Although I'm a fearless cyclist, I've never been the best behind a wheel that wasn't attached to Mario Kart, or one of those rides outside the supermarket where you pretend you're in charge of a fire engine. 'Nervous driver' doesn't even cover it. I'm a crier -- bawler, is probably more accurate. During the six-month period when I tried to learn to drive (in a 1.4L Jeep, for God's sake), I cried at least once a week.
There is no 45-minute residential route (with a short sojourn on the dual carriageway) in south Co Dublin that hasn't been graced with my tears. Poor old Heinrik, my Swedish driving instructor, resorted to producing a special packet of tissues when he came to pick me up, knowing that 10 minutes down the line, when a tricky hill-start would present itself, the floodgates would open.
Needless to say, I was much relieved when I moved to London and all thoughts of having to drive flew out the window. Ha. I could just cycle and use the Tube. What need have I for tears now, I thought. I am mistress of my own, erm, velocity. Or something.
Until that is, last week -- when I flew back for my brother's 13th birthday. The plane touches down and there's my dutiful mother waiting to collect me. "So, Ailbhe," she opens. "Tonight we're going go-karting for your brother's birthday." I gulp. "We've booked you in too -- unless it's going to make you cry, that is."
"I don't always cry," I respond maturely, and sit in a huff all the way home.
That said, as we approach the go-kart track later that evening, my lip begins trembling in that old, familiar fashion. I tell myself to man up and sit down to watch the instruction video. There seems to be a very strict code of conduct on the track. This is a good thing. There also seems to be a comprehensive uniform, including gloves, helmets and all that kind of thing. This is also good. Nice and safe.
We head downstairs to suit up. The outfit differs drastically from that in the video. My jacket won't close around my neck and has a belt that trails on the floor -- what if it gets caught in the engine? My helmet has no visor -- what if a bit of grease flies into my eyes and my kart careers out of control? And there are no gloves. My hands -- my precious hands.
I take the steward to one side and voice my concerns. They are met with, frankly, very little interest. He steers me towards the kart and plonks me in, sighing: "You'll be grand." I very much doubt this.
I'm first up on the track. I carefully press the accelerator. Nothing happens. I press the brake and begin to move. Aha. Correct pedals noted, I lumber out on to the chicane, to explore the course -- and am swiftly overtaken by everyone else. This isn't fair. I thought I would have a trial run by myself first.
As I guide the kart around the looming course, with its hills and sharp turns, I promise myself that as soon as I can, I will pull up and get out. This is not for me. This is the definition of not for me. Even in a parallel opposite-day-type universe, this would remain not for me. I am so intent on how not for me this activity is, that I don't notice Kart No 11 gearing up to ram into me.
The helmeted driver bashes me at force into the side of the course -- sending my head whacking into the wheel. I am so unpleased. Yes, I cry -- but only a little bit. I'm far more focused on getting my revenge. Vengeance shall be mine.
Summoning driving skills that I never knew I had (Heinrik, be proud), I rev up and chase No 11 around the track for the next 10 minutes. Nowhere is safe from my wrath. I take corners like Lewis Hamilton (that's a person, right?) and leap over bumps like a salmon.
I've almost gained on No 11 when the steward calls us in. No -- I shall not be defeated. I make sure I'm behind it in the line, and then deliver a decent shunt to the rear of the car. Brilliant. That'll show 'em.
And show 'em, it does. No.11 exits the kart and reveals themselves to be, unfortunately, a 12-year-old girl, who is looking extremely upset. Tough luck, love -- those are the rules of the road.