Since being in England, I have done more exercise than before. I walk a lot. When you don’t have a car, you have to. In fact, I walk more than my husband, who prefers catching the bus. I try to walk the 15 to 20 minutes down to town and back up the hill. Of course the deep chill of winter is not yet upon us … Also, since we fixed up the bikes, we’ve been doing a lot more cycling – about once a week. It makes a really nice change and we’ve cycled through Richmond Park to get from A to B, thereby killing 2 birds (actually 3) with one stone:
1. We get to enjoy Richmond Park.
2. We save on bus fares.
3. We get some exercise.
Many people that I’ve met living where I am in England all have cars. Sometimes, I’m not sure whether they think it odd that we haven’t yet purchased a car, or that they think we can’t afford it but don’t say anything. I agree that sometimes I am tempted to get a car, just because it’d be so convenient for large shopping, seeing new places etc. But I also hear enough stories about people stuck in traffic jams, no parking spots and paying parking fines for me not to be enticed. And I’m really not that convinced of the value of 10,000 pounds sitting in the garage only to be driven on average about once a week.
In actual fact, me not getting a car is not about saving money. We actually spend quite a lot of money in transport. Trains and buses are not cheap when it’s about 2 pounds and 1 pound each trip respectively. Multiply that by 2 travellers for each trip, a day’s outing can set you back at least ten pounds (or AUD$20, or maybe now AUD$18). Rather, I’d really like to think of it as a choice – a choice to use available and traditional methods of transportation that leave as little carbon foot print as possible. (Though I must put out as much carbon as I save as I huff and puff up the hills.) Put in that light, I feel that I am working towards a larger goal. Also, I think I’m getting more incidental exercise so I don’t have to feel guilty when I go home to that lovely tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
But, we really do need a car option because, on occasions, we do need to get to places and we can’t always rely on the generosity of friends. What we’ve done is sign up to a car club. There are several operating in London. Our nearest club is Streetcar, and the car is parked about 3 minutes from where we live. We pay a yearly membership fee, and then pay about 6 pounds an hour. I suppose the more hours you book, the less the cost per hour. The benefit is that, other than the capital cost of membership, you simply pay for what you use. Cost of petrol, cleaning, road tax and maintenance is included in the hour fee that we pay, and we always have a parking spot to return to. So friends, we now have a lovely VW to drive.
We’ve only used this once so far. Our first experience of the car was hilarious, if it hadn’t been so stressful. With everything being electronic these days, it took a while to get the car open, and get the car started. We thought we were ready to go, when suddenly the car jerked forward and nearly crashed into the car parked in front of us. Just what we didn’t need! “The car’s not in reverse”, I said. “Yes, it is”, my husband says. “No, it’s not”, I say. You know this conversation?
Anyway, the car was not in reverse and try as we might we could not get it into reverse. There was no button to push. Must be some special trick. Except that we had very room to get this wrong as we were so close to the car in front. On top of that, we needed to get to our 30 pound per half hour horse riding lesson. Oh, the stress of the situation! Another call to the car company. They must have really thought they had signed up a couple of idiots to their car club. I was thinking about how long it had been since we had both driven. I was also thinking that this wouldn’t happen if this car had been automatic. “Stupid car club for buying a manual car. Don’t they know that automatics are easier to drive and more idiot-proof?”, I was thinking.
Anyway, my husband did one last shove of the gear shift and suddenly it locked into gear and we were off. We realised with the VW, that you press the gear shift down and push it left. How did he come this conclusion? We can thank X-Box consoles. Yes, you press the controller down to activate a function.
Next came the stress of driving on British roads. I mean, really, it shouldn’t have been so stressful. We were only driving through Richmond Park at 20 miles per hour top speed! I suppose it was not having driven for so long, and then on a car you had trouble starting, then on narrow roads with other impatient drivers etc.
They say the first time is always the most difficult. I suppose we’ve had our first time. Driving can only get easier from here.