A Year Without A Car

One year ago we sold our car and braced ourselves for living the next twelve months car-free.  I’d love to say this was a purely experimental move, for environmental and social reasons, but the truth is we were skint and couldn’t afford to run a car anymore.  So for the past year we’ve been entirely at the mercy of public transport, aside from the occasional lift from friends and family/rare taxi to the hospital.

When we made the decision, I intended to document our journey, from a family who’d always had a car (at least since having kids) to one trying to navigate life without, and I even went so far as setting up separate twitter, instagram and blog accounts specifically to post about our experience.  However, after writing two blog posts and taking a handful of pictures of the kids waiting for a bus/train, I discovered a few things…the first of which, was that what we were doing- what we still are doing- is not actually remarkable at all.

I actually knew this already, having grown up in a working class family with parents who didn’t drive.  My childhood consisted of bus trips and looooong walks everywhere.  So I already knew that going without a car didn’t make us special in any way, so much as remarkably privileged that this was the first time we were having to factor bus times/fares into our daily lives.  And although Chris did grow-up with a car, he has always commuted to work on public transport, so for him it hasn’t been such a radical change, although I’m sure he’ll agree that it’s still been a massive pain in the arse in many ways.

And that’s the other thing I discovered- that not only did I feel silly documenting something so very ordinary, but also, journeys were often such an absolute ball ache that the idea of reliving them in a blog post, to debate the pros/cons of taking the train vs the car, was just…well…urgh is the noise that springs to mind.

But, our year is almost up, and I have a new job (yippee), which means a car could soon become a real possibility once again (double yippee) so to mark our ‘year without’, I thought I’d do a basic round-up post of what it’s been like.

CONS

Buses are rarely on time.  We live on one of the busiest bus routes in Europe, buses into the city centre are supposed to be every 3 minutes at peak-times.  They are not.  My frequent experience is of waiting for one for between 10 and 15 minutes, and then having two or three turn up at once.  I don’t know how people in more suburban/rural areas manage without a car.  It’s genuinely inconceivable to me.  The only reason it has felt do-able for us, is being so close to the city centre with it’s multiple tram stops/train stations/bus services.

Public transport is inordinately expensive.  A day ticket on the bus for an adult costs £4.30.  A family ticket is £8.50.  We got a family and friends railcard which has made local train journeys much more affordable, but we’ve yet to use it to go anywhere further afield, because even with the extra money off, train fares are pricey, plus the idea of more than an hour on a train with the kids makes me feel a bit wobbly at the knees.

Which leads me onto my next point very nicely.  Motion sickness.  I’ve always had it, but thought I’d grown out of it as an adult.  Turns out, what actually happened was that I just learnt to drive and never went on transport for more than ten minutes at a time.  That’s obviously had to change this past year, and I’ve spent a lot of journeys staring resolutely out of the window and looking very green around the gills.

gag

(me, every time I’m forced to ride on a hot bus/go backwards on a train)

Public transport forces you to interact with strangers.  Rude bus drivers that you’re then at the mercy of until you reach your destination.  People with differing hygiene standards, and musical tastes to your own.  People with no concept of personal space.  People who can’t think of a better way to pass their journey than to spend it judging your parenting.  They’re all right there, and you can’t get away from them.

Which again leads nicely onto another major con- kids on transport.  When we had a car, yes the kids would sometimes ‘act up’ in the back- hitting each other with a Buzz Lightyear, spilling raisins all over the footwell, waiting until I’m in the outside lane of the M60 doing 85mph to tell me that they’re ‘desperate’ for a wee, etc etc.  But at the end of the day, they weren’t bugging anyone other than us.  Chris could turn in his seat and offer some kind of bribe/threat, I could pull the car off at the next services to use the toilets, whatever.  On public transport- when they’re tired, and want to slump across two seats and fall asleep on a commuter train, when they spill food everywhere, when they whine ‘are we nearly there yet’, you’ve got to be prepared with entertainment (no cd player remember!) and snacks, and reasons why they should stop kicking the chair in front, or why they shouldn’t lick the window, and if they need a wee?  Well good luck with that.

Basically you have no control.  Which for a control-freak is so bloody difficult.  Knowing I could leave my house two hours before an appointment and still not get there on time, because I’m not in charge is infuriating and mind-boggling.

Your world feels a lot smaller.  The only times we’ve ventured outside of the city limits have been either to visit family and friends, or when we’ve actually rented a car for the week and decided to make the most of our freedom.  Most of the time we’ve just bumbled around locally, because anything else is a. supreme effort and b. bloody expensive.

Also, over the winter, when my anxiety was bad and there was a spate of assaults in my local area, I felt totally trapped in my own home after dark.  With the car I’d have had no problem nipping out to the supermarket, or to a dance class or wherever, but faced with the prospect of walking places on my own in the pitch black?  No thanks.

Weather.  It’s unpredictable.  It’s generally shit.  And when you’re actually trudging through it in the dark with two miserable kids carrying school bags. and PE kits, and a week’s worth of shopping, then you really fucking FEEL IT, in a way that you don’t when you’re dashing between the front-door and the car.

Which leads me onto- shopping.  So many people urged us to do grocery deliveries, not perhaps fully appreciating that the reason we gave up the car was because we were TOTALLY SKINT.  So paying for someone to drop the shopping off seemed like a luxury that we couldn’t afford.  Hence, more frequent shopping trips and only buying what you can carry (which for me, with my CIDP, and generally piss-poor upper-body strength, is not all that much, it turns out.)

PROS

There has to be some…right?!  Well- yes.  The biggest pro, and the reason we did this was to save money.  We’ve probably saved about £300 a month (the cost of car finance, car insurance, car tax, and the annual MOT combined.)  We haven’t saved on petrol because the car was really economical, and because that money has been spent on transport instead.  So yes, if your car running costs are high (i.e. if you’re paying your car off in instalments, or live in a high insurance area etc) then you will definitely save money, providing you don’t just get taxis everywhere instead of course.

Another pro (I guess?) is that there was a certain novelty value for the first couple of months.  The kids had been on buses/trains before but not very frequently, so they were pretty enthusiastic about our transport adventures to begin with, which probably buoyed us a little too.  And it’s made me more confident on transport (knowing which stop to get buses from in Piccadilly, and even using the metro for the first time all by myself!)

Environmentally, I figure our impact will have been minimal, but NOT having the car definitely made me realise how many ‘quick trips’ I used to use it for, just because it was there, so that’s something I’ll consciously try to avoid if/when we get a car again in the future.

Which I guess leads onto another pro- which is that health wise I’ve had to do a lot of fucking walking.  We all have.  So that’s something.

And finally- daydreaming.  You can’t do that behind the wheel at high speeds.  Long bus journeys, especially if you sit at the front upstairs, jam your headphones in and resolutely refuse to make eye contact with anyone, can be really good for the imagination.  I have done so much people-watching this way, and thinking-time is always hugely beneficial for creativity.

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So, there you have it.  A project I intended to space out over 52 blog posts across twelve months, I’ve just summarised (probably quite badly) in one.

The fact is, if you’re in a position to weigh-up the pros and cons, i.e. you can actually afford to run a car without getting yourself into crippling debt, then to be honest, it’s probably worth it.  Unless you live and work in a city centre, and don’t have a driver’s licence, which is possibly the only scenario I could imagine being car-free NOT being a major pain in the ass.  But for anyone else- especially people with kids, then I wouldn’t recommend it.  Unless you don’t have a choice- in which case, my pros and cons aren’t going to be relevant anyway.  Needs must when the devil drives, and all that.

flintstones

(Our new ride, probably.)

Job Search Hell

That’s where I’m at right now.  One of Dante’s lesser-known circles.

Possibly the worst bit is that I actually already have a job- one that I love and don’t want to leave.  So why am I looking for something else, you ask?  Good question.  The answer of course, is money.

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Turns out that working seven hours a week as a library assistant, and about fifty hours a week as a ‘writer’ pays…well…pretty close to nothing actually.

I’m aware we’re not supposed to talk about money- that in doing so I’m breaking some weird universal taboo, but honestly- who is this secrecy helping?  We all need to eat and somewhere to live, and I’ve yet to find a landlord or supermarket that accepts poems in lieu of payment, (not that I’d do much better even if I did, since I can’t write poetry for shit).

So, with a heavy heart I find myself looking for other options.  I spend about half of my time feeling really MAD about the unfairness of the situation, and the other half telling myself to STFU and stop thinking I’m some special snowflake who isn’t subject to the same economic strain as almost every other working class person on earth right now.

In more dramatic moments I hear Jim Broadbent, as Harold Zidler in Moulin Rouge:

zidler

(just change love to live)

In less dramatic moments, I tell myself that I’m no different to anyone else and that I’m lucky to at least be (vaguely) employable.

One thing that is really pissing me off as I trawl through job search results, is the demand on applicants to not just be willing to do the job for the pay, but the requirement to declare it your life’s ambition.

Seriously, if you’re looking to employ someone as a neurosurgeon, or helicopter pilot perhaps, I can understand you wanting the role to be one of that individual’s defining characteristics, and for them to display a real passion and significant dedication to the field.  But when you’re looking for a cleaner?  Isn’t it enough that they’re capable of doing the work, and that they’ll show up and give a shit, at least within proscribed working hours?  If you want someone to display AMBITION, ENTHUSIASM, FLEXIBILITY AND PASSION about cleaning a toilet, you’re possibly going to need to offer more than £7 an hour, and appreciate that you’re appealing to a very niche audience.

Ehhh…I don’t know, this could just be me having a surly attitude and poor work ethic, but when I stumble across yet another minimum-wage job that not only wants me to spend forty hours a week away from my children, my partner, my home, and my writing but also wants me to demonstrate that I will treat it as my #1 priority and life’s work, I find myself getting a bit ‘Braveheart’, yelling at the screen.

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It’s times like this I wonder if leaving nursing was a terrible terrible mistake.  But, when I (briefly) went back to it last year THAT felt like a terrible mistake, so how can that be true?

Gah.

Regardless, I should probably get back to it.  Incidentally if anyone knows of any kick-ass jobs that would allow me to keep my Saturdays at the library, and pay me enough to feed my children who basically never stop eating, then HIT ME UP.  As you can see, I am totally AMBITIOUS, ENTHUSIASTIC, FLEXIBLE AND PASSIONATE etc etc etc 😉

Patrons and Patreon

Two blog posts in one week?! Apparently I have a lot to say right now.  Either that or I’m procrastinating in order to avoid writing a tricksy scene in my WIP…hmm.  Could be that too.

I DO have something to say though, and that is this:

I am now on Patreon!

The idea of setting up a Patreon page has been something I’ve mused over for a while now, and in great depth (as my poor partner will attest to).  I’ve read success stories, not-so-success stories, how-to articles.  I’ve mulled over what it means to be a ‘creator’ and the pros and cons of asking people to fund your creativity (which is essentially what Patreon does).  I’ve spent literal hours debating all of this and more, and then finally, on his way out of the house this evening (no doubt happy to be escaping yet more hmming and ahhing on my part) my boyfriend said “just do it!” And so…I did?!  Apparently Nike really were onto something with that, huh?

In an ideal world (Ha! Hahahahahahaha) I wouldn’t need to ask for financial support to write, but clearly this is not that world.  I am not a starving writer (yet) but the reality is that without some form of patronage or a lottery win (and I don’t gamble, so that seems…unlikely), I will probably need to start looking for a second job on top of my library post soon.  Two part-time jobs, two small children, a chronic health condition and spiraling anxiety doesn’t seem like a recipe for success though, and certainly not a scenario in which I imagine my creativity will flourish.  Hence, I have finally bit the bullet and set up a Patreon.

To be honest, given my online following (all ten of you reading this) I doubt I’ll be the next Amanda Palmer style success story, but nonetheless I have set a goal of $500 (annoyingly, Patreon only works in dollars, for those of you who can’t convert in your head- like me, that’s about £400) because if I were to get enough patrons to reach that amount, it would mean that I could forgo the ‘second job’ idea and just concentrate on being- well, me.  I.e. raising my boys, being the best goddam Saturday girl the library ever had, continuing to be a CIDP warrior, and- of course- writing.  Whether that’s blog posts, novels or short stories- just getting my words out there.

So, there you have it.  If you’ve got $1 to spare (that’s 80p to us UK folk) you can become my patron.  And if you haven’t, it’s all good-  I’ll still be here, wittering away when the mood strikes me.

Happy Birthdays

It was my birthday yesterday and for the first year in a long while I actually had a very good day.

See my birthdays (and I don’t say this to envoke mass sympathy) are usually pretty shit. It’s partly that whole “Christmas birthday” thing. It’s a cliche, but as anyone else with a mid-to-late December birthday can tell you- years of “joint birthday and Christmas presents”, birthday gifts wrapped in Christmas paper, a lack of anyone to celebrate with because they’re all visiting relatives/Christmas shopping/at their work’s Christmas do/snowed in or just partied out, can take their toll.  Also there’s the fact that at this time of year there’s almost as many viruses flying around as there are cover versions of “All I want for Christmas”, inevitably meaning that several years have seen me or my friend’s capable of nothing more celebratory than proposing a toast with a mug of Beechams Hot Berry Fruits.

The eve before this birthday I spent some time reflecting on birthdays of years gone by. I had a good run in my early 20’s when I somehow managed to use the festive season to my advantage, thus celebrating the passing of years with nights of drinking and dancing but since 2009 things have gone considerably downhill. That year my Dad died 2 days before my birthday leaving me in no mood to even acknowledge it’s existence. 2010 I went to a carvery with my family and truth be told had a nice day but as I’d just had a twin miscarriage a week before I was to a certain extent feeling pretty shitty. 2011 was possibly the worst, I had mastitis and spent the day in bed wondering if I’d be forever 27 as I felt for sure my days were numbered. I did eventually surface at 4pm giving me just enough time to wrap a few christmas presents for other people before returning to bed. Then last year I went to the Trafford Centre so my boys could buy me some Dr Martens. That’s no great hardship although given as it was The Trafford Centre 3 days before Christmas we were basically risking life and limb in doing so, and didn’t stop any longer than absolutely necessary. We stopped off at Krispy Kreme and Starbucks drive-thru on the way home and sat in the car shovelling doughnuts in our mouths whilst Chris was on the phone to our letting agents trying to get them to fix our boiler. Oh, didn’t I mention we didn’t have any heating or hot water at all for 3 weeks encompassing my birthday, christmas and new year?!?

So I didn’t have high hopes for this year. What with me being full of a cold, approaching another CIDP relapse, and with lots of sad and difficult things happening to people I love, I figured it would be best to just lay low and not get my hopes up. But then I realised that just as in life, there is little point complaining about how shitty things are without also intending to do something to change it, so it follows that it must also be true that I can’t sit and whinge about my naff birthdays if I never make the effort to improve them myself.

And it worked! My Mum and sister and brother came to visit, which was lovely in itself and as an added bonus they looked after the boys’ for a few hours whilst me and Chris escaped to Richmond Tea Rooms for afternoon tea. It’s rare we get to spend any time just the two of us (this was our 3rd child free excursion in 4 years!) and it was great.

Sure I had to keep surruptitiously blowing my nose, and thanks to the CIDP I was so tired when we got home I wasn’t sure I’d ever make it off the sofa again, sure between our chatter about fun stuff Chris and I also touched on sad or difficult topics but hey that’s life. Birthdays, like every other part of life, are perhaps not supposed to be perfect. By waiting for that perfect birthday, or perfect christmas, perfect partner or perfect job, maybe we’re not only setting ourselves up to fail but also failing to see the beauty in what is already right in front of us.

All I know is that I am feeling very thankful for everything I have at 29.

Not just the messages, cards and presents.  Not just the delicious little cakes and glasses of fizz (although certainly I’m thankful for those too) but also my beautiful boys, who admittedly were so grumpy when I returned from my birthday tea that they refused to even pose for a photograph together, but who without fail make me smile every single day.

Chris, who always does his absolute best to make my birthday special, battling against all the forces at work previously mentioned, in an attempt to make me feel special too.

My Mum, who in addition to the small matter of actually giving birth to me, never ever wraps my birthday presents in Christmas paper.

All our family and friends who think of us most days of the year not just the ‘important’ ones.

And this ridiculous body, that despite it’s (mainy) failings, most notably- attacking itself on a regular basis leaving me paralysed to various degrees, has nonetheless allowed me another year in this crazy, harsh, exciting, complicated and wonderful world.