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I Hate My Sat Nav (and other thoughts about driving on the left)

The petrol fumes have just about cleared from the house as the hubs has revved up The Mistress and taken her for a lovely Bank Holiday drive. We somehow thought that keeping a classic car in an integral garage was a good idea. I stayed behind because I’m editing my novel. And since I’m behind, I figured now was a good time to talk about the other car in my life.

See, I passed my driver’s license test about two and a half years ago. In England, that is. It doesn’t matter that my mom showed me the basics of driving a car on our farm when I was 9-years-old or that I’d had an American licence for more years than I will admit in print. Dear Ol’ Blighty did not care and would not accept my US license as ‘trade’. So, I had to pay the £50 to get an astonishingly bad picture of myself on a card that allowed me to provisionally drive with a UK driver, have loads (read: £££) of lessons (because otherwise you would never pass the test), drive around with the dreaded “L” emblazoned on my car like the scarlet letter it is, spend another £23 to take my theory test (50/50 thank you very much), and then another £60-odd to take the actual test. Twice. I don’t want to talk about that.

Finally, after 5 years of making my husband do all the UK-based driving, I had the freedom of getting my own self from A to B. But it isn’t all roses, to be honest. Driving in the UK can be one of the most terrifying experiences for a lady used to the massive avenues of California. My driving instructor tried to scare me one day as he said in his best ominous voice that we were going to take ‘the dual carriageway’. Dual carriageway? Oh, like freeway-light, no probs. Then he remembered I was from LA and changed his mind, and said in an even darker voice, ‘No, we’re going to take the back roads’. I almost screamed. He did scream a little later when I (barely) brushed the left-hand bushes of a road that scarcely fit one car comfortably, much less two, and was littered with parked cars on either side, and a couple of cyclists to boot. My husband tells me all the time that these are ‘perfectly adequate-sized roads’ but I think he’s just Stockholm Syndromed into thinking that from a lifetime of shooting the gaps while skinny vans barrel towards him.

My sat nav is especially sadistic. With a lovely, cultured, female voice, it will tell me to ‘Turn left now’ down the sidewalk-sized country lane with a speed limit of 60, in the fog, with a line of people behind me who are annoyed I’m going 30. Or to ‘Take the roundabout, fourth exit’ and you’re frantically trying to count exits as you navigate a flipping circle and maintain ‘lane discipline’ and not annoy those same 60mph drivers behind you. Another fun trick is to get me onto the M25 during rush hour. Now, I am no stranger to traffic having spent a decade in one of the most traffic-y cities in the US, but the M25 is a special kind of hell at rush hour. Just a long circular stretch of road that rings London. With all the people in the universe on it during certain hours.

And don’t forget, this is all done while driving on the left, sitting on the right, and continuously bashing my right hand into the door when I need to shift. Because, oh yes, I needed to have a manual (a.k.a. stick shift) car which meant that I had to learn to shift left-handed as well as take my driving test in this kind of vehicle otherwise I would have a subpar license and be relegated to only driving an automatic. Forever. You see, despite – literally – everyone’s misconception, Americans do drive manual cars. I’d had one all through my time in LA and if you’ve ever driven the 405 on a Friday afternoon, you know how to use a clutch.

So now in Smarticus Prime, I can zip along, go to work, get groceries, caffeinate myself with store-bought cappuccinos and not be beholden to the unreliable suburban bus system. As long as I know where I am going, don’t mind taking my life in my hands down a ‘lane’ slightly wider than a horse and cart.

Confession: sometimes, when I am back in States, driving massive cars along proper-size roads that are laid out in a nice, sensible grid and dotted with a variety of drive-thru conveniences, I do – occasionally – have to remind myself to drive on the right. However, I am convinced that this kind of regular ‘brain re-orientation’ is staving off future dementia.

And for those of you that think my still-fairly-new-but-obvs-minted-English-driver status would enable me to get behind the wheel of The Mistress, you’re hilarious.

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