By Chris Pickup

There has been much recent hot-under-the-collar bickering among Caledonia residents as to whether a mini roundabout or crossing signals would best address traffic problems at the Agyle/Haddington intersection.

Although admitting a preference for a roundabout myself, the brouhaha sent my mind back to my first unfortunate, and in retrospect fairly funny,  experience with one.

I grew up in a solid working-class neighbourhood in England. Neither my  family nor most of our neighbours owned a car. My dad hopped on his pushbike and pedalled the miles to his factory job every day and the rest of us either took shank’s pony (walked), hopped a bus, or rode a train. 

Thus, by the time I was 17, I had been inside a car a maximum of 3 or 4 times. 

Just before my eighteenth birthday I snagged a boyfriend who actually owned a car, and he took it into his head that he should teach me to drive. 

I had been a bit of a gawky kid and it took some eight years of ballet lessons to inject some kind of co-ordination into my limbs. But confronted by a manual-geared car, I was shot back to square one by the complexities of manoeuvring clutch, brake, accelerator and floor gearshift. It took several lessons before I could even move the car forward without stalling it. 

Finally, with a few rabbit-hops and some moaning about the clutch from the boyfriend, I got the car into gear and actually started driving down the street.

My halting progress had been watched with jeering interest by the hordes of kids infesting the streets of our neighbourhood playing intellectual games such as kick-the-can and knock-and-run to annoy the more elderly among us. 

But once I had mastered a few of our local streets and the art of climbing a hill from a standing start without rolling backward, I was deemed ready to begin driving on a road that actually contained other traffic. I was also tutored in the art of opening the window and sticking my arm out to signal a turn (we weren’t exactly sophisticated.) 

Back in the day (and maybe even now for all I know) the powers-that-be mandated a placard with a big red L should be placed on any vehicle containing a learner driver, to warn other drivers to avoid the probable maniac behind the wheel who was liable to do something stupid. 

There was no doubt I was ludicrously lacking in decent driving skills at that point, and that big red L probably saved my bacon.

Thus it was I was chugging along the road with other vehicles, my big red L bouncing merrily on the boot, and doing quite well I thought, when I noticed a stream of traffic crossing the road and behind them a big green mound. I had never seen a roundabout, hadn’t been forewarned, and didn’t really know what I was looking at.

Thinking about all the clutch, brake and gearing down I was going to have to do in the next few seconds, and not really knowing where I was going to go, I did what any sensible person would do … I panicked. 

My brain shut down and, hands stuck grimly to the steering wheel, I kept chugging forward straight across the roundabout ring road, to the cries of ‘keep left’ (we drive on the other side of the road in Blighty) from my passenger, and the sound of screeching brakes on the right, bumped up the curb and stalled on the roundabout, stranded like a chunk of chocolate on top of a green lime pie.

There was a stunned silence for a minute, then my boyfriend shot around the car, dragged me from the driver’s seat, told me to get in the passenger seat and prayed to all the gods he could get the car started out of its stall. As he was an auxiliary constable at the time I suspect he wasn’t ready to answer questions if the cops arrived on scene.

As it was, he got us off and we went home in a black silence. Needless to say there were no more driving lessons, nor did I want any.

Some five years later, I had met and married my husband and we emigrated to Canada with our young daughter. I still wasn’t driving although we owned a car, but at the age of 32 I announced we had conceived our fourth child.

Kevan chewed on the information for a minute or two then blurted out “Dammit, I’m not going to chauffeur the lot of you around for the rest of my life.” While I was pondering what the hell I was going to do with four kids when he rode off into the sunset, he pronounced “Chris, you’re going to have to learn to drive.”  Well, okay.

He called a professional who gave me intensive lessons, thankfully on the now-ubiquitous automatic-geared car and eight to ten weeks later I was the proud owner of a brand-new Canadian driver’s licence. 

Startled driving residents of Cayuga thought their roads were haunted by a driverless car until they caught a glimpse of a pair of eyes peering just over the top of the steering wheel. At barely five feet tall, I was dwarfed by the  big boat commonly known as a stationwagon.

I’ve been driving for years now, and negotiated a couple of roundabouts with ridiculous ease. It’s all in the foreknowledge (and adequate driving skills). And I still think a roundabout would be a good thing in Caledonia.