Western Morning News (Saturday)

Going through the gears with a pale-faced teenager


TALK about going through the gears. There we were basking in all the freedom of Tier 2, then were mildly irritated by the restrictio­ns of Tier 3, and just like that – here we are back in full lockdown. Well, fullish. As far as I can see Lockdown 3 in nothing like Lockdown 1, when I could happily walk down the middle of the main roads in Plymouth with the dogs without a care in the world. I know it’s not the same for anyone with school age children – and goodness do I admire those doing a full time job and home schooling – but the funny thing about the leap from Tier 2 to lockdown has not made much difference here at Martin Towers. Trips to see parents have been postponed, and I’m getting slightly anxious about the planned celebratio­ns of Mrs Martin’s birthday, as it’s a significan­t number.

We did have huge plans involving internatio­nal travel (remember that), wildlife and deserted beaches. That had dwindled to something slightly less ambitious, and very much more local, and all the signs are that that might dwindle into nothing more than dinner at home. Thank goodness the two of us didn’t go real crazy and use all 12 crackers at Christmas. But apart from no gym in the morning and giving up the booze (yes, yes, I feel much better, but God it’s dull) day to day life in lockdown is pretty much the same. The only thing that is really different is that we have decided to teach The Boy to drive.

Even in these environmen­tally-conscious days when we are all supposed to walk everywhere and take the bus, I still think learning to drive is a key skill. I rank it alongside the ability to cook, laugh at yourself, and say please and thank you – all far more valuable than any form of algebra or Shakespear­e sonnet. I was lucky growing up and had been driving, tractors, mowers, and cars long before my 17th birthday. It’s not quite so easy in the 14th biggest city in the UK, especially for a lad who’s good on a bike, but when it comes to cars has only ever driven them on Grand Theft Auto. For our first lesson we headed off to a nearly deserted car park and as we sat the ‘wrong way round’ for the first time – me in the passenger seat, he looking rather pale in the driver’s seat – I delivered my finest motivation­al speech. “Be prepared,” I said calmly. “This will be extremely stressful and there is no doubt we will definitely fall out.” For a moment I thought the poor boy was going to pass the keys back to me, but before long we had turned the key, depressed the clutch, and started to kangaroo our way around the odd parked car. I’m touching every bit of wood as I write this, but five weeks later and so far so good. Formal lessons have fallen foul of lockdown, but the two of us have progressed beyond the quiet lanes at Roborough airfield and this week have ventured onto the streets of Plymouth. We have done traffic lights, roundabout­s, hill starts, left and right turns, some pretty terrible parking, and some decent reversing. I have discipline­d myself to sit with my hands relaxed in my lap, rather than gripping vice-like to any handles.

I have only grabbed the steering wheel once, and on one occasion only felt the need to scream “STOP” rather than say it quietly. On both occasions I was asked: “What is wrong with you?” which I think shows a growing confidence in dealing with tricky moments rather than boy-racerish nonchalanc­e. We all know practice makes perfect and I can already feel both of us relaxing more as we creep along on our trips to the supermarke­t. “I enjoyed that,” he said today. That means we really are getting somewhere.

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