ould you like to come to Norway

and do some ice-driving on a

frozen fjord?" says the nice PR woman. "We want to show you how sexy the new Skoda is."

"I'm sorry?"

"We want people to stop telling all those naff jokes," she explains.

I have to do one. I just have to. "You mean, what do you call a Skoda with the wheels removed?"

"Yes, I suppose so," she replies, a bit testily.

"A fridge! It's a fridge!" I exclaim. "Or hang on. Is it a skip?"

"Whatever. We'd definitely like to stop people telling that one."

"There is a snag, though."

"What's that?"

"I can't drive. I've never had a driving lesson in my life. My parents once bought me tokens for my birthday and I cashed them in. Apart from a little blue one I had when I was three years old, I've never been behind the wheel of a car."

"Doesn't matter."


"Doesn't matter," she repeats. "Pack your thermals and meet me at Stansted."

A few days later, I'm in a 14-seater plane, touching down in a snowswept valley near Geilo, a small town about two hours' drive north of Oslo. And I can't help noticing how everyone else on this trip is a motoring correspondent. Once landed, a combination of Skodas and teams of huskies whisk us to a cosy little hut by an enormous frozen lake, where rally champion John Haugland is standing in front of a flip-chart diagram of the ice-driving course. Haugland is an avuncular gentleman somewhere under a big furry hat with albatross-sized wing-flaps. He won 104 RAC Rally competitions between 1971 and 1988, and now runs his own school for people who like to do this sort of thing for fun. He's pointing at various bits of the diagram with a little baton, and as far as I'm concerned, he might as well be explaining the niceties of X-Ray crystallography. Rather suddenly, we're all dragging on about 100 layers of scarlet Skoda-flashed thermal gear, and cramming on our crash helmets, which have little microphones at the front, just like the ones worn by the fighter pilots in Star Wars. Outside, the temperature is down to minus 15. Brass husky weather.

"So, what do you know about driving?" asks John, who is my instructor for the day.

"When you hear it, gear it."

"Hmmm," he rumbles, obviously a little uncertain about what he's let himself in for. We begin with the basics. He explains what the clutch and the gears and the accelerator do. I smile and nod enthusiastically, and because I'm so nervous, don't really hear a word of what he's saying. He suggests that we move off. So I slap my foot down on the accelerator pedal. I'm so flabbergasted to be hurtling forward across the lake that I completely forget about that other important element of driving: turning the steering wheel where you want the car to go. This is probably why the car goes ploughing straight through the snow bank that marks out the course, and then continues to bomb towards the centre of the lake at about 80mph. John lunges over and grabs the wheel, and with some difficulty, negotiates us back over the snow bank. "OK," he says. "This is the steering wheel."

Once I've got the hang of this fundamental concept, however, I begin to have fun. Whenever I get too fast, John buzzes "Clertch, clertch, clertch", through my ear-piece, but I manage not to turn the car over or get it stranded in a snowdrift. And the skiddy bits at the corners are a scream. "You've not done that badly," my instructor concedes at the end of the day. "You've gone into it with no preconceptions, and I think that helped. All the others were too cautious because of their past driving experiences."

"You mean I was careering round like a nutter because I didn't know any better?" I enquire, yanking off my helmet.

"Something like that, yes."

And it was reindeer soup for dinner