Notes from Catherine Rowett, former Green Party MEP for East of England and deputy coordinator of the Eastern Region Green Party*(UK). Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Bringing up children without a car

Two conversations yesterday evening prompt me to post on this theme.

A while back, cycling to work up Recreation Road in Norwich, I encountered a kind of mayhem even more extreme than the usual mayhem caused by people bringing their children to school at Heigham Park First School. Recreation Road is a steep hill, bottom gear variety. On this particular occasion I was struggling up this hill on my bicycle, but was brought to a halt due to the car in front of me having to stop. That was because a car coming down the hill had pulled up to stop and unload children where there were already parked cars on both sides, entrances to drive ways and other complications, in such a way as to prevent anyone from moving up or down the hill.

Stopping a cyclist on a steep hill is not popular. They say that whenever a cyclist is forced to stop and start off again it takes as much additional energy as if the journey were 100 metres longer, but that's presumably if you have to restart on the flat; I suspect that restarting on an up hill slope is quite a lot more.

In this case it wasn't just a matter of starting again. There wasn't actually room for me to continue my journey on the road. In fact I had to get off, walk my bike up the pavement, and get on again beyond the obstruction.

As I went past the mother unloading her child from the car, I asked her, in a rhetorical kind of way, why she didn't bring her children to school on foot. It's always struck me (on the times when I make the mistake of riding past that school at that time of the day) that the ones being unloaded from cars look fat and unhappy, while the ones being walked to school are chatty and lively with a lovely hubbub of conversation with their accompanying adult.

The mother with the badly parked car didn't offer me a reason for why she didn't bring her children on foot. She just said "you've obviously never had children!" as though it was obvious that if you had children you had to be late, in a hurry, shove them in a car, drive to school, yank them out of the car, drag them in to the school door and rush back to move the car, because it's causing an obstruction. No time for goodbyes. No time for conversation. No time to talk to the other parents. Just dump them and run. This is what bringing up children is all about.

Well, perhaps it was a bad day. But if you don't have a car at all, a bad day never looks like that. It may look like something else, but it never looks like that.

"Actually," I said, "I had two children, and we never had a car." By this time I was on my bike and gone. "Never once," I thought, "did my children go to school by car." In fact, of course, they never went to ballet by car, they never went to music lesson by car, they never went to orchestra by car.

Was anyone the worse off for that? Well, our life was not the life of a taxi driver, which seems to be what the life of many parents is these days. And their life was, as far as one can make out, certainly not worse for it. Perhaps, dare I say it, better? Some thoughts on why in due course.


Annie said...

"…the ones being unloaded from cars look fat and unhappy, while the ones being walked to school are chatty and lively with a lovely hubbub of conversation with their accompanying adult."
Or maybe even with their friends who joined them on the way!
Well at least two reasons for this are obvious. Firstly, if you roll out of bed and are shoved in the car, you are not yet awake when you are shoved out of the car at the other end. So you're going to look unamused, whereas if you walk, even for five minutes, you get fresh air and exercise and are sure to be ready to face the day by the time you arrive. Second, it's nice to see your friends and so the walk to school can be exciting and fun and that way you don't have to try to catch up with the gossip later when you're supposed to be listening to the teacher…
Cars cause frustration, pollution, laziness, make you feel sick and are usually a waste of space. A little fresh air and a stretch of the legs never did any harm, and if you're late running will be as fast as getting the car out–at least when you're within a primary school catchment area!
Sledge was the best way we ever went to ballet :)

Catherine Rowett said...

It's a shame that sledge is almost never a good way to go these days. Actually snow was pretty rare even then, I recall.

Tiffer Robinson said...

Sometimes you can live too far away to walk. My primary school was about half an hours walk away, so mum would usually drive us. We actually lived quite close to the school as the crow flies but we were seperated by the train line. You are quite right about the benefits however.

I suppose these days more and more people are choosing the schools their children go to and they are less bothered about being within walking distance.

Catherine Rowett said...

If the school is about half an hour's walk away the round trip for Mother/Father etc can seem rather a long one. The answer is often to wheel the bicycle, so that getting home again (or going on to work, or whatever) is quicker.

I see quite a lot of parents who wheel the bike with the child sitting on the saddle: that's a good way to do it because the child is at head height, ideal for intelligent conversation. You get along a bit quicker than dragging a tired child, especially at the end of the day.

Catherine Rowett said...

I realise that it wasn't entirely true that my children never went to Orchestra by car. Annie used to play in Oxford Concerto Orchestra which met in far away places in the Oxfordshire villages. She reminded me the other day that she used sometimes to get a lift from the Ashby family.

If you wonder who the Ashby family are you can find out at (all the young Ashby singers listed there were growing up in East Oxford and going to the local schools with our children in the 1990s.)