Magazine article The Spectator

Putting on L-Plates

Magazine article The Spectator

Putting on L-Plates

Article excerpt

It seems a bit odd, learning to drive in one's thirties. Readers will wonder why I have put it off for so long. The answer is that, as Eliza Doolittle thought, it is jolly nice being driven around in the back of a taxi. The expense of the fares was justified by the cost of car insurance, petrol and Ken Livingstone's road toll.

In Italy where I spend my holidays it was oh so much easier driving a motor scooter, particularly as a motor scooter could take you to parts that other vehicles couldn't reach, such as the marina or the old port where there is very little space to park and where, during high season, cars are not allowed.

But this summer I began to have second thoughts. Sitting on a scooter wearing a large helmet was so broiling an experience that it was akin to taking part in some mad doctor's experiment to test the heights of human endurance. Nor was there any surcease at night. While my friends were all going about in their comfy air-conditioned cars and arriving at dinner cool and soigne, I looked like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

Motor scooters are no longer glamorous. They are out. There. I've made my judgment.

It was different in the days when you didn't have to wear a helmet. Girls let their hair flow back in the wind. The whole scooter experience was reminiscent of Audrey and Anita and Brigitte: Beauty before all else.

Then the government forced everyone to wear a helmet. Not only docs a helmet flatten your hair but it makes one resemble a household appliance. As for safety, I had my worst and only accident post-hideous-headgear.

Thus I resolved on my return to London to pass my driving test. It was a bit embarrassing giving my date of birth to the lady on the other end of the telephone, like logging on to a porn site. But she fixed me up with a male instructor and, for some horrendous sum of money, I could begin lessons the following week. (I know now why there are so many non-drivers. They can't afford the lessons.)

The man duly arrived with a car, luckily. The first thing he asked was if I spoke English. As I had already greeted him in English, this question seemed a bit superfluous. There were only two possibilities. Either he hoped I spoke Urdu because he couldn't speak English himself, or he spoke fluent English but thought the only phrase I knew was, 'Hello, just hang on a mo while I fetch my handbag. …

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