Monday, August 4, 2014

The Driving Instructor

The Driving Instructor
By Anthony Garvey

'How often does the bus come through here?' I asked Tom as he poured my first ever pint in our local pub.

'Dunno,' he replied, scratching his head thoughtfully. 'Maybe once or twice... a month.'

Relocating to North Kerry is an experience brimful of positives but public transport is not one of them. Living in London, I had become so dependent on hailing cabs or hopping on buses or trains, I had never taken the time to learn how to drive. I had a very basic grasp of the fundamentals thanks to a few spins down the local beach in my teens, but effectively I had not put a key in the ignition for over twenty years.

And so, at the not-so-tender age of 39, I passed my theory test and armed with my provisional license, rang up to book my first driving lesson. I peered nervously through the curtains as the car pulled into the drive the following day, its giant 'L' plates gleaming for all to see in the sunlight.

My head was packed with fear. Fear I'd hit something or someone, fear I'd stall with hundreds of cars behind me, fear I'd never get beyond first gear.

'Any tea in the pot,' asked Jimmy, my driving instructor, shaking my hand warmly. 'I've just spent an hour teaching a guy from Croatia, agus ni raibh
focal Bearla aige. We had to communicate in sign language,' he said, hands extended in the 3 o'clock position.

After tea, Jimmy gave me a refresher course in driving basics and incredibly, half an hour later, I was driving, slowly and nervously down a country road, but nonetheless, driving.

As we were trundling along, Jimmy rolled down the car window, his instructions weaving seamlessly into his general conversation:

'I've just quit a high pressure (third exit) job in manufacturing,' he said, peering out the window. 'In for 7 a.m., 12-hour day (right hand lane), people screaming at you about targets (wait until it's clear).'

'Don't you miss it?' I asked.

'I miss the (watch the bicycle) money, but the quality of life I have now has increased ten fold. I'm happier (indicator), my wife is happier and I see more of the kids than I ever did before (clutch down and brake).

He strummed his fingers on the dashboard distractedly.

'But on a day like today, I look out at the blue skies (into second) and realise there's something missing (check your mirrors),' he said, pausing dramatically. 'You're not in a hurry, are you?'

'Not at all,' I replied.

'Great. Follow the signs for the beach,' he ordered.

Five minutes later, we pulled onto the picturesque beach in Ballyheigue, which is nestled into some small cliffs. I parked up and he hopped out of the car.

'Jesus, he's going to do a Reggie Perrin,' I thought, picturing the neat pile of clothes sitting by the car as he disappeared into the sea. I wondered briefly how I was going to manoeuvre the car back to the driving centre.

I rolled down the window and he motioned to me to get out. As I did so, he picked up a pebble and skimmed it into the water.

'Smell that sea air, fantastic isn't it?' he said inhaling deeply. 'You don't get this on the production line.'

We walked for a couple of minutes and Jimmy pointed out the South coast of Clare and the Brandon mountains in the distance before we got back into the car.

'There's great (seat belt) rock fishing in Kerryhead and breathtaking views (first gear) across Tralee bay of the Dingle peninsula and the Maherees,' he said putting his hands behind his head. 'God it's good (build your revs) to be alive.'

I've had five lessons now and I've driven all over North Kerry, all of them punctuated by scenic stops. I've had a peek at the golf course at Ballybunion, admired the views at the edge of Slieve Mish and marvelled at the cathedral in Ardfert. But we've also done our share of town driving with guided tours of Killarney and Tralee, courtesy of Jimmy.

And because we go at our own pace we're able to handle those with a death wish, who step out without looking and the eternal honkers who, unlike us, are in a desperate hurry to be somewhere else.

The driving lessons have become more of a life experience than a chore and the fear that I had before starting off has been completely eliminated. I've applied for the test and although with the backlog, it is still some way off, because of the relaxed way I have been taught, I have every confidence I will do myself justice when it finally comes round.

As Jimmy might say:

'While others in the big cities are stuck in traffic (handbrake on) we roll along at our own pace (into neutral) admiring the county they call the Kingdom (engine off).