Monday, July 12, 2021

Driving School

I found my first driving-licence the other day, in a box in the room that passes for an attic in our house with a flat roof. It was green and came from Nevada. I had bought it off a fellow called Fat Freddy for 100 pesetas when I was 14. The great thing about Nevada driving licences in those far-off days was that they didn’t have a photograph (as didn’t the Belgian ones apparently). All one needed for the driving licence to be an unqualified success was a typewriter and a steady hand.

My next one, four years later and now eighteen, I got from our local city of Huercal Overa. Don’t worry – despite its odd-sounding name, it’s in Almería.

To earn the licence (sixty pesetas plus driving school), I had to go through the tedious formality of learning to drive. My dad had a Renault 4 furnished with that interesting push-pull Gallic gear-stick and in this I took my first lessons. Sammy, a very camp bartender, was delegated to give me classes, or rather, tips on driving. But first, I had to teach him how the gear-lever worked. If you don’t know it, it’s a bit like stirring a bowl of lumpy soup with an umbrella.

Sammy taught me that, if it looks like you are going to crash into someone, then accelerate. That way, you’ll hit them harder that they’ll hit you.

Following these basics, I then went to driving school with a fellow called Casanova. He wasn’t such a big hit as his namesake (at least, in Sammy’s opinion), but at least he kept his hands to himself. I was now practicing with a Seat 600, which is about the size of a loose-fitting suit.  

A line was penciled in under the rear right window, used for reversing into a parking space. One simply had to turn the wheel sharply after passing the bumper of what would be the car in front.

I’ve always tended to park about a metre away from the verge thanks to this piece of basic training.

After studying the book they sell you and taking notes, and following a thumbs up from Casanova himself, the great day for the test arrived. Two elderly nuns and I were called to take turns to navigate the streets of Huercal Overa.

I was told that I could take the written test in English, which I did. They then said that there was a small problem, as they didn’t have the answers, and could I now take it in Spanish. I think the embarrassment may have helped them to allow me to pass on my first attempt. The two nuns? Failed dismally, poor things.

I’ve given a few lessons myself. A couple of years ago, in an old Mercedes driving though the river-bed, to three deaf friends of my daughter. My sign-language is still at a spelling-out-a-word stage, so telling them to S-T-O-P was a laborious affair indeed.   

My most recent classes were to teach my Spanish step-son, who was flunking at school in English. I thought, as we raced around the parking lot, I’ll just speak to him in English while we do this. Remembering Sammy, I taught him the two ways to stop: (‘press the brake firmly, or head for the nearest tree’) and reminded him of the one cardinal rule in driving in Spain:

Everyone else on the road is a complete idiot.


Monday, June 21, 2021

Expensive things, road taxes

Cars are fun and we all wanted to get a driving licence and behind the wheel as young’uns. Vroom vroom. They are useful for getting about, racing, picking up girls, doing the shopping, racing, speeding and racing.

They cost a lot to buy (unless your parents shelled out) and they are expensive to maintain. Then comes the taxes on them. There’s the garage tax, the petrol tax, the road tax, the wretched ITV and its associate taxes, the motorway tolls, the insurance and the fines for parking in the wrong place or speeding at the wrong moment.

Then there are the fines for driving drunk, or with a phone somewhere near to your ear, or for sticking your elbow out of the window when a traffic cop is low on his monthly quota.

Now Brussels wants Spain, which has been getting rid of its toll roads, to start charging for all and any motorway usage by 2024: to help finance their upkeep, apparently. The argument is that, those who use them should pay for them.

Currently, the State receives, between car and petrol taxes, plus the IVA placed on them, 30,888 million euros a year. Plus the fines collected by the insufferable DGT – 374 million euros. Plus what the ayuntamientos get.

Another calculation gives the sum that is spent by the government on roads – building and maintenance – at a rather smaller 2,800 million euros.

Why, that’s not even 10%!

And now they want us to pay for the road-upkeep (the fifteen kilometres on the autovía between Los Gallardos and Venta del Pobre in Almería have been mangled and potholed now for several years, if anyone’s asking)! Something called the Acex – the association of road operators – thinks that 5 cents per kilometre should do it.

Cars are fun, but they are expensive. It’s a great saving to live without one (and hitch a ride from the neighbour).

The long-term future for car-ownership is doubtful. Within a generation from now, they’ll all likely be public-owned (or more likely Amazon-owned) driverless cars which run on a credit-card. Luckily, for the dare-devils, there’ll still be those electric scooters (patinetes) available from the better shops, although now you will have to wear a crash-helmet while trundling along on one at a top-speed of 25kph.