The driving force

When paths unknown beckon, get in and start driving

By Omaira Gill (Life)

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Published: Sat 14 Mar 2015, 10:09 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 11:18 PM

This weekend I had a new experience. Flying into the UK to Stansted airport, I decided to rent a car and drive me and my family up to my parent’s house in the West Midlands rather than drag my travel-weary children on an additional four-hour train ride after a flight.

Now, it’s not like I’ve not driven before. I have. I drive all the time in Athens. It’s just that I’ve never driven longer than 40 minutes at a stretch. Also, highway driving is one of the things I truly despise when it comes to the Greek style of driving.

My husband says that if you can master driving in Athens, you can drive anywhere, which I’m going to let him have since he hasn’t driven in either India or Pakistan (neither have I, because life is short enough as it is, and I don’t need any more excitement in mine).

In Athens, people drive like lunatics. Tarmaced surfaces become a veritable free for all, and the highway is where no rules apply. People drive at terrifying speeds and treat the National Highway like a giant go-kart track.

I received my driver’s licence in the UK, and since getting it in 2007 I have done very little driving in the country. On those rare occasions, I would wonder peer over the steering wheel, suspicious. Why was everything so quiet? Where were the agitated horns blaring? Why was that person actually letting me pass? Had they broken down perhaps?

Being in the midst of polite driving, where people obeyed the rules, was bizarre after the dog-eat-dog world of Athenian driving.

With this in mind, I reasoned that a 40 minute drive in Athens equalled a three hour drive in the UK in terms of stress levels. With that in mind, off we went.

Trundling through the dark, rain pouring down, we ambled up the motorways as our children slept, inching our way past other tired-looking strangers in the night towards a destination which, truth be told, I was in no hurry to get to.

I reached my parent’s house and there was the small figure of my mother, up way past her bedtime, waiting to shower affection on her long-distance grandsons. The journey I was making would ultimately take me to the door of the doctor we see every six months for my older son. As wonderful as she is, I wish with all my heart that there was no reason for her to be in my son’s life.

But there is, if not her then someone else. So far so good has become our mantra. One more appointment out of the way, some more news to work into our life, to dress up the ugly threads somehow and try to weave them into our daily routine. For now the little ugly threads are hardly noticeable, they’re only there if you look closely.

My son’s condition is like a new vehicle which I have to master all over again, only this time the controls keep changing. No sooner do I think I have mastered it than a new aspect pops up, and I find I have to start learning all over again.

But this is part of my coping mechanism. In the moments when I catch myself falling into the destructive trap of thinking how unfair it all is, I try to be kind to myself and give myself a pat on the back now and then.

I can wish all I want, but the fact is that I have to drive this unknown vehicle that comes with no instructions, no manual and no way to unlock the doors to get out, down an unmapped road. In the face of that, a three hour drive on a motorway in the dark, wind and rain is a piece of cake.


Omaira Gill is a freelance journalist based in Athens

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