It must have been about 25 years ago. I had just bought my first ever motor car. It was a Mazda 323 and I was pleased as punch with it. But a car is only a car. So when my good friend David said “give me your car, to go for a ride” I was happy to hand him the keys, even though I didn’t know how long he’d be gone. Despite being Canadian, he was comfortable with manual transmission, and off he went.

I think his date went pretty well, and when he returned the machine he commented favourably on the ride.

“That fifth gear is quite something, isn't it?” I asked with paternal pride and a hint of car talk about me.

“Fifth gear?”

“Yeah.” Pause. “It has a fifth gear.”

Such things were a bit new and quite the thing back then.

“Oh,” he said. “I didn’t find it. I feel a bit of a chump.”

On Saturday I picked up a hire car at Heathrow to drive down to the West Country. Nice little Fiat Bravo, very comfortable, very nippy. Three hours later I had reached my destination. Needed to go into reverse to park. Moved the stick to where I thought reverse was. Nope, that wasn’t it. Glanced down at the gear lever knob.

“Sixth? There’s a sixth gear?”

I felt a bit of a chump.

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