Driving is bloody marvelous. In fact, that one sentence says it all and I could just leave it at that. Except that might just well be the most boring post ever so I will exert myself on this lazy Sunday morning to explain my love of being behind the wheel.
A quick bit of context: I was very fortunate to have a privileged childhood in that I traveled extensively. This fueled a love of travel as an adult which I indulged in greatly during periods of mania, but also was driven by a desperate need to escape my circumstances.
Driving has played a very significant role in my life, particularly at key points. I was a late driver compared to my friends, not passing my test till I was 23. I had tried when I was 19 and, looking back, in the middle of a huge depressive phase that came straight off the back of around six months of mania. Two weeks after I failed I took my third overdose and landed in hospital. The failing and the overdose weren’t related by the way, I had a terrible driving instructor and wasn’t ready. I mention it as the two incidents were quite major to me and they stick in my mind as (not great) milestones in my life. My friends and family all took it for granted they would drive, supported with lessons and a car from family. Not me. It was a privilege I had to earn.
I don’t know why but driving has always been something to really want to achieve. I had no help with paying for driving lessons – heaven forbid that my parents did the same for me as they did my brother – and it was one of those things that showed you had moved from being a silly teenager into adulthood.
Most importantly, it represented freedom. Living in a part of the UK with the world’s crappest bus service, no regional trains and one of the hilliest parts of the country ruling out cycling as a serious mode of transport (and not having a bike either doesn’t help) meant that you drove or you used the two legs God gave you to get about. To someone who spent her formative years in the centre of one of the world’s busiest cities, traveled across the world regularly and spoke three languages, being incarcerated at what felt like the end of the world during my pre-teen and teen years with people who jeered openly at anyone who wasn’t white in the street was a living nightmare. Driving was a form of escape – you could in theory drive all the way to Goa, Durban, Malacca, Vladivostok, Lapland….you see my point. And for many years I fantasised about all the places I would drive to. Freedom to go wherever I pleased.
Driving was my escape plan.
It took a while for me to achieve my escape plan. The day I passed my test (on the curve up to a full-blown mania) I was so thrilled. I felt, for the first time, a sense of achievement. More so, even, than when I got a 2:1 at university (although that was cool too). I was grown up! The escape plan was in train; I could now go anywhere I wanted, clutching my pink plastic card – alongside my piece of paper licence because we have to be awkward like that in the UK – and people would let me sit behind the wheel of one of their hire cars. I promptly went home to drive what would eventually be my first car (a Rover Metro!) and it was one of the most splendid weekends I had. I drove all over the place for hours and hours at a time. I hooked up a CD player to the cassette player and played all my favourites at top volume. I drove from the Atlantic Coast back to the Channel. I sat on the beach letting the sun warm me and the sand trickle through my fingers.
I had, temporarily, escaped the madness that was my life in London. Actually, for a pretty damn accurate portrayal the great tune by Avichii, ‘I can be the one’ hits the nail on the head for what was in my head.
I loved having a car. People, including my ex husband, thought I was nuts to maintain a car in a city where you have about ten different options on how to get to where you want to go. The point was I didn’t want to go anywhere in London but out of it. As soon as it hit 5 on a Friday I would be racing off to Wales to walk in the Brecon Beacons, over to Suffolk to see my aunt and uncle who I was (and am) very close to, down to the Westcountry, up to Manchester many times to see my best friend, up to Newcastle for the Great North Run, to Northumberland to mooch along some of the most exquisite beaches in the world. And when that car died and we got another, better car, we were out and about every weekend. It was just amazing.
In a rise up to a manic state, and in a full blown mania, I have done some incredible drives. In fact, I can pinpoint exactly when I was on the up by where I went in my car. When I lived in New Zealand I would think nothing of driving from Auckland to Wellington and back again in a weekend to see my brother and his family, or shooting up to Kerikeri in the Northland to go running (in case you needed reminding, New Zealand is spectacular). I decided to go to Scotland snowboarding one Christmas on a whim. I drove overnight from Plymouth to Aviemore and it took around 15 hours. And one one trip to the US, I drove from Vegas to Salt Lake City for a few day’s boarding then down to Durango in Colorado for more, before heading back to LA. New Zealand and America are definitely fantastic countries for a road trip!
Edit: just remembered one more. Johannesburg to the Dolphin Coast via Giant’s Castle. Mindblowing, what an amazing country.
Funnily enough, I never went to Europe, despite Dover on a good day being two hours or so from London with dozens of crossings every day and night. I haven’t got a problem with driving on the right – if anything I found it fun to try something different in a car. I speak some French and German, and could certainly get by if I needed. I think when I was younger, I didn’t see the appeal in Europe. It was too close. My escape plan required me to get very very far away from everything I knew, which was why New Zealand fit the bill so perfectly.
So when I returned from New Zealand a newly single woman, in a full blown manic phase yet again, I wasn’t expecting to fall head over heels in love with a Dutchman. I had no clue about The Netherlands except I knew they all spoke great English, smoked weed and we once had a king from the House of Orange. We both fell pretty hard pretty fast for each other and the irritating thing was that we were in two different cities with this stupid puddle of the Channel separating us. I spent hours pouring over the best and cheapest routes to go to see him at the weekends and which would allow me the extra few hours to spend with him. (He couldn’t come to me at the time but that’s another story).
Driving plays a huuuge part in my love affair with my husband. If it wasn’t for the car we would have struggled to be together. I flew from, and into, several different airports, got the train several times to Brussels and was for some reason enthralled when he said how easy it would be to pick me up as Brussels was only a couple of hours away drive from Rotterdam. He had himself just randomly decided at the age of 28 that it was time to pass his test and get a car, which he promptly did just four months before we got together. His Polo picked me up from Belgium, Germany, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and – most memorably, Dunkerque. We were too poor to afford the flights and had resolved to have a weekend apart which I could’t stand the thought of. I had just enough money for a ferry crossing and fuel and was going to surprise him in Rotterdam. I couldn’t bear to be apart from him and of course I couldn’t keep it a secret and told him. He refused to let me drive all the way (which to me was no distance at all, only a 5 hour trip or so), met me at Dunkerque, drove me to Oostend where I left my car for the weekend and then we went up to Rotterdam in his car. That Polo moved him to London and us back to Rotterdam, then all the way to Scotland before we had to very sadly part with it.
I was, and still am, fascinated by looking at where all the licence plates of all the lorries and cars have come from. I am boggled at the idea of a lorry from Russia ending up in the UK, or from Finland or Portugal in The Netherlands. I love the idea of all these people moving all around the world, that little cog in the wheel making it all work. When we drove to Scotland it was a 15 hour trip, with me in the car with the baby and DH driving the van. We also seemed to randomly be in convoy with a Belgian and Greek car all the way to Glasgow which was a long way to share the road! I really enjoyed the drive, watching the country change the further north we went. If it hadn’t been for the impending sense of doom, I would have classed that as another epic drive.
I also love putting some music on and just driving. Now I am in Holland it’s a bit challenging as everyone thinks that a long way away is going from Rotterdam to The Hague which is about the distance for me going from Streatham to Old Street so I find it hard to relate. I can be in Germany in an hour and a half or Belgium in 40 minutes. France in 2 and a half ours. We did Paris to Rotterdam in 5. I mean, how amazing is that? But DH has to still be persuaded when I say I want to go xyz. For example, Rotterdam to the Waddenzee. It’s not that far but I may as well have said I wanted to go to the moon. So now I just need to learn to go on my own.
The problem is I got sick and scared of driving last year. I hated it for a while. I was terrified to get out on the road even though there was nothing wrong with my driving. I used to drive myself to work here. But I didn’t do it and I got scared and panicked. I also don’t get the chance to drive long distance that much myself as it makes DH car sick if he’s the passenger. So he’s trying to let me drive more but it is too easy to say no.
Also we now have actually got a car for driving which is a honkingly big and comfortable SUV but wheel on the right as we’ve changed the plates from UK to NL. I find that is annoying when going to a drive-thru or car park but aside from that there is little difference. So I tried to get over my aversion of driving yesterday by taking the baby to the beach. It’s fun driving in The Netherlands as you all of a sudden come across a motorway in the air to let a boat through, as below when I got slightly lost on the way:
And we made it to the beach, my daughter and I. It was such fun driving with her. When I sense her getting a bit bored I switch my music off and put on some for her. It’s not very hardcore driving round to The Wheels on the Bus, but she’s learnt when to clap and when to put her hands on her head and things like so it is so cute to see her doing it in my rear mirror 🙂
Then when it’s my music it’s just so nice to sit and sing. To be so mindless. I know my daughter is tucked in safe and either sleeping or watching the world go by (she likes it in the car thank goodness). To know there are no demands on my time aside from making sure I follow the road. To listen to songs I have been dying to put on but haven’t had the time to listen to. Or to rediscover songs I haven’t heard in years. And on long distance drives, to watch the land roll past, everchanging. I find such peace in that moving landscape.
We made it to the beach.
You can see the port of Rotterdam extending into the distance. Also where we went you have signposts to England which I just find wonderful. Just over that water is where I am from and if I had the inclination I could just get on the ferry and go.
And even when I got lost and then there was a diversion we did it. And made it home safe and sound. And sang to The Smiths and If You’re Happy and You Know It along with a rather random mix of other stuff before stopping quickly at McD’s on the way home just as I did as a kid. It was such a nice day and I was so pleased to have conquered that drive. I felt so relaxed.
Planning our next drive already now 🙂