Being a teacher does, of course, have its advantages apart from the obvious. First and foremost there is the deep personal satisfaction that comes with bringing enlightenment to the unwashed masses – the twinkle in the eye of the child who now knows that they can make fun of their unwitting siblings in a hitherto incomprehensible language, to the older, more mature student, who can tell a convincing joke and knows when and when not to swear. Let’s not forget the always reward hungry seven year-olds, who will do anything in order to obtain a hippo-shaped sticker for good work. Grateful students will also often ask you if they can give you a lift. Some will also answer “yes”, when you ask if it’s OK for you to drive
I have always been very relaxed when it comes to driving, too relaxed according to some. There has been many a time when passengers have screamed whilst digging their nails into the upholstery asking for me to not take a bend so quickly, or perhaps to avoid straying too close to the embankment in a new car before my ability to adequately navigate an object as an extension of my own body through three-dimensional space without it becoming a little interesting. It has also not been unheard of for me to have a couple of bumps every now and again. Only last July I was attacked by a vicious curb which appeared out of nowhere and put a nasty gash in the rear tire which needed replacing before the long journey could continue.
I’ve never had any problems manoeuvring on the wrong side of the road, or the right one for that matter. I’ve had a lot of experience and find it as easy as riding a bike. The idea that traffic travels around a roundabout clockwise in some locals of the world and anti-clockwise in others has never phased me. The very direction of travel was not the issue though.
I manoeuvred out of the school’s car park and drove onto the roundabout and proceeded around in an anti-clockwise direction, as per local custom. From this point on however, my familiarity with local customs and traffic regulations came to an end. In the age old fashion in which I and untold generations of drivers have used roundabouts, I continued round to come off my exit. Suddenly there was a warning shout from Dima, the car’s owner – but it was too late. I’d cut up and narrowly missed a collision with a police car.
As I sat in the driver’s seat wondering how could have happened, I quickly remembered that one of the maxims of the highway code, which I hold to be sacred and universal, is not so in Ukraine. Right of way is apparently not an immutable term, but differs according to still unclear circumstances, which are usually marked on unclear signposts. For this reason, my assumption that I had right of way because I was on the roundabout was, although well based on logic and past experience, in this particular case, unfounded.
Me and Dima pulled the car up round the corner and entered negotiations with the local law enforcement representatives. They were a couple of good natured fellows, and, having seen a fair few things in their life already, were surprised, first and foremost, when I handed them a British drivers licence. Their amazement increased to newer levels when they discovered that I was driving sober. We chatted cordially, and having paid the customary bribe, went on our merry way. Dima drove.