Monday 2 August 2021

Driving in Old Age

 by Judith Skilleter

a shot of Ramazotti Amaro

I have decided that the biggest drawback with driving cars is that you cannot read at the same time. Not that I have tried it mind you. But during all those long hours behind the wheel wouldn’t you rather be curled up in the passenger seat with a new novel – or puzzles if your most recent read has been left on the stairs in the rush to get out.

As I get older I am reading more and driving less and this feels OK. When I was working I had to drive.  It was nothing to me driving 200 or 300 miles a day. I didn’t particularly enjoy driving but neither did I not enjoy it. It was just something that I had to do so I did it. But since retirement I am needing to drive less.  I still have a car but every so often I take it round the block to see if things are still working and I never go more than say twenty miles in it, and these are very local and familiar miles.

For longer journeys and especially motorways I rely on the husband who loves driving and is a hopeless passenger.  He cannot just sit and read – yes, I know that is unbelievable – but has to fiddle all the time with the knobs and buttons and the radio and the CD player and the heater and everything. He is a nuisance as a passenger. So he is very happy to take on full responsibility for driving us in his car. Unfortunately, when we are in my car he has to be a reluctant passenger as he cannot get insurance to drive any car but his own – too many speeding points (chuckle chuckle).

So why am I so averse to driving apart from the fact that I cannot read whilst in the driving seat?

I reckon it is a growing lack of confidence.  The less I drive the less I have confidence in my driving. As I get older my reactions are slower, the less I notice outside the vehicle and is it me or are other drivers going too quickly these days? Are they all speeders? Negotiating right turns is a nightmare and when I hear a beep from another car I automatically assume it is me that has done something wrong and is putting other lives at risk. My spatial awareness is not as good as it was and recently fixed scrapes down the sides of my very small car are testament to that. Going in reverse is and always has been a concern and that is avoided unless absolutely necessary.

And then there is reluctance to drive on unfamiliar roads. Where has that come from for goodness sake? It is as if I no longer feel able to judge what is happening around me outside the car, especially on new roads, and anticipate and negotiate accordingly.

Also cars are becoming more and more complicated? These days they come with huge doorstop handbooks explaining everything that you neither want nor need in language you cannot understand.  And lights on dashboards these days are more like Blackpool Illuminations. Oh for the days of wind down windows and sticking out a hand to tell other drivers which way you intend to go.

 It might be genetic. My older brother dislikes driving more than I do and he moved house, a 200 mile move, to avoid the long trips to see his daughters. I have to say that these long trips involved a refreshment break at every service station to recharge his batteries for the next bit of the journey. And when I go to see the older brother do I drive?  No I don’t. I take three trains even though a whizz (although I never whizz) down the M1 would get me there in half the time. Why on earth would I sacrifice three or more hours of reading time to get there more quickly - and stressed. (And don’t forget the coffee and cake at every change – perfect.)

Top Gear on the telly doesn’t help. Do all motorists want cars that are hugely expensive and go at speeds that normal roads would never allow? It would be great if those three amusing presenters did a programme on small cars, with boots big enough for a medium sized dog, with enough buttons and knobs to get the car from A to B and, if necessary, back again, always assuming that B is never very far away and reaching 50 mph maximum. That is the perfect car I would say.

This is all nonsense.  Take some lessons I hear you say. I am sure that you cannot be so bad as you are aware of all your failings, I hear you also say.  There are enough goons out there on the road who do not realise how unsafe they are once behind the wheel so you should be OK is also something I can hear. But the point is I do not want to improve my driving. I enjoy not driving. I enjoy being the reading passenger and while the husband is more than happy being the alert driver I would like this to continue. And if driving a lot less is a feature of my old age then that is OK. I am happy, the world is safe from any errors I might make and reading while on the move continues. Excellent.

About the author

Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching and her first children's novel, The April Rebellion, is out now under her maiden name, Judith Humphries. 

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