|Sunday, May 20, 2018
You are here: Home » Columnists » Short Story » Whose afraid of the Magic Roundabout?
  • Follow Us!

Whose afraid of the Magic Roundabout? 

Driving in Tenerife was no easy matter, as Sheena was to discover.

“Right, that is it!” shouted Sheena. “Enough is enough, I just can’t do this any more.”

  Stopping the car and yanking on the hand-brake, passers-by looked on in amazement as she flung the driver’s door open and threw the keys into the gutter.

Had she been able to speak Spanish, over and above the “gracias” and “mañana” she had already learnt since arriving in Tenerife, she would have uttered a torrent of abuse as well.

Pink in the cheeks and with sweat running down her back in the 90 degrees heat, Sheena just had to concede that driving on the island was just not for her. She had tried so hard to conquer her fears of driving on the other side of the road and going the wrong way around a roundabout but to no avail. She was, to put it mildly, terrified!

Sheena and Mike had arrived in Tenerife three months before with the dream of starting a new life. Mike had never driven before, even in England, and Sheena had never driven abroad. She just couldn’t get her head round the thought of driving on the right and sitting in the passenger seat to take the wheel. And everyone she had met since arriving on the island had told her how mad the Spanish drivers were, especially the taxis!

For the first few weeks, Sheena and Mike were quite happy to take the Titsa bus, even though they often didn’t know where they were going and it had taken hours to get to some of their destinations. One morning they had taken the bus to Santa Cruz and hadn’t realised there was a direct and indirect route. What should have been a journey of less than an hour became two and a half instead as they seemed to call in at every town and village along the way. By the time they got there, it had been time to turn round and come home.

Even so, they both agreed it had been the best possible way of getting to know Tenerife, even if not the most convenient.

Three months had passed and Sheena decided it was time to bite the bullet. She had hired a car from the firm down the road and the little Fiat Punto was delivered early on the Friday morning. Trembling with nerves, Sheena had got in the wrong door before realising the driving wheel was on the other side. Poor Mike. He had tried so hard not to look terrified, even though she knew he was. It was something to do with the way he crunched up his eyes as she came out of a junction and how he put his palms together when they were going up a winding mountain lane, as though he was praying.

Quite frankly, Sheena hated it. She had felt dizzy, dis-orientated and completely out of her depth. It reminded her of 20 years before when she was 18 and her father was teaching her to drive. She had tried so hard but her dad just kept picking on her until she could take no more. She had performed the perfect emer-gency stop in the middle of their estate road and ran off crying, telling her mother on the doorstep that never, ever would she drive again. She did, of course, passing her test on the second time and had enjoyed driving ever since, even in her home town of Swindon with its mind-boggling Magic Roundabout.

Now here she was in Tenerife doing exactly the same, giving up before she had even started with no dad in sight.

Sheena sat in the living room with the car keys now back in front of her wondering if it was time to go home as she could never adapt to the Spanish way of life. At one stage, she had tried driving through Golf del Sur in a one way direction, only to panic when she saw white arrows painted on the carriage-way but facing the other way! It turned out the arrangements had been changed some months before but the council had blacked the original arrows out. Then there was the time she had driven up to a roundabout and completely panicked about which way to go. And they were right about the taxi drivers. Why on earth did they insist on going so fast and beeping their horns furiously if they thought you were going too slow?

Mike told her it really didn’t matter. They would continue to catch the bus and even buy a Bono card so they could get good value for money. Who needed to drive anyway?

The next day, after a sleepless night, Mike said he would walk down to the shops to get provisions and pop in to the hire car company to ask them to pick the little Punto up earlier than arranged. Sheena just hated to give in and had never been a quitter but this was different, wasn’t it? This was about changing the habits of a lifetime of driving, looking right rather than left, or was it left rather than right? And how was she going to learn to change gear with the right hand rather than the left?

An hour later, as Mike walked back towards the apartment, he noticed the car had gone and wondered how the hire company had acted so quickly. He had only just told them they didn’t want it any more.

What he hadn’t bargained for was Sheena’s perserverance. Grabbing the car keys, a sticky note pad and a pen, she had decided to give it one more go…..with a secret weapon in tow. Mike had laughed when he found out after seeing Sheena come round the corner in the Punto, total concentration on her face and sticky notes every-where. “Think right”, “Drive on the right”, “Roundabouts the other way”, “Gears on this side”, “Passenger seat, not driver´s seat”. The little yellow notes were posted everywhere, on the dash-board, on the steering wheel, on the wind-screen, even on the gear lever. And when he looked at her hands, there were messages written there as well. “Think twice”, “Look twice”, “Don’t panic” and even “This is nothing on the Magic Roundabout!”

Sheena could laught at it now, of course. Driving in Tenerife had become second nature over the last few months and now nothing worried her, even driving up to Mount Teide and back.

“So, you conquered it after all,” said Mike admiringly as he got in for their journey back to the hire car company to tell them they had changed their minds yet again.

“Yes,” said Sheena, looking left and right, right and left before travelling over the junction before beeping her horn long and hard as a taxi whooshed past at speed. “You know what they say, Mike. If you can’t beat them, join them!”

JO ALTENBURG