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Why do women drive cars like the Satsuma Castanet?

FEW knowledgeable observers will have been surprised at the chaos caused by an elderly woman motorist on the M65 motorway in Britain last week. A retired florist, 81-year old Martha Harwood, drove through a huge No Entry sign before driving east for 15 miles in the west-bound direction.

Naturally, she made her journey in the fast lane, causing on-coming cars to scatter and crash as she did so, because -- as she said later -- she was unable to find anywhere to turn. Ah, quite.

So what was the reason for this idiocy? Was it because she was a retired florist? Was it because she was a woman? Was it because she was 81 years of age?

Well, to be sure, all these factors, together, might have some bearing on the situation, though not so much on her driving as her choice of car. She was driving a Suzuki Ignis -- and suddenly all is crystal clear.

For the Suzuki Ignis belongs to that throng of powered bathchairs, draped in modern monocoque bodies, which increasingly pollute our roads. They invariably have really stupid made-up names, such as Ignis, or Lantra, or Twingo, or Prius.

They're usually very small, and are powered by a fly-whisk. But the final give-away is their colour, a blue-green-pink that no heterosexual male could name, and which can otherwise be found only among the obscurer tints in the nail-polish display unit at Boots.

The owners of such cars like the Satsuma Castanet do not so much drive them as inhabit the driving seat for conversational purposes -- usually, it seems, with a deaf person, which explains the degree to which the driver uses sign language: both hands, naturally. Eye-contact is clearly essential for the driver of the Fujita Fidea, because she spends much of the journey, looking directly at her passenger, even if she hasn't got one.

If she is gesticulating and gazing at the space to her left, how can she know where she on the road?

That much is simple: there is a white line which the makers of roads have thoughtfully painted for such drivers: and all they really need to do is to place their Mitsushita Twia astride this funny white line, and all will be well.

The accusation of 'sexist' is already bubbling merrily on the lips of the few female readers I have kept with me so far. Steady, sisters, steady.

I am more than willing to accept the majority of road deaths are caused by men: young men, specifically, in cars painted either blood-red or metallic, with tinted windows and huge spoilers on the back to compensate for the miniscule contents of their underpants.

I know what these young men can do: kill me swiftly and violently. But they will not drive me into the gibbering lunacy that results from being stuck behind a Wiziki Twee, which is powered by a pencil sharpener, and which is painted in nail varnish, coloured somewhere between azure and lime.

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A couple of nodding dogs occupy the rear window, as the driver minutely examines her passenger's new eye-liner, meanwhile enthusiastically semaphoring her approval.

The lacquered prams with the funny names are, typically, made in Mediterranean countries or Asia.

But a car called the Nikita Neuro or the Feat Elfino would never come from Sweden or Germany. Why is this?

Is the proximity to the bleak Baltic the reason why these countries know their cars by terse, muscular digits rather than feminised personal names?

Consider the cars from Volvo and Saab, Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Audi, BMW: all known by numbers. Volkswagen is the exception -- but it only introduced names to break away from the dominant image of the 'beetle' -- which was so named by VW's US distributors. It was never the official name of the car.

The same with aircraft. The Messerschmitt 109, the Folke Wolfe 190, the Junkers 88, the Heinkel 111, the Messerschmitt 262, of the Second World War did not have official names in the way the British Spitfire, Mosquito and Lancaster had.

For the German manufacturers looked on their aircraft as machines, not people or animals.

Thus the engineering culture which gave the world the Mercedes 200 or the BMW 5 series would be utterly incapable of creating a powered push-chair called the Zevura Xita, with a make-up holder on the steering wheel, a mirror directly in front of the driver, a blusher spray instead of a fuel gauge, and maybe a nice little coffee table where the gear-shift ought to be.

This dismal travesty cannot be dealt with on the road, for by then, it is far too late, but only in the car showroom.

Put a honey-trap bait there, consisting of a small car, coloured somewhere between aquamarine and topaz, with a cafe latte machine in its front door, a lip-gloss dispenser instead of a horn, and a little mascara-well where the odometer would normally live.

Give the wretched machine a tin-opener for an engine, and bestow upon it a meaningless name containing more vowels than consonants.

And then pounce on anyone showing the remotest interest in, forcibly sterilise her, and ban her from driving for life.

Problem solved within a decade, and no more Martha Harwoods weaving the wrong direction up the motorway.


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