Making mistakes

Twelve years ago, I burst into tears in my driving instructor’s car. No student had ever cried in his car before in his 35-year driving career.

Learning to drive in the UK -- image by Bill Abbott via Flickr

Learning to drive in the UK — image by Bill Abbott via Flickr

He drove me home as I wasn’t safe on the road with a blurred vision. He was still confused about my tears. “Did I upset you? What made you cry, Janet?” He spoke very gently.

Actually, I was shocked by my own tears too. I had struggled a lot, yet I continued to make mistakes, and he told me off rightly for making dangerous mistakes. Understanding English instructions when driving was very difficult for me. It took me longer to process his instructions. I normally understand academic English fine, but informal phrasal verbs often confuse me: “pull over the car; pull out the car”, or warnings such as a ‘sleeping policeman’.

I was desperate to pass the test. I moved from London to the suburbs with no friends and family. I needed to get around with my new baby, who was getting ill each day when I was trying to pass the test. I didn’t tell my instructor about my worries at home.

I failed my first test, of course, because I overtook a 10mph milk float successfully and no milkman was hurt. It was just not advisable to overtake a milk float in a driving test. Luckily I passed my second test, and soon, my instructor emigrated to Spain. I was his last student. I’m sure while enjoying tapas in a sizzling Spanish beach he’ll always remember me fondly how his driving career ended with me.

Before I came to England, I used to drive in Malaysia for a few years. I didn’t anticipate the difficulties to gain a new driving licence. I thought I already had the skills to drive, and I only needed a few weeks to ‘brush up’ my skills, and be familiar with the test routes. How wrong I was. Passing the driving test in the UK was very difficult. The British driving test is one of the world’s hardest. I had to re-learn my driving. I had to un-do all the bad habits.

Do not drop the plate, baby

In our first lesson, my instructor asked me to just drive so that he could assess my competence. After 10 minutes, he stopped me. He couldn’t believe I crossed my arms when driving. He told me it was dangerous to cross arms while steering as I wouldn’t be able to control the car in an emergency. More importantly, “If you drive cross-armed, you’ll fail the test definitely.”

After the first lesson, I was given a tailored-made homework: Standing in front of the mirror and turning a plate round and round, turning the plate in both clockwise and anticlockwise directions. Both hands have to be holding on to the plate. Do not cross the arms. Do not drop the plate.

It was a very difficult exercise for me, as kicking an established habit of arm-crossing was damn hard. After about 6 weeks of standing in front of the mirror practising, I finally kicked the habit.  

Gear Stick by quimby via Flickr

Gear Stick by quimby via Flickr

My second bad habit was driving with one hand. “Janet, where is your left hand?” My left hand was on the gear stick. Couldn’t he see that? “Janet, why is your left hand there, not on the steering wheel?” I needed to get ready to change gear. Couldn’t he see that? “But you’re not changing gear, Janet.” So I also learnt to keep both hands on the steering wheel most of the time.

Now I consider myself a competent and safe driver. I don’t enjoy long journey, and I still don’t drive on the motorway, but I’m competent to get around places in my community. I have my driving instructor to thank for. He kicked a few bad habits out of me; he taught me the rules to survive the roundabouts. My instructor taught me to be aware and to be safe, and, never ever drop the plate.

How I made a pair of conjoined cranes

Conjoined cranes joined with one wing

Conjoined cranes joined with one wing

I often recall how I learnt to drive properly in England and I try to implement the same rigour and discipline in many tasks I do.

My hobby is origami. I could make a crane with 25 steps very easily.

Recently, I decided to challenge myself and work on a pair of conjoined cranes. After an evening of failure, suddenly the inspiration clicked on my train journey yesterday. I did it. I did it on the train. I’ve finally worked out the mathematical pattern, and now I will focus on the fine details with creases.

I finally got the ‘feel’ of the conjoined cranes, through many failures. I only had a simple diagram to rely on, and I still couldn’t explain to you how the conjoined cranes were created. I scrunched up many papers, paused, walked away, thought about it in my dream. When the time was ripe, and when I next put my hands to the paper, the conjoined cranes were born.

This post was inspired by Blog Exercises: If You Don’t Make Mistakes, You’ll Never Learn by Lorelle VanFossen. You can find more Blog Exercises on . This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles.

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11 thoughts on “Making mistakes

  1. Lorelle VanFossen

    “…passing a milk truck…” Oh my. I’m on the floor laughing too hard. That’s beautiful. Seriously beautiful. What a great reason to fail your driving test. Brilliant. Followed by you standing in front of the mirror driving a plate – this is precious. I love it.

    Your last paragraph is priceless. That’s exactly how it works. It takes many mistakes to get it right, but often it is what happens in our head that makes it “right.” Beautiful!

    Thank you so much!

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Ah – do you call a ‘milk float’ a ‘milk truck’ in America?

      Milk Float in the UK

      Image by kenjonbro vi Flickr

      I had thought my examiner would praise me for my excellent judgement and precision to overtake a very slow milk float. No one was injured. All milk bottles were safe. The sight of a milk float always reminds me of my driving test.

      p/s: Make sure you don’t drop the plate.

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  6. Ruby

    I can’t see how you could be failed for passing a milk float – not unless it was across double white lines (as vehicle has to be doing less than 10 mph to do that).
    And remember: “the person who never made a mistake never made anything”

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      The problem was: I did overtake the milk float successfully, and I did not injure anyone, including the milkman, and all the milk bottles were not broken.

      However, my examiner possibly considered my excellent overtaking skill a sign of reckless driving behaviour. I still think I overtook the milk float beautifully.

      Never mind. I made other mistakes too at some dodgy roundabouts.

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