I’ve always enjoyed driving a car. I took my driving license as soon as I turned 18, which is the minimum legal driving age in Finland, and have been driving since. I’ve never had any qualms about driving. Until we moved to the UK.
We bought a car within a week of relocating to England. A nimble little used MINI Countryman. The steering wheel is on the right hand side, naturally. All our previous cars have been stick shift, this one is an automatic. Easier for town traffic and sitting in queues.
So my great cartoon of a car is all ready to hit the British roads, but I cannot bring myself to go behind the wheel. For some reason, the idea of driving on the “wrong” side of the road terrifies me. The more time passes, the more difficult it gets. I need to get used to the idea of driving on the left. The use of public transportation provides me with unexpected learning opportunities. When riding on double decker buses, I take a seat on the upper deck, above the driver, and pretend I am driving. Don’t worry, no audio effects here!
Roads are really narrow around where we live. I dream about American style streets with wide lanes. There are cars parked tightly all along the sides of the roads. Adding to my confusion, these parked cars can also face the opposite direction of traffic. No quick support there for checking whether I am on the correct side of the road. With busy incoming traffic – buses, white vans, boy racers and black cabs – I’m dreading even the thought of trying to steer through all that.
Late Saturday afternoon, I suddenly decide to bite the bullet. It has to be done! Once I find the well hidden ignition switch and start backing out of our car park, I struggle to locate the rear-view mirror. I keep glancing up to upper right corner, but there’s nothing there. Turning left onto the road, I immediately forget that the rest of the car is now on my left hand side and make the turn too sharp. Focus! I manage to make it through five, six roundabouts – or “circles of hell” as one of our non-British friends calls them. They’re everywhere! Little by little I relax and realise that I can do this. Actually I quite enjoy the go-cart feeling of driving a MINI again. But I won’t turn on the auto-pilot just yet.
I’m yet to fill up the car. It’ll be embarrassing to walk back up to the car and try sitting down onto the passenger side, expecting the steering wheel to be there.