Thursday, November 26, 2009
Driving in the UK
I bit the bullet and drove the car. I've been dealing with some sensitive tummy issues and thought that walking to pick Ewan up from school might put me in an, uhum, compromising situation, so I thought I'd better buck up and drive.
I invited a friend from our building to come with me. She is British and has driven both in the US and in the UK. I thought I might feel better about driving if another adult was with me--and also less nervous if Jon weren't the other adult. He couldn't be there anyway since he was at school. Driving to the school is the route I know how to get there and back best. I know how to drive to our church and back home but ask me to get anywhere else and I'm pretty sure I'd get lost. Those roundabouts are tricky I tell you.
The funniest thing that happened was after I got Graham and Isaac in the car and got to my own seat. I had never even sat in the drivers seat before and it definitely felt different. I reached over my left shoulder to pull down the seatbelt (you know cuz I was DRIVING) and go figure, the seatbelt wasn't there. It was on my RIGHT side. You don't realize how habitualized you become at driving until all the parts are in the wrong place. I chuckled to myself that I didn't realize ahead of time to reach to my right to pull the seatbelt down. Next, the car was started and I went to put it in reverse. Our car is a manual shifter. Another little difficulty in learning how to drive on the other side of the road. Not only do you have to remember to stay on the LEFT side of the road you also have to change gears while driving.
I'm used to a stick shift. I've been driving one (different cars along the way) since I started driving 18 years ago. Driving a stick is automatic--I barely think about it. That is until I have to shift with my left hand.
As I was saying, I went to put the car in reverse and knew that it was still in first gear. (Reverse is to the left of 1st gear instead of to the right of 5th) I had a very vague memory that you had to do something to move the shifter into reverse--push something down, pull something up...but I tried everything that seemed obvious and could not figure it out. I texted Jon and asked, "how do you put the car in reverse?" His response, "up and to the left". I knew that part already but WHAT do you do to put the car in reverse? My friend who was with me was just as perplexed as I was. She finally flagged down a friend of hers in the parking lot to see if he could figure it out. Let me tell you, I felt like such a "woman". Turns out you have to pull up on a spring loaded sheath (on the gear shift) and then magically you can move the shifter all the way to the left.
After laughing at ourselves, I pulled out into our car park (parking lot) and started the journey.
Thoughts going through my head:
" Stay left, left, left, left"
"Don't bump the left curb" (Americans tend to hug the left side of the lane because we aren't used to the spacial differences from the drivers seat)
"Go slow if you have to"
"Lord, please let me get there and home safely"
"How do I use my blinkers on the roundabout again?"
My friend, whose name is Kate by the way, offered some helpful instruction about when to turn on my blinker on the roundabout and when to switch lanes--and when to signal my blinker while switching lanes. When you are on the inside lane of the roundabout you signal with your right blinker. And you use the inside lane when you are going more than 2 exits away from yours on the roundabout. When you are on the outside lane you signal to the left. That means you are taking the 1st or second exit off the roundabout. When entering a roundabout you watch what the cars to the right of you are doing. Are they exiting? Are they entering the roundabout? Do you have room to enter? You don't really pay attention to the cars to your left (the cars waiting in the entrance to the left of you) because they have to give you the right of way. I'm sure you are getting the picture that there is quite a lot to think about when at a roundabout.
To get to Ewan's school I have to go through 5 roundabouts--some more complicated than others. Kate was very calm and as I was driving I had a huge grin on my face. I was driving in England! It wasn't so bad. A little nerve wracking sure, but not quite as terrifying as I thought. I think I was ready to tackle another challenge.
Remember when I mentioned that driving a stick shift is like second nature? Well, my left hand isn't so used to it. I kept trying to shift with my right hand and don't you know my right hand kept hitting the drivers door! Mental note: Gear shift is on the LEFT! Using my left hand, I was timing the clutch, gas and shifter all fine. But when I went to put the car in 3rd gear I'd end up back in first. Or when I'd go to put it in second gear I'd end up in 4th. Oh bother! So much for second nature!
We made it to the school and I parked a block away because the parking lot at Ewan's school is typically very British and small and crowded with loads of cars parked on the sidewalk and every crevice. I didn't want any fender benders my first day out in the car. Better safe than sorry.
As I collected Ewan from his wing of the building he quickly noticed that Isaac and Graham weren't with me. "Mom where are Isaac and Graham?" "In the car with Kate," I respond. "I thought you didn't know how to drive in England." He was skeptical. I was still a little skeptical myself because I knew we still had to get home --but I wasn't going to tell him that!
We get to the car and Ewan gets buckled in. First question, "mom, do you know where you're going?" "Uh-huh--sure do" The rest of the drive home was pretty uneventful I'm happy to say. Once we pulled into our spot in the parking lot Graham said, "We made it!" just as I was saying the very same thing in my head.