They say that at the end of every rainbow lies a pot of gold. Well, this week, my pot of gold was my beautiful friend, and that rainbow was the M25, one of the world’s busiest roads and the tarmac circle surrounding London. This was, for me, an achievement of epic proportions. Let me explain…
I first attempted to learn to drive at 17, while living with my parents. As they live in a rather rural spot, there weren’t many instructors to choose from. With just one set of traffic lights and the nearest roundabout miles away, it was futile. The instructor and I did not hit it off. I tend to make my mind up about people pretty quickly and I made my mind up pretty quickly that he was a plonker. He spent more time staring at me than he did at my inadequate driving skills. I left it there and abandoned the lessons.
Then, on the cusp of turning 30 and having spent the previous 13 years relying on public transport and other people, I decided to try again. Having relocated to the South of England, the roads were busier, I was more confident and my instructor less lecherous. I passed my test first time. (Now, I won’t pretend that I was without fault. I did drive briefly on the wrong side of the road at one point during my test. When the examiner told me that I’d passed, I disagreed and said “Are you sure? You did notice that I was on the wrong side of the road, didn’t you?”. I should know when to shut up really!)
Now, it’s true that you only really learn to drive after you have passed your test and once you are let loose on the roads to experience all that they can throw at you. Having had a baby, we swapped our little car for a huge one, swapped manual for automatic. It’s like driving a great big bumper car, just go or stop! I now find that people stay away from me rather than creeping up and filling my rear-view mirror with their intimidating reflection. I can accelerate away from a green light, leaving any boy racer in my tracks. Dare I say it, but I actually enjoy driving now.
I tend to stick within my comfort zone, I know the roads to get us to Baby Sensory, or to the supermarket and to friend’s houses. I can swing the 4×4 into the Waitrose multi-storey with the skills of the finest Mummy cliché. I can even get to Bluewater, lured by the promise of gorgeous shops and fabulous baby facilities! But, London????? The very thought sent shivers down my spine and made my acceleration leg quiver.
I loaded up the car with all that is required to take a baby away for the night (this is the same amount of stuff required to take the baby away for a month. In short, everything.) I made sure that I had everything close to hand that I might need on the way. Water, mobile, sat-nav, map, hand-written directions, money, breakdown cover details, trail of crumbs to leave behind me so that I can get back home…………….
What a performance!
I set off, acceleration leg a-quiver. First challenge, the Dartford Crossing! Now, this is where the road splits into about 45 lanes, Eastern European truck drivers swerve all over without so much as a glance in their mirrors, people take their eye off the road as they fumble for toll change. Well, not me! I had my £1.50 ready in my sweaty palm. I took aim at the toll barrier. Could I successfully stop, lower the window, pass change to man, exchange pleasantries, not drive straight through said barrier and then drive off with all the panache of Lady Penelope?
You bet I could!
Next challenge, the M25. By now, I am also combining my driving skills with baby entertainment, on verse 14 of ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’ (disco mix). The baby is getting restless, so I decide having reached Surrey, to stop at the next services. I pull in and park the car. I think I’m the only woman there. Early morning on a weekday and I am mingling with truck drivers and travelling salesmen, men in company cars clutching blackberries and a cup of hot milk masquerading as coffee. There’s something very depressing about this place, where so many paths and personalities cross, all for the love of an overpriced and overcooked snack. I deposit a nappy and retrieve a drink. I’m on the road again.
Verse 15 of ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’.
And then, the time comes to leave the M25, we are now friends and I am charging along its fast lane like a Formula One safety car driver. I am heading for London, leg quivering has increased and I can feel that I am getting closer to my reward, 24 hours with my friend. Everything was running smoothly. Until I did 3 laps of a shopping centre, had a cyclist laugh at me and then almost went into a no-entry road. And, then, what do you know, I made it! I was in London and successfully parked on the driveway of my friend’s house. I didn’t even crash straight into the lounge window, as anticipated.
The next day, I did the very same in reverse. I mean the opposite of this journey. I didn’t actually reverse around the M25. That would be showing off.
So, there you are. Demons confronted, my furthest and busiest journey to date. It was worth every second just to see someone for whom I care immensely. I wouldn’t make that journey for just anyone you know!
And now, on to the next one. May 2012 will see us pack everything we own into the car, cross the UK and head for Scotland. One accomplished lady driver coming to a road near you soon!