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.
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Tired Old Bastard Blues – A whinge.

Gee I bet that title really reeled you in.

I need a holiday, big time.  Energy levels nearing empty, the Tired Old Bastard gauge is reaching critical.  This was compounded last night during a slightly sad outing for the somewhat-less-than Mighty Lyttelton football team in our last game of the year for the Summer League.  Slightly sad in that our healthy looking squad from the start of the season only managed to turn out 9 players and we required the services of two backpackers who happened to be passing by.

Slightly sad also in that I spent most of my time in the game chasing after younger, fitter, faster guys who I had no hope of catching without resorting to bolas and generally finding the whole experience akin to one of those nightmares where you have to run to or from something and you can’t make your legs move.  This is what happens to you at 35 if you take a fortnight off to recover from the minor whiplash you incurred last time you played.

Remind we why we’re doing this again? I said to myself more than once as I watched the player I was supposed to be marking once again run past me and off into the open pastures of our exposed right flank.  That’s right, it’s meant to be fun.

Football really is a winter game and fun is relative in 28 degree heat on a pitch that’s magically metamorphosed from green grass to something resembling volcanic rock with all sorts of uneven divets, bumps, holes and thanks to the earthquake some actual sand bunkers.  Oh and losing 1-8.

Nothing like all that to make you feel old and tired.

Now the Tyranny of Convenience take on this would be I was out running around in beautiful Hagley Park on a beautiful summer night playing football (the beautiful game) with my beautiful friends, enjoying using my beautiful body and building health and flourishing. blah blah blah.

But sometimes the only thing that makes you feel better is a cold pint at the pub.  Which is where I took our goalkeeper afterwards – he’d had an even worse day at the ‘office’ than me.

For some reason I offered to take home the jerseys as well.  So, loaded as I was with 3 bags and most of the skin of the second toe of my right foot apparently missing, I was really looking forward to the walk to the bus stop and the slog up the hill to follow it all.*

I must say, The Idler is really catching my attention at the moment – I think Tom really is on to something there.  The whole ToC Loving the Effort idea is suddenly looking a bit… well, let’s just say that given the way I’m feeling right now,  a breath of fresh air on the whole subject of convenience might be just the tonic.

“I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”
– Pascal

* There is a happy ending!  I bumped into one of our neighbours on the bus who’d parked their car at the bus stop and drove me up the hill – how convenient – hooray!

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 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…

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.

Bringing back the sleepover

So, it’s World Cup time.  It’s winter.  I don’t have TV.  Nor do I have a car to use.

This is slightly problematic.

Long ago I realised that I have the potential to be hugely addicted to sport on TV.  I’m not talking about following a favourite team in the English Premiership or the Super 14 Rugby here.  I’m talking about the ability, nay, the compulsion to watch and possibly obsessively follow everything from NBA basketball to every single top-flight league in world football, all major international rugby competitions, international cricket tours, NFL, NHL, professional golf, cycling, dammit I could probably get absorbed by snooker, darts and beach volleyball without too much provocation.  In short, I am a Sky TV sales rep’s wet dream.

Hence I no longer have a TV that can receive or playback anything other than DVDs.

I still manage to follow NZ rugby and my childhood favourite, the F1 Grand Prix using the wonders of the web but it’s just not the same.  Now that most of these things are broadcast in HD the spectacle is even more amazing.  I haven’t got an HD tele at home so we still watch ‘old skool’ DVDs (I mean, that technology is from, like, the 90’s dude).  So whenever I see glimpses of Formula 1 cars in super slow motion bouncing over chicanes at 200mph, the tyres bulging and morphing under the stress all in vivid, glorious HD, it’s enough to make me choke up and water at the eye in a manly kind of way.

I’ve long been an advocate of utilising the local pub to watch the ‘big games’.  Joining in with a community of like-minded, sports-mad fellow fans to whoop, holler and occasionally berate the TV in a sort of tribal ecstasy.  That’s all well and good when the event in question is on at a respectable time i.e. not during work hours or after 10pm or earlier than 8pm on weekends.  Most pubs aren’t open during the week for the late night ‘pajama games’ when you just want to be able to curl up on your own couch, preferably with snacks and devour the game from every possible angle.  So occurs a kind of diaspora of the tribe to various friends’ houses who generously pay their Sky TV subscriptions so the rest of us can watch the game live.

For those ‘jaamie’ games this is still slightly problematic.  And it’s compounded during an event like the football World Cup.  There are games all over the place – it’s being played in South Africa (in case you didn’t already know) and South Africa was designed to have the worst possible time difference from the rest of the world.  Using public transport is a bit difficult at two in the morning as it’s non-existent.  What to do, what to do?

Enter Adam, one of the generous friends mentioned above.  Any of our sensitive, sport & video game-hating friends should stop reading now…

“Hey why don’t you come over to my house, stay the night and watch every minute of rugby and football that’s on in this 12 hour period (a veritable feast – 4 rugby tests and 3 World Cup matches) we’ll eat pizza, drink beer and in between games shoot down and blow up supernatural Nazis like this.”

It was brilliant.  We started off with a very nice gin & tonic before going lowest common denominator the rest of the way.  I slept on the couch resisting the temptation to watch European club handball and international wood chopping all night long.  He even offered to drive me to football the next day.  Even though England drew with the USA.  What a guy.

I say let’s bring back the sleep over, men.  Call it something else if you wish but why not all pay for a Sky subscription communally, set the living room up for sleeping marae-style and gorge ourselves on sport.

And they said that sport and politics don’t mix.  Who’d have thought that Communism would offer up another solution to being car-free?

So it’s been two weeks…how’s it really going?

It was easy to be all gung ho and idealistic at the beginning, but how’s it really going now that the car has been immobile for a couple of weeks?

There has been a bit of daily friction already as the rubber fails to meet the road and deliver us from effort. However the tricky stuff hasn’t necessarily been those things that immediately sprang to mind as potential stumbling blocks.

One of the main reasons that we are trying to live without a car is to save money, and that’s looking increasingly like a good plan, following last week’s awesome budget from our fabulous government, which should have been subtitled “bend over working families of New Zealand as we shaft you roughly up the family budget while simultaneously insulting your intelligence”.

However the other main point of the exercise is to live better;  to tread more lightly on our environment, and also maybe to slow down a bit, stop rushing about, find other ways to do things and get places, and hopefully to consume a bit less along the way. So this isn’t about cheating and borrowing cars from the legion of very kind friends who have offered them. Apart from the fact that, that would be like being the ex smoker who “only smokes when they are socialising” (your cigarettes, every fucking weekend), we’d actually like this small change to be a catalyst for living more mindfully overall.

So in the spirit of honesty and sharing, here’s a round-up of some of the things that have suddenly become issues, and some of the things that haven’t as well.

  • Groceries? Not a problem. Online delivery is amazingly user friendly and straightforward, and we are already getting a weekly veggie box, so it’s just an extension of that. There is a delivery fee, but it’s reasonable, and we’re probably saving money overall, as we’re not buying any of those tasty treats that just happen to fall into your trolley enroute round the supermarket.  Furthermore, I’m trying to do one big monthly order and on top of that make do with the veggie box, and get the rest locally or on Saturday at the Lyttelton Market. Partly that’s to save money, and partly it’s to cut down on the number of deliveries we get, as they are still car trips, just trips made by someone else.
  • Taking the little beast to pre-school on foot is proving to be good exercise, as it’s an hour round trip to drop her off, and another hour round trip to pick her up. I’m not complaining yet, as it’s hardly a chore to walk across beautiful Lyttelton on the golden autumn mornings we’ve been having since she started going. Ask me again in a month’s time, when it’s three degrees colder, still dark when I leave the house and pissing down and see how perky I am about it then. The other issue I’m grappling with here is that two of the four rare and delightful child free hours I am purchasing myself are spent delivering and collecting my little bundle of joy from the nursery. However I’m aware that this issue is attitudinal and maybe I ought view the walking as precious time for peaceful reflection and movement, instead of feeling guilty that I’m not writing scintillating copy for clients/cooking nutritious delicious food/working on my back log of illustrations/cleaning the ever grubby house/doing my tummy exercises/crafting the great English novel/corresponding with my neglected friends and family etc etc.
  • Filling our big gas bottles is probably not going to be a problem either if I can find a LPG delivery company that stays on the phone after I say the dread word Lyttelton to them.
  • The cat needs her WOF as well.  Haven’t solved this one yet, but she’s five months overdue and counting for a teeth clean, so I’d better solve this quickly before I have to make her chicken broth for the rest of her toothless existence. I can’t see her appreciating being taken to the vet on the bus. Nor indeed would the other passengers appreciate the agonized wailing. Stay tuned for our solution to this thrilling dilemma.
  • More seriously, and this is a bit of a nail biting one this, what happens if the baby gets sick and needs urgent medical attention? In the middle of the night? I don’t really want to think about this one. I guess we’ll be phoning a taxi or an ambulance.
  • Going out in the evening isn’t a problem as we rarely/never go into Christchurch anyway.  In fact we rarely/never go out in the evening at all, so when we do, the pulsating flesh pots of Lyttelton are plenty exciting. However, what is a cause for some chagrin is the abrupt curtailment of our tasty take away habit. No car, no piping hot takeaway. Although we are only a ten minute fast vertical hike from the town centre, so maybe if we mounted our smallest chilly bin on wheels we could run back and forth with the goodies.
  • Visiting Grilly, the Bobbin’s paternal grandmother. Bit of a tough one this as well. She doesn’t drive and lives two longish bus rides from us, which makes for a bit of a mission. We’re just going to have to adjust and make visiting Grilly the whole day’s activity at least one Saturday a month. On the very plus side here, she bakes a mean cake and increased effort expended in travel could definitely lead to increased reward in baked goods if negotiated correctly.
  • Getting to somewhere beautiful that isn’t Lyttelton may be the big sticking point with this experiment. Going somewhere in the city without a car isn’t ever a problem, so long as you are prepared to spend a bit longer getting there and maybe do a bit of walking as well. But right out of our window is Banks Peninsula, a big beautiful piece of landscape just crying out to be explored, and beyond that is the rest of the South Island, which has one or two things worth seeing as well. But it isn’t well served by public transport. How are we going to show our daughter the myriad of riches on her doorstep and beyond? Don’t know the answer to this yet, but we’re only two weeks into this and I’m starting to get cabin fever, so it’s something I’m thinking about.

All that said, tomorrow’s going to be a big fat day of cheating from beginning to end as we use illicit four wheeled conveyances to further our own trivial lifestyle requirements. If we’re not too ashamed of ourselves we may tell you about it. Or maybe not.

For example

Here’s one of the tricky things.

Sport.  I play football (the kind with the round ball) and of course sometimes we have away games.  Usually conveniently located on the other side of the city.  Today is such a game.

It’s not that I’m too shy to ask for a ride, but…

It’s a guy thing.

However, since I co-manage the team I’m conscious of making sure people car pool.  So it’s part of the job really.

And besides, no-one seriously thinks it’s OK to take an empty car places these days, right?

So what happens to this good sense on work days?

Disposable Society

So why not fix her up?

The car I mean.  Peej.  Afterall, this blog is supposedly about getting to the core of something rotten – our addiction to convenience.  The cheap, disposable, lifestyle that doesn’t take the true cost of consumerism into account.

OK, it’s about learning how to cope without a car.  But really, the pains of not having one are surely about the convenience or lack thereof, of being able to, at any time of the day or night, jump into our car and head down to the shop to buy a bottle of milk.  Or take the Bobbin to visit Grilly on the weekends (she’s two buses away).  Or those oft-talked about but not so frequently undertaken, road trips out on the Peninsula.

What about this notion of ‘Freedom’ (with a capital F)?  Or the commonly used ‘Independence’ – given to us at an early age with our first bicycle.  I’ve even heard people talk about their ‘Identity’ being integral to their car ownership.  Ford vs. Holden?  How deep does this go?

So in a society where we buy $5 electric kettles from the House of W (home to all things cheap, imported and nasty); designer coffees in un-recycled paper cups and you can’t find for neither love nor money a little repair shop to fix your electric shaver, let alone tackle it ourselves – why not set an example and keep our cheap, efficient little car on the road?

I mean what kind of car could we expect to get for around a grand anyway?  Probably nothing much more than an excellent opportunity to commit hitherto undreamt of amounts of money into keeping another old machine road-worthy.

Apart from the fact that spending possibly in excess of $1000 right now on repairs just to get the car legal is enough to make me balk at the idea, the mechanic confirms the logic that perhaps sinking $1000 into a 1983 model car, however charming and low ‘mileaged’, might be tying ourselves into a relationship of diminishing returns.  The logic continues that we should cut our losses, save that money and put it towards a new car.  And what do we mean by ‘efficient’ in the first instance?  In relation to what?  Just how ‘efficient’ is a petrol-fired internal combustion engine anyway?  There’s a topic for another post…

So, at the risk of repeating ourselves, this was the rationale behind our current situation – we are consigning the Peej to the great carpark in the sky.  Or perhaps Trademe (overseas readers insert eBay here).  Anyone want an un-warranted 1983 1600cc automatic Toyota Sprinter?