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Thursday, 19 October 2006

Hold the Fries: Moving to Wales - Page 3

Written by Katherine H. Breen
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I come from America, land of the free and home of the super-sized. We super-size, oversize, and jumbo-size everything from fast-food meals to roadways. One of the first tasks I faced living in Wales as an expatriate was learning to drive on roads the width of American bike paths.


“Mom, my neck!” David yelped and held it still as we jerked to a halt. “You don’t have to stop every time you see a truck coming! They are on the other side of the road, remember?” The problem, as I perceived it, was that these trucks were driving toward me on what I considered “my side of the road.” I could feel the blast of air collect between the six inches which separated my vehicle from theirs and this set off the automatic reaction in my leg to stomp a brake.

It took us thirty minutes to travel the five miles, but we made it. Dr. Nigel Jones poured the retainer and by seven thirty that night, I was safely tucked into the estate driveway of Jubilee Cottage.


Soon, the demands of life required me to share space on the carriageways with other drivers under the illuminating light of day. It was then I saw speed-limit signs which really were wordless symbols with variable meaning. For me, British speed-limit signs were just one mysterious part of the whole driving odyssey. The national speed limit of 70 mph was indicated by a circle with a slash mark but could fall to 60 mph IF either side of the roadway was reduced by one lane.

Villages greeted visitors with huge signs such as, “We welcome safe drivers,” but never clued me, the new driver, into the speed they wanted me to use. Instead, they expected me to make that determination by checking to see if there were street lamps through the village. If street lamps were present, I carried on at 30 mph. If there were no street lamps, I traveled through villages at 40 mph. But most importantly, I was warned, I needed to go the correct speed limit to avoid fines the size of mortgage payments and points enough to label myself an international driving terrorist.

Two months after my debut and subsequent recovery, school began for my boys at Rougemont Academy in Newport. I really hadn’t time to count street lamps or measure dividing swaths as I raced through Newport on my boys’ first day of school. I had left 90 minutes early for the 45 minute drive, not thinking I needed a full 120 minutes to accommodate my three passes across a bridge which I failed to realize was always the same. The roundabouts on either end of the bridge kept shooting me back into the same lane using a type of vehicular centrifugal force, found only on British Isles.

I thought I would be picked up on my second time down the A4051 for driving under “some unidentifiable influence” for it was here that I began to cry. It wasn’t out of pure frustration but shear agony that I was crying. My hands developed insidious cramps from clenching the steering wheel at white-knuckle strengths and I knew, so very well, that there were no parking areas on this road to rest them. Unable to hold the wheel or my head up with any dignity, I missed all the clues recommending 30 mph. It was a speed camera that led me to magistrate’s court and Anne’s door.


(Page 3 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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