Still learning

Now that summer has truly arrived, and my teaching schedule is thinning out, it’s time to start something new. Something practical. Something I need to learn from scratch, and which will help me (I hope) professionally as well as personally. Next Friday, I’m going to have my first driving lesson.

A number of people – mostly those who have never lived in London – find it amazing that I can’t drive. In fact, I did have a few lessons about ten years ago, shortly before I moved to Germany and became a danger to myself and others just attempting to cross the road and looking in the right direction for oncoming traffic. But the fact of the matter is that I’d never really seen the point when I was living in large cities, with good public transport, in which I also worked. Six years in Nottingham, ten years in London – why pay for tax, insurance, petrol, and all that stuff, when you could hop on a bus or train at any hour of the day and night, and not need room for parking at the other end?

Now things are different. Now I’m in Suffolk, beautiful Suffolk where the public transport is not bad, but the places I’d love to get to more frequently are no longer a short, direct journey away. Things stop on Sundays. My work takes me all over the country (including on Sundays), and I want to spend more time at the seaside. All that, and my flat comes with a parking space. The time has come.

Rational, grown-up me (well, as grown-up as I’m ever likely to get, which is perhaps not saying much), has this all figured out. Lessons booked, theory test planned, Highway Code sitting neatly on my desk, a veritable Pass The Driving Test strategy document in mental form. It’s going to be fine. I’m perfectly capable of doing this. Piano playing, good reflexes, well-developed situational awareness, and all that stuff. Piece of cake.

However, irrational, never-going-to-be-older-than-five me is not so convinced. What if I’m rubbish? What if I fail? There are official tests and forms and stuff, it’s all kind of scary. And loads of other people can do it just fine… what if I can’t and end up a laughing stock?

Boy driving a mini-landrover

To start with, I thought the best way around this was to do what I do when I get nervous about something in my professional life: the rational perspective is applied to the irrational fears, I remind myself that I know what I’m doing, and all is then held is sufficiently good balance until I’ve done the thing and lo, it’s been fine. Then I have empirical evidence that I can do it, and that helps for next time. But of course, that doesn’t work here. I don’t have a PhD in driving cars. I don’t have any qualifications at all in driving cars, beyond some lessons ten years ago when I managed not to break myself, the instructor or the vehicle. It’s better than nothing, but it’s hardly a body of proof.

So I have decided to look at this another way. It might be that in fact, I am a slightly nervous driver. It might be that it takes me a while to sort out that whole clutch thing (it’s always struck me that this is far better suited to organists than pianists, for one thing). I could be useless at reversing round corners. And, crucially – and this is something that proud little schoolgirl me finds it quite difficult to deal with – I might not pass first time. I might make a real hash of it. This might be something that I’m just about ok at to start with, and that’s all. Which, for a control-freak overachiever, is a rather worrying prospect.

The challenge therefore becomes not to reason the five-year-old-brain into the idea that it will all be nice as pie, but rather to listen to them, and accept that they could end up being right. Rational-brain will have to accept that this is an area currently marked ‘no concrete evidence’ and I won’t know more until Friday. And anticipation is a little scary. But this, I have decided, is an incredibly good and healthy thing. How often in our lives do we deliberately put ourselves in the way of something totally beyond our skill-set or past experiences, and risk failure? How often do we try something new, learn something unknown, with the knowledge that we could be rubbish at it? Not often enough. It’s one of the reasons that I love teaching at City Lit: my students are there to learn entirely new things, often miles from their primary careers or knowledge bases. What courage, what a triumph of enthusiasm and excitement to find out something novel over the fear of messing it up.

So I’m taking inspiration from my students, crossing my fingers, and becoming a student again myself. Wish me luck. It’s going to be exciting, and just a little bit terrifying. Hopefully just for me, rather than other road users – but if you’re unsure, best to steer clear of Suffolk on Friday lunchtime.

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