Grabbing life by the steering wheel and learning to drive in your thirties

At 32, Irish Examiner journalist Conall Ó Fátharta decided to grab life by the steering wheel and learn to drive. Four lessons in, just how far down the road is he?

It’s time to start being a little honest with myself and those of you out there that may have looked to me in your thirties as a beacon of hope as a non driver.

My initial burst of enthusiasm has been recently been replaced by the dreaded word of any football manager — complacency. To use a driving pun — I had stalled.

Not in a literal sense, of course. I can still proudly say that I have yet to stall the car while out with the ever patient Des O’Neill of Top Gear School of Motoring or the less patient figure of my girlfriend. However, in recent weeks I have been getting lazy, picking up bad habits and generally I was in need of a kick up the rear end.

So on a rainy Friday afternoon, I was back hard at it. Des knew I needed to kick on so I was out to master the whole game of right hand turns. The old left hand turning from junctions into the flow of traffic came pretty easy to me. However, right hand turns took a little more work.

It was wet, wipers were on, visibility was low. Even the weather seemed to be conspiring against me. My perspiration levels were up. It had been a few weeks since my last lesson and Des could see I had picked up a few bad habits in the interim. I was cruising on the clutch — a big no no. I was taking one hand off the wheel before I had stopped at a junction to drop into first gear — another faux pas.

After a few spins around the little circuit we were driving on, Des had these little habits well ironed out. Get on top of the flaws early and don’t let them become the norm. He knows best.

With that, we were out doing some right turns. A whole other world to the left turns. For a start, I was turning across oncoming traffic.

Mirrors are quickly becoming my obsession. I had to see what was behind me and watch what was in front of me. That’s before I could even think about keeping on top of my gear changes.

Stay in second if I was free to turn but be ready to stop and drop into first if I needed to wait for oncoming traffic to pass. Oh, and don’t cruise on the clutch when you are thinking about what you need to do.

I have finally entered the world of multi-tasking. When I think back to the first few weeks, it seems like a lifetime ago. My exuberance at simply getting the car to move forward was unbridled. Now, I am really having to keep on top of my game.

I am learning that once you master your gears and the basic mechanics, it’s all about using your mirrors, knowing your road position. Awareness of where you are and where others are is everything. It’s a lot to take in and every lesson now seems to get more and more daunting, but also more and more liberating.

Des is moving me through the gears and adding the layers. It’s tough but I’m loving it. In a few months time, I definitely won’t miss queuing for the bus.

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