Living in the country… without using the car?

Andy Rowell (Environmental Consultant)

Rule One: Learn how to combat stress.

Public transport is not like in other European countries – it isn’t reliable, flexible or cheap. Most people call it a disgrace. It used to be a national disgrace, but now it’s a privatised disgrace.

The absence of any coherent alternative makes some kind of reliance on a car an unwitting and eventual necessity, even if you feel guilty every time you drive one.

Stress levels need to be monitored by the minute, if driving to and from the West Country in the summer, as roads tend to clog up with traffic in twenty mile tail-backs. Mind you they do that every day on the M25, and that’s now considered normal.

Rule two: Learn how to cope.

We deliberately moved to a village where most basic necessities are within a ten-minute walk. When we say basic, I mean shops, primary school, doctor, dentist, community centre, pubs, play-park and recreation field. I don’t mean what some people might think as basic necessities: hyper-markets, out-of-town supermarkets, night-clubs etc (the 50,000 people who visited the new Wal-Mart on the outskirts of Bristol in its first two weeks of opening, being a case in point. You might get cheap prices, but at what cost to the community, the environment, and to workers (that’s enough of that rant – Ed.).

We would have a railway station, but it closed down in 1962, when Beeching closed swathes of rural lines across the country (and the succeeding Labour government closed even more). So we can watch the trains go past, but they don’t stop anymore. Mind you they don’t even stop half the time at the real station down the road. So we can get by on a day to day basis without a car. But this means, that with three kids, aged 6, 4 and 2 (so we don’t fit on bikes altogether), we are limited in movement, unless we take the bus. To do that you have to observe Rule One: Cope with Stress, as the rural equivalent of its urban cousin is even less reliable and infrequent. Which brings us on to:

Rule three: Learn how to resolve dilemmas.

Here’s the dilemma – the sun is shining (there have not been too many dilemmas this year!), so do you go to the beach – but you have to drive there – or do you stay at home and be miserable, but feel self-righteous? This brings us on to:

Rule Four: Learn how to have fun.

If you want to have fun, you have to forget self-righteousness and go to the beach. In all seriousness, use the car when you need to, but try and limit what many see as an integral part of their existence, rather than the addiction it is. Many people think we are weird because we shop in the village and do not make a 12 mile trip to the super-market, to save an extra penny on an apple that has been transported half-way round the world out of season.

Rule Five: Be proud to be considered weird.

Use local shops or you will lose them. Between 1991 and 1997, villages and market towns in the UK lost half their small shops, driven to extinction by the onward march of the supermarkets. Every time you shop at a supermarket, remember that the industry’s own figures show that a superstore costs on average 276 local jobs.

Rule Six: Don’t quote too many statistics at parties,

otherwise people will really think you are weird.