A Driving Lesson
Learning to drive can be a frightening experience at the best of times. Having all that power under your completely terrified control has simply got to be asking for trouble. With my uncle Jim in the side-seat, it was aiming straight for disaster.
Jim (my fathers step-brother as everyone else in the family were at pains to tell us) had enthusiastically volunteered to in his words “Give the young fella some pointers” within minutes of word getting out that I had managed to get my provisional licence. Having been caught unaware and unable to think of a plausible or even implausible excuse in the seconds given, we were only able to say thank you to the “generous offer” and arrange a time.
First and foremost I would have to say that there was a lot less regulation than there is now. The old jalopy that had been left to rust out in the back garden certainly would never have been allowed on the road now. For that matter, I’m pretty sure that Jim wouldn’t have been allowed either. Jim had failed every single driving test that he had taken “Sure what do those testers know, I was only having a bit of fun with that cyclist!” He had availed of the amnesty and gotten a driving licence by default.
The fateful day arrived for my first lesson with Uncle Jim. I had made sure to seek absolution from Father Jones before I even set foot in the car but I was still shaking nervously as I waited for him to arrive. I heard him before I saw him, my uncle had a car which desperately needed the gears changed, you could hear the scratching and grating from the engine coming over the bushes from the road. If there was a car older and in worse shape than mine, Uncle Jim’s was it. The dents had dents in them and there was a steady stream of steam coming from under the bonnet. This seemed to be of no concern to him when he got out of the car. He said it always got like that when the car hit one hundred. He did get me to open the bonnet “to let the engine air out”. Jim figured that first off, driving the car himself as an example to me would more fruitful than letting me drive somewhere safe. He put the car into gear and slammed his foot on the accelerator, aiming the car in the general direction of the hole in the garden hedge. Turning the wheel wildly to correct his course, he somehow made it through the hole with inches to spare on either side.
Thankfully there was no other cars on the road as we burst out and aligned ourselves with considerable tyre-squeal and headed in the direction of Main Street. “The trick with pedestrians” said Jim, looking at me and not at the road “is that you make them aware that you are coming from a distance. That way, they won’t accidentally sneak up on you while you’re driving along.” On that note he put his hand firmly on the horn and let it sound off continuously as he drove down the street. Most of the locals seemed nonplussed by this and some just waved, to which my Uncle stopped in traffic to shout a greeting back at them.
Leaving the town for the relative safety of the countryside, we accelerated from unwise, to plain dangerous. Other cars swerved out-of-the-way as we rampaged through the country roads. “You see son! You don’t need to get out of their way of they get out of ours. You understand?” I was unable to speak at this point, my voice having been lost from all of the screaming.
Approaching the border there occurred a sudden change in Jim’s driving style. He slowed down considerably and started looking all around him in a nervous fashion. “Our guys are grand son!” explained my uncle “But the RUC would tear you a new one if you cross them, so don’t!”
We travelled over without incident and quickly arrived at a nondescript house. My uncle then announced that he had to get something from a “Friend” and shuffled into the house. A short while later he emerged with a bag that seemed to be unduly heavy. Then it was back across the border and the madness resumed.
Tearing down a main road was when I noticed the lights flashing behind us. “Excellent” announced my uncle “I was hoping I could show you how to lose the pigs. The best thing for a man to know.” Somehow he found a way for the car to go faster and started to engage in a convoluted series of manoeuvres in an effort to evade the pursuing Garda car. I mostly remember the violence with which I was thrown about in the seat as Uncle Jim described exactly how each trick was pulled off. I have to admit that some of them were very fancy, the going up the wrong way of the duel carriage way was inspired, I think we even lost them on one occasion. Still it seemed that every Guard in the county was alerted to us.
Passing a small petrol station they deployed a stinger that took out both sets of wheels. Jim managed to get another mile from the car on willpower along but by then the sparks from the wheel rims were making seeing anything behind us difficult.
Jim stopped his running commentary for a second and swerved the car into an empty field. Quickly undoing his belt he said to me. “Well Lad, I’m sure I’ve shown you everything I know. You will be able to drive home how. But I’ve got to meet a friend” He then jumped out of the car and was gone. The smoke from the wheels and my own swirling head meant I couldn’t see where he went. The next thing I know a big guard stuck his hands in through the door and dragged me to the ground.
The Guards questioned me for three hours asking me where Uncle Jim had gone and exactly why there was fifty tins of out-of-date cat food in a bag in the boot of the car. I stuck with the truth that Jim was supposed to have been teaching me to drive. In the end they reluctantly had to be let go, but did announce that they were going to keep my car, and the cat food, for “further investigations”.
Nobody laid eyes on Uncle Jim after that. His car mysteriously vanished from our garden a fortnight later and Granny got a Christmas card from him from some eastern European country.
Family help is all well and good, we agreed after that, but sometimes you just have to go with the professionals.