It’s MOT day.
For the uninitiated this is an annual ritual which tests two things. The road-worthiness of my car and my levels of manliness. Generally speaking the car passes. And I fail.
MOT stands for Masculine or Timorous?
I know the drill, some guy in blue overalls will stand there in the huge cavernous garage shaking his head and tutting while I vainly attempt to locate the fog light.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In other more civilised societies you can simply take your car along to an MOT approved garage, hand over the appropriate amount of money and they’ll ensure the vehicle is safe for the road.
It’s a legacy of The Enlightenment I imagine.
But here we still have public testing centres. To me the MOT is like a grown-up version of the 11 plus. Unnecessarily stressful and archaic in conception.
The test does strange things to people. I look at the guy in the lane next to me and he’s spraying air freshener from a can around the interior of his motor. If your tyres are bald then I doubt that a fresh lemony scent is going to be much assistance.
The large metal door begins to slide upwards, slow and serious as a funeral.
I’ve done my homework and I’m not going to be caught out this time. My finger hovers near the fog light button.
Then I see something I didn’t expect.
The examiner is a woman. In blue overalls.
She smiles and motions to me to drive forward.
I stall the car.
I think I can see her eyebrows rise just a fraction. She motions again with her hand and the car crawls forward.
My mind is sprinting. Is this the new friendly, caring face of the MOT centre? Or is it just another twist of the knife? A way of saying ‘Even our woman is a better man than you’.
Is it just another way of massaging sodium chloride in the laceration?
I put the car in neutral. She walks around to the driver’s side.
‘Good morning,’ I say.
‘How many miles does she have on her today?’
She looks past me towards the dashboard.
‘She’s got 84,596.’
I’ve often noticed with amusement how some men refer to vehicles or machinery using female terms. Hearing a woman do it is even weirder.
From her banter with her male colleagues I quickly establish the examiner’s name is Lisa.
‘Indicators’, Lisa says.
I sit there.
‘Indicators’, Lisa says again, slightly louder this time.
‘What about them?’
She shoots me a quick glance to see if I’m taking the piss.
‘Can you try them?
‘Yes, yes, sorry, of course.’
But my brain has turned to scrambled eggs and my fingers to jelly babies. I push at a lever and water sprays out of the window washers.
The tutting and head shaking begins.
Lisa barks a series of instructions.
‘Lights….main beam…..horn….wipers….brake light.’
I suppose I must turn on the lights on my car most days. I assure you I’m perfectly able to do it. Generally I don’t even have to think about it.
But here. Now. Trying to work out how to turn on my lights when I’m being instructed to feels like trying to work out the square root of 375,765,385.
But then it happens. My possible chance for salvation. The moment I’ve been rehearsing.
The fog in my brain clears.
I press the fog light button. Expertly.
I relax in my seat and make eye contact with Lisa. I give her my best ‘Yes I am rather skilled at driving in fog’ smile.
But she’s not fooled.
‘Flip the bonnet.’
I’m about to protest about unfair tactics.
‘What possible reason would a driver ever have to want to look under the bonnet?’ I almost say.
Instead I fumble uselessly with knobs on the dash. Blindly I push a button and the sound of Barry Manilow’s ‘Mandy’ fills the garage.
Lisa walks to the driver’s window.
‘Down there, just beside your leg.’
I reach down and find a secreted lever. Hidden in exactly the same spot as it was when I did my MOT last year.
Earlier I called the MOT archaic. To be fair the methods have moved with the times. Much of the testing is electronic and the huge pits in the ground which I used to have nightmares about driving my car into are gone.
Lisa tells me to get out. I take a seat at the side of the room and watch her drive my car faster than I’ve ever done. She takes it onto a platform which then rises into the air. She puts on a cap and examines the underside.
At one point she seems to be checking that my wheels are actually the right shape.
I’m imagining her saying ‘Round…round….that’s good.’
I’ve been taking cars to MOT centres for the best part of two decades and the truth is I’ve never failed the test. I always go to a garage in advance and pay out an unnecessarily large amount of money to avoid the social ignominy.
I’m told if your car fails then they give you a bell and a fabric ‘M’ which has to be sewn into your clothes and displayed at all times in public.
Soon enough Lisa takes my car off the platform and begins to print my new MOT certificate. I know the ordeal is over so I begin to walk towards her. She sees me coming and puts up a warning hand.
‘Stay seated until I call you!’
I sit down like a scolded child.
Precisely seven seconds later Lisa calls me.
I walk over and she hands me two sheets of paper.
‘She’s fine, so she is,’ she says.
I take the sheets and walk out into the sunlight grasping them like Neville Chamberlain in 1938.
I hope it ends better for me.