Crash Course in Driving

Where’s that ‘crash’ section of Tricolore when you need it? Last week I attended a Speed Awareness course ( I am all too aware of the fact that if there were ever a comment that warranted bad jokes about drugs / female drivers / tardiness / lack of punctuality then that comment may well be it. Control yourselves…!)

Ferg = Tom Daley
Ferg = Tom Daley

Where’s that ‘crash’ section of Tricolore when you need it? Last week I attended a Speed Awareness course ( I am all too aware of the fact that if there were ever a comment that warranted bad jokes about drugs / female drivers / tardiness / lack of punctuality then that comment may well be it. Control yourselves…!)

I attended this sort of speed awareness class because I was caught doing 47mph in a 40 mph zone. Yes, my name is Katy and I am a ‘speeder’. It wasn’t the first time I had been zapped on this particular stretch of road that comes off the motorway and goes downhill, thus giving you the false sensation of I’m-not-sure what, but it means you go Weeeeeee…..! All the way down until you see that little flash go off and you go Weeeee’ve done it again! Noooo….!

This time, I could really do without getting three points on my license and so, I trotted (very slowly, gripping the steering wheel of my Vauxhall Corsa with two hands) to the class that was from 1-5pm and held in a conference room with orange curtains and a carpet that makes your hair go static, in one of those soulless, Marriot-type hotels off the A41.

We were told to report to reception when we arrived.

“You’re here for the Speed Awareness Course I take it?” said the man on before I had even made it to the desk

“Oh God” I said. “Do I look the type?”

I briefly ran through in my head what a typical ‘speeder’ might look like: wire-thin / covered in tattoos / piercings / hair whipped by the wind into some sort of mohican arrangement? If so, I didn’t really fit the bill. I was a woman in her thirties wearing a rather nun-like blue, sundress. Maybe I just looked guilty.

I was shown up some stairs, where fellow speeders were gathered outside the conference room helping themselves to coffee from the coffee machine. We could have been gathered there for a gambling anon meeting, everyone looked so ashamed. I tried to make myself a cappuccino but the coffee maker was one of those ones deliberately invented to fox you out of getting any drink, ever. I put the sachet in wrong, there was a bit of a palaver with the frothy milk so the Speed Awareness instructor Steve (naturally, he was a Steve) had to help me; I imagined he was thinking ‘oh here we are, already. Troublemaker. Can’t follow rules. CHAOTIC. Tick.’

We were shown to round tables, positioned like at a wedding reception, with name cards and everything except there were no favours, no flickering candlelight, just harsh strip lighting and a really tense atmosphere.

Val (fifty-something, sun-tanned bosom, had just got back from a two week cruise of the Balaerics when she received the letter) broke the ice: “I was only going 36mph in a 30 mile an hour zone…’

After that it was an avalanche of confession.

“Hello, I’m Craig and I was only going 46 in a 40mph zone”

“Hello I’m Rik and I wasn’t even speeding, I was driving in a bus lane” No, no, not a bus-lane? Poor old you! By now, we were bonding Sharing. One woman had been coming back from her first ever golf lesson and had ‘dinner on the mind’. We all shook our heads at the injustice, the travesty..

I said, “Hello I’m Katy, I was driving 47mph in a 40mph zone but honestly, this road comes off the motorway and goes like, REALLY downhill so…”

They all sort of looked at me.

The course was not actually as deathly boring as I had feared. I even learnt something, like if there are streetlights it’s a 30mph zone – who’d have known?! (But then nobody ever told me that north was not always in front of you, until I was about thirty-five). Anyway, I wasn’t bored, because I was too busy watching this woman on our table fight sleep. It was absolutely riveting. Her eyes kept rolling in her head and her chin kept lowering, ever so slowly onto her neck where she’d stay for a few seconds, before jerking up again. I wanted her to start snoring SO badly as Steve showed us his block chart about stopping times and talked us through chevrons.

I don’t really know why I am telling you all this, except perhaps to absolve me of guilt: Because I did a bad thing, readers. Yep, an extra bad thing to doing 47 in a 40mph zone: In the middle of the class, we were asked if anyone had ever had a crash that was their fault, that was due, they admitted, to their poor driving. A few people put their hands up. They were not proud and they were not ashamed. I did not put my hand up – which was a LIE, readers, a blatant outright lie, since only two weeks previously, when I was on holiday in France, I had an accident because I was driving on the wrong side of the road.

Now, clearly I would not have written about this if anyone was hurt, which thank God they weren’t – although Egg and Fergus were in the car with me and Fergus burst into tears, saying, “Mummy. I don’t like it because I don’t know what’s going to happen. Are you going to be arrested?”

Not today, darling, I said. Not today.

Thank goodness the accident happened only about thirty seconds into my journey, so I wasn’t going very fast down the little country road. (I’d just pulled out from my position parked across from the gite we were staying in which was gorgeous by the way. Lucky that, since after I virtually wrote the car off, on day two of the holiday, we had to spend quite a lot of time in it)

I was just going down the hill – must be something about me and downhill – when a little Renault came around the corner and I collided with it, head on. I had that thing, a few seconds before the crash, when I thought ‘This could be really messy.’ The guy who was driving the car which I WROTE OFF was so reasonable. I’m telling you, people in my town are less reasonable about my parking than this man was about the fact that I had destroyed his car. When I had gathered myself sufficiently enough to get out of the car (our whole entire front was bashed in but it wasn’t as bad as his ) and asked in my best French (I did a degree but you wouldn’t have thought I had GCSE the rate my vocab dried up) “Are you alright? I am soo sorry.” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Ca arrive” which basically means, “shit happens.” What a guy!

We had to report to the Mairie (townhall) – which is apparently what you do in France when you want to settle ‘amicably’ after a crash, as opposed to kicking ten shades out of one another. There, my very rusty French was tested further when I had to fill out forms for the insurance. Where was that ‘car crash’ section of Tricolore, when I needed it… ? Then it was onto the garage, where I quickly had to learn the vocab for exhausts and chasses and second hand parts and……No, I’d definitely heard that right. The car would not be ready until the day before we had to go back home and it would cost us, sorry ME, a pretty £1700.

Putain de merde!

We had to go and sink several beers after receiving this news but you know, weirdly it turned out to be one of the best holidays ever. The fact we had no car meant we were forced into relaxation. There was no stressy driving and map-reading and Fergus moaning in the back that he feels sick and what is there to do in this boring medieval village we were going to, anyway? It meant we virtually never left the little village we were in, which thankfully was beautiful (Jumilhac Le Grand, in the Dordogne if anyone’s interested) and had a great big chateau in the middle of the village square.

It meant we played Monopoly with Fergus whilst getting on the vin rouge in the middle of the day, because well, we could and we didn’t have to drive anywhere. It meant we walked to the local outdoor swimming pool where Fergus practiced his diving, daily (or should I say Daley)

Here he is!

and I videoed him (ALL the Olympians’ coaches do this apparently), coming back for an ice-cream and a beer in the local bar as the sun set. There was snooker and table-football in the games room of our gorgeous gite (courtesy of Louis’ step sister) A lot of that. So in fact, it was one of the most relaxing holidays I’ve ever had. I know Fergus definitely had the best holiday he’s ever had because he didn’t stop telling me.

Yep, so it turns out, you want to take them here and there and show them this and that, when really they want an ice-cream and a swimming pool and that’s really about it.

Now it’s back to work with a bang (not a crash) and on that note, I have to tell you (I do apologise to those who follow me on Twitter or Facebook and have already heard me go on about this ) but this Thursday, September 27th, I shall be reading from my new book HOW WE MET at a literary salon in Brighton – the first of it’s kind. Here are the details; the event’s on Facebook.

Please do come and say hello. I am beyond nervous, so would be so good to see some friendly faces. There will be proof copies of the book to get your hands on before anyone else, and I may even sign them. Just don’t ask me to drive anywhere..

Katy x