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Beyond the tragic roundabout

IT'S a Thursday in early July in the tasteful Majorcan resort of Port de Pollenca. I have had a disturbed night but it wasn't the heat. I am about to try something new and I am scared. In 10 minutes, a Renault Kangoo hire car will be delivered to our hotel and I will attempt, for the first time, to drive on the right. This is something I have refused to do for years.

Friends and family have all tried it and assured me that it is "no bother", but I have remained convinced that it is not a skill I am wired for.

Don't ask me why I decided that this was the year to take the bull by the horns or the Kangoo by the steering wheel. Perhaps it was all the stuff I've been doing about learning theory that swung it. I have certainly decided to put theory into practice in taking to the wrong side of the road.

Preparation: The previous day I went on a cycle ride organised by the hotel.

Memory aids: I move my wristwatch to my right arm. It's habitually on my left, where the kerb should be. All I need to remember is that the kerb should still be on my watch side in Majorca.

Realistic targets: I will avoid busy towns, motorways and narrow, twisty roads. Did Laura the holiday rep think I should go to Valldemossa? No: the road is narrow and twisty.

Visualisation: I picture myself at the wheel of a Kangoo, successfully negotiating junctions, smoothly changing gear with my right hand, not scraping along the sides of parked cars. I even conjure up an image of my first faltering Kangoo hops out of the hotel car park on to the quiet surrounding streets.

Reality: The lady from the hire company arrives. The car is not at the hotel. It is in the resort centre. I can have a lift. I don't know the Spanish for "this doesn't half bugger up my visualisation". A roundabout gratuitously places itself on the way to the car hire offices. There, the visualisation gets another boot in the erse. They have no Kangoos, but an Opel Combi is the "same sort of car".

The paperwork complete, go out to the Combi. In goes the key. I turn it.

The Opel lopes backwards. It's been left in reverse. I try again and am soon making a non-fatal left turn into the traffic. Attempting to change gear a mere seven times with the window-winder en route, I reach the hotel and pick up the family.

We got to Pollenca. Buoyed by being still alive, I foolishly ignore Laura's advice and aim for Valldemossa as my music-teaching wife is keen to visit the village due to its connection with Chopin. Cue jokes about Chopin centres from my teenage daughter.

After an hour or so, it is clear what Laura meant. Apparently, just before the road was built, some prankster swapped the civil engineer's plans for a diagram of the small intestine.

Mrs Steele misses some gorgeous mountain scenery, so atypical of most people's picture of the island, because she has her eyes shut. Our youngest child revisits the gastric motif by throwing up in the back seat. A hugely impressive rainstorm that will make tomorrow's papers begins.

But we get to Valldemossa, have a late lunch there and stroll around the steaming streets. Poring over a map in a cafe bar, I plan a better route home. I really hit my stride this time. The roads are reasonably straight and blessedly horizontal. I get a chance to explore the highest reaches of the Combi's gearbox and at one point am gallus enough to overtake something.

Admittedly, it is only a donkey cart.

At one point we go through the busy town of Inca which has so many roundabouts I will for ever think of it as the East Kilbride of the Med. I also end up on a motorway but I'm cool about it by now.

Only when I get to the hire centre do I drop my concentration and cut across the bows of a Peugeot 106. Horns. Braking. Swearing. But no damage or injuries.

My learning master-plan kicks in. I visualised screw-ups before I started, told myself to expect mistakes and to learn from them. This cut-across was a failure but it was a failure at the end of a fair bit of success. I have no qualms about driving on the right again. It's just a pity I didn't get the Renault. "Can do in a Kangoo" would have made a snappy title to my adventures at the wheel in Majorca.

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