Driven to Distraction

I just got out of my new car. As I switched off the engine, a message flashed up on the dash:

‘Remember your mobile phone.’

It’s as though my car knows me. As though it knows how many times a day I put down my phone somewhere which feels obvious at the time but fifteen minutes later is as elusive as a straight answer from Kellyanne Conway.

The first time I took it on a long drive, a coffee cup icon appeared. ‘Take a break!’ It shrieked.

My car cares about me.

This is a big change in my life.

My early experience of driving (once I’d finally passed my test) was pretty combative. For a start, we lived just off the M25 where the air pulsated with toxic fumes and road rage. I was drinking that in daily.

No wonder I failed my first test for speeding and driving too close to other vehicles – I hadn’t seen anything different.

Second, I had a really truculent, totally uncooperative car. My mum had won it in a competition.

I know. How improbable! You didn’t think that happened in real life. You’ve seen those grinning people in acrylic jumpers posing by their new Mercedes in adverts imploring you to buy a ticket…


You won’t win a Merc. You’ll win a Fiat Panda, like my mum did.

I’m sure there are lots of happy Fiat Panda drivers. Probably living in Italy where the warm weather helps with small things like the engine actually turning over. But this Fiat Panda (KAR792Y) was a poor ambassador for the motherland.

It was petulant, obstinate, suffered from the cold (anything below 10C) and was frankly a bit of a shirker. (I don’t know if these are the qualities of real life pandas but when you see them on the telly they don’t seem to want to move too far. Or too fast.)

But it had an engine and four wheels and all the other apparently crucial bits which make cars go, so it became my car.

We fought from the start.

I doubt any seventeen year old these days has ever had to jump start a car. It’s not a twenty first century thing. But my seventeen year old self could do it blindfold. I jump started that bloody thing in every county from the south coast to the Midlands. It got so that I kept my jump leads in my handbag.

The car got canny. It started flatly refusing to go mid journey.

On one trip back to university, my Panda broke down five times on the M1. I met five different AA men. Their call centre must have thought I had a thing for men in high vis.

Thing was, I wasn’t even a member of the AA.

I came to detest the car. The only thing it had going for it was the back seat. It folded down providing a not entirely uncomfortable platform for the sort of urgent sex which will overtake one from time to time.

If only the car had responded to my hormones in a similar manner. We could have gone all the way together!

It had to go. The final straw was a taller boyfriend. It was time for an estate.

I’ve had a few cars since then. Largely utilitarian affairs with very few extras. I’d get excited if there were automatic windows and free mats.

Now I’ve reached Executive Youth I finally understand the attraction of a decent vehicle. The term ‘ergonomic design’ has become meaningful – just ask anyone who suffers with a bulging disc or sciatica. I do thirty thousand miles a year. I need a car I actually want to drive.

Something I used to consider vain and show-offy I now think entirely reasonable and, if I’m truthful, a bit sexy. Especially if it involves leather upholstery.

I think this is how you know you’re successful.

It’s nothing to do with qualifications, promotions or Twitter followers; it’s completely down to leather interiors. They speak of luxury and wipe-clean moments. 

I’m still a little way from a leather interior but I have now gone automatic.

Why did no one tell me about automatics before?

Isn’t life depressing enough without you have to depress a clutch as well?

My new car is German. I call it Dirk Technic. Dirk is strong and well built. He makes quick progress and just keeps going and going. Dirk makes me feel safe. He takes over with his fabulous Adaptive Cruise Control and his speed limiter. He knows what I need. He’s programmed for my welfare.

If I had my time again, I’d probably marry Dirk.

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  1. I don’t drive but I understand where you’re coming from. Enjoy your new car and it’s comfort. P.S. Miss hearing you on the radio.

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