Random Musings: The learner driver

My eldest child is learning to drive. She has been taking weekly lessons with an instructor for a little over six months, practising her skills in between by driving my little car. Sitting with her while she drives terrifies me and she knows it. I console myself with the thought that when she sits her practical test she will likely be nervous. Driving under my supervision gives her practice at driving under pressure.

Her lessons are expensive. I do not begrudge the instructor his fee but the longer it takes my daughter to pass her test the more the costs mount up. Encouraging her to practice as much as possible therefore makes sense but for her to practice either my husband or I must be in the car. While he is at work I must take my turn.

In recent weeks our weather has turned cold and wet so my boys have been less inclined to cycle to and from school. Bus fares have increased markedly so I decided that it would be a win win situation if my daughter drove everyone in each morning. This decision is proving to be a challenge to my well-being.

Automatic transmission cars are becoming more popular but most cars in this country still have manual gear shifts. Pulling out of busy junctions into rush hour traffic is not a good time to stall the engine; I try to stay silent as Daughter restarts the car and pulls away in a screech of spray. Changing gears whilst navigating the busy roundabouts en route requires concentration; I try not to flinch as the car veers worryingly close to kerbs as she accelerates away from each intersection.

I am not a particularly skilled driver and I recognise that I am a nervous passenger; my husband’s driving regularly causes me concern. He seems to take it as a personal slight if a car pulls in front of him, his irritation obvious in his demeanour and language. He will overtake furiously and then coast along, his mind focused on fuel economy. The irony of this variation in style is apparently lost on him. He chooses routes on distance rather than navigational ease. He and his dad will discuss at length alternative, potentially faster routes with the eagerness of alchemists. I suspect that my slow and steady driving along the best maintained roads irritates him as much as his driving decisions can irritate me.

This is all about trust and control yet with driving the biggest risk comes from others. My daughter will benefit from being able to drive but it is hard to put aside thoughts of the road traffic accidents that so regularly cause delays near our home. When my husband is late back from work that is where my imagination takes me.

I drive as little as possible, preferring to cycle, walk and use the trains. Our rural location, inclement weather and patchy public transport require me to use my car more than I would wish. Friends tell me that my real worries will start when my daughter passes her driving test and goes out on these roads alone.

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Things that annoy me

For no reason that I can fathom, I went through a bit of a downer at the end of last week. Having come out the other side reasonably quickly I am doing what I can to ensure that I keep on top of my erratic moods. I have allowed myself time to read a book, watch a film and go on a long walk through the beautiful countryside on my doorstep. I also tackled a few of the house and garden chores that needed doing. I am still feeling a little unsteady but seem to be coping; I am feeling positive again.

Perhaps because of my unstable moods I have found myself being even more irritated than normal by various articles in the news. These are just a few of the random discussions that have annoyed me this week.

Cosmetic Surgery

According to The Independent newspaper, more women are opting to have cosmetic surgery for ‘bingo wings’. Also, the number of breast augmentation procedures performed has increased by 56% since 2007. Demand for facelift surgery or the more simple botox treatments has increased so much that such interventions are now considered normal in certain circles.

Now, I know that there can be some good reasons for cosmetic surgery. Burns victims; those born with serious and obvious disfigurements; those who suffer a disfigurement as part of treatment for a serious illness; these people can all claim my sympathy when they choose to go under the knife to change the way they look. What irritates me is the healthy women who simply wish to change in order to conform to a media promoted idea of beauty. To me, it shows how messed up our society is that individuals will put forward the whole quality of life argument as a reason to have plastic breasts or wrinkles stretched out. Do they really believe that such interventions will make them happy? Don’t they know that these expensive procedures do not last?

These are a few of my personal views: people are supposed to be different; beauty exists in many forms and involves much more than just looks; growing old is a privilege, not a curse; surgery should be for the ill or the injured.

Indulging in cosmetic surgery for reasons of vanity is not the same as putting on a bit of make up or buying a flattering outfit. It may help to make doctors rich (and I don’t blame them for that), but I would much rather see them using their admirably gained skills to treat the sick.

Elderly Drivers

As people age, their eyesight deteriorates, their responses slow down and their memories become more muddled. At a certain point in their lives it becomes unsafe for them to drive a car. Too often I read in the news that another elderly driver has driven the wrong way along a motorway or lost control of their car in a busy shopping area. That individual probably still thinks that they are a competent driver; they overestimate their abilities because they do not recognise the extent of their natural failings.

I would not advocate enforcing the removal of a driving licence at a certain age as abilities vary considerably. I do, however, think that there need to be stricter  tests on the competencies of those who wish to continue to drive into old age. Arguments are put forward that taking away an elderly person’s driving licence will condemn them to housebound loneliness. I would be more concerned about the safety of others. A car is a killing machine in the wrong hands.

What really annoys me though, is when the elderly complain about young drivers and how dangerous they are. Unless they live in an area that is well served by regular and reliable public transport, young people need to learn to drive in order to gain and hold down a job. They need to be allowed to learn and then to practice in order to improve their competency. Nobody is a great driver until they have gained experience in all conditions. Young people need to be granted the time and space to acquire these skills; they are the future drivers that we will all rely on.

I would like to see equality in dealing with driving offences. If dangerous driving is observed then the driver should be treated the same; age should not be an excuse. Some elderly people complain that young people have no respect for their elders. I believe that respect needs to be earned. I know many, polite, droll, erudite and lovely older people who deserve our esteem. I also hear from my children of older people who queue jump at the bus stop, push past the youngsters and then berate them for not showing deference. What do they expect when this is the example of behaviour that they offer?

The most aggressive drivers that I encounter are middle aged men hurrying to and from work; there are idiot drivers in all age ranges. I do not wish to condemn the young or the old, but merely to see the rules of the road applied fairly.

Politics

There has been a lot of comment this week on the potential for the UKIP to upset the political status quo in Britain. Although there are many flaws with the currant system of voting, we do still live in a democracy. It annoys me that some people are trying to drum up support for their party by dissing the emerging opposition rather than giving sound reasons to support their candidate. All should be free to vote as they choose, however extreme their views may appear. I will not condemn anyone for voting for a party that I personally could not support so long as they have thought through the reasons for their actions. I would prefer people to vote thoughtfully than out of habit or not at all.

When an individual makes clear their political allegiance it is reasonable to discuss their reasons and to disagree with their premises. A blanket condemnation without discussing why choices were made though is arrogant.

and breathe… 

As ever, these random thoughts run around inside my head as I peruse the news. Whatever my initial response, I will try to see the alternative point of view and not judge individual’s choices. Sometimes society seems so messed up that I despair, but then I go out and about; I meet the lovely individuals who make up that society; I remind myself that I shouldn’t believe everything that I read in the papers.

I will continue to try to be a good citizen myself. That is, perhaps, a change for the better that I can hope to achieve.

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A spring set into the wall by the road at the bottom of our garden. The inscription above reads:
‘Drink traveller drink and more than worldly wealth
Enjoy God’s greatest earthly blessing, health’