Carless and careless

An Irishman’s Diary about taking a sabbatical from driving


The night Spain played Chile in the World Cup, I was driving back to Dublin on the M1, hoping to make it to a television before kick-off.

Instead, just short of the M50, my car started making what sounded like “tiki-taki” noises, although that was probably just the effect of me having watched too much football. After that, it lost all power. There was just time to pull in to the hard shoulder before it stopped.

Luckily, during a recent change of insurer, I had insisted on breakdown cover. But it being 8pm, I couldn’t find the relevant phone number, or any number with a live human at the other end. So I rang a rescue company, who told me not to worry: they did pick-ups for the insurers and would bill them if I was covered.

Which, it turned out, I wasn’t. Dropping the car off later, the friendly tow-truck man revealed that my policy small-print excepted rescues from the M1, so that would be €203, including VAT, please. And by the way, he said, I would also need a new engine. The old one he pronounced formally deceased.

It was a minor inconvenience by comparison, but because of all this, I missed the game in which the champions were eliminated from the World Cup.

And I know the Spanish sub-plot is entirely incidental. But it so happens that that was also the last night of the 39-year reign of a monarch I shall now forever think of as King Juan Car-loss. You’ll forgive me for believing it an omen.

In any case, two months later, the car remains where it was left. I still haven’t decided whether to replace the engine, or the whole thing, or neither.

In the meantime, however, I have been a non-driver for the first prolonged period in 20 years. And so little have I missed the car, and the stresses that go with it, that I am now tempted to make the arrangement permanent.

It’s true that my carlessness hasn’t been fully tested yet. We had until recently two months of remarkably fine weather. And weather aside, summer has meant no school runs, or trips to music classes with cumbersome instruments.

I’ve written before of how, a few years ago, after resisting all urgings to get a dog, I agreed rashly that one of my children could take cello lessons. The cello involved then was cute and puppy-sized, but it has grown in spurts ever since. I gather we’ll have a full-size St Bernard on our hands this autumn.

On the other hand, the experiment to date has underlined how little excuse I have for car ownership really. I don’t need to commute, for example. Even if I did, the Luas is five minutes away. So are multiple bus routes.

It’s also a short walk to Heuston station, which connects us with half the country relatives. And although, to quote Lisa O’Neill, there is no train to where I come from, there is a plethora of buses.

Then there’s the expanded Dublin bike scheme. In early summer, a new station appeared at the end of our road. Suspiciously, work on it started just before the local elections. Even more suspiciously, it stopped thereafter, recalling a notorious Dublin West by-election where trees were planted before polling day and later removed.

So several months on, my local bike station is still not live. But at least the empty stands haven’t been taken away. I’ve learned from a workman that the problem is they can’t locate the nearest electricity connection, despite digging several holes. They’re sure to find the treasure sooner or later. In the meantime, there are other stations within easy reach.

In a way, it’s the less practical considerations of carlessness that bother me. I worry that, during a prolonged sabbatical, I might lose such driver skills as I have. And then there’s the reputation for full-blown eccentricity that deliberately not having a car can confer upon you. Already I sense my country relatives looking at me as if I’ve joined the Amish community.

So I don’t know if I’m quite ready yet to emulate a neighbour whose abandoned vehicle is much photographed by passers by. Now covered with plants, it looks like its being gradually reclaimed by nature. As for mine, I might just let the cobwebs build up on it until the autumn equinox, which coincides with World Car-Free Day. After that, I’ll review the situation.


The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.