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


  1. I have like you pondered the idea of doing without a car entirely. My plan was to note every car journey and look for alternatives.
    Then I realised that without a car, i'd have to give up my job because I can't do 2 nursery runs and get to my place of work 7 miles away (repeat in opposite order at end of day) without it (I can hardly do it with a car!). As to weekends - it would take me half a day to visit family and half a day to get back - possible, but not leaving time to have tiem with them.

    So I've postponed. It would be lovely to live without a car. I'd feel very proud of myself. I even grew up without one. But for now, I'm realistic.

  2. LOL Cartside, the logistics indeed. I think the great lesson here is taking time out to re-evaluate, ponder upon alternatives and figure out what works. I'm happy too with the balance that I've found but if our circumstances change, then it'll be up for review again. ;0)

  3. What an excellent blogpost. I couldn't do Without a car either but I'm very careful about how much I use it and like you I always try to do 10 things on every trip!!! I have teenagers and we only have the "Hadrians Wall" tourist bus during summer for me the hardest thing is getting them to co-incincide their schedules!I'm working on it tho'. I hope your bruises have healed xxx

  4. LOL, thanks Allyson. You've reminded me that I must organise a trip to the wall. It's been on my hit list for decades. Good luck with the schedules. That's an exercise in logistics I don't envy...but it looks like I've got it all to come. ;0) x

    P.S. The bruises are healed until next time LOL. Watch this space, as I'm trying skiiing this winter (hee hee)

  5. It's hard to do without a car these days, and even more so as so many corner shops have disappeared. If you use it less and walk more both you and the planet benefit.