Nervous motorists of the greater east Cork region, I bring glad tidings – you are now one step further away from death, as I am now a qualified driver. It took a lot of effort, and the sharpening of minds that the Clancy Amendment brought about, but I managed to navigate the mean streets of Wilton without running anyone down or screaming abuse at my tester (which, according to the tester, is a common occurrence). It was hardly surprising that I would pass, as I have been driving for two years now and – readers of a sensitive disposition may need to look away now – I mostly drove without a qualified driver accompanying me. This was partly due to necessity – I live in the sticks and have four kids, so driving is a fact of life. The other reason is that I will never learn until I absolutely have to – for me, deep learning only comes on pain of death, and nothing forces me to grasp complex concepts like junction boxes and gyratory roundabouts than the desire to not die. Of course, now that I am a fully-fledged legally qualified driver, all that’s left now is to regret that I didn’t do it decades ago.
Of the many things my wife and I have argued over – and it is an ever-growing list of virtually every single event in history and every particle in the known universe – almost nothing has created as much tension as my unwillingness to drive. The result of my refusal was that she effectively had another dependant, rather than a supportive spouse. Ciara can you drop me to the pub, Ciara can you pick me up from the pub, Ciara can you do the shopping, Ciara can you transport me around like some sort of minor baron in the 16th century. It’s a miracle she didn’t just pack the car and drive off into the sunset.
I’d blither on about how I was actually saving the planet by not driving, meanwhile she would be spending six hours a day in her car running errands and slowly losing her mind. I downplayed the issue in my mind, but I can see now the damage it did, and not just to my marriage but to other aspects of my life too – when my father was dying of cancer I wasn’t even able to bring him to his hospital appointments, or just say, hey, let’s drive down to the beach and watch the waves roll in. His last few months would have been that tiny bit more special if I had been able to bring him places – and that is the real miracle of being able to drive. People talk about the freedom, but it is more than just being able to get somewhere not served by a bus – ie, a lot of the country. It’s the spirit of adventure that it instills in you, and the realisation that Ireland is there waiting to be explored. In the past two years I’ve subjected my kids to more stately homes, holy stones, dolmen, castles, cliffs, ruins, caves and red deer than they had ever seen before, and my wife has been able to simply be in a house that is utterly silent – the heroin of any working parent.
There are many aspects of marriage that I have failed at, but my shift from L to N plates is a sign that there is always hope, and people can change. I can say I should have done it 20 years ago, and think of all the opportunities I missed out on in life, or I can say that well, I’m here now, killing the planet while saving my marriage, cursing those who do not correctly use gyratory roundabouts, and realising that while the L plate may be gone, it doesn’t mean that I have to stop learning.