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.

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.

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!

But what about the internet?

Family watching television, c. 1958

Family watching television, c. 1958

This little morsel was posted on Eat Smart Age Smart: (not a recommended website BTW)

Researchers found that how much time New Zealand children spend watching television is a better predictor of obesity than what they eat or how much they exercise. The study found that 41 percent of the children who were overweight by age 26 were those who had watched the most TV.

Well we’ve already been TV-free for more than 7 years.  But that was easy to give up…

Shake n’ Bake

Everyone quite rattled today.  A big aftershock centred in the harbour knocked power out this morning.  Back on now but people really starting to want this all to end.  Pretty tough on the nerves.

I went for my first trip into the city today to drop a friend off.  Sad to see the damage to the beautiful older buildings and even just the ramshackle brick ones that no-one would claim are remarkable examples of architecture but nevertheless add to the character of the city.  It’s those ones that make me saddest – easy to mourn the churches and the heritage-listed ones but all those old factories and workshops, warehouses and back alleys – they’re the ones that really make a difference in your day to day city experience.

My brother coined the term ‘Shake n’ Bake Buildings’ for those horrible tilt-slab concrete developments that over the past 15 or so years have infested Christchurch.

Property developers love the technology.  Huge concrete slabs are prefabricated on or off-site and then ’tilted’ up into position and braced by large scaffolding like steel tubes while the building is somehow ‘stitched’ together, probably by chewing gum or something.  It’s super fast, cheap and manages to lend an air of strip-mall sameness to any development.  Just brilliant.

I always wondered about the wisdom of these buildings (let alone the asthetic value).  I mean, concrete has a finite lifespan (which I can’t be bothered to look up on t’interweb) but I’ll wager that it’s considerably longer than the veneer of ‘nice, clean newness’ takes to fade and taint as rain run-off stains the sides like tide marks on a sweaty middle-aged squash playing property developer’s armpits.  But I always wondered how they would stack up in an earthquake.

They kind of did the job of an earthquake themselves seeing that they served to wipe out large chunks of Christchurch’s dwindling heritage and other funky old buildings, replacing them with cheap, tacky little commercial developments that seem to spend half their time empty and for lease.  The other thing Christchurch seemed hell-bent on replacing it’s character buildings with were car yards.  But that’s a story for another day…

I always wondered if the people who thought these shake n’ bake buildings were a good idea had ever seen any Buster Keaton movies.  Or been to a movie studio and seen the great building facades which worked on the same principle but were never designed to be permanent.  They’re not real.

But they’re awfully convenient.

Well wouldn’t you know it.  The day has finally dawned where we got to test out how robust these houses of cards really are. 7.1 magnitude of Earth’s complete disregard for humanity’s baubles.

And at first glance it looks like: Shake n’ Bake 1, Lovely Old Character Buildings nil.

Yes, it’s a property developers wet dream cum true.  A lot less of those pesky old dames cluttering up the city with their character and their quiet dignity.  A lot more space for regurgitated tacky concrete.  (And why do they always have to be that washed out khaki colour?).  And a city desperate to get itself tarted up for an overpriced sporting event next year.  There’s already talk of central government contributing to the rebuild.  I can hear the rubbing of hands from here.

One friend quipped “Christchurch is going to look like even more of a Bunnings Warehouse than it already does.”

Maybe we’ll seize the opportunity to make something beautiful out of disaster, to build a city we can be proud of and live in.  To save the old buildings, to build stronger, beautiful new ones.  To realise that people love character more than they love convenience…

But just think about all the extra parking we can build in!

Now that’s convenient.

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…

Because you’re worth it

“The changes that we desire for the world can only begin with what we are willing to do in our own lives.” – James Keye

The above quote comes from an essay entitled Tyranny of Convenience by James Keye it is one of the inspirations behind the title of this blog.  Another phrase in Keye’s essay is “the hopelessness of an effortless life” a theme we’ll return to as we draw the connections between owning and using our car and our addiction to convenience.  How, in our efforts to avoid effort, we sacrifice our health and wellbeing and that of our environment.  Perhaps more usefully we’ll also be documenting and ruminating on the positive effects of not owning a car.  This is not an anti-car blog – I love cars!  If it’s anything it’s a pro-active transport/anti-sedentary blog – but that’s not a very snappy title is it?

So what do you think of our little middle-class crusade so far?  Do you think it’s just another case of the petty bourgeoisie on the latest hobby horse to assuage our First World guilt?

Or do you reckon that we might be just like you and making small steps in the right direction?  Putting good intentions into a little worthy action.  We’re already reaping a little reward too.

Possibly most importantly, we’re not alone.

In fact, there are quite a few other blogs about rejecting our disposable, inauthentic and unsustainable societies in general and going car-free in particular.  We’ve got a reading list as long as our arm and we’ll tell you about some of the blogs we like and why we dig them, as we go along. Here’s some that we have already checked out that got us going.

  • Carbusters is the quarterly journal of the World Car Free Network and they publish a thoughtful blog as well.
  • A lot of people have said to us, “but isn’t it much harder doing this with a kid?” After all, in this neck of the woods, once one has spawned, it’s more usual to scale up to a people mover than to scale down to a pair of sturdy boots. It’s very early days for us, but we reckon it’s all about not trying to pack too much in, and instead really relishing the stuff you do. There’s a couple of blogs out there, both called Car Free with Kids; that agree. Some particularly interesting stuff on how to raise children that love to walk. Car Free with Kids and the other Car Free with Kids.

We’ll also be adding our own Blogroll of useful, interesting and related links in the sidebar as we go along.   These people are making the effort for all of us, even though it’s not convenient.  Why?  The answer is in the title of this post.  And a little effort can go a long way.

As I tell myself when I’m struggling to knuckle down and work on my art – if not now, then when? If not you, then who?