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The NCT is a bone of contention with many people. Is there a form of government taxation that makes people feel more aggrieved? I don’t believe there is, and yes, it’s taxation under the guise of road safety. There are far more serious causes of vehicular accidents, such as poorly maintained roads or adverse weather conditions, than emissions or a windscreen with a small chip in it or having too much loose change in the ashtray. (Okay, I made that last one up, but you get my point about the arbitrary nature of test fails.)

That’s my soapbox moment over for now, but like others I found myself at the test centre last month for the annual examination. As I stood in the waiting area, surrounded by anxious people ranging from bewildered twentysomethings to bewildered OAPs, I experienced a sense of familiarity. It wasn’t that I had stood in the exact same place twelve months previous; it was a feeling of a different time and place.

Any fathers out there will acknowledge the pressure-cooker environment of the maternity ward. How far-fetched is it to compare the panicky, nail-biting stress of the delivery room to the cold, warehouse garage fear of the NCT?

Let’s go through it step-by-step, in real time. The big moment has arrived at home. You’re helping your other half into the car and your destination is the maternity hospital. It’s happening; a baby is on the way. Similar anticipation occurs on the day of the NCT. You’ve cleaned the car beyond the point of recognition, because you think it’ll help the car pass, and you’re ready for the challenge. She’s waxed and buffed and looking her best, and the undercarriage has been given a good clean. I’m still talking about the car here, by the way. (Similarly, you’ve showered and shaved before the trip to the baby factory because you know it’s the last time you’ll get to do it with any semblance of comfort.)

You arrive at the maternity hospital or test centre. In the former, you find yourself whispering words of encouragement before she’s admitted: ‘You’ll play a blinder, you can do this!’ you urge. At the latter, you slap the steering wheel and say: ‘Come on old girl, you’re going to pass this one!’

The main event has many similarities. There are noises coming from the garage floor of the test centre: merciless revving, shrill beeps and loud bangs. You’re pacing nervously up and down the in the waiting area, biting your nails to the quick and trying to quell the shakes. Meanwhile, outside the delivery room, you hear loud moans, strange electronic alarms and the occasional thud. You’re pacing nervously up and down in the waiting area, biting your nails to the quick and trying to quell the shakes. (While the mother of your child screams at you to ‘man up’ and get in out of the waiting room to witness the wonder of childbirth.)

After an inconceivably long process, by the end of which you’re utterly drained, an official person in a uniform comes out to inform you of the news. At the garage, a surly-looking chap (based on my most recent experience) strides out from the test floor and disappears into an office. ‘Right so,’ you think, ‘he’s gone to get the print out. I hope it’s a pass.’ Over at the maternity wing, an indifferent medical professional (based on my most recent experience) strides out of the room, snaps off the surgical gloves and picks up a medical chart. ‘Right so,’ you think, ‘she’s going to write up the vital statistics. I hope it’s a boy.’

In both cases you’re at the mercy of a large system over which you have utterly no control whatsoever. Finally the official person decides to put you out of your misery and deliver the news. ‘Congratulations Mr. Donnelly, you’ve passed.’ (This expression pretty much applies for both scenarios.)They are experiences of identical extreme emotion: one situation tests the physical and emotional strength, not to mention character, of the one you love so dearly, and the other is your wife giving birth. Heck, sometimes I come home from the NCT wanting to proclaim to my two sons: ‘Meet your new sister boys!’

However, there is one essential difference between these two events, and it’s one to be thankful for. At half two in the morning, your car won’t wander into your bedroom and inquire if it can sleep in your bed, before clambering in and subjecting you to its cold feet and runny nose. At least, not as often as a child.

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