The Joys Of Modern Life 21. Driving

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The Independent Culture
I'M NOT one of those people who are remotely interested in cars. I cannot tell one car from another. When a parking attendant tells me to park next the Volvo, I have no idea which car they're talking about. I cannot even recognise my own car without looking at the numberplate. I mean I know the colour, vaguely, but that's about it.

When buying a new car, salesmen little realise how much they put me off when they start talking about automatic gears, sunroofs, metallic finishes, airbags, five gears, electronic locking, electronic windows, extra brake lights, five doors, bleeping sounds if you haven't put your seatbelt on.

All I want is a car, just a regular runabout thing, that's reasonably quiet, but speedy enough for me to be able to overtake other cars without a pounding heart. I have what my cleaning lady once referred to as a "hunchback". Although it's only small, it's amazing how much furniture, how many bicycles and so on you can store inside if you sit scrunched up next to the steering wheel. I once got seven people into it. Who needs a Princess?

Anyway, this is not about cars, about which I have no interest. It's about driving, which I absolutely love. Driving for me is a kind of meditation. The actual act of driving takes my mind off all those weird worries that seem to surface when I'm alone. I'm going somewhere. And I'm left free to think with a clear mind. Or I can listen to the radio, which I can never do at home without doing something else at the same time. Sadly Radio Four now seems to consist only of You and Yours, or at least it does when I'm driving, and I'm forced to listen to tapes rather than endless deadly items about people who've been ripped off a fiver from their holidays, or whether the hospice movement is national enough or how you can save pounds 2.50 on your household insurance, but sometimes I'm lucky.

If I listen to tapes I sometimes dance in the car (it is, as people in wheelchairs know, perfectly possible to dance sitting down); at the lights I put on my make-up. In traffic jams I read the Evening Standard. Sometimes I make faces at children in the car next to me.

Driving is like being at home, and yet on the move. I nearly always try to park my car at a station or an airport if I'm not going away too long, just for the pleasure of feeling I'm at home the minute I get into it. All the funny warped tapes are there; all the torn maps. My special "back" seat is there, strapped on to the front seat, not to mention my marvellously out-of-date, but incredibly comfortable, beaded car seat to prevent an aching bottom on long journeys.

The last person I drove somewhere said I was a "cheeky" driver - not the first person to say that. And there's nothing that I enjoy more than switching lanes, nipping down a special side road known only to me and some taxi-drivers, and sneaking past other drivers to get a better place. I love the feeling of power that I get when driving a car.

Sadly, because of the drinking and driving laws, I rarely drive at night. Instead, I sit in the back of a cab, staring gloomily at the "Thank you for Not Smoking" sign and hoping that I won't have to make conversation. I'd like a sign to show to drivers before I get in" `Thank you for not making conversation, and thank you for not playing your radio." I sit in the back, as the meter ticks on and on. And I long to drive.

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