My right from my left

You’re phobic about driving,’ my instructor says as I fail to line up the car at a close enough angle to the kerb to reverse park.
‘Do you know what a phobia is?’
‘Yes,‘ I say. I do not tell him I have done three years of psychology at university. We spent a couple of sessions in third year learning de-sensitisation techniques. If a person is phobic about spiders then you gradually re-introduce him.
First a picture of a spider, next maybe a soft toy spider, a rubber spider and so on. You let the spider sneak up on the person, at each step he masters, you inch up the degree of reality, eventually exposing him to a real spider. Alternatively you can try flooding. Sit the person in a room full of spiders. It will either free him of his phobia or it will drive him mad.

I have been learning to drive for at least a year and a half, two lessons a week, paid for out of my earnings as a second year social worker. I am ashamed of my slowness but there is no one who can take me out for practice, so I try to practise on paper.

My instructor, Marvin, is of Maori extraction. He has a mop of wiry hair very in keeping with the afro look that is now coming into fashion, only Marvin does not care. Fashion is not one of his great concerns. Not that I know what they are. He is teaching me to drive, that is his concern, and he is sick of my slowness in getting hold of the ideas.

Marvin drives a turquoise Datsun Y, a sleek hatchback with a suede blue interior. Marvin has controls on his side of the car, which perhaps accounts for his easygoing approach to riding out with me.

I, on the other hand am terrified. I clench the wheel as if to hold myself together. If I let go I imagine the car will take on a life of its own instantly. My previous instructor told me I had to keep my eyes on the road all the time. He demonstrated by getting me to look at a clump of birds and as I did so he pointed out the way in which I had turned the wheel in the direction of what I was looking at, the birds. If he had not righted the wheel we would be into a post.

I am phobic about driving.
‘You aren’t coordinated,’ Marvin says. ‘It’s not unusual for women to lack co-ordination. It’s the way you’re built.’ He hesitates as if deciding whether or not to go on. And you have a very bad case of it.’

I am not good at guessing my right from my left. In my last year of school when I wrote page after page of notes for history and English I developed a writing lump on my third right finger, my long finger. I rub it with my thumb and I can tell where I am. My lump tells me my right from my left.

I also have trouble stopping. I do not like to stop. I have trouble working out what I should do with the clutch. I would like to put my foot on the brake and push it down and that be enough but I think there is more to it. Something about the clutch and going down the gears. All this coordination is too much for me. And I must remember too that every twenty seconds I must look in the rear vision mirror. I must look behind me.

Today we are diving in the streets around the Caulfield Race Course. The billboards are full of images of women in big hats holding champagne glasses with long stems. Not a horse in sight though I know everyone looks forward to the Melbourne Cup if only for the holiday and I am looking forward to the holiday too.

I took this job with the promise that I would be getting my driver’s licence in a matter of weeks. That was five months ago. The job required a current licence. I said it blithely to the interviewer when he had asked.
‘Oh I’m about to go for my licence,’ I said. ‘I’m ready,’ I said and almost believed it but then I remembered I am phobic.

7 thoughts on “My right from my left”

  1. "You let the spider sneak up on the person…" – you know, I'm not arachnophobic and that still made me shudder. Talking about arachnophobia, I watched the film of the same name with a true arachnophobe and I'll tell you it was more fun watching him than the film. I've watched this guy run screaming out of a shop when a ball of fluff blew across the floor and he thought it was a spider.

    As far as driving goes, my daughter quit trying to learn; she just couldn't get it. I have no idea if my sister even passed her test but I did take her out for some lessons. I remember once we were headed for a brick wall and she just took her hands and feet off the controls and I'll tell you, 10 mph is very fast when you're heading for a brick wall and don't have dual controls.

    I don't drive any more. I don't miss it. We live two stops down from a terminus and I'd never had to wait more that five or six minutes for a bus. I took to driving without any problem I have to say. It's maintaining a car that's caused me a lot of grief over the years – I am mechanically incompetent (I can just about change a tyre and that's me).

  2. Plumbers have rusted spoutings, and doctors let their children go barefoot in parks. I know a psychiatrist with 3 divorces a testament to his inability to understand relationship.
    A psychologist-marriage guidance counselor asked me out when I was struggling to repair a marital separation. I knows doctors who smoke. No education is a shield against the weird wide world.
    I drove for years without a licence, but finally took the test aged 48.
    Try hiring a chauffeur! A student who is off their P plate would jump at the job.

    I taught myself to parallel park in the carpark of the Brighton Golf Course, late at night, using garden chairs as the 'other cars', gradually moving them closer together.
    It's easy when nobody is pressuring you to perform.
    Good Luck

  3. Gosh AnnoDyne, how did you do it, at aged 48 you managed to get your licence. If I'd left it that long I think I'd have been a cpmplete wreck.

    I wrote the posting above in the present tense to bring it to life, but it actually happened over 20 years ago when I was 22 years old.
    I hope you don't feel tricked reading it as an event in the here and now. I often write about the past as of it's happening in the present. So please be on the alert for that next time.

    I did manage to get my licence on the third try, but I never managed parallel parking. The first time I failed because I did not stop for a man walking across the drive way exit from the driving school with a wheelbarrow. I had panicked at the sight of him and forgot how to brake. My instructor had to brake for me.

    The test lasted all of three minutes. The examiner failed me instantly. The second time I failed because I mucked up the parallel parking. On my third try I still mucked up my attempt at parallel parking but the examiner took pity on me and gave me my licence, regardless.
    I've been driving ever since though very slowly over that first year. It took until I was about 25 before I felt vaguely confident at driving.

    Now it does not worry me much at all, though I have never ever managed a parallel park.

    The strange thing though is that finally now in my fifties I have mastered the art of reversing into tight places. It's taken me over twenty five years to get there.

    Hey, Jim.
    Did you also read it as me talking about current events. I thought it was obvious that t was a scene from the past.

    I'd love to be a position where I do not need a car, but I travel such vast distances in the broad land almost daily. I couldn't manage on public transport, or so I rationalise.

    the most difficult time in my life in terms of raising our daughters was the time I took out the three oldest for driving practice. They're all three competent and licenced drivers now, but the business of helping them to learn was hell, especially for a once traumatised driver like me.

    The youngest is about to get her learner's permit when she turns sixteen in a couple of weeks time and I shudder at the thought of having to begin all over again.

  4. "I thought it was obvious that it was a scene from the past"

    I thought that with a recent post where I failed to mention it was 30+ years ago.

    Failing 'comprehension' can even occur in federal court where current news of party 1 sueing party 2 for stealing a tune, when in fact party 1 stole it first from a 3rd party whose copyright expired 100 years ago.
    Ann O'D is a bit slow too.

  5. My first driving lesson was around the golf course near Palm Beach in Sydney (no, I don't live there!). That sense of loss of control inside that moving metal box is still with me, and all the while my then boyfriend looked on bewildered. That "look" really knocked my confidence for some time – I was in that early 1970's state of immanence.

    And absolutely gobsmacked by the sexist comment of your instructor. At least some have evolved from those dark days. Jeremy Fry's recent comment on women and fishing was wonderful. It was on this week's Ql – if you didn't see it, it's still on iView.

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