On Wheels by Michael Holroyd, abridged by David Roper

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Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 5-9 November 2012
Part-memoir, part-literary excavation, Michael Holroyd's book - read by the author - offered a fascinating insight into the pleasures of motorised transport.
Holroyd recalled his childhood, when he used to spend afternoons in the garage of his aunt's house, sitting in an old car and listening to scratchy gramophone records.  The experience was one of unalloyed pleasure for Holroyd himself; for his aunt, however, it was a painful reminder of a fruitless love-affair, which is why she refused to drive the car any more.
As Holroyd grew up, so his methods of transport changed; as a boy he used to cycle long distances, in the belief that the experience offered him freedom from daily life.  His first driving-test was a long, drawn-out affair, involving an intricate - and some might say superflous - theoretical introduction to the various parts of the car (the door, mirror, windows, etc), even before he attempted to drive it.  The experience of driving also brought him closer together to the women in his life; he taught the novelist Margaret Drabble to drive, even though she was a dyed-in-the-wool advocate of using public transport.
On Wheels also touched on the lives of Holroyd's biographical subjects and how they responded to the car.  Although a non-driver, Virginia Woolf found that talking about cars helped her negotiate some ticklish social situations.  Augustus John was an enthusiastic driver, even though some of his close friends found the experience of travelling with him rather daunting.  George Bernard Shaw favoured all forms of transport - the bicycle, the car and the motor-bike - even though he was sometimes slightly less than adept at driving them.  However he had sufficient presence of mind to employ chauffeurs, at least one of whom stayed with him for years.
I really enjoyed Holroyd's reading of an affectionate work, combining nostalgia, reminiscence with literary insight.  Highly recommended.