#3 Learn to drive a manual (stick shift) car

2017-08-01T07:05:39+00:00 Anxiety tips, Travel|

This post is about my experience doing item #3 on my #noworrieslist 

Have you ever hired a car, and five minutes later accidentally reversed into traffic?

Yeaaaah. I did.

At the age of 31.

Thankfully there was no damage. Thankfully I had a friend in the passenger seat, who switched on the hazard lights and calmly said, “You’re in reverse, doll. Not first.” Thankfully I knew where the brake was.

The guy behind honked his horn and shook his fist. Probably because I was lurching closer and closer to his shiny sportsmobile.

“OmgomgomgOMG!” I shrieked.

Finally, I put the car into first gear. But, frozen with fear, I just couldn’t get my feet to do their little balancing act.  In the middle of a three-lane highway, with a green light and a line of cars waiting.

I could feel prickly heat snaking up my neck. Clammy hands. Racing heart. I knew a panic attack was brewing. “YOU CANNOT NOT HAVE A PANIC ATTACK IN THE MIDDLE OF TRAFFIC!” I scolded myself.

Somehow I got the car going again. Shaky Fist Guy tailgated ’til we pulled off into a quiet street.

So…turns out six hours isn’t enough to master manual transmission. Oops.

D (the boyf) and I had booked a manual car months ago. Back when I only had automatic experience. Back when I was full of bravado, thinking I’d have a handle on the stick-shift before our trip to the Lake District, a five hour drive from our city.

You’re probably wondering why I put myself through the stress, instead of just booking an auto car?

Two reasons:

  1. Auto cars cost about four times the price. And I am annoyingly frugal.
  2. I’ve always wanted to learn manual driving, and felt at 31 I should know how to do it. You know, in case I need to drive a drunk person home in their car. Let’s forget the fact that never even happened when I did party every single night. And it’s probably never going to happen now that I’m not remotely interested in events where people get so smashed they can’t stand up and have to be driven home.

So our pre-Christmas jaunt only sped up the time to reach my goal. I called a local instructor and booked a bunch of lessons. Mark was perfect – calm, kind, good at explaining things, and always made sure I felt safe and in control. Just what an anxious person needs when learning to drive a manual car in a new country.

Thing is, I didn’t realise how different it would be driving without him. I realised there was no-one next to me with their own set of pedals, should I panic. There was no-one to soothingly say: “Ok, now we’re going down the hill and turning, so what gear do you need to be in?…” (For the record, 2nd gear. Or is it 3rd? Oh geeze.)

It was all down to me.

D wasn’t confident taking the reins, as he hadn’t driven for a while and felt a little rusty.

So the five-hour drive, along fast motorways, in an unfamiliar country, just before Christmas, in icy and windy conditions – that was all on me. So I couldn’t freak out. I couldn’t rest. I couldn’t rely on anyone else. I had to get us there and back without scratching the car, breaking up, or dying.


Somehow we had a perfectly pleasant holiday.

Ok, that’s a lie.

Once, I had to do a u-turn outside a country pub. The one Beatrix Potter featured in her books. But it was on a slope. So after reversing, I tried to go forward. Instead, the car lunged back. I tried again, it jumped back again. Getting closer and closer to an ancient brick wall. No doubt the same one Peter Rabbit hid behind. It’s probably heritage listed. And I was about to crash our rental car into it. I started panicking, that familiar prickly heat tingling across my neck. Tears welled in my eyes.

“Baby, I can’t do it! I can’t go forward! I don’t know what’s wrong! Why can’t I go forward?”

I had one more chance to get us going, or we’d hit the wall.

“Sweetie,” my lovely patient man said softly. “You know how to do this. Just clear your head. Breathe. And do what you need to do to get the car moving forward.”

So I did. I breathed in and out. Got the balance of clutch and accelerator. And miracle of miracles, we went forward and not back.

Thank. Fucking. God.

Nearly hit a few parked cars doing the same thing the next day. And accidentally rolled down a steep hill, instead of going up it.

But apart from those many errors, I started to have fun snaking through the quaint countryside, moving up and down gears. I even felt like a Bond girl at one point, and pretended I was in a sports car chasing down a Russian billionaire fraudster (not humming along in a hatchback, tailing a minivan packed with Japanese tourists).

But, back in Bristol and on our way to return the car, I started to panic again. The city traffic is a true test of any newbie’s stop-star gear changes. Add being hungry, tired and cranky after a long drive battling 160 km/h winds on Christmas Eve. And I was DONE. I didn’t want to drive a second longer.

Sooooo, I started to make mistakes again. I stalled at the same intersection where I picked up the car!  I yelled at D when he told me to turn left when he meant right. And I ran a red light.

But. Somehow. We got the car – and ourselves – back to Europcar in one piece.

I guess you could say I can now drive a manual car? I mean, I can drive it. Just maybe don’t ask me to give you a ride anywhere. For your safety and sanity.


One Comment

  1. I remember that when initially i started to learn how to drive a manual car, it wasn’t easy at all. I didn’t even know the names of all the car parts. I took me around a month to learn it properly and then later I became fluent with it.

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