How Quickly You Forget

You!  Yes, you.  The one leaning on their horn as Thing1 stalls at the traffic lights.  The clue is right there in front of you, the big, red, “L” on a white square.  This is a learner driver!  You don’t know whether they’ve been driving a car for 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 weeks…  And horning off like that?  Who does it help?  Does piling pressure on a new driver make the task of setting off without stalling any easier?  Does that sound magically mean they’re now imbued with your own prodigious driving talent?

Let’s rewind to your learner days, shall we?  Stalling at roundabouts, pulling out suddenly – and unwisely – at junctions, crawling along at 43 mph on the open road.  Were you perfect?  Did you spring, fully-formed, from the loins of the Stig, quoting the Highway Code ? No, of course you weren’t, and clearly you didn’t.  But you’d forgotten, hadn’t you?

We forget, selectively at times, what our own experiences were like.

The old man, clearly a father, probably a grandfather, getting cross with the toddler for daring to make a noise?  Were your children perfect?  Were you perfect?  Of course you weren’t.  Do you think your displeasure is going to make that kids’ parents think (a) “Oh, how kind of him to show how much he cares, what a nice old man!” or (b) “Shut up, you miserable old git, I’m trying here!”  And consider the location – perhaps they’ve come along to church, halving the average age of the congregation at a stroke and giving the priest some hope that their church has a future.  Do you think your attitude helps?

So cut people some slack.  The “L”, or the “P” that follows it for a year should be a bloody great giveaway that someone’s not been driving as long as you have.  Relax.  That the kid playing with the toys is there in church at all should make you happy.  Unless it’s the 8AM BCP, in which case “happy” is an alien concept and it’s not the most kid-friendly service!

Think how much better the world would be if we were all a little nicer to each other.  If we all remembered what it was like to be in that situation.

Time flies like an arrow…

Fruit flies like a banana.

Somehow, I’ve blinked and missed 17 years.  My eldest is now learning to drive.  It really doesn’t seem very long since she was learning to walk, learning to talk (although, to be honest, much of the talking-and-using-words stuff has kinda gone out of the window these last few teenage years).  And on Friday, we put her in a car that cost less than my last phone and let her loose on the open roads of Lincolnshire.

Well, not quite.  A quiet back-lane with next-to-no traffic, not a lot in the way of corners, and lots of convenient passing places for anyone who needs to get out of the way.

A long time ago – and this is where memory gets vague.  How can it be “a long time ago” and yet also “last week”? – we taught her to ride a bike.  It involved much shouting and anger on our part – how can you not do this yet?  Why aren’t you pedalling? – and equal amounts on her part.  Teaching all of my kids to ride bikes has been a thoroughly unpleasant experience.  It seems to me that they’ll reach a point where their brain goes “ding! Bike riding installed” and they just go, and until that point it doesn’t matter how much you offer in encouragement, bribery, or other, less positive, emotions, they’re just not going to do it.

So I was dreading going out in the car with her.  My own father only ever took me out once, pretty early on in my learning journey.  He didn’t rush to do it again.

I’ve produced, with the help of my wife, this handy checklist for when you take a kid on the road for the first time.

Set expectations to “none” or “very low”.

This is a completely new skill for them.  Even a lifetime spent playing PlayStation driving games won’t prepare you for this.  Think of how much there is to concentrate on – accelerator-clutch balance, not using your left foot on the brake, mirrors, other mirrors, steering wheel, what do these levers do? Why am I veering left when I change gear?  Aaargh!  If, by the end of the first short session, they’ve started the car and driven it in a straight line without hitting anything/one, consider that a massive win and drive them home.  They’re not going to be cruising the A1 in 5th gear in their first driving lesson.  I hope!

Keep it short

15, 20 minutes.  Not a lot.  It’s a lot to take in and the little-and-often approach will bear more fruit than taking them out for a couple of hours.  Let them come back to it fresh the next day and they (and you) will be amazed at how much better they are second time around.

One piece at a time

Back to riding a bike.  Pretty much the hardest thing you’ve got to do is setting off.  Getting the pedalling going, not wobbling and crashing, getting up to speed.  Same with driving a car.  You’ve got to get the accelerator-clutch balance right, keep the steering wheel straight, take off the handbrake…  It’s a lot to do, so do it a lot.  Get them to the point where it’s second nature.  So, we were doing start, drive a little, stop, switch off.  And repeat.  Didn’t even get out of first gear for a while.

It’s more frustrating for them

You know you’ll get there, but the first time you stall – and the second, third, fourth… – it starts to get to you.  You get cross, frustrated, angry – with yourself more than anything.  So as the one who knows how to drive, you need your bestest calm, soothing, words to let the learner know we’ve all been there, we’ve all done this, and they will get the hang of it.  This all goes double when they’d got the hang of doing this only yesterday.

Don’t Panic

The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had it right.  Don’t panic.  Absolutely the worst thing you can do is lose your cool – it will be transmitted straight into their brain and override everything else.  Why is my parent panicking?  What am I doing wrong?  You stress, they stress.  Keep it cool until you get back, then that large whiskey’s yours for the downing.

And repeat

With 5 kids, we do things in decades.  We’re well into the decade of GCSEs at the moment, a year or so into the decade of A-levels, approaching the decade of starting University.  So I’ve got 10 years of teaching kids how to drive, on an off.  If I didn’t have grey hair already, I would be the end of this.

Do you have any tips for taking the newly-minted learner-driver on the highways?  Share them in the comments below…

The 7 Days of Christmas

Most Christmas traditions we pick up either from the Christmases of our childhood or by osmosis from the world around.  When you get married, it gets a little interesting with the “but our family always did this…” conversations.  A final little centre table present instead of crackers is one we got from my wife’s family.

Starting a new Christmas tradition is always fun.  Last year we decided to go for a Rosace a l’orange rather than a Christmas pudding – lighter than a Christmas pud, the citrus cuts through the fat of the slow-roast duck and goose we did for the main course.  This turned out so well, we did it again in 2016 (all of it, slow-roast birds included) and are looking forward to doing it again from now on.  If you’ve not tried it, this is a gorgeous, light, creamy, pudding made using Mary Berry’s recipe here.  The tricky part is getting the oranges to candy successfully – took 3 goes first time, 2 this last time, so I’m getting better!  And ignore the order the instructions are presented in, you want to get the oranges on first so you know they work!

This year we went for something new.  7 of us, 7 days, each day one person gets to chose:

  • 1 movie for the family to watch together
  • 1 thing for us to bake/cook
  • 1 game for us to play

For the most part, this worked out well.  It was thrown off-track by Eldest either working or disappearing up to Yorkshire to visit her boyfriend, but this was Year 1 of the New Tradition.

Some things were to everyone’s taste – Youngest wanted to make chocolate brownies, watch The Force Awakens, and play Carcassonne.  Not bad at all!

Middle Boy wanted us all to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.  Which is unmitigated rubbish (and yet on a par with every other TMNT movie they’ve ever made).  Eldest Boy wanted to make Koeksisters, which we never quite got round to.

Over the week, we watched most of the movies – and then had a catch-up day where we had a Labyrinth/Stardust double feature – baked most of the bakes and played a few, but not all, of the games.

But we did it.  And the kids were excited to plan it – they drew it up, helped each other choose what to bake, what to play, stuck the whole thing on the fridge (where it promptly got covered in crossings out and rewritings as minds were changed).

Going to do it again next year, definitely.  Might even do a version of it over the summer holidays – they’re long enough to be able to drop a few special days in here and there…