2-4-6-8 Motorway No More – on losing my driving licence, and abusive driving instructors

DVLA have taken away my driving licence, and it feels like they’ve taken away my freedom and my future. It’s difficult for me to see the road ahead, as it were.

It’s been a long journey since my heart surgery. One of the unforeseen results appears to be that either during the surgery, or in a mini-stroke afterwards, my brain was temporarily deprived of oxygen, and as a result of this some of my visual cortex atrophied. Nothing too serious and nothing that I’ve noticed. But it’s been picked up by machines and tests I find confusing and don;t understand. Neither my optician nor my Ophthalmology Consultant considered it  to restrict my driving, but – after a test at Specsavers – DVLA do. The test was a guessing game involving flashing lights coming and going, like a second rate fairground attraction, next to the Tarot reader predicting your future.

I received a letter full of gobbledygook that I didn’t understand after driving home on Friday night. And that was it. The car stands where I parked it, and I’m prevented from driving any further. My parents are escorting me around, like I’m 16 again. I’m having to make arrangement at work to work at home because otherwise – well, that’s my job, and livelihood gone, following a letter one Friday night. No help or support offered, just a demand for me to return my licence. Which also annoyed me, as it’s a proper traditional paper licence, before all this nonsense with photo ID came in. So as well as a future, I’ve lost a little piece of my history too.

The thing is, I’ve always hated driving. It’s never been a thing of joy, or open roads and wind in my hair.

I started learning when I was 17. My parents, quite rightly, thought it would give me some independence, and better job prospects – and give them a break from the daily taxi return that a lazy selfish adolescent boy demands. They kindly booked me a series of driving lessons with a local instructor, in the hope that I’d be on my way to becoming an Independent Young Man.

He was a tyrant, a master of manipulation and psychological torture and abuse. He’d smile nicely to my parents, take their money (in advance) for the lessons, then close the car door and turn on me. Phrases I remember include:

‘You’re like Frank Spencer. But he knows what he’s doing.’

‘You’re worse than somebody who’s deaf, dumb and blind.’

‘Stupid.’

‘What is wrong with you?’

There was more, much more. A boxing ring of abuse.

For some reason, I’d become the dumping ground for all his frustration and anger in the world. His son went to the same school, and was having a difficult time, while I was a ‘model pupil’ and I suspect this was behind his ire against me.

Every time the lesson came around, I’d sit on my bed shaking with fear and anxiety. I didn’t feel I could tell my parents, because they’d paid for the lessons and I didn’t want to let them down. Eventually, worn down in lesson after lesson, I broke down in tears and explained what was happening. He absolutely denied the abuse and ‘didn’t know’ why I would stop, because I ‘was doing so well’.

And I couldn’t face another driving lesson for 16 years. I moved to study in Aberystwyth, where cars were a luxury and unnecessary because we had the gorgeous Aberystwyth Sprinter to get us from the seaside back to real life. And then to London, where public transport is de rigeur.

Then my father was involved in a near fatal car crash. None of it his doing, just some unexplained driver crashing into hs life and changing ti forever. My brother and mother, family friends, rallied round to keep his business going, help him recover,drive him to hospital appointments, deal with the practicalities of a world that relies on being able to drive a motor car.

I felt useless and unable to contribute. So I became determined to drive. To break the spell cast over me by a bad driving instructor who’d gone about attacking and undermining my self-esteem.

I lived in a shared house, and didn’t want my flatmates to know I was learning to drive. The shame of failure went deep. So I signed up to a driving school but wouldn’t let them pick me up or drop me off from the flat. I started learning with a female instructor, and everything was different. I explained what had happened previously and she was appalled. She wasn’t perfect – I made mistakes, and she shouted at me, lost her cool, but we eventually got to the first test. I failed, and wasn’t surprised. I hadn’t felt ready, but things were different. I’d earned to drive in London, and got to the point where I could take a test. I’d got behind a wheel again, and that felt hugely important. I was a driver, not a passenger.

I moved back home, and continued driving with another instructor. I passed the next time, and we were both surprised. We even hugged. ‘I knew you were ready,’ he said. ‘You just lacked confidence.’

I can’t imagine not driving now. I am always grateful whenever someone else offers to drive, and on long journeys, always opt for public transport. But being deprived of my independence – being able to drive to the shops, or see my parents, or the doctor’s, or the cinema because I feel like watching a film – I can’t see that. In my head, I mean – because I can see it fine on the road. Despite what the DVLA and a rather dodgy eye test says.

I’m appealing. There’s still too much fight and anger against my first terrible monster of a driving instructor. And, like there was in that 17 year old self, there’s a determination for freedom and independence that I forgot was there.

In the meantime, I dream of driverless cars and transmat machines and shirtless chauffeurs in huge stretch limousines with drinks cabinets and wide screen televisions. And ignore the reality of what life without driving might be.

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ooo matron, it was just a little stroke

Last week, I was dribbling with a droopy face (according to my mother). Not the sort of thing you want to hear from family on a Sunday morning, and definitely not the look you want. So an ambulance was called, and another day spent in hospital. Fortunately, all the test proved fine. I had a scan (it was like putting your head in a washing machine), which managed to find a brain but nothing sinister.The fear that it might have been a stroke proved groundless, and they also didn’t think it was Bell’s Palsy as there was no sign of infection in my urine sample. The nurse was a bit shocked when I  handed her the sample (in what amounted to a cardboard egg box)  and said ‘It tastes fine!’ Last Monday I had a follow-up appointment at the Transient Ischaemic Attack clinic – and more tests – of course, blood tests (the blood didn’t stop flowing so I left the cubicle looking like something out of a Tarantino movie,  dripping a trail of bloodfrom my arm onto the floor They gave me a neck a neck scan (‘the type of scan you have if you’re pregnant’,the doctor explained, although I was pretty sure that wasn’t the problem and did wonder why they’d scan your neck to see if you’re pregnant anyway)- ‘You have a very good neck,’ said the Doctor. ‘Thank you, it’s one of my best features’ I replied. So, apparently everything is OK, and it’s just One Of Those Things. Which isn’t actually very reassuring as all I heard the Doctor say when he explained it was ‘BLAH BLAH BLAH TIA Stroke BLAH BLAH BLAH arterioscleosis BLAH BLAH BLAH happen any time.’Apparently, my translation isn’t so accurate as he was  explaining there’s nothing to worry about.However, I’m extraordinarily gifted in always being able to find something.

Especially asI wasn’t even aware of anything happening. And he observed that my face was definitely dropping on the left hand side.  I just happen have an asymmetrical face and even when normal look like someone who’s had a stroke. Charming! I feel like Dali’s melting timepiece, The Man In The Iron Mask or Karfel from the Doctor Who episode – Timelash. I just paperto to  find a paper bag to put over my head, or a sinister mask.  Can I get a   SCREAM mask on the NHS? I’d love to see the faces as I walk into hospital wearing that.

In the meantime, I’m on a gym rehab programme. I’m sure it’s not right to have the background music for recovering heart surgery patients to be Queen’s Killer Queen, It seems to give out the wrong message, although all I said to the physiotherapist standing over me with a whip and a taser to make me work HARDER, HARDER, was ‘It’s a bit 70’s, isn’t it?’ He was humming along quite happiy. It shouldn’t bother me as I bring my own ipod, although I always dread what’s going to come on my shuffle,as I either tend to mince along to the handbag anthems, or start singing out loud without realising it. I’ll let you know how a bunch of OAPS react to me belting out ‘I was a Male Stripper In a Go-Go Bar…’

I’m now hoping to stay out of hospital for at least a couple of days. And looking to Work That Body at my next gym session. Apparently, it’s likely to involve weights. I hope nothing else will start drooping as a result. Otherwise I’ll need an enormous paper bag, and possibly a onesie.