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…

Slowly, slowly, roasty ducky (or goosey, or both-y)

There’s something wonderful about the slow cooking process that takes a simple little bit of meat and turns it into something amazing.  Just look at Lechon!  Or to the humble jerk chicken!  This duck/goose recipe is closer to jerk chicken in technique yet keeps the simple flavours of the meat and the rosemary front and centre – no Habanero heat to blow your head off.

This is a Slovakian recipe, lovingly transcribed from her parents’ cookbook (or, more likely, memory) by Lubi, once our au-pair, now living happily in Dundee.  We were served this when we visited her family in Slovakia, and have had it for our Christmas meal two years running.

For 7 hungry people, you will need…

1 duck and 1 goose.  You want birds that have lived and that have built up a lovely layer of fat.  None of these skinny-arsed ducks you usually find in the supermarket.  Ask your butcher.  If you don’t have a butcher, find one and ask them!  You really can’t beat having a tame butcher you can ask for the right meat at the right time – and one that won’t bat an eyelid when you’re asking for trotters to make the jelly for a pork pie or blood to put in a sorpatel.

Salt, pepper, rosemary, watercabbagebread.

Begin by jointing the bird/s, salting the meat generously and leaving to stand for 12 hours or more.  Overnight is perfect.

Next day, oven to 150C, wash the salt off, place the portions on a baking tray skin side up.  You can use a baking tray or a big, shallow pan with a lid if you’ve got one.  Sprinkle of salt, generous grate of pepper, sprinkle with finely chopped rosemary.

Add ~0.5l water to the pan.  Lid on (or cover loosely with foil), into the oven for 1.5 hours.  Relax.  Chop some cabbage, knock back the bread you started earlier in the day.  Read a chapter or 3 of London Falling.

After 1.5 hours, foil/lid off, jack the oven up to 250C, give it 15-20 minutes to crisp up the skin.  You can do this under the grill if you like.  Cook the cabbage now.

Serve with freshly steamed cabbage and freshly baked bread.  Thick slices of the stuff (the bread, not the cabbage), drizzled with the salty, peppery, herby fat left over in the cooking pan.

Both times we’ve done this for Christmas we’ve had the same genius idea – there’ll be some meat left over for rissoles the next day.  And both times we’ve been wrong.  Somehow, even if there’s some left on the tray after everyone’s finished, you find yourself wandering past and picking off just one more little piece.  Just one more.  My, but this is tasty, even when it’s cold.  And before you know it, it’s all gone.  And you’ve got to figure out what you’re eating on Boxing Day after all.

And if I’ve got anything wrong, Lubi, please let me know!