A few months ago, I finally started learning to drive. I had been putting it off for years for all manner of excuses, from the unaffordable cost of lessons (which would have been legitimate if I weren’t spending so much on cocktails) to the impossibility of scheduling a lesson around my flexible freelance hours, to my bad back (I was getting desperate). In reality – as everyone was aware – I was just terrified of being on the road. Naturally, no one was more surprised than me to discover that I actually enjoy being behind the wheel. Unfortunately, though, I left it a little too late.
When lockdown struck in March, everyone was stranded in the same boat. Initially I didn’t even think about driving; my main focus was simply staying at home. But now that the rules have started to loosen and we are allowed to travel further afield, one thing has become frighteningly clear: not having a car during the Covid-19 crisis makes life a whole lot harder. While friends and family are taking winding country lanes to remote walking spots, I’m stuck lapping myself on the same route. While people are out forming “social bubbles” with vulnerable relatives, I’m finding that the risk of taking the train is simply too high.
Of course, this isn’t the first time not having a licence has held me back. In the days when I was trying to apply for jobs as a production runner, one of the basic prerequisites was the ability to drive. However, considering I would probably have been giving lifts and picking up macchiatos, I now see it as a blessing in disguise. Likewise, not being able to taxi people to parties had an obvious silver lining: I could never be designated driver. But now that I am social distancing, it feels like a much bigger limitation. Being able to journey door to door without anxiety is a privilege reserved for vehicle owners (and their lucky passengers).
Crucially though, it’s about losing my freedom. Now is the perfect time to book a remote cottage in the Hebrides or the far reaches of the Cornish coast, but instead I am stuck planning elaborate routes on Google maps via public transport that I’m still cautious to use. I have lost my mobility, and it hurts more than job rejections or £30 Uber receipts. With international travel something of an ethical uncertainty for the time being, holidays at home are more popular than ever, and yet they are painfully inaccessible for many. While an isolated Airbnb is the safest option, a non-driver must consider train stations and local amenities. The more you think about hand sanitiser, face masks and reduced bus timetables, the less idyllic the prospect of a getaway becomes.
The good news is that driving lessons are back on the agenda and tests are returning from the 22nd July. But considering my lack of practice and the administrative backlog, I’ll likely still be going round in circles for the foreseeable future.