"Never criticise a man's driving," my friend Jess said, "even I know that."
This was Jess's response when I told her about the date who had mocked my driving. She was right of course. This grave offence cut to the heart of manhood. We men believe we have an innate mastery over machines - men command technology - not only is it man-law, but it is machine-law. And who are we to question the law? As Cecil B. DeMille once said 'it is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law'.
Given 'we' created machines, questioning our operating ability is heresy. Yes, we are prideful and sinful, but we cannot help it, we were made this way. This may be a biblical view of men, but I subscribe to it - despite my atheism. My masculinity is my shield, my armour - my Iron Dome, even. It may be a rusty defence, but it is the best one I have. Any attempt to chip away at it is met with bluff stoicism. And in extreme cases, actual resistance.
Anna stayed over last week. It was raining heavily, so I offered to pick her up from the station in my Alfa Romeo Spider (an old but well maintained beauty - the Helen Mirren of motors). Despite her good looks she had a number of problems under the bonnet (possibly like Helen herself). One of the issues was a particularly low chassis which would scrape over speed bumps. Rather than get this seen to, I tolerated the crunching sound, hoping she would last another year or so.
I thought it good of me to collect Anna - unfortunately, this gallant gesture was the undoing of our fledgling relationship. When I pulled up at Ladywell station, she was under a shelter holding a large gift box. I dashed through the rain with my head bowed.
"Hello gorgeous." I gave her a peck on the cheek. "How was Poland, everything ok at home?"
We had been dating over a month but had not decided on nicknames. In the meantime, I was using the rather generic 'gorgeous'. I was not quite sure about it, still, 'sweetheart' was too old fashioned and 'baby' too familiar. As for 'babes' - I would not go there.
"I got you something," she said, holding out the box.
"Thank you." I shook it instinctively.
"It is not a bomb, baby."
I rattled it once more, then started opening.
"You cannot wait," she said, "you like to tear off the wrapping?"
There was an upward lilt in her voice. Was this a euphemism, I wondered? A cheeky quip evaded me, so I continued quietly.
Inside the box lay a variety of freeze packed sausages. I tipped it and they rolled, revealing a deeper layer of indeterminable meat. The crinkled selection came in a range of reds and browns, all embossed with bold Polish adjectives.
"How wonderful." I gave her a one armed hug. "How did you know?"
We hopped through the rain and into the car. The soft top was leaking slightly. A forgotten plastic bag with my gym clothes lay on the passenger seat. Anna pushed it onto the floor then, with more force than necessary, kicked it underneath.
I revved the engine, the deep roar was the best thing about the car (it would be the soft top, but for the leak). At the first speed bump, I slowed to a crawl and dragged her over. The scrape was barely audible. Rain beat down on the windscreen.
"You drive slowly." Anna stroked my leg. "You are nervous driver."
I sped up then hit the brakes as we approached the next hump. We jerked forward. Then, as I accelerated, something crunched.
"See," I said, "the suspension is knackered. I can't go any faster than this."
She said nothing. When we arrived at my place, I had trouble parking.
"I'm not nervous," I said with a breathless laugh.
I skipped round to let Anna out, but she beat me to it. She thrust the ribboned box into my hands.
"Don't forget your meat," she said.
I laughed - I'm meat - of course, how could I possibly forget?
Anna walked towards my front door for what would be the last time. The rain had eased but it was still gloomy. We are meat, I thought - even the crooked authors of the bible acknowledged that. Nothing ever changes. This is how it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.