Behind the wheel - diary of a Sussex newbie

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I always thought the most terrifying driving experience of my life was behind me; having had to negotiate Shepherd’s Bush roundabout in busy West London, on my second ever driving lesson.

I can still remember the sheer panic, as lorries, taxis and impatient Londoners careered around the middle reservation, fed up with the learner driver nudging nervously out into the fray.

City driving demands confidence, but has changed dramatically since I passed my test.

The biggest hazards now are bikes and congestion.

Delivery drivers are also pretty ruthless. But, what now strikes me most each time I go back to London is just how SLOW the traffic is.

Most of the journey you’re stationary.

London is one big caterpillar of interconnected traffic jams. Be it road works, rush-hour or sheer volume of traffic, it’s impossible to get anywhere at any speed in a car these days.

Get the tube if you’re in a rush! So, although the driving can be stressful because you’re desperately trying to get somewhere on time, you’re not actually doing much proper driving.

I had imagined that in Sussex it would be a much more relaxed and gentle affair – that people would be somehow more friendly and amenable. However...

The Admiral is a case in point. Always known as a safe and steady pair of hands on the road, since moving to Sussex, he has turned into a demon behind the wheel.

A sweeter and kinder near-Octogenarian you will not meet, but once he’s in his car he is transformed.

‘The speed limit is 30 miles per hour’ the rather imperious lady Sat Nav commands from the dashboard at him, at full volume.

He has no trouble keeping to the speed limit on motorways or A roads, but put him on a quiet country lane and you can almost see the devil horns sprouting from the top of his head. And it’s not only him. I’m constantly amazed at how the locals speed here.

The school run is not quite what we expected either.

In London we had it taped; leave with at least a half hour’s cushion time in your journey in order to mitigate for a) the inevitable rush hour snarl and b) the horror of horrors of trying to find some kind of space in which to stop to drop Dear Daughter off vaguely near her school without blocking the road and whilst dodging the double yellow lines.

Here, we felt sure it would be a more relaxed affair and that as there’s so much more space, surely all the cars would be absorbed by said space and that we’d drift along to school, fairly last minute, with no stress and no jams. Wrong.

Start time for school here is far earlier and so we’re up at dawn.

Gradually as we near the main A road, the number of cars increase, joining from all the little lanes and B roads like ants, bustling their way towards their destinations. Drivers are intent and intense. They have further to go and they don’t live in the country to have to sit in traffic jams, so they get quite cross and sit right on your tail, somehow thinking this might speed things up.

Tailgating is definitely something that happens a lot more round here.

There’s also a breed of driver I’d never come across before, which we call the ’Hurtlers’.

They’re easy to spot. They’re the ones who are waiting at a junction to join the road you’re happily on.

They must surely see you approaching and appear to wait patiently. Then suddenly, at the last moment possible, they put the acceleration on full throttle and turn on to the road right in front of you, forcing you to slam the breaks on.

Having sped onto the road, they then slow right down and settle into a cruising speed of 20mph for the foreseeable future.

In London, if someone cuts you up and careers into the road, they tend to carry on careering.

Here, it’s like a sudden spasm of energy, and they then revert to painfully slow snail-pace.

Turning 17 in just a few weeks time, Dear Daughter is about to start driving lessons.

Far from having the easy option learning to drive here, she’ll have to have her wits about her.

Locals beware and please be patient with the L plates in front of you!