Inspired by Nicola Sturgeon, perhaps it is time to get behind the wheel again - Gaby Soutar

Most journalists can drive. In fact, along with enjoying a pint in a pub, it’s considered an essential requirement of the job. Despite that, I’ve managed for 21 years without anyone at The Scotsman noticing.
Pic: Vlad - stock.adobe.comPic: Vlad -
Pic: Vlad -

Now, I’m old enough not to care. Let’s just lay it all out there, in professional hara-kiri style. I don’t like beer much. I can’t do shorthand. When you see me scribbling in my notebook, I’m just doodling mandalas.

When it comes to transport, I bus, train, cycle, do a Monty Python silly walk, levitate, cadge a lift.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I have been known to cling on underneath lorries in order to get where I want to be.

There are many ways to get around.

However, I do sometimes toy with the idea of taking driving lessons.

At my age, that feels slightly cringe, as if I’m going back to university and being the conspicuously mature student in a room of fresh faced 18-year-olds.

I did feel less self-conscious about that prospect, after seeing this week’s pictures of former First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, getting out of a car, post learner’s session.

She’s 52. I’m a few years younger. After a quick Google, I discovered that the oldest person to take driving lessons in the UK was 99.

Perhaps it’s okay to try again, even though I have miles on the clock.

I know it’s harder to learn things in midlife, when all enthusiasm has dwindled and your brain is as non-absorbent as kinetic sand, but I won’t be starting entirely from scratch.

There were the usual rite of passage lessons when I was 17 years old.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I don’t want to do the bad workman thing, but my teacher was rotten. She had been recommended to my mum by a friend, so maybe she was some distant relative who was down on her luck. She had a huge poodle perm, thick specs, and a voice like Velma in The Simpsons.

The entire lesson was extremely casual and would mainly involve her chain-smoking menthol cigarettes. Her car was filled with minty smoke, like a dentist’s disco. That would’ve been bearable, if she’d managed to teach me more than the basics.

What I learnt: stop and go, playing those other pedals that are under the dashboard, fiddling with the stick, and how to use that circle thing that you turn to go left and right. Also, I know about the foghorn, the mirror flaps and, of course, the essential cigarette lighter.

She told me nothing about the Highway Code.

We spent the entire hour in almost total silence, apart from the occasional hacking cough.

Instead, I was allowed to cruise the Capital’s streets, winging it all the way. There were a few near misses. For instance, I didn’t even realise you were supposed to give way to the right on a roundabout. She had to use her dual controls quite regularly. I could tell she had a fatalist attitude, since she barely flinched. Maybe she had been a soldier in a previous life.

I was so shy and passive as a teenager. I didn’t ask any questions, like what does that big red sign mean? I just barrelled onwards. Doing as I was told.

I became something of a sweaty nervous wreck before those classes. Every Wednesday evening, it felt like I was going to the gallows.

To get me up to speed, my mum once gave me some personal tuition, while we were on holiday. She soon regretted that, when I cruised through a T-junction without pausing to check if any traffic was coming. Along with the time I pronounced gateaux as ‘gat-yoo-x’, that occasion went down in family lore. We can still never pass that spot without it being mentioned. It is my entire legacy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

However, I still made it to three driving tests, and nearly squeaked through the second one.

My failures were mainly down to tiny things, like not checking the mirrors enough. Ironic, as I had so many other major gaps in my knowledge.

After the last flunk, I let the whole idea slide. At that point, most of my friends could drive, and the peer pressure quickly dissipated.

Also, in my late teens, I was in a motorway car crash, when a recently qualified friend of mine was at the wheel. Everyone was okay, though the other person in the collision was so shaken that they gave up their truck driving job, and I realised how easy it was to make a life-threatening mistake.

They also brought in the theory test in 1996. That made passing seem even more complicated.

Perhaps there would have been more incentive to continue if I lived in the countryside. Also, if I’d had children, I probably would have had to establish the traditional parental taxi service role.

Otherwise, I’m doing okay and feel greener than if I had a motor. Edinburgh is just so walk-able. The buses are excellent, and, barring pot-holes, weird cycle lanes, tram tracks and tackling the hills, it’s relatively cycle friendly, too.

I say this, but I do occasionally rely on the fact that my husband can drive, and has become the Aloysius Parker to my Lady Penelope. Well, not really. He only takes the banger out about once a fortnight.

Sometimes I’ll look at the pedals and the circle thing and think, I want another shot.

I’m sure my employer would be very happy. Shorthand is still a hard no.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.