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LIFE BY LOIUS: Memories of driving school woes

Tuesday July 3 2018

It is on this hill that an aspiring driver was taken for a lesson on hill starting.

It is on this hill that an aspiring driver was taken for a lesson on hill starting. ILLUSTRATION| IGAH 

LOUIS MUIRURI
By LOUIS MUIRURI
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One of my lowest moments in life is when I remember my experience in driving school.

Unlike today when driving schools are serene-looking institutions that resemble international schools, in our days they were the epitome of low life.

To begin with, nearly all the driving schools were located along one street in the middle of downtown. It looked like it was by design to make them as inaccessible as possible.

The cars that were used for the practical lessons seemed to have been rejected by all the major scrap metal yards in town.

The lorries in particular were rickety and emitted noxious fumes that threatened to suffocate you even before you enjoyed your first driving experience.

INTIMIDATION

The instructors were probably harvested from the teaching fraternity of corrective institutions where they seemed to have refined their torture and intimidating skills.

Although the practical lesson was supposed to take one hour per day, the instructor unapologetically showed up 30 minutes late. By that time the traffic situation in town and its environs had built up to near stationary levels.

The instructor would lead you through Globe Cinema roundabout that always resembled a car park. Before you emerged at the other end of the roundabout to start your practical lesson per se, your one-hour allocation had elapsed.

To make matters worse, the instructor would always complain that he was thirsty and he needed to take some tea. He would drop hints that you should be the chief financier of his morning tea escapades. Failure to read his sign language meant that he would show up 45 minutes late the following day.

The design of the car was such that the instructor had his set of foot pedals running the car parallel to yours. If you did not dance to his tune, he would make sure that he kept braking the car from his side and reprimanding you on how lousy a driver you were and how difficult it would be for you to pass the final test.

By the end of the two weeks, you had barely driven a total of 10 kilometres, and the final test was looming.

UPHILL TASK

My worst experience was when after a few miserable practical lessons in stationary traffic, you were supposed to be taken to a hill where Accra Road joins Kirinyaga Road in order to be tested for a hill start.

First of all, the roads engineer who designed the part of Accra Road on that hill needs to be taken to the dock and forced to answer tough questions. Climbing the hill on foot is equivalent to climbing KICC from the outer wall without any form of support.

The hill stands at almost 90 degrees gradient, and walking up feels like an experience at Mt Everest.

It is on this hill that an aspiring driver was taken for a lesson on hill starts.

You were supposed to approach the hill from Kirinyaga Road. Once halfway up the hill, you were supposed to stop the car and switch the engine off and engage the hand brake.

You were then required to restart the car and proceed up the hill without the car moving backwards an inch.

This was the hardest part of the driving lesson. Releasing the hand brake in time, and balancing the clutch and fuel pedals seemed like the hardest thing that I would ever have to do.

There were stories galore about students who had failed to start the car as instructed, whereupon the car had freewheeled back to Nairobi River, which was further downhill.

Although these stories were far-fetched, they were meant to intimidate students and they were successful in every aspect.

You approached the test with the morbid fear of failing and rolling backwards, probably ending up injured, disqualified from the driving school, and condemned to a life without a driving licence.

But like all other useless things that we learned in school, we somehow managed to pass through this test with a certain degree of certainty.

The truth of the matter is that your skills on that hill only accounted for half of your pass mark.

You had to ensure that your instructor had breakfast to soften his heart and blind his eyes to your imminent failure.

Nowadays, when I gather enough courage and drive up that hill, I get a shiver down my spine.

I am yet to apply the hill start and clutch balancing skills that I learned from that hill.

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