It’s two days before I can legally drive again after shoulder surgery, and I started writing this on an ageing commuter train trundling between Ashford International station and London Victoria.
Motoring journalists aren’t supposed to like public transport, and I generally use it far less than my car, but often enjoy the contrast when I do. Not concentrating on driving means I see more.
To get to the station I took the hourly bus that meanders through our village. This vehicle had seen life, rode like a sack barrow and was very scruffy inside, but it arrived on time and sitting upstairs allowed me to look into gardens I’d driven past for years, which satisfied my nosey instincts.
The train hadn’t been cancelled and departed promptly, just as the heavens opened yet again. I’d managed to avoid the showers that had been battering Kent on and off all day, and had wondered about how much weatherproof clothing I‘d need. I could easily have been drenched, and it was pure luck that I wasn’t.
Without the rush hour commuter crush, travel was easy going, but slow. By car my first destination was about an hour away. On public transport I could double that, and add about a fiver to the cost of the trip.
There was also a lot of hanging around. To get where I wanted to be I had to abide by other people’s timetables, which meant arriving about 40 minutes earlier than I would have done otherwise.
My second destination required a longish walk to another railway station. I’d managed to get my wires crossed about the availability of buses going my way. There weren’t any, which was my misunderstanding, as all the time tabling details were on line and easy to find. The accessibility of this stuff is really impressive.
However, what I’d envisaged as a single bus journey turned into two train rides, a taxi ride and a wallet that was £30 lighter.
The good news for those who don’t drive is that for all their faults, the alternatives usually work pretty well, but when things go wrong they can make you wet, cold, cross and very late. They also put you into contact with humanity in all its forms, which on a late Saturday night might be a mixed blessing.
We have complicated relationships with our cars, but for all their demerits they massively increase choices over where we live and work, where we go and when in a way that buses and trains will never match.
There are days when I’m happy to leave my car at home, but am I looking forward to getting it back again? You bet.