Jojo Woolvett seldom rues the day that she and her ex-husband parted. After all, at the end of 25 years of marriage to the philandering Cecil, CEO of a FTSE 100 company, he’s given her the Chelsea town house, the Paris apartment, a generous settlement – and the easy life. But as she sees a third appointment with her facialist slip by due to yet another no-show cab, Jojo realises she’s lost without Cecil’s long-suffering chauffeur. Jencks was always there to drive Cecil to and from the office, the airport and home(s) but also to ferry Jojo about town, and to take them both to deepest Dorset to visit their daughter Amanda, son-in-law Jake and grandchild, Archie. Not to mention that Jencks used to wait for Jojo outside various chic London stores as she added more designer outfits to her Katharine Pooley closet.
Jojo had never learnt to drive; it had simply never been necessary. Growing up in London, she used public transport – well, cabs – to get about if her parents, friends or, later, Cecil weren’t available. It’s too bad, but she can’t quite justify employing her own Jencks. But neither can she rely on taxis any more – let alone countenance the shame of being spotted on the Tube or a bus. So, aged 48, there’s only one thing for it: she must learn to drive. After all, how hard can it be?
Well, for starters, there’s the multiple-choice theory test, which never existed when Jojo was a gal (it was introduced 17 years ago). Luckily, after some coaching from Jake, she scores the 43 points needed (despite failing to recall the maximum speed at which one should drive while towing a trailer on the motorway). Having forgotten her glasses, Jojo just squeaks through the subsequent hazard perception test. Clearly, she’s picked up something during decades of back-seat driving.
Although several admirers have offered their services as tutors, Jojo chooses to use a driving school. She’s nervous. When a Vauxhall Corsa emblazoned with logos arrives outside the house, she’s also dumbstruck: this car’s so different from Cecil’s limo, his Bentley Continental GT and the Merc “runaround”. Still, the car is dual-control, so the instructor can slam on the brakes at any time.
“Call me Kev” drives to a quiet cul-de-sac in an estate where none of Jojo’s friends will see her and talks through the basics so that within 20 minutes Jojo’s actually driving, extremely slowly, in a straight-ish line. Any potential exhilaration is tempered by the fact that Kev is so fat that whenever Jojo tries to change gear she ends up caressing his ample thigh. And, as Jojo learns over the ensuing weeks, Kev insists on a lot of gear-change practice. He also insists on two-hour lessons and on “stretch and cigarette breaks”. After moving off in the wrong gear and lurching forward bunny-hop-style, plus a near-miss with a cyclist, Jojo’s taken up the evil weed again.
Kev seems to think chitchat will keep Jojo’s nerves at bay. By the end of the first lesson, she’s told him all sorts of things she wouldn’t even tell a shrink on third meeting. It’s obvious (though not to her) that Kev – more used to tutoring “boy racers” and surly schoolgirls – is smitten with this classy femme d’un certain âge, and he takes her openness as a sign of encouragement. He calls her “Stirling”, as in Moss, and, after three lessons, takes to texting her apropos of anything but driving: “Tried that bar at the end of your street” and “Beautiful day” are the least worrying examples. However, when Jojo’s in bed one Saturday morning and receives a text from him saying “I’m outside”, she knows he’s overstepped the mark. They don’t have a lesson booked. She resolves that the next one, on Monday, will be her last with him.
Monday arrives and Kev pulls up in an Audi A3 with no logos on it that he’s borrowed to impress Jojo. She skips down her steps, happy that this will be her final lesson with him. Unfortunately, she’s spotted by an acquaintance – who gets entirely the wrong idea about this “liaison”. The encounter rattles Jojo, who’s keen to get away as quickly as possible. Unused to the power of the new car, she revs up too enthusiastically – and ploughs straight into Cecil’s limo, with the faithful Jencks at the wheel, who is waiting for his boss to finish a breakfast meeting at Colbert round the corner. Perhaps now’s not quite the time to ask if he’d like a new job.