You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2010.

‘Did I hear you say you were foot passengers?’ The man sitting next to me on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from the Isle of Arran to Ardrossan regarded my rucksack-laden family. ‘How did you get here?’

By train, I told him.

‘I suppose you hired a car when you got to Arran,’ he said. It wasn’t a question.

‘No, we used buses,’ I shouted, over a chorus of car alarms from the decks below.

‘Did that work?’ he asked, clearly sceptical.

‘It was brilliant,’ I said. ‘Sustainable travel. It’s the best way to do it.’

He muttered something about getting a coffee and did not return. Pity. I’d only just got started.

We took buses every day in Arran, and it came to a quarter of the cost of hiring a car. It was much more relaxing than having to drive and the views, which you don’t appreciate when you’ve got your eyes glued to the road, were stunning. The trip around the north of the island was the best: a scenic rollercoaster ride with several stomach-plunging moments, at which I held my arms in the air and cried ‘Woo’, to the extreme embarrassment of the daughter.

You can, of course, hire bikes if you’ve got thighs of steel. However, we weren’t up to puffing up mountains and the advantage of the buses was that they would drop off and pick up even if you weren’t at a designated bus stop. This was a novelty to townies like us, but it was explained that it was all part of the ‘Arran way’.

We came to be very grateful for Arran’s support network on the one occasion that we could have done with a car. The daughter fell quite seriously ill on our first day and had to be taken to hospital in Lamlash by the island’s only ambulance. By the time she was fit to be discharged it was late in the evening, the buses had stopped running and regular taxi services had ceased.

The hospital called up a driver, who made a special trip out to get us. He gave the daughter some gamekeeper’s lore for avoiding heatstroke in the future and told us that helping each other out was the Arran way. It certainly was. Everybody from the paramedics to the duty doctor was lovely. The nurse even made us poor wilting parents a pot of tea.

Aside from the dash to hospital, the rest of our car-free holiday went without a hitch. Ironically, we couldn’t have afforded to have a holiday at all if we hadn’t given up our car because it was the savings that we’ve made that paid for it.

A report, Towards a Zero Carbon Vision for UK Transport, just published by the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, estimates that opting out of individual car ownership can save people as much as £4,000 a year. Not only does this have obvious benefits for individuals, but that money tends to go back into the local economy by increasing spending in nearby shops.

I can vouch for this. When we gave up the car we also gave up on doing big supermarket shops and we now get a vegebox delivered and buy locally. It has the advantage of preventing you buying more than you need and produces far less packaging and waste. Plus, we’re healthier for all the walking and cycling – fortunately, you don’t need buns of steel to cycle round York – which is another perk of going car-free.

There are disadvantages, of course. Lots of places aren’t accessible by public transport, so we’ve joined the City Car Club and car-share with people. Neither can you take off for a Sunday afternoon drive, should you feel like it.

To which I say, ‘why bother?’ As the August Bank Holiday weekend kicks off with more than 17 million motorists reportedly facing a ‘perfect storm’ of travel chaos and three-hour delays, I’m happy to stay at home. It may not be much comfort if you’re travelling today but according to the SEI report, ‘Traffic congestion and time wasted stuck in jams will be a thing of the past’ in a zero carbon transport future.

As I write this, an email has just popped into my inbox inviting me to buy a VIP hospitality package to Top Gear Live. ‘Sit back and experience a tyre-screeching performance … ‘

Look, we already had that with the ambulance ride. And on the switchback bus. Who needs cars, eh?

‘Did you actually grow these? In our garden?  In the ground? Seriously?’ The daughter poked a potato with her fork (less than enthusiastically, it has to be said).

‘Yes, and the lettuce.’ I beamed in bountiful, Earth Mother-ish fashion.

‘Oh,’ said the husband, toying with his salad, equally unenthusiastically. They are both rubbish at eating vegetables at the best of times. The fact that their lunch had been pulled from the soil only that morning was not working in its favour.

This is what I, as the ‘gardener’ in our family, am up against. That, and the garden itself. Things that I plant do not tend to do well. The peas shrivelled, the spring onions were stunted, the spinach bolted and the plum tree is looking very poorly indeed. And things that I haven’t planted do fantastically well. Russian vine, cleavers, bindweed, spurge, thistles . . .  and, oddly, tomatoes.

I thought these were weeds too, at first, but decided to leave them, just in case. Now we have a bed full of thrusting tomato plants, which have apparently sprouted from my top-dressing of home-produced compost. It must be potent stuff: they’ve completely dwarfed the carrots, crowded out the broad beans and are starting to challenge the apple tree we planted in the Spring. Isn’t Nature just marvellous?

I only hope the tomato plants produce actual fruits. At least then I can make chutney. Chutney is the one thing – apart from a massive courgette plant that resembled Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors – I managed to make from my time as an allotmenteer. I started to chart my experience in my blog on 1 January 2009.  Tellingly, the final entry for ‘Diary of an Allotment Virgin’ is written one week later. I did stick it out longer than that but the couch grass-weeding and mono-diet of courgettes eventually did for me.

Allotments are great if you’ve got the time to devote to them and I’m in total awe of those folk with organised, well-tended plots. However, we found that even with three busy people (me and two mates) sharing one half-plot we couldn’t keep up. The digging was therapeutic but if you left things for more than a week it started to revert to its previous hayfield status. I tried to rally the family to help, but all they ever did was wander down and singe marshmallows on a smouldering bonfire.

Still determined to grow veg, I abdicated from the allotment team and decided to dig up half the back garden instead. My parents have already done this back home and are almost self-sufficient already. They are now experimenting with all manner of exotic crops, though I got a bit confused when Mum started mentioning their ‘rabbi’ (turns out they’re growing kohl rabi, a turnipy kind of thing with weird stalky leaves that looks a bit like an alien spaceship).

If you don’t fancy digging up your back garden – or don’t have one – you can help yourself from Edible York’s first communal bed, inspired by the Incredible Edible movement in Todmorden, Lancashire, which has got the whole town growing. I went along to visit it in Paragon Street, next to the Barbican, and was delighted to hear how keen the council’s Neighbourhood Pride team is on collaborating with the scheme. More sites and opportunities are already being planned.

This is really good news because we are going to need to become more self-sufficient in the future and food growing is one way to create local resilience. Some schools have already got going with raised beds and allotment clubs, which a group of enterprising pupils is hoping to link up through a York Edible Schools co-op. The Yorkshire in Bloom judges were shown around some of the school (and other) projects yesterday. Perhaps these could they be the forerunners of something new? How about a  ‘York in Season’ competition next?

There are already loads of initiatives going on locally, from YUMI’s new multicultural garden at the Danesgate Centre to a community orchard in Fulford, and from guerrilla gardening by a sub-station (anyone spotted the rogue gro-bag?) to food-gathering expeditions organised by Abundance York. Keep a look out for the latter distributing the spoils of their urban harvest in York on the Day of Kindness on 13 August.

And if you see a woman handing out tomatoes, it might be me. After all, there is only so much chutney a person can make.


September 2010

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2 other followers

%d bloggers like this: