Tag Archives: taxi

My First Automatic Driving Lessons

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I have been learning to drive for over two years.

I booked my first lesson after I was unable to get to a friend’s wedding. It would have been easy to drive there and surely wouldn’t have cost the £40 taxi ride in petrol. The fare was fine but I was weak, wheezing and coughing every 5 minutes, so they probably wouldn’t have been able to hear their vows.

Two months ago my exasperated instructor suggested I try an automatic car which does not have gears. After asking whether I was ready occasionally, I was delighted to do a mock test and get no serious errors. You only have to get one serious error to fail and I would regularly get three. Something clicked and I put into practice what I had learnt. I had booked my test for this month. But as time went on and it got closer to the test and we started talking about it, my skills slipped. I had a lesson a month ago where I couldn’t work out what had gone wrong. I knew how to drive so why wasn’t I able to? It was really grinding my gears.

I called a driving school and asked for an automatic driving lesson. If you pass on an automatic you can’t drive a manual car. I was warned that the cars are more expensive to tax and use more fuel. After I accepted this briefing I was given the number of the instructor. I would recommend checking the website first as I was not told about a special offer and I didn’t know that an electric car was available.

“There was a bang as we hit the red blur of a car. It happened so quickly I couldn’t process it.”

I was very nervous about my first lesson because I have heard of so many accidents and been part of one as a passenger. We were leaving the pavement. We looked past a parked car and the road was clear, so mum drove out. There was a bang as we hit the red blur of a car speeding past.

He stopped a car length and a half down the road with a scratched door. It had happened so quickly I couldn’t process it. Mum noticed that the man said “got to go, I’ll call you later” as he dropped his phone into the door pocket, before coming over to get insurance details. Dad spoke about the driver who rammed a parked car outside our house last week while on the phone to his girlfriend. He hit the car with such force that a wheel came off and bits of bumper and brake light were scattered on the road. He called the police but as no one was hurt they didn’t press charges. A friend of a friend was coming out of a junction and a sign was blocking her view. She looked past the sign and the road was clear. She then entered the road and hit and killed a motorcyclist. Another of mum’s friends accidentally reversed into her dad, breaking his legs.

Finally, there was the driver the year above me at school  who killed her friend. She had just passed her driving test and her A levels. She reportedly went over a hill up the road from us too fast and lost control of the steering, hitting a brick wall next to the road. Her friend in the passenger seat had just passed her A levels and had a place at university. When I started sixth form the common room was quiet and sombre. That is why I didn’t drive at 18.

I live on a bus route to the city so I was able to get most places without needing to ask for a lift or get a taxi. In London the public transport is so good that there is no need. However, the buses to the Peak District only stop at the villages and are once an hour so it would be lovely to go somewhere off the main roads at a time that is convenient for my friends.

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The instructor got out and shook hands. I got into the driving seat and panicked. There was no third pedal, there was one massive one and one smaller one. ABC so that was the brake and the clutch. I couldn’t see past the car in the mirrors, the steering wheel and the pedals were too far away and I didn’t know how to adjust them. I couldn’t do the cockpit drill of making sure the car was set to my specifications.

The instructor was bemused. He knew I had driven for two years and I was sitting there doing nothing. “So, what do you do first?” he prompted. I told him and he waited for me to sort things out. I explained that this car was different from the Vauxhall Astra I’d driven previously and I didn’t know what to do. He smiled and helped. “What do you do next?” he prompted. “Put the clutch down and put it into…” I replied before I remembered that there was no clutch and no first gear, just a gear-stick. What did you do with it?

He demonstrated that you flicked the gear left to put it in gear and right to put it in neutral. He demonstrated that he had added plastic additions to the wheel to allow you to switch to manual if necessary. I frowned at the extra confusion this might cause and was relieved when he said we wouldn’t need them.

The ignition was higher up in this car and the key was in a different direction, so I wasn’t sure which way was on. The instructor had to show me how to switch the engine on. I was so embarrassed I struggled to remember the handbrake and indicator. The instructor wanted to laugh but smiled politely instead.

I hadn’t come out of the drive before but had only left from the side of it, so I did have a brief flashback of our collision, especially as we had just been talking about it. I nervously sat higher in the seat as I scanned the edge of the road on both sides quickly a couple of times before pressing the accelerator gingerly, inching out. He indicated and off we went.

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The accelerator required a steady and increased push to increase speed and the brake was really responsive. The slightest touch and the car would slow quicker than expected. I stabbed it gingerly, jerking the car to a quick stop instead of a slow gradual one. He said “I like to push my students so I might get you to do manoeuvres you aren’t that comfortable with.” “That’s fine”, I said. I had no idea what that would entail but I was about to find out.

At first the instructor was quiet. It was quite a change from my last instructor, who was chatty. I felt like I was being tested, which made me more nervous but I wasn’t driving as badly as anticipated. Or at least it didn’t feel like I was, until he said “mirrors…..mirrors….do you know what MSM means? No switch that off, what haven’t you done?……did you look in your mirrors?…..and then I heard a sigh. But I still forgot to check the mirrors before signalling. Embarrassed, I apologised again. I needed to get out of that habit for my instructor’s sanity.

After about an hour I did a few successful checks. His repetition had paid off. Then he said “I’ll give you instructions from now on.” I still drove like an idiot. I knew what to do, I was just driving like a boy racer. He said “what’s the fastest you’ve ever driven?”. “50” I replied, checking my speedometer. That was fine. He directed me on a roundabout to the start of a dual carriageway. I expected to go off but we kept on it until the speed limit was 60. I felt surprisingly comfortable doing 50 but was quite nervous about 60. It felt like the first time I went above 30 and felt like I was flying. I slowed as we approached a roundabout and I didn’t know what lane so I guessed and then indicated and changed into the correct one.  He asked how I knew what lane to go in and I told him how I went in the left for the first and second exist and right for the third onwards. He directed us around multiple roundabouts until I started to feel more confident. Then I was coming up to a roundabout when he said “what lane do we need to be in?” I guessed that I was in the wrong one. “I don’t know” I replied. “Look at the road markings” he said. I looked ahead and couldn’t see anything further in front. “Look further down” he said. There it was. I was in the wrong lane again.

Car driving down street, headlights on

Then I saw a car coming towards me on the roundabout and drove forward. I was on autopilot thinking about how I was in the wrong lane and I didn’t think about anything else. The instructor braked for me and looked at me, scared.

“What would have happened if you’d gone out then?”

“I would’ve crashed.”

“Yes you would have gone straight into that car coming towards us. Why did you do that?”

I paused. Why did I? I won’t be doing that again. It was like the first time I went on a dual carriageway with my first instructor (I’m on my third) who also liked to push his pupils. I thought I could turn the indicator off with the wheel at 50 miles an hour. I was surprised as we almost swerved into an oncoming car and my instructor grabbed the wheel with lightning reactions.

“You did three dangerous” the instructor announced. “I’ll drive us back”. Now it was my turn to sigh. I was never going to be able to drive. Ever.

“I can get you passing by the end of November” the instructor said. Well, maybe there was hope on the horizon. If I could just drive towards it safely and slowly enough.

On the way back the instructor imitated my driving a little until I giggled uncontrollably. He looked at me. “What?”. Realising that I could laugh at myself and wouldn’t be offended, he proceeded to show me what I was like. “I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea.” He smiled.

Nana Joan with my second cousin, Maliko.

Nana Joan with my second cousin Maliko.

I saw that I was driving with my arms stretched stiffly in front of me, my eyes mostly fixed ahead, occasionally looking down my nose at the door mirror as if I was looking down through spectacles and then quickly staring ahead again, then occasionally flicking my eyes to the other mirror. I was jerking the brake in a stop/start manner,scared-learner-driver-main holding the wheel gingerly with the edge of my fingers, flicking it to make it turn. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” The instructor said, bemused again. “Do you have a grandma?” he asked. “Yes” I said, smiling at the memory of Nana Joan in New Zealand, with her kind eyes, wide smile, curly brown hair (she still hasn’t gone grey at 89, I hope I have those genes) and laughter lines. “Would you drive like this with your grandma in that seat?” he asked, jerking the car to a halt repeatedly. “No.” I replied. I also had a bad habit of looking at my instructor when he was talking. “Eyes on the road please!” he reminded me.

My instructor explained that he used to be a taxi driver and that when he took the instructor’s test he realised how shocking his driving was. He said he passed second time because he was too cocky the first time and didn’t show the instructor that he was looking in the mirrors.

“I got honked at and apparently got a rude finger gesture but I was completely oblivious in my learner bubble.”

I thought he wouldn’t want to see me again, after moaning about how a student nearly damaged his car, but he later said that he enjoyed the challenge of teaching me.

At the start of the next lesson the instructor had me reversing out of a drive onto the main road. I was terrified but I was driving under his instruction and at snail speed. That was smoothly done, as was a turn in the road. However, I went off a roundabout into the wrong lane and the instructor corrected me. I got beeped at and apparently got a rude finger gesture but I was completely oblivious in my learner bubble.

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Later, when I went to change lanes I thought I had space to move in front of an oncoming car and I didn’t. I forgot that I didn’t have the right of way and expected the oncoming car to slow down for me. Not so fast. Taking time to judge distance and the rules of the road is more important than speed. Having road experience from being a cyclist I drive defensively in that almost every time I am on the road as a (mostly safe) driver or a passenger I witness dangerous driving and therefore I expect the worse.

Every driver should be a cyclist to get experience of what it is like to be a vulnerable road user having to go into the flood of traffic to turn right or trying to turn in front of you into side roads. I see dangerous drivers much more often than dangerous cyclists. I expect a driver to emerge from a side road without looking. This almost happened today and my mum was ready for it, swerving and beeping (only to announce her presence of course). I now even expect a car to park in the middle of the road on a blind bend.

If you are struggling to learn on a manual try automatic lessons. It should make you a safer driver and automatic cars are the future.

In a new suburb being planned in London I learnt that the area is being planned around driverless cars picking up and dropping off passengers. Just when I was getting used to the idea of Uber taxis, technology advances yet again. If I still can’t pass my test I will wait for the new dawn of driverless cars.

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A Remote Rural Rave

 

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Credit: Alice Burrow

Yesterday there was a “Peace in the Park” festival in Sheffield. This community music event started as protest to the Iraq war in 2003 and last year 8,000 attended.

I walked over four miles home from work and by the time I got there I was tired so I thought I’d save my energies for Peace in the Dark which follows. The location is released on the night in a phone message, the number of which is circulated by word of mouth. It was quite vague, the anonymous voice telling us (in a very Yorkshire accent) to “get t Ladybower [a local reservoir] and it’s dahn t’yer [down to your] left”. I’d never been to a rave this unofficial and was quite excited. Although apparently times have moved on and they’re now called “free parties”.

So after a fair bit of laser raving at mine (thanks YouTube) we set off into the early morning darkness, clinging on to the sides as we hurtled about in the taxi. Luckily the roads were quiet as we tore round corners going onto the wrong side of the road. The taxi driver said he had no idea where it was but he had been dropping people off at the reservoir all night. It was cloudy so we couldn’t see anything but taxi headlights lit the way as we joined an endless stream of people heading off along what is called the “Snake Pass” because it has narrow windy roads threading through the Pennines of the Peak District through to Manchester. We soon left the grey lake behind. The road was totally unsuitable for walking and there were no verges. It was surprisingly busy with cars beeping occasionally at the rabble winding haphazardly along. A police car with flashing lights sped past. “That’ll be on the way to the rave” I declared, “it’ll be over by the time we get there”. “That’s great for positive-thinking” a spectacled girl in front said, “that’ll get you far”. I shut up.

After a while the excitement of walking in the dark with fellow revellers beside pine tree forests, with hills outlined against a grey sky wore off and I began to get frustrated. We’d been walking for miles away from all civilisation and there was still no sight or sound of any activity other than dazed drunken youths asking each other if they knew the location. I began to loudly proclaim that there were no fields around here open to the public and we were just walking out to Manchester, that it was a big joke and I was tired already. My friend stoically and silently continued, compromising that if we walked another 15 minutes and still hadn’t reached it we could turn back.

Finally we heard the dull thuds of multiple sound systems, beating drums beckoning us to ritual raving and pounding to the beat of our hearts as we picked up the pace. A police car with lights flashing was stationed at the top of a track and party-goers were streaming past it and down the hill to the left. As we went past I heard someone inside calling for back-up. We went down the dirt path and gradually the smoke of several fires, crowds and the piles of speakers could be seen dotted about in the greyness. It was quite a sight. I imagined we wouldn’t have long to enjoy it before it was broken up.

I met one of the organisers on the way down, a cheery chap with black curls framing his face. I asked him about the police and whether the party could be stopped. “Nah” he said “they’ve been here since it started at 11 and there’s nothing they can do cos they’d need at least half the number of the crowd to do anything, all they can do is random drug searches which is what they’re doing. Are they still there? Cos I don’t wanna go up if they are.”

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Credit: Lauren-Allen Warwick

After deciding not to jump over the barbed wire fence, I opted for the gate at the end of it. It was a bizarre sight walking in. There were people tripping just standing in the field transfixed by the hills above them, muttering to themselves or just staring into space. Then there were quite a lot of people dancing as if they’d been electrocuted, flapping about manically. Others were in big groups inhaling balloons and there was the sound of gas cannisters being filled everywhere and empties lining the grass. People stared into small fires or cuddled each other enthusiastically on the field. The madness was framed by hills all around with a bank of fir trees as a backdrop. We walked round the four sound-systems playing happy hardcore, trance, drum and bass and reggae.

However I was quite distracted by the swarms of biting flies which dived from every angle. I could feel my face and hands burning from multiple bites. I danced near smokers, it is the only time I have been grateful for nicotine addicts.

I desperately started applying hair serum that I had in my pocket over my face. At least the blighters would get trapped in the goo. A guy with framed kind eyes, a shock of dark hair and a neat beard said “is that Merizalene?” “Merizalene?” I looked blankly and he took a spray out of his pocket. I assumed he was discussing some sort of drug but then he said “yeah, insect repellant”. I was ecstatic and coated my smarting face and hands in it.

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Credit: Lauren-Allen Warwick

Gradually it began to grow light but the party showed no signs of slowing. Less people were dancing now but there still hundreds milling about. We decided to call it a night at 6.30 and headed up the track with a great view of the craziness below. Luckily the taxi fare back was helped by others sharing the journey. The aggressive biting midges that hitched a ride with us too were not as welcome. One of the passengers said she was 15 but she looked older, wide-eyed and wrapped in an orange blanket, sitting next to a youth in a multicoloured woven poncho. At her age I didn’t even know what a rave (sorry, “free party”) was!

5.30am and we're still going!

5.30am and we’re still going!

It was a great morning but next time I’m taking insect repellent. My bacon bean and cheese pancakes were a perfect start to the following day.

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Life of Lydia

Looks are deceiving

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On Saturday my boyfriend booked a “Royal” “Hotel” in Birmingham. The rooms looked modern and clean and the price was reasonable, reduced by £20.

As our taxi drove up the road we spotted a prison and a housing estate with an equally high fence. Then we stopped in front of a rundown pub. There were people hanging around it smoking with their beer. We both checked whether this was indeed the “Royal” “Hotel”. The pub’s car park was labelled as the hotel one. As my boyfriend crashed up the kerb entrance, we saw youths in tracksuits smoking and drinking outside the pub disco – all 90s music played through a sound system of the same era. Asbestos hung out of the car park ceiling where something had crashed into it.

Making our way past the leering locals, and already feeling rather out of place, we squinted in the disco lights as we were assaulted by noise. I wondered if the car would last the night and what delights we could expect in our accommodation. Trying to find reception, we walked through the disco and into the main pub. We spoke to the barman, and minutes later a pleasant, thin, anxious young man appeared. He took payment at the bar and then accompanied us. It was a bizarre experience being in a pub disco waiting for our hotel lift to arrive.

The second floor was completely different. There were modern-looking hotel rooms and framed pictures of the city centre in the cleaned corridors. We were shown into our room. The bed was a decent size and I was impressed with IMG_0853[1]the cleanliness. Instead of a kettle they had a “Tea-Mate”, a fast boiling tea pot. This looked fancy so I took the pot out and had a look. Mould floated in the water. I poured it out. It was marked with multiple drinks.

We left for Birmingham city centre. I was amazed at the size of the buildings, towering around us. I felt as small as an ant in a human’s world. The taxi driver remarked that there were too many people in Birmingham. He said there was a big problem with illegal immigrants putting a strain on the city, and that developers had demolished the beautiful old buildings and replaced them with ugly new architecture like the Bullring. He took us to Chinatown, as we wanted a reasonably priced restaurant meal.

496We found a diner, China Town Noodle Bar, off the main street. The decor was basic, just laminated wooden tables and plastic chairs. I was put off, but my boyfriend was keen. I was persuaded when I noticed the customers were mostly Chinese. We were seated in front of a roast duck, complete with head and legs, and a roast chicken, shining as they rotated. I’d never seen a whole cooked duck before. I ordered some in a noodle soup. It was delicious, and I had it with cream soda, not generally available when eating out.

We had a great night. When we collapsed into bed in the “4*” “hotel” we realised that our “bed” was in fact beds put together. A thin sheet covered the mattress.

At 7.40 there was knocking on the door and incoherent shouting. My boyfriend was asked to move his car as it was in the way. He’d only parked in the space because someone was reversing out of it. I opened the curtains to our grit bin and road view. My throat, dry like paper, demanded a drink. There was none due to the bacteria-laden pot. So I had a shower with the “toiletries” – two thin pink soaps. It was really powerful and I enjoyed it until I began wading in the previous occupant’s dirt from the partially-blocked drain.

I avoided the exfoliating towel and used my own. With filthy feet we went to breakfast. There were no staff around, although we were 5 minutes before closing time. Finally the cook came down and grumbled as much as our stomachs. He told us he had cooked for 15 but only 9 had booked, so it was a case of “making do” with what was available. We had never experienced this sort of customer service before. Apparently when guests complained about the noise keeping them up, he told them they “should have slept in the day instead”!

I sat down expecting scraps. In fact we got a lovely cooked breakfast, so it didn’t matter that the toast was burnt. “Was everything ok?” asked a barmaid as we left. I didn’t have the heart to comment.

The moral of the story? If you’re booking a hotel, check it out on Google Map street view first. Our “hotel” had good reviews on our booking website, so always check Trip Advisor first.

On the other hand, don’t be put off by the appearance of a diner/restaurant. It may serve excellent food despite the decor.

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Sponge it up

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Yesterday I called my taxi driver Ahmed.

I got his mobile number because he was friendly and his service was cheaper. Now he comes whenever I call and refuses to take any other passengers until I arrive. He takes the shortest route and doesn’t go round the houses to increase his fare.

He gets a regular customer. I get a discount, great conversation and nuggets of wisdom.

On Friday night he took me to and from a night out. This meant he was up until 6.30am. He then picked me and my friend Natalie up the next day after a University reunion.

Ahmed: “You’re a sponge”

Lydia: “What??”

Ahmed: “A sponge soaks up lots of water, absorbs all the good things from others. Water washes over a stone. The stone does not soak up any of the goodness because they don’t listen. The goodness washed over the stone and they stay hard and unfeeling.”

Ok I’m paraphrasing but he made a good point. Many people don’t talk to their taxi driver, but perhaps you can learn something from them. Everyone has a story to tell.

To be continued…

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February 10, 2013 · 12:09 pm