Once upon a time a group of us from work decided to venture out of the office after work to a pub quiz in a local village… Kind and generous friend that I am, I offered to pick people up en route and drop them back afterwards so they could have a drink (anyone who works for Admiral and is reading this should take note: I’m a Responsible Driver, and you definitely want to lower my insurance premiums). One passenger to the good, I set off to a small village called Milcombe to pick up one of the gunroom boys, and realised that for the first time I was driving down an unlit country road at night, and in the desolate wilderness that is the countryside, there are no streetlights.
I feel I should pre-emptively defend myself against the stupidity/ naivety/ general ignorance demonstrated in the event I’m about to describe by explaining that I have been driving for over five years, and do in fact have my own car (it’s a blue one) but hadn’t had it more than three months at the point at which this story occurred. Ad as previously very subtly hinted at, I grew up and thus learned to drive in The City. And in The City they, sensibly I might add, have streetlights. The bits of motorways that don’t have streetlights have other cars with headlights. Long story short, I have never had need to use my full-beam headlights other than to flash my lights to alert other drivers to my presence, as per my driving instructor’s lessons all those years ago (seriously Mr/Ms Admiral, youth and irresponsible driving don’t always go hand in hand.)
Driving to Milcombe I could see nothing but the thick, dense blackness hugging my windscreen and about two-inches of road in front of me. And so I slowed down a little and put on my full-beam headlights the only way I knew how – constantly holding down the lever I use to flash them. How should I know how to put them on constantly? As I said, I’ve never needed to use them before. Anyway, with much button-pushing, switch-flicking and general pestering from my passenger (resulting in me driving at least three seconds towards a sharp bend with absolutely no idea what lay ahead – incidentally it was a very sharp bend I the road, so I would have been safer holding my lever down, thank you very much) we worked out where the full-beams were and switched them on; the sharp bend was illuminated as light flooded from my car, and all was good. But once at the pub, I had the piss ripped out of me for the nth time. It seems that full-beam headlights are used by this set as much as – or more than – normal headlights. In fact, having been a passenger in someone else’s car, driving down winding road at night it appears that the roads are lit with strobe lighting as drivers cruise down the lanes, with flicking their lights up and down every passing car, and absolutely no thought or consideration to any epileptic drivers they may pass. City wins on this one: streetlights are much better[i].
Lesson One about driving in the country complete. Lesson Two: Fog Lights. I drove to Heart of the Shires with a friend for an afternoon wandering around the courtyard and more specifically the heavenly cookshop, indulging my fantasies of one day owning a pistachio green Kitchen Aid mixer (it would match my radio – what better reason could there possibly be to get one?) After spending too long gazing adoringly at the Mason Cash mixing bowls[ii], I started looking at Christmas Cake decorations with my male companion, trying to find something to adorn the fruit cake I had soaking in brandy at home. He pointed at a bowl of something suitably Christmassy but most likely tackily sparkly (he is only a boy) and I looked down, wrinkled my nose with distaste and said at least according to him,
– “No, no, no, that just won’t do, whinge whinge whinge.”
Unbeknownst to me there was a nice young lady stacking shelves nearby who had obviously mistaken us for a bickering hopefully-not-so-old married couple piped up,
– “He’s only trying to help you know”.
I learned something incredibly important from this, and I now pass the knowledge on to you: sales staff are not deaf. They have ears, and customers forget this in shops, restaurants and bars. This fact is backed up by my own experience at work – couples especially have sometimes had weirdly intimate conversations in places I’ve worked. So remember when shopping/dining/drinking, that the walls have ears. Though forgetting this fact can cause moments of amusement, as this one did when we two burst out laughing mid-shop and the poor girl stood looking at us very perplexed.
A second moment of inspiration occurred to us that day however: all shops should have a husband/ partner/ companion crèche where you can deposit unhelpful companions in the adult-equivalent of a ball pit until the important and complex browsing and selection process is complete.
Back to Car Lesson Two. On our way back it was foggy, not the ‘ohh there’s a little mist in the air’ fog, but so thick looks-like-you-could-take-a-bite-out-of-it fog, lovely and romantic at dusk but terribly impractical for driving. And so began session two of button-pushing and switch-flicking until I worked out where the fog lights are (remarkable close to the full-beam headlights, funnily enough). I haven’t quite worked out what exactly fog lights do, but they did help. I feel confident now that I can comfortable light my way through any countryside scenario I’m faced with in the future – though admittedly in a little blue car described by a colleague as an ‘oversized toboggan’.
[i] I’m ignoring the cost factor here for dramatic effect.
[ii] I have since become a very proud owner of one – it sat on my window sill for three days after I got it, simply so I could bask in its beauty.