The house owners rather foolishly left me their ‘spare’ car to use while they’re away.
Ha ha ha! I asked a few nervous questions about insurance, and their only response was a casual shrug and Just try not to hit anything, it’s only third party as they cheerfully tossed me the keys. It took me several days of just walking nervously around it before I even had the courage to get inside.
For a start, it’s a jeep – much, much bigger than Rio the Clio. It is a Monster Car. You sit in it and you can look down at all the people in their ordinary cars miles and miles below, and feel like you’re very big and important. And also, possibly, in a much higher position of power than you really should be.
Secondly, it’s an automatic. It is quite disconcerting to take your foot off the brake and realise that you’re suddenly off and running again without having put it into gear or anything. That’s caught me out a few times when I’ve been a little too far forward at a junction, taken my foot off the brake to roll back a little, and found myself plunging forward into the stream of traffic instead. Watch out for me in my Monster Car! the caption would read, were I a cartoon Hails sitting perched atop a tank and gripping the steering wheel ineffectually, with a frenzied expression of panic on my Woman Driver face.
Thirdly, I feel like I’m driving from the passenger seat. I can’t get the hang of what I should be seeing in the mirrors at all, or what angle anything’s at, or how to judge my distance from anything on my right.
But most importantly, of course, I have to drive on the right hand side of the road. They don’t really like it when I try to drive on the left like I did at home. I tried it once, albeit by accident, and got glared at by an angry Belgian in a defenceless Mini (but to be fair, it must have been quite a frightening sight for him). It all feels terribly unnatural – going round a roundabout anti-clockwise, for example, is just terrifying. Particularly for someone from Ballymena the Capital of Pointless Mini Roundabouts.
Then, of course, there’s the very real possibility that I will take a wrong turning and get more hopelessly lost than I have ever been in my entire life. The signs are in a language I don’t know, I would have no idea how to ask for directions (or understand them), I’m already confused by the road layouts, and I have no Maxine. The Belfast Incident would have nothing on a Lost In Belgium story.
So, taking all that into account, I’m actually rather proud of myself for getting behind the steering wheel and going for a drive each day. I have no one to clap me on the back and say “Atta girl!” but I’m sure that you’re all thinking it. Beep beep’m beep beep, yeah!
And maybe next week I’ll actually drive out of the village…