Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Confessions of a Bad Driver

My name is Peter. I am 43 years old and I am a bad driver.
There. I’ve finally come out and said it. Those last five words are now etched in print forever, staring out at me from a white page, like my mother glaring at me from her bedroom the first time I came home drunk. I hope that admitting the truth will be the first step in my rehabilitation as a driver.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have been driving for 26 years and the only accident I have had was when I spilt chocolate onto my white polo shirt [a harrowing incident for which AXA, amazingly, refused to pay up.]
So how, I hear you say – which is quite worrying, as I thought I was alone in the house – how does that make you a bad driver? Surely with a record like that you could be considered the King of the Road, particularly as booze and pets aren’t allowed and you ain’t got no cigarettes? Let me explain.
Most people who step into a car, particularly males, think they are good drivers. Look, I can overtake you at 80mph with my elbow hanging out of the window. Travelling outbound along the Blanchardstown by-pass towards the Clonee turn-off is a real test of “good driving skill.” Look at all those saps on the inside lane doing 59mph. Behold my superior handling control as I fly past you all, before cutting in with perfect dexterity just before the slip road.
Oh Lord, I hereby confess, to my eternal shame, that I was that man. And it took a scene reminiscent of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus to draw the veils from mine eyes.
We were returning home from a parents’ evening in the school, where we had spent an hour being unilaterally pitied by all and sundry. Most cars as usual took the second Blanchardstown exit, and, as the Gardai are never seen further than that for fear of accidentally venturing into “rural Ireland”, I stepped on the gas, neatly overtook an elderly lady who could barely see over the steering wheel of her Austin A40, and roared off. 60mph, 65mph, 72mph – I overtook them all. As we rounded the final bend before the Clonee turn off, there was but a single truck on the road ahead, albeit a reasonable distance ahead.
My momentum, however, took me level with the truck, but time was running out. Should I accelerate and cut in, or slow down and fall in behind? I decided on the former, pushed my by now rattling Almera to the limit, and just managed to cut in and disappear up the slip road, as the lorry driver flashed his lights angrily at me.
At the top of the slip road, the lights were red. Naturally, I stopped and waited. [Oh, come on! I’m not that bad of a driver!] All of the cars and trucks that I overtook were obviously heading for exotic places such as Dunshaughlin or Navan, for no-one followed me up the slip road. Until – yes, you’ve guessed it – the distinctive shape of an Austin A40, with but a hint of blue rinse above the steering wheel – came purring slowly up the road and eased to a stop behind me.
My wife glanced at me. It was enough. It usually is.
That glance said, “You broke the rules of the road. You endangered my life and yours and for what? For the sake of overtaking a nonagenarian?”
“I had the car under control,” I protested.
“And if the front axle had snapped? If a dog had come charging through the centre barrier? If a car had pulled out? If you’d dropped your Crunchie again?”
And thus I had my moment of blinding insight – not on the road to Damascus, but on the Clonee slip road. Not that I’m going to take the parallel any further, of course. I’m not going to be writing letters to the Huntstownians or the Corduffians, exhorting them to see the light. Nor am I going to walk the streets of Clonsilla and Mulhuddart proclaiming the Good News. I’m simply going to follow Michael Jackson’s advice and start with the man in the mirror. [That’s myself, by the way. Don’t ask me how I ended up in Michael Jackson’s mirror.]
The truth of the matter is that for years I’ve been lane-hopping along the Blanchardstown dual carriageway every morning, thinking that I’m being a great driver for skilfully overtaking a couple of cars on the way. The reality of the situation is that not only have I been reckless in my driving [by not allowing for other people’s mistakes] but I have also been annoying and frustrating those more patient than myself. And naturally, annoyance, frustration and driving are not the perfect combination required for attaining the M50 roundabout every morning.
And just like a reformed smoker, I am totally dismissive of those who continue to put speed ahead of safety. These days, I drive down the old dual carriageway in the evenings at 59 mph, - yes, I still haven’t got around to altering the mindset that I simply must do 1mph beneath the speed limit at all times - tutting pityingly at the boy racers who roar down the outside lane as if their houses were on fire.
That’s not strictly true, of course. Inwardly, my competitive spirit is seething, not because I’m being made a fool of, but because I imagine that they believe they are making a fool of me. I pray to the Good Lord above to send a few adventurous Gardai with radar equipment to the dangerous city / country borderlands along the N3, and apprehend these vehicular transgressors.
Of course I shouldn’t let it bother me. With my new safety-first mindset, I should be keeping a wary eye on these rubber burners, but not allowing them to drive me to distraction. However, it does annoy me. I can feel the frustration welling up inside me like Coke in a bottle that’s been given a good shake. Which is why, as I mentioned at the beginning, I am still a bad driver.
But I’m trying, Lord. I really am.

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