I Had My First Driving Lesson And Nobody Died


Having your first driving lesson is a bit of a milestone. I never realised how much 'adultism' and the first stage of independence it gives you. It certainly sweeps away what may be the remaining pieces of your childhood, that's for sure. You are now in control of a potentially lethal weapon.

This post will seem more like a diary entry more than anything. I want to note down what happened on my first lesson while it's still fresh in my mind; it would make a good read when I've passed my test to see how much my nerves and attitudes have changed. Right, here we go:

Dear Diary,

OK, we won't do that BS. Let's just get on with it.

The lesson was incredibly early for me and a Sunday morning: 9am. After a dismal five hours of sleep, I quickly got ready to find my instructor was outside my house early (as if 9-o-clock wasn't early enough). Seeing the car out there was oddly intimidating. After all, I was likely to drive that tonne of metal soon.

I got in the car after a rushed half-arsed breakfast. Phew: the instructor is a warm and friendly chap. I had visions of this military grade guy who don't have no time fo' them slackers! This eased my nerves... a bit.

We drove to a housing estate in my neighbouring town of Luton. It was quiet, peaceful and ideal for a new learning driver, I suppose. We stopped and swapped seats. I've been in the driver's seat before, but this felt different. More serious. Never mind, this guy was very calming. We went through obligatory paperwork, and then did the 'cockpit check'. This is a simple procedure of making sure the door's shut, your mirrors are correctly positioned, and you are suitably seated.

Next, we went through the controls of the car - what the gearbox does, the clutch and the functions of each pedal. I knew all of this already, but I don't really want to be a smart-arse and boast that this stuff's already in my head. Nothing wrong with a refresh of information, after all.

Then came the bit that had me nervous. The instructor handed me the key, and prompted me to start up the engine. It fired right up, of course. He then told me to put the gear into first, and slowly depress the clutch, until I find the 'biting point'. Oh god, I'm setting off! This would be my first time driving on a public road. I dabbed the throttle to apply some revs, released the handbrake, and surely but slowly I was off.

Starting point. If only things stayed this way...
I was pottering along at about 10mph in first gear. I didn't really want to speed up without the instructor's, er, instruction. But more overwhelmingly, I didn't really want to speed up because this was my first time ever, at least not on a track. Driving on Silverstone was good, but there was almost zero chance of crashing; there was nothing to hit. This residential road was full of parked cars and blind corners. So yes, 10mph will do nicely, thanks.

But oh no. I was told to go into second gear. Not a problem, I know my way round a gearbox. But I didn't really want to go much faster. Due to the higher gear though, I was now doing about 20mph.

We came to a junction. I was expecting my instructor to tell me to turn left. This would mean that I would simply loop back round to where I started, and I would continue to do some laps to get the hang of things. Wait a minute... I'm being told to turn right? Holy Jesus. Alrightly then...

I wasn't too familiar with this estate, so I had no idea where this road would lead me to. Assumingly, it will just continue with the quiet housing area. Oh no. I pulled up to a mini roundabout to find a road I was familiar with - because it's one of the main (read: busiest) roads of Luton. And Luton is a pretty major town, might I add.

So, to re-cap some stuff. A driver with five minutes of road experience was now driving at 30mph down a major town road, surrounded by other drivers. Intimidated doesn't even come close to what I was feeling at time. Oddly, though, there was a sense of enjoyment there, too. I would guess it's a mini adrenaline rush.

It may look pretty, but it's just disguising its evilness
First traffic light junction, didn't have to stop. Whew. I've only set off with the clutch once, and that was at a speed that could be outpaced by a snail. Under the pressure of traffic lights, at the front of the queue? God knows what I would've been like. Anyway, now I was driving down an even more major road. It was straight, and the limit was still 30mph, so it wasn't too bad. But I was hardly settled at this point.

First roundabout. Oh crapping hell - I barely know the rules to roundabouts. Somehow, I managed to pull a straight ahead manoeuvre without cutting a dozen people off, but man my hands were firmly gripped. And now the road has a 40mph limit. I'm starting to wonder if my instructor is the suicidal type, or he really likes to live on the edge. Like, as close to the edge as would be physically possible. The road is wide and visible, so the 40 limit was fine.

Was this hell-hole about to claim a victim?
Now I had to drive through a sleepy town called Houghton Regis. Full of humps, zebra crossings and mini roundabouts, it really did keep me awake from my five hour sleep. I was starting to let the enjoyment take a little more control over me. Well, I did until I came to my first major crossroads.

These aren't your average crossroads you find on a country road. This was the real busy deal, complete with traffic lights and everything. To make things worse, I was at the front of the queue and on an incline. At this point, I would have to find some skills from thin air to pull this one off. Surprisingly, I did exit the crossroads without a crash. I was surprising myself at this point. I mean, I know I have had driving experience before a few years ago, but this was a whole new level. I wasn't proud, but I was pretty happy at this point.
"You want me to go how fast?!?"

Things went fine until I exited the town centres, and onto the country parts of the A5. Wait, this is now a 60mph limit. The words 'sixty' and 'no experience' should never ever be put together. But hey, I had no choice. I know the 60 limit is a maximum and not your 'target speed', but I didn't really want a mile-long tailback behind me. The pressure would probably be too much. Still, it went fine. Interestingly, 60mph feels fairly brisk in the passenger seat, but when you're driving, it feels like you could go another 30 more and still be in control. But do not do that, obviously.

Clutch control when changing gears was a slight issue. I was releasing the clutch too quickly when I had selected my gear, meaning the car jerks forward a bit. It doesn't do much really, but jerkiness is always an unpleasant thing. Turns out you have to be real smooth at everything you do. I might take on some Jazz music lessons to aid me.

Leighton Buzzard, you complicated arse
Then came about half an hour of pottering around another town called Leighton Buzzard. This is an old town with narrow streets and strict 20mph limits (which are too easy to break in a modern car). Leighton really tested my brand new ability here, to a point where it exposed me and I ended up making a few silly errors.

But I never thought I'd be doing 70mph on my first driving lesson on a dual carriageway. But it happened, and that was fun. I do like some speed, and I felt surprisingly in control at that point - more so than 20mph in a town centre. I'd read so many websites that clearly said how your first lesson will be in first gear creeping around some housing estates. My instructor was either confident in me, or just plain insane.

The beast
So yes, that was my first lesson in a nutshell. When I say a nutshell, this had easily been my longest blog post to date. But oh well. I ended up covering 40 miles in the space of about an hour's worth of driving. I didn't stall (surprisingly), but I really need to refine my clutch work. Next lesson is meant to be parking bays, I believe. So let's see how that goes...

As a side note, the car was a diesel Corsa. It had an almost scary amount of power - totally unexpected, because you associate Corsas being slow city dwellers. God damn throttle sensitivity!