Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Driving Me Crazy

Copyright: Janet Cameron

I’m about to take my driving test for the second time.
“Just think of the first time as a practice run, Helen,” says Glen, my driving instructor. “And don’t forget, you’re doing great. You just need to work on your confidence.”
Glen’s right. He’s a really nice bloke, as well as decidedly dishy and he always does his best to bolster up my self-esteem. Even so, I’m shaking at the thought of the ordeal ahead and I’ll be glad when it’s all over and done with. Yes, I have a great driving instructor, but unfortunately it’s a different matter at work.
My boss, Carl, is a nightmare. I’ve felt like telling Carl, who happens to be the world’s smarmiest travel agent, just where to get off. He’s arrogant and unstoppable.  You’d think he’d have something better to do rather than try to wind me up all the time. I try not to let it get to me, I really do, but it’s hard.
"Better warn the neighbourhood to stay off the roads after 3.00pm tomorrow.”  It may sound like a joke, but it’s not. Once a joke is repeated fifty-three times or so, it’s an insult. But I won’t antagonise Carl, at least not yet. I can’t cope with the extra stress right now, so I swallow my irritation, realising he’s angry because I refuse to join his harem of shabbily-treated girlfriends.  
Lucky for me, Glen’s encouragement helps to make up for Carl’s negativity. “You’re coming along very well, just relax into it.  Think to yourself, I can do this.
I try some affirmations before I go to bed. “I’m a safe and confident driver”, that sort of thing. Carl says they’re just old-fashioned popular psychobabble but Glen says that doesn’t matter if they work.
“How did your lesson go yesterday?” says Carl the next day when I arrive in the office.  “Have you got your six point turn down to three yet?  Oh, and I noticed one of those new little trees the council planted in The Avenue is looking the worse for wear. It’s been collided with. A certain driving school car’s back bumper, I suspect.”
“Well, they do say you can get a blind spot in your wing mirror,” I say, trying to keep it light. “Besides, it was a very thin tree and difficult to see.”
Carl’s still smirking. He’s just had his hair done into vertical spikes, with a flat bit plastered over his forehead, which would be fine except he is thirty-eight. Oh, what a poseur! I’m really looking forward to wiping that smirk off his face. If only.
“Big day tomorrow,” he calls after me as I leave work. “Stay away from my new car though.  It’s a bright red Ferrari with a personal numberplate. You can’t miss it.  CARL1.”
Yes, well it would be, wouldn’t it!
It’s so terribly hard to like Carl although I know everyone is supposed to have some redeeming feature. Still, I know I’m a good driver, and Glen’s so patient I have everything going for me.
This is the last lesson before my test. It’s now or never.
“Helen, you’re getting anxious.  Now just take some deep breaths and slow down, take your time to think about what you’re doing. Everyone wants you to succeed.”
‘Okay, Glen,’ I try to swallow, as I stare at my driving instructor’s long, slim brown fingers, lazily adjusting the steering wheel. I imagine him touching my chin with those beautiful fingers, stroking my cheek. I let out a huge sigh, then I realise Glen is staring at me rather strangely and I feel myself redden. 
“Oh, cut it out, Helen.  It’s not going to happen!” I tell myself. 
“Are you okay?” asks Glen, clearly wanting me to be okay. He even takes my hand in his and squeezes it. That’s what I like about Glen. He’s not so into himself as a lot of blokes I know.
I feel a bit shaky. Probably it was the hand-squeeze. Then I hear a dreaded little clunk as we pull out of the driving school yard. Can’t believe I did that!  “Never mind about the wing mirror, Helen,” says Glen as he slides out to inspect the damage. “I’m sure I can stick the plastic rim back with Superglue.”  
“I’m going to do this. You just watch me,” I say, rather too loudly, but Glen grins his nice wide grin, the one that crinkles up his bright blue eyes, and I start to feel better. I’m even beginning to convince myself with my own enthusiasm. I’m a good driver. I just need truly to believe that inside my head.
 “This has been an excellent lesson, Helen,” says Glen in the end. Then he takes my hand, which seems strange as we’re both sitting in the car, far apart and stiff-backed.  “There’s no reason you shouldn’t pass, Helen. Your driving has really come together just lately and your theory is excellent. Try to keep positive thoughts in your head. You’re going to make it, girl.”
I don’t tell Glen about Carl, about how he chips away at me every day with his unpleasant comments. The rational side of me tells me that Carl has little thought for women, that not all men are like him, and I’d be mad to let him undermine me.  Somehow, though, when this kind of bullying is so persistent, it can get to you.
“Thanks Glen.” I feel a bit sick, as I can only think how much I will miss our lessons. It suddenly hits me that I may never see Glen again, at least, except in passing, rubbing shoulders in the supermarket or a quick hello on the street.
It comes out, almost without me realising it. “If I pass I’ll really miss our lessons, Glen,” I say.
There, I’ve said it.
“Yes, Helen, I will too,” says Glen gently. “Now, let’s get a quick coffee before you meet your examiner. I’ll tell you all the reasons you don’t need to be nervous.”
“Well, don’t hold my hand,” I think to myself. Because I really can’t bear any more excitement right now! 
It’s great, going into the office next day.
Carl’s sitting at his computer and peers over it at me.  “Well?” he asks, raising a pair of spidery eyebrows. He’s had the front flat bit of hair dyed a pinky red.
“I passed,” I say quietly.  Carl isn’t pleased.
“Well, you had a nice sunny day for it,’ he growls. “And I expect you dressed up for it, didn’t you? Men don’t have the advantage of looking all breathless and helpless like you. Works every time, doesn’t it, Helen?”
What an insufferable chauvinist! I’m so glad I did pass. 
“For my standard driving test, I actually had a woman examiner,” I tell him.
“Bloody women!” says Carl. “You all stick together.”
Honestly, you just can’t win! He really hasn’t taken in what I just said. He has no idea because, as I live locally, I always walk to work. Well, maybe it’s time for me to explain in simple language that even Carl can understand.
“But this time it was a man,” I say. 
Carl’s starting to look confused. 
"I’m afraid, Carl, I have my notice right here. You see, I’ve always wanted to be a driving instructor. And I have now passed my Advanced Driving Test. It’s a pretty gruelling test, as you have to control a vehicle at the same level as police driving. If ever you want any lessons, I’ll put in a word for you. That is, if you’re up to it.  Anyhow, I’ll be giving notice this Friday as I need to begin my driving instructor training.”
It’s worth it all just to see the look on his face!

Published by My Weekly, 18th October 2008 under the title "In the Driving Seat."

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