Having learned to drive a very long time ago – I seem to remember they still had those sticky out things instead of indicator lights – the car I then drove around until I could afford my own was my dad's Humber Super Snipe. This was a venerable vehicle bought from an Arthur Daley-like character, which was built like an upmarket tank. Although it was an early version of an automatic, it had a rapid getaway from traffic lights which often surprised other motorists who thought it might have been struggling to get going.
Over the years, I've never felt any particular joy in driving – it's been a chore rather than a pleasure, and if I ever won the Euromillions I'd buy a chauffeur rather than a car. But what I have learned over the years is that there is indeed a difference between men and women drivers – and it's not the obvious one. My late husband used to say jokingly that when he died I would never put the car in the garage again. He was quite right, both car and garage are wee and my spatial perception, like many women's, is not of the greatest, so the garage is now a 'storage facility'. But what I did learn from observing Mr B – who was an excellent driver – was the importance of communication with other motorists, something that I find women tend to ignore.
As an example, many women drivers I've known, in spite of being nice and polite in other areas of life, rarely thank another motorist for letting them out of a junction, or waving them on. It's not, I think, that they are arrogant and take for granted the polite gesture as their just deserts – I suspect that once in the car, they can't think of anything outwith just getting it safely from A to B. Mr B would always wave with gusto, or flash his lights to acknowledge his appreciation of the polite gesture, and I have always followed his example. This is not to say that men drivers are nicer or more polite – their specialism is usually overtaking on a bend when you are driving according to the speed limit, just to prove they can get in front of you. Sadly, the injunction to be 'kind' that was bandied around a lot at the early stages of lockdown seems to have missed out some drivers of both sexes…
Good guys and bad guys
I don't know if I am alone in this, but as an apparently virtuous widow who is not in any way an international criminal, I have always had a sneaking sympathy for the villain in stories or films. I watched The Day of the Jackal
again recently, in my 20s having developed a major crush on Edward Fox's character, in spite of the fact he had murdered half a dozen innocent people en route to trying to assassinate de Gaulle (I rapidly went off him – Edward F, not the Jackal, who of course was a fictional character). I then discovered he always voted Conservative, and took up with Mr B, on account of his superficial resemblance to Edward and the fact that he would happily vote as instructed by me.
I also admired the heroine of the series The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
, when in, I believe, the second book, she managed to sneakily remove a large amount of money from a bank's accounts without being discovered. I've always envied her cheek as well as her IT skills (I'm so scared of online banking that I will only do it when my son is around in case I press the wrong button so I probably wouldn't make a very good internet criminal).
G K Chesterton's detective, the Catholic priest Father Brown, used to say that you could only be a successful solver of crime if you were able to enter into the mind of the criminal. At one point he says: 'It was I who killed all those people… so of course I knew how it was done… and when I felt exactly like the murderer himself, of course I knew who he was'. He's talking about empathy, the ability to see the world through the eyes of another, even a criminal with no redeeming features. 'No man's really any good until he knows how bad he is!' he suggested. Or rather: 'No-one can consider themselves good until they know how bad they're capable of being'.
Perhaps the main difference between me and a committed criminal is that I think the disadvantages of breaking the law outweigh the advantages. I suppose ultimately I believe that morally, crime is never victimless, and in any case it would be just my luck to get caught (although some politicians seem immune – so far…).
Nicola Sturgeon the destroyer of worlds?
Talking of politicians, I am beginning to think that in independent Scotland we should make people pass a multiple choice questionnaire before they can vote – not necessarily an IQ test, but one that measured common sense, which many voters seem to lack. When delivering the free independence newspaper produced by The National
(which was an absolute pain to get through some people's insulated letter boxes as it was a bit flimsy), I was harangued by a Scrooge-like old gent who announced that he loathed Nicola Sturgeon as, in his view, she had done nothing for young people (baby boxes, free tuition, free prescriptions, free public transport et al obviously had passed him by), she had destroyed the NHS, and given away 'our' oil.
These bonkers beliefs seem to originate in certain tabloids, one of which, much against my principles, I bought for my elderly Tory-voting neighbour when she was poorly and couldn't get out. It seems to inhabit a horrible, xenophobic parallel universe (Peppa Pig
World?) where right of centre luminaries like Nigel Farage comment on issues such as the suggestion that Johnson is actually at the peak of his powers, or that thousands of illegal immigrants are invading Britain and destroying the NHS (presumably what's left of it after Nicola's ravages). I can only think that reading such stuff regularly destroys the brain cells of its readers.
As we already have conspiracy theories circulating about the secret ingredients of Covid vaccines, maybe the medical profession could add to them an undetectable serum that works as an antidote to the tabloid press and restores its readers to sanity?
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant