x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Her Say: I jilted my first love for James Bond

I look back with embarrassment: dear oh dear I lived up to the stereotype of a dippy female driver ignorant of cars other than how pretty they looked.

My first ever car was a Nissan Micra, the classic boxy look in an unsophisticated (but well-priced) white colour. It was bought second hand just as I started work.

For several years before this, I had been jealous of one of my slightly older friends who for her first car had bought a Fiat Panda. This despite the fact that I could barely squeeze my legs in the car, and I'm only five foot three. But when I got my Micra, which could almost comfortably fit four - and with a real squeeze five - adults, I felt quite smug.

My car had a 1.1 litre engine. Anything more powerful and the tiny tin-can on wheels would have been in danger of lifting off. Despite its teeny engine size, I was willing to race any car from the lights: other little runarounds, 3 litre beasts, Ferraris and sports cars. I'd push my foot right down to the floor and for the first two seconds I could stay neck and neck with any competitor.

After all, the Micra was a little about-town car, good for nipping in and out of traffic. But into the third second, my foot would be ramming the pedal into the chassis with the full force of my leg, the car would be shuddering with the strain, and my gaze would have locked on to the road in front of me, refusing to look the driver alongside in the eye as he cruised past in a brand new Mercedes coupe. Slowly I realised that not all cars are made equal.

A couple of years later I was at the cinema watching the latest Bond movie, when 007 screeched onto screen in a delicious looking not-yet-on-the-market BMW Z3. I was smitten.

I went to the local dealership and asked if I could buy one. My decision making process was this: it looked really nice, and I wanted one. Did I want anything specific as part of the spec, asked the salesman. Erm, I hesitated, can it be blue?

I look back with embarrassment: dear oh dear I lived up to the stereotype of a dippy female driver ignorant of cars other than how pretty they looked. On the other hand, I got myself a car that I thoroughly enjoyed driving, a sensual delight offering up warm sun and rushing breeze whenever its hood was down.

I took pains to learn about how to optimise the car's performance and could hold my own with any petrolhead. I taught myself car maintenance to know how to look after my humming metallic beast.

This helped me enjoy the Z3 and my subsequent cars, trying out different brands and types. In the Middle East, I was advised to drive nothing but a Toyota, as it was the only car with suitable air conditioning. I got a Rav4, a pretend 4x4 that sat up high but was like a toy vehicle, light to touch and about as much use in the desert as a heater at noon. But it was a fun car, and nifty and pleasant to drive on the wide roads.

Yet no matter how many cars I go through, and no matter their power, speed or looks, nothing can replace that first Nissan Micra for me. It was my freedom, my independence and my entry onto the world stage. I was an adult. I bet you remember your first car. It's like your first love: totally unforgettable, and makes a permanent mark on your life.

But if my first car was so wonderful, would I like another Micra? A decrepit 1.1 litre that can barely make it to 70mph? No thanks, I'll stick to my grown up car.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and writes a blog at www.spirit21.co.uk