the nosebleed seat
When people use the expression the ‘nosebleed seats’, they are usually making a humorous reference to the cheaper, higher tiered sections of music or sporting venues. Always appearing as plural, the joke is that the altitude of those seats could cause a nasal haemorrhage. When I think of a nosebleed seat, however, it is singular, and refers specifically to the passenger side of the Renault Clio I learnt to drive in.
I had my first driving lesson about a week after I turned seventeen. My parents had bought me five lessons as a birthday present, booked through a local company called Acclaim. The name suggested that they were publicly entrusted but my Dad disagreed. He was convinced they’d once been in the newspaper for an accident caused by faulty dual controls, and for which they had been sued. I’ve since Googled this extensively and it doesn’t appear to be true. I suspect he said it because it allowed him to follow up with ‘“Acclaim? More like ‘A Claim!’’, which he did, every time.
My instructor was called Corey. A large red-haired man who would have probably been in his early thirties at the time. At the beginning of my first lesson, Corey sat in the driver’s seat and talked me through the primary controls of the vehicle. ‘The three pedals at your feet are, from left to right: clutch, brake and accelerator. This is your gearstick, lift up to put it in reverse. And when driving, your hands should be like this’, he said, demonstrating the ‘two and ten’ stance. ‘Got it?’ I nodded. ‘Good.’ He tapped the air as if remembering something. ‘Though occasionally,’ he continued, ‘you’ll need to hold the wheel slightly differently. Any ideas when that might be?’ Corey didn’t wait for an answer. He pressed down a button that lowered the driver’s side window. He dropped his right elbow out and rested his left arm casually on the top of the steering wheel. He pursed his lips and nodded along to imaginary music. ‘When you see a chick, let’s give it some of this. Yeah? Give it a bit of style.’
I knew he was only joking around but I was seventeen and almost any kind of expression or effort I found embarrassing.
‘Ok’ I said, avoiding his eyes.
‘Let’s see you do it.’
I smiled shyly and shook my head. ‘Nah, I’m all right.’
‘Come on,’ he said grinning more widely.
‘I’ll do it when it comes to it.’
‘Come on. We’re just two guys cruising around.’
‘Are we?’ I said.
‘Course we are. And we want her to want to cruise around with us.’
‘She’ll be able to see I’m on a driving lesson though. There’s a learner sign on top of the car.’
Corey laughed. ‘That’s a negative attitude to have,’ he said. ‘At least you’re learning to drive. She’s still getting the bus.’
I shrugged. ‘She might have a car.’
‘What’s she walking for then if she’s got a car?’
‘Not sure. It might be having an MOT or something.’ I thought Corey might be impressed with that answer but he wasn’t.
‘Look, I’m just trying to have a laugh with you,’ he said, exasperated. ‘Lighten up.’ I shrugged again and he laughed. ‘You’ll get used to my sense of humour.’ Then he clapped his hands together. ‘Right, switch seats. Let’s see what you’re about.’
Our first four lessons together were fairly successful. I was, apparently, A Quick Learner. I certainly learnt immediately that Corey wore too much aftershave and not long after that, he loved gambling. He had been to Las Vegas countless times and was a keen online poker player. He asked me if I’d ever been to the casino in Leicester city centre. I said I hadn’t. ‘Don’t bother,’ was his advice. ‘Some of the worst tables I’ve ever played on. The dealer attempted a riffle shuffle and scattered the deck across the floor! Complete amateur’ I shook my head in disgust but I had no idea what he was talking about.
A few weeks later, on my fifth lesson, Corey wanted me to learn about joining traffic via slip roads and driving at higher speeds. We were just two guys cruising around, along a dual carriageway at 60mph, when he startled the dense silence by shouting ‘Shit pull over PULL OVEEERR!!’ I looked round at him and saw blood rushing from his nose down onto his shirt. It was running into his mouth as well and his already pointy teeth looked like he’d just removed them from somebody’s neck. I panicked. Without even minor signal manoeuvres I pressed my foot down hard on the brake and bashed the car up over the kerb onto the grass verge. The bonnet entered a bush and branches scraped the windscreen. The car came to a juddering stop and the engine stalled.
‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING??!’ he squawked through hands cupped over his mouth and nose. I looked at him in shock.
‘I thought you meant pull over here,’ I said. ‘Sorry.’ I was shaking.
‘I meant THE NEXT ROUNDABOUT! THE NEXT EXIT!’ To redeem myself, I pulled up on the gear stick and began to reverse the car back out onto a dual carriageway. Corey slammed down on his brake. ‘LEAVE it now! For fuck’s sake!’ he shouted. I had made him swear and felt sure he would now discharge me as his student. He put the car in neutral and his palm left blood on the gear stick. His shirt was covered. He opened his door, removed his belt and dangled his head out. Other cars were beeping their horns and slowing down, thinking we had lost control and crashed.
I was quiet for a few seconds. Then I asked, ‘Are you ok, what happened?’
He was spitting blood into the grass. ‘You’re a lunatic, that’s what happened.’
‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘Are you ok?’
It took a moment for him to reply. ‘Yes, I’m fine.’
He was still spitting onto the ground and blood was dripping from his nose. ‘Do me a favour. Front pocket of my bag on the back seat. Should be some tissues in there. Grab me a handful would you?’ I did and he wiped himself down. The blood bloomed vividly on the tissue. He sat back up and closed the passenger door. ‘Well’ he took a breath. ‘That was exciting! You’ve seen too many action films.’
‘Sorry. I thought you meant pull over straight away.’
‘You can’t pull over –’ he dabbed at his nostrils, ‘– on dual carriageways mate.’
‘I know, sorry.’
‘No, I’m sorry. It’s not your fault,’ he continued. ‘I scared you and -’ a man had appeared and knocked on the driver’s side window. I jumped.
‘Are you ok?’ he called through the glass.
‘Wind the window down,’ said Corey to me. I pressed the wrong bottom first and moved the passenger side down. Then corrected it. ‘Yes all fine,’ said Corey ducking slightly to meet the man’s eyes. ‘Thanks for stopping but we’re all ok. Slight loss of control and I wasn’t quick enough on the dual controls.’
‘Are you hurt?’ asked the man, noticing the blood. ‘Shall I call an ambulance?’
‘No, no, we’re fine. Thank you. We’ll get out this bush and on our way. The quicker the better I think! Really appreciate you stopping.’
‘I live ten minutes down the way and my wife’s a nurse. I can go and get -
‘No, no, honestly. All fine. Thanks for your concern.’
The man eventually accepted it and returned to his car. I did the window back up and we waited until he drove off.
‘You ok?’ asked Corey.
‘Yes,’ I replied.
‘Er, so yeah, I basically get these nosebleeds. Bad ones. I’ve not had one for a few of months though, so I panicked a bit. It’s my fault.’
‘There was loads coming out.’
‘Yeah,’ he said, amused.
‘Why do you get them?’ I asked.
‘I’ve got dry nasal membranes.’ I must’ve given him a look of bewilderment. ‘Dry nostrils, basically. The inside of my nose gets really dry. And they tend to get worse in the winter.’
‘And we’ve had the heater on quite a bit, probably made it worse, so…’
‘If it happens again though, don’t worry’ he said. ‘Just find the first safe place to pull in. And I promise not to be so dramatic.’
‘Right, let me jump in the driver’s seat and get us off this verge before the police come.’ Then he started laughing and after a few moments, I did too.
I was on high alert during the next few lessons, I was terrified of another breach whilst driving. When turning left at a junction I would sneak a look for any red inside his dark nostrils. If Corey sneezed I would expect a sniper style blood splatter on the inside of the windscreen. But nothing happened. The next ten lessons went smoothly and I began to feel at ease again. Corey said he hadn’t been keeping the heater on as long so his nostrils didn’t feel as dry.
‘Sorry, I know that threw you off for a few weeks,’ he said. ‘What a start we had!’
I had largely mastered my manoeuvres by about lesson fifteen and so, Corey asked, did I fancy a bit of motorway driving? I was a bit nervous but agreed to do it.
‘Give you the chance to really give it some welly,’ is what he said, enthusiastically.
And so twenty minutes later, there we were cruising along in the left-hand lane of a stretch of the M1 talking about Gail Platt and her unending misfortune in the Coronation Street plot lines. Corey went into his bag, pulled out a piece of lettuce from his sandwiches and chomped it feebly, referencing the fact that Gail’s appearance often drew comparisons to a turtle. We looked at each other and laughed. I noticed a droplet of blood was trickling very slowly from Corey’s right nostril.
My smile straightened. ‘Oh…shit.’
‘Your nose,’ I said, pointing.
The lettuce fell from his mouth. He tapped above his top lip and inspected the pad of his finger. ‘Shit.’ He looked at me and with perfect comic timing, a stream of bright red shot out of his other nostril, as if it had been spotted and was now trying to make a break for it. Within a few seconds both nostrils were sputtering like an outdoor tap. ‘Don’t panic! Just keep your eyes on the road’ he said. ‘It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s completely fine.’ With one hand pinching his nose, the other combing the glove box and door pockets for tissues. ‘Not a single fucking tissue!? You’re joking!’ I started rummaging in my door for tissues. ‘You just keep your eyes on the road!’ he said. ‘Just concentrate on driving.’ It was only six miles to the next exit, observed Corey, and with that, he undid his seatbelt, wound down the passenger side window and stuck his face into the blasting air outside. I looked over and his cheeks were flapping madly like those dogs you see. The blood was being whipped from his nose and dispersing into a fine mist onto the car behind us. Corey’s knees were actually on the seat and his arse was fifteen inches from the side of my face. ‘Just keep driving!’ he shouted into the wind. ‘Get off at Junction 21!’ He came back inside when all the blood had been vaporised and when we finally got off the motorway, I pulled into a petrol station so Corey was able to get some Kleenex. He completed the lesson with a plug of tissue up each nostril.
When he believed I was a good enough driver to take my practical test, Corey said, ‘If it would make you feel more at ease, I can be there. They allow instructors to be present if the student wants them there.’ I thought, you have got to be fucking joking. I pictured Tim Roth at the beginning of Reservoir Dogs and told him thanks but that wouldn’t be necessary. I thought it might be distracting to have Corey bleeding to death on the back seat as I attempted to reverse around a corner.
I failed on my first attempt anyway. Apparently, I drove over a junction during the last moments of an amber light when I really should have stopped and that constituted a major violation. I was disappointed and so was Corey. He sat with me in the car afterwards.
‘I really wanted you to pass mate,’ he said.
‘Me too,’ I said. ‘Now I need a new inner tube for my bike.’
He smiled a bit. ‘You’re my last student.’
‘I’m the last student?’
‘This is it for me. I’m sorry to say I’m not going to be a driving instructor anymore.’
‘Aren’t you? Why?’
‘I’m leaving the country. Me and my wife are going to live in the States. I wanted to wait until after your test to tell you. And I was hoping it would be a celebratory farewell but…’
I was confused. ‘What are you going to do then?’ I asked.
‘I’m going to live in Las Vegas, to work as a croupier.’ He had a big smile on his face as he said it.
‘Cool,’ I said. ‘That’s well good.’ And I meant it. Even as an expressionless 17-year-old I admired him for pursuing something that he quite clearly adored.
‘I know, we’re really looking forward it,’ he said. ‘Well, my wife…no, she is looking forward to it. She’ll love it when we’re there.’
‘Yeah, you must be excited.’
‘Anyway, I was hoping I might not have any students to hand over but, it’s not a problem. A guy called Roger is going to take over your lessons. He’ll get you ready for that second test. Nothing to worry about. He’s been an instructor for a long time and is very good at what he does.’
‘Also, I’m pretty sure he has just changed to a Renault Clio as well so you won’t have to worry about learning in a new car or anything.’ And that was it. Corey dropped me off at home, we shook hands and I never saw him again.
I hadn’t thought a lot about Corey until a few months ago, when I read an article about a wild professional poker player and his eventual financial ruin. The writer used the term ‘nosebleeds’ several times when referring to high-stakes card players or games that involved absurd amounts of money. It made me think of Corey and his relocation to Las Vegas. I wondered if his wife had settled into it and whether he’d made it as a croupier. Surely the dry climate would play havoc with his nasal membranes? How many green casino felts had he stained with his explosive, cascading nosebleeds? I wonder if he would remember me if I saw him again? If I ever find myself in Las Vegas, I’ll look him up, I thought. I could, somehow, find out what casino he is working at and wait until the end of his shift. I’d pull alongside him, elbow resting out of the window, other arm draped coolly on top of the steering wheel. Pursing my lips and nodding along to imaginary music, I’d give it a bit of that; give it a bit of style.