Sunday, November 18, 2012

From the dark end of the street, to the right side of the road.

Spent quite a bit of time looking up defensive driving.  That mostly seems to be the US term for it, where the awareness of it and courses in it figure quite prominently, it seems.  And the Institute for Advanced Motoring in the UK do a fantastic offer where you can more or less get all the help you need for as long as you like to pass their Advanced Driving Test, with lots of other goodies and benefits thrown in for very little money, since they are a charity.  It might almost be worth going over there to do it, except of course it would be on the wrong side of the road again.

However, we are not so well served here. Someone on a well-known expat site here asked if there were defensive driving courses here, for her son to take, and she only received a somewhat flippant reply to the effect that wasn't defensive driving something of a contradiction in Brittany? There are various courses for road safety awareness, mostly attended under duress by those who have accumulated the limit of points on their licence; photographs showed groups of predominantly youngish, stubble-headed and tattooed males sitting recalcitrantly around tables looking at severe but fatherly men with Powerpoint displays.  I didn't really fancy those (the courses, not the men, well, not anything about it really).  There was in fact a free course for young people who have only recently acquired their licences provided at the Chambre de Commerce  with the aim of reducing the number of them who die on the roads here and especially to equip them for the hazards of winter driving, using simulators, which looked like it might have been interesting, but it has been and gone already, and I don't suppose a middle-aged English lady with a crisis of nerves and no experience of left hand drive would have qualified to attend anyway. Otherwise there were day courses, with tracks and skid pans and water features and obstacles and generally the works, but I'd have had to travel a long way to get to them, they mostly seemed to be geared towards training commercial drivers, they involved comparatively little time on the practicalities and a lot of talking, evaluation, feedback etc (well, this is France) and to cap it all they were hideously expensive.

So I started browsing the driving schools, seeing what they offered.  Mostly their reason for being seemed to be to process French teenagers through the labyrinth of their code de la route and their permis de conduire as quickly as possible so they can launch themselves out onto the highways of this fair land with nary a care in the world.  Then, however, I found one in Loudeac which offered something called recyclage tous permis. Not, as it might sound and as I mostly still feel like doing, chucking one's licence and all one's driving related documentation into the waste paper to be turned into  egg boxes, selling the house and moving somewhere where I won't ever have to drive again, but for those who, regardless of age, hold a valid licence but for whatever reason, no longer feel à l’aise taking to the road, have got into bad habits, or who have fears about their own reflexes, or of driving in the dark, or the rain...

Figuring that I tick enough of these boxes, including as it happens, a mild rain-driving phobia, with the additional special case of needing to make the RHD-LHD switchover, I wonder if this is the place for me.  I felt instantly hopeful that I am evidently not the only such basket case and that there somewhere prepared to take us on.  Though I'm not sure how, even in Brittany, they can guarantee rain for those who fear driving in the rain, but still. So I shall set about finding out more, and even book a lesson this week if I can.

I've also had a very pleasant time organising some of the exciting Alphabet Soup submissions into a web album - deadline end of this month, still time to do something, open exhibition! - and when Mol and I were out walking at sunset a flight of maybe fifty magnificent curlews sailed across the sky above us - they moved in such elegant slow motion it was possible to count them.  

So there are things to keep me clear of the slough of despond (in my mind I always read it as 'sluff'), though relatively small matters, - never mind watching the news - can push me towards it. Such as the sudden blooming of horrible mouldy damp in the kitchen corner cupboard, which used to smell slightly musty sometimes but nothing worse, and we wonder if Jean-Paul's outside repointing, with the large amounts of water needed to soak the wall to make it stick, and the hydrofuge nature of the mortar, has caused the cold moisture to come through inside.  Or the poor little  hunters' beagle abandoned outside for the night, with soulful eyes who followed us most of the way round, appearing at every gap in the hedge with her tail curled under her but just twitching hopefully, I knew if she carried on to our door I'd have to give her a bed and a meal in the garage then waste precious hours tomorrow ringing round the loathsome hunters' associations or finally the mairie to get her impounded, but she left us at the next hamlet to ours. 

But there we are.  And here's a collage of pretty patterned or shiny kitchen stuff, just to brighten things up a bit. 


the polish chick said...

how easy it is to feel despondent when you've just managed to crawl out of the hole, isn't it?

with my emotional grad school woes, all it took was my classmate showing me an ad on facebook: "adopt a senior" and i had to hold on fast to avoid bursting into tears, thinking of all the lonely sad seniors having nowhere to spend their holidays... oh lord, i wish i was a little more thick-skinned at times.

still, we are who we are and we might as well embrace it. best of luck with the driving lessons!

Sabine said...

Changing from LHD to RHD and back is not really difficult at all. Funny thing is, our brains work so much faster than our minds. My theory is that when you start looking in the rear view mirror on whatever driver's side you're on, a switch is flipped deep in your hippocampus or wherever. Still, give yourself a day or two on the back roads and try not to think too much.

Sheila said...

The little blue sailboat reminds me so much of the wallcovering in the bathroom of my youth. Wow, just took me right back.

I'm glad you are feeling better.

I share with the polish chick a desire to have thicker skin, but then when I'm so clearly much more iebriated by the beautiful fall leaves than others around me, I think maybe it's worth it, this heightened sensitivity....whether or not it is, I still haven't figured out a way to thicken the skin that's foolproof, so I just enjoy as much as I can to be stored up for the other times!

Catalyst said...

I love your curmudgeonly attitude! And that photo collage is marvelous.

Zhoen said...

Having always been a city girl, I tend to forget that most of the world is not like that. I do hope you find something useful, though.

Roderick Robinson said...

The sad thing about all this is that a week's experience of driving an LHD car (even less, perhaps) - provided it was in moderately tranquil conditions - and you'd wonder what all the fuss was about thereafter. When I moved to the USA, where there were absolutely no RHD cars, I'd forgotten I was driving LHD during a test drive of the second-hand car I eventually bought. I am sure it's mainly the anticipation of the switch rather than the reality that weighs most heavily.

Having said that I recall visiting M. Chauvel, our French plumber, and asking him to inspect some little problem I had. He had the flu at the time and I offered to drive him there, a mere 5 km. And the road was dead straight. Halfway there and I bethought myself to glance at him sitting in the passenger's seat; he had a face like a dead cod, and he gestured feebly with his hands towards his chest in an expression of extreme vulnerability. His first time in a RHD car. I was horrified: M. Chauvel (as I have often blogged) was a god to me and, acting like some unwitting Loki, I had brought him down. So you are not alone.

May I make one suggestion that might help. Today's cars are meant to be driven interchangeably by men and women but the dimensions available behind the steering wheel tend to favour men. As a result I often notice women driving so close to the steering wheel (in order that their feet will reach the pedals) that their busts appear to be doing the steering. Also that they are sitting so low in the seat that some appear to be looking forward THROUGH the steering wheel. Also, in less extreme cases, some women drivers are compelled to drive with their head tilted backwards (risking neck crick) in order to get a good view. In most cars seat height (not to be confused with seat angle or squab angle) is variable but not always enough to compensate for women who are about 5 ft 2 in. in height (eg, VR). Have you experimented with firmish cushions to raise your height?

Sorry to be so boring unlike your fascinating comment about Portrait.

christopher said...


Unknown said...

I have not driven a car for about 15 years. Sometimes I miss the excitement of unexpected behaviour, whether my own or that of other drivers.

Pam said...

So sorry to read about your accident. It really sounds as if it was his fault. Grr. Poor you.

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

Zhoen - I don't think it's altogether about city vs country, though that's part of it, I think it's largely cultural. But I shall persist.

Sabine - thanks and nice to see you. Alas it is the back roads which have been my undoing, but your words encourage me all the same!

I know people who I think are quite as nervous drivers as I am, who have made the change from RHD to LHD quite easily. It is, as I have said, the positioning on the road that worries me, I fear scraping the kerb or a wall on the right, for instance.

But part of seeking some help is to export a bit of the stress; it's easy to get stuck into a negative frame of mind, along and as a couple, and it all gets rather heavy. Going outside for help, doing something positive rather than it being all about the accident and misfortune, opens things up a bit, makes me feel less of a victim.

I think perhaps it is more scary as a passenger in a RHD car on European roads; another Frenchman I heard about in that situation (only I think it was the inverse, in a LHD car on British roads) was also quaking, and described it as 'la siege de mort'. I've not been in that position for a while but seem to recall it could be a bit unnerving.

Polish Chick and Sheila - it's true, isn't it, and we just have to accept the way we are, though I'd be willing to bet neither of you comes across as transparent-skinned jellyfish!

Bruce/Cat - it's being so curmudgeonly that keeps me going!

The little sailboat is on a plate I bought a couple of for next to nothing in a supermarket once. I wish I'd bought more as they're lovely, slightly dished and a neat size, practical as well as pretty.

Robbie - please don't apologise, your comments have been a tower of strength and provided much needed laughs, including your reference to the bizarre stunted 'sans permis' vehicles. Our hamlet seems to have become something of a 'village sans permis' of recent times, our very large neighbour Josette has just acquired a new black one which seems to be a kind of toy replica of a fancy people carrier. I must try to get a photo of it.

I think both VR and I, as well as being of fairly short stature, are also rather short of leg, and driving position is difficult. I do have cushions, but will reconsider their placement...

Christopher - thanks!

Joe - hmm, I think I'd be happy to do without such excitement!

Isabelle - ah well, I'm still here. thanks for the kindness!

Marly Youmans said...

Looking forward to ABC soup, Lucy!

Avus said...

Loved the montage, Lucy.

In my previous life as a Road Safety Officer I was responsible for delivering Advanced Driving/Riding courses for car/motorcycle users. (I still train the odd coach driver - some being very odd!)

Two books - both on Amazon are the tops for driving:
"Roadcraft" - although this is the official Police manual much of it is very useful for civilian drivers. See:

"Advanced Driving" - one of the ubiquitous Haynes manuals (they do a lot more than car mechanics.) See:

Hope you enjoy the driving lesson in left hand drive French!