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Monday, 30 November -0001

WHY BAD DRIVING IS A FAMILY AFFAIR

As his daughter takes her test for the SIXTH time, novelist Jon Canter admits it’s his fault - and reveals…

Written by Jon Canter

Tomorrow won’t be the first time my daughter Nancy has taken her driving test. Nor the second. Nor the third. I’d even be lying if I said it was the fourth.

There are advantages to taking your test more than once. The last time she took it, the Examiner asked her to identify the number plate of ‘that big silver car over there.’ Nancy felt comforted. It was the same number plate she’d been asked to identify at the start of her previous test.

That big silver car’ was like a friend who hangs around the Test Centre to bring you luck. Except, it failed to bring her luck. So now she’s gearing up for tomorrow’s test, which I shall code name the ‘Number-of-Wives-of-Henry-the-Eighth’ test.

But why is this happening? I blame the parents. (Not all of them, you understand.) Sometimes, when my wife’s driving, my daughter will ask her what gear she’s in. My wife won’t even know. She’s in the gear she needs to be in, instinctively. I, on the other hand, 25 years after passing my test, can tell you what gear I’m in. There’s nothing instinctive about my gear-changing. Oh no. I count them up and I count them down. I see the 30-mile-an-hour sign ahead on the A12 and I think: ‘Ooh! Better change down to third.’

My wife’s a natural driver; I am not. And my daughter has inherited her driving ability from me. Yes, I passed my test at only the second attempt, but the two tests were 16 years apart. I failed under Heath and didn’t pass till Thatcher was in her third term, so unnatural did I find the act of driving.

That’s the crux. My daughter was sprung from pedestrian, rather than driver’s, loins and, without getting too biblical, so was I. Verily, I say unto you, my father, who begat me, was a lifelong pedestrian.

In his wallet, after he died, I found a provisional driving licence. He was 89. What a tragedy that he died just when he was building up to getting round to thinking about taking his test.

But I’m also proud of the genetic inheritance I’ve passed to my daughter. My L-plated father was the first person in his family to go to university. I was a scholarship boy. I’m still in possession of the copy of Ulysses I won as a Fifth Form English Prize in 1969 (albeit I’ve never got beyond page 49).

I know I’ve bequeathed some of this ability to her. With exams where you turn over a piece of paper, stare at questions, think about them and think about them again – with such tests, Nancy’s always been fine. She’s good at thinking. (I’ve tried arguing with her.) But she’s also good, as I am, at over-thinking. And this is where it’s gone wrong with driving, so far – let’s not forget there’s always tomorrow.

Specifically, it’s gone wrong at roundabouts. When you approach one, you’re meant to think: ‘Given the traffic situation, should I stop or should I go? But for the over-thinker, that’s just the overture. What follows is an internal monologue of near-symphonic length: ‘I think I should go. There are no cars entering the roundabout to my right. But I don’t want to be too cavalier – the Examiner won’t like that. Maybe I should stop.

On the other hand, he won’t like it if I’m too cautious. Oh, I have stopped. That’s not good. He’s definitely thinking I’m too cautious. So maybe I should go now, even though a car’s approaching. I should compensate for my earlier over-caution with a roundabout-entry that’s not so much cavalier as confident. Oh. That car’s passed now. And I’m still here. And now the driver behind is tooting. So I’m staying put. I don’t want the Examiner to think I’m influenced by the impatience of others, do I?’ And so it goes on till – as the sun sets on the roundabout – she’s amassed sufficient mental notes to write an essay on Roundabout Over-Thinking. An essay that might well get an A-star.

So, daughter, I’m sorry I bequeathed you my over-analytical trait, which served you so well at A level but is no damn use at all at A12 level. That is why, when I wave you farewell and wish you luck at the Test Centre tomorrow, I’ll be thinking – to myself, of course – ‘Don’t be like me’.



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