Gayly forward – learning to drive in Scotland

I grew up in a farming community in South Dakota. You can start legally driving at 14. I’m 54 now, so I’ve had a lot of practice. I didn’t drive the 10 years I lived in Amsterdam, since a car and driving are more of a hassle there than a convenience. My US drivers license expired while I was there so I didn’t drive when I would visit my family in the US. In fact, I was worried that I didn’t know how to drive any more.

In Scotland, though, you really need to drive. There are some people who don’t – but, the public transport options are not as abundant as they are in Amsterdam or London. I applied for a provisional drivers license and hired an instructor. I though that I would breeze (or is it breese here?) through it.

I underestimated how difficult this would be. I had to get used to driving a car again, and driving a car with the steering wheel on the right and driving on the left side of the road. The U.K. test is pretty challenging. The written test is easy, but the driving test is pretty hard. I felt like a 14 year old.

You have to be able to demonstrate manoeuvres like parallel parking, backing around a corner (who does this?!) and backing into a parking spot. The examiner will also ask you to “show and tell” different features of the car. It can be as silly as “show me how the horn works” or as difficult as “show me how to check if the power steering is working”.

There are also a lot of challenges in terminology for an American. The pavement in the UK is the sidewalk (in the US it’s the street). I kept wondering why the rules are to not drive on the pavement. There’s the boot and the bonnet as opposed to the trunk and the hood.

My instructor was a pretty macho Scottish man but was pretty good humoured about training a gay American. He had a strong Scottish accent, but “stop”, “go” and “watch out” are pretty comprehensible. He would tell me to “go straight” and I would joke “I tried it and can’t do it.” From then on the instruction was to “go gayly forward”.

The roads in Scotland are so narrow – especially the country roads. To make it worse, there are hedgerows and ditches right on the side. It is always scary when someone comes from the other direction and there’s no room to pass. One day I was heading to work and there was a major traffic jam on the M77. My sat nav gave me an alternative route on a country road. I kept thinking that it couldn’t be correct since I really seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. I came to an area that had a sign that said “ford”. I wondered what that meant until I came to a part in the road where a river runs over the road. We had had a lot of rain and the river was pretty deep and running fast. It was basically like driving over the top of a waterfall. I was too chicken to do it. I have a Range Rover that has a special feature to raise the vehicle for fording but I didn’t want to try. So, I turned around and waited in the traffic. I might go try it another time.

There are roundabouts everywhere, especially in Ayrshire. They are helpful in some places, and some other places it seems like a waste of concrete (I want to say “pavement” here). It is really scary to drive on a roundabout when you aren’t used to them. Fortunately, there are some YouTube videos that I found really helpful. Basically, they are videos presenting you with a roundabout and you have decide if it’s safe to go.

After all of the lessons and practice, I failed the first time I took the driving test. Some lady decided to overtake me when I started off from a hill stop. It made it look like I cut her off. I was so nervous after that that I made other silly mistakes.

You have to wait for a certain period until you can retake the test. I did more lessons and took it again and passed.

Now, I’m going gayly forward every day (well to the store now during this lockdown and maybe to try fording).

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