For the first time in about twenty eight years I don’t own a car. As far as I can recall I haven’t been in this status since a couple of days after I passed my driving test and bought by my first motor, a clapped out Hillman Avenger.
That was the car that I actually learned to drive in, not the one the driving instructor picked me up in twice a week. I spent about six months throwing it all over the road, sliding around corners and trying my best to roll it until I eventually got overconfident and had to be towed out of a farmer’s field by a tractor. That was embarrassing. Since then I have been a mostly sensible/boring driver and have only really been interested in cars as a convenient means of getting from A to B. I’ve always been happy to use buses and trains or ride a bike when it was practical and never really considered myself to be a keen motorist. So I was a bit surprised by how it felt to be sans car.
Sorry to disappoint anybody but I haven’t suddenly become evangelically green by giving up driving by the way, it’s just that we are getting a new car which won’t be available for two to three weeks and today I sold the old one. I optimistically put it up for sale as soon as we decided on the change and in just the same way that buses turn up in threes when you aren’t actually waiting for one, it sold almost immediately.
So we have no car. More than three quarters of households in the UK own a car and for a brief spell we won’t be one of them. We could hire one of course but where would be the fun in that? No, for now, at least, we will experiment with being a bit weird.
I am writing this just a few hours after letting the old car go and I am already overwhelmed by the evidence of how ingrained the automobile has become for the majority of people, us included. (I know there are exceptions out there, some of who may well be reading this. I apologise, you are exonerated.) As soon as we explain our situation to people their reaction gives the game away. You see we have been inundated with offers of lifts from friends, neighbours and work colleagues. It’s very nice of people to be so kind but what shocks me is the way in which people automatically assume that if you don’t have a car of your own then obviously you will need to fall back on the cars of other people. So far, on revealing that we won’t have a car for a few weeks not one person has responded with; “well that isn’t really a problem is it? After all you have legs and bikes and you live on a really good regular bus route”. That just isn’t what we hear. No it is just assumed that you simply MUST have the use of a car one way or another. I’m looking forward to finding out first hand if they are correct or not.
Yesterday was our first full day of being carless and ironically we needed to go to the car dealership to sign the paperwork for the new car. We also had some shopping to do so we turned the house upside down locating our touring panniers, lights, inner tubes and bike locks and spent about half an hour re-familiarising ourselves with what a lot of fuss it can be to prepare for riding bikes in the winter; which is where the car comes in I suppose. It’s just so easy by comparison to jump in the car and travel in complete ignorance of temperature, precipitation, gradient or security. It doesn’t even require any special clothing and the lights and locks are all conveniently built in rather than being lost at the back of a drawer in the shed. It’s warm, comfortable and relatively safe and you don’t need padded shorts to drive it.
But! And it’s a big but; when we got back from our bicycle based utility trip we felt great. In fact we were buzzing. We achieved exactly what we would have done in the car but we also got a bit of exercise and a natural endorphin based high thrown in for free. We also saved money in the obvious way of not using any diesel but also less obviously by opting not to put a fourth bottle of wine in the trolley by looking on it as dead weight rather than unbeatable value.
We often go for two or three mile walks around our village just for the sake of a bit of exercise. This morning however, with the rain falling steadily and the weather station telling us it was five degrees outside, the prospect of another round of tea and toast was much more appealing. Under normal circumstances we probably would have forgone the walk altogether and driven down to the village to the butchers. But these are no longer normal circumstances and so we donned waterproofs and walked to the shops in the rain. As it turned out the rain wasn’t that bad, it wasn’t really cold once you got moving and guess what? When we got back we felt great. Anybody else see a pattern emerging here?
Maybe the novelty will wear off. Maybe it won’t. It’s early days but it’s going to be an interesting experiment and won’t it be ironic if, after three weeks, we decide that actually, we can manage without our new car after all. Oh dear, have we made a terrible and expensive mistake?