It's the anniversary of Shahzad, my Wood Green driving instructor, giving me my first post-panto lesson and being aghast when I moved off in third gear.
'Where have you got that from?' he asked, more than usually adenoidal. 'Take it back wherever and leave it there, please.'
'My Marine mate, Stacks, taught me that,' I said. 'He was coming over to cook for me in Blackpool on Boxing Day. He knew I was having lessons so he borrowed his sister's car without her official permission and took me out around Blackpool in it.'
'Why not his own car?'
'He's lost his licence.'
'Stop shouting "HIll start! Hill start!" remember: you'll shout that in the exam itself. And if there are people crossing again where they shouldn't at the top of the hill, no winding down your window to threaten to sue them for potential loss of earnings.'
'Those people had no right of way crossing. It wasn't even Sunday. It can't have needed all that many of them to do the altar flowers. And the more they were causing me to have to stop and then execute a hill start, the more I had to shout at them that this was the Crouch End Hill main road, dappy brain, not Golgotha; or had to announce for your benefit that I was about to execute my aforementioned: "Hill start!" And as I have my singing show coming up it's not good for me to be straining my voice like that.'
I'd say that Shahzad was nodding at my logic but that would mean that I must have taken my eyes off the road to look.
'And what else did this army guy teach you, just so I'm prepared?'
'Marine. As he's been on the military master-driver course he knows the tricks of the examiner's trade. He said never to park where they tell you to first time. It's usually a trap. You'll be able to park okay - adrenaline - but won't safely be able to pull out again. You'll find you're too near a turning, other cars, emergency access, hazardous waste, overfull ford, mobile library stop off, suspected grave of Lord Lucan, rutting stags, Jemima the doll from Playschool. Also, along the same lines, you can be ninety-nine percent certain that when you're asked to pull up when it's safe and convenient to do so, it won't be. Think on.'
In my case, during the test when it came to the examiner telling me to pull up where it was safe and convenient to do so I had to have a word with him. There were a school crossing, a hill, a staggered junction and a blind corner in the offing - not to mention that we were in Barnet in the first place - so he shouldn't hold his breath.
Shahzad said, 'You can always argue with an instruction the examiner gives you as long as you can back up your point, and he can't fail you. But you will fail if you blindly follow his instruction into a hiding to nothing scenario. Parallel park from beside the white volvo, please.'
For the next what seemed like five days I said nothing other than:
'We've discussed this, Shazad: you always miss me checking the blind spot on that side, so we take it as read that I did check it.' Or:
'You can say there's nobody in that white volvo all you like, but I swear it isn't fully stationary.' And:
'Who moved the fucking kerb over there again?'
As I moved off afterward snorting down my nose with frustration Shahzad asked if my master-driver trained buddy had said anything about how I'd been taught so far.
'He says hats off to you that I'm not as Miss Crazy Driving as he'd thought I'd be,' I said. 'I'm calm and in control and the basics are all there. He does think you've allowed me to get into the habit of shouting and swearing out of the window too much. But mainly says we should thank goodness for small mercies that I'm back driving after nearly half my life not wanting to, because it would be good in different ways for me to have my licence.'
At my lesson in Blackpool Stacks had remembered the day in Um Qasr, Iraq, when the Military Police had suddenly asked everyone for ID.
'And your fellow turns all showed a driver's license – and we had the usual alpha male cock-comparison about who’s driving which make of car. And then we had you, who had stopped having driving lessons after the horrible instructor man failed to appreciate you bringing new knowledge to him in the form of musical appreciation.’
I had told Smelly Kevin, my driving instructor in Kennington, that the sound of the car revving to biting point went from the keynote up a perfect fourth; like at the beginning of Semiramide, Queen of Babylon’s first aria. He had replied that I was frightening him quite enough already with my driving itself without making that kind of comment.
He’d been frightened? What about how slippery his shoes had been on the dual controls? Looking like they’d been made out of badly-molded licorice and burnt spaghetti...
‘So, very sorry Mr Military Policeman,’ Stacks went on remembering, ‘but you had no driving license out here - or anywhere else for that matter. And you’d left your passport hidden under your spare tutu, which you’d been using for a pillow back at the accommodation. So for official ID, would your Camden and St Pancras library card be okay? And then we had the killer - you could vouch for none of the books you had out being overdue, sir!'