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The Scarlet “L”

Oh, the shame.

The humiliation.

The sheer, uncut pain-in-the-assery.

I have now flunked my driving test THREE TIMES (and boneheadedly showed up on the wrong date a fourth time, forfeiting the fee). At over £100 a pop (£64 for the test and £40 for two hours of instructor time) this is no longer amyooosing.

First time, I cut in front of somebody a bit too sharply. The second time, I stopped when the repeater lights turned red (what are repeater lights? Exactly!!!). The third time, somebody topped the hill behind me as I was pulling away from a parked position, and I kissed the curb at the corner.

It’s probably just bad luck and nerves on test day, but the problem is that I can only get test appointments every couple of months. Between time, I don’t get any practice at all because I’m not insured to drive our cars as a learner. Two months is plenty of time to sink back into teh sux0r, when you haven’t completely mastered a skill.

Coincidentally, it costs £64 to put me on the policy until October. So, what the hell? That’s three one-hour lessons. Or one more flunked test.

But I have to slap these big red magnetic LOSER plates on the car — front and back — whenever I’m driving it. And if you think other drivers go easy on you when they see you’re a beginner, you live in a magical, mystical land where people aren’t assholes.


Comment from harrison
Time: July 6, 2010, 10:21 pm

I’m so sorry.

Comment from ChicagoJedi
Time: July 6, 2010, 10:34 pm

Parking lots. Find a big empty parking lot during off hours or holidays. Just have an insured and licensed driver take you to the lot. If you’re afraid the British police will be so nanny state as to hassle you in an empty parking lot ask a neighbor with a big empty field to let you drive on it. I’m sure Britain’s laws are different from here in the States, but the cops may have no enforcement ability on private property. Good luck.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: July 6, 2010, 11:09 pm

My problems aren’t that basic — I started driving a stick in the States when I was nine (on the farm). It’s the minutia of the British test.

Like, if you’re stopped for more than 20 seconds, you should put on the handbrake. And you have perform odd maneuvers, like backing around a corner (staying very close to the curb and reversing several car lengths).

It’s fiendishly hard to do something like parallel parking when you’re on the wrong side and the bulk of the car isn’t where you expect it to be. I have a very poor intuition for the position of the left side of the car.

I think this would be easier if I were starting from scratch.

Comment from MarkT
Time: July 6, 2010, 11:11 pm

Oh, damn . . . .

You WILL do this, and it IS worth it! My mom and dad still have a customised bumper sticker hanging up on their fridge–graphic of a bald, old gramp driving wildly–text: “My 54 yo Harvard Grad Passed His Driver’s Exam!” My unsolicited tips? There really is something to the Take Three Deep Breaths and Go To Your Happy Place approach. Schmooze the examiner. Rely on your common sense skills and your long history of good (?) driving more than fixating on weird, Anglorools. But watch the repeater lights. Good luck with the next one–shed those L plates!

Comment from PatAZ
Time: July 6, 2010, 11:15 pm

Driving on the wrong side of the road would really mess my mind up. And I had to take the exam 3 times in Florida when I first tested, back in the last century. How embarrassing. Only the driving test though and it didn’t cost anything until I actually passed. Good luck!

Comment from Armybrat
Time: July 6, 2010, 11:32 pm

Hubby’s and I just returned from 10 days of driving on the wrong side of the road in Ireland. Hubby’s sacrificed 2 hubcaps to the cause. Don’t think we could do it as a full time adventure. My sympathies.

Comment from MarkT
Time: July 6, 2010, 11:47 pm

I also think not passing the test is disheartening because a license is such a rite of passage in the USA. Back in the mists of time in the Midwest, we had “Driving” as part of the Social Studies curriculum during the last semester of 9th grade. You drove around with your math teacher for a couple of weeks in the summer and then impatiently fretted until your 16th birthday. When the time rolled around, everyone passed! It just was . . . done. Now we’re in a country which, for reasons valid or not, has strange rules, less physical area to drive, a different emphasis and need to drive PLUS you have to drive on the left. If you fail your test, you end up feeling like you flunked Shoe Tie 101. Not true! The test here is tough–needlessly so, I might add–but nevertheless, difficult. Also, I’m convinced that flunking L permit drivers is a cash cow; the anecdotal evidence of how many drivers fail one or more tests is too strong to dismiss the amount of revenue the system harvests. Is it worth forking out £1000+? I thought so.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: July 6, 2010, 11:59 pm

It really is a difficult test here and (loyalty aside) I have to say I think the examiners are being absurd. We have a major problem in the UK with young drvers sailing through the test, relying on that faclity the young have to pass exams, then driving like complete wuckfits thereafter – until they finally hit the coal truck coming the other way.

Weasel may be mad, but she isn’t an unsafe drivist.

Unfortunately, the insurance company just laughed when I asked if they’d insure the Miata (import) for Her Stoatiness, and she hates driving my ‘big’ (Honda, I ask you!) ‘doofusmobile’. Well she ain’t got no choice now, ‘cos that’s what she’s going to have to drive to get some practice.

Pass me my brown trousers, will you…?

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: July 7, 2010, 12:15 am

Well, at least she will have a Badger learning her to drive. Badgers are good at that. When I learned Pursuit Driving, one of the instructors said he would ride with me in a chase anytime. ( There is a certain pleasure in driving a big old Crown Vic fast, with the Vison lightbar going, and the siren on ) Surely English Badgers are natural drivers, as well. So I am confident that Her Stoatiness will soon be motering along with the best of them.

Comment from Elphaba
Time: July 7, 2010, 12:32 am

The thought of driving in merry ole England scares the collard greens right out of me. They drive on the FREAKING WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD! OMGZ! So my hat is off to you, Stoaty, for your perseverance. Even being a passenger over there scared the crap out of me. Roads too narrow, drivers too damn fast! Aiiiii!

Better luck next time, and it does sound like the cost of being added to the Badger policy is worth it, if it gets you more practice time.

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: July 7, 2010, 12:48 am

One reason why I would have to think many many times before moving to the UK…you have my sympathies, Stoaty. I’m sure I’d have the same trouble if I tried the same.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: July 7, 2010, 12:49 am

Well, if I don’t pass the test by October, it’s another £500 on the policy.

So, no pressure there.

Comment from Allen
Time: July 7, 2010, 12:59 am

Try a veil and headscarf next time. Camoflage so to speak, plus it might make the examiner nervous. Maybe, have some friends do that ulu screeching thing as you drive off.

California has it down now. They don’t bother with the testing and all that folderol, they just hit you for massive amounts of cash right off the bat. Why bother with the wink wink nudge nudge when it’s just so much easier to say “just fork it over so we can all move along.”

Comment from Nina’s Nina
Time: July 7, 2010, 1:01 am

I’ve been talking to people from the UK about that and they have told me that it used to be a much easier test back in the day but it’s because of these stupid kids who drive like idiots that have made the tests harder.

I won’t have a car while I’m there and I am hoping that any driving that I might end up doing I can do with my CA license.

Of course I don’t even want to think about driving on the wrong side of the road until I am used to the weird traffic they have there.

Comment from Dave in Texas
Time: July 7, 2010, 1:11 am

Stoaty! Use the force!

Comment from EZnSF
Time: July 7, 2010, 2:06 am

…”more than 20 seconds, you should put on the handbrake.”

That’s why that cab driver was doing that on my last taxi ride! At every stoplight! As someone who wares out gas pedals, it was kinda pissing me off.

Practice your English accent. The tester is probably giving you double scrutiny with that Northeastern accent of yours.

Better luck next time Dame Stoat.

And I’ve got a really good racist driving joke if anyone wants to hear. ahhhh maybe not.

Comment from Pavel
Time: July 7, 2010, 2:31 am

Yeesh. Sorry to hear of your troubles, stoatie. Were it not for the expense involved, I could snark. From Uncle B’s description it sounds like officious bureaucrats hard at work.

When I was in the USAF I had to qualify to drive a Giant Fucking Truck (officially, the Mark 1 GFT) on the bombing range we were clearing down in Deepest Hottest Arizona. The testing douche that day had the bad sense to have a hot coffee with him; I had the bad sense to laugh when he spilled it, McDonald’s style, into his lap. I failed, duh.

When the missus and I visited the Bahamas a few years back, they had left-side driving, but American rental cars with the God-approved left-side steering wheels. Making a right turn through a busy intersection was harrowing, but fortunately I had the missus there to straighten me out with terrified shrieks.

I am sure Mrs. Pavel could be persuaded (with the minimal cost of a plane ticket and lodging) to come help with your next driving test.

Comment from Clifford Scridlow
Time: July 7, 2010, 1:14 pm

Have hope, Stoaty. I taught my wife the artist (with all the smarts on the art side of the brain and not so much on the hand-eye-foot coordination side) to drive a stick, in a 5.0 litre Mustang, in a hilly parking lot next to the stadium at the University of Texas. If she could master the snarling tire shredder without putting us on the roof, anything is possible. The Brit test does sound like something Peter Cook might have come up with, though.

Comment from Pavel
Time: July 7, 2010, 3:20 pm

Clifford, your story reminds me of when I taught my youngest son how to drive a stick. After finally getting to the point where he could get the car moving on a hill, he said, “OK, that’s enough. I just want to be able to drive a stick well enough to get away from zombies.” Which, yeah, that’s a pretty useful skill.

Comment from bad cat robot
Time: July 7, 2010, 4:23 pm

Chin up, Stoaty! the examiners are simply blinded by your driving brilliance and panache. Or possibly your penchant for bootlegger turns?

I left the family house for my driver’s exam just as the moving van was pulling up. I HAD to pass. Had to. We were driving cross-country to meet up with my Dad already on the east coast, and my mom is night-blind. No pressure…. I did pass, even though I encountered an evil garbage truck in the middle of the road and was unsure how to proceed (the rulebooks don’t give a lot of guidance when encountering rank stupidity). I did not hit anyone or commit any egregious moving or parking violations all the way across the entire continental United States. I was too scared that the cops would laugh at my paper temporary license.

Comment from dfbaskwill
Time: July 7, 2010, 6:05 pm

“…a magical, mystical land where people aren’t assholes.” Never going to happen. Even the Land of Assholes has their own assholes to put up with.

Comment from dfbaskwill
Time: July 7, 2010, 6:28 pm

“Try a veil and headscarf next time.”
A burqa would make you a shoe-in!

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: July 7, 2010, 7:18 pm

As bad as British drivers tend to be I’m surprised to hear there actually is a test.

Comment from steve
Time: July 7, 2010, 8:01 pm

The whole burqua thing is the way to go…just pay someone you can trust to take the test for you….

Under several layers of tarpaulin, who is going to be able to tell who is who, anyway….

And I believe you will have that whole Sharia Law, intimidation thing going for you (or, more appropriately, your stand-in) from the get go….

Comment from Bob Mulroy
Time: July 7, 2010, 8:41 pm

After my wife flunked her drivers test the third time, she was feeling pretty defeated. I told her, “You know what that inspector told me? He told me that CHINESE WOMEN CANNOT DRIVE! He said I was wasting my time trying to teach you.”

Well, that certainly changed her mood. It also lit a fire under her, and she passed the next time with only one fault.

Of course, no employee of the Republic of Oregon would actually ever say such a thing, but I think that’s rather beside the point.

Comment from Dawn
Time: July 8, 2010, 2:41 pm

Chinese women can not drive. We are wasting our time trying to teach you.

Now go take your test, and we’ll see if it worked. 😉

Comment from Boopsie
Time: July 8, 2010, 3:32 pm

get an International Driving License. My husband and I had no trouble renting a car in England using that 10 years ago. You could rent a car, practice, and then take the test. I passed the British test in 1976 with no probs (I remember the handbrake thing!) and was charmed to discover the license was good until I was 72! Good Luck!

Comment from Mazzuchelli
Time: July 8, 2010, 6:19 pm

Hahahaha. I’ll think of you while speeding home tonight in my big, six-speed American red rocket across the broad, green plains.

Comment from Bill (still the .00358% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: July 9, 2010, 10:39 am

Next time, tell the ‘zaminer, “I only need the license to win a bet with that smarmy French tart who’s our houseguest this week.”

Comment from CGHill
Time: July 10, 2010, 4:20 am

Godley and Creme, the saucier 5 of 10cc, put out an album in the Seventies called “L.” Complete with that all-too-familiar cover art.

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