Max Learns To Drive: Part One of Many…

“So, London Marathon done and dusted. What new hobby can I bang on about endlessly in a bid to squash my feelings of social inadequacy and incompetence next?” I wondered.

I could just keep doing the same thing and running more Marathons in more places (the single woman’s equivalent of having another baby every two years…). But, I didn’t get “The Bug” from it. I’m thrilled and proud that I did it, and I’ll still happily run the Berlin Half Marathon next year just for kicks, but I currently have no desire to run a full one again. As far as other projects go, there’s the book, but I’m too shy to talk about it much in case I jinx it like my others. In the longer term, as I’ve said, I’d like to do more directly mental health-themed work, and possibly a counselling training, but a lot of organisations – rightly – have rules that you can’t train or volunteer until at least two to three years afterwards if you’ve been affected by a suicide or a significant mental health dip, so that’s out for a while longer.

One too many frustrating experiences with buses in recent months have pointed me to my answer. My next big Thing should be learning to drive again. Less than 5 per cent of the world’s population have run a Marathon and I have. Half of UK adults drive and I can’t. When you put it like that, it’s a bit silly, really. The need is seeming increasingly urgent for me and for many people my age who are being priced out of London, the only city in the south of England with public transport vaguely fit for this century.

The problem here (i.e the reason I’m nearly 32 and still can’t do it) is that learning to drive is really quite expensive, and I’m really quite bad at it. If you wanted to dream up something to make me feel as horrendously useless as you possibly could, you’d probably invent driving. The last instructor I had was younger than me and several of my cousins’ children have passed their tests before me. Literally every skill driving requires in abundance I find singularly difficult. The clumsiness, lack of spatial awareness, poor short-term memory, poor sequencing and slow information processing might be OK if I wasn’t also enormously sensitive to people having a go at me over all the above. And if all the above didn’t make it so buggeringly impossible to concentrate for more than a minute. And if I hadn’t moved around the country so much with so little money, meaning I never settled down anywhere long enough to learn and pass. I’ve had a ragbag of instructors over the years from the very first who almost gave up on me before I gave up on him, to the one who was really good but then I moved away, to the archetypal flirt who thought tickling me while I was driving down the main dual carriageway out of Durham was a good idea…

If you didn’t know and hadn’t gathered, I’m dyspraxic, and driving is pretty universally a nightmare for us. So much so, I wrote an article about dyspraxia and driving for the Daily Telegraph in 2011. All bar one dyspraxic I’ve ever met either doesn’t drive or found it super-hard to learn. The one strange anomaly, who I met coincidentally through non-disability-related journalism a few months after that Telegraph article came out, said it came naturally to him and even claimed driving was one of his two only real talents (the other was playing the drums, apparently…an intriguing skillset for a PR). But he was a bloke and a master of fake bravado so who knows what to make of that. He also grew up in the countryside, pre ‘elf n’safety, and so, like my clumsy dad, probably learned to drive go-karts and Land Rovers off-road before puberty. That always helps.

My first “try-it-and-see-how-it-goes” lesson is this afternoon and I would honestly rather run another 26 miles or do a skydive. As a handy reminder to you all and to myself, here’s why I’m doing this…

  1. Convenience – No more journeys to the next county that involve three methods of transport and take longer than a flight to Barcelona? Yes please.
  2. Work – The big one. I’ve known radio silences from prospective clients to occur when the phrase “public transport” comes up. God knows how many opportunities have never even occurred to me because I can’t get to them…
  3. I hate being the only person over 20 and under 60 on the bus except for someone reading David Icke.
  4. Being fed up of explaining to inquisitive strangers why I don’t drive. I don’t mind on principle. I’m not ashamed of being dyspraxic. But that doesn’t mean I want to talk about it every time I meet someone. I’m not ashamed of being a woman but I don’t particularly want to discuss my smear tests with late-night taxi drivers, or a stranger who’s organising a conference…
  5. To help friends who don’t drive for other medical reasons by being able to get to them, and drive them around.
  6. I’ve found a local instructor who says he understands people with neurological conditions, and is himself dyslexic. This is an absolute dealbreaker. (And a miracle).
  7. I’m a sensible adult and am ready for this responsibility. Well, perhaps not, but at the very least, I love nobody capable of sending a distracting text or tweet that’ll lead me to crash my car bonnet into someone’s house. And I almost always wear flat shoes so I won’t be that ninnykins who tries to drive in heels either…
Not Me
Try a Google image search for “car crashed into front door”; it’s fun…

The last time learning to drive crossed my mind I actually pitched the idea of a column about it to a few national newspapers. A couple literally said thanks but no thanks. A couple more said “Nice idea but sorry love, no-one’ll read it because you’re not well known enough.” One really liked it but her boss with the pursestrings didn’t go for it. But, the success of my Marathon blog has persuaded me it might be worth blogging this too. I may get so despondent after a while I don’t even want to blog. Or I may call it quits after the first lesson. Who knows? Whatever happens next, I’m dead keen on hearing from other thirtysomethings who are learning or have learned recently. Do say hello!



11 thoughts on “Max Learns To Drive: Part One of Many…

  1. Hi Maxine. Wondered when you were going to surface again after your fantastic achievement!
    Good on you to have a go at driving – will stay off the roads for a bit….only kidding!!
    My son Rob, age 35 finally learned to drive just over a year ago, so will forward your blog to him.
    Hope you have fully recovered from the Marathon?

    All best, Mike

    • Hello Mike! Yes, fully recovered from the Marathon! My lovely grandma treated me to a super-swanky massage in Mayfair a few days later and I’ve been out running quite a few times since. The emotional anticlimax has been more apparent than anything else; perhaps it would have been different if I’d not had the cold and pushed myself harder but the physical recovery was pretty straightforward. My mum wants to come to Pilates with me – do you think you can handle both of us? 😉

      • Not surprised at the emotional reaction and very pleased with the physical side! Re your Mum coming along – delighted (but can you handle it?!). If she hasn’t done Pilates before I would need to see her for a short induction before her first class. Next sessions start this Wednesday… Hope to see you both..?

  2. I’m 22, have mild dyspraxia, and am learning to drive at the moment. Multi-tasking and spatial awareness while trying to understand instructions and observing the road and not forgetting instructions is very difficult! There are some things I found surprisingly easy and other things which anyone else would assume to be easy (e.g. not forgetting which direction you’re going half way round a roundabout) which I find really hard. Public transport isn’t ideal either though. I like being on buses but getting to bus stops without getting lost and not getting confused by the timetable and missing the last bus home isn’t great either. :s

    • Hi! Yes I can really relate to all that you mention. Following instructions whilst trying to multitask is particularly difficult for me. You’re dead right about bus timetables. Big cities are fine – apps like Citymapper or TFL Journey Planner usually see me right and are dead easy to understand. But buses in the home counties, urgh – nothing like going for a relaxing massage and having to wait an hour in the February cold for the bus back because the timetable confused you!

  3. I’m surprised it’s only half of the adult population that can drive, given the way cars dominate everywhere I would have thought it was higher.

    • I know – I’d have guessed it at about 70% but most of the stats say somewhere around 50% It’s really hard to be precise because the stats use licence holders as a measure and a lot more people actually have a licence than ever own a car or use it (especially in London). A friend of mine passed his test years ago but had to sell his car for financial reasons. What seems universally acknowledged is that fewer younger people drive now. Apparently the number of young (16-25) drivers was at its height in the early 90s, which I can believe from people I know, but has been declining steadily for the last 10 years or so.

  4. I sincerely wish you success, you’re a braver woman than I! I’m in the same boat – dyspraxic and nervous of censure. I’ve failed 5 driving tests and for now given up, although I know it will be something I’ll need later in life, especially if I have children as I want to. I can manage the driving just about, but not in combination with the road safety. A friend of mine who’s also dyspraxic passed her test by switching to an automatic car – fewer controls to remember for driving, so more concentration for the road. That’s what I’ll try when I have courage enough to face it again.

    • Thanks Anna! And good luck with whatever you decide; it sounds as though you have plenty of time yet to think things through. You’re right, yes, driving, if I get there, will certainly increase the appeal of having a family. (And having a partner, come to that. Thank heaven for technology: without smartphones and SatNavs I’d be a divorce statistic waiting to happen…). I’d love a go in an automatic: quite a few people I’ve come across have had similar experiences to your friend. However, my instructor only recommends them as a last resort if they’re the only way you’ll pass.

  5. Hey Max,
    I’m 29 and gave been learning to drive for over 2years. I’ve just passed my theory test and hazard perception today so that gives me 2 years to pass my practical test!
    Yes it’s difficult and challenging but with the right supportive instructor, hopefully we’ll both be driving independently in time. I’m learning in an automatic, having had my first 10 lessons in a manual car. It’s so much easier, with less to co-ordinate. My instructor said I probably could pass in a manual but it would be harder and would take longer.
    Good luck! Don’t give up or move this time. Sarah x

    • Hi Sarah! Thanks so much and really good luck to you too! I’ve got the delights of retaking theory and hazard perception to look forward to now because mine’s long run out. (Apparently you can do it at home now, is that true? I hope so; it’ll save me flogging it down to some dilapidated assessment centre again to sit with a load of stroppy teenagers. I don’t envy mature students…) Keep reading and let me know when you’ve passed 🙂 X

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