Putting On The Handbrake
By Claire Moulds
I’m not sure when it started, or how, but for the last few years I seem to have become the ‘designated driver’.
The idea normally begins to be sowed a few days before the planned night out, with my husband casually asking ‘will you be drinking?’ – then, as we’re leaving the house, I might get ‘can you drive in those shoes?’ and, before you know it, somehow I’m once again in charge of the car keys.
Worse still is when he merrily volunteers me to ferry other members of the party home at the end of the evening – ‘you don’t mind, do you?’ – or when I find myself guilted into offering a lift as people start making noises about ordering a taxi and wondering how long the wait might be ‘at this time of night’.
Not only is it not much fun having to watch everyone else work their way through the rounds, gradually loosening up after a stressful week and having the kind of laugh that you need to be slightly softened up by alcohol to really ‘get’ and enjoy, but then there is the knowledge that no matter how messy it gets I cannot make a tactical exit as I’m now the one responsible for getting everyone to their respective front doors safely.
Admittedly, I’m not a big drinker, but does that mean I should always be the one to have to sacrifice the enjoyment of having a nice G&T or cocktail in order to play chauffeur? Unfortunately, part of the problem is that if you only enjoy the odd drink then you’re not viewed as a ‘real drinker’ – and people therefore assume that you won’t mind in the slightest staying sober, as you’re only missing out on your ‘one or two’ drinks.
Equally, just because I might not want to drink one night, it doesn’t necessarily mean I want to drive either. The two aren’t directly linked in my mind – although they seem firmly associated in the minds of others. Like everyone, by Friday night I’m exhausted and the last thing I want to do is to traipse around the countryside in the early hours with a car full of passengers who are either too drunk to give clear directions or who oh-so-helpfully fall asleep.
To be fair, my husband does plenty of driving during the day, but that’s in part because we tend to be out and about in his car. There’s also a big difference between going to the supermarket or the garden centre and having a fun night out. I don’t therefore mind doing my share of being the designated driver; I just object to it being a permanent position.
And I’m not alone: many of my female friends and colleagues seem increasingly to find themselves facing the same predicament. From my pregnant friend Kate who failed to realise that the minute she announced she was expecting she would inadvertently become a free taxi service, to newly married Jo who announced in the pub last week ‘I am having a drink tonight’, only for her husband to carry on sinking pints, so she had no choice but to switch to lime and soda so that she could drive at the end of the evening.
Are we really just reverting to the old stereotypes where the man goes out drinking and the woman has to carry him home? I certainly hope not. In truth, though, I think that women are increasingly finding themselves behind the wheel at night because so many of us are either cutting down on the alcohol we drink or have given up completely.
Interestingly, a recent survey just published by retail magazine The Grocer reveals that one in four British women are now completely teetotal, compared to just one in seven men.
And while it’s still not right to expect the non-drinker (or occasional drinker) to get in the driver’s seat automatically, it makes sense that when they do it’s more often than not going to be a woman.
That’s why this party season I’m calling time on the current arrangement. Not only will I be making it very clear when it’s someone else’s turn to get behind the wheel, but I will also be donning my highest non-driving heels and making sure everyone has the number of a reliable taxi firm now mine is no longer open all hours.