The best part about driving? Going backwards.
There is a special joy in reversing well
When I moved to London five years ago, I gave up on car ownership. From what I’d heard about the big smog there was absolutely no point paying umpteen million pounds a year just to sit in traffic jams, meanwhile the underground will get you everywhere in a flash. And these voices were right.
There is an old saying that, in London, you’re only ever around 6 feet from a rat. I think that’s probably quite true as well for London transport. It feels like wherever you look there’s a sign for the tube or a bus stop. And then while you’re looking at those, a Boris biker will knock you down. Not to mention that every other car is a taxi.
However, as I’ve grown older, not only has my inner child regularly yearned for a drive but, also, it’s pretty impossible to do a lot in London without a car sometimes.
For example, I live in Fulham – which if you’re not familiar is north of the River Thames and full of rich young people called Henry – but the nearest recycling plant to me is in Wandsworth – which is south of the river. And, because the items I’m taking are often quite large, you can’t just carry them on your bike. To help the planet, you quite literally need a car.
Fortunately, nowadays, within about 10 minutes notice you can get hold of a vehicle through services like ZipCar. I have found myself using this a lot during the pandemic, and I’ve noticed something. When you drive through London, you spend a surprising amount of time going backwards. And it is quite rewarding.
Most of the residential streets in London were never built with modern cars in mind, so going from A to B requires a constant sort of ‘drive two meters then retreat one’. But whereas on tight countryside roads, where this also happens, you’d only hit a hedgerow if you cocked it up, down in London if you can’t reverse well, you’ll either hit a child or, worse, an oligarch’s Bentley.
And then there’s your destination. Space is hard to come by in London, so when you do arrive somewhere, you’ll no doubt have to reverse up an incline, parallel to two Lamborghinis, while scary youths laugh at you, and with a bus beeping behind. If that doesn’t elevate your heartbeat nothing will.
Although, as I just found on my way to the recycling plant, there is the greatest euphoria in being able to drive backwards quickly and perfectly.
I know the main purpose of driving is to move forwards, and it’s great fun when you can do that. But there is a special kind of unspoken emotion that comes from good reversing.
It’s like when you have a dog. It does dog things like collect sticks and yap loudly. However, if you train it with repetition and patience, every so often, your dog will spin around perfectly or roll over on command. It won’t happen each time, but when it does you’ll think your worthy of a Crufts entry.
And that is what perfect reversing is like, a true man’s best friend partnership between you and the car. It won’t always be brilliant, especially if you are somewhere like London, but my god you feel like a king when it is.