Originally intending to travel down in my Alfa, a flat battery and a possible charging problem meant that I was without a car. Being a cheap person, rather than rent a car my first response was to ring The Independent and asked if there was anything available to do an emergency drive/test on, which was how I came to be motoring through Essex in a Toyota Prius. This teardrop-shaped, congestion-charge exempt hybrid hatchback, the world's cleanest family car, is eerily quiet about town, like a luxury car costing three times as much while still averaging around 55mpg. It readily took my bicycle (on which I'd ridden to The Independent) in the back once the seats were folded, despite the batteries taking up space under the floor. And though it's no fireball, the 1.4 petrol engine or power from the batteries driving the electric motor is easily capable of keeping up with motorway traffic.

My reading went off without me offending too many people and I set off back to London. On a dual carriageway I carefully pulled out to overtake a truck and in so doing slightly blocked a fast-moving black Fiesta driven by a baseball-capped youth who hadn't seen me indicating because he drove while turning his head to talk to his companion. In my rear-view mirror I saw both youths make "wanker" gestures at me until I passed the truck and steered back into the left-hand lane. It was then I discovered that the Prius was seriously starting to affect my motoring fantasy life. See if everybody is the same as me (and what a wonderful world that would be) they have two components to their driving. The first is what they do at the wheel and the second is what they imagine doing. So if I'd been driving the Cadillac CTS of a few weeks ago when the youths disrespected me, in my mind I would have reached under the dash to where I'd previously taped a set of ninja throwing stars and laid them on the seat beside me. I would then have calmly followed the youths off the A131, and when they stopped, thrown four stars into their tyres. Then I would have dragged the young men out of the car and beat them up with the karate I'd suddenly become proficient in while cursing them in Ukrainian in which I'd somehow become fluent.

After that I'd get back in the car and carry on with my journey to the dinner party at Natasha Kaplinsky's house. But when I reached into my mind for a similarly comforting fantasy there was nothing there. After a while the explanation for this absense came to me - it was because I was driving a Toyota Prius. Even in the disturbing confines of my own head, violent behaviour of this sort seemed absolutely impossible for somebody who was driving a Prius. After all, this is a car that more than any other conspicuously signals that you are a kind, caring, environmentally concerned person.

Then I began to fantasise that because the Prius is a car which radiates goodness, you may be able to get away with doing bad things in a way you couldn't with another vehicle. For example, it might be possible for a person to cruise the red light districts of our cities demanding the price for all manner of debauched sexual services from working girls and any watching vice policemen in an unmarked car would say to each other: "Oi what's that bloke up to?"

"Its alright Sarge, he's driving a Prius. He must be asking that woman in the PVC mini skirt and thigh-high boots for directions to a health food store."


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