‘Passengers for Banteer, Millstreet, Rathmore, Killarney, Farranfore and Tralee, must change at Mallow’, is a part of the soundtrack of my youth. If the announcer was non plussed about the stops he was rattling off; nor was I at the thought of another leg. The droning PA on the train home is something I am very accustomed to. I probably have dreamt about it on occasion.
My Friday itinerary was like clockwork as I made the journey south. Leave Maynooth at nine on the auld double decker, fry in Heuston, train at eleven, trudge over the platform at Mallow for the Kerry train and then the coach from Killarney to Cahersiveen. Being embraced at the door at nearly five o’clock with the stew on the boil, was always the redeemer. I never found the journey home arduous to be fair, the journey back however….
I have met many interesting people and accrued some interesting anecdotes over these treks, although I am sure I would have met many more, had I not my head buried in a book and music blaring in my ears. The exuberance of youth eh?!
I found I would be wrecked from simply sitting all day, why so? I guess when travelling you’re doing mental gymnastics the whole time. Arriving in Kerry was such a thrill I didn’t feel it, however arriving back in Heuston on a dark evening with the city whirring around me as I had to wait for yet another bus, was purely draining at times. Oh to be able to hop in a car and simply get there!
Putting it off
I’m not gonna say I put off everything that filled me with anxiety, but I certainly had a tendency to do so. Not for everything but at times if I felt I couldn’t be good at something straight away, it was best avoided. The fragility of youth.
I convinced myself I didn’t need it. Sure who doesn’t like walking? Music in my ears, and then the advent of podcasting ensured I was never alone. I loved it. I was able to casually sidestep the persistent shaming remarks of ‘You don’t drive? Really?’, as I moved the topic on hastily. Handy thing about a head in the sand is the muffling of sounds.
Of course, as I got older I began to acutely feel the deficit in my freedom. The option to just head home was very far away and I knew it. The aforementioned journey was beginning to grate which resulted in such trips being less frequent. Having my poor fiancee doing all the driving just wasn’t fair.
Biting the Bullet
I decided enough was enough and it was time to face up to it. Only issue was; having put it off so long I now had put it on such a pedestal. I felt like a rogue terrier trying to get at that unattainable biscuit on the counter. I was, however, confronting it.
My first lesson was not one for the ages. I tried to hide my shock at not simply talking about things and having to actually drive the shagging thing…out on the roads no less. I’m sure the thick beads of sweat and trembling, greasy hands clutching the wheel in terror, betrayed me, nonetheless.
The lessons were fraught with panic and self loathing. I’m just not gonna get it. Going driving with my courageous fiancee led to many interesting chats. Just why was she so attached to that handrail on the passenger side? Beats me. I started to get braver; with wanting to undertake my first drive through town to practice in the college, being a particular disaster. I wanted the car to move smoothly, it simply wouldn’t. Just who was this guy at the wheel with zero coordination?
The avoider in me raised his head once again; I avoided any routes that would induce fear. The thought of conking at the lights (hugely inevitable given my flustered state), filled me with some amount of dread. If I conk the planes will fall from the sky, is not exactly what my inner monologue yelled, yet it wasn’t far off. Just what about my L plates was so infuriating to those behind me as I stalled and shuddered along? Lucky folks who’ve been born with the ability to drive, I’m sure. Whilst I may be exaggerating, it was sure how I felt at the time.
Having slowly and slowly started to get there. The natural next step was the test. I thought having done my required lessons I was ready. How naive I was. Having not driven too much last summer, I was ill prepared. My nerves were compounded by the realisation of this in the few days prior.
Driving around heavily scrutinised is surreal when you know you’re making an absolute bags of it. The tester was polite but had only one phrase for me; ‘bad news today I’m afraid’. I bet she was afraid most of the way around given how I drove. Practice was what she suggested, practice is right I thought.
I was fully ready for the following test, or so I thought, one little mistake sent me on the road to ruin. The terror within was back. The clown in the driving seat who I could only observe was back. What an eejit! Like driving itself, I was now putting the test on a pedestal.
At the outset I was asked what to do when an oncoming car has full beams on; my brain emptied as I panicked, feeling like I should say something; ‘flash them’ is all I could muster. I didn’t need the look of the terror on the tester’s face, to tell me this wasn’t going well. I drove in-line with that. Back to the drawing board, with my shame compounded.
With the test booked for early April I was raring to go. However, as with all our plans in Spring, Covid-19 scuppered them fairly quickly. Although I was confident were they to get going again I’d be ready. Long journeys were out but practicing was not. Yet, having flashbacks of my test, part of me thought an auld amnesty due to backlog would be no bad thing. Avoidance rearing its head yet again.
Luckily, the tests were back in action early July, being on the cancellation list I had a week to prepare. To my surprise I didn’t avoid, I was determined to not be stuck on that long waiting list for a test in the Winter sometime, if the country was still moving by then that is. Having driven the self actualising road to Kerry prior, I was ready. With little time to think it was ideal.
The test itself was accompanied by the same bone shuddering nerves, yet I had a bit more confidence this time. The phrase ‘take a left here back to the test centre’ didn’t fill me with dread as I was sure I failed. I had a fair idea I’d done damn well.
Yet the phrase ‘congratulations you passed’, seemed to take me by surprise all the same. Pure elation ensued. I talked incessantly to the tester who was a bit take it easy man in his demeanour. I decided not to bother with the whole pretending I failed thing with Trish and then let the family know, who’d no clue I was even doing a test. Everyone was ecstatic or relieved to not have to hear me bang on about it anymore, who knows:)
Being a teacher, I’ve become fairly confident in relating to different learning styles. Yet this process was illuminating for me. I can be at times an impatient learner. If I don’t get it straight off, then what’s the point? Showing my millennial experience perhaps. I wanted to drive, therefore I should be able to, no bother.
I had to accept the process. Accepting I was inept as hell, was step one, working on accepting that was step two, and then finally removing that through experience, was step three. A valuable lesson in the learning cycle. It was a slow process, that required me to remove my pride. To be good at something straight away, can happen on occasion, but it is rare, the rest is hard work. The same applies for writing, musicianship, and any other skill we wish to develop.
I always knew this, yet somehow thought I was different. No confidence in it yet arrogant at the same time; ah the blessed human condition. It all clicked all of a sudden, as these things do. No need for the impatience in retrospect. Even since the test, I feel so much more at home in the car. The power of confidence.
A week on and my new sense of freedom still feels surreal. I never have to worry about reversing around a damn corner again, who ever needs to?!
They say learning new skills later in life helps fend off dementia and general breaking down, and I can see why. It is important to be humbled from time to time, and reminded of the value of hard work and commitment. Gaining knowledge through experience, positive or not, is something we all need. Feeling fear and persevering.
This arduous trek from the nadir to the the zenith, is one we are all constantly undertaking, in various guises. To remind ourselves it’s not just for students is to be valued, in this our day and time.