Ruth Brandon: What's so wrong with my driving, dear?

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Indy Lifestyle Online

My husband and I have driven all over the world. Twice, we've driven across America from coast to coast - not to mention all over Europe. Lots and lots of wheeling. But in all these trips, there are five words that have never crossed his lips. They are: 'It's your turn to drive.'

I remember the first time we took out my new car, chosen, paid for and insured by me. I say we: what I mean is, he. We were due to visit my brother-in-law, but as I made my way to the driver's seat, he held out his hand for the keys and said he'd drive. I objected: it was my car, after all. In that case, he said, he wouldn't come.

Sometimes, of course, he's had no choice. About 14 years ago we were out sightseeing with another family, and as the day progressed he spoke less and less. Walking back to the car, he said he had a migraine, and would I drive. It was only the second time he'd done this, and he'd had a migraine the other time, too.

I don't suffer from migraines, but they're clearly hell. And they do not improve the sufferer's temper. What my husband should have done was sit in the back seat and go to sleep. What he actually did was sit in front and issue instructions. Change gear! Can't you see that chap's going to turn right! There's a traffic light! Turn left here. TURN LEFT!

I considered stopping the car, but we had to get home, so I gritted my teeth and drove on. However, the consciousness that the person beside imminently expects a fatal collision does not improve your confidence.

At that time I'd been driving about 15 years, and never had an accident. But when my husband is in the passenger seat, I find myself taking unnecessary risks, jumping lights, cutting corners - in short, fulfilling his expectations.

There was a time when I used to practice a heartless tease. We were then living in the country, but he had a job in London and I'd meet him off the train. If I waited at the barrier he'd take the keys and drive us back home. So I took to waiting for him in, or by, the car. He'd spy me out, get in, and we - I - would drive off. He'd sit there in uneasy silence, hating it.

It isn't as if we're talking about some unreconstructed chauvinist here. Quite the contrary: no one could be more supportive of feminism in every form, general and particular.

Nor does he particularly like driving. And nor (worst of all) does he object to being driven. Not at all. Nothing he enjoys more. Just not by me.

I used to think this must be a unique case. But apparently not. Our daughter recently visited her boyfriend's parents. And guess what? When they're in a car together, his mum - an exceptionally competent woman, I am sure in this as in every other respect - never drives. Only his dad. She isn't even short-fused, as I am, but calm and sweet-tempered. Yet will he be driven by her? Never.

What is it? A generational thing? A male thing? Or just a neurotic thing?

Admittedly, I can never bear to watch him cook ...

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