February 15, 2011

‘L’ for Learner or Loser Teacher?

SWEARING aloud at hat-wearing Volvo drivers who dawdle along at 30 kilometres below the speed limit has recently become non de rigueur.

So too has beeping my horn at people who don’t know how to use roundabouts, justifying slight speed excesses with the “running late” excuse, playing the Mamma Mia soundtrack in the car at ear-splitting volumes, and going through orange lights.

Hmmm. There goes all my driving fun.

All thanks to a 16-year-old in the family who now has a set of L-plates in his possession and looks to me as an example of sound driving practice.

The burden is huge.

I always thought when this day rolled around that I would take on the job of demonstrating all those bad habits which must be avoided while behind the wheel, while my husband, a pedantic engineering type who secretly longs for a pen protector for his pocket and knee-high socks to wear with his sandals, would do things according to the book. The Queensland Road Rules book, that is. Or to be precise, in a way my husband would admire, the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009.

It hasn’t panned out that way.

Instead, I find myself with the job of teacher; my every word scrutinised, every action judged.

I should be happy – I am getting more attention from my teenage son than I have had in years; since he discovered that he could very effectively push my maternal buttons by acting deaf, dumb and blind while in my presence.

But I’m not happy.

How could you be when the conversation between home and school runs along the lines of “Mum, swearing under your breath will not make that person move their allegedly big arse. And you’re a journalist – your vocabulary should include some expressive words that are not profanities.”

Or: “Mum, you’re a little too close to that car’s rear bumper.”

Or: “Mum, surely playing Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) at top volume is a distraction.”

Or: “Mum, an orange light means slow down, not speed up.”

Or: “Mum, you know it’s better to arrive five minutes late than not arrive at all.”

However, instead of responding “Alex, just…..shut….UP!!!” – I bite my tongue.

The screams of abject terror of those who taught me to drive many years ago still ring in my ears. No point in subjecting my own son to the same psychological scars.

At least Alex’s first foray behind the steering wheel went better than my own.

He stayed on the correct side of the road, stopped at all the appropriate places and displayed considerable skill with buttons, levers and pedals. Clearly takes after his father.

My own, in contrast, was an unmitigated disaster.

My brother was teaching me, and we drove around a leafy suburb, practising some road basics. “Turn left here,” he said … and so I did.

Up over the gutter I went, across a beautifully manicured front lawn, through a garden bed, stopping just inches from a set of French doors through which two alarmed faces could be seen. I think I even spotted a few priceless Ming vases and a Faberge egg along my trajectory before I somehow discovered the brake.

In my defence, my brother never made it clear that the “turn left” command was meant for the street up ahead. It was a literal misunderstanding. His subsequent refusal to ever drive with me again is completely unjustifiable.

My driving instructor was equally unforgiving, forever condemning me for terrorising pedestrians, stalling the car, forgetting to put on the handbrake, and getting the accelerator and clutch mixed up. So impatient.

Still, he must have liked me – we got quite close over the course of 26 lessons. Enough time for me to see his hair turn completely white.

I am now, of course, a very good driver.

But just in case you are still dubious fellow road users, consider yourselves warned.

Those “L” plates you see on my car might stand for Learner driver … or they might just refer to the Lunatic running Late and Looking to flaunt some road Laws.

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