Lyttelton – Do Something Beautiful

Well now, it’s June already which for those of us living in Aotearoa means we are entering into Matariki, sometimes referred to as the Maori New Year.   I might post more about Matariki shortly but for now I want to point out that it is a time for reflection, remembrance, connection with family/whanau and new beginnings.  We will make a couple of posts on this theme this month as those of you who have been following our trials and tribulations might have realised that we have passed our 12 month goal of being a car-free family during May.  More on that soon, as well as the end of the experiment… So in the spirit of Matariki I’m reprinting here the following article I wrote for the Lyttelton News – our local newspaper which comes monthly as part of the Akaroa Mail.  It appeared on the front page of the Friday 11th March edition.  Thank you to Margaret Jefferies for inviting me to submit.

Last year Margaret Jefferies of Project Lyttelton sent me a superbly eloquent definition of sustainability: the possibility of life flourishing forever.  In its simplicity it summed up perfectly for me, what I believe is a worthy aspiration for our community.  Inherent in the concept of flourishing are all the ingredients of a life well lived, and a strong community, such as: sustainability, engagement, inclusiveness, meaning,  resilience and well-being.  I like the definition also because there is room for doubt.  The possibility of flourishing.  It’s not a given, it suggests we must take responsibility and approach the goal of sustainability (flourishing) with purpose.  It is possible, there is hope.  How we do it is up to us.  It is in the act of seeking that we may indeed flourish.

Right now, as a community we have been faced with a crisis of major proportions.  We will move through the stages of emergency response, recovery and eventually, revitalisation.  It is how we approach these stages and frame our perspective that determines the quality of the experiences we will have.  You could say that this is the measure of our resilience.  To put it simply, we can choose to see the earthquake either as purely a catastrophe – the end of many things – rebuilding in haste, without vision, walking backwards into the future or we can acknowledge the tragedy and begin to approach it as an opportunity to re-imagine our community and work to create the flourishing Lyttelton of our dreams.  There is no right time for this to happen.  No rules or timeframes, it is up to us, together to work it out.

Lyttelton is resilient.  I know this because we have so far made it through two major earthquakes, the second a genuine disaster for our town, and still, here we are – working together, helping each other, asking questions, talking about the future.  If we are to not only endure and survive but to flourish, we must mix in the best of our resilience with a sustainable approach.  Moving forward in a considered way, with vision, be bold and with nothing less than flourishing as our goal.  And while we are waiting to get on that bus – let’s do something beautiful.

I Feel Your Pain

Now here’s a thing.

Last week there was a press release and subsequent coverage in NZ newspapers (maybe on tele too but I don’t know cos I don’t have one) about a study and its results.  Named the ‘Commuter Pain Study’ – that in itself should give you an idea of the contents and import of this piece of research – surveying 8,192 motorists in 20 cities on six continents.  Apart from telling us what we probably already knew it has gone a step further and ranked international cities according to an ‘index’.  In NZ the survey covered 937 respondents aged 18-64 years distributed between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.  The main points for Aotearoa that the study concluded with were:

– Almost three-quarters of NZ commuters use a car alone to get to work

I don't think this is the way to the beach, man.

– Resulting traffic congestion causing significant stress impacting health and productivity

– Increasing public transportation key to reducing stress caused by commuting

When it came to other solutions the study also had some facts:

Those commuters surveyed recognise that there is significant potential to reduce travel stress by improving public transportation (45 per cent), providing accurate and timely road conditions information (28 per cent) and introducing greater flexibility to work from home (29 per cent).

Now, the study which was commissioned by IBM and is more properly known as the IBM Global Commuter Pain Study also went as far as to say in the media release:

across all New Zealand cities drivers felt that much of this stress could be reduced by the greater use of technology in the management of traffic flows, sophisticated analytics of transport systems…

They don’t offer any actual data on how many or how they reached this conclusion and it didn’t seem to be in the survey index but I wonder if IBM have one or two ideas that might help?  But that’s another story…

Do NOT miss your exit...

Vested interests aside, it seems that the survey revealed some telling information about NZers dependence on private cars for commuting.  According to the study, 80 percent of drivers find aspects of their commute frustrating.  At least a quarter of respondents believe that traffic has negatively affected their health although this number varied regionally.

In the article based on this media release published by The Press (Christchurch) they immediately went out to get some vox pops on the findings.  Even though Christchurch has a public transport system that I would rate as very good several ‘people on the street’ described the buses as ‘just gross’ or unsatisfactory in a number of ways, therefore they continued to use their car to commute.  Apparently sitting in traffic literally idling money away, pumping poisonous gases into the air, and ‘negatively affecting their health’ by being a solo occupant of a motor car is preferable.

I feel like pointing out to those ‘buses are gross’ people that by commuting on the bus I not only save money, but I don’t have to find parking, I get to read or talk to friends, or do this, or experience this.

The study pointed out that only 10 per cent of NZers car-pool regularly.  Bizarre – if we doubled that we’d significantly reduce the cars on the road during the commute rush hours as well as halve (or better) our individual fuel and parking costs.  Auckland’s traffic problems would be majorly improved overnight.  And almost everyone’s wellbeing could be improved.

 

Among those who believe that traffic has negatively affected their health, increased stress (77 per cent) and anger (41 per cent) are the primary symptoms.  As many as 28 per cent of drivers believe that traffic has negatively affected their performance at work, university or school.

Many commuters feel that if their daily commute was reduced there are many other things they would do with their time including exercise (51 per cent), spend time with family (48 per cent) or sleep (30 per cent).

All that stress and anger and lost productivity – when you’d rather be exercising (playing), spending time with family & whanau (playing) or ‘sleeping’ (playing).  And it’s self-inflicted.

You poor things.

When they are good they are very very good…

Yesterday morning my bus driver played what must have been his favourite romantic mix tape on repeat, loudly. The highlight for me was Dan Hill’s maudlin meanderings repeated THREE times on the way into town.

Allow me to treat you to the pearls that are the lyrics.

“Sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much, and I have to close my eyes and hide. I want to hold you till I die, till we both break down and cry. I want to hold you till the fear in me subsides. “

I’m tearing up here. But wait there’s more.

“At times I’d like to break you and drive you to your knees…”

That’s romance for you right there folks. But my torture did not end when I fled the bus, as this cheery little ditty is also a mind worm on a truly epic level.  I sang it walking down the street, I hummed it in the loo, I whistled it doing my work, the little horror got stuck in my head with a bulldog like grip and I’ve been alone in a dark place with it ever since.

But it’s not all bad music out there on the buses.

Last week I took the fractious toddler, who was fighting yet another cold, into town. On the way home she fell asleep on me, and as I supported her head and dreamily watched the growing patch of drool on my shirt, I tuned into the conversation the bus driver was having with the front seat passenger.

When I started listening, he was talking about the challenges immigrants to New Zealand who don’t speak English as a first language can have getting jobs that match their qualifications and experience. He was a qualified teacher and a sports coach, as far as I could gather, but had had difficulty getting anything more than short term relief contracts, hence here he was driving a bus. It was a bit of a sad story and I think talking about it made our driver feel pangs of old frustrations because he started instead to talk about Serbia, whence he originally came, telling my fellow passenger about the places worth visiting there, the fine old cities and the beautiful fertile countryside.

He was an interesting man, full of enthusiasm for life and his stories made a pleasant diversion as we trundled through Heathcote. The weather was warm, the sun falling directly onto us through the window and Seraphine was getting overheated being so close to me, grumbling and twitching in her sleep. As we passed through the tunnel, I fumbled our things together one handed, and shifted my protesting sweaty daughter onto my shoulder, where she grizzled as we scrambled, ungainly and over laden, down from the bus.

We plodded up the hill, with the small person protesting the iniquities of life in my left ear. We’d just rounded chicken corner and I was mentally girding my loins for the long steep hill ahead when  I heard the sound of running feet and an out of breath male voice shouted “hey!”. It was the bus driver, brandishing Seraphine’s sun hat in his hand. I had unwittingly dropped it as I got off the bus, but instead of just turning it in at lost property, this very nice man had sacrificed his break between bus trips to run after us, up a total bitch of a hill. That’s above and beyond the call of duty by several miles. So yay for the heroic bus driver from Serbia. May he find his dream job, inspiring young Kiwis to be as nice as he is. And I must track him down through the labyrinthine bureaucratic networks of Metro admin and send him a bottle of wine as a thank you.


Adventures in Busland – The Quest for Grilly

OK, so the blog has been a bit bus-centric over the last few days but here’s one more little story about our latest experience.

You lovely regular readers might recall a post by Elizabeth about our progress so far and the potential stumbling blocks or issues that we were anticipating.  Some of them turned out to be mere paper tigers, one or two haven’t been encountered yet.  However one has been chipping away at our nerves like that dripping tap you’ve been meaning to do something about.  The visitation of ‘Grilly’.

Granny Lily is my mother.  She still lives in the family home and for all her 79 years she’s never learnt to drive.  That didn’t stop her raising four children though.  That should be all the inspiration we need – it was also pre- cell phones, microwaves, EFTPOS, the internet and people could actually smoke in hospitals.  But that’s another whole post in itself.  She was a gung-ho cyclist who taught me how to ride by taking me on long trips near our house around the oxidation ponds of the city seweridge plant.  Nice image.

She got everywhere on her trusty black, sit-up-and-beg bike that looked not a million miles away from this:

Thanks to Blue Earth

And boy, could she fly on that thing when she wanted to.

She had to give up on biking some years ago when she developed Meniere’s Disease which affects your balance and can cause black outs, which she discovered the hard way, while riding home one day.  Now she walks miles every week and is able to make use of the senior citizens’ gold card which gives her free bus rides in off-peak times.

Recently returned from an epic quest of her own into the depths of France, accompanied by my sister (now there’s a story), Grilly (also known as the Dowager Empress) had been suffering jet lag and the post travel blues and we were well overdue for a visit.  We’d put it off due to all of us having thick colds the week before (the last thing a 79 year old needs, jet-lagged, at the start of winter).  Now there was nothing for it, we had to embark on the two bus rides each way into the dark heart of Aranui, my ol’ stomping ground.

We hadn’t really done any family bus rides before.  Elizabeth buses with the Bobbin quite regularly but here we were, all three of us, bags and buggy and Bobbin.  The first stop was the Lyttelton Farmers’ Market for treats to bring Grilly.  Then down to the bus stop on Norwich Quay where freight trucks from the port thunder by in clouds of noise and fumes.  We were right on time for the 10.15 bus but it was nowhere in sight, in fact it never came at all so half an hour later we got on the next bus along with one of Lyttelton’s fearless hill skateboarders and a couple of soon to be disappointed Welsh rugby fans.  There are two spaces onboard the bus for buggies, prams and wheelchairs.  One has seats the other doesn’t.  On this first bus was a young fella with the biggest gear bag I’ve ever seen – he was on his way to play ice hockey and there was nowhere for his bag to fit except in one of the buggy spaces – unfortunately he chose the one with the seats so Elizabeth and I parked the Bobbin in the other space and sort of hovered around her.  Elizabeth doesn’t trust the buggy to stay put by itself, brakes or no brakes ever since she once saw it slide out around a corner, probably to the delight of Seraphine.  The journey passed without incident to the bus exchange in the central city.  We changed platforms and only had a 15 minute wait for the No. 5 to take us to Aranui.  Mid-morning on a Saturday the bus exchange wasn’t that busy.

The journey on the No.5 was only about half as long as the one from Lyttelton but had plenty of interest.  First off was a person reluctant to give up their seat in the buggy park for the second buggy that got on in the bus exchange.  This was soon sorted out.  Further along we encountered any number of surly individuals on what was my old bus route to and from town.  We had teenage girls at Eastgate Mall who were refused passage due to carrying huge milkshakes and armfuls of junk food.  They were vociferous in their displeasure with the driver, teaching Seraphine some choice new words in the process.

A few stops later was a woman who apparently wanted the bus but changed her mind after the driver stopped.  When he suggested to her that she should signal if she didn’t want the bus to stop she transformed into an Angry Person.  One of those that starts muttering abuse loudly but without making eye contact.  The driver appeared to think better of the whole encounter and closed the doors.  Just another day on the No. 5.

Getting off at my old stop we headed down the road to Grilly’s house where Seraphine gets to rowl around outside on some flat land for a change while we drink tea and eat gingerbread and Grilly’s famous bacon and egg pie.  Nom Nom.

After an hour or two we get to repeat the whole process to get home.  Joy.

When we finally reach the top of our not insubstantial hill in L-town it’s nearly 4pm and we’re shattered.

Inconvenient much?  Hmmm, I really did miss the car right then I must say.  What was that about effort?  At least it wasn’t raining.  And we did get to all have a big family lie down together in our bed.  All three of us snoozing happily for half an hour.  Now that’s what I call a successful quest.

In praise of – Buses

(Elizabeth has begun a post topic on bus ride observations and linked to a wonderful post by another blogger about encounters on the bus there too.)

Whether you call it the ‘loser cruiser’ or the ‘winner wagon’ chances are you have all used that most maligned of public transports – the bus.

But why is it so often scorned by those arbiters of transport taste?  Trains seemingly continue to conjure an atmosphere of romance despite long since spurning the far more textural coal and steam for a more insipid electric propulsion.  Trains are the proper setting for intrigues, affairs, murder and enlightenment.  Buses are apparently stigmatised by the presence of teenagers (either the surly and intimidating or obnoxiously rowdy specimens), drunk people, smelly people and… talkers.

But I put it to you that bus rides can be so much more than the unpleasant interlude between work and home.  Buses are your key to the city, a mobile platform with which to view the daily business of the town, even your unwavering guide through the maze of everyday urban transit.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Christchurch boasts a pretty good bus-based public transport system.  If you commute to work using the bus (i.e. spend $21 per week) you get to ride free all weekend.  There are services called the Orbiter and the Metro Star which circumnavigate and cross the city.  If one were so inclined one could simply ride around all weekend getting to observe and experience the garden city in a manner which no other mode could afford.

And then there are the drivers.

Characters one and all.  On a freezing winter evening having waited at the bus stop after work, the bus arrives, the doors open and you step into the warmth, sharing a small, grateful smile with the driver.  They know, on those days, that their service is life enhancing.  I hope they go home to warm homes and families, brimming with work satisfaction – they brought a bus-load of people home safe and sound tonight.

Once, dark and cold at the bus stop, having been slightly caught out by the weather that day I waved what must have appeared to be a desperate arm to the driver and the bus pulled over.  I jumped aboard as the driver grinned and said “I wouldn’t leave you behind”.

I think my morning rides are my favourite, however.  I tend to catch the bus post-commuter rush as I like a little more space on my journey.  You can watch people at your leisure and read.  There’s something about the light and the quiet.  It’s as if everyone is deep in lauds, preparing for the days labours or perhaps asking for some divine intervention to commute, divert, or somehow cancel said labours.  Maybe we’re all just half-asleep.  In one or two memorable dreams I am indeed naked on the bus or in my jim-jams.

My current favourite driver is on a slightly later timetable than I normally catch but on occasion (OK, quite frequently) I’m running late enough to get the singular experience that is he.  The first thing you notice is his friendly, cheery smile and thick Eastern European accent as he actually welcomes you aboard like a kind of Russian Captain Stubing.  You manoeuvre down the aisle towards your seat of choice in the raised bit at the back of the bus and sit down, get settled, gloves and scarf off, book out, check out the other passengers and are suddenly assaulted by some hardcore Christian worship songs blaring smugly through the bus sound system.  Now, I don’t know if it’s within regulation for drivers to play their own CDs on the bus.  I seem to remember some years back a kerfuffle over what radio stations they should be allowed to play and as is always the case in those situations, compromise led to everyone losing.  So if things are now laissez-fare regarding drivers’ musical predilections then we certainly have a more interesting commute on our hands.  Like some ancient Chinese curse, my ride into the city (and sometimes home) is an ‘interesting time’.  The full-on Christian music (it sounds like the same band every time, usually live) is ecstatic in its praise and passion and after several rides like this I find myself strangely uplifted by its effusive giddiness even as I’m simultaneously nauseated.  I cannot help but smile as I swap bemused glances with fellow passengers.  I see people actively turning up their ipods.  And every time someone gets off the bus the driver merrily calls out “you have a nice day!”  It gets really friendly at the exchange where there is a mass disembarkation and it feels like everyone’s leaving a party there’s so much fond farewelling going on.

Other journeys, different drivers, have been accompanied by ‘best of’ NZ hits from the eighties, the whole gamut of crap commercial radio and joy of joys, one evening with Radio NZ National.

I feel for all you solitary drivers, idling in your metal cocoons, insulated from the mortifying world of human interaction (and the output of your exhaust pipes), gnashing your teeth as you’re passed by another winner wagon in the bus lane next to you, the joyful sounds of music and the smiling faces of all us losers beaming out on your stagnant parade.

Things I saw on the bus today

Two paradise ducks swimming in a rain pond formed in an abandoned building site. The site is a victim of the recession  but that pair of ducks, reflected in the pool of water glistening in the middle of that vacant lot, was far more beautiful than any retail development.

The fleeting glitter of the little golden onion dome of the Russian Orthodox church on Brougham Street. Half hidden by trees, and hemmed in by warehouses and car mechanics it looks like a whimsical toy dropped in a tool box.

Almost directly opposite the wee church are the grubby blue lego blocks of Brougham Village. I’ve been fascinated by this collection of tiny matching houses, watching them from the bus window and wondering what it is like to live there. Pieces of people’s possessions come and go in the windows, a pot plant, some china dolls, a half drunk bottle of tequila and a big sleepy ginger cat.

The bus driver was playing Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man at a volume that we could all sing along to. As we came through the traffic lights at the end of Brougham Street all the rocket ships were climbing through the sky. Everyone was quiet, listening. The sun was shining.

Out over the sea, a contrail carved a perfect white arc below the cirrus clouds as the plane completed its ascent from Christchurch airport and turned west towards Australia and the world beyond.

In Opawa two small boys climbed on the bus. They had grey school shorts on and their legs were thin and white. They climbed on the bus, two beetles bowed down under their giant backpacks. They sat together and as the bus pulled away from the stop they joyfully gave the finger to one of their class mates as he ran down the road, too late to catch the driver’s eye.

P.S. As I was writing this post a friend called by and told me about a blog by a writer who lives nearby and there I found this story about riding on the Christchurch buses, which made me smile.

On the bus

I just called Ciaran and barked at him, “Getting the bus to work all the time, what’s it really like?”

He said “I like it, I’m not driving, I get to read, which is my number one favourite thing, I enjoy the walk at both ends. I like watching the people”

“Any down sides?”

“I don’t like catching the bus when it’s wet and full of people because you get bundled up altogether with your wet things. Sometimes it’s too hot or too cold and you have no control over that. Sometimes the drivers stop really suddenly, or the road is very pot holed and you get shaken about and can’t read. Erm, sometimes it can be smelly, but not often. Sometimes you have to talk to people when you don’t want to”.

“I’m not going to write that on the blog.”

“Why not?”

“Well people might read it and think you don’t want to talk to them on the bus.”

“Oh yeah…”

But  then I did write it down, because I thought about it, and realised that even although we are trying actively to embrace a better way of living in our community by giving up our car, that doesn’t mean that we should airbrush reality to make it falsely idyllic.

Parking up the car for a while hasn’t magically transformed our interaction with other people into a rosy group hug. Sometimes you don’t want to talk to people on the bus, even if you know them, even if they are wonderful people. Other times you do and you have a great conversation, and you come home and tell your partner all about it. But it’s nice to have the option either way.

One of life’s passengers

It’s possible that we have an unfair advantage as a family, going into this experiment.

I don’t drive and never have. Well, that’s not entirely true, I drove during protracted sessions of driving lessons, and I drove during two driving tests. Once I drove a friend to the supermarket. She wasn’t complimentary about my driving afterwards; I think she might have been a bit scared. Anyway, I did get my restricted New Zealand driving license, second go round, and I haven’t actually driven a vehicle since that day, which was over five years ago.

I simply don’t have any urge to drive and I’ve been lucky to have had very nice partners, who also happen to be excellent drivers, who didn’t and don’t mind ferrying me about the place, mainly because they are kind men, but also because they enjoy driving.

Furthermore, I really like public transport. I enjoy buses and trains and subways and ferries. I adore watching people and I like to be watched. I love to read books, and also to stare out the window at the view. It amuses me to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations and sometimes I simply gaze vacantly into the middle distance thinking incredibly vacuous thoughts, which is usually quite soothing. Most of all I like the decompression zone that public transport provides between home and work.

But although I dig the loser cruiser* so mightily, I haven’t actually been riding it much recently. We had a baby about a year and a half ago, and since then I’ve been mainly at home in a sleep deprived haze trying to raise the tiny tyrant. It’s rare that we leave Lyttelton.

Me and the bairn do a lot of walking up and down the hilly streets of the Ton. I’m raising her to tackle steep slopes from an early age, just as my father; whose encouraging mantra was “just over the next rise,” raised me and my siblings. Walking has always been a great source of pleasure to me, which, given that I have the self discipline of a decadent dormouse and hate team sports, ball sports, running and the gym, is probably the only thing saving me from being an enormous tub.

So am I cheating by making a big deal of this resolution? I don’t drive anyway, and therefore I’m used to finding other modes of transport. Well, yeah, but no, but yeah, as they say round these parts. Sure I’m no Merivale tractor wielding matron, but I am accustomed to leaping in our car and being chauffeured swiftly to places in ease and comfort. That convenience just disappeared. Plus there are a number of more specific practical difficulties attendant on being car free that we have already considered, or encountered, of which more in a separate post. It’s going to be an ongoing process of adjustment and reconsideration and not without discomfort.

*The charming Christchurch vernacular for their excellent fleet of regular, reliable and reasonably priced buses.