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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Tuesday, 23 July 2013

A reduced life

One of VR's acquaintances has been diagnosed with glaucoma and his driving licence has been removed. He lives in  a village, no doubt chosen for it tranquillity, and his offspring whom he used to visit regularly are widely scattered across Britain. The adjustments he is having to make are radical.

Suddenly, the disadvantages of moving from urban Kingston-upon-Thames to rural Herefordshire, as we did fifteen years ago, become apparent. No moving back of course. Our present four-bedroom detached house is probably worth about £230,000 whereas one close to, and identical to, the 1930s semi we left behind in KuT recently sold for £460,000.

I try to conceive of a car-less existence. My weekly French class involves a drive of seven miles along narrow country roads and takes twenty minutes. By bus (into and out of Hereford) would take several hours. Another regular twenty-mile drive ends with an steep uphill mile of shockingly bumpy cart-track. No bus; a taxi driver would baulk at the surface.

A villa in France? No go. Couldn't get to the supermarket.  The Borderlines Film Festival, held in village halls all over the county, would be impossible. Hay Festival too.

Certainly I could afford taxis. But imagine the gloomy prelude and aftermath to what are supposed to be leisure pursuits. Hmmm.

WIP. Hand Signals. "Francine washed up her breakfast crockery, poured out coffee and joined her parents in the cramped space behind the shop counter. These triangular conversations, shared intermittently with the flow of customers, had formed a major part of family life ever since she'd started at university. She'd been too shy to talk aloud at first, fearing she'd be overheard. But her mother had evolved a surreptitious, mouth-corner way of speaking that reduced the exchanges to an inaudible code and Francine now copied her."


  1. A good electric bike may part solve the problem for some. They are getting to be sensibly efficient these days.

    Your photo is a triumph of the Photoshopper's art.

  2. This is a reason why I can't live anywhere non-urban or without efficient public transport: I don't drive and don't want a car. Big problem in some places but I've managed fine most of the time.

  3. Sir Hugh: You haven't thought this through. Imagine getting home from Tesco carrying the week's supply of potatoes plus two six-packs of fizzy water. More particularly, VR and I try to go to places together; being reduced to a bike would prevent this.

    One shouldn't be dominated by Photoshop's complexities; where possible use it casually.

    Natalie: Until I retired in 1995 I'd only lived in urban surroundings: Bradford, London, Pittsburgh (first time), Philly, Pittsburgh (second time), Kingston-upon-Thames. Quite frankly I was fed up with sharing my life with others on buses and trains - I wanted a little privacy. If the worst comes to the worst I could point to the 15 years in Hereford as 15 years away from the crush. And surrounded by a little beauty. Remember the nearness of the Wye.

  4. Sir Hugh has a point about e-bikes, but so have you regarding the Tesco shopping (the Dutch use specially constructed bikes which would cope with this)
    But this age/disability thing where driving is concerned is certainly a problem as we get older. How essential it is became clear to me when I was forbidden driving for four weeks following a minor stroke.
    Invalid buggies do not have the range or speed for exciting adventures.

  5. Most of the supermarkets do home delivery now. I have used it with Tesco and Asda and it is a satisfactory practical service, which costs little.

  6. Haven't owned a car for about 12 years. I rarely miss it. Or the attendant problems and expenses. Buses bring their own pleasures.

  7. Avus: I agree about having groceries delivered but what about DIY materials, bulky domestic items like pillows and duvets, fragile and/or valuable items. Also how about using a bike at night?

    Plus the fact that a bike would separate my wife and I from chores that we presently share.

    Sir Hugh: See my comment to Avus.

    Joe: There are many radical differences between your urban and my mainly rural life. You are well served by bus services and you have a quick link to London. Many of the villages where we often have lunch have no bus service. Without a car I would have to write off all French holidays where solitude (ie, in a villa) and a degree of mobility are required. I'd be reduced to hotels and/or package holidays. The Hay Festival, twenty miles away and starting at 10 am, would be almost impossible as would the Borderlines Film festival (Films shown in remote village halls). Even where there are bus services they tend to end at about 6 pm so most nighttime activities would be closed to us. You may well find compensations travelling by bus but surely it isn't unalloyed pleasure; all that hanging about in uncongenial windswept places. Visiting Occasional Speeder and my grandson, who live in a tiny village near Gloucester, would require three buses and, not forgetting the time spent waiting for connections, take more than half a day.

    But what I would miss would be the inability to embark on some journey purely on impulse. Let's have lunch at such-and-such. Not that I mind the expenditure but in some cases I'd be spending more on taxis than on the meal.

    For our wedding anniversary we aim to drive up the west coast of Scotland and stay at somewhere remote. Arranging that would mean a nightmare of booking planes, spending a fortune on taxis, and - worst of all - never being apart from others. In a car we can sing hymns, have an argument, discuss intimacies, use the mobile phone without disapproval.

    The solution would be live again in Kingston-upon-Thames but apart from the financial impossibility, we would be constantly cheek by jowl with someone whose company we hadn't bargained for.

    And, possibly most important, the car saves me time and I use that time to write. I don't have an awful lot of time left. Making detached observations about amusing people on buses would result in the accumulation of useful raw material, but when would I ever have time to turn it into fiction?

  8. Good taxi drivers (as in interesting) could provide excellent fodder for your writing!

  9. I have similar thoughts occasionally and console myself with the idea of finding a kind person that will gladly drive me anywhere I want as long as I let them have the car as if it were theirs. Lots of people can't afford a car, my luck - your luck, to have VR on your side.

  10. Julia: I have to say this but you're coming very close to recycling a New York myth. That cab drivers have hearts of gold, are founts of wisdom and regard their passengers with kindness. It is a myth put about by... NY cab drivers. Same with black cab drivers in London (ahem, that's drivers of black cabs, not what you thought). Oh, yes, and in Lisbon too where one driver deliberately obscured his meter then charged me double.

    On the other hand possibly a whodunnit about a serial killer whose victims surprisingly turn out to be... hey, you could complete the story itself.

    Ellena: Suppose your willy-nilly driver asks if he/she can use the car over the weekend? Then there's the potentially expensive business of extending the insurance to include another driver.

    But hey, let's not get down in the dumps. It hasn't happened yet and may not. Dwell delightfully instead on the fact that you survived another hellish Laurentian winter and that it's only a week or two until Fall. All sorts of happy things to comfort us.