Learning to drive Cayman style

 The usual reactions when I tell people range from a confused grin through to incredulity.

There’s also a phase somewhere in-between the two states where the pot-lid on the bubbling soup of suppressed laughter is clearly unstable. Eventually you just know the whole pan will explode, showering anyone in the immediate vicinity with half-baked globules of rampantly-infectious giggles and roars of mirth.

And although people are clearly laughing at me, rather than with me, it is undeniably gratifying to be able to spread such sheer visceral joy merely with those three little words: “I don’t drive.”

I grew in Bangor, North Wales, a city so small you can walk its length and breadth before breakfast. Bangor’s claim to fame – aside from its supreme soccer team – is that it has the second-longest high street in Wales, an accolade about as worthwhile as ‘world’s second tallest midget’.  So, no car needed there. Later, I moved to Liverpool, where the buses run all night and trains across the rest of the UK are easily-caught, albeit you need a second mortgage to buy a ticket.

It was also easier to tell people that not driving was some kind of vague, woolly environmental decision, a political statement that spoke of civic pride and worldwide pollution awareness. I nearly convinced myself.

Walking round town doing your daily chores is possible in the North West of England (providing you own a thick coat hewn from Wooly Mammoth skin that’s been recovered from a Siberian glacier), but here in gorgeous-hot-humid Cayman that ain’t gonna happen. It’s easier to put on another layer than to shed one and wandering round the streets of George Town naked is frowned upon, even in Pirates Week.

Bicycle? Forget it. I might be vehicularly-challenged but I don’t have a death wish.

So, hilariously, I’ve been learning to drive, at the kind of age that soccer stars are starting to think about retirement. First thing is the theory test: there’s something intrinsically odd about sitting in a classroom/booth along with a clutch of shiny-toothed seventeen-year olds who aren’t even old enough to neck a pint of Caybrew. But I was still ludicrously happy to get my hands on a pass and that all-important provisional licence, enabling the practical lessons.

The last time I had any of those – ten or more years back – I was living in Maesgeirchen, a Bangor housing estate so rough that I never actually learned how to park because if you stopped for more than a minute your car would be up on bricks and cackling urchins would be dismantling the motor, piece by piece, to take back to their feral lairs in the woods.

After a few lessons– on a manual transmission, no less – I packed it in. I was a kid and needed the cash, I think, to take some disinterested girl out for a pretentious meal I couldn’t afford and she didn’t really like. Oh, the romance.

I even owned an ancient Vauxhall Viva for three weeks, a hand-me-down from my older brother who lived down in London. By the time I’d got round to working out how on earth I was going to get it up to Wales without me being able to actually drive it, big bro got bored, sold it and sent me a postcard to say so. Which was nice.

Anyway, last week I bit the bullet and went out for my first driving lesson here in Grand Cayman. We went straight on; we turned right; we turned left. It was great. I hardly crashed much at all.

Once we’d got out of my drive it was far more difficult.

One of Cayman’s oft-quoted facts is that people from a hundred different countries here. What a beautiful thought – people from all corners of this green and vibrant earth living and working together in harmony and happiness. Problem is that we’ve all got different ideas of how a driving system should be and it makes for some interesting results. Roundabouts, for example, may be familiar to anyone from Great Britain, but they’re not exactly a United States institution. You can tell where people hail from by their utter confusion at these bizarre new carousels of confusion.

Conversely, in the UK there’s no such thing as four-way stops. They never became popular because in the olden days before roundabouts were invented the upper classes would sit at three-way intersections, stoically and politely waving each other across, but never moving their horse-drawn carriages forward themselves because it was considered vulgar to go first. Hours went by in this excruciating adherence to etiquette. Still nobody shifted. Before you knew it, weeks would pass; pop groups would go in and out of fashion; eventually there would be whole generations born and died who thought the world was the faux-leather interior of a Honda, and who went to school in the boot, sleeping under a discarded tartan blanket.

And as for that middle-lane stuff over here, I need a drink just thinking about it.

So there’s much to learn, much to avoid, twists and turns in the road ahead, you might say, to navigate. It’s a challenge but I’m kinda looking forward to joining the 21st century. It should be a good laugh.

On the road in Cayman
* Grand Cayman has 21 roundabouts on public roads: fifteen large, one medium and five mini roundabouts

* There are seven intersections with signalised lights

* There is one three-way stop (Aspiration Drive, near Field Of Dreams)

* There are three four-way stops (West Bay, Hospital and Savannah Acres)

* The rest of the intersections on Grand Cayman are uncontrolled or priority controlled.

* Cayman’s blend of American and British features is somewhat unusual and drivers used to systems in either country will have to learn elements unfamiliar to their experience on the roads here.

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