We Loved the Effort

Or, how we once lived perambulatory for a year and learned to love the bus (and online grocery delivery).

So…  we’ve bought a car.

There. I said it.

I know this post is a while in coming – we bought the car a few weeks ago – but it’s been hard to figure out the right way to put it out there.  I hinted earlier that our wee experiment was coming to an end.  In our minds, somewhat prematurely, thanks to the small matter of a few major earthquakes – in all honesty I’ve been actively looking for another car since a few weeks after the major earthquake on February 22.  As it turned out, we managed to last until our 12 months was up but more through chance than design.  We had the ever-generous Uncle Puff living with us after leaving his place in hard-hit Redcliffs, and he placed his car at our disposal until we were able to get our own one again.

Even that was a good opportunity to reflect on the nature of car ownership.  Three adults and one Bobbin of 35 months and counting (not only that but talking back, negotiating and planning holidays away from us too) living together – we do not all need our own cars.  Even though the three of us live and work quite different schedules, only having one vehicle was more than enough to make our lives a little easier.  The loss of car-free credibility offset by the penitence of being seen in the street-cred-diminishing, lemon yellow, ‘flying custard square.’*

But nothing’s ever perfect or rather, things are perfectly imperfect and we should be proud of what we’ve achieved.  I know that I’m so proud of Lizzie and Seraphine for loving the effort, through gritted teeth sometimes.  (You really should come and do the incredibly steep walk that Lizzie would do morning and night, in all weather, with a 10kg bobbin in a backpack complete with lunch, spare clothes, nappies etc., her own lunch and laptop – all in her work (read: not great for walking in) gear.  Not only was she single-handedly defying convenience she was sending it to it’s room for Time Out and no supper.  I love you, Peedie Mitten.

Our year of living (solely) perambulatory has come to an end but I do love the bus.  And using Shanks Pony, and I’m not so scared of walking up hills.  Here we are, no longer car-free with child, but also no longer unthinkingly beholden to Convenience either.  At least we’d like to think so.  But reflecting on my first month with a new car – it’s been something of an orgy of convenience, albeit a mindful one – damn I’m loving having a car again!

And with that exclamation point, *poof* goes whatever remaining car-free credibility we had.

So is this the end of Tyranny of Convenience?  No way.  You’ll never guess what we’ve just gone and done.  Buying a car was only the tip of the iceberg.

Oh dearie me, we’ve gone and bought a house.

* Actually, in all honesty, we love the flying custard square.

Needing Validation?

I know this is meant to be the blog about being a car-free family and thinking all about how convenience dictates our lives, but frankly, the earth is actually moving under our feet.  And it’s not nice.  And it keeps on coming – a couple of ‘5s’ and a 6.3 shake in the past week has set many people and the recovery backwards somewhat.  It’s hard to think about anythng else.  But as Moata says (or quotes, actually) we just gotta keep on swimming.

So, ToC has been a hell of a ride, even without wheels it seems.  We’ve made it through 12 months of (mostly) carlessness, some earthquakes and we’ve just turned ’70’ in posts – that honour goes to the formerly AWOL but now returned Lizzie with her reflective Matariki inspired post.  And in that spirit of reflection but also rebirth and new beginnings – we bring you a new look – we hope you like.  Matariki signifies a new year, a fresh start, a time for being together with family and whanau and a time for thanks-giving.  So despite, well, everything – or maybe because of it – let’s celebrate and we thank you for coming along with us, or stopping by or simply stumbling onto the blog.  Remember, you, each of you – You. Are. Great.

Make a cuppa, park yourself for free, kick off your silt-sodden shoes and let this gem of a short film light up your solstice.  And if this doesn’t make you smile, you have a heart of stone.  Arohanui.

A list of things we’ve learned

Ciaran just insisted, in a charming way, that I go and write a damn blog post.

“Even just a list of things we’ve learned,” he said plaintively.

That’s a tough ask for me, because I’m not very good at learning stuff.

I mean I am good at it, if an authoritative, interesting person tells me what I need to know, preferably with the assistance of books and visual aids. A situation otherwise known as school, I believe.

But learning from personal experience? Oh, that’s hard.

But just for him, because he asked so nicely, I’m going to make a big effort.

So what have we learned from a year of not having a car?

  • Contrary to my own expectations, it was actually harder not having a car in the summer months. I thought it would be tough on cold wet winter mornings, when I had to get up in the dark, wrangle a protesting toddler into her pantechnicon and push her to preschool in driving sleet. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff wasn’t exactly fun. But I’m pretty stoical when it comes to stomping around in unpleasant weather.
  • What was more of a bummer was when the weather got all nice and we wanted to go to the beach for a swim/go camping on the weekend/go for a picnic on the peninsula on a sunny Saturday and we couldn’t, because we didn’t have a car.
  • Even though you save money not having a car, who knows where that money goes? In hindsight, we should have been inspired by the quit smoking exercise, taken the money we would have spent on petrol every week and put it in a high interest savings account/sock under the mattress instead. We didn’t. Oh well!
  • Outings that require more than one bus trip become too hard. Although maybe that’s just us being lazy.
    You gain a new appreciation for your immediate surroundings, because you spend a lot more time there. Instead of driving into town to go out, we just walk down the road. Admittedly we pretty much always did that anyway, because we live in Lyttelton and it is frankly much much nicer than Christchurch, but without a car we became even more ferociously local in our focus.
  • Online supermarket shopping rocks. So fantastic. Quicker, easier and cheaper, even with delivery costs, because you don’t impulse buy. And let’s hear it for automated shopping lists! Unfortunately online shopping is currently not a happening thing in Christchurch post quake, but we want it back. Vehemently.  I should also note that it would be very nice if the supermarkets could sort out some form of recyclable delivery container, because it right gets on my tits when we have made an effort to take our canvas bags to the supermarket, and then I get my groceries delivery in about a bazillion plastic bags. Honestly chaps, you can pack more than two cans of tomatoes in a bag. No really you can. Try it. It will astonish you.  And while you are pondering this amazing revelation, how about considering some reusable, branded crates? Think about it, socially, ecologically and ethically responsible, miles of feel good press releases and happy customers. All for piss all effort. Sounds like a winner to me folks. Why thank you, I will take a small mention in your corporate eco-awards winner’s speech.
  • Major natural disasters are not good times to be without a car. When the earth roars under your feet, the buildings fall down, the roads buckle and all public transport has ground to a halt, it is nice to have the option of climbing in your car and getting the hell out of there.
  • It takes balls/stupidity to be car free with a small child, as there are times when they are sick, in the deepest darkest hour of the night before morning and you too are sick with fear, that you really would like to be able to just get in the car and drive somewhere where nice people in white coats will make it all better.
  • Our friends are the most generous people, and when we have really needed a set of wheels, they have given us theirs. Big thanks especially to the beautiful Kate, who lent us her car in that difficult, frightening post quake period, and made it possible for us to get around our broken town and also to get away to the mountains for a break. Thanks also to Lindon and the flying custard square, which he placed at our disposal as a ‘family car’ with his usual grace and generosity. And thank you to Lauren, Daniel and Clara, who lent us their Demio so we could go on dates, and babysat our little girl into the bargain. You guys are the business and we loves you.
  • I should have got a bike. Although, Lyttelton doesn’t have many down sides, but it’s a bit crap for bikes (assuming you want to just use your bike as a form of transport and not as some form of advanced downhill, off road, neon lycra clad insanity). It’s steep and hilly and the rest of the city is through a tunnel you cannot cycle through (although you can put the bike on the front of the buses and ride through the tunnel that way. Lots of people do). Also did I mention I am lazy? Also I’m too vain to wear a bike helmet. Maybe I will make an effort to get over some of these constraints as I actually really enjoy cycling places.
  • I passionately hate ‘cycling gear’. Really people, is it compulsory to look that bad just because you are riding your bike? In some cities people just wear their normal clothes, you know? Actually this is a total tangent and not something I have learnt as a result of being car free at all. But any excuse to air my utter intolerance for taut nylon bottoms is a good excuse.

How to Be a Car-Free Family

How to Be a Car-Free Family by Angela and Dorea Vierling-Claassen.

Our Massachusetts heroes Angela and Dorea Vierling-Claassen had this article appear in that most excellent of publications, Yes! Magazine.

It’s a good introduction to their blog which we also talked about right back at the beginning… Just the little bit of inspiration one needs on a rainy, southerly day.

And another thing… Pedestrian Thinking?

Following on from the last post – no wonder we have such a hard time convincing people to consider the creation of a walking city (note: a walking city includes our rollin’ brothers & sisters).

The word ‘pedestrian’ has become in our society a kind of insult, meaning: slow, stulted, non-creative, inefficient and a bit lame.  In other words not fast, not sexy, not cool.  Which is why I love the work of Living Streets Aotearoa. From their website:

We want more people walking and enjoying public spaces be they young or old, fast or slow, whether walking, sitting, commuting, shopping, between appointments, or out on the streets for exercise, for leisure or for pleasure.

Let’s take back our public spaces!

This is from the page I linked to in the previous post: the Traffic Transport & Road Safety Associates (Ireland) website.  But it was so compelling I just wanted to give it a post all to itself.  Here’s the link again:

Pedestrianisation.

Why Pedestrianise?
  • Improving Road Safety – reducing the potential for conflict between vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists and motor vehicles creates a significant reduction in the number of accidents within the pedestrianised area.  In Odda in Norway accident reductions of over 80% were reported.
  • Improving Economic Vitality – most retailers, at least in town centres, appreciate that the number of people walking past their shop and not the number of people driving past their shop is key to getting people inside to spend money.  Pedestrians comparison shop, and research conducted in the United Kingdom reported increases in sales of upto 20% per year in the first few years following pedestrianisation. Research from 11 cities in Germany showed average rent increases of 50% after pedestrianisation. Chartered Surveyor Weekly reported that following the introduction of the footstreets concept in York, United Kingdom, a boom in retail sales was accompanied by rent increases of upto 400%.
  • Improving Social Interaction – increasing the amount that people meet, talk and interact, has been shown to have health benefits, but also creates a sense of community and a pride in the space or place.
  • Improving Health – in the same way that providing streets to drive on has been shown to increase traffic levels, providing a good walking environment has been shown to increase the number of people walking. Studies tend to show that the number of people walking within the immediate area will increase by over 50%.
  • Improving the environment – It is over 30 years since the OECD studied the link between environmental improvement and the removal of traffic.  Whilst some of the noted benefits such as reductions in Carbon Monoxide have now been addressed through the introduction of catalytic converters to vehicles, creating a modal shift from the car to walking reduces the level of CO2 helping the country to meet its emissions targets. Noise levels are also reduced by up to 15 decibels.

 

So, what kind of city do you want to live in?

How do I know I’m Flourishing?

At the regular spoken word & poetry open mic night that I host we have a kind of unwritten rule about disclaimers.  That is, we don’t have no truck with them.  The people don’t want to hear your excuses.

I wonder if the blogosphere has the same principle.  That is, it’s poor form to start off a post apologising for not posting lately.  I suppose it’s a pretty boring and obvious thing to say isn’t it?  And there’s nothing more tedious than telling people all about how busy you’ve been.  Especially when they didn’t ask.

Especially if there’s no one reading…

But then again isn’t the entire blogosphere all about telling you stuff you didn’t ask about?

I bet you didn’t know you wanted to know all about it.

Weeelll.  Enough said.  Here we are.

So how has our little battle with convenience been going?  Thank you for asking.  It’s been sick.  And I don’t mean in the Australian use of the word ‘seeck’.  Not even ‘fully seeck’.  I mean the kind of sick that sees you making your nostrils raw while simultaneously destroying every hanky in the house and resorting to toilet paper, scrap paper and old t-shirts if necessary.  Also the kind of sick that has you exploding out every orifice normally reserved for more genteel activities.

Think Neil from The Young Ones.

Such has been the stuff of our winter.  Seraphine’s first winter attending pre-school where they should advertise free immune system load testing.  We’re now deep into spring and staring down the barrel of a good, hot summer and still I seem to be battling sore throats and leaky noses.  Not all my hankies have survived.

In real life, I spend a lot of time thinking, talking about and promoting wellbeing.  In particular us mental health promoters are taken with this idea of flourishing. What does it look like?  What does it mean for us and our society?  And how do we get there?  How do I know I’m flourishing?

Despite what I was saying earlier, I think I’m the fittest I’ve been in years.  At least, before the last week or so of flu-imposed inactivity.  I also find it doesn’t take much to set me back a notch, having now not played football for a couple of weeks.  I put the fitness down not only to playing the beautiful game again but having the hill walking routine imposed everyday, commiting to using the stairs at work and cycling more.  In fact I was feeling so good I volunteered to participate in this.  A little bit of fitness going to my head.  Sheesh.  But it’s a clue.

The point is, I do feel good.  And lately being car-free has not been easy.  We’ve seen off the worst that winter could throw at us (although no snow this year) but now the weather is picking up rapidly and the great wide open is beckoning.  The far-off, secluded little bays on the peninsula; the wild West Coast; my sister’s little slice of Rohan in the mountains.  Easy to survive not having a car when the best activity is red wine and a DVD.

It’s peak season now for renting cars so it’s not so cheap to get one to travel in.  Even so, we’re planning on renting something for a couple of weeks over Christmas while nearly the entire House of Davidson visits us.  It’s going to be a BIG family Christmas, and I’m looking forward to that too.  There’s so much to look forward to actually.  And that’s another clue.

Seraphine is a rambunctious little toddler now.  The days are getting hot.  There’s family coming to stay.  Christmas is approaching.  I’ve got a NEW tent (more on that).  I’ve only used my hanky twice today.  Yip, I’m feeling pretty positive.  It seems like ages ago now but it’s not that long since we started this blog and I wrote optimistically about Loving The Effort.  And it’s become a sort of personal mantra for the tough times.  In fact it’s the second most common tag for our posts (after ‘Car-Free’) and it’s kind of the apotheosis of our thesis around defying convenience.

Earlier in the week I was lying in a hot bath trying to revive myself enough to go to work and facilitate a workshop on this whole darn flourishing idea.  I’d initially thought to cancel the workshop but as I lay soaking in the hot, deep bath (oh, thank you Elizabeth!) and even though I was quite ill I kept thinking about the 20 or so people who were coming to the workshop and all the challenges they’d faced to get to where they were.  I thought about loving the effort and how, despite currently feeling a bit crook, I was actually doing OK and I realised that our message about flourishing was about just this kind of thing – regardless of the times when we get sick or the other limitations we might face, and we all face these at some point in our lives, we can and sometimes do, flourish.  But not enough of us.

Anyway, whether it was the force of this idea or the restorative power of a hot bath, strong coffee and paracetamol, I made it to the workshop.  We talked all about it and what it meant for each of us and decided we thought it a pretty damn good goal for society.

I then went home again and collapsed.

So.  My thoughts on some of the ways I know personally I’m flourishing:

When loving the effort means you’re not just gritting your teeth through what you must get through but actually seeking out new challenges and enlarging your efforts.

When despite currently being unwell you see the bigger picture of your overall wellbeing and fitness and it’s good and getting better.

When you feel like there’s lots to look forward to.

When you’re sick as a dog but you feel compelled to go out and talk to people and hear their good ideas.

When you’ve got no car but you can’t resist buying a flash new tent! Which we got for a song.  Actually that’s not really about flourishing but I’m looking forward to using it!

So anyway, it’s good to be back.

Car-free in an earthquake?

Well, of the 25 days since ‘the big one’ we’ve had the use of a car for over 2 weeks, thanks to Kate Kate who has been away for most of the time and left us her car to use.

It’s HARD!  I’m finding all this cheating is making me weak.  Although I did really enjoy the walk up the hill last night in glorious setting sunshine with a warm nor’west breeze in my face.

I’m really missing having a car.  It made it much easier to visit Grilly after the earthquake to check on her instead of the epic bus journey involved.  But I suppose I’m just really appreciating having the use of one.  I’m still determined to be car-free for a year but it has certainly made me mindful of enjoying driving (and convenience) while I can.

Anyway, blah blah.  In the immortal words of Garfield “I’ll be funny again tomorrow, I promise.”

The Long, Hard Goodbye – Part II

… So now there is an empty space outside our house where the car used to be.

No, the earth hasn’t opened up and swallowed it as has happened elsewhere in Christchurch.

We’ve finally done it.  The last apron string has been cut and the temptation removed.  The Peej is gone.

I hadn’t actually driven her since that fateful day of cheating that seems so long ago.  It has actually been quite easy not to just jump in the car and head off for Indian takeaways these past few months.  Maybe because I forgot to regularly start her and the battery has died.  Oh well.  Just goes to show I’m telling the truth.

Since then we have used a car on a couple of occasions – once when one of our lovely friends went away for a week (most of the time it sat outside our house) and the other day when the gas bottles finally ran out.  At night. As we were cooking.  As they do.  And a lesson for our future selves – hardly anywhere refills gas bottles at night.

But sometime, a little over a week ago, a neigbour from round the corner asked about the car.  A couple more conversations and the next thing I was filling out change of ownership papers and taking my thirty pieces of silver (and some wild pork).  Someone who could do the repair work themselves was going to get a great little car.  She was the Bobbin’s first car and she had the rusks and flapjack crumbs to prove it.  We’ll miss her.

Oh well, we’re up to 4 months of living car free and she’s off to a new life with 14 pig dogs and a hunter.  She should probably start a blog of her own.

Mmmm, wild pork…

The Long, Hard Goodbye

Not sure why I’ve found it so hard to get the car ready to sell.  It wasn’t as if I could drive it anywhere (no WOF) and I was keen to get whatever cash I could for it before it deteriorates any more.  But still, I just couldn’t seem to bring myself to do it.

Poor Peej, sitting for 4 months now and looking very forlorn out the front of our house.  I noticed her tyres have started to go down a bit, her hope deflating a little every day.  A couple of Seraphine’s toys still lying in the back even though the child seat is long gone.  The warm, hand-knitted blanket that came with the car still sitting primly across the back seat.  The front console stuffed with receipts and parking coupons.  Two wheels are up on the verge (our street is one of Lyttelton’s classic narrow roads hugging the contour of the hill like the glorified horse track it is) and the grass is trying to grow around her.  She is a sad sight, and starting to look abandoned.

And then someone noticed her…

The Hard Yards

Well, it happened faster than I thought it might.

No, we haven’t snuck out and bought a car and then hoped the blog would quietly fade away. At least, not yet.

But I’m talking about losing momentum. The motivation to keep going even though it’s tough and inspiration is short. I have an image in my head of being on my bike on a cross-country trail and going down a small, steep slope that leads immediately into a steep rise. You think you have enough momentum to carry you up the rise but find that without pedalling to add to your momentum it is quickly sapped and you eventually succumb to inertia which when strapped to your pedals on a 45-odd degree incline is less than ideal.

Such has been the tail end of our winter. July was all about illness in our house and it just sapped not only our witty, insightful bloggery but our very shpadoinkle too.

But ah, peace has once again settled over our little portion of Lyttelton.  And while the soggy old winter that we’ve endured robbed us of traction we are once again noticing longer days and milder temperatures.

Reflecting on the past month with a fellow MHP today I noted that it was easy to be all ‘jolly hockeysticks’ about getting out in the rain and enjoying the breath-blowing winter walks up the hill when everything was shiny and new and I was full of the zeal of righteous eco/health do-gooding.  But add in a continually sick toddler, about 4 metres of rain and a lack of sunshine and it all starts to say “get a car, get in the car and get the hell out of dodge for a weekend.”

So yeah, why didn’t we?

Good question and no answer.  We’ve already reported on the financial savings of not owning a car and the fact that, in theory at least, we should be able to afford the odd rented car for a weekend.  Well when everyone is ill, the idea of going away starts to take on a herculean hue of difficulty.

It’s easy in hindsight to go “oh yeah, why didn’t we think of that?’ but sometimes, in winter and the freezing, pouring rain, it’s hard to see the forest for the firewood, dvds and a cheap bottle of wine.

Oh and the sporting metaphor?  The hard yards is also about spending Sundays in the aforementioned nippy conditions carving out a little bit of sporting history for our little port town with the mighty Lyttelton B’s who despite intervention from the elements and bureaucrats have continued to press on to glory in the Christchurch Sunday Soccer League. It hasn’t just been Tyranny of Convenience that has been sliding around seeking traction in the mud.  I suppose there definitely has been health benefits to all this ‘trudgery’.

And if you think the link to football in this post is gratuitous, just be thankful I decided not to post about the trousers I can now fit into…