Wednesday 28 March 2012

Goodbye to all that

When you turn 17 in England you are allowed to hold a drivers licence. This was a big deal where I grew up. Although I went to school in a medium sized country town I lived in a nearby village. Some of my friends lived in other villages, some in other towns. My village had an hourly bus service that ceased at 6pm. If you wanted to go out at night you needed very accommodating parents to act as a taxi service or you needed to learn to drive (and hope you parents would put you on their insurance). Everyone I knew learnt to drive (it took some of us longer than others). I passed my test on the 5th (!) attempt, by which time I'd all but given up. I was 18.

That was nearly 20 years ago. The beginning of my driving career involved me driving my parents' cars on their insurance (and occasionally having accidents in them - very rarely, can we point out, my fault!). When I left home for University they kept me on their insurance. These were small cars; an Austin Metro, several Ford Fiestas, that kind of thing. Easy to drive, easy to park.

My ex drove an ancient Jaguar. I was insured to drive that. It was like a wardrobe on wheels. I hated driving it, I loathed parking it. The only thing I liked was that it was an automatic.

We split and luckily I was still on my parents insurance. I continued to be able to drive their parade of Fiestas.

I moved away, I got a flat. I became eligible for a company car. I had two beautiful red Vauxhall Astras. Bigger than I was used to but not too big. Not too bad to drive, still horrible to park. Best thing, someone else was responsible for running the car; all I had to do was add diesel.

Uploaded by nat_mach on March 25, 2012
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I changed companies. My new job had no company car. For a year we had no car. Then we got a car; another Ford Fiesta. That was nearly 7 years ago. The car was already 4 years old then. Over the years it passed (and failed) the MOT. Bits fell off and got replaced. It was taxed, insured and filled with petrol (as the price of oil went up).

We had some great trips: 
  • We drove to Manchester for a weekend, a friend who supported Man U suggested we make a weekend of it. It was only when we were heading to Peterborough (long before the days of SatNav) we realised we were on the wrong side of the country. A lovely trip across the Pennines down little country roads... we got there in the end
  • We went to the West Country for a weekend stopping off to see some friends in Bristol. The M25 had a major accident and the section we needed was shut. We went round the South Circular (on a Friday night - still before the days of SatNav) and it we were just getting out of London when we should have been in Bristol!
  • I had several work trips to Lowestoft. You can't go further East in the UK without falling into the North Sea. Once you get past Ipswich major A roads cease and it is all B roads. Quite a journey.
  • I often had to go to Worcester (also on business) I remember the first time getting lost just after Birmingham trying to follow directions and almost being reduced to tears (that was what convinced me to get the SatNav).
  • Driving round London last Spring the clutch went, spent half an hour in Thamesmead waiting for the AA.
My worsening health has made it hard for me to drive. The car was a manual and the constant work for shifting gears was exhausting and meant I couldn't drive more than a few miles.. I can't really feel my feet which makes changing pedals as easy as it used to be in driving lessons wearing Doctor Martin's boots(!). My hands aren't as strong as they used to be which makes steering painful and tiring after a while. I did 500 miles in the last year.

The car had just passed it's twelfth birthday and was heading towards another MOT. I decided that it was time to stop throwing money at it and admit defeat. It was costing more than it was worth (quite literally) to keep a car on the road that was rarely being used.

So we sold the car. We are now a no car family. We'll get by - public transport is great (well plentiful) in London, there are always cabs for journeys with shopping... and if we really need to go somewhere that requires a car journey we can rent one. I did that in Ireland for the wedding of some friends and it was very cost effective.

That isn't to say I shan't miss our little car who served us so well.