I did a DriveSafe course a while ago via Zoom in order to avoid penalty points for doing 36 mph on Rawlinson Lane one Tuesday morning at the start of lockdown. Originally, before physical reality was banned, it was going to be an actual course that you really attended in your own actual flesh.
I imagined it was going to be like an episode of Top Gear. We’d all be wearing jumpsuits and crash helmets and be encouraged to hurtle towards strategically positioned crash test dummies at insane speeds in souped-up rally cars. The affable, roguish instructor would have us crashing through walls of soft bricks and executing handbrake turns on hot, shimmering asphalt. We’d finish the day mildly burnished by the June sun and reeking gently of burnt rubber, squinting heroically into the near-distance like Steve McQueen or Paul Newman.
It wasn’t like that.
It was two and a half hours of PowerPoint in the company of an ex-teacher of MFL called Fran and eight of my fellow offenders from around the North West.
Julie, from Blackburn, spent almost the whole time on mute as she had ‘terrible hay-fever’ and didn’t want us to hear her sneezing. Martin, from Blackpool, maintained a reclining position throughout, much like an Ancient Roman on his supper couch, and treated us all to a view of his profile. Andy, from Bolton, sat very close to his webcam and glowered menacingly at everyone for the duration, his fuzzy, angry black brows beetling horrifically as Fran went into more detail than you might imagine about the difference between 30 and 31 mph and proper mini-roundabout behaviour.
“Jot this down”, Fran said every few minutes. There wasn’t going to be a test or anything; I think she just couldn’t stop being a teacher. “Now, make a new heading”, she’d say.
She sounded a bit like Anne Widdecombe. I spent much of the session assuming she was Roman Catholic and imagining she once wanted to be a nun but was seduced by the lure of foreign exchange trips and the possibility of meeting smoulderingly handsome young men from Madrid.
“Are you alright there, Marcus?” she said at one point. “Your top half has disappeared”.
“I dropped my pen”, said Marcus, surfacing. I think he was going to add ‘Miss’ onto the end but stopped himself just in time. “I’ve got it, though. Here.” And he waved his pen about a little, as if to prove to any sceptics from Salmesbury that he hadn’t simply been trying to look up Fran’s skirt.
Brian, from Leyland, had some connection issues and would disappear for minutes at a time, then pop up again, until Fran suggested rather firmly that he try another device or risk getting locked out and having to do the whole thing again. He was a tall, gangly young man – probably still is, it wasn’t that long ago – with a generous spread of ripe, crimson-peaked acne across his cheeks and forehead. He sat quite far away from his camera. I suspect he was avoiding close-ups of his skin but for all I know he was simply proud of his lengthy, slender frame and spotless carpet. And why not? If you’ve got it…
I’d fully expected to be shown gruesome pictures of what a car driven at the wrong speed could do to a child’s head or a pensioner’s legs, but surprisingly there was none of that.
It was, instead, like all courses in all educational contexts across the entire world these days, a slow trawl through various slides punctuated by fairly pointless ‘exercises’ in which we were asked to list things, or place things in order, or identify an emotion we might experience should we one day find ourselves responsible for the vehicular slaughter of most of the five-year-olds in Poulton-le-Fylde.
There wasn’t even a hammer smashing a ripe peach. I dutifully wrote down words like ‘guilt-ridden’ and ‘remorseful’ and avoided any off-colour remarks about how playing Grand Theft Auto could be considered equivalent to completing an advanced driving course.
It all ended on time. Fran signed us all off, telling us to go in peace and avoid all sin.
Julie looked especially relieved. Andy glared a bit more fiercely, then disappeared. Marcus gave everyone a cheery thumbs-up. Martin, who’d been disappearing sporadically throughout the session, seemed to want to linger. Not me. I was at my espresso machine before you could say ‘breaking distance!’