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.’
‘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.