of driving far enough from the car in front that should it stop and gunmen get out she’s able to evade, or turn the car as a barrier and return fire. It’s a bit frustrating in London watching other traffic fill the gap and Tracey dropping back to maintain extra safe distance, but I always felt safe as a passenger with her.

Mouse is a former Traffic Cop in Devon and Cornwall. She’s brilliant; never fazed at the stupidity of some motorists and always seems ready for the unexpected in spite of being very chatty while driving. I learned a lot of patience from these two. Debs was a wee bit different.

We nearly always drove about with Deb’s dog in the back of the car. It was as if there was a baby on board. That said I still had issues. She’s a firefighter; not in a metaphorical sense, I mean a real firefighter. When she was driving, she’d openly laugh at my hyper-vigilance, the way I’d pump an imaginary brake, brace for impact or just close my eyes. She is a good and safe driver like Tracey and Mouse,  but she challenged me and made me address my fears and to a certain extent overcome them.

And so it was, five years after the multiple car crash on the motorway, I decided to get back in the saddle and get a car of my own again. The impetus was planning a holiday, a kayaking and camping trip to Scotland with Debs and her German Shepherd.  I needed something big and cheap. A friend of a friend was selling an old but reportedly reliable estate with folding rear seats.  The folding seats and low hatch back were necessary so I could get the boats, the kit and the dog about by day while by night, seats folded flat, we could also all sleep in the back. It was tatty, but I didn’t care. Carting dogs and boats around means inevitable scuffs. I bought it for £750 and tweeted I was about to get back on the road.

I tweeted my intentions then something wonderful happened: Toyota offered me the use of a new, British built Avensis for a year instead.

Why?

Basically to use to get around visiting places and people that interest me which, in return I’d write about for Toyota’s blog. They thought my ramblings – geographic as well as literary – would be of interest to owners who where typically about my age and had an interest in the things I liked talking about: history, historic buildings, especially castles, the RNLI and anything else I felt make up the best of Britain.

Perhaps my luck was changing, I thought, then immediately worried it would fall at the first hurdle. Prepared for the worst, I told them of my recent driving history.

“Not an issue.” But what of the old estate car I’d just bought?  “Sell it. The Avensis won’t be ready for a month or so, but we’ll send you something to bridge the gap.”

And so it was, just days later, that a delivery driver came to my place in central London with a new RAV4.

The delivery driver would have liked me to drive her to London Bridge station, but in all truth I was too scared! I saw her in to a cab instead. I spent the next 24 hours or so fretting about whether I could actually drive. As a former soldier I have been (justifiably) afraid, a lot. The trick is to accept the fear and ride it; it’s there, whispering failure and disaster, but you ignore it, shut it out and rely on what you know. Your training will get you through.

Like every legal driver in Britain I’ve been trained, I’ve passed a test, I knew I had twenty-odd years of collision free driving behind me. So I trusted that, even though my fear was whispering, “Yeah,  but what about your last few seconds eh? Where did your training and experience go then?” I had only one answer to that. I just climbed in to the car and started it.

I was amazed that after nearly five years I just slid right into it. The lessons learned as a passenger with Tracey, Mouse and Debs were very present at the front of my mind. The voice of my fear was fading. I headed out onto the A100 in the heart of London. Crossing Tower Bridge I forgot I was driving an automatic transmission. Then the muscle memory to change gear kicked in; I was uselessly placing the box into neutral. My fear spoke triumphantly, calling me all the wankers under the Sun but my subconscious mind fought back. Rather than consider it a sign of failure, I was amazed that after five years and my hand had automatically gone to change gear. I’ve got the hang of this, I thought to myself.

It was a short drive, just out to the Old Kent Road and back, It was lunchtime in London and the roads were busy, but I made it. It had been a long time, but I had driven a car again. Fears and self-doubt had been conquered. I was back in the saddle.

One month on I had driven 2,000 miles; I was a born again driver (B.A.D.).  The feeling of liberation was delightful and intoxicating. What a wonderful enabler a car is. I made journeys of increasing length and duration, rediscovering the joy of unlimited mobility, visiting old friends and new places.  You can find out who and where in the pages of this blog.

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