I like having this gig - I really do. I like getting all the free cars to test drive, I like the pose of telling people that I'm a motoring correspondent, I love people seeking my advice on what car to buy. The only downside arises when it comes to actually doing these articles.
See, the problem with writing a regular column about cars is that you're writing a regular column about cars. Partly the difficulty lies in the fact that I'm not one of those people who knows the ins and outs of suspension settings, gear ratios and torque curves, in the motoring equivalent of the off side rule I don't even know which is oversteer and which is understeer though I've done them both straight into a hedge on several occasions. I made up a mnemonic to remind me which was which once but the mnemonic went SNOVUNCT so I couldn't remember what the hell that was about either.
Most of the time I can pick up on some nuance in a car or have an idea on the general topic of driving but really when you think about cars, they go, they stop, they take you to the seaside, they knock people over and that's pretty much it - they're just sodding cars and after a while there's bugger all to say about them! I don't know how we fill this supplement week after week I really don't! Ah ah ah!
Sorry about that. As you can see I'm struggling for inspiration this week but luckily there is a solution. Unsurprisingly it is not uncommon for columnists on newspapers who are restricted to a single subject to come up against this dearth of subject matter. It's alright for those fancy pants on the comment pages or at the front of the magazines who can write about anything that's happening in the world: the invasion of Iraq or coal mining or sausages or deep sea fishing or the trick of making up long lists to fill up the empty spaces in your column but for those of us who are only supposed to write about one single thing, whether it's cars or fishing or our obsessive exercise regime or our sex lives or wine or all the men we've never slept with or life on our hill farm or our hilarious husbands or alternative medical treatments then it is almost inevitable that from time to time the ideas are going to dry up. When this crisis comes upon us what we single-issue columnists do is we don't panic - we simply swap with other single-issue columnists.
So say I'm struggling for inspiration like now, what I might do is ring up somebody with an exercise column on another paper and say, "Now here's the thing hon, I can't think of a thing to say about blinking cars this week do you wanna have a go?" And they'll say, "sure Lex but will you have a tilt at my exercise column in return?" So she'll do cars and I'll write a piece on getting a leg wax while you're doing Pilates.
Mind you I must admit over the years it hasn't always been a good idea when I've done columns for other people or they've done ones for me. For example you might have sensed something was up when a few months ago I let Wayne Rooney fill in for me on these pages and he simply wrote the word "bum" 751 times. Similarly my column for him in The Sun last season - a discourse on the influence of environmental psychology and the economics of John Maynard Keynes on Birmingham City's chances of staying in the Premier league earned him a solid kicking from Robbie Savage.
No I'm definitely going to write my own columns in future and not farm them out to other people, so here goes: Recently I had an opportunity to test drive the new Seat Altea 1.6 and on the twisting mountain roads above Malaga I bum bum bum bum bum bum bum...