Posts Tagged ‘Late In Life Learner’

As of today, I am officially off my P plates. For non-Australians, this means I am no longer a Probationary driver and am now licensed to drive a vehicle carrying more than fifty-seven people, while swigging gin straight from the bottle. Well, not really, but apparently I can legally drive a car with a manual transmission, which is quite worrying since I have never actually driven a car with a manual transmission and suspect that the difference between the two for someone like me is as great as the difference between being able to follow the plot of the first Matrix film (hard enough) and being able to follow the plot of the sequels (nigh impossible). Or even following that last sentence.

Anyway, many people asked me how I planned to celebrate getting off my ‘Ps’, and my glib reply has usually been something like “Get really pissed and do donuts in the Aldi car park”. Which is apparently what I was supposed to do when I was on my P plates, except I was too busy ferrying around small children around in a people mover.

Yes, people, I have been an extremely responsible and careful P-plater. I have followed the restrictions placed upon my probationary licence for three years to the letter. And that letter is ‘P’! (ha-ha-ha-ha-ha a little probationary licence holder humour for you there). However, I recently grew concerned that I might blow it all on the last day by taking my P plates down too early. I mean, my probationary licence expired on the 18th July, having been the date I got it. Intuitively, it felt right that I should take my P plates off on that day. It’d had been exactly three years. I’d served my sentence. If I took them off the next day, that sentence would have been three years PLUS one day. I mean, nobody said I’d have to be on probation for three years PLUS one day. Nobody. And yet, I wondered…

I asked one local dad who I knew to be an officer of the law about what I should do.

He took a long look at me and said something along the lines of “Listen, lady, I’m a detective. If you have a dead body in the back of your car or you’ve just made a getaway from a major jewel heist, then I’m the man to talk to.”

Or not talk to, as the case might be.

Anyway, I decided to take his subsequent advice and err on the side of caution. I waited until the 19th July (today).

I can’t say I’ll miss my P plates that much. For one thing, I won’t miss the other motorists thinking they need to ‘learn me real good’ just because I have P plates. Also, there’s something about driving around in your late 30s on Ps which smacks of Rodney Dangerfield in that “Back To School” movie. Not cool. And I’ve yet to see a P plate that sticks onto the car without half a kilo of blue tac and a roll of sticky tape. I can do without the stress of hearing the unmistakable ‘thwick!’ of the P plate unrolling itself off the back window so it fall into a puddle or, better still, a steaming mound of dog shit, the very next time I open up the back of the car.

But having said all that, there is one thing I will miss. Having them (precariously) stuck to my car windows was a bit like wearing a badge of honour. They said to the world “Here is a woman who overcame one of her biggest fears at the age of 36”.

Driving, eh? I thought I’d never be able to do it, but it turns out I can. But not in a car with manual transmission. That shit’s complicated.

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Hell is a children’s party where the adults are outnumbered 10 to one. I know. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it with my own eyes – and moreover, I’ve heard it with my own ears. 

Before I set off with the kids to the party, my husband – who was planning to join us at the end of the festivities – asked: “Will you be drinking?”

“I think most of the parents are doing the drop’n’run so there’ll be, like, three adults to three thousand children. Fuckin’ oath, I’ll be drinking.” I replied. “Why?”

“Well, if you’re going to drink, I’ll cycle so I can drive everyone home in the Star Wagon,” my husband replied. (Note: This was not – I repeat NOT – because he expected me to get shit-faced. No, really! It was because I’m still on my P plates and I can’t even look at a bottle of alcohol before I take charge of a motor vehicle). 

“You could always drive over in the Love Bus and we can leave it there?” I suggested. (And yes, The Love Bus has recovered from its last little meltdown – see “Trouble” – and YES, it remains parked outside our house, as unsold as an offal pie at a kindergarten cake stall.)

“Forever?” my husband asked, hopefully. “Hey! Maybe MotherOfCrankyPants and FatherOfCrankyPants will buy it from us!”

“Yeah, sure they will,” I said and patted him on the head.

“Aren’t they having a jumping castle? They’ll need a van to return it!” my husband said triumphantly. 

“Doesn’t the guy come and pick it up? You know, Mr Jumping Castle Man?” I replied. 

“That’s what everyone thinks. But there’s fine print in the contract which says they’re responsible for returning it by 6pm else they lose their deposit…”

“… which must be at least $3000…” I joined in, my enthusiasm growing.

“… so if we sell the Love Bus to them for $2700, we’ll save them $300!” my husband concluded. 

“We’d be doing them a favour!” I exclaimed. But then I remembered: “They actually have their own people mover, actually.”

“Yeah, but they won’t want to get that dirty,” my husband argued.

“Certainly!” I enthused. “That shit’d cost at least $3000 to clean up!”

“In which case, we save them money again!”

“Hooray for us!” I clapped and cheered. “We really are very kind to MotherOfCrankyPants and FatherOfCrankyPants.”

Now, let me remind you all that the above conversation took place BEFORE the party.  Of course AFTER the party (see first paragraph), followed by a three hour debrief-by-way-of-alcohol at the CrankyPants home (during which the hosts refused outright to buy the Love Bus from us at least three times – ESPECIALLY after Mr Jumping Castle Man came and took away the Jumping Castle free of charge), my thoughts about the Love Bus were quite different and went something along the lines of:

“Stupid fuggin’ piece of Love Bus crap.”

Honestly, anyone interested in buying it? It’s got LOADS of personality!

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Mr Justice asked his friend Master E  the other day if he ever got “traffic sick”. My first thought was that it was an appropriate description of the feeling I used to get whenever I had a driving lesson. And then I realised he probably meant “travel sick” which was based more on that time a bacon sandwich made a surprise comeback after he’d been reading a Simpsons comic in a moving vehicle. Which wasn’t quite the same thing, although they both involved a high degree of nausea. 

As a Late in Life Learner, I had more than just nausea to overcome. For one thing, there was the ever-so-slight humiliation of driving around the ‘hood, at the ripe old age of 36 years, with L plates on. Two words: Not. Cool. And there were also the tears which inevitably started flowing like some kind of Champagne Drinking Fountain for at least half an hour before each lesson (there’s that Incredibly Pathetic Crying Lady alter-ego of mine again, damn her). Plus the unnerving sensation of being perilously close to crapping my own dacks every time I even thought about doing the driving test. 

But one bright day in July 2007, I turned up at the Local Driving Authority wearing my best brown underpants and passed that test with flying colours. In the end, my only real mistake during the test was leaving the windscreen wipers on too long because it had stopped raining and I was concentrating too hard on the road to notice. Apparently that counts as “failure to control the vehicle”, which I had previously thought was more about swerving into oncoming traffic. Silly me. 

Still, I passed. And now, after 19 months of being On The Road, I thought I should share with you some of the things I think I really should have been taught and/or tested on before being Licensed To Drive…

I practiced many a perfect (and imperfect) reverse park while under instruction. My instructor was always like “Take your time. Line the car up. Blah blah blah.” But what she really should have taught me was how to do it in great haste before one of my children throws up.

This observation is based on Actual Events, of course. Mr Justice, prone to the old “traffic sickness”, was trying to transform Megatron in the back seat when he “felt the sick coming” and suddenly announced: “I’m going to throw up!”. I pulled into the first side-street I could, saw a parking spot, reversed into it, but in my haste, lightly bumped the car behind us. Which unfortunately had the owner actually sitting in it. This man helpfully alerted me to the situation by blasting his horn and getting out to confront me.

I, in the meantime, had jumped out and was running around to the pavement side, saying “Oh sorry, sorry, sorry, my son is about to throw up!”. The man followed me and watched as I slid open the Tarago back door to reveal Mr Justice just as he executed this perfect arc of vomit into the gutter. At which point the man Backed Right Off and, saying it was only the smallest dint in his number plate that I’d caused (and even “smallest” was an exaggeration), left me to it. 

Now if only I could train Mr Justice to vomit on demand. For one thing, it certainly might sort out that little Late Pass situation of mine…

Before changing lanes, my instructor taught me to check my mirrors and then do a quick headcheck of my blindspot before proceeding. Although, as I’ve subsequently discovered, it is often a case of checking the mirrors and then doing a quick headcheck of the helium balloons the kids are holding before crossing my fingers and hoping for the best…

During your lesson and test, it’s all “Take the first right after the lights when it is safe to do so” spoken in the calm modulated tones of HAL the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In Real Life, directions are more like “Now you’ll have to turn left soon, like NOW!… THAT ONE! BACK THERE!….SHIT!”.

One thing I’ve realised since I’ve been driving by myself is how willing people are to teach you all about road safety. Yep, they all see those P plates and they want to teach you “real good”.

For example, one day I had to do a last minute lane change and, admittedly, didn’t do it all that well. Fortunately, the lovely gentleman who I had moved in front of showed me how to do these things correctly by first hanging back, then driving up really fast right up behind me, quickly overtaking me, and cutting in front of me in quite the sharpish manner.

“Oh!” I thought to myself. “So that’s how it’s done. Why, thank you, kind stranger.”

Although when I went to thank him out loud, the words “kind stranger” accidentally got substituted with the words “dick wank”. 


Yes, indeedy, I’ve learnt a helluva lot since I first officially took charge of that wheel.   

But here’s the most surprising thing of all: my husband always said that when I was finally able to be the designated driver, he would buy one of those hats which hold two cans of beer on top and have with straws that come down to your mouth. And he said he would wear it 24/7, even when I dropped him off at work. I don’t know why I’m disappointed he hasn’t yet delivered on this promise, but I am. Bitterly disappointed, in fact. I mean, who’d have thunk it?

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Today I executed the perfect reverse park near the school. It was a victory made all the more sweet by the fact that at least four other cars, all way smaller and zippier than the The Love Bus, had deemed the spot too difficult and had driven on. 

I almost took a photo of the finished product except well, that would have required me to have two hands and I was carrying Tiddles comme d’habitude. Not many people know this but before I decided to write a blog about the not-drowning style of mothering, I had planned to start a Perfect Parking blog – a place for me (and others similarly inclined – i.e. people with not much else to occupy their minds) to post photos of parking jobs that they were particularly proud of. Who knows? If this blog doesn’t work out, I may still do it. 

Underlying my parking pride, is the fact that I’m still as pleased as punch with myself that I can drive at all, let alone park with such style. Living in a country as car-centric as Australia, people could never understand how I managed to get to ripe old age of 36 before learning drive. Most certainly, my eight years in Japan and the UK proved to be a successful avoidance tactic. Plus I’ve always had this steely resolve when it comes to using local public transport, no matter how woeful it’s been (add two small kids into the mix and it can be truly spirit-breaking).  Oh, and throw in a heap of generous friends & relatives and a particular talent for bludging lifts – and there you have it: no licence for 36 years…

But hang on, there must be more to it than that. There must be some deep psychological fear underlying it all… Let me see what I can dig up for you, Dr Freud.

Long ago, I decided to blame my father for my distinct lack of licence. You see, when I was 8, my father borrowed a car to take us to visit some friends in some distant suburb. The car broke down on the way home along a very busy road and, my father, in one of those parenting moments that make psychiatrists see dollar signs, got me to sit behind the wheel of the car and steer while he pushed. I have a clear memory of the steering wheel feeling really heavy and the car kept drifting out into traffic and my father kept yelling at me and I felt I couldn’t control the car and it was hot and… Is that enough for you, Herr F?

But wait, there’s more! It’s a little unfair of me to blame my dad entirely – especially since he tried to make amends by buying me driving lessons for my 18th birthday (which obviously ended up being a money-saving strategy on his part). You see, I blame the Scientologists too.

I innocently sat one of the free Scientology personality tests when I was 18 and was told by one of their cheery reps that I would most likely commit suicide if I didn’t attend their weekend seminar – no doubt called something like “The Way to Happiness (And Away From Suicide)” or “Ignite Your Potential (Without Killing Yourself Accidentally-on-Purpose)”. When it became clear that the Scientology rep’s deep concern for my welfare didn’t extend to waiving the $200 registration fee, I meekly admitted to him that I only had $35 in my bank account and that was for getting my learner’s permit. 

The Scientologists rep sighed. “What’s more important, [Not Drowning Mother]: Learning to drive? Or learning to live?”

Well, despite not attending the seminar (I think my official RSVP included the words “Fuck” and “Off”), I successfully went on to live to this very day. But somehow, I still didn’t manage to learn to drive for another 18 years – I think that Scientologist might have put some alien cyber-curse on me, god dammit. 

But, as I have said elsewhere, it was when I fell pregnant with our third child and realised that the hands-to-children ratio was going to be out, that I began to think my transportation options. I marched off to get my learner’s permit and, before too long, I managed to finally shake off the Scientologist’s curse all together and get my licence. I’ll share that “very special journey” in another post, perhaps even with slow motion footage of me punching the air and hugging strangers in the licensing office. 

But back to my beautiful parking job – I really should have taken a photo. Or even asked one of the passing parents to video me while I did it – align, reverse, turn wheel, straighten wheel, put transmission into park, handbrake on, engine off. Aaaahhhh. Better than chocolate. Better than sex. Even better than 8 hours sleep.

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