My sister-in-law was getting married. I offered to be the chauffeur. Not one to do things by halves, I thought what better way than in a Bentley.
Chauffeuring a bride in a Bentley
It had been a while since I'd driven on the left-hand side of the road. My first 12 years of driving were spent on the left in Australia, but when I came to the UAE in 2006, I moved firmly right.
Then Emma, my sister-in-law, was getting married in Newcastle, England, to Graham Onions, a cricketer who played for England the last time they won the Ashes. I offered to be the chauffeur. Not one to do things by halves, I thought what better way to return to the left than in a Bentley.
The Earl of Arran once made a statement about Rolls-Royce, the former stablemate of Bentley: "My father told me that if you saw a man in a Rolls-Royce you could be sure he was not a gentleman unless he was the chauffeur."
Whether the same applies to a lady driving a Bentley was another matter, so to test my gentlewoman credentials, I asked Bentley if I could borrow a four-door car. I wasn't going to have Emma lose dignity attempting to escape a two-door car in her wedding dress.
I was entrusted with a Flying Spur in "Dark Sapphire." Alan, my father-in-law, and I travelled from Newcastle to Crewe to pick it up, a 300km trip in his Seat Leon. Seat is part of the Volkswagen AG group, which also owns Bentley, so we tested two somewhat diverse members of the VW family.
"We can get 50 miles to the gallon!" Alan enthused as the fuel economy gauge ticked over. The Seat did give great mileage as we pulled into Bentley HQ, a proper old-school British car factory. A stunning Flying Spur glided out.
We went from a six-speed manual to a six-speed automatic, the Bentley's gear shifter encased in elegant chrome. Interior plastic gave way to wooden panelling. Quilted leather trumped cloth seats. Truly glorious.
Alan took out his iPhone and snapped pictures of details such as the classic analogue clock and then directed me to a scenic driving route. And it's here I had two driving challenges seldom found in the UAE - rain and narrow rural roads edged with stone walls.
We drove through puddles that caused water to wash over the windscreen, leaving me temporarily without visibility, a nervous moment in a Dh900,000 car.
I had to remember the speed limits were in mph, not kph, as was the speedometer. And unlike the UAE, there was no 40kph leeway on highways.
But it was clear this is a very special car. It is refined, never in-your-face and you get that lovely feeling of cruising smoothly and quietly. As much fun as it is to thrash a muscle car, it is just as wonderful to add the Bentley badge to another adage about Rolls-Royces: that one does not merely drive a Rolls-Royce (or a Bentley), one proceeds.
Relieved, I got the Bentley back to Newcastle without falling foul of the law or a stone wall.
On the wedding day, it was an early start as we went to Penshaw's Automotive, the garage of Malcolm Bruce, Alan's best friend who lent us his premises to keep the Bentley safe overnight. Here we tied the obligatory white ribbons onto the Bentley. The mesh grille made that task easy and one of Malcolm's mates, a former wedding chauffeur himself, was on hand to show us how it's done: "You tie the ends of the ribbons around the visors, you don't just shut it in the door."
At Emma's house I tucked her into the car along with her voluminous wedding dress, carefully folding it in, then slamming the door shut, telling her she couldn't move until she got to the church.
I parked the car and was then told by the videographer - who thought I was a hired driver - to park on an angle so she could get a better shot. I did as I was told, we unfurled Emma and her dress from the car and she was married to Graham.
The back seat proved to be roomy for the newlyweds en route to the reception. I parked in front of the hall - again, at the behest of the videographer - after the bride and groom spent the drive grinning from ear to ear. They were filled with just-married bliss but there was plenty of talk about the lovely car, too.
"This is just what you want for your wedding," said Graham.
A photo of the bride and groom posing beside the car is Emma's Facebook profile picture.
My other half drove the Bentley back to Crewe with Alan and my other sister-in-law, Clare, along for the ride in the back. It was nice to experience the car as a passenger, giggling at the looks the car from other motorists.
We piled into the Seat to go back to Newcastle. It wasn't as plush as the Bentley but it got 50mpg. The Bentley? A thirstier 12mpg. But it was worth every drop.