The Art of Driving

Red Chevrolet

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.

Whatever.

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.

36 responses

  1. Haha! I too drive a VW Polo around Hobart, but mine’s silver. It’s amazing what will fit into that little car with half or all the back seat folded and it’s easy to park. But yes, it’s easy to get lazy and not catch the bus, especially when the nearest bus-stop has disappeared and is now a km further down the road and it’s a steep walk home up the hill. I’m sure you know what I mean by “hill” in Hobart!

    • I do know those hills, yes! Part of the reason we ended up getting an automatic rather than a manual was the prospect of all those hill starts! Agreed on the parking – so much easier than manoeuvring one of those hefty SUVs into place. I’ll keep an eye out for you – Polo drivers unite!

  2. My first car was a little VW polo and I loved it. I think as you say balance is everything. We have a car, but only one and to some people that seems a bit strange round here. But then we walk so much and Mr C takes the train into London for work so we don’t need two. When the weather is grotty (as it is right now) it’s so tempting to just jump in the car but I’m making such an effort to walk instead. Driving can take you to new places, but when going to old places you notice more detail if you walk.

  3. We recently upgraded our car to a much larger (but slightly older) Volvo because our little Fiesta just wasn’t big enough for us anymore (and had been kindly written off by a woman in the carpark of the cinema!). The knock-on effect of having a car with a larger engine and worse fuel economy is that we’re walking so much more because we simply can’t afford the smaller trips to the shops if we want to do longer trips in the car, and I’m actually really enjoying it.

    • Oh that’s interesting Jayne, that’s there’s such a huge difference in fuel consumption. Goodness. Glad you’re enjoying all the walking though – hopefully it helps your wee lass get to sleep too!

  4. We recently change our car from a diesel to a petrol and I have noticed how poor the fuel efficiency is just switching to petrol. In some ways it has been good as I don’t take the car as often as I would because of the cost, I do love the freedom having a car offers though.

    • Yup, I’m really starting to understand what people mean by that freedom. Even if you don’t go anywhere it’s nice to know you can!

  5. I’d love a Polo, and VWs are good, sturdy, reliable cars – just what you want for a family. We drive a 2001 Ford Focus, which, I fear, is creeping towards the end of its days. I, too, like to walk if I can – it tires the kids out a treat.

  6. I love the philosphical attitude to the glitter🙂 I’m afraid I’ve slipped so badly that I take that approach to biscuit crumbs and the odd McDonald’s chip too.
    I think you’re right that the ease and convenience of a car makes us get lazy. Stick to your guns and walk your lovely city as often as you can. One day I hope to live somewhere less generic, and be inspired to pound pavements more frequently.

  7. Having to drive a lot to get around where I live after they cut the public transport to zilch I dream of living somewhere more central where I can ditch the car a bit more. I think I read somewhere about the UK driving licence only being valid for a year in OZ, after when you need to re-take the test for Australia. Or I may be googling very old websites – possible!!!!!

    • The kind of visa we’re on you can keep your UK licence indefinitely, but for ID purposes it’s really good to have an Oz one. They’re given out by state rather than federally, so the rules are different depending on where you are, but we can just go and fill in a form to get a Tassie one, without having to sit any test, because of some reciprocal agreement with the UK. Thank goodness! Didn’t fancy sitting another test after so long without driving!

  8. My car is like a skip! And I can’t imagine not having a car. Life would be very different if I didn’t have my car to just jump into and nip off. More organised I suspect as I would have to think about time tables. I admire people who dont have cars and get by with buses and trains etc as it really is about organisation!

    Having a car really is the lazy option isnt it?

    • Ahh, it depends where you live though doesn’t it? If you’re out in the sticks you really can’t get by without – especially if you’re juggling school runs and work commitments. Don’t beat yourself up😉 x

  9. My car is full of garden center debris, soil and dried up leaves everywhere, and sweet wrappers, lots of those too. My first car was a VW Polo named Prunella (I may have to write about her and our adventures). Cars aren’t so bad, they have their uses when you need to nip around and get lots of jobs done :o). X

    • Sturdy wee cars aren’t they🙂 Yes, I love having the time to walk too, get a bit of headspace. I like your idea of half and half though x

  10. I LOVE my car! But I’m with you – I also love walking and how much more of the world and life I get to see on two feet – not to mention the environmental impact. But WHY did I feel the need to click on your spider link? x *feels itchy all over and checks bed AGAIN! *remembers to check sun visors tomorrow, even though lives in a huntsman-free-zone!

  11. We’ve gone from the most environmentally friendly car we could find to a gas guzzling eBay bargain that can tow the caravan. It’s so not me, but I try to walk lots too. Love the way you write about your car, happy travels!

  12. I didn’t drive till after No1 was born, and being stuck in a village with rare and inaccessible buses lost its charm. I know exactly what you mean about slipping into driving – we still almost always walk to school, much to the children’s disgust!

  13. i love driving, absolutely love it! i guess because where i grew up in essex everything stopped at 7pm so until you were 17 everything was about dad giving you a lift here and there. i passed my test 6 weeks after turning 17 and haven’t looked back!

  14. I never learnt to drive, keep half thinking about it, but it is so expensive and we can’t afford to run two cars anyway, so I would be in the same boat I am now- no car in the weekend and a car to go out places in at the weekend- I suspect the main change would be it would be me driving on our days out so the other half could have a pint somewhere! Those 40 minute round trip school runs in the rain I could definitely do without though!

  15. My son is 18 now so could have been driving for a year but he wasn’t fussed about learning as we are on a bus route into the main town anyway. He will be off to University in the autumn so won’t need a car so may well leave learning to drive for a year or two – the insurance will be cheaper too.
    I love my automatic -hubby and I have driven one for several years now since he had problems with his clutch knee. If we hire a car on holiday we often end up with a manual and I’m now too scared to drive one so he gets lumbered with it. I did my driving test in the Fens, so flat there were no hill starts, so I’m not very good at them.

  16. Living in places where a car was always a necessity has been hard. We dreamed of living in a place vehicle-free but not this time around. Keep to your walking as much as you can!

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