I Want Your Car Stories! | How I Grew a Driving Phobia

Afternoon. I can’t believe how autumnal the weather is today. Yesterday I was in shorts and a t-shirt and thought I might fry to a crisp, and this morning I wore gloves walking the dogs. I had to learn where the windscreen wiper controls are in my car (heads up, car designers: those little symbols make absolutely no sense).

Today I want to talk about cars, actually. Well, driving. I think the last time I wrote here I was looking for a job alongside my internship; now I have one! I think it’s bad luck – or stupidity – to talk too much about new jobs before you’ve put a few hours in, but I start in September and I’m tentatively excited. There’s just one catch: I have to drive there.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever bored you all with the exact details of how I learnt to drive, or rather how long I took to learn to drive. I started lessons the summer I left school and passed my test last December. There was a break of a few months when I moved, so I think it took two years. I immediately went to South East Asia and didn’t sit behind the wheel of a vehicle until April, so it’s safe to say my practise-acquisition rate is low. This is mostly my fault. When I was about eight and we were walking home from school, I saw a teenager get hit by a car. I can’t actually remember actual collision when I think back, just weird details like the woman who was driving was taking her grandson home from school, and she wore glasses. But it must have stuck with me, because ten years later I sat in my instructor’s Kia in a side road in the suburbs and couldn’t believe I was trusted to operate a car just like that. Aside from the standard sight test, no one wanted to check I was competent enough to drive on an actual working road. I did not feel competent enough to drive on an actual working road. I felt strapped to a friendly, powerful machine with too many working parts that can be accidentally used to kill.

It probably didn’t help that I’m not naturally good at any of the skills driving requires. I have no sense of direction, my reaction times aren’t that quick and I don’t trust my own senses. I also soaked up all of those driving awareness adverts as a kid – don’t drink and drive, don’t do drugs and drive don’t be that person – and while I was in senior school, a girl a couple of years above me died in a horrible car accident that reverberated through all the schools in the area.

I’m very aware that humans are very easy to kill with cars and I’ve spent most of my life assuming I’ll kill someone with mine.

When I was taking lessons in a dual controlled car with an instructor I trusted – hi John! – the dread in the pit of my stomach gradually ebbed away. When I bought a 2002 Nissan Micra off my cousins’ nan so I could practise with my family, it snapped at my feet but rarely came closer. I used to go out at night, which I weirdly found easier because I’m always more alert when it’s dark out, and piled up the hours. Dread flitted into my car here and there, but everything seemed to be on track (ha). I scraped through my theory test and took my practical with the attitude that if I didn’t pass, I could try again after I came home from Asia. Fear circled, biting at my shoelaces, but I repeated that anecdote that, hey, people who pass second time are safer drivers. I passed first time.

About a week after I came home from Asia, I picked my nan and my brother up for lunch, ignoring what was by then butterflies, and settled back into the Micra thinking ‘goodness, how did I sit comfortably before, it’s quite clunky on junctions, I must say that this car probably isn’t built for me. Perhaps when I have a job I shall upgrade to a comfier one.’ I had sweaty palms, but I had literally just crossed South East Asia. I could cope with a ten minute drive in a car on my own. On our way home, an SUV hooted me on a roundabout; I physically jumped from my seat and when we got home I realised I was shaking. I could not cope with a ten minute drive. The certainty that I’ll kill someone one day was back in my bones. Like I haven’t got enough to think about.

I’ve tried a few cures since then. I sold the Micra to my friend Robyn and bought a newer Mini because they are supposedly good for shorter drivers. Also, they are in The Italian Job. It’s comfier and smoother, but more expensive to insure which does not help my stress levels. I learnt that vehophobia is one of the ten most common phobias in the UK (and judging by how many articles I found, it’s fixable). I keep up with Maggie Stiefvater’s Jalopnik articles and look up car maintenance on YouTube. I go for drives with my uncle on different roads. I do the weekly commute to the supermarket with my mum. When there’s someone in the passenger seat to talk to – and to remind me where I’m going, because 21 years of living in Southend has not imparted any knowledge of the road system – I’m okay. I’m nervous, but in the same way I get nervous for job interviews. It’s a bearable nervous. But when I’m on my own, I’m eight again.

The boy who got hit by a car that time was fine, by the way. The driver was doing about 20 miles per hour and if I remember correctly, the boy had run out between two cars to catch the bus and sort of bounced off the bonnet. No blood or death or anything like that.

My certificate says I’m a qualified driver. I’ve spent hundreds of hours behind the wheel. I don’t shake, vomit, cry or hyperventilate when I’m driving. I like cars. I like the smell of petrol and wind on my face during an evening drive and I fully intend to one day purchase a vintage muscle and drive it across a desert. I am very good at parallel parking and don’t overtake in stupid places. I can drive, for god’s sake. I’m just paralysed with fear by the thought of my impending part-time commute to the other side of Southend. I don’t like being scared, I don’t have time for it and it’s interfering with my plans, but I can’t afford refresher lessons or therapy. I can’t afford a sat nav either, which would probably help. It would give me something to talk to, at any rate…

I’m not sure what to do next, other than force myself into my car and drive until the dread disappears or I don’t notice it. Maybe I should nose the Mini into a tree to get the inevitable over with. Maybe I should spray paint it to feel cooler and therefore braver. Maybe I should sell it and take the bus.

I have a request for you guys: tell me your car stories. Tell me about taking your driving test and backing into a bollard and knocking your wing mirror off on a van. Tell me about your first car and your last car and the weirdest shit you’ve come across on the roads. Tell me which car you’ve always wanted and which one you’ve ended up with. I want something to think about on the commute.

Introducing: A New Stories Blog & Patreon Campaign

Friends, readers, randomers who came here through Google. Let’s talk jobs, writing and money. It’ll be more fun than it sounds.

Last week I got a rejection from a company I really wanted to work for, not because it’s relevant to my career plans but because the job was regular hours, good shifts and relatively well paid. Well, it paid. I’m on one, one-day-per-week internship at the moment, plus an informal one from home and I love it, but I have bills to pay and a mother breathing down my back because you left school three years ago and you haven’t done anything since then, so I’m looking for other work too. When I got that rejection I realised how much I’d been counting on it and how much I loathe job searching in general (you want to torture someone? Have them browse Indeed.co.uk every day for a week. They’ll crack). I’m still looking and early signs are positive, but in the mean time I need something creative to focus on (and preferably something that pays, let’s be honest) or I will go bananas.

I had another look at Patreon, because it’s always been the obvious choice for a writer to raise funds. If you’re not sure what Patreon is: it’s crowdfunding, but on a rolling basis. Instead of pledging, say, $30 once, you pledge $5 a month until you decide to cancel. Like a direct debit, but fun. It dawned on me that the something creative has been staring me in the face. I want to publish some stories and I want to earn some money and hang on a minute why don’t I combine the two?

So I’ve made a new blog, Francesca’s Words on WordPress, where I’m going to upload all the stories I’ve got lying around on a fortnightly basis. I’m really excited to show you all the little stories I’ve been poking around with in the last couple of years, and I can’t think why I haven’t done this sooner. I’m aiming for one upload per fortnight to see how I go, because some drafts need more work than others, but that may well increase to one per week. We’ll see!

Now for the money bit.

Patreon Francesca Burke

If you pledge a dollar per month to my Patreon (which ahem is two stories a month) you’ll get early access to every story and I’ll name a character after you. That’s just the one dollar tier. Depending on your reward tier, you can also suggest story prompts or themes, I’ll write you letters and your name will be in lights forever. Kind of. It’ll be in a blog sidebar. You’ll also have a warm, fuzzy feeling in your soul from directly funding a small, financially insecure writer. You can cancel your pledge at any time, I won’t buy a gold toilet seat with your cash – it would be diamante – and you will genuinely be helping me pay my bills (and if you’re wondering why I need more cash when I run a stationery business: I don’t take a wage from that yet. It’s #startuplife until 2019 at the earliest).

I’m still feeling this all out – it’s been a while since I wrote fiction to a deadline – but I’m tentatively excited. Is that an oxymoron? I’m tentatively hopeful. One of the best bits of my teenage years was uploading fanfictions to the web and seeing what people thought of them – I was a simple kid – and I miss that interaction. I miss writing and knowing people might actually read it. And since this is 2017 and we might all be nuked by Trump and/or North Korea before Christmas, I kind of feel I have nothing to lose by trying. If you have any questions or suggestions, leave a comment. The new blog is here and my Patreon, along with a full list of rewards and info, is here. Let me know what you think. Am I shouting into the void?

Are You There, Internet? It’s Me Again.

I came back from a walk this afternoon and did some admin, then thought ‘I would like to write a blog.’ I didn’t get much further than that (topic? Title? Relevance to target audience?) but I’ll take what I can get, so I made a hot chocolate and sat down to say hello. So far I’m really into the hot chocolate.

Right, so, hello. It’s been a while. Well it hasn’t really, but a lot has happened since I last wrote, and in my head I had to post. You see that monthly archives list in the sidebar? That lists every single month from November 2009, because I have posted here every single month since November 2009. In the back of my mind I’ve always been convinced that if I miss a month, I’ve failed. I don’t know why I’ve never mentioned this before now – I think probably because it’s slightly vain but also quite depressing. Look, kids, that girl ties her self worth to a blog archive that she can choose to remove from her website! Part of my mini break was to reclaim some headspace, and I think that writing honestly will help with that, so there you go. I nurse fragile self worth and high standards no one else cares about! Well, that felt… suitably awkward to write. Now I think about it, I’ve probably written a lot of blogs with dubious levels of honesty, but I think that might be something to explore in another post. For now, let me catch you up on everything that’s been going on since my last blog. Now I sit and think about it, I’ve been busy in a good way:

Operation Instagrammable Bedroom is going well! I have a desk now, and I’m in the midst of spray painting shelves. The actual bedroom part is a bit doubtful, because my lack of shelving until this point has allowed me to give into my messier inclinations and leave stuff on the floor. I added some art to the wall as soon as the desk was in, and I can’t wait to decorate it more:

Office Decration
Seen here: correspondence from friends (and Cuba), two fandoms worth of art, my old designs and a postcard from Chantal Claret.

I’ve been hard at work on Francesca’s Words and I’m going to tell you all about it. Another weird thing in my head was that I couldn’t blog too much about running my Etsy, because it would be self serving and sound as though I were begging for business. The back of my head is an idiot: this entire blog is self serving and so is my shop. My name is literally on the door. God. So, in the last few weeks I’ve made a couple of big changes. The first is that I now offer free UK postage on everything in the entire shop. There’s no messing about with coupons or links either. At the moment it’s just a trial, but so far people seem to be pretty into it. I’ve also been designing new products and re-designing old ones, and I recently swapped banks. I know how boring that sounds (okay, I know how adult and therefore unpalatable that sounds) but the fresh start has spurred me on to take another look at my business practices, my running costs and my goals. Other than ‘make enough money to take regular overseas trips’, I want Francesca’s Words to be a stopping place for anyone who’s fed up with shit stationery and patronising greetings and gifts. No one likes giving crap birthday cards, and no one should have to spend a fortune on a nice notebook. Enter, me. You’re welcome.

I actually downloaded that social media blocking app. It really works, too. I’m on the wrong side of broke at the moment because I didn’t have my publishing internship for most of July, so I might have to stop paying for it for a bit, but I can already feel my bad habits edging away. I’m still doing Headspace with relative frequency too, and I’m trying to work my physiotherapy back into my daily routine. I’ve found it helps to pretend I’m in physio because I’m a medal-winning Olympian and not a Millennial who spent too long texting as a teenager. I spend an hour or so each evening writing and it’s going well, although I keep oversleeping the next day. Oh how one suffers for one’s art.

Oh, I also rang up my car insurance firm yesterday, mere hours after receiving an email detailing my ridiculous bill for the next ten months, and instead of ignoring it I put the bill onto a direct debit in my designated ‘car shit’ bank account. Look at me, finding solutions to problems!

I’m going to take a small break from my desk now – I have a stool instead of a chair for the moment and comfy it is not. I’m not sure when I’ll next blog, or what it will be about. I’d like to keep posting my Asia blogs, and I’d like to talk more about running Francesca’s Words alongside everything else I’ve got going on, and I’d like to reach 2012 levels of participation from my readers. Fun fact: Indifferent Ignorance peaked, audience wise, five years ago. Do you have any idea what it feels like knowing that your 16 year old self was better crowd draw than you are? Hint: it’s a bit like watching Usain Bolt lose a race to an athlete with questionable morals. You can’t do anything about the situation but seriously?

Look at me, getting all current events-y. This has been fun. See you soon.