Brakes & Clutches & Gears – Oh my!

So I used to live in the typical insular American world of learning to drive when you’re 15, getting license through a high school driver’s education program, and proceeding to drive though life with a car performing the duties of another blood-fed limb on the body. I had driven all but two weeks of my life since obtaining that treasured wallet card. It proved I was of legal age and skill level to drive a vehicle, as well as proving my height and weight would go unquestioned by all who saw it during 50 lbs of fluctuation, (about 3.5 stone) for years and years. πŸ˜€

I had a license, a car at my disposal, and the lust for driving in my veins.
I had but one obstacle to haunt me later in life… I was never taught to drive a manual transmission.

Now, in America, that’s not a big deal. Most of the cars I’d been exposed to were automatic transmissions. Rather than taking me under her wing and instructing me on the ballroom artistry required to manoeuvre three pedals with two clumsy feet, my mother sold her sporty manual transmission car before I got beyond my learner’s permit at age 15. Oh well. I could just have automatics forever and not worry about it, right?

Leap forward to 2004. I moved to England last November. Nearly every car I’ve encountered here is a manual. I have gone almost 20 years with driving nothing but automatics. I drive automatics really well. I’m an efficient and skilled driver. (no matter what my mother says… πŸ™‚ ) Now I find that my comfortable and nourished additional “limb”- a car- has been amputated and I’m offered only overly complex and seemingly inefficient alternatives- none of which I have the skill set required to operate. I feel like someone has asked me to install a Satellite dish for them but instead of a ladder, they’ve given me a crane…

Today I had my first lesson in the symphonic art of manual transmission manipulation. I learned when a clutch “bites” and where revs turn to forward propulsion. I stalled, killed and irritated that clutch. It let out a smell by the end of the lesson. But, to my surprise, I did manage to get a few good laps around a small industrial estate and a level of confidence crept up to meet me from cellar it had been locked up in. There was one rather unexpected emotional bit when I first started and killed the car: I’d forgotten the fear and helpless panic I felt when I had my motorcycle accident last year. It was my deer-in-the-headlights realisation that I was responsible for making a potentially harmful/deadly machine move and stop under my control that brought back a flood of buried emotions that I was not prepared for. I wept briefly, remembering what it was like to freeze, panic and ultimately jump off of a motorcycle going around 25 miles per hour- landing me bleeding into a hospital emergency room doped up on morphine. I dried the few tears from my eyes and drove the fucking car. I made a substantial confidence shift from fear to just being new at something within a quarter hour or so. I will drive a manual transmission. I will.

If I don’t… (you may be wondering why I don’t just get an automatic here)… then the UK will not license me to drive anything but an automatic. If there’s one thing I hate more than being new at something, it’s being restricted.

Vroom, vroom… next week, I drive some more. πŸ™‚


4 thoughts on “Brakes & Clutches & Gears – Oh my!”

  1. It is only about 6 year since I got my licence and I can still remember the first couple of months with my first car and the routine of “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre, Stall” There were several times that I ended up wanting just to get out the car and walk away.

    I am sure it won’t take you long to master it all.


  2. Ease off the clutch and give it gas. That’s about all my dad told me when he taught me to drive a stick about twenty minutes before I had to go to work. That’s the only wisdom I can pass on. If Jill can drive a stick, so can you, she has no attention span. πŸ™‚

  3. Thanks for the encouragement guys! I will conquer this manual transmission thing… I’m just feeling like a bit of an old dog for the trick is all. I love to drive, and dammit, if this is what it takes to be able to do it here I will.

    I just fear the day I have to park… Argh! I feel 15 again!


  4. Good luck, I agree just ease off the clutch evenly and press down on the accelerator. You will end up finding that half way point.

    Hav fun doing the reverse parks in your test πŸ™‚

Comments are closed.