x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Taking life by the wheel

The longer one spends as a passenger, the less desirable learning to drive can become.

Some years ago, my girlfriend at the time's father used to pronounce over the dinner table his idea of what maketh the man: "Only losers can't drive by the time they're 26," he would say, drumming his fingers on the table and placing formidable accent on the word "losers".

He and I have long since parted company. But try as I might, this ludicrous threshold for becoming a competent member of the human race hasn't quite been purged from my consciousness.

I know this because, with 27 years looming, I recently snapped up a voucher for driving lessons in a few reckless clicks.

Something overtook me; enough to blur the reality that I'd have to relearn and retest all over again when I eventually head back to Europe. With mind blank, I ordered 20 of the 40 lessons I need to get behind the wheel. There's now a learner's license with my name on it waiting in Al Quoz - I just need to pick that up and get started. But that part is proving harder than I expected.

Every few days, I get a call from the driving school: "Sir, why have you not started your lessons?" I don't know. "So, so busy," I respond. What I haven't told them is that there is some impenetrable barrier that's developed in my mind and is preventing me from getting started.

I think the longer one spends as a passenger, the less desirable learning to drive can become. Most rush to learn to drive at age 17, before they've experienced the horror of watching friends curl their nails into the wheel as a motorist wavers inches from their back bumper and dazzles them with headlights.

See, from the passenger seat, I'm able to observe the full waltz of lane-changers and tailgaters that make traversing these roads such a scream. But the closer I get to learning to drive, the more aware I am of the madness that comes with it.

How do my accomplices remain so calm throughout, I wonder, and I often ruminate on how I'd react if a monstrous 4x4 with a "Baby on board" sign in the back window pulled out in front of me.

What sort of driver will I be? That's what troubles me most. When I used to cycle to work, both here and in the UK, I was more of a grumbler than a fist-shaker, but that all changes when you've got nearly two tons of metal throttling up behind and trying to overtake you by careering on to the hard shoulder.

Watching friends be overcome with uncharacteristic rage is enough to put anyone off. I don't want to be that red-faced loon with terror and headlights in their eyes.

But I suppose I'll never know until I am actually behind that wheel. Learning to drive is something I really, really want to do, especially now that I'll be staying in one place for a significant amount of time.

But I have noticed that things society dictates you do early grow in magnitude as you age. I don't think you're a loser if you can't drive by the time you're 26. But I do think that letting something that you do want to do slide is the first step along that road.


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