I wouldn't usually have made a beeline for a Landcrab at a classic car show. But, while strolling around the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show at the NEC, I stumbled upon this beautifully restored Morris 1800 with a familiar name on the door.
The somewhat lumpy machine was a rally favourite, and gained the nickname Landcrab for its fondness for going sideways. This blue and cream model with pink corners was decked out for the 1970 World Cup Rally, and had the names of three woman drivers on the door. One of them was Jean Denton, who would later become Lady Denton of Wakefield.
I first met Jean in one of the halls at the NEC. I was just starting as Road Test Assistant at Autocar, she was head of external communications for Austin Rover and she welcomed me to the industry.
I got to know her better when I became a patron of WOMAC (Women on the Move Against Cancer), a charity she'd founded and she was always friendly and always encouraging.
Her own list of achievements made me feel quite exhausted. She was Britain's woman racing champion in 1967 and 1968. Within 10 months of passing her test at the age of 26, she was competing on the racing circuit, driving Jackie Stewart's former Formula Three car. In 1969, she drove the only sports car to finish the London-Sydney rally. The next year she raced 16,000 miles across Europe and South America in the World Cup rally, leading the first private ladies' team to reach the finish in Mexico.
She and her co-drivers were sponsored by Woman magazine and its logo featured prominently on the backs of their jackets;the chaps on the NEC stand said they also painted eyelashes on the headlamps.
Later in life Jean went into politics, she became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry and worked in the Northern Ireland Office. She was a co-founder of Forum UK, the British branch of the International Forum for Women, and was President of Women on the Move Against Cancer. Sadly, we lost her to cancer all too soon, in 2001, at the age of 65.
I can’t play the bassoon. If I said I wanted to, I’m sure there would be some surprise from those who know I don’t have a musical bone in my body, but I dare say people would nod and reckon with some lessons and a practice, it might be possible. What I wouldn’t expect them to say is “Oh my wife can’t play the bassoon, and my previous assistant couldn’t. It seems to be something women can’t do.” Yet, insert the word ‘park’ and that was exactly what my boss said to me when I’d first learned to drive and said I wasn’t good at parking.
Admittedly this was more years ago than I’d like to admit, but things haven’t changed. When I told a male friend I was starting a Woman Driver Blog, he said "Oh, are you going to write about how you kerb alloy wheels?" After eight years and 86 hours of great drama, The Sopranos ends with five minutes of the otherwise smart Meadow failing to park her Lexus. Tamara Ecclestone hasn’t helped the cause by installing a turntable in her driveway so she doesn’t have to turn her Ferrari around.
OK some women can’t park, it doesn’t mean they are not capable of it, just that they haven’t learned to do it. You can get a driving licence without ever parking between two cars; it’s not in the test, so it’s not usually in the lessons. It’s not hard-wired into anyone, but men learn; women are expected somehow not to. I’d approached my boss, hoping for help, but didn’t get it. Luckily my boyfriend at the time showed me and I was grateful.
My friend Diana could place her 1955 Oldsmobile in a space with two inches either end, and told me her secret: pull up beside the car in front of the space with the mid-point of your car level with its rear bumper. Turn the wheel hard to get your car moving into the space until your rear lamp is level with that of the car behind you. Straighten up. Once you’re in, turn the wheel in towards the pavement to get the nose in. Stop.
So if you’re fretting about your alloy wheels, show your partner how to park the car. If you can’t park. Try this and practice.
Never let people tell you women can’t do anything that doesn’t involve the use of a penis rather than simply ownership of one.
This blog is by a woman driver, for everyone to read