Driving me crazy
Something to Declare
BY SAM DELANEY
JULY 2005, Andalucia. I’m sitting in a Renault Megane half way up a narrow, winding and implausibly steep mountain road en route to what the guidebook describes as a “quintessential white village with stunning views and a charming square”. Only I never get to see them. This hired Megane came with an engine the size of a travel hairdryer.
As I desperately try to negotiate a stuttering, gravity-defying hill start, I nervously view a lengthening queue of infuriated locals in my rear view mirror. They are beeping their horns and shouting exotic foreign swear words at me. Smoke begins to emanate from beneath the bonnet and I smell the handbrake cable starting to melt. It’s like that daft little engine is pleading with me like Scotty out of Star Trek. “I havnae got the poo-er Captain!” But I refuse to listen. Stalling for the 18th time, I tell my wife not to panic. But, deep inside, I’m wondering if we will ever make it off this mountainside alive. I sense that the natives are ready to burn the vehicle with us in it before using our charred remains in a giant paella which they will serve at an impromptu village festival called “Carnaval de Conductores Ingleses Estúpidos”.
Eventually though, they kindly move out of the way before guiding us back down the hill and out of their lives forever. I am cursed when it comes to driving hire cars abroad. As soon as I leave the familiar roads of Britain, I am overcome by a debilitating automotive neurosis. It all stems back to my first experience on foreign roads when, aged 18, I found myself as the only member of my family sober enough to drive us from Cork airport to our rented cottage 50 miles away. The country roads were dark and perilous. I was commandeering a giant, rented people carrier, and I had only passed my test the week before.
As I veered and skidded, fumbled and stalled my way along those petrifying Irish lanes, my drunken, idiotic relatives laughed and sang in the passenger seats. Eventually, after several close shaves, I parked up outside our isolated little cottage. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so proud of myself as I did at that moment. Then I opened the door and realised I’d unwittingly parked the thing in a giant bog. It took three days to get the farmer to pull it out with his tractor. It’s taking even longer for my psychological scars to heal.