And you're telling me that people spend thousands and thousands of pounds on these boxes? That people make television programmes about them, read magazines about them, covet them, steal them, even, and talk about them at parties? You're having me on, right?
There are countless reasons why one would choose not to drive, particularly in our cities, and everybody knows what they are. Choosing not to drive, however, is not the same thing as being entirely unable to do so; driving licences are cheap, harmless and undeniably useful. It is not conscience or wisdom that has prevented me from passing my driving test; it is idleness and fear.
Between the ages of 17 and 22 I was given money for driving lessons every birthday, and I spent the money in pubs and record shops. For my 23rd birthday I was given a voucher for three driving lessons; these are the only three lessons I have ever had, and I hated every moment of them. I hated the instructor, I hated the other drivers, I hated the stupid controls on the car, I hated the sensation of driving, I hated the feeling that I was just about to kill somebody, and I haven't sat behind a wheel since.
Even though I think I would be happy not to drive for the rest of my life, my permanent ambulatory state still fills me with shame. For a start, blokes have to drive: it's something they do, like beer-drinking, and hating Barry Davies, and forgetting people's birthdays. Ergo, I am not a bloke, and inevitably this is a cause for concern.
I have never been interested in cars, not even Dinky cars (the only makes of automobile I can name with any confidence are Minis, Rolls-Royces, taxis and Batmobiles, and I have an irrational fear - Shawtaylorphobia? - of being a witness to an armed robbery), and thus a whole sphere of male experience and conversation is forever out of my reach.
The theory (almost certainly correct) that men who drive improbably-shaped, thrusting, ejaculating sports cars have minuscule penises is of some consolation; but then something will happen to remind me of my own inadequacy. A few months ago, a middle-aged lady at a petrol station asked me to move my partner's car forward 10 yards so that she could get to the pump; I blushed, grinned and refused.
It's hard to feel terribly blokey in that sort of situation. One of the things that has always deterred me from becoming a father is the awful knowledge that I would not be able to drive the mother of my child to hospital if she went into labour in the middle of the night. These fears were entirely justified. Last week, she went into labour in the middle of the night; we had to call a mini-cab, and the cabbie, in true sitcom style, didn't know the way.
The ability to drive is not a defining characteristic, because more or less everybody over the age of 17 has a licence. Those who can't drive, however, are likely to have personality traits that might be traced to their chronic pedestrianism. We insist, for example, that we are urban people, and that we hate the countryside, but this may well be because outside the big cities we are as helpless and as dependent as babies. We affect a metropolitan swagger and a neurotic interest in sport, contemporary cinema and music, which we hope will explain why we wish to stay within hailing distance of a black cab. The truth, of course, is more mundane: we're terrified of running out of fags, or of staying with people who live four miles from a newsagent and only take the Daily Express.
Even in the cities, however, we are frequently the pathetically grateful recipients of others' handouts and this, too, is bound to affect the psyche of the nondriver after a couple of decades. Lifts home after the pub, lifts back from the sports centre, lifts to the nearest Underground station in the pouring rain . . . Somehow, not driving has turned me into an unfortunate cross between a member of the Royal Family and my grandmother.
These one-off kindnesses mount up until one's view is obscured by a huge mountain of unpaid debts; my fear of driving is nearly outweighed by the guilt that surrounds my disability. As a consequence, I wake up most mornings vowing to go to the Post Office to pick up an application form for a provisional licence. And people make you feel guilty; I have been nagged by my nearest and dearest about not driving just as much as I have been nagged about smoking.
I'm sure I'd never be able to handle driving anyway. How do people park? How do they pull out at a busy intersection? How do they turn right? (You wouldn't catch me trying to turn right.) How do they reverse? How do they even dream of negotiating Trafalgar Square or Hammersmith Broadway? How come they don't burst into tears when somebody hoots them? The longer I don't drive, the more difficult driving seems.
I have a feeling, though, that I am about to take lessons for the worst possible reason. I have a son now, and however many football matches I take him to, or beers he sees me drink, I know I will worry that he will worry that his dad is. . . well, a bit of a sissy. And I'll try to explain that I'm better-read than car drivers (you get through a lot of books waiting for Circle Line trains), that you learn more about life sitting on a 236 bus than you do driving a BMW, that London would be a better place if there were more people like me, but I don't think it'll do much good. Dads drive, and that's the end of it. Watch out, north London.
The author would like to thank the following people for getting him where he is today, and where he was all the other days: Virginia, Gill, Robert, Mum, Dad, Sonia, Jonathan, Sarah, Paddy, Hugh, Nick, Pete, Dave, Matthew, and anyone with a car who knows me.
Also in need of a lift: Sir David Attenborough, naturalist, age 67; Marco Pierre White, chef, 31; Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer, age 45; Bernard Levin, journalist, age 65; David Mellor, MP, 44; Simon Gray, writer, 56; Peter York, marketing guru, 47; Sir Samuel Brittan, economist, 59; Peter Ackroyd, writer, 44; Roy Hudd, actor, 57; Jeffrey Bernard, writer, 61
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