The queue’s eerily quiet beneath its blanket of nervous anticipation. Some are sitting in their cars, flicking distractedly through newspapers, others are standing beside their vehicles shuffling their feet or examining their bitten nails.
I’ve never witnessed a silent gathering of Tinerfeños before where everyone keeps their own company and just waits. It’s an aberration and it runs completely contrary to their normally gregarious and noisy nature.
The next two cars in the queue drive forward into the hanger-sized garage and out of view. I switch on the ignition and slowly drive forward, just three cars away from the unknown. I haven’t been this nervous behind the wheel since I took my driving test and no sooner has that thought entered my brain than it travels down into my right leg which responds by emulating the same state it was in all those years ago and judders onto the pedal sending the car kangaroo-ing forward and narrowly avoiding bumping into the car in front.
I’m in the queue for the Spanish equivalent of the MOT test; the ITV. Unlike in Britain where I’d hand over the keys to some mechanic and then dawdle around the shops for a couple of hours before returning to a verdict and usually a bill, here the ITV is performed in only a handful of centres across the island and you have to drive the car through a series of tests and checks at the end of which you either receive a little coloured dot for your windscreen or with an instruction to carry out the necessary work within 15 days to make the grade.
“Freno! Luz! Izquierda! Derecha!” shouts the man with the clipboard from behind the car.
As usual my Spanish understanding is on a satellite system with a few seconds delay between receiving in ears and translating in brain which causes a sort of Lee Evans effect in my movements. The wipers are going and I’m revving madly as the man repeats “Freno! Freno!” before my brain remembers that the brake pedal’s the middle one.
After the lights fiasco I settle down a bit and take the car through its various tests and emerge at the end in confident expectation of the little coloured sticker.
“Two new front tyres” says the man with the clipboard, “15 days”.
“What!?” I get out of the car onto wobbly legs and look at the front tyres where the tread used to be. I can’t believe it. I’ve topped up the oil and the engine coolant, washed polished and vacuumed inside and out and not once have I looked at the tyres before joining that silent queue. What’s worse, not once have I looked at them before driving around this island on the equivalent of Michael Stipe’s head.
As I head off to the local garage for two new tyres, I realise I’ve just been through the most efficient system I’ve ever encountered on Tenerife where, in the space of the 40 minutes I was there, sixteen cars were rigorously tested against a set of standard criteria and passed or failed accordingly with no fuss, no vested interests and no ambiguity. No wonder everyone in that queue was so quiet, it’s an alien environment for a Tinerfeño.