IÕve been a three-time loser at both love and driving lessons. Both involve skilful handling, listening carefully to your partner and executing a series of practised manoeuvres in a confined space; and both will make you cry. But losing at love I can handle; you never have to look behind you (an activity women, on or off the road, are not fond of); no one gives you marks on your performance Š and lives - and by the time you need to do a relationship U turn, things have already gone sour.
However, when it comes to driving lessons the humiliation of ritual failure is much more acute, and a lot more public. YouÕre out there in broad daylight wearing a scarlet letter pinned to your bumper Š a neon sign that professes your incompetence to every passer by. At least in a failed relationship there are no witnesses. ItÕs just you and your no-longer-significant other. There are not sixteen pedestrians watching you divide the record collection, as there are when you stall at a busy junction. And you only disappoint your mother when you disengage from the love of your life, not a Congo line of honking cars snaking behind you, all breathing a collective sigh of disapproval so loud it sounds like Southgate has just missed a penalty.
YouÕd think that other motorists would have more sympathy for the brotherhood of learners sliding backwards down hills and negotiating speed bumps as though they were the Himalayas and needed a team sherpas to help cross. But no; the minute youÕve torn up those L plates, you donÕt just get a driverÕs licence, you get the gift of superiority and the ability to act as if youÕve never had a bad car day in your life. Passing your driving test transforms you into the motoring equivalent of a smug married, with only pity and condescension for those struggling singletons, untested on the open road of life.
However, weÕve all been there Š weÕve all paid a shameful visit or sixty, to those certain suburbs so beloved of driving instructors because the streets are wide enough to turn a Boeing 747 around in and deserted enough for it then to take off. WeÕve all done the thirteen-point turn in that space and hit the kerb twice. Some of us even live in these suburbs. Personally, I feel neither compassion nor empathy for a hapless learner driver when IÕm doing 2 miles an hour on a trunk road behind a faltering dual control Ford Fiesta which thinks itÕs a panzer tank. IÕm rather tired of looking up the exhaust pipe of L-plated Clio sitting on my front lawn after misjudging the corner; and the noise of screeching brakes from the emergency stops which punctuate my day make living here like being in my very own episode of Starsky and Hutch. However, at least we donÕt have a problem with pets. They have all been run over.
My real sympathy is with the driving instructors. While failing my test three times over a period of four years I went through instructors with unfeeling promiscuity. I canÕt remember a single one of their names and after I got what I wanted Š I never called any of them back.