Why I No Longer Drive

Last night, on the way to Walkford, in the beam of the car’s headlights, I saw my first forest deer.  They were rather small.  Maybe females, maybe fawns, I am not sure.  It seems they only emerge into view at night.

We had an enjoyable time with Helen and her friend Pete at the quiz night, finally being placed firmly in the middle of a fairly large field containing some apparently professional players.  In Jackie’s words we were so mediocre as to warrant neither one of the cash prizes for the first three, nor of  the two bottom booby chocolates.  Helen says we weren’t mediocre, it’s just that some of the others were especially good that night.  Well, that’s a relief.  Never mind, they served Tanglewood bitter and Peroni on draft, so who really cares.

This morning, it being a Mordred (see 12th July) day, I walked down to the village shop to collect my copy of The Independent; continuing on to Football Field, and back home by the circular route via Shave Wood and London Minstead.  Domesticated horses in the fields were jacketed as a protection against the weather.  Forest ponies, being made of stronger stuff, had only their rough-coated hides for the purpose.

In Minstead I met and had a long conversation with Gladys and Dave who live on the top floor of the Lodge.  They own their flat but need to sell it, because Dave can no longer drive and Gladys doesn’t like to.  They were friends of our owners and know our flat well.  They have occupied the building for twenty four years.

I don’t drive either.  Perhaps twenty years ago, I visited a good cafe in Islington for lunch on my way to my consultancy at the now closed adoption society, Parents for Children.  Deep in The Times crossword, I was vaguely aware of a male figure taking a seat at a table adjacent to mine.  I was completely unaware of his departure a very short time afterwards.  Reaching for my brief case which I had placed on the floor beside me, I was completely unaware of that too.  It was gone.  After I had looked all around me, it gradually dawned on me that it had been nicked.  It was the proprietor who told me of the man’s rapid departure.

I had done what no sensible person ever does.  I had everything in that brief case: my wallet, cheque book, mobile phone, books, favourite pipe, lighter, and just about everything else except my biro and copy of The Times.  I couldn’t phone to cancel the cards.  I couldn’t pay for the meal.  Fortunately the cafe staff helped me out with coins for a wall phone and didn’t take even a contribution for the food.  I did, of course, return the money soon afterwards.  I reported the theft at Islington police station, knowing full well I would not see my belongings again.  The system, however, is that you must waste your and police time to provide a crime number for the insurance company.

One item in the wallet had been my driving licence.  I duly collected a form for a replacement from Newark post office, filled it in, wrote out the cheque and stuck it in my ‘to do’ tray.  This was because I needed a photograph for the new style licence to replace my old paper one which had needed no picture.  Several years later I came across this paperwork and managed to get a couple of photographs out of a machine, this being no mean feat in itself.  Of course, by then the £2.50 or so cheque I had written probably wouldn’t have been sufficient.  So I put it all back in the tray for several more years, whilst I got around to checking.  It could be there still.

Not driving was really no problem during the years I was commuting to London.  I used public transport all week and Jessica drove at the weekends.  This is because I didn’t mind who drove, and she couldn’t bear not to.  It seemed quite a satisfactory arrangement.  After her death and my return to live in Central London a car would have been a liability.  Even running across London was quicker than driving.  Finding somewhere to park was a nightmare, and paying for it exorbitant.  And, of course, with a London address, I was given a senior citizen’s Freedom Pass which meant public transport within all six London Transport zones was free of charge.  And you could get quite a lot of cab journeys for the cost of running a car.

Where we are living now a car is pretty well essential.  But now I have a beautiful chauffeuse who has her own car.

This evening my chauffeuse served up very spicy arrabbiata followed by Sainsbury’s creme brulee.  I finished the Brindisi red and Jackie the Montpierre sauvignon blanc.


Coffee this morning with a friend in SW1, followed by lunch with another in NW10.  I began with a walk to Colliers Wood, mostly through Morden Hall (National Trust) Park and Merton’s Wandle Trail.  The boundary between the two is a modern tramline.  The Wandle is one of London’s lost rivers; the trail being a stretch of wooded land alongside the water.

Most of the people in the congested High Street running through South London past Colliers Wood and on through Clapham must be oblivious of this pleasant walk.  I suffered such oblivion when, as a teenager in the 1950s I regularly walked from Raynes Park to Tooting to visit an art-house cinema. I had the 1/9d for admission, but not the extra few pence for bus fares.  Kevin Lydon, a schoolmate, thought this was pretentious.  When I think of how many unintelligible subtitled black and white films I sat through I’m sure he was probably right.

From Colliers Wood I travelled on the tube to Victoria and on to my friend’s flat in Rochester Row.  After coffee it was off to Harlesden for lunch.

Turning right out of Neasden tube station the contrast between the High Street there and Victoria Street, SW1 was marked.  The wind gusting up the hill on a less rain sodden day would have carried blinding and irritating dust from the commercial recycling depot at the bottom of the hill.  The pavements were so uneven as to be bearing pools of water which it was difficult to avoid.  The older, smaller, St. Mary’s Church with its graveyard seemed a world apart from Westminster Cathedral; and The Burren in Roundwood Road, a friendly Irish pub, humble in comparison with the grand Victorian pubs, such as the Windsor Castle in Francis Street, which are to be found in Victoria.

Victoria’s buildings are mostly enormous; commercial ones usually modern and with walls of glass, residential ones usually older stylish and elegant blocks of flats.  It’s all rather grand and overbearing.  The only large modern building in this part of NW10 is the Magistrate’s Court.  There are blocks of less opulent looking flats, but most dwellings are terraces of small family homes, the older, larger ones often converted into two flats.

Victoria Street is well populated by modern shops, including a large department store, and City Hall itself.  Church Road, the local shopping centre for my friend Norman, is full of small shops which have seen better days and which are constantly changing hands.  Many of these latter shops are run by immigrants, the latest of whom are from Somalia.  The Road has a strong sense of community and the shops are stacked with produce attractive to those who live there.

As a schoolboy I had to walk because I didn’t have the busfare.  As a pensioner I only walk when I want to. Thanks to the Freedom Pass I am able to travel free and freely using any form of transport in the 6 London Transport zones.  This includes overland railways.  It is a marvellous facility which really lives up to its name.