If you've been reading this blog for a little while you might already know I only passed my driving test last year at the end of November.
When I was 17 I didn't really need to learn to drive, I lived at home and my parents took me everywhere but I did a few trips in my Dad's old fiesta round my Uncle's industrial estate with my Mum. We stopped when she kept saying clutch instead of accelerator and we thought we're probably done here.
After that I just kinda didn't bother. My friends were passing their tests, I knew my parents couldn't afford to buy a car for me and I knew the insurance on theirs would be off the scale so I really couldn't be arsed to learn and that was fine.
Cut to when I was 19 and I was on my Foundation Course. My younger brother was by this point 18 and was learning to drive and my Mum was getting bored of driving me to my course every morning and one day I thought 'maybe I should learn to drive' so I booked lessons with my brother's instructor.
I did about 6 or 7 months of driving lessons that year, I did my theory and I went out religiously every week. My brother passed his test on the third time with that instructor but he just wasn't for me. I was a pretty nervy driver and needed A LOT of reassurance and needed to be told 10,000 times what to do. Like my driving instructor was SO lovely and we got on like a house on fire but I never booked a test and then I went to uni and it didn't really bother me that my lessons stopped.
When I went to university a car would have been handy to travel back and forth home but the train cost about as much as a tank of fuel if booked far enough in advance so it wasn't a big deal - I couldn't have parked the car at uni anyway. Oh and I didn't have a car....that too.
And then I graduated and fell back into my parents house. Let me give you a bit of insight into where we live. Our house is in a hamlet, it's not even a village it's so small it's called a hamlet and we don't have any transport links. If we want a bus it's about a 15 minute walk and if we want a train it's a 10 minute drive.
This was absolutely fine when I was in school because my Mum had a different business then, one from the house (she was a cake maker in case any of you were wondering, I know, poor me) so she was at home most of the time and basically ferried us about. But then 4 years on and I was back, my brother had moved out and now both my parents had full time jobs - ones that took them out of the house every day. Suddenly I found myself in the house with no transport and without even the boyf to call upon for lifts (he selfishly went and got a job, so rude.)
I was making all the right noises, I was saying I was going to learn to drive and my Mum was really pressing me too just for my independence but in all honesty I was putting it off. I kept being like oh yeah I'll do it after holidays, like no point doing it now....
But after a few months of Joss working in his job as a carer which sees him out of the house around 60 hours a week including weekends, getting up 5.30am and getting in at 11.00pm and we basically weren't seeing eachother. So his fabulous parents converted part of their house and gave us a front door/porch, a kitchen, a living room, a bathroom and a bedroom but here's the catch. They live in an even more remote place than I do. Their nearest bus stop is further than mine and their nearest train station is probably about 20 minutes drive.
Finally at the end of September last year I caved to the reality that if I was to move out in order to spend more time with Joss, I needed to get driving so I wouldn't be trapped in the house. Cue my brother moving out and me turning his bedroom into an office and the need to get back and forth my new home and my parents home where my business was was real.
Oh and I also had to resit my theory test because it had expired lol. I booked it on a cancellation slot and had a day to revise, it was fine.
The one thing I had said about learning to drive was that I didn't want to learn. I knew I wanted to drive but I didn't want to go through with the actual lessons - I knew I was getting complacent when I was learning, I was relying on the instructors to tell me what to do and not taking any of it in and trust me if there'd been a legal way of me getting out on the roads with my provisional licence and no instructor I would have taken it.
So what I decided to do (and had decided would probably be the best fit for me years before) was to do an intensive course.
I knew how to drive a car, I had done 6 months of lessons and countless hours but I just needed that bit extra top up. I needed to do the manoeuvres and the hill starts and just get out of bad habits and back into the mentality of learning to drive and I needed a licence quick. I booked my course in October and did it the last 3 weeks of November.
Something I really really struggled with in my initial months of driving when I was 19 was the anxiety. I am not a confident person when it comes to new things and I am nervous at the best of times but driving brought the absolute worst out in me. I would come home crying frequently and I would be an absolute bag of nerves for the entire week waiting for the next lesson. I soon realised, in hindsight that what I needed was to be forced into it, to be forced to get on with it and that I realised would come from driving every single day.
As learners me and my brother didn't have the luxury of our own car or even access to our parents cars so I knew that if I needed to be out every day then an intensive course it would have to be. Obviously there are a lot of variations of intensive courses so I'm just going to talk about the experience I had.
One tip I'd give for someone looking into an intensive course is to go with a brand you know. I googled 'intensive courses in my area' and 28398265735476 came up, all of which had different recommendations and different prices. Whilst it might be tempting to go with the cheapest obviously, in the end I didn't have any personal recommendations from people I knew so I went for Cats Eyes because they're well known and have an established reputation.
Cats Eyes website directs you to your local 'branch' and gives you an outline of where they work i.e what test centres they provide lessons for in your area. Their website gives you an outline of fees based on how many hours you need and a rough outline of what stage of driving experience you should be at to pass within those allotted hours.
When you ring they give you the name and telephone number of a driving instructor they work with and then you book with the instructor what they call an 'assessment lesson'. Basically the instructor takes you out for an hour, you pay about 20 quid and they assess what you know. I was looking to do 25 hours based on my previous driving experience but having a meltdown and a crying fit in my assessment lesson because I was shocked how much of a novice I felt being back in a car, my instructor suggested I went for 30 hours.
So this is where it gets a bit messy in explanation terms but is a fabulous system in my eyes. Your instructor recommends to you and to your local branch how many hours you need and then over the phone with the branch you book your course. There are a SHED LOAD of courses available and you basically tailor it to fit you. You tell them roughly when you want to learn so I wanted my graduation over and done with so the entire month of November was set aside. They then book your test. Yuh huh, you read correctly. To work out when to start the intensive course they book the test first and then work backwards to get your start date. My test was booked for 8am on Monday November 30th of last year and then we got on with the planning.
You can do an intensive course in a matter of days. You can do 6 hours driving a day for a week and have your test on the final morning. You can spread your course out through a month doing a lesson every other day or something. What me and my instructor decided to do was to book my lessons 6 days a week for 3 weeks and that gave us the final weekend to book in more lessons before the test should I need it (I didn't). This was 100% the best way for me and the way I'd recommend you learn if you're thinking of doing an intensive course. Driving every day didn't give me the chance to be anxious, it forced me back out on the road and if I had a bad lesson, I didn't have a week of worrying till the next one. I had 24 hours until I was pushed into it again and it gave me the kick up the bum I needed to grind on and do it. It also meant if I had a good lesson I was raring to get back out there and I could see improvement in myself day on day - it was much more motivating for me.
Doing it 6 days a week also meant I was only driving 2 hours a day - the average driving lesson so whilst it was intensive as I was driving day on day, the actual sitting wasn't so bad. I don't think I could have coped with a 6 hour a day course, I don't think it can be healthy for your mind to focus on something new and difficult for that long. Plus if you have a bad lesson for the first hour the next 5 would crucify me.
I don't know if it's something my instructor just did or if Cats Eyes try and do it all the time but my lessons were all booked in for the same time my test was, as much as possible given other lesson commitments. For me that was around 8am every day and it being rush hour, I learnt A LOT, VERY quickly. It was also November and cold and horrific weather and dark at that time of day too so I felt like I really went through the mill. Oh and it also coincided with school traffic a lot of the time so there was a lot to contend with.
It wasn't all great don't get me wrong. I still found it hard, I still struggled, I still got nervous, I still had good lessons and bad lessons and stalled and failed at manoeuvres and still came home crying (or cried in my lesson) but that was just the stress of driving - something I knew was going to happen.
However, driving every single day over a few weeks gave me the motivation and the grit to just bite my tongue and get it done. I knew I needed to pass and saying 'oh see you tomorrow then' just completely relieved me of my anxiety over it. I could see day on day what I was improving on and what still needed work and because it was a short time before the next lesson, I could really focus my mind on what I'd fucked up on the previous day and try and correct it next lesson. When I was learning once a week I found I was just making the same mistakes and not learning how to correct them.
Obviously a lot of your lessons come down to your instructor and mine was great with me but doing the intensive course was definitely the best fit for me - even if it's the less conventional way of learning.
I would say that I strongly believe you need to have some driving experience before you consider an intensive course. I had long come to the realisation that it was for me before I was in need of a quick licence but my Mum's friends particularly expressed concerns to her that I'd only be on the road a few weeks and then potentially pass and that maybe that wasn't enough experience. Let's be clear here, I did 6 months worth of lessons, the average amount of hours it takes someone to pass BEFORE I did my 30 in the course. Granted it was 3 years ago and I hadn't driven since but I'd done it through Spring and Summer, in night, in stunning weather and in a different test area. Doing the course meant a new test route and I did it in the dark at rush hour in November in some of the worst weather I have ever experienced. In my test the examiner didn't even bother doing a show me tell me in outside the car, we did the two in the car because we genuinely feared the bonnet would be blown off in the wind. It was A LOT for a learner driver but damn did it prepare me for when I was a new driver in December in winter.
If you haven't ever driven I would be reluctant to think that you'd be ready and 100% safe to just hop on an intensive course and be free to drive about with everyone else on the roads 2 weeks later because they don't lie - you really do learn more when you've passed. I would recommend a few lessons at least to get some road awareness and just to get the feel for a car before you start. I didn't need to learn all the basics like steering and gears an clutch control and mirrors etc when I did my course because I'd done months of that prior. I might be wrong though - one size doesn't fit all.
What I will say though is if you have a gut feeling that traditional lessons isn't for you then I'd 100% recommend this alternative way of learning to drive. It's intense - the name doesn't lie but it definitely was the way I should have learnt and my parents really appreciated that.
Yes it's expensive all in one go don't get me wrong but if you can dip into your savings or beg from your parents like I did then book one if you have any inkling it'd work better for you.
I learnt to drive in 3 weeks and when I got up at 5.30am to do my lesson before my test I was calm as anything. I had the best lesson of the fortnight, nailed 2 hill starts which were my absolute weakness and I just felt so ready for it when I walked into the test centre. I remember thinking that if I didn't pass really what was the problem? I'd have to book another and wait a week or two more but really, that was about the worst of it.
I learnt to drive in 3 weeks and I passed my test first time in a gale, in the pissing rain in rush hour in November with 5 minors (admittedly much to my Dad's surprise).
I learnt to drive in 3 weeks and 4 days later when I signed for my very first car (thanks life savings, I really miss having you) and a mere week after I passed when I picked it up, I drove it off the forecourt and drove it half hour home without anyone else in the car with me. And I basically haven't stopped.
I'm a confident driver, I have done 4 hour road trips, I treat the lanes like my playground, the city doesn't faze me, rush hour traffic is my forte and one day in April I just decided to go on the motorway by myself for the first time like it was nobodies business. And at the end of the day it all stems from finding a way of learning to drive that suited me.
Sometimes, an alternative way of learning to drive might get you the result you want.