I’ve got used to living in Denmark – it’s been a long time since I accidentally bought yoghurt instead of milk. But until recently there was one major thing I had not been able to face, and that was driving.
Balletic bumper racing
Cars are expensive here; there’s nowhere to park and cycling is so much easier. But still there are times in family life when a car helps. So we signed up for a share car scheme called Let’s Go that has a lovely little red car at the end of our street.
I have had a driving licence since my teens, but my confidence has never been great. Perhaps it’s because it took me three attempts to pass my driving test and I failed the first two for going through red lights. Or perhaps because I have had a lot of little bumps, all at very low speed, of which some have been positively balletic.
Who you gonna call?
So you can understand the trepidation I feel sitting in a VW Mini ahead of driving ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD for the first time. Childhood memories of failing a cycling proficiency test at the age of eight come romping back to taunt my troubled mind.
I feel a need for a reassuring presence like Chummy, that nice nurse played by Miranda Hart in the 1950s-set BBC drama ‘Call the Midwife’. Chummy is jolly hockey-sticks posh, delivers triplets in thunderstorms and never panics. I shut my eyes, imagine the theme tune and instantly Chummy is there with me in full uniform.
“You’re doing awfully well old fruit,” she says. “Now, a steady turn of the ignition key … there you go … into jolly old first gear … and pant for the handbrake.”
Like parallel parking?
After a month or so I realise that the speed limit is generally 50 (30 is for miles not kilometres, who knew …) and things speed up, my confidence grows and Chummy doesn’t need to visit as much.
Parking proves interesting. There are things you don’t notice until you have access to a car. The signs saying ‘2-timer parkering’ mean it’s a two-hour limit, not where you cheat on your partner.
And you’ll get a hefty fine if you forget to set your P-skive, which is nothing to do with children skiving off school on a pretext of fraudulent trips to the loo, but the little clock on the windscreen that shows when you arrived.
A power trip
One day I book an electric car when the mini is not available. I cycle over to its location, chain up my bike and jump in. I reverse out no problem, but can’t work out how to go forward, and when I eventually do, the car lurches and jerks. A grumpy old man goes past on his bicycle and yells in Danish: “Have you got a driving licence?”
“Yes, but this is like driving a hairdryer,” I yell back. He gives me a really strange look and it’s then I realise I’m still wearing my fluorescent bike helmet, rally-driver style. I pull away silently at low speed.
“Bally marvellous!” says Chummy.