Thursday, 14 July 2016

Testing Times 2: Even Testier

On Monday, I took my driving test.  My instructor picked me up an hour beforehand to allow me to limber up, and I was driving fairly happily around Leighton Buzzard, but as the hour wore on, I decided to express my quiet confidence by tensing my shoulders and sighing heavily.

We arrived at the test centre, and my instructor asked me to reverse into one of the parking bays.  I reversed in, pulled forwards, then back, then forwards again, then back again.  Eventually my instructor was satisfied, and we got out.  I don’t believe in omens, but if I did, that was one, and it was not a good one.

We entered the centre, and I waited with a calm serenity that made itself known through hand-wringing, fidgeting and gulping.  Eventually the examiner came out and asked for me.  With all the eagerness of a French aristocrat at a guillotining gala, I stepped forwards.  I was able to confirm my name and address, after some thought, and was then asked to sign in a box to say that the car I was driving was properly insured for a test.  Was it?  I had no idea!  It wasn’t my car after all.  No, it must be.  My instructor takes loads of people for their tests, and he never struck me as a fraudster.

I signed in the box, then stared in horror.  My hands were shaking a little (with excitement you understand) and as a result the squiggle in the box looked only very slightly like the signature on my provisional licence.  I would be refused my test, accused of fraudulently failing to be myself and fined, imprisoned or shot!

The examiner took back the form and I prepared to make a bolt for it, or else sell my life dearly.  Apparently she didn’t notice that the signatures were different, or perhaps her eyes were trembling, and therefore made the signatures look the same.

I was then marched outside and forced to identify my car in a strange mockery of a police line-up.  I dutifully pointed out the offending vehicle.

“Can you read the number plate of the car on the far right?”

I blinked.  We hadn’t practiced this bit!  We hadn’t checked that I could see the regulation 20 metres (20.5 for old-style plates; that 50 centimetres which can be the difference between life and death!).  I looked at the number plate, and found that I could read it perfectly well, so I did.

We then advanced on the car, which started to look a little nervous.  “Can you open the bonnet?”

I could!  We’d practiced this one, and I did so with only a moderate amount of fumbling and muttering.

“Identify the brake fluid reservoir.”

I did so.

“And how would you check the brake fluid level?”

I pointed out the marks on the side.

“Get into the car.”

I paused, aware that more questions would follow.  “Should I close the bonnet?”

She gave me a strange look.  “It might be best, yes.”

I did so, and joined her inside.  “Where would you find the information for the correct tyre pressure?”

Aha!  I knew this one!  I had assiduously studied the questions, and knew both parts of this particular conundrum.

“In the manufacturer’s guide!” I proclaimed triumphantly.  I looked at her expectantly as she made a note.  I waited for the second part of the question.

“Start the engine when you’re ready.”

I blinked.  But… but what about the second bit?  I was eager to tell her about using a reliable pressure gauge (not that I knew how to tell if it’s reliable or not) and that one must do it while the tyres are cold!  I yearned to share with her that one must on no account forget to check the spare wheel or neglect to replace the valve caps.  Didn’t she want to know?  Was she utterly indifferent to this vital knowledge that I alone could impart to her?

Apparently not.  I was ready, and so we started.

We drove.  Well, actually I drove.  She was no help at all.  All she did was sit in the passenger seat like a sack of cold rice pudding and issue commands.  “Turn right”.  “Turn left at the roundabout.”  “Pull up on the left in a safe place.”  These were issued in a dull monotone, and it struck me that this woman did not enjoy her job.  She had gone through the regulation setting-at-ease conversation as though reading off bullet points.  “What would you normally be doing today?”  I had told her, and even made my joke about ball bearings being almost as interesting as they sound.  Nothing.  Not even a small exhalation of laughter.  As soon as she’d made the attempt, she stopped, and might even have made a tick on her form to show her supervisors that it had all proceeded in accordance with the rules.

I tried to lighten the mood.  “So, what would you be doing if you weren’t at work?” I bantered.

“Probably riding a horse.”  It was said with a sort of listless apathy that made it impossible to picture.  Now that I’m writing this, I realise that all sorts of ‘long face’ jokes would have been possible, but I was concentrating on driving, and the opportunity was lost.  Alas, the greatest jokes flit past and are gone, never to be retrieved.  Anyway, that more or less ended the conversation.

“Pull up on the left, behind that grey car.”

Noooo!!!  That’s what they say when they want you to do a parallel park!  My absolutely least favourite manoeuvre!  I slid to a reluctant stop next to the curb and waited, stomach knotting in anticipation and mind burning with resentment towards my sadistic torturer.

“Ok, now pull away again when you’re ready.”  I blinked.  A reprieve!  Hussah!  I did so before she could change her mind, and we were off, away from that hated grey car and the horrid space that lay behind it!

“Pull up on the left.”  I did.

“Now, turn the car around in the road, without touching either kerb, and then drive on.”

Hooray!  The turn-in-the-road was my least-least favourite manoeuvre, and one I could accomplish with comparative ease.  It’s also one that comes with absolutely no requirement to adjust your mirrors. This adjustment isn’t a problem, except that I always forget to adjust them back again, and it comes as something of a shock when you’re tooling along at sixty, glance in your left wing mirror and find that you can see nothing but floor.  The lenient, kindly examiner had even chosen a nice wide road!  The manoeuvre was manoeuvred with what, in all modesty, I can only call unsurpassed skill and finesse, and we were off again the way we’d come.

Things were going well!

We’d got onto a main road and arrived at a roundabout.  There were cars, and I pulled to a halt.  Then I cursed inwardly.  None of the cars were coming in my direction, I could have gone!  I should have gone!  Even now I knew that she was judging me for my dithering hesitancy.  A gap in the traffic, and we were off again!

The car stalled.

This is important, because you see I did not stall it.  It stalled.  It baulked at the moment of proof.  A cowardly and treacherous car, I call it.  Cursing very loudly in silence, I restarted it and forced it onwards.  Only seconds had been lost, but what disastrous seconds!

We got back into town, and were puttering along merrily at 30mph.  “Take the next right.”  I looked.  The next right?  But that was right there!  We were right on top of it!  I braked, and since there was nothing coming I turned swiftly.  I won’t say that the tyres screeched, that would be an exaggeration, but there were definite G-forces at play inside that car.  I remained quiet and hoped she hadn’t noticed.

Indeed, if she had, she accepted it with the same lacklustre disregard with which she approached examining and jokes about ball bearings.  I felt for her, this depressed, suppressed, grey, biscuit-dry soul.  Then something occurred to me.  She hadn’t said please.  She had not once said please!  “Take the next right.  Take the next left.  Tell me about your job.  Follow (against all your natural inclinations) the signs for Dunstable.”  Never a please, never a thank you!

In that great classic of 20th century English Literature, The Elephant and the Bad Baby, when the eponymous pachydermal protagonist came to the same conclusion about his passenger, he stopped so suddenly that the malevolent mite fell off.  I was tempted to do the same; unplug her seat belt, promptly perform the emergency stop manoeuvre and watch her go sailing majestically through the windscreen.  I thought though that it might prejudice her against me, so I refrained.

We returned to the test centre, and I pulled up.  She bent over her form.  I leaned round as unobtrusively as I could to see which marks she was making where.

“Congratulations.  You’ve passed.”  She might as well have been talking about horse riding for all the human emotion she showed at announcing the culmination of all my driverly education.  “You incurred three driving faults.”

She announced that my licence would be shredded, and a new one sent to me.  I had to sign another bit of paper, and my hands were now shaking in the other direction, so my signature was completely dissimilar to either the one on my licence or the one I’d done earlier.  She didn’t appear to notice the obvious bit of identity theft, handed me a paper certificate, and got out of the car.

My instructor at least showed considerable satisfaction at my triumph, and I adopted a dignified grin for the whole journey home.

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