Monday, 26 July 2010

A question of convenience.

It all started with the snow.  A blanket of snow covering my car in January.

I waited for it to clear and melt away.  It was too cold to go into town anyway, too inconvenient for my liking, especially when we could make do with what we had in the freezer.  But when the sun shone and the last crystals had melted away, I hopped back into my usual routine, jumping into the driving seat, turning the key, ready to get going again.

But there was nothing. I may have faintly heard a wimp of a "whirr", however it quickly descended into silence.  Not to be thwarted, I locked up the car and popped around the corner to catch the bus.

That evening, my husband gave it the jumpstart it needed and my convenient life was once more in motion, until two weeks later following  another snap of cold weather, I was once-more faced with the same scenario, only this time there was no other alternative option, as I was supposed to be visiting a friend who lived about twenty miles away.  Instead, I came back indoors, put the kettle on and had a ponder. Was this a problem or an opportunity?

My car obviously had a dodgy battery and I should get it fixed, but one of the reasons it was playing up was that I wasn't using the car enough times or for sufficient distances to charge up the battery in the first place.

In a world where oil depletion matters and sustainability counts, maybe, just maybe this little inconvience could be turned into an experiment of need.  So, with a defunct Cannard-mobile, I hung up the keys and started planning, looking for opportunities where I could switch my dependency on four wheels for other alternatives, including my own two feet, the bus that stopped around the corner and the bicycle I kept in the garage.

I knew the bus was convenient for town, leaving every half hour.  Even travelling alone, prices were a bit steep compared to parking fees, but cheap when you compare them to car maintenance and running costs.  It was just a pity that the last bus into town was at 6pm and the last one out at just 6.15pm and the long walk home was remote and dark.

But I commited myself to the challenge, found convenient car-shares to help with getting my children to after-school clubs that were too far to walk, cycle and weren't on bus routes and my husband juggled his routine to cope with other commitments.  Even meetings in remote locations weren't an issue, as all parties involved spoke on the phone instead, cutting out any unnecessary travel or extra time on-site to compensate for lengthy journeys. 

The challenge became quite addictive, and as the weeks passed I made a mental notch, congratulating ourselves on how well we were all doing as a one car family...until, it was time for the annual MOT, which I'd forgotten about in the excitement of being car-free for over three months.

Did you hear that?  Three whole months.  After a lifestyle that was addicted to the convenience of the car, that was pretty damn good going.

But the time had come when I had to take my motoring responsibilities seriously, get the car retaxed and MOT'd and for that I needed to get it to the garage.

I booked the appointment and when the day arrived my husband gave the car a jumpstart.  He drove it around, but it was sluggish.  Apparently the power steering had locked.  The garage recommended not to drive it in such condition, so I called the AA.  They gave it another jumpstart and left it running a while. The steering was okay by now but to be on the safe side, the very nice man followed me to the garage.

Three months has been the longest I've gone without driving in the seven years we've lived in Bury St Edmunds and to be behind the wheel of the car again did, I admit, give me a sense of freedom that I realised I'd missed.  But even so, I still wondered whether having a usable car might send me back to my old habits.

I was soon to find out.  As the phone range that afternoon, it was the garage seeking authorisation to repair certain parts of the car to get it through its MOT.  I agreed quite happily as they went down the list, until they reached item 4, the brake discs, which had deteriorated badly....apparently through lack of use!

Lack of bloody use!

Suddenly my martyrdom to single-car ownership diminished into the background as I totted up the bill that I was about to pay for LACK OF USE!   Added to that were the many bus tickets that saw me through the cold winter, children included, and their tickets don't come cheap!    Where my compensation for ditching the convenience of the car was once a pat on the back and a warm rosy glow, it was now replaced by a  bloody huge dent in my bank balance!

In a word, I was mortified.  I phoned my husband who had the same relaxing influence as a masseur with a bag of spanners.  He just laughed in the same way as when I'd phoned him years ago to tell him that I'd almost been knocked out or indeed killed by an old wardrobe!

He saw the funny side of it, while I could just feel the tears of "guttedness" and shock roll down my cheeks.

Until then, I had actually considered selling the car, but when faced with an £800 MOT bill, it made me think twice.  To sell it then would have felt like throwing money down the drain.  Despite the joy in the challenge of being car-free for three months, I admit there were some occasions where I missed having the convenience of being able to hop into the car.  My eco halo was beginning to slip.

Instead, I decided to swallow my eco pride, welcome the car back to the neighbourhood with a distinct promise that I would never forget what my experience had taught me.

The car does give me freedom of travel that I wouldn't have otherwise and I have learned not to take that for granted.  Without it, journeys have to be better planned and more considered in line with relevance and convenience and the latter is something that can be easily dismissed by drivers who automatically hop behind the wheel, nipping anywhere and everywhere they wish, just because a vehicle gives the freedom to do so.

Despite enjoying an automobile that is in full working order, I now no longer consider it to be the first and only option for transport.  Even now, I often give a nod in its direction as I head for the bus stop to pop into town.  With the summer here, we're back on our bikes and walking is a lot more pleasant too.  I still drive it off course, after all I don't want to be stung with a bill for lack of use again!  But after a short flurry of regular novelty visits into town, trips are now limited to the odd shopping excursion and visits to friends, doubling up with drop-offs at the recycling point en route or anything else that maximises the needfor the journey.

The convenience of the car, mirrored by the convenience of other alternative forms of transport are certainly things I don't take for granted any more. Being saddle-sore is a real reminder of that fact as are the bruises from the day I accidentally fell into a bus, having being defeated by two heavy bagfulls of market shopping.

I must admit, that particular incident, which was made worse by the accompanying shrieks of my mother, did see me back in the car for the next two weeks, but that was more a question of embarrassment than one of convenience.

I don't call myself an accidental eco-blogger for nothing you know and as I write, I'm still nursing the bruises from my sideways fall during last week's visit to the swimming pool, but that is another story indeed.  All I can say on that, is thank goodness I don't have to travel anywhere by water. 


This blogpost was written for the Big Green Blog Gathering, which is being hosted by organic gardening writer Emma Cooper at  More info can be found at her latest post

Thursday, 22 July 2010

I'm bored and that's not fair!

Oh no, not me, but the two bundles of testosterone that I will be picking up from school later ready to embark on six weeks of school holidays...all based at home in lovely Suffolk.

Already this week alone I've heard those particular utterences of discontent many times over and they haven't even finished school.  With six weeks ahead of us I need a plan, otherwise I'll be joining in myself and that's not fair at all is it. 

So I'm iniitiating the equivalent of a "Swear Box" for the whole summer and every time either boy mumbles those  familiar phrases, they will have to donate 20p pocket money into my collection box....yes MY collection box....all for me...

Now hang on a mo...[scratches head and develops evil grin] this could be a nice little earner if I play my cards right.  And the key is in planning the right kind of activities to fill the holiday.

So what do you think about a daily routine of shoe polishing, or even floor polishing, washing up, dusting, weeding, cleaning out the car, sorting out the chicken poo...oh and the lovely task of repainting the fence.

As well as the chance to put my feet up, that should guarantee me a tidy income indeed.

And I might even thow in a trip to the supermarket if they're lucky.  Ooooh it's beginning to look like a fruitful summer already and I could even add a few more phrases to the list of things I don't want to hear.

Happy holidays everyone.  Hope you have a good one!

Monday, 19 July 2010


So yesterday, I hit 42!  It's a funny age you know, a really big one but not huge enough for a major celebration, more like a "yeah right, nothing to see here, move on" kind of birthday.

Now, the thing about 42 is that for fans of the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, the number represents the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything as calculated by Deep Thought, a huge supercomputer.  Although after seven and a half million years it doesn't yet know the ultimate question.

So in honour of turning 42 this week, I too have come up with some answers, but they're not numbers, more like Cannardisms on my life, my own little universe and a few pieces of everything about me.  But like Deep Thought I too haven't worked out the ultimate question.

The problem is, I only managed 21, so in the bid to get to 42 I'd love you to share your own wisdom in the comments below.  Here's my list to get you cracking.  Everyone can join in, but also I'm tagging a few lovely bloggers including Strawberry Jam Anne, Condo Blues, Jo Beaufoix, The Babbling Mummy, Grumpyoldwoman, Mummydothat and Violet Posy to also dabble in their own moments of Deep Thought.

Anyway, here are my very own Cannardisms to get you rolling...rolling where I don't know, as long as it's not off to the bin.

1. If music be the food of love, let laughter serve up a dessert full of passion.

2. Eccentricity isn't odd, it's just innovation of the mind.

3. "Stop, look & Listen" can help you in more ways than just crossing the road.

4. If you're feeling down, hang up some bunting.

5. If  "to be, or not to be" is the million dollar question, you could always phone a friend.

6. Treat your career like a cake.  Share your deliciousness with those who'll take the time to appreciate you instead of the greedy buggers who will just gobble you up and want two for the price of one!

7. If there's a hole in your bucket turn it into a plant pot!

8. When it's impossible to outrun your kids, sit back and admire their stamina.

9. You can make anyone smile if you try hard enough.

10. If you don't like your body, admire someone else's.

11. Remember, the only person who can think totally like you is you.

12. To achieve unity, you need to respect diversity

13. Nothing grows without nourishment.

14. Satisfaction comes easy if you appreciate what you've got and know what you want.

15. Football is not a game of two halves, it's a micro-economy of supply and demand.

16. Diamonds are forever and so is glass that's buried in landfill.

17. Kids say the funniest things, so write them down and pen a sitcom!

18. When life goes tits-up, smile and do a moonie!

19. Take time to feel sorry for yourself then stop and show empathy for others.

20. If your seeds don't grow where you planted them, don't give up, just look for a sunnier spot next time.

....and last but not least...

21. Always remember, Christmas is just a date and not a deadline!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Five firemen and a blogger

I sat as still as I could behind the steering wheel of the old Rover, staring at the cracked windscreen.  The sun was beating down and I could feel the heat searing my skin through the open window.

"It's okay, I'm holding your head," reassured the firefighter sat in the seat behind me.  His tight grip made me feel more comfortable. I no longer felt that I was alone.

I could hear noises, unusual clanking sounds and voices that I didn't recognise.  Out of the corner of my eye, I was able to make out the crowd that had gathered to watch.  I was nervous and it was beginning to feel like a dream.

Unable to turn around, I realised my state of helplessness, stuck in a wreck of a car waiting to be cut out. Apparently I was lucky that the body of the car was intact and that no mechanical parts had protruded through to the footwell.

Against the unfamiliar sounds of breaking metal, the firefighter behind me spoke like an old friend, with warmth and assurance, envoking my trust as he described what was happening.  As his colleagues removed the car's bodywork with heavy hydraulic tools, my own body was protected by a blanket and shield. Thanks to the careful commentary I felt safe.

"How many of you are there?" I asked, waiting for clues in his voice so I could picture what he looked like.

"Five," he replied.

I could swear my heart skipped a beat.  Suddenly I realised the seriousness of the situation. Five firefighters tasked with ensuring a potential casualty could escape from the car safely and without any life-threatening injury. 

My mind started racing, splitting in directions that I could not control.  From relief to respect, my emotions bounced backwards and forwards, finally settling on immense awe for these men whom until now I had taken for granted.   I was witnessing a precison based human rescue machine in action, not just individuals in professional uniform helping me out of a car but a team working to co-ordinated perfection.

With the roof of the car removed, conditions were now safe to lift me out.  I could feel the stiffness of a board that had been inserted behind my back. I closed my eyes as I felt another board push down to the base of my spine.

Very quickly came the command for the initial lift and I felt the first grip on my legs.  For a brief moment I held my breath in anticpation.  Renewed fear flooded my mind and I squeezed my eyes closed even tighter in denial of what was to come. 

"What if they can't lift me?" came the irrational worry coupled with the regret that I'd put on so much weight in recent months.

"For crying out loud, they're bloody firemen. Of course they'll lift you" answered the more rational side of my brain.

My paranoia was suddenly broken by an effiicient but almost embarrassed request to move my knees apart.  As I glanced towards the steering wheel, I recognised that unless I did so, my body could be jammed during the lift.  The last time I'd received such an awkward request was during childbirth. This latest situation shared the same levels of urgency where the only course of action was to swap dignity for feelings of relief.

And it was seconds from all being over.  I closed my eyes once more and in short stages I felt the crew carefully lift my body onto the full length of the board, using their strength combined with gentleness to ease me into a horizontal position, safely and without injury.

It was over!  And I was lucky.  I quickly rose to my feet to shake hands with each firefighter as they received a round of applause from the spectators nearby.

Yes, I was very lucky indeed.  Fortunate not to be a real casualty and honoured to play a part in a situation that I hope is never repeated "for real".

My experience was as a participant in a live demonstration that took place at our local fire station on Saturday and I feel hugely privileged.  I'd been nervous beforehand about being trapped in a small space and relinquishing control during the process, but these short 15 minutes proved that I had nothing to worry about at all.  And although it felt real,  let's face it, being party to a true emergency would have been a whole lot worse.

But in that short time I learned some incredible lessons and gained valuable insight into the work of the men - and of course women - who often put their lives at risk, to save others.  I can certainly say that I am now both enlightened and truly grateful.  The crew who "rescued" me were totally awesome indeed.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Are these the winds of change?

I've been a grumpy old bugger of late, but who could be surprised.  With a husband at high risk of redundancy and the state of the economy, I've preferred the sanctuary of watching the bees enjoy my garden than harping on about rubbish.

Instead of blogging, I've sat staring silently at the lavender and breathing in the scent of the honeysuckle until my peace with the world is broken by the passing traffic or a random man in his motorised paraglider taking regular opportunities to check out the gardens of suburbia.

Then there was the time my husband emerged from the kitchen holding a remnant of unidentifiable plastic crap, asking "where should I put this?" Yes he really did ask in such an inviting fashion.

I wanted to shout in the same way as I've taken to shouting at the TV.

"You can stick it up your..."

But I struggled to find an amusing even if rather predictable cockney rhyming slang to fill the space. With the benefit of internet research and resultant hindsight, I now know I could have replaced that very loud gap with anything from Political Farce to Tijuana Brass with even a touch of Hagen Daas.

After two and a half years of helping others reduce their rubbish why am I still the only one who takes responsibility for domestic waste knowledge management in this house.  I'm convinced I mentioned my delight at our new "hard plastics recycling facilities" many times over, but short of gluing the council leaflet to his glasses, I don't know what to do.

I know we're facing change on the homefront that could have a bigger impact than any of my waste-bashing interests and I accept it's affecting my sanity too.  Don't tell anyone will you but the lady seen emptying all the receipts and tissues from her handbag into a trainline rubbish bin was me.  I only did it so I could look more presentable when meeting strangers in London that day instead of introducing myself as the haphazard specimen that I've become.

But in my favour I did remember to take my familiar refillable coffee cup, much to the annoyance of a very stylish cafe at St Pancras.

"We don't know if we can let you use that," they insisted, when I ordered my latte.

"I'm only trying to reduce your rubbish," I replied

"We'll have to check with our manager, to see if we're allowed"

Thanks to my recent mood, it's not enough that I want to shout at the TV and my husband, I wanted to shout at the staff too! 

I really hope my husband's work is sorted out soon, or this grumpiness might last a bit longer.  Well, change is as good as a rest, so maybe this new blog space will do me good as will the new Almost Average Headquarters into which I will be moving soon.

Yes folks, I've gone and bought myself a shed!  But that is another story indeed.