The unwelcome prospect of getting the train to work one day next week while our long-suffering Skoda is serviced has reminded me how much I love driving. Tim cackles when I say this: apparently during the long, frustrated weeks before my test, parking ineptly in Waitrose car park, I swore more than once that I’d never drive again, whether I passed the test or not. I have no memory of this, though it does sound like something I’d say, with my usual intolerance of a skill I’ve not yet mastered.
Admittedly my driving beginnings were rather inauspicious. I started the engine of the blue Punto outside Focus in Didcot without any clear idea of how to stop; we then hurtled alarmingly around the shrubbery, dodging the chavs nursing a bottle of cider in the corner by a whisker, and eventually ended with the car’s nose in the hedge, while I screeched blue murder and Seb carefully unstuck his face from the window to point wordlessly at the brake pedal.
One Lego engine model later, and I was back on track. Since I became officially roadworthy almost a year ago, the 40 minute drive to and from work has become a soothing interlude I can’t easily give up. I’ve said before that it gives me time to think, but in fact it’s exactly the opposite. The ritual of clutch-gears-brake-accelerator is mechanical, repetitive, requiring a kind of undemanding absorption somewhere below the level of genuine thought. I can maintain stopping distances, indicate, merge and even adjust for speed cameras or get out of the way of ambulances without forming one coherent sentence in my head. I listen to music while driving (the chance to sing wholeheartedly and expressively without anyone seeing is too good to pass up), but I’m just as content with nothing but engine noise, sat in a puddle of quiet, moving the car mindlessly and happily from one destination to another.
I don’t think I’m the only one using their car as their own personal bubble. The other day I saw an otherwise stately looking woman in a business suit, turning a sharp corner while bobbing joyfully in her seat to the radio. It was such energetic bopping – her hair was brushing the ceiling – that it must’ve taken some coordination to keep driving the car; I felt I’d finally encountered someone else who understood the difficulties of playing air-saxophone on the road. And then I got out of her way quite quickly, just in case the song she was listening to had a saxophone in it.
Have a look at Tom Vanderbilt’s book ‘Traffic’ for more on this Englishman’s-Vauxhall-is-his-castle business. It’s interesting. Whatever the theories, the idea of getting up close and personal with British Rail on Tuesday is distinctly unpleasant. Public transport demands so much engagement with one’s surroundings. I want my car, dang it!
Does this make me a petrolhead?