My car-free year

I thought it was about time I reviewed my year without a car, now it has been about 15 months!

Of course, I had not factored Covid-19 into the equation….

When I started my car-less journey, it was more about the cost of buying a new car and the implications of only using it to get to work two days a week. With my car I had driven to work in around 45 minutes. Taking the train instead took a lot longer. However, I have been much better at embracing the slower pace of life since having major surgery.

Then along came the C word – Covid-19. Suddenly the UK is in national lockdown due to a highly infectious virus from abroad. The roads are deserted and no one is commuting to work apart from essential keyworkers – like me.

My shift pattern changed to 12 hour shifts which made train journeys impossible. Train companies were running a skeleton timetable due to staff sickness and if you live in the countryside – like I do – there is generally no train or bus service between 11pm and 6am.

So a taxi was provided by my workplace for me to get to work and home. Whilst not my ideal eco- friendly solution, it was at least giving someone else some paid work. Thankfully, everything returned to normal-ish in the summer, so my car-free journey re-started.

I have always preferred the slower pace of life on public transport, being able to read my book or just watch the countryside go past and count the number of different animals I can spot in the fields. It’s quite grounding. From that perspective, going without a car was something of a joy.

However, family life is more tricky. Food shopping and day trips are a lot easier with a car.

How do you do a weekly food shop and get it home without a car? I had been getting online deliveries to start with, home delivery has been a godsend in this respect. But once Covid hit, there were no available slots and you had to queue at the supermarket, my anxiety got the better of me. My only option was using my ‘granny trolley’, walking and going as infrequently as possible. Thankfully supermarkets responded quickly by increasing available slots and I was able to go back to my online food shopping.

Fancy going to Bowood adventure playground for the day? Take the car and you are there in half an hour on about £2 of fuel. Without a car? According to Google Maps it would take between one and two hours and involve train, bus then walking a mile. With two kids? Not gonna happen. Or 30 mins in a taxi for between £30-£40 – equally, no.

So getting out with the kids has been a lot more local. Which has actually been quite nice. Whilst all the exciting places have closed due to lockdown, we can still go to the local park and nature reserve which we are lucky enough to live near.

Am I being unfair to my kids? They live half the time with their father and stepmum, who have two cars. They seem to have accepted that at my house we have no car and that getting anywhere involves walking. Once they become teenagers their patience may wane!

I’m not saying it’s been easy. There have been times where it’s been hammering down with rain and I really wished I had my car to keep me warm and dry and get me somewhere quickly. There have been other times when I have smugly watched my neighbour scrape the ice off his car as I stroll to the train station to my ready warmed train.

There have also been occasions when I really wanted to visit a friend or my parents but couldn’t get there. That’s when it gets hard. It’s not easy to get anywhere that isn’t in the middle of a town or city without a car. I think London definitely has the advantage there with its extensive and regular tube and bus system. If I was reliant on the local bus to take me to town, there is one an hour and it would cost £4 to go half a mile. You really have to embrace the slower pace of life in the countryside!

I need to embrace taking a taxi. This is not something I find easy as it is always soooooo expensive. I have even resorted to getting a lift from my parents on occasion, which in retrospect is kind of embarrassing. My 70-something parents giving their 40-something daughter a lift home. They probably thought that was over 20 years ago when I learnt to drive….

So, in summary, it’s been very hard not having a car. Am I considering buying one? Not yet. I don’t miss the stress of driving and the costs involved. I do miss the convenience of getting directly to where I want to go in a short amount of time. If we are ever going to live in a car-free society, public transport need major improvements.

Will it ever end?

I just had my second Covid vaccine at work. The third lockdown is slowly lifting. My kids are back at school, with secondary school kids having lateral flow tests twice weekly so any asymptomatic cases can be identified. My parents and vulnerable friends have also been vaccinated.

https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/vaccinations (accessed 24th March 2021)

The coordination of the vaccination programme in the UK by the NHS has been amazing. Staff have volunteered to tirelessly and meticulously vaccinate as many people as possible the last few months and, as a result of this – combined with a national lockdown – the number of Covid deaths has dramatically fallen.

Deaths within 28 days of positive test by date of death https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/deaths#card-deaths_within_28_days_of_positive_test_by_date_of_death (accessed 24th March 2021)
Seven–day rolling rate of new cases by specimen date ending on 19 Mar 2021 https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/interactive-map (accessed 24th March 2021)

So there finally seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Can we begin to hope we will get our lives back to ‘normal’? Will we ever be able to go around without wearing masks and keeping our distance from others? Will we ever be able to hug our friends and family? What happens when people start to travel again?

But it’s still here. Covid isn’t going anywhere, it is still killing people around the world every day. As it spreads by the movement of people, is it possible for us to win this war? I hope so.

https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/deaths (accessed 24th March 2021)

Lockdown 3

I’m fed up and exhausted. Half term is soon and that’s all that is keeping me going!

Homeschooling again. Thankfully Blue seems to just get on with it (though obviously I have no clue what he is actually doing as he wears headphones). Pink needs a little more support. Four weeks in, two to go then a very welcome week break for half term – so looking forward to it.

Mass vaccination has been taking place with a sterling effort from healthcare workers. My parents have had theirs, which has made me feel slightly better. Maybe the kids will be able to return to school in March?

Deaths are starting to fall again finally https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/

There is optimistic talk of normality returning in the summer, though we don’t really know what that means. For now, let’s just hang on to the positive and keep protecting each other. 1,000 deaths a day from Covid is still a shocking number, and in the UK we have had over 100,000 people die due to the virus so far. Many people spend weeks in hospital and may not even feature in these statistics.

I am constantly surprised that even members of my own family do not believe Covid is as bad as the world is saying. Working in a hospital and seeing the daily figures for myself, there can be no doubt. If anything, the situation is a lot worse than the statistics suggest. Just because you are lucky enough to not know someone who has died, does not mean it does not exist. Please take care of your loved ones and stay safe.

Christmas is cancelled

For a lot of people in the UK, Christmas has been cancelled due to the increased spread of Covid-19 and the new variants of it.

One friend of mine originally planned to spend Christmas with his parents, but they are now in Tier 4 – the highest alert Tier in the UK – so they cannot have visitors. So he made a backup plan to spend Christmas with just his brother, who has since caught Covid-19 and is isolating, so will spend Christmas alone.

https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/interactive-map

Personally, I am very fortunate that I am still able to meet with my parents and cousin for Christmas Day. It is odd not to be able to go visiting friends and family as we normally would this time of year.

The things I miss most in the world are hugs. Will I ever be able to hug my friends again? Those who live alone may have not experienced human physical contact for 9 months now. I’m not sure we are built to survive that. Hugs hold an indescribable power to relieve stress and anxiety and comfort people. Is this something we can live without indefinitely?

Lockdown 2020 : part 2

This week marked the beginning of another lockdown for England. I am sitting in an almost deserted Bath train station, with a handful of people on each platform.

Bath Spa train station, 7th Nov 2020

Normally this time of year, the platform would be heaving with shoppers getting ahead with their Christmas shopping. Instead, there are a few people like me. Keyworkers heading to or from work. All retail shops are closed except supermarkets and food retailers who are able to supply takeaway deliveries.

It’s not quite as eerie as the first lockdown; everyone looked petrified of contact with anyone else. This lockdown feels a little more relaxed down here in the South West of England. Maybe because we are lucky to be not so badly affected as other areas of the country.

For me, the only thing different about lockdown is not being able to meet up with friends again. But it’s a small sacrifice to keep my loved ones safe. I still go to work, I still get my shopping delivered and I am still able to visit my parents, with whom I have formed a ‘bubble’.

Not having a car means I am quite well adjusted to not having the convenience of being able to pop to a friend’s house 20 miles away nowhere near a train station. My fortnightly shop comes to me. Everything I need is in walking distance. I have my garden, should I wish for some very fresh winter air. I consider myself rather lucky.

The one difference this lockdown is that the kids are still at school. I cannot thank the Prime Minister enough for this. I’m not sure I would be so relaxed having to undergo the horror that was homeschooling again. For once, Boris, you did something right.

Rainy day

Sitting at the train station, feeling sorry for myself. Damp, despite wearing a ski coat and waterproof over trousers.

Yesterday, I wasn’t sure I’d make it to work today as I was feeling low. This morning, the challenges I faced put thinking about how I felt on the back burner, to the point where I am going to be an hour and a half late for work, arriving wet and miserable.

Yesterday morning, I got up at 7am and both my children were up and ready for school (this never happens). Both got to school on time and the day was uneventful.

This morning I attempted to wake my children at 6.45am. The younger one moaned she was tired and hid back under her covers. The older one said he had been awake since 6am and reading, also refused to get up.

So I got myself dressed and showered and then heard my daughter sobbing from her room. She said she was tired and didn’t feel right. I hugged her for a long time until she was calmer then she agreed to have some breakfast.

The older one then got his act together and had his breakfast and got ready.

After breakfast, little one said she felt a bit better so I said I’d help her get dressed. Then she worked herself up again and had a lie down on the sofa until she calmed down. By this time she is going to be late for school and I am going to miss my train.

Eventually, I get her dressed and we are ready to leave the house. I ask her brother to take her to school and he agrees. But she wants me to take her. So I do, because I want her to arrive at school in the right frame of mind for learning and not in a snotty mess.

It’s raining heavily, so we all don our wet weather gear (even the older one, who is wearing shorts underneath!). And off we go, it’s a 10 minute walk to school but then a 15 minute walk in the opposite direction for me to the train station. Both get to their destinations happy.

I, on the other hand, walk to the train station, trying to book my ticket on my phone in the rain,which keep sending raindrops and taking me back to the menu. I give up and put it away, hoping the ticket office will be open when I get there and that I will remember to mention my disabled rail pass.

Just missing the later train to work, I have to wait 30 mins for the next one. My mood takes a nose dive on the walk as I get wetter and start to feel the damp creeping in under my coat. I have to phone work to say I will be very late in. The train is struggling with the rain too, with the expected time getting later and later while I wait.

Days like these, I think I should just crawl back in bed and hope tomorrow is better. But I shall carry on in the hope that things can only get better – right?

Getting away from it all

My friend and I are both single, with two kids each, so we decided to go away for a long weekend all together. We booked a campsite near to where we live because we thought the change of scene would be enough whilst still being close to home in case of emergency or forgotten items.

We left for the site on Friday evening,  my uncle kindly giving me and my two a lift in his car. My friend took her own car. We were very impressed when we got to the site as the chalet was so much nicer than we expected with proper sofas and lovely oak  furniture – it was hard to believe we were in a static caravan. We even had a hot tub on the decking, which the kids very much enjoyed.

As always seems to be the case on the first night away, my kids can’t sleep and we end up playing Scrabble with them until they finally give in. The next day we had booked the kids in for the Tarzan Trail which they were excited about. They all seemed to enjoy it to start until one by one their anxiety took over and they took turns to give up. I was very proud of them though, they were all so brave. I don’t think I could have done it at their age.

Next up we all went canoeing on the lake at the park. I was really looking forward to this, however I had not counted on the fact that my kids had done kayaking a couple of weeks previous and my daughter was very much wanting to be in charge. This caused a little friction between us but I think we all enjoyed it overall.

Sunday was a lot more relaxed. The sun came out and we went for a walk in the woods hunting for the playground we knew used to be there. Sadly it had been removed, but we had some fresh air and collected various sticks and acorns.

We treated ourselves to takeaway Sunday roast, delivered to our chalet (well, we were on holiday!). The roast arrived and was three meals short so we had to wait another half an hour for the other half before we could eat, but it was delicious and worth the wait. Then the dishwasher broke down – you can’t have it all!

All in all we had a lovely break, considering we were only a mile from home. The kids got on – a miracle in itself. As probably our only holiday since lockdown and for the foreseeable, it went very well. I am now a lot better at Scrabble, though I still haven’t managed to win against my friend!

A time for change

A few weeks ago I applied for a job. This is first time I have applied for a job outside my current place of work in the 16 years I have been there.

Somehow, I got the job!

So this really is a new start for me, doing a different job in a new place. I’m really excited to embrace something new and meet some new people (too many ‘new’s??).

Don’t get me wrong, I love the people I work with and I have several close friends in my present job, but I am always wanting to learn more. I feel I’ve achieved as much as I can in my current job and am in need of a new challenge. I will be sad to leave though.

Getting back to my original blog topic, this poses new adventures in public transport as my new job is a little bit further from my home and there are not so many direct trains. I shall keep you posted (see what I did there?…soz).

I had the joy of another taxi ride last week. I haven’t had one for a while and was immediately reminded why. The small talk lasted about a minute before the driver started grilling me on my opinion of what’s going on with COVID-19 and whether it’s all real or not. Again, at 10pm after an 8 hour shift, I was not really in the right headspace for this. Just because you know I work in a hospital, does not mean you have to have a conspiracy debate with me. I’m a scientist. You are not going to persuade me that viruses don’t exist. Or that Bill Gates is behind it all. Or that the government is lying (more than usual). Please let me close my eyes and imagine I haven’t just spent Friday evening at work.

So, yes, I have mentioned the ‘C’ word. Sorry about that. But it’s creeping back in and there is no point ignoring it. The economy has taken priority and our vulnerable loved ones may pay the price over the next few months. Only time will tell.

PHE Twitter post 13.09.2020

Homeschooling

I would just like to say, homeschooling was horrific.

To start, it seemed achievable. I work part-time so am able to spend time ‘teaching’, right? My two angels are no trouble, one is actually desperate to be at school so she’ll get on with it without much help, right?

Errr… wrong.

It started off ok. School posted work on their website for parents to view/download/print. First problem, I have two children and one iPad. So I thought, “this is fine, I can print their work off so the one iPad is not a problem”. Wrong again. By day 2, I and most of the other parents have run out of printer ink/paper or are buying a laptop.

New ink cartridges and paper purchased online. Problem solved, right? No. Of course, not all the work is printable. Some is YouTube videos or links to helpful websites. Again, this is problematic when you have two different aged kids both wanting to do their online work.

So, I became good at juggling and after week one I was exhausted but felt like we had got quite a bit done – nailed it!

Week two, the fact that I’m not a teacher starts to become obvious. I have to google certain things that my 9 year old is doing (I’m sure I was never taught the grammar that she is learning!). The constant ‘Can you help me?’ And ‘I don’t know what to do’ are starting to wear me down.

My mum-friend tells me she is working from home full-time AND looking after her two children. I can only imagine this meme was based on her…

By week 3 we have definitely lost our enthusiasm for learning from home. All the posts of people doing wonderful homeschool work with their kids is making me feel depressed and I am exhausted with the constant nagging I’m having to do to get any work out of my eldest.

By week 4, I have pretty much lost the will to live. I decide to adjust my expectations to a couple of subjects a day – that’s do-able, right? Sort of…

By week 5, none of us want to do it anymore. On the plus side, the eldest is allowed back to school two days a week, so I feel the pressure is off slightly with him and I can concentrate on youngest child – should be easy as she’s the enthusiastic one?

Even the school-loving child no longer wants to do schoolwork.  We decide to just get one thing done a day (usually art) and a teacher friend suggests Oak Academy online lessons, which are free and a godsend. Even though my littlest makes me do the lessons with her, it is so much better as I’m not having to try and explain everything and it’s a lot more interactive.

By the last week of term, we are managing one Oak Academy lesson a day, with both children doing the lesson at the youngest’s level, because that’s all the eldest will agree to.

I have never been so happy for summer holidays to start. Let’s never, ever do this again! Teachers – I and all the other homeschool-suffering parents have the utmost respect for you! True heroes.

Parents up and down the country collectively heaved a huge sigh of relief when it was announced schools would re-open in September. TFFT!

“It is in the darkness that the light of friendship shines brightest”

A fab friend of mine 😁

Fits & Giggles

You know the worst thing about having surgery? 

Not the risks that come with general anaesthetic, not the scars you get, and not the time it takes to recover….No, it’s having to starve yourself for so many hours beforehand. So when I woke up from surgery number 4, I was ravenous! I would have eaten anything (even cat-sick curry got my salivary glands going)! So when my family turned up with enough sweet treats to open my own chain of newsagents and my beloved Dr. Pepper, all thought of self pity disappeared and I felt like the luckiest girl alive!

Approximately 30 minutes later, a Nurse comes into my room to check on me and to offer a bit of advice, “Oh, good to see you awake and alert, just to warn you, don’t eat or drink anything too quickly because your body is adjusting after major surgery and the…

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Fresh start