I’m awoken by the sudden shift in movement of the duvet, followed by a thumping of footsteps across the floor. I’ve been in a deep sleep and my heart races. I curse; I’d managed to get off to sleep with little difficulty despite pre-test anxiety. Now I’m wide awake, hormonal (meaning body heat is high) and know there’s little chance of resuming my repose. Sleep comes eventually, but I’m in a grumpy mood when the alarm sounds and forces me into action.
I’m not feeling positive at all. I’ve been out and about the industrial landscape of Bradford getting to know its backroads, roundabouts and filter lanes. This isn’t quite what I planned on doing when I thought it was a good idea to become a biker. Yesterday, I managed to upset two drivers (unfairly, your honour), nearly run over a pedestrian (he shouldn’t have hid behind a lorry) and probably even upset a police officer, (well a nod in my direction did make me think it was okay to move).
Things aren’t looking particularly hopeful.
I do some t’ai chi and finish the sequence with some kind of made-up, spur of the moment ritual asking for divine help. I thank the guardian warriors on destriers for all their protection given so far, let them know that I’m being cheeky in making them work so hard, but I could really use some help today.
Something comes to me and I go to google maps, street view. It occurs to me that there’s one particularly direction out of the test centre that I’ve not yet done and that might be likely today. So I do a virtual ride around the area, looking down all possible turns that I could be instructed to go, making a note of speed signs, humps, possible test ‘traps’, possible directions I might be instructed to follow.
There’s another thing that comes to me. I realise that part of the discomfort of doing the test for the fourth time isn’t so much about making mistakes and failing, but knowing that if you have the same examiner, yet again, that he’s seen how stupid you’ve been all those times before. Whereas anyone else who’s witnessed my mistakes, won’t know who I am and probably won’t see me ever again. That’s an ego, prideful thing, and is promptly put to one side. Interestingly, later in the day, I learn of a rider who did several tests at 5 different centres, blaming the hard centres rather than learning their road-craft. They gave up after that, if only they had an angel or two that told them their ego was the problem, not the test centres.
I have an hour warm up and today our instructor is PJ. I’m quite pleased about this, as PJ coaches constantly as you ride. I’m introduced to the other test candidate today, Stephen. I lead and things are going reasonably well apart from one roundabout I really don’t like and I come off it in the wrong lane. No problem says PJ, let’s do it again, but this time with PJ leading. We do it from two different directions, it’s surprising how easy it really is.
I’m nervous, but still end up having a bit of a banter with the examiner before we start. Despite this, the minute it becomes formal, I’m gripping the bike like I’m afraid it’s going to run away from me. I CAN’T relax.
We pull out of the test centre, round a mini-roundabout and I’m told to go left – the direction I rode virtually this morning. I smile to myself, but I STILL can’t relax. I’d predicted one particular trap – a 20 mph zone with a very narrow bridge after a tight bend, followed by a tight bend. I have a strategy and it works. First hurdle over, but I STILL can’t relax.
We get to a roundabout on a nightmare road and I’ve to turn right, but I’ve done this in practice. I know I’ve to pick the speed up once I’m on the straight. I’m told to follow the signs for Harrogate. I’ve taken this road so many times before, I handle the lane shifts I need to do and feel they’ve gone well, but I STILL can’t relax. I’m not sure what goes on after this, it’s turn right, turn left, turn left, turn right, one after the other and I make a couple of gear errors in the process. I’m now so tense that I’m sure all of my body is going to seize up and I’ll be like a rigid plank for evermore. Despite this, I seem to have wits enough to right the wrongs and keep going as if nothing happened.
By the time we finish, I do a quick head count to judge whether it’s another ‘sorry, but on this occasion…’ One pedestrian tried to get himself run over, but I’m proud of my bike control there. I was a bit slow in remembering to switch the indicator off a couple of times – too slow perhaps? Didn’t position myself so well behind a van when stopped for a while, and there were those times I forgot where the gear lever was.
PJ and Stephen are waiting at the test centre and they look at me hopefully. I pull a face and tell them I forgot how to ride a bike. The examiner nods and says “yup, she did” and I thought, ‘Uhoh’ – actually it was a little stronger thought than that, but I’ll refrain from repeating what really went through my mind. We sit down for the verdict and he says “Which way do you indicate when turning right at a roundabout?” I’m horrified. I run through the ride at triple speed and declare, “I didn’t, did I?”
The examiner looks down at the paper in front of him and makes a few marks. I’m crest-fallen.
His next utterance is spoken very quietly, he’s still looking at those marks on the paper.
“I’m pleased to tell you that you’ve passed.”
Did I hear him right? How could that be? He laughs and winks at PJ. I realise I’ve had my leg pulled.
“I’ve passed, really?”
“Well, I can change it if you want!”
I’m astonished, he’s writing on a PASS certificate.
It’s taken a while to sink in, but tomorrow, I’ve got an appointment for settling the final details on my NEW bike!
Today, I’ll do some kind of made-up, spur of the moment ritual of gratitude to those warriors on destriers.