It has taken almost nine months, but I think I’m finally starting to understand the appeal of driving.
Before we moved, I hadn’t sat behind a steering wheel in years. I’d passed my test at eighteen – second time round, like all the best people – but then quickly gone on to student life in Edinburgh where a car was neither necessary nor affordable. The bus network was extensive, and I always loved walking around that beautiful city, so even after we were married and DorkySon came along we remained a family who travelled on foot.
In Hertfordshire we probably should have had a car. We would have explored more, and had weekends away. But we were only there for eighteen months, and we got by with walking and trains, some of us more willingly than others.
“Why haven’t we got a car like everyone else?” DorkySon would grumble, as we bundled up for yet another walk to nursery through the rain.
“Because they’re expensive and bad for the environment,” I would say. “Because it’s healthier to walk.”
“Because your mother is a rampant socialist and a total hippy,” DorkyDad would say.
Hobart, like Edinburgh, is a compact city, and for the first six weeks here we got by with sturdy shoes and a Metro Green card. But Tasmania is really not somewhere you can live without a car, and I reluctantly conceded defeat.
DorkyDad and DorkySon spent hours poring over the driving supplement of the local paper, consulting colour charts, and Googling fuel efficiency. They spent Saturdays peering through the windows of the local dealers. Eventually they settled on a black Volkswagen Polo. It was safe, spacious enough for three, and didn’t require us to remortgage the house. It would do just fine.
Like a new pair of jeans that you keep for best, or a nice set of wine glasses that you save for guests, I was wary of the car to begin with. It was too clean, too shiny, too new. Having spent so long as a pedestrian, I knew my way around the pavements of Hobart but roads were another thing entirely. It has a one-way system across most of the city centre and I was terrified of taking a wrong turn.
Driving is getting easier now. I still flick down the sun visor before I sit down, to make sure there are no huntsman spiders waiting to drop into my lap. But when I locked myself out of the house a few weeks ago it felt good having somewhere warm to sit and wait for the locksmith. I know my way around Hobart well enough that I can have the radio on, and don’t have to shush DorkySon so I can concentrate.
The car is starting to feel more like ours – there are coins for parking rattling around in the glove compartment, and dozens of old tickets strewn throughout. DorkySon has dropped an appropriate number of crumbs in his car seat – enough to make it feel lived-in, but not so many that I feel I should vacuum yet. When he opened a party invite on the way home from kinder the other day there was an unexpected explosion of gold glitter, which I feel has brightened things up a bit.
The art of driving is an interesting one. I’m starting to understand that it’s not just about pedal control; it’s much more than that. Having a car has expanded my sights and made me see the world in a different way. Knowing that we can hop in the car and drive off to some new part of Tasmania on a Saturday afternoon is so much easier than how we lived previously, consulting bus maps and timetables, working out how to pack everything in as small a bag as possible, and then likely deciding that it just wasn’t worth the effort.
I knew it would change the pace of our life. I now see that’s not a bad thing – being able to go to Pilates AND drop off dry-cleaning AND pick up groceries all in one trip is helpful. But I also love walking DorkySon to school along the river, and now that we have the car I can feel us starting to slip into the habit of driving, even when we don’t need to.
Like everything else, I suppose it’s a balance. It’s good to have it there when we need it. But on bright, dry days if it’s a choice between a twenty-minute walk or a five-minute drive, the walk should always win.