We’re getting a car.
It’s been a long time coming, several years in fact, but then again, my husband and I take our time making big decisions. We still haven’t bought a rug and armchairs for the living room, even though it’s been more than two years since we moved into our ‘new’ home.
We used to live within easy reach to shops and public transport, and with a five-minute walk to the children’s school, so back then there was no need for a car. Since we moved further away from central London, however, it’s become increasingly clear that we need a car. Still, it’s taken us two years to get one. And the blame for that rests entirely with me. For the longest time I kept postponing any car-related decision, resorting to one excuse after another:
“It’s only a 10-minute walk to the underground, and it’s good exercise.”
“The girls need to learn to find their way around London, and they won’t do that if we keep driving them everywhere.”
“Having a car is an unnecessary expense.”
This particular argument has always been the weakest one, as the amount of money we (and I, in particular) spend on taxis every month more than matches the monthly cost of petrol, parking permits and car insurance.
The real reason for my reluctance to buy a car was something altogether different: fear.
I am petrified of driving in London, a city whose streets were made not for SUVs but for horse and cart, not to mention the fact that cars in the UK drive on the wrong side of the road.
It’s not just the fear of driving myself that’s holding me back; even when I travel in the back of a black cab, I am as terrified as I’d be on a roller coaster, awaiting the inevitable moment the driver will crash into another vehicle and kill me off.
I was twenty years old when I got my first driving license – in Sweden – and I passed my driving test with relative ease. Shortly after, I was due to travel to the United States for university studies and, wanting to make sure my brand-new license arrived before I departed, I borrowed my parents’ car – a red Volvo – to go and collect my license in person.
It was about an hour’s drive from my home and for moral support, I brought my cousin along. It was a smooth drive – until I failed to break in time at a red traffic light, sending us crashing into the car in front. Fortunately, there was no damage to either vehicle, but the other driver was furious.
“Pay attention, stupid girl,” he shouted at me but thankfully didn’t insist on filing a report.
“No need to tell my parents about this, ok?” I said to my cousin as we drove on and successfully collected my license.
Over the years that followed I regularly drove in the US, having bought a second-hand car – a red Renault – with which I travelled not just locally but also interstate. It was not in the best shape when I bought it, but it worked well enough for me – even after I crashed it into a lamp post on a cold and icy winter’s night out with friends.
I don’t recall ever being afraid to drive until I moved to the UK eighteen years ago. Suddenly, the thought of getting behind the steering wheel filled me with dread, if not sheer panic. Luckily, as long as I lived relatively central, first on my own and later with my husband, I didn’t need a car, but once our second child was born, talks of getting one started.
Eight years on, I’ve run out of excuses and last week my husband and I signed the papers for a car that will be ready for us to collect in a few days. The good news is, it’s a hybrid, so slightly less polluting than a regular petrol or diesel car. The bad news (for me), is that it’s larger than I would have liked.
Whilst I have always argued that the smaller the car, the less the risk of me crashing it, my husband is adamant that a larger car will offer more protection for the kids and me. In other words, what he’s saying is that if I crash the car, the girls and I will have a better chance of survival if we’re in a more substantial vehicle.
In the end, my husband won the battle over car size, chiefly on account of our 11-year old’s tallness: every small-ish car we tried, she’d complain of lack of legroom in the backseat.
The children are very excited about us finally getting a car; no more getting soaked in the rain on their way to school. No need to carry heavy school bags on a packed underground train.
“But we’ll need to keep sick bags in the car, for when mummy drives,” the 7-year old says.
“That’s a bit unfair,” I protest. Admittedly, my driving wasn’t very smooth when we went to test drive different cars, but at least I wasn’t the one who drove on the pavement.
“You’ll get used to driving in no time,” my husband says, but I wonder who he’s trying to reassure; me or him?
By the way, the car we’ve bought is red, but let’s not read too much into that.