Ejector seat, double bass, no handbag

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The Independent Online
I WAS all prepared to welcome the idea of having a photograph on my driving licence when, just in time, I found out the truth. The photograph is going to be of the driver.

That is a complete waste of time. The photograph should be of the driver's car. At least, it should be in my case, because I suffer from a condition probably called car-blindness: an inability to tell one car from another.

A driving licence with a picture of me on it would be no earthly use to me at all, any more than my passport photo is any use to me, but if I had a picture of my car on it, I would be able to pick it out much quicker in a crowd and also go back to the right car after paying for petrol at a garage.

I suppose this car-blindness dates back to my days as a car-spotter, at about eight. You would think that a car-spotter would learn to tell the difference between different cars, but in fact I was a car number-spotter, as numbers seemed to me to be the main difference between cars. I had a little book that told you which part of the country different cars came from, and I would sometimes come home for the midday meal, saying: 'Hey, I saw a car from Northern Ireland today]' and my father would say: 'What kind of car was it?' and that would be the end of the conversation.

To this day, though, I can remember that cars registered in my home county of Denbighshire had registration numbers ending in either CA or UN, and presumably they still do; occasionally, I still stir as I drive along the motorway, and say: 'Car from Wrexham over there.' No wonder I have this reputation as a sparkling conversationalist.

The first car I owned was a Renault Dauphine; I knew it was a Renault Dauphine because my mother told me. My mother knew because it was her car, and she didn't want it any more, and passed it on to me. I haven't seen it for 30 years, but I still remember the number: RUN 169.

I am afraid that is all I can remember. Except that it had electrical transmission. I know that, because people kept telling me: 'Oh, you've got one of these experimental Dauphines with electrical transmission,' they would say, 'how is it?' 'Fine,' I would say, not daring to admit that I didn't know what they were talking about. I was wrong. It wasn't fine. It started to fall to bits. I sold it to a Pakistani for pounds 25 when I moved to London after university. He said he was going to start a hire fleet. I fear he has not become rich yet.

I didn't own another car for 20 years. Living in London, I found a car was more a hindrance than a help, and would hire one if I needed to go on long trips. Just how much attention I paid to the hiring of cars is borne out by a memory I have of going back to the Punch office after hiring one for the weekend, and of Geoff Dickinson in the art department saying: 'What kind of car have you rented?' I thought long and hard, and then said: 'It's red.' That was honestly all I could remember about it.

One weekend I hired a Volkswagen Beetle, which I left in a car park in Westminster for a while; when I returned I discovered there were several Beetles in the car park, all of which looked remarkably like the one I had left behind. I decided I would have to try my key in each one. Luckily, I got it right first time. It was only as I was driving it out of the car park that I realised there was a handbag on the seat beside me. It wasn't my hire car at all. And yet the key had worked perfectly well.

This is why we need to have photographs of cars on our driving licences, especially if we are hiring them. I am sure that most people can easily recognise cars, as easily as they recognise their own family, but this doesn't help the sizeable minority like me who don't recognise ours (and who probably cut their own relations dead in the street).

This car-blindness means I have difficulty conversing with fellow males. When they say things like: 'What do you think of the new Peugeot?' or 'Isn't that the new Datsun four-door turbo prop with ejector seat over there?' I have to opt out of their company. At present I have a Saab, which is the only car I know that can easily take a double bass flat in the back (a thing unknown to my friends who are supposed to be so knowledgeable about cars) and I have more or less learnt to recognise it. (It's the one with the double bass in the back.) But it doesn't help me to remember anything else about it, and I can't always remember the number these days, so I would like to say 'Yes' to the photo on the driving licence, as long as it shows the car colour and the number clearly . . .

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