I'm really going places...

Comic Steve Day on life in the fast lane

On July 4 this year I will celebrate. I won’t be alone in doing so, of course, as our American cousins will be lighting fireworks and high-fiving each other in commemoration of the day when they could become morbidly obese on their own terms, but my celebrations will be altogether more private. It will be ten years to the day since I took my first tentative steps into the world of driving all round the country.

I was very nervous about driving all round the country for the first time. Surveys reveal people fear driving all round the country more than they do death, especially as my driving normally had a comedy gig at the end of it, or more accurately in the middle, before driving all round the country to get home.

I was very nervous but after I’d got in gear and pulled off – no, not in that way – I settled down and started to enjoy it. I only did a short drive that night, from Lewisham to Soho, but I knew this was what I wanted to do. Driving was giving me the opportunity to express things that I’d not been able to get out before, and the fact that people enjoyed my driving was an unexpected bonus.

I realised straight away, though, that if I wanted to get to the level of the best drivers on the circuit I’d have to get a lot more road time in. Very few people are naturals behind the wheel and it takes constant mileage to begin to find your unique driving persona.

Then there’s the hassle and to be honest plain annoyance of having to stand up and do comedy as a means to get good behind the wheel. It’s a question of belief, of knowing one day it will be worthwhile. Some drives I knew I was only being booked because I had a comedy act, you have to accept that because that’s the only way you’ll get proper drives further down the carriageway.

You have to be persistent, and develop a leather exterior as people will constantly be telling you you’re ‘not ready’ to drive to Stoke on a Thursday. You have to take this frustration and use it as fuel, to say to yourself that you will make it, that one day Toddington, Sandbach and Watford Gap will be like a second home and you’ll no longer be in awe of those who appear there regularly.

Of course it will mean spending more time than is good for you at The Glee, Jongleurs and The Comedy Store and despite the effect these places will have on your posture, not to mention your wallet as the food here costs a fortune, you’ll keep going and one day make it to the turnoff.

Along the way your driving will be criticised. No driver pleases everyone, and there are always critics of your driving style or direction. Mostly these critics are frustrated drivers themselves who probably only ever made it to the level of short trips on the ring-road and then gave up to better spend their time telling you your gear-changes were a bit passé and that double-declutching went out with bow-ties.

They are not important.

Be confident in yourself, and these criticisms will seem nothing more than insects on the windscreen, washed off with a quick go on intermittent. As a driver you will know that four-star means old fashioned petrol not a welcome vindication of your decision to drive to Edinburgh.

Ah, Edinburgh. Yes it’s an expensive drive but you learn so much over the longer distance. Simply being around other drivers, some of that magic rubs off. Watch how they pace the drive, how they put down uppity road users with authority, how they go off their planned route as the need takes them and come back to it without noticeable swerving.

In the end it’s worth it, all the tedious gigging to get you there, all that having to share your performance with people who, mental as it may seem don’t even drive, but are only in it for the gigs. I can tell you, when you become one with the sat-nav, know precisely how to position yourself on the M25 to send open-spot drivers down the M23 against their will and even know the Welsh for motorway services, you’ll will have made it.

Published: 12 Feb 2008

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