Thursday, July 20, 2006

On the Road

After landing at Manchester airport and picking up our hired Peugeot 407 estate (wagon), we had to tackle the task of re-familiarising ourselves with British roads. For the most part, we get used to it quite quickly. It's pretty much second nature, but there are mistakes and moments of madness and terror that leave fingernail marks in the dashboard.

When we first started driving in the US, we would find ourselves naturally veering to the right if we did not concentrate on staying in the centre of our lane. This time, as we're back to driving on the left, we find ourselves veering left. Although we've had a few near misses, thankfully neither of us have hit the curb yet.

A single lane Cornish road
A Single Lane Cornish Road
We have also had to remember to change gear -- both our cars in the US are automatics. Thankfully, the driving instruction in the UK is so strict that before one can be in a position to pass their test changing gear must be as natural to them as breathing. In fact, I feel that being able to change gear makes me feel so much more in control. In an automatic, one is at the mercy of the car. One cannot overtake or pull out quickly. A car has to have a big engine to be able to manage to accelerate quickly. In a manual car, one can knock it down a gear to speed up the acceleration. I happened to be the one driving when we hit the infamous bottleneck at the M5-M6 bend (almost any British reader will know what I mean) and it felt good to have a clutch again. Now and again, however, we would stop at a junction, then wonder why the car won't go; before realising that it's still in fifth gear.

Chapel Hill, St. Erth, Cornwall
Chapel Hill,
St. Erth, Cornwall
The most difficult thing to get used to is the narrowness of the carriageways and parking spaces; and the speed with which people drive down them. Before I took my driving test, I did a lot of driving in Cornwall and thought nothing of nipping down these little Cornish roads at 50-60mph. The other day, I was crawling along at about 20mph (and this wasn't even on one of those single lane roads with passing places, but a national speed limit single carriageway road). I'm driving like a learner driver.

I don't like driving at the best of times and it would be quite easy for me to sit back and leave all the driving to Mark. As an effort of will, I make myself sit behind the wheel now and then because, in years to come, I don't want to be so unfamiliar with driving on British roads that I can no longer do it at all. I'll have got used to driving in Britain again just in time to return to NC, where I will have to re-learn driving on the right; on big, wide roads with no lane discipline.


Anonymous said...

Q writes:

How nice to have you back in the UK; have a brilliant holiday. Worried about you getting re-acclimatised to driving in the UK though, even American spellings - kerb (UK)- "curb" (US) can take over. Take care down in Cornwall, and have a marvellous time in this NC-style heat.

Viola said...

We've also found ourselves saying "dollars" and "cents", then having to correct ourselves to "pounds" and "pence". For example, upon seeing the cost of car parking at Carbis Bay, I said, "Six dollars, what's the sand made of, gold dust?" I didn't notice that I'd said dollars until Mark pointed out that it was actually six pounds.

Lorraine said...

Hope you're having a wonderful time, even with all the adjustments.

And Viola, on a completely unrelated question: I was watching a session of the House of Commons on CSPAN the other evening and I was curious about something. I noticed that after a member would pose a question to the PM various people in the chamber would stand for a moment and then sit before the PM would answer. What was that about? (It was a fascinating bit of viewing...usually if Americans see Parliment sessions its because there was some hub bub. I'd never actually watched how they do it. And I couldn't help wondering how our (idiot) President would fare in such an environment. Blair was quite interesting to watch...whether one always agrees with him or not, he certainly seems able to articulate his position with great intelligence. Sigh. Anyway. Sorry for the ramble but I've been wondering about the standing thing. Thanks.)