“I drive better when I’ve had a few drinks”

This has been a family catchphrase since the 1980s. It is, of course, factually incorrect. You do not drive better when you have had a few drinks. The driving instructor who taught my brother to drive in the late 1970s was unavailable to teach me to drive in the mid-1980s. He had lost his licence through drink-driving. Back then, and it may still be true now, a driving instructor would lose his licence for three years rather than the usual one, an extra punishment for people who should know better.

I didn’t have a high opinion of the driving instructor that I used, someone who was not recommended to me by anyone, but stuck with him, the way you do when you get past a certain stage. I wasn’t confident or decisive enough to say, “This isn’t working, I need to find a different instructor.” If I could go back thirty years I probably still wouldn’t be confident or decisive enough. In the “Seinfeld” episode “The Barber” Jerry continues to use a barber who cuts his hair terribly, and that’s how I felt with using the same driving instructor, right up to my first test, which I failed. Because I hadn’t learnt how to drive yet.

I didn’t contact that first driving instructor again, and by now my brother’s instructor had served his time and got his licence back. In a month he taught me all the things I hadn’t learnt in nine months with the other guy, I practised most days, and passed my test second time, less than six weeks after my first test.

For a year or two afterwards the good driving instructor was an occasional visitor to the house. More than once he turned up well over the drink-drive limit (some people never learn) and refused our offers of a cab or a lift home from me. (I didn’t drink alcohol for ten years after passing my driving test so was always able to give people a lift, any time of the day or night.) He would drive home, saying, “I drive better when I’ve had a few drinks”. And sometimes he went further: “I drive better when I’m pissed than most of those bastards do when they’re sober”.

I have quoted the first line, light-heartedly, many times, but never drive when I’ve had a few drinks. I said it to my mother-in-law once, in jest as usual, but she didn’t take it that way. “No,” she said, “You only think that.” She had taken something literally for a change, and I had to explain the whole story to her.

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