Monday, 19 September 2016


                                     Learning to drive takes all the excitement out of life.

I HAVE discovered that the most effective way to tone tummy muscles, is to be the qualified driver in the car with a learner.

I sit, doing my best not to be a nervous passenger, as the eldest shudders into gear and we are suddenly motoring along the widest, quietest road we can find.

"You're doing really well," I say, when she manages not to cut out every time she slows down. "Coming to a yield sign now, so that means stop. Any time now. This side of the white line." I practise keeping my voice calm and encouraging.

By this stage, my muscles are clenched so tightly, my tummy has almost disappeared into my spine.

I have no idea what the average learner-driver age is, in other European countries. But I know, thanks to my love of American movies, that youngsters often drive to school in the US. 

Which, given the size of the country, and the vast distances people regularly have to travel, is hardly surprising.

Public Transport is tragic

But Ireland is a small country. And you would imagine that owning, or indeed knowing how to drive a car, isn't high on a young person's list of priorities. You'd be wrong.

This is largely because public transport is tragic. We happen to live in Dublin, not far from the Dublin train (DART) which runs along the coastline, from Greystones on the southside to Howth on the northside of the city.

Generally speaking, our bus service isn't bad. There's also a relatively new tram service (LUAS) which is currently being extended.

That sheer rush of adrenaline when you manage to dodge death

None of which is good. Let's face it, if public transport is alright, then why bother lacing yourself into your runners to walk to work?

Or hop on a bike to experience that sheer rush of adrenaline, when you manage to dodge death, in Ireland's totally ignored or non-existent cycle lanes?

Happily, if you live outside the major cities, your fitness levels tend to be better. Here, public transport is hit and miss. If you can't drive, you rely heavily on private bus services and the good will of family and friends with their own wheels.

Or you take to the roads as best you can. And when we say roads, we mean that literally. The Irish countryside is full of picturesque little places, unsullied by unsightly footpaths.

Which is fine, if you remember to walk in the direction of oncoming traffic and wear bright clothing.

Nothing like living on the edge

And there's usually a hedgerow where you can burrow with your bike, if the road is a bit narrow for both you and that speeding car. Nothing like living on the edge to hone those reflexes.

But here in Dublin, bus drivers are doing their bit for the health of hundreds of thousands of Dublin people, by striking right through September and October.

In fact, between now and the end of October, commuters will experience 13 more strike days. About 400,000 commuters are affected by the strikes.

Although given the fact that many will have used up all their annual leave as they can't get to work, can we call them commuters? A pedantic argument, maybe.

The drivers are striking over pay. Dublin Bus says that stoppages have cost it about €4million so far. And the department of transport (Dublin Bus is a public company) is refusing to budge.

*Meanwhile, homeless charity Focus Ireland has spent almost €20,000 on bus fares for homeless children this year, despite a government promise to pay for public transport for families in "emergency accommodation". (Irish Times, 17/9/16)

All the more reason why everyone should just walk

Which means that for the hundreds of families living in budget hotels and hostel accommodation, things are even more on the edge than before.

Tough enough for a child to get to school when they're living miles away, in a single room with their whole family. Tougher still when there's no public transport running that day. But at least the difficulties in getting there become academic.

Which makes the argument for rising early and walking instead, all the more compelling. What's five miles when you're a child? Or ten miles when you're a nurse or a factory worker or a mechanic or a teacher?

And for the lazy, there's always the option to drive. If you're lucky enough to own a car. If you've managed to pay for all those driving lessons. And passed your test. And can afford the insurance, tax and petrol.

Details, right?

The eldest is in her early 20s. She saved for her own lessons and car insurance. She practices in the family car.

She's one of the lucky ones.

As for her parents, we'll just have to continue walking for the fun of it. For the whole fitness thing, you know?

And resign ourselves to those ugly footpaths. No living on the edge (should that be walking on the edge?) for us.

But you can't have everything.


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