Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Why don't I have a car?

People often ask me if I can drive and if I have car. When I explain that yes I can drive but don't have a car mostly they appear incredulous or pity me for having to get around by public transport. Some, I am sure secretly wonder if there is a life without a car. I've been accused of being defensive about these sort of questions and probably that is accurate. I do feel defensive and rightly or wrongly I often feel that people perceive me differently because I am not a member of the car driving majority. That I am somehow a 'poorer' person. It is probably me just being paranoid. To set the record straight these are the reasons (some well rehearsed) why I have never owned a car in my life and never intend to.

Like most things in adult life, my attitude towards owning a car were formed as a child. My parents never owned a car and it was a rare treat, normally once or twice a year when my Dad would hire a car for a few days or maybe a week during the summer. The freedom that it afforded, I must admit, was liberating. We could have days out all over, frequently going down to the New Forest or Eartham Woods (one of my favourite destinations) or just to the beach and for long drives. I thought it was a lot of fun and of course because it was a rare thing to have a car outside our house, it was a novelty too. I guess that I've always seen a car as a novelty, as something of a treat; a luxury rather than a necessity. The rest of the year, car-less we would make our way round by bus. Going on the train anywhere was even more a rarity than hiring a car! The train, my parents would frequently bemoan, was far too expensive. So, even a modest distance like going to Brighton for example, would involve a 3-hour bus ride there and back! Oh the joys of being bounced around on the top deck, spending most of the day getting to and coming back from our destination!

Here is perhaps the second point as to why I have never owned a car. Going on the bus was routine. It was the only way to get anywhere without walking. It was a pain at times, buses are sometimes late, don't turn up or don't take you exactly where you want to go. I've always been prepared to forgive all that though. I've accepted it I guess and despite the negativity that people often address towards buses, on the whole they're largely reliable, fairly inexpensive and convenient way to getting where you want. Not to mention you get a better view from the top deck!

Train trips as I mentioned were a novelty as a child but like most boys I had a fascination with the railways although I don't recall ever harbouring any real ambitions to be an engine driver. I was though a member of the Rail Riders club and as part of the club membership I got this giant wall chart, which stretched around two walls of my bedroom. The idea was to collect stickers for various destinations and tourist attractions on the chart. To enable budding Rail Riders like me to do this, as a member I got a book of vouchers saving between £1-£5 off the full priced rail fare. This was my incentive when pleading with my parents to take me somewhere on the train so that I could get a sticker too. My powers of persuasion were no better then they are now. There are only three distinct trips I remember making - one to Eastleigh, another to Winchester and the furthest was down to Poole! Plus a couple of times when my parents must have been feeling particularly adventurous we went to London.

I've always seen train trips in particular as something of an adventure. Now, as an adult and with a passion for railways to match that of me as a wide-eyed boy standing on the platform noting down numbers, I get a lot of interest and enjoyment from the railways. For me a journey on the train isn't just a means of getting from A to B. I feel that driving a car anywhere would be just that; a means to an end. After all what is so interesting about cars and roads and motorways? Not a lot in my view.

I passed my driving test about 10 years ago. I remember that the only reason I started learning to drive was because it was something that I felt I should do. There was perhaps some vague idea of getting a car when I passed but I wasn't serious about the idea. Driving lessons were akin to two hours of slow and terrifying torture. I am not a naturally confident person and behind the wheel any confidence I had was shot to pieces within a few minutes out on the road. I never felt entirely in control and I didn't enjoy any aspect of driving. In fact it is perhaps that I found the experience so traumatic and unpleasant that I've never wanted to drive since, despite passing my test first time. Even when I did pass, I made no real fuss about it. It was just a matter of fact thing. I'd done it, that was it. There was no feeling of elation or excitement, just a dull acceptance that I'd got through it.

Therefore with such a bad experience behind me why would I want a car and drive it every day?Especially when contrasted with such happy and contented memories of those rare trips out by train or the slightly less enjoyable but somehow fun expeditions on the bus? At least on the train or bus all the worry of how you're going to get from A to B is taken away. There is the opportunity to just sit back and relax.

I admit there are times when having a car would be so handy but the thing that dissuades me is the thought that it would be that would have to drive it!

So that in summary is why I don't have a car and never intend to have one. Questions, comments and criticisms welcome!


Carla said...

No criticism as I don't have a car either, but having been raised in a part of the US where it is literally impossible to get from A to B without a car, I have a different perspective. Just as you see buses and trains as normal parts of daily life because you were raised using that form of transportation, I see cars as normal. I feel comfortable in cars because I was in a car every day of my life. Driving was pretty much learned through 18 years of observation, so become a driver was more or less a matter of moving from the passenger side to the driver's side and learning how hard to press the brake pedal. I already knew about traffic and so forth just by osmosis.

I intend to get my licence and a car as soon as possible, but Derek is just like you when it comes to driving, and he too was raised without a car. So I think it all depends on what you get used to in your daily life. Derek says he has no problems with car ownership as long as I do the driving. I'm okay with that!

Joe said...

Interesting blog, Mark, not least the fact that you learned to drive but decided not to use the skill. Understandable really.

Interesting also that so many of us SW fans aren't car users, when so many "non-fans" of our generation are.

I've never been keen on driving, and the way roads are becoming so overcrowded and dangerous in the UK I don't suppose I ever will. Until perhaps public transport becomes impossible or too expensive to use.

My sister has learned to drive however (passing her test first time!), and maybe I'll help her to get a car when/if she wants one. Then she can drive me around when I get old! Right now I'm quite happy to be an observant passenger.

jamie the stig said...

only learnt to drive a few years ago,and wish i'd done it much sooner...
i feel the need for speed,i'm afraid.
and our new car is soooo sexy!