One’s heart goes out to the 2,000 learner drivers in Northern Ireland who last year failed their test at least five times. My message is: stick at it, folks, for you're on the road to freedom.
Of course, it's more environmentally friendly to cycle, but I couldn't wear Lycra. Not with these moobs. No, it's four wheels good as far as I'm concerned, even though I'm not a natural driver. I can start the thing okay and point it in the right general direction. It's the stopping and manoeuvring that I find tricky.
I came relatively late to driving and also failed my test the first time. It wasn't as if it was as arduous as it would have been had I taken it in the city. At the time, I lived on an island. True, there was a roundabout and traffic lights, but the reverse-parking consisted of my semi-comatose instructor saying: “See if you can get it in there — between the field and the sea.”
Of course, when I became a serious news reporter, I had to learn to drive, though for a while I got away with hitching lifts from photographers. Once, as a young reporter, I remember taking a bus to a fire at a stately home. It was out by the time I got there.
It didn’t really do much for the self-esteem either when girlfriends had to wheel you about. Zsa Zsa (I've changed the name) was five-foot nothing and as soft as a kitten. I used to like picking her up and putting her down in a different part of the room, just for the hell of it when I was bored. And I'm only 5ft 3. (Don't get on your feminist high-horses: we we always laughing, Zsa Zsa and me). But, in the matter of driving, she was more of a man than I could ever be. It was also her way of getting back at me in the small matter of who was top dog, or kitten, in the relationship. Frankly, because she had the car, it was her. But then, one day, it all went wrong.
She was ribbing me about my automotive shortcomings as, boastfully, she took the car onto the beach up at Portstewart and got stuck in the sand. We had to get a big man with a tractor to pull us out. He seemed on standby for such eventualities, so I suppose it must happen all the time. But, still, I thought it hilarious. Zsa Zsa did not. “Drive on,” I instructed her, and she did, after twisting my ear with surprising strength fuelled by humiliation.
What surprised me when I became a driver myself was my road-rage. I get really annoyed. This will come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. In the days when I used occasionally to appear in diaries or the trade press, I was inevitably described as “gentle” or “mild-mannered”. It must be because I mumble.
Little did they know the monster into which I mutate when my hands are on the Micra’s wheel. But it isn’t my fault. It’s the other drivers. I'm considerate and mannerly. It's the people who are not who drive me mad. I get furious about it. I don't really bother about people driving too slowly or even cutting in. It's the tailgaters and non-signallers who irritate me. They’re so damned rude.
So, learner drivers, keep at it until the test inspectors let you join the club. But, be warned, it’s a club of many members, not all of them as nice as you.