I've been eligible to apply for a driving license for a little over a decade now, but I still haven't got one. Partly it's because of an unusual schooling, partly because I've lived in walking or public transport distance of everywhere I wanted to go, partly because I just don't get off on cars the way some do but mostly because I'm lazy.
However, driving is an important life skill, since a decade is long enough and since not having a car is a pain when I visit Tasmania, I am learning to drive.
Of course, this means learning to drive in London. Here's something of how it goes.
I wake up at a time carefully calculated to be as late as possible, but to give me enough time to consume and absorb my usual pot of coffee before the lesson starts. I leave the house and look around to discover whether today is going to be a driving in fog day or a driving in the rain day. I then turn up the mews and carefully navigate the maze of construction work (at one point vaulting a guard rail) just so my driving instructor can pick me up in a spot that's outside of the congestion zone.
As he pulls up in the middle of the busy main road just off Paddington station, I dive into the tiny car, shake his hand and we drive off to the canals some four or five minutes away. Then we swap around, I take the wheel and do my best to enjoy two of the more stressful hours of my week.
I spend those hours in a constant state of crisis management. London grew up for people, horses and carts, not automobiles, so the streets are winding and narrow. This is partly what I love about the city, but it does make learning to drive that much harder.
The roads have lanes in much the same way that Britain has a constitution: they exist; they are not written down; they are generally followed and your safest bet is to do the same thing as whoever comes before you.
A two-way street inevitably has cars parked along both sides, making it wide enough for only one care at a time. Halfway through there will be some kind of road works, just beyond which a mother will be pushing a pram out to cross the street. If I manage to dodge the road works and heroically save the child's life, a delivery van will reverse out of its parking spot to cross both of the lanes. Then there are the buses and cyclists and cab drivers who are all deliberately trying to get me to have an accident.
The real highlight is when I get to enjoy the freedom of the open road: no traffic, no obstructions, just me zooming along at a reckless thirty miles an hour (50km/h). I tell you, I feel almost giddy.
Though each week I'm getting a little bit better. I'm really hoping to be able to do the test and pass before I head to Australia this April, so I can pootle along the Southern Outlet behind the logging trucks and find my way into the comforts of Hobart.