Monday 23 August 2010

My first time in a British van

So, I've had my drivers licence since December 2006 and I moved to the UK in September 2008, but until I moved to Cardiff (August 2010), I'd never driven a car on the left side of the road. (Except for that one time I went back to Holland for a couple of days and ended up facing the back of the traffic lights, but I'd rather not talk about that.)

Last time Freddie and I moved (from our lovely mansion in Uxbridge to the House of Horrors in Harrow) we hired a man with a van. This time, we decided not to bring the wardrobe, bed, cooker and all those other big pieces of furniture; a mate helped us get the motorbike and a chest of drawers full of undies, socks and shirts up here; but we still needed to rent a van for the rest of our clothing, bicycles, duvet, Freddie's weights, cookery stuff, tomato and pepper seedlings... you get the gist.

I decided to rent an old Ford Transit for the weekend via because it was the cheapest option. Their insurance, however, was shit – basically I would have to pay for any damage under £700 and I couldn't get any extra cover. Don't get me wrong – I'm not an irresponsible driver and I respect the road, but I'd never driven in Britain before, and I'm used to small cars like my mum's Peugeot 206cc – not vans with the steering wheel at the right side of the car! So I was bricking it just thinking of driving without any useful insurance.

Several sleepless hours later, I gave my credit card details to, an innovative website that sells full AXA Car Insurance cover for the duration of your car rental. I was happy as Larry with this find - and still am, even though I didn't add a scratch to the ramshackle old Transit, because it made me feel so much more confident.

I found staying on the left side of the road the easiest thing in the world (of course I did have lots of practice on my bicycle). Still, Freddie said the first twenty minutes were possibly the most frightening moments of his life. I blame this on the gear stick, which was knackered and made it virtually impossible to shift gears fluently. Also, I kept asking him to look out of the left window and tell me whether I was getting too close to the curb/cars/cyclists, which must have given him the impression I had no idea what I was doing. Though I didn't commit any serious offences, I certainly upset a lot of other drivers by not being quick enough. But after I left Central London, I was starting to get the hang of it and I soon didn't even have to mouth apologies at other drivers any more! We left London Saturday night at midnight and because I had to hand in the van on Monday morning, I decided to leave the house in Cardiff at 4 am Monday morning - about a day after we arrived.

The drive home as much fun - radio on full blast, pedal to the metal and a bottle of Boost on my lap - as getting stuck in traffic round the corner from the rental company was aggravating. I think I spent more time in the city than on the M4! What made it even worse was that I thought I had to pay for congestion charge before entering the zone, which made me leave the motorway prematurely. This time, I fully understood why drivers had been shouting at me when I was driving too slowly or making it impossible for them to overtake earlier. I have to admit I was quite tempted to make some impolite gestures at clumsy drivers myself. But if they're not doing it on purpose, what's the point in making them feel bad? Road rage will only increase your own stress levels, and it's not like it's going to make you get to your destination any quicker. So instead of shouting at other drivers, I sang along with Metallica and the Offspring to let off steam and behaved like a decent driver. Hell, I even wore a seatbelt at all times – unlike this dude Kevin, who appeared on Cab Cam, a campaign against road rage.

You may have noticed this is a Sponsored Post. Since I quit my full time job in order to write my second novel, I'm happy to make some extra money with my blog. That doesn't mean I've lost my integrity or autonomy, though. I'll choose my sponsors carefully. I was planning to write about my first experience with driving in Britain anyway and I did take out that AXA van insurance. And I do think AXA Respect On The Road campaign is worth a like on Facebook – because it's funny and it shows what a silly thing road rage is:


  1. Yes, Wiley E Coyote suffered from road rage and where did it get him? Have you ever seen a passenger of a passing car press his bare bottom against the window? I'm wondering whether it only happens in movies.

  2. @GB when I was stuck in traffic, I think some bare buttocks flattened against windows would have cheered me up :)

    @nursemyra, it reminds me of the audio bullys:
    The weirdest thing is that I actually saw quite a lot of these angry little grown-ups back in London.

  3. The AXA ad reminds me of commuting in London. People can be bullish even on foot... I hold my head in shame and have to admit to a foot stamping and ankle kicking incident... nuff said.

  4. honestly, ankle kicking? that's vicious!

  5. You have an interesting way of writing,considering you want to pursue your career as a writer,I believe I will be buying your books for sure.Great Job.

    Bleeding Healer

  6. An employer should set their van policy with respect to private use in writing, keep this updated and give this to their van driving staff, or make it available where they may all read it.