If I’d ever thought of reigniting my education-degrees in Criminology or Social History have been researched in the past-all such thoughts ended at 8.30am at the Holiday Inn. The classroom-and, specifically, the front row of the classroom-is still not my natural habitat.
The front row was, of course, the only one available, the back two having been already occupied by an assortment of speeding drivers. I wasn’t late, I hasten to add. I’d planned and left plenty of time for my journey (tip No 1 on page 11). But nevertheless, here I was in the front row.
A retired policeman started us off: ‘Now, how many of you have done…’ Before he could finish his sentence, my hand went up because, yes, I’ve done the driver- awareness course before; yes, I’m now an adult without fear of the teacher so I can put my hand up; and, yes, I believed (wrongly) that taking it a second time was-n’t allowed, so I wanted to be honest. ‘Any training in advanced driving skills,’ he finished. I slid my hand back down, but not before it had been noted.
We introduced ourselves with our names and how many years we’d been driving. I said 25 as that’s what the woman next to me said and I didn’t want to say 30, which was longer than anybody else so far and might draw attention. I’d just lied again. And gone red. And temporarily insane.
Nothing had changed since I was last in the classroom. Don’t say anything and try not to catch the teacher’s eye. ‘What shape is the stop sign?’ Oh please, don’t ask me. It might as well have been ‘give me 10 reasons for the outbreak of the Hundred Years’ War’. Just look down. ‘Octagonal,’ says a voice uncertainly. ‘Excellent, well done.’ I knew that. I wish I’d said that.
We’re invited to examine our reasons for speeding with the rest of our class. ‘I had to overtake the car in front-they were going so bloody slowly,’ says the boy racer on my other side. ‘That was probably me,’ I reply. Remarkably, everybody else seems to tow things: caravans, horse boxes, chippers, dirt bikes. Don’t any of you just bibble about in a Nissan Micra? Apparently not.
I don’t fall into the most common categories of driving offenders as I’m not rushing to work, I’m not over-stressed, I don’t turn round to look at pets or small children on the back seat, I don’t listen to loud music and I don’t do long distances when I’m over-tired. I do, however, drive at about 35mph. All the time.
I’m not prone to road rage, although I seem to cause it (see boy racer above) but I am irritated by the argumentative man behind me who isn’t entering into the spirit of this course-he moans about inadequate signs and belittles braking distances. A better-tempered man says no amount of braking could have stopped his collision last year with not one but two reindeer, on the way to work. Roe deer? No, reindeer.
Towards the end of the course, I’m rather chuffed to have noted down 13 out of 15 potential hazards in the short film we’re shown, until I realise that my 13 are different to the organisers’ 13. None of mine are actually hazards.
It takes me a long time to get home because, after four hours of instruction, even the Holiday Inn car park seems a potential deathtrap. I turn off the radio (distraction), wind down the car window (to hear as well as see hazards). I limp to the first give-way sign and look twice in both directions, at which point, the driver behind gives me an impatient honk and I very nearly forget the Betaris anger-management technique. ‘I’ve just done a driver- awareness course,’ I shout. There should be a sticker.
That afternoon, I went to watch Alfie in a rugby match. He was tackled early in the second half and raised his good arm to ask ‘Permission to come off, Sir’. I wished I’d raised mine earlier in the day to ask whether it’s permissible to speed when taking your son to A&E with what is clearly a broken collarbone.
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