Driving tips for the hopelessly optimistic / by Ian Buchan

I never said I was a good driver. It’s become a bit of a running joke with my mates. They tease me. Joke that they’d never get in a car with me, but, you know, that would be kind of weird anyway. I have enough trouble concentrating as it is.

Take the other month. Early morning, some B road. Keeping an eye out for hitchhikers. Can’t stand the thought of them standing there, so desperate and lonely. So I try to stop if I can – if I manage to spot them, that is! Bloody fog not helping!

That thing where you look in front of you and then you look to the side of you and there are all these trees whizzing past but you can’t take your eyes off it because it feels all spacey and you get mesmerised by the strobing?

Yeah, that.

The image of a middle aged woman being catapulted through her windscreen will stay with me for weeks. Clunk click, my mates joked. But still, it was kind of my fault – in that she was stationary and I went straight into the back of her.

My mates were great. It was foggy. The fact I wasn’t sleeping showed I had a conscience. Showed I was human, they told me. Could have happened to anyone. I had to get back in there. Stat. The longer I put it off, the worse it would be, they said. I thought they were probably right.

It was a bit touch and go for the first few hours, but soon I was wondering what all the fuss was about. I felt strong.

But then the charity muggers died. Oh my days, it sounds bad written down like that!

I haven’t processed it all yet, but it was something like this. I was concentrating. I was on the ball. I don’t remember being distracted. But somehow my car mounted the pavement and made meatballs out of a gaggle of spunky 18 year olds. Their smiles mown permanently into their fleeces. I’ll never forget the image of the one boy bouncing off my windscreen, his forced grin slowly turning to abject horror as he stared death in the eyes.

I’m told two of them will learn to walk again, although they will look ridiculous.

I thought, that’s it. No more driving for me! I was trying so hard and people still ended up getting hurt. It was quite the scene in the pub that night, let me tell you. My mates wouldn’t hear of it. That’s what mates are for, right? You know the routine. I do the deep funk act. They make all the encouraging noises. Mix it with a bit of teasing. Smile, talk about something else. Make you feel like you’re making a fuss over nothing. Yeah, that stuff. Get back out there, they said. Millions of people drive. Millions of people are worse drivers than me, they said, like a Greek chorus. They were probably right.

Back in the saddle. Don’t mind admitting though, my confidence was shot to pieces. I don’t want people to die, no matter what the papers say. As I drove, I started to think about the vicious circle I was in. It seemed to be about the inalienable right for me to exist, against the rights of other people to have unbroken bones. A lesser man might have thought that bones mend. A better person might have thought that buses get a bad press.

I drove past the hospital. Thought of the all the fragile people, cocooned in bubbles of stories too full to cope with my intrusion. I felt crushed by the overwhelming desire to get away from them without hurting them. For a second, I lost it. By the time I realised, I was careering towards a zebra crossing. Typical me! I swerved to avoid an elderly man. Ground to a halt next to a lady with a pram.

Thanked my lucky stars. Got out of the car. As I pushed the door away, I felt a release, as if discarding a coat of pollen. Finally, I could breathe.

I prostrated myself at the feet of the lollipop man. Threw my keys at him. Implored. Told him I couldn’t do it anymore. I was going to sell my car. Post my licence back to the DVLA. Didn’t he see what nearly happened? What could have happened?

And for a moment I thought the game was up. He looked at me like he knew I was a fraud. A charlatan. A chancer whose time was up.

He picked up my keys and placed them in my hand. He gently closed my fingers around them and gave me a warm smile. A little chuckle. I was being silly.

Perhaps I was.

I turned the engine on. Blanked out the shrill call from the base of my spine. Released the handbrake. Swallowed. Rubbed my reddened eyes.

And I continued on my journey. Felt I could make it without haplessly murdering anyone else.

And in fairness, I’m told both the dogs and the dog walker I hit a few moments later are completely replaceable.