Saturday, April 17, 2010
While I know this aircraft lockdown has been a near tragedy for many (including my poor little sister who is currently stuck in Singapore), the plus side (along with the peace and quiet) is that it provides us with food for thought about what the world might be like without international air travel. The philosopher Alain de Botton was on the radio this morning imagining just that. In his view, a future world without aeroplanes might be as follows...
"Children would gather at the feet of old men, and hear extraordinary tales of a mythic time when vast and complicated machines the size of several houses used to take to the skies... Everything would, of course, go very slowly. It would take two days to reach Rome, a month before one finally sailed exultantly into Sydney harbour. And yet there would be benefits tied up in this languor. Those who had known the age of planes would recall the confusion they had felt upon arriving in Mumbai or Rio only hours after leaving home, their slight sickness and bewilderment lending credence to the old Arabic saying that the soul invariably travels at the speed of a camel."
This reminded me of a Middle Easern saying I once heard that goes: "My father rode a camel, I drive a car, my son flies a jet plane, his son will ride a camel". Perhaps in a couple of generations time we may actually live in a new world like this. As mineral resources and fossil fuels dwindle, the idea of air travel in the distant future - say 2110 - may be completely ridiculous. We may by necessity return to a lifestyle that no longer depends on Kenyan beans in the shops, but rather stocks local produce; one that doesn't expect to be able to get to New York from London in an afternoon, but rather to take a week on a boat. As that great geezer Gandhi put it: "There is more to life than just increasing its speed." So maybe, unlike the current pace of things, the future might actually be slow.
Wouldn't that be nice.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Today is a beautiful sunny day in London and we are off for the weekend to a friend's house in the countryside. We have a 12-year old and 2 year old in tow and we need to get two trains and a rural (ie. two a day) bus. But this is no lament, I am really looking forward to it. Apart from the schlepping the buggy up the stairs at the train station, everything else in this journey is an adventure. 12-year old can play with her dad's i-phone and read a pile of magazines that her online life at home prevents her from getting round to, 2-year old can look out the window and shout "moo moo, horsey and doggie" to his heart's content and dad can read the paper. And the bus ride will be the best bit - a chatty two year old will on average make five new friends on every bus ride. Of all the commuter modes there are (car included), the bus is the most friendly. People sometimes smile at you. Old ladies chat to you. You can see the driver (unlike the tube and train). It can be a bit skanky sometimes, but generally, the bus is best.
I have been without a car for practically the whole of my son's life and I have never felt limited by it - in fact we've probably taken more trips into town than my car-bound friends who would find parking impossible, so prefer to stay in the suburbs for fear of the dreaded parking warden.
And that is my biggest problem with the car - the stress. If you look at car advertising you would think that a car brings freedom, safety and speed, but the reality of car-life it is more like fear, danger and fines. Here are some cases in point:
A good friend of mine came to visit last week with her two kids. Some idiot kids chose her car to break into and smashed her window. She had to drive home on the motorway with a binliner over the gaping window with two small children screaming in the back. She then had to get it fixed which costs a fair whack because if she claimed on insurance she loses her no claims bonus. The whole event left us feeling like the city was a fearsome and miserable place (which in truth, it's not)
Far from being the safest mode of transport, the car is the most likely method of road transportation in which you will have a fatal accident. Horrid point - but true.
This is where I have found the most relief now that I no longer have a car. In London there are so many ways you can end up paying fines. If you forget that you drove a little too far down Hammersmith Road, you get fined for not paying the congestion charge. If you drive in a bus lane and are caught on camera you get a £50 fine. If you park anywhere in London in the middle of the day and forget to pay your ticket or get back late to your car, a parking attendant will hunt you down on a motorbike and charge you £60, and if you go a teensy weensy bit over 30 miles an hour on the approach to the A13, you get done for speeding. Yes all these things did happen to me when I was a car-user. No wonder I was such a stress case.
So car-free is the way for me. I know it can't work for everyone - rural life generally requires private transport, but I feel that if you live in the city, it really is not a loss to go without. And of course, it is generally better for the environment, but you're probably tired of me banging on about that, so I'll stop there!