Today I had my second driving lesson with the calm and intrepid Mr. Anderson of Gillingham driving school. When I first arrived in town, I swore that I wouldn’t get near a driving instructor until maybe, um, spring of 2011. But then I rode C.’s 25 year-old mountain bike that weighs about 400 pounds, and since we live in a valley one has to go up a very long hill to get anywhere, so I thought, hmmmm, ok, maybe driving lessons earlier.

Commence terrorism of locals.

As you all know, Americans and Brits drive on different sides of the road. It’s a big joke in the States, when finding oneself on a completely isolated country road, maybe on a bright sunny day, to veer the car off to the left a bit, scaring one’s passenger(s), and exclaiming, “Look! We’re in England!”

That’s all very good fun and no one gets hurt.

But here, driving on twisty turny roads now accommodating two sets of parked cars half up on the curb, traffic going both ways, and various cyclists and pedestrians, there’s no room for such Tomfoolery. Not even for a second.

Kansas this ain’t.

My instructor is much younger than he sounds on the phone, but he’s got a confident air and has clearly driven with frightened new drivers before, which puts me at ease. His mother is a friend of my mother-in-law, so I figured that the chances of him declaring me unteachable and banning me from ever driving in the UK are perhaps a bit less with the connection.

Good stuff, as he says often during our hour and a half lessons. Good stuff. I think this is his very kind way of saying, “Thank you so much for not killing me today even though we went up over the sidewalk three times and you almost hit half the parked cars.” Either that or he can’t think of anything I’ve done right, hence the general declaration of some positive elements existing somewhere.


After two lessons I can say simply this about driving in the UK: “The roundabout is your friend, the roundabout is your friend….” This is my new mantra. I don’t believe it for a second, and am absolutely terrified every time I approach a roundabout, but, as the Queen suggested, I’ll Keep Calm and Carry On.

Or at least take enough anti-anxiety medication to appear calm.

The other thing I’ll say about driving in the UK after three hours of professional instruction is that I am terrified not only when I approach a roundabout but also every second I’m in gear and on the road, as everything about it–driving on the left side, being in the passenger’s seat, shifting with my left hand, and about twenty other counterintuitive patterns–make me feel like I am going to crash. So, in other words, my experience of driving in the UK can be summed up as “We’re all gonna die.”

Good stuff, good stuff.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andrew
    Oct 12, 2010 @ 20:48:19

    We have a saying here in the UK, “Keep death off the roads … drive on the pavement”… For your US readers, that should read, “Keep death off the roads… drive on the sidewalk”… Seems like you’re doing pretty well so far!


  2. Jacqui
    Oct 13, 2010 @ 22:09:37

    It gets better.


  3. mariellen anderson
    Oct 13, 2010 @ 23:15:10

    I would like to think that this UK driving stuff is similar to other things you’ve accomplished (fearlessly): living & driving in Chicago, living in Mexico alone, martial arts lessons, swimming in the ocean, flying trapeze—you get the idea.

    Like anything very new (and causing your brain hemispheres to crossover), driving on the other side will take a series of lessons and it sounds like this Mr. Anderson is on YOUR side (pardon the pun).

    I’m proud of you, my dear on, and of all your new accomplishments over there!Love, Mommom


  4. Joan Hales
    Nov 01, 2010 @ 12:37:19

    Eventually you will get quite used to the wrong side of the road! I did, then came home and thought my uncle was going to have a head-on crash shortly after he picked me up from the airport.


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