Chapter 8 – 5 door Corsa – the driving lesson


Use off-street parking areas, or bays marked out with white lines on the road as parking places, wherever possible. If you have to stop on the roadside
do not park facing against the traffic flow
stop as close as you can to the side
do not stop too close to a vehicle displaying a Blue Badge: remember, the occupant may need more room to get in or out
you MUST switch off the engine, headlights and fog lights
you MUST apply the handbrake before leaving the vehicle
you MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door. Check for cyclists or other traffic
it is safer for your passengers (especially children) to get out of the vehicle on the side next to the kerb
put all valuables out of sight and make sure your vehicle is secure
lock your vehicle.
Laws CUR reg 98, 105 & 107, RVLR reg 27 & RTA 1988 sect 42

Her voice is calm, low, he has never heard her shout or even raise her tone. he marvels at her cool, her composure. She rarely makes eye contact with him, but looks straight ahead, monitoring the road, scanning the traffic, planning their next manouvere. She only looks directly at him when they pull over for debriefing or when he has done something so terrible that they both decide its time for a break.
Then,she stares at him, appraisingly, her face calm, her hands expressive as she illustrates some finer point of driving. he tries hard to listen,to pay attention but is often transfixed by her white throat, the thin chain she wears around her neck, he doesnt allow his eyes to travel any further down her body and is always hugely relieved on the days when she wears a polo neck jumper.

Today,they are driving on a road they have used before, he monitors his anxiety level the way his doctor has taught him, 4 maybe a 5 . Thats ok really, he can manage that. He takes some deep breaths,tries to relax his death grip on the steering wheel, hold his hands at the correct ten to two position.
Her voice is steady,
” Its early, the car park should be quiet, lets go and practise some parking techniques”

Well,thats straight up to 7, and we havnt even started the reverse manouvere yet,he thinks to himself and swallows nervously.

GAVIN has never wanted to drive, never had any real interest in car or machinery of any kind.
He likes being a pedestrian,a passenger,a user of public transport. he likes the pauses his journeys give to the day,a slow glide into the working grind as he sits upstairs on a double decker bus, surveying the traffic, his current library book on his lap. He enjoys accepting lifts from colleagues, finds out more about them in a 30 mimute drive than in months of meetings, e-mails, training away days.
He is a compatent map reader,popular when his driving co-workers need to navigate away from the familiar. He is often consulted about the best way to travel to Dorset, Swindon and even as far afield as Stuttgart.
Best of all, Gavin likes walking.
He walks daily as the bus service between home and town is so poor that is it actually impossible to travel without being prepared to walk 3 miles along a badly lit pavement free road, Gavin does this gladly, his mind mostly blank, striding out, sensible shoes, small rucksack, waterproofs in season. He has considered walking shorts in warmer weather, but feel his knees lack the conviction needed to wear shorts convincingly and besides there is the issue of socks to consider.

Gavin is used to being seen as an oddity, the pedestrinism, the lack of partner, male or female, his colleagues are detirmindly open minded, the hair that seems to have a life of its own and an antipathy to contemporary hairdressing and of course the anxiety, the ever gnawing anxiety. His colleagues are gentle with him,a little low level joshing but always monitored to check that they havnt gone too far, caused him pain.

He has worked in the same dept, internal accounts since 1978, the year he left school with a clutch of O levels and a CSE in woodwork and absolutley no idea as to what he should do next. His mother said it was a good move, a sensible decision and in this, as so many things, she was right. The ofice suited him, the mostly female colleagues, the routine and structure, the little rituals, birthdays, leaving dos, secret santa, He felt safe and the anxiety, part of his life since he could remember, receeeded, became manageable.

The years drifted, 5, 10, 15. Some small promotions,a reputation for careful considered work. He began to be introduced to new colleagues as if he was a fixture, part of the furniture, an essential element of the landscape.
Of course, he had his hopes, his dreams, secret ambitions. There were girls and later women, but somehow none of them stuck, became important enough to dislodge him from his comfortable life. Gavin is all too aware of how the world sees middle aged men who live with their mothers. He’s seen Psycho, read the tabloid press, seen the TV serial killer series, but no-one has ever asked him outright why and the answer is simple, Gavin lives with his mum because he loves her, enjoys her company, her conversation, likes her cooking, the easy order in which she runs the house.

The car park is almost completely empty, there is a silver car parked nearby, a few early bird shoppers already in the supermarket. Lyndsey, his instructor, his 4th instructor,is explaining that they are going to run through some different parking techniques, using the white guide lines to help him. He sighs, tries to promote a Positive Mental Attitude, his doctor is keen on a Positive Mental Attitude, so Gavin is really trying to appoach difficult situations with a cando attitude. In all honesty, he finds all driving situations difficult, some terrifying and some actually quite mystifying.Parking falls mainly into the third category.He taken, walking to and from work, to watching people park their cars, some park in ways that are all too familiar to him,the hopeless backwards and forwards, the slap onto the kerb, the tense shoulders, the shameful defeat and the vehicular slink off to find a larger less overlooked space. But, some people, some people amaze him, zipping into a gap that doesnt seeem big enough for any car, quick movement and they are in. Gavin has to conscioulsy guard against staring at them open mouthed.

1. Reversing to the right (or left). Give yourself plenty of space between you and the bays. Getting too close can make it more difficult.

2. First position – using full effective all round observations, position your car where there is a white line, marking the bays, adjacent to your central doorpost, at right angles. This is line number 1. Count back to the third space from that line. This is your target space, number 3.

3. Make your observations and start reversing (using clutch and brake control to keep slow). At the same time steer fully to the right (or left), carefully monitor your progress, allowing the rear end of the car to point towards the chosen bay, meanwhile, the front end will swing out.

4. You should see a white line in each side mirror. Adjust the steering to ensure the rear wheels pass into the third space. For ease, you may open your window and look out and down, to help you get between the lines.

5. Checking around for road users, carefully straighten the steering wheel and slowly reverse into the bay. As you approach the rear of the bay, look back over your right shoulder and make sure you don’t over shoot. There is often a wall, or another car behind you.

6. If you don’t get it right first time, don’t worry, safely pull forward out of the space, adjust your position, and reverse into the bay, hopefully this time between the lines. It is quite acceptable on test to make some forward adjustment, provided it is not overly repeated, or takes too much time.

He tries to listen, absorb the information, even god help him to look intelligent but he cannot stop staring at her mouth, the way it moves,the way she bites down gently on her lower lip when she is concentrating. She has changed her lipstick, a more autumnal colour. Gavins’ mother liked make-up, wore it well and over the years he learnt a little about it,enough so that as she got older, frailer, he was able to walk confidently into Boots and pick up skin cream,mascara and lipstick.

He realises that she has stopped speaking and nods,there is a pause
“Right then Gavin, shall we have a go at reversing into a parking bay?”
He nods again, a little too enthusiastically, trying to disguise his absence.

He starts the mantra
Car in neutral
Handbrake on
Ignition on
Handbrake off
Into gear
Accelerate ……………..& move off

NO, wait………………….Mirror……………then move off

nothing bad happens,no sudden stalling, no cat leap, he breathes and then she indicates the space she would like him to reverse into.

Gavin always knew the time would come when his mother would start to fail, to become frail. Realistically he knew that eventually their roles would change, but for decades things went on, his mother retired from her job, threw herself into voluntary work, started painting and joined a retirees creative writing group.Yes, she slowed down a little, but the pattern of their life continued until one wet October day when she got off the bus after a watercolour masterclass, walked into the kitchen, put the kettle on and had a massive heart attack. She was on the floor when he arrived home, her National Trust mug in shards around her.

His colleagues were kind,the neighbuors kinder still, but the next three months passed in a terrible daze.

The anxiety, the gnawing worry became a constant presence and finally after gentle prompting from his supervisor, he went to see his GP, where somewhat to his surprise he was offered counselling and therapy and something called lifecoaching.

His therapist was robust, cheerful, called himself an enabler, Gavin felt almost completely unable to talk to him and the sessions stuttered on until the he, the enabler, Leon, asked Gavin to identify somnething mad, unrealistic that he had always wanted to do and from no -where Gavin found himself saying
“I want to drive the Paris – Daakar road race”


The adventure began back in 1977, when Thierry Sabine got lost on his motorbike in the Libyan desert during the Abidjan-Nice Rally. Saved from the sands in extremis, he returned to France still in thrall to this landscape and promising himself he would share his fascination with as many people as possible. He proceeded to come up with a route starting in Europe, continuing to Algiers and crossing Agadez before eventually finishing at Dakar. The founder coined a motto for his inspiration: “A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.” Courtesy of his great conviction and that modicum of madness peculiar to all great ideas, the plan quickly became a reality. Since then, the Paris-Dakar, a unique event sparked by the spirit of adventure, open to all riders and carrying a message of friendship between all men, has never failed to challenge, surprise and excite. Over the course of almost thirty years, it has generated innumerable sporting and human stories.

Afterwards, he wasnt sure who was more surprised, himself or Leon.

There was a pause and the therapist nodded, perhaps a shade too enthusiastically, talked about setting challenges, achieving targets, breaking goals down, his smile was a little fixed, he clealry felt out of his depth.

There was another pause and then Gavin confessed that he didnt actually know how to drive.

So, the driving lessons, the actual mechanics of learning to manouvere a car started 18 months ago and unsurprisingly, at least to Gavin, he has discovered that he has absolutley no talent for this sort of thing at all. There have been three other driving instructors to date ; Bob, Mohammed and Lizzie.
Bob, shaven headed, paunchy, in his own words a “bit of a petrol head” was simply confused by another man who had so little empathy for a machine and such poor spatial awareness.
Mohammed, quietly spoken, calm, patient, one day asked Gavin to pull over, looked him in the face and said sadly that Gavin was a natural pedestrian and should accept his destiny.
Lizzie coped with the bunny hopping, the eratic gear changes, the lack of lane discipline, but the roundabout incident was her tipping point. She started cancelling lessons, not answering her phone and then one day when Gavin tried to book a lesson, he was told that she had left the motoring school.

Lyndsey has however stuck with it and they have begun to talk tentatively about a driving test, maybe in the spring. Gavin is almost optomistic and the Paris- Daakaar control room has expanded and moved from the dinning room table into his mothers’ bedroom. There are maps, charts, equipment lists, photographs, the computer has files labelled Paris-Daakar 2014. When the anxiety hits he watches huge trucks, off road bikes clamber up sandndunes in completely deserted landscapes. It is surprisingly soothing.

It takes him a couple of gos to find reverse, but then the manouvere goes surprisingly well, he only needs to come out of the space 3 or 4 times to straighten up and he can still measure the anxiety meter at under 8. Lyndsey smiles and suggests that they pop into the supermarket cafe for a quick coffee before the embark on a go at parallel parking.

How to Parallel Park

Once you found a suitable space to park you car, it is time to park. Drive forward and stop parallel to the car behind which you will park, leaving some 1 meter of clearance between the two vehicles. The two cars need to be at least nose-to-nose for the parking to work effectively. Engage the emergency lights to warn incoming motorist of your intentions.

Once you aligned yourself with the other car, put your vehicle in reverse and begin the maneuver. Keep the wheel straight until the rear end of the other car appears in the corner of your back side window. Once you see it, turn the wheel full-right (full-left for right hand drive countries).

Keep going until the rear end of the other car aligns with the side mirror of your car. While still moving, turn the wheel in the opposite direction. At this point, you should pay attention to see if the nose of your car clears the back end of the other one.

Once you cleared the other car, slowly straighten the steering wheel, for a perfect parking. If you feel the car is not properly aligned, you may move forward and backward accordingly.

About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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