YOU might remember that I bought a car in last week’s column, after years of travelling everywhere by public transport, and about three days after buying my monthly bus ticket.
It has been a period of intense readjustment. I have gone from pretending to drive the bus, in the Golden Seat (top deck, front row, driver side) to actually driving the vehicle. And while it has been several years since I regularly drove a car, it is odd how easily I have slipped into the routine of driving.
I thought I might have been rusty, but it turns out the physical act of driving is something my body did not forget. It’s just like riding a bike, although clearly not. Checking the rear mirror, reversing into parking spaces, doing that tiny – almost imperceptible – wave to tell somebody you’re giving them right of way… they all feel like instinct.
But they are not instinct, they are learned responses ingrained in the driver’s behaviour. It’s a muscle memory. If they were instinct, even babies could drive, if it weren’t for the pedal issue and expense. Can you imagine how much insurance would be, for a start?
What I have tended to forget is the little tricks of driving. These are the bits of local knowledge that have been lost, or made obsolete by highway changes, the nuggets that you carry with you, like “If you’re going from A to B on a Friday afternoon, do not in any circumstances go via roundabout C, or you’ll feel like you’ve been stuck at the back of a lift carrying twelve flatulent sumo wrestlers,” or “never let anybody out at junction D if you ever want to see your family again”.
On the other hand, sometimes the forgetfulness is entirely benevolent. Take, for instance, the other day. I had to go to visit my GP for a complaint which appeared trivial, if annoying, but which Dr Google had convinced me was life-threatening. Googling symptoms is like a flow-chart in which all the boxes lead to one marked “CANCER”.
The appointment was before my shift started, but uncomfortably so. I would have to rush out of the appointment, jump on a bus, and then… Wait, I thought, I have a car now. I’ll be fine. And the realisation removed a little bit of stress from my day. It was like the joy of waking up in a panic because your alarm hasn’t gone off and then realising it is Saturday morning.
I jumped into my car and tootled off to the surgery, parking in a side road opposite, locking the car with the remote, then going back to the car to check that it had actually locked, then going back again, just to make sure.
Of course, sitting in the GP’s waiting room quickly replaced the stress that had previously been removed. On top of the worry about my clearly impending death, the radio was tuned to a station which believed it acceptable to follow Total Eclipse Of The Heart with I Just Called To Say I Love You, and then Tina Turner’s The Best. All this in an environment which is supposed to make people feel better.
I saw the GP, who told me in the kindest possible way that I was a total idiot and little more than a timewaster, but did at least give me a prescription. I thanked him and left, and took a long and deep breath…
I composed myself and went to the pharmacy next door. There was, inevitably, a mix-up which involved the man behind me, who had only come in for a bottle of cough mixture, paying for my £8.80 prescription, but I wasn’t really in the frame of mind to enjoy it.
Eventually, I left the pharmacy, and began walking, while composing a text message to my significant other, giving her the good news about my no-longer-imminent demise, still feeling distracted.
Argh! I thought, as I looked up mid-message. It’s my bus! I abandoned the message, and sprinted, Usain Bolt-like, to the stop.
I flopped into the bus seat, my heart still pounding from the stress. What a relief, I thought, that was close. I’m not going to be late for work.
I had travelled perhaps four stops before I remembered the car that I had abandoned in a side street opposite the surgery. You might have remembered that I bought a car in last week’s column. I certainly flipping hadn’t.
I blame muscle memory.