When I lived in the UK I didn’t really think too much about driving; I have a love for sports cars and their size was never a consideration, only the size of the engine. My last car was a V8, had a 0-60 speed of 4.6 seconds and I absolutely loved it! I thought about buying something similar over here (I live in the South of France) and then I drove over here and thought better of it very, very quickly. I now drive a Fiat 500 and have no plans to change any time soon. Why? You may well ask!
As I had never driven abroad and never driven a left hand drive car I thought it prudent to ask a friend to go with me the first time I ventured out in my little red Fiat. He, assuming that, as I could drive, I could drive anywhere, took me through the centre of Monaco. That, in itself, wasn’t so bad once I got used to being on the wrong side of the road and having to constantly look in my side mirrors to make sure I wasn’t going to hit the kerb, go over the white line or have a collision with one of the thousands of scooters that wanted to overtake me on both the left and the right sides. Although I seemed to be sweating profusely and had developed an irritating and uncontrollable jiggle in my left leg I didn’t think I was doing too badly, all things considered.
That was until we arrived at the entrance to one of Monaco’s many car parks. Don’t get me wrong, I love Monaco; it’s honestly one of my favourite places in the World BUT I swear that a couple of the car parks were designed by someone who has a pathological hatred of motorists and/or cars. The one that my friend had chosen for me was in the middle of a single lane road (the scooters were still over-taking on both sides) which, to my uneducated mind, was very narrow. This could have been the panic setting in as buses use this road every day seemingly without issue. The entrance itself was, again, narrow and at the top of a steep hill, with a bend in the middle……..
I drove in at a snails pace and could feel beads of sweat breaking out on my forehead as I negotiated the entrance. Then it got worse. The car park itself was so tight that the only way I could negotiate some of the turns was to turn the wheel, then reverse and then go forward again. Not only that but the designer, for reasons best known to his demonic self, decided it would be a really good idea to have 8 inch kerbs on both sides….just to make life really interesting! Unfortunately for me, my confidence was waning the deeper into the bowels of the car park (hell) we went and I completely misjudged one of the bends. The result was that there was a very unpleasant sound of metal scraping on concrete. At this point I burst into tears and my friend took over.
That was the last time I drove for about 3 months. My little Fiat stayed outside my apartment gathering dust and I took the bus (if you ever visit this area the bus service is incredibly cheap and efficient). However, one day I was late for an appointment and I had a choice: either I could phone the person I was meeting and tell them that I was delayed OR I could take the car and not the bus would be a lot quicker. I still find it very difficult to have a conversation in French on the phone and, at the time, it was impossible so, I steeled myself and got into my car. As it turned out, it was fine, yes I got lost but that’s nothing unusual for me (as my friends put it, I have no internal GPS) but I arrived for my meeting on time and without incident.
For 3 months I had put off using the car just because of a single incident. I’d let fear come between me and my love of cars (not to mention between me and my independence). To be fair, it took me a while to get used to the mountain roads, I had previously lived in flat, mountainless Essex, but the freedom that my little car brought me felt wonderful. It’s now 2 years on but I still have no intention of buying anything bigger – for me, size does matter!