Last week... that started off with me making a complete mess of pulling up at the side of the road in Fareham. I indicated left to park, then decided there wasn't enough space and continued a bit, then cancelled the signal as there was a side turn, then went past a whole string of parked cars and found a spot at the bottom of the road. I did manage to perfectly judge the distance to the kerb at least. In fairness, I'd had very little practice at parking at the side of roads that are not mostly empty.
What this really is is another example of how things that look wrong make sense when you think about them. I'd been looking at possible spaces on the side of the road between drives, and from a driver's-eye view it looks like there's no way to fit a car between any two drives. But actually, either the drives are right next to each other, or there's at least a house's width between them. And houses are generally wider than cars are long. So all those spaces that look too small are in reality easily large enough to fit one if not two cars.
Anyway, back to the lesson... once I'd parked and sorted myself out she then started talking about the recent changes to the test. These days the UK driving test includes a sort-of free driving bit, where the examiner will give you a set of directions (something along the lines of "left at the end of the road, right at the roundabout, then follow the signs to Lee-on-Solent") and ask you to repeat them back to check you've got them. You then drive yourself, without the turn-by-turn navigation that the examiner normally gives you. It's intended as an opportunity for the examiner to check how good you are at driving and navigating. Since the aim is to check your driving rather than your sense of direction you will not be penalised for getting lost!
The rest of the lesson was mainly a refresher of previous concepts - I had a few more goes at turning the car around, reversed around another corner (this time a nice simple one without an edge-hiding tree or a stealth signpost), had another couple of goes at parking at the side of the road (during which my instructor explained what I've gone over above), and I think did a little more bay parking practice.
Yesterday's lesson... that started off as usual, trundling from Whiteley into Stubbington and Lee-on-Solent with a brief bit of derestricted road where I managed to reach 58mph before finding traffic (the Ford accelerates quite nicely if you put your foot down). One day I'll achieve the speed limit of 60mph along there! My instructor commented that I'd gotten quite good at block-shifting, unlike one of her other pupils who had a go at 4th and instead tried to shift into reverse!
After heading along the seafront we then headed up round the back of Lee-on-Solent and along Shoot Lane, a narrow twisty turny country lane upon which locals hurtle round at inadvisable speeds. I can quite understand what The Gnu meant when he announced with much glee "I've found third gear!" while making his way along a Welsh mountain pass. We then continued into Gosport, where I got plenty of practice at handling crossings as every set of traffic lights decided to turn red in front of me.
Finally after a revisit of the tidal road we pulled up in the same tank-width road from a month ago and went over the final reversing manoeuvre: parallel parking! My instructor teaches parallel parking last, and with good reason - it uses elements from the previous reversing moves.
Traditionally instructors will teach you to line yourself up with the wing mirrors of the other car, but my instructor doesn't do that (as it's not helpful if the other car is pointing the wrong way). Instead, you begin by pretending the car you want to park behind is really not a car but a great big box or skip or something. Then you line yourself up next to it, and pull forwards a little until the front corner of the other
In the test you must be within 2 car lengths of the car in front - the way they worded this is a little confusing but what it really means is there must be no more than one car length between you and the other car. If you're too far behind then you can drive forwards into the space, which will cost you a minor on your test but is better than failing! One thing to watch out for is when you're parking in a small space and don't manage to straighten up before running out of road. The temptation is to head forwards while constantly steering left but all that will achieve is driving along a curve such that the back of your car is sticking out ("bananaing", my instructor called it). Instead, if I've remembered rightly you only steer left until you're parallel with the kerb, then continue forwards until you run out of space. Then you can reverse again, steering hard left and then hard right to get closer to the kerb. Fortunately during the test the examiner will pick somewhere with plenty of space so you don't need to worry about that.
I had a couple of goes at this, and it's surprisingly simple as long as you take it slowly and ensure you've got enough space to play with.
My instructor also showed an alternative approach that some people find easier, which is to skip the middle straight part of the manoeuvre. Instead you continue turning, and when you get close to the kerb you quickly change from left to hard right. The advantage is that you don't need as much space, but the disadvantage is you do have to steer very quickly. I tried both approaches and I couldn't really pick between them, though the first one is a little easier as you're not trying to do as much as quickly.
After that, it was back to Fareham. Once back at my flat my instructor commented that (particularly with this lesson) I'd been doing more of the driving myself, as it were - instead of getting turn-by-turn directions back to Fareham I was now navigating myself and just checking with her that I was going the right way (I think it's the difference between asking "which way at the roundabout?" and "straight on at the roundabout?"). I'm mostly at the point now where it's all about getting the hours in and building my confidence up. Certainly I've come a long way from the first few lessons!
The other thing she covered is the AA do short-term insurance specifically for learners - they have a system where they can verify that you're actually taking lessons from one of their instructors (and that the instructor thinks you're doing well enough) and then cover you as a learner driver in someone else's car. Now, on the one hand my parents do drive Alfa's which are not cheap for learner insurance (my instructor's been gently teasing me over whether or not The Gnu has let me drive his one when I've been up in Horsham - the answer is not yet!), but on the other hand I am over the magic age of 25 where insurance companies decide that you're actually a responsible adult and not a young hooligan... anyway, I mentioned it to The Gnu and he sounded quite positive about it. His answer was basically to follow it up and see how much it'd be (and then probably go "it costs that much?!"). I'm not sure I'm ready to be let loose in his 2.2 litre Alfa myself when all I've been driving is a little 3-cylinder 1 litre Ford, at least not in the obstacle course that is my parents' road, but perhaps in a less-chaotic part of Horsham (and maybe allegramente's slightly smaller 2 litre one)... who knows?
He did also (and I think not entirely jokingly) suggest that if I'd passed my test by the family holiday in August I may well end up doing some of the driving for it!