In a frontal attack on my manliness, Kate McMillan, the sweet songstress of Saskatchewan, once revealed to her Small Dead Animal readers that I did not have a driver’s licence. I protested that she was insinuating I can’t drive a car.

“Licences are for cissies,” I replied.

My father taught me how to drive at age five, on an abandoned airstrip. The car was a 1956 Volkswagen Beetle which, as I recall, was taupe in colour. Owing to being small at the time, I had to sit on my papa’s knee while steering, and enlist his help when pressing gas and gears. It is true I don’t drive cars any more, but this is only because I retired from the hobby, at the age of nine.

For I decided there were better things to do in life.

Papa was an industrial designer, to which I attribute my continuing delight in mechanical engineering, including a love/hate fascination with motor vehicles of all kinds. But my attitude towards them is that of the Chinese court officials of the later 16th century, when the Jesuit missionaries first showed them European clocks. They were mad for the things, to start with, and soon opened two royal workshops to manufacture clocks for themselves — to the highest mechanical and aesthetic standards. From the Emperor down, anyone who was anybody had to have a clock, and keep it on display. But the fashion passed, and they soon lost interest in clocks entirely.

After all, what are they good for? Can a man really spend all day watching the arms of a clock move around? The Chinese are, or were, a sensible people, and soon got back to more dignified pursuits.

It is the same with cars. I am delighted with Fiat 500s, for instance, and would love to own one, and take it apart. The external body shape is to die for, and the leathery interior looks good, too. Truth to tell, I prefer the speedometer in a Mini Cooper, which is more deliciously retro. But the idea of driving one of these things on the open roads strikes me as vain and showy. I think, keep it secretly in your garage.

Surely, it would be wrong to turn it on for more than a few minutes. Cars are very dirty. The electric ones are especially foul, as I’ve learnt from an environmental expert, who calculated the carbon expenditure over the whole lifetime of the vehicle, from mine-shaft to junkyard, including all the shocking things that come out of an electricity generating plant (unless it is good clean nuclear power). Give me a horse-drawn cabriolet any day — a Hansom, or a Tonga. Or a quadricycle-framed boda-boda, pulled by ostriches.

Internal combustion is too brutish for me.