Until recently, however, I could not, and I passed off the deficiency as being a function of environmental concern. "How come you can't drive?" my fellow blokes would ask, juggling with their car keys. "Do you realise," I would reply, "that by 2011, there will be more cars in this country than there are trees?" (A completely made-up fact, incidentally). Meanwhile, of course, I'd be booking my 50th driving lesson.
My discomfort was made worse by the fact that my wife can drive. I'd be sitting in the passenger seat reading a newspaper, while she'd be cutting people up, and shouting out of the window: "Yeah, and the same to you mate, with knobs on!" which was outrageous because it was my job to do that.
Over the years I perfected a rueful facial expression for use in the passenger seat, which was designed to convey to male motorists the message: "Of course I can drive, but I'm having a bit of a laugh by letting the little lady take a turn at the wheel." Sometimes, I would simply impersonate a driving instructor, ostentatiously congratulating my wife - "You're coming along very nicely!" - when she'd just parked well in a public place.
But late last year, after the fifth attempt, I finally did pass my test, and immediately began staging a coup in the car. Despite my little children's despairing cries from the back seat of "Daddy, we get scared when you're driving. Please let Mummy do it," I have now ousted my wife as the family's number one driver, and have proudly come into my true masculine inheritance.
I recently learned to drive and swear at the same time, for example, so I am now entering that great foul-mouthed fellowship of blokes on the road. And I like to feel that my recent familiarity with the Highway Code gives my yelled curses through the open window a didactic element: "Where a single carriageway has three lanes," I'll shout at some transgressor, "and the roadmarkings do not give priority to traffic in either direction, use the middle lane only for overtaking or turning right ... you fat pillock!"
My small talk at lunch parties has also come on a treat, because now, on receipt of my first glass of white wine, I can go into a huddle with my male host, and talk cars and roads: "A3 all right, I hope?" he'll say. "Made good time as far as Guildford," I'll reply, narrowing my eyes like a fighter pilot. "Little slow after that."
On the subject of socialising, I should point out that the one time I am always happy for my wife to drive is after a party. Then, although I am foregoing one masculine role (car driver), I am only doing so because I have just been playing another equally masculine role (someone who's had far too much to drink).
My petrol-buying technique is also coming on apace. I sling my credit card down king-of-the-road style, and when the cashier enters the value of the fuel into his machine, and says "Anything else?" with a suggestive, man-to-man flick of the eyes towards the top magazine shelf, I pick up a Toffee Crisp and manfully lob it at the till. It actually looks cool to buy confectionery if it's an afterthought on the petrol bill.
In the long run, I suppose, I may capitulate to the overwhelming environmental arguments and stop using a car. It's acceptably bloke-ish, after all, not to drive on altruistic grounds. But only if you can drive in the first place.Reuse content