Thursday, 27 September 2012

Got My Provisional, Ready To Go!!!

After a few weeks of waiting, my provisional license finally arrived in the post today, meaning I am finally able to start taking driving lessons!!

I would show you the photo, but I'm not going to. No, really. It's awful. I look like something off of Crimewatch.

However, it does mean that I can take up my first driving lesson. So I booked one for tomorrow - a 2-hour lesson with an instructor called Dave. The person in the office explained that because it was my first lesson, Dave would pick me up and drive me to an area where the roads are a lot quieter and then start my lesson.

To say I am nervous would be an understatement. I keep having nightmares about crashing the car. Remembering my very brief unsuccessful motorcycle episode back home, I am apprehensive about making the jump from two to four wheels. But it won't be long before I am taking my test!

So wish me luck, I shall report back on my progress!!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Choosing A Driving School (Part 2)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have narrowed my choice of driving schools down to three possible choices:
School #1 is a well-known nationwide school. I won’t give out their name but it is an anagram of B.M.S. They offer brand new cars and claim to be “The most experienced driving school in the country”.
School #2 is a family-run business, who according to their website, have been going since the mid-70s. What’s more, they claim to be able to get me through my test in as little as 6 weeks.
School #3 is a small independent school, offering cheap driving lessons and numerous different discount packages of 10 lessons apiece.

School#3 was a turn-off immediately as their website seemed to say very little about their actual school and experience, etc, instead it focuses primarily on trying to convince me that they are the cheapest driving school around. I’ll admit that money is tight right now, but can you really put a price on road safety?? After all, it won’t be long before I am driving my son around. Still, I decided to phone them to enquire anyway. The person who answered the phone answered it in Bengali. When he realised I spoke English he asked if I want to book a driving lesson, then immediately started to explain what he thought would be the “best package” for me. He didn’t even ask if I had a provisional. The lessons were cheap, but the emphasis seemed to be on getting me booked on as quickly as possible. So I put the phone down and crossed them off of my list.

School#2 seemed to be a little more promising. The person I spoke to was friendly and seemed know his stuff. He told me that all of their instructors were fully qualified, in fact he was a qualified ADI himself. He also confirmed that he could get me through my test in 6 weeks. So far so good. I told him I would call him back if I was interested.

School#1 took me through a hideous recorded message. I cannot stand talking to a machine at the best of times, but I gave up halfway through negotiating their various options and instead looked online for some reviews about them. Surprisingly for a nationwide school, the reviews were mixed leaning towards negative. And I noticed quite a lot of people saying that they kept being given different instructors. One guy had four different instructors over four lessons. This was less than promising.

So it looks like I will be going with the second school. The price was higher than the third school and about the same as the first. But I would much rather pay a bit more and go with them. They seem clued up, are obviously experienced, and it’s nice to phone up and speak to a real person who I can understand.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Choosing A Driving School (Part 1)

A friend of mine actually runs a driving school on the Isle Of Wight. If he wasn’t so far away I would probably go with him, although knowing my luck I’d probably drive the car through the wall of Parkhurst Maximum Security Prison causing all the inmates to escape and cause havoc on the island and it would be all my fault. Unfortunately the Solent necessitates that I choose a driving school closer to home, preferably one that will pick me up from my house. I did, however, phone my contact on the IOW for some advice when choosing a driving school, as I felt it would be useful to have a few pointers from somebody in the business. Here are a few points:

1. Check that your instructor is a fully qualified ADI (Approved Driving Instructor). According to him, a lot of schools use trainee ADIs, that is, people who are studying for their ADI license and therefore NOT FULLY QUALIFIED. Do you really want to learn from somebody who is still learning themselves??

2. Find a driving school you can trust. This may sound like an obvious one, but first impressions count. You can get a good feel for a company just by how they answer the phone, whether they are polite, you can understand them clearly, and they are able to answer any questions you may have.

3. The cheapest driving schools are the cheapest for a reason. They have to lower their prices to attract people to the school because they aren’t selling their lessons. And they obviously aren’t selling their lessons because they aren’t that good. So shop around. Do your research. After all, you will be giving this company a lot of money, so it pays to know that you are getting your money’s worth.

4. Steer clear of block bookings. While they may seem like the most convenient options and quite often they also give you a discount, you are putting yourself at risk of finding out two or three lessons into the course that your instructor doesn’t arrive on time, misses your lessons, or simply doesn’t know his gearstick from his walking stick. 

Sounds like good advice to me.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Why I'm An Uneasy Rider

Today I thought I'd share with you all why I decided to call my blog "Uneasy Rider". Obviously this is a reference to the film "Easy Rider" (one of my favourites of all time) which is also what inspired me in my teenage years to buy a motorbike.

I only ever got to ride it once, for about fifteen seconds. Unfortunately for me I had had no training so not everything went to plan. Basically I got up to a bit of speed, panicked, and crashed it into a low wall, smashing my right knee in the process. On reflection it was a pretty stupid thing to do. The worst part was that I had to cover it up from my father, who would have gone berserk if he'd even discovered i'd been on the back of a motorbike, let alone bought one AND crashed it within the first fifteen seconds of driving it. I stashed the battered up bike in a friend's garage and had the fun experience of limping home and sitting down to eat with my knee in excruciating pain, trying my best to convince my folks that I had injured it playing soccer.

The charade didn't last for long though, as a few days later my friend's dad rang my dad to ask when I was going to "pick up my bike out of his garage" as he needed to free up space. So naturally my dad hit the roof. The next day he went and picked up the bike himself, took it downtown and sold it, while I dragged myself onto the bus to the hospital to get my knee x-rayed. So that was the end of my motorcycle dream. When I went back to college, my friends had kindly given me the nickname "Uneasy Rider", which stuck.

I always thought I would get myself another motorbike one day and try again, but you can't exactly carry a pushchair on the back of one. So now I guess it's time to find a driving school. I have been busy doing my research in between feeds and nappy changes and have found a few in my local area which should cater to a completely inexperienced (and nervous) driver. I have narrowed the search down to three possible candidates which I'll tell you about in my next post. Choosing a driving school is harder than it sounds. There is a lot more to take into account than you would expect, as you'll find out next time...

Thursday, 13 September 2012


Hi! My name is Mark Pietersen and I thought I'd start this blog to document my experiences of learning to drive.

I am a freelance journalist, happily married with a one-year old son (Dylan) and two cats. I am currently living in East London in the charming little suburb of Hackney Wick which is still reeling from the Olympic Games held just around the corner.

I have recently decided (after much persuasion from my wife) to start taking driving lessons. I have never driven before and I am quite dreading getting behind the wheel of a car. However, changes in my circumstances have meant that a car has now become a necessity. As anybody who lives in London will tell you, relying on public transport will get you nowhere. Literally.

So I thought I would document my experiences as a first-time driver right from the word go until the day when I (hopefully) pass my test.

I have applied for my provisional license which they have assured me is on its way (if you can trust Royal Mail), and in the meantime I guess I should have a look around some of the local driving schools and get a few quotes. So stay tuned...