Turning My Family Green in Bristol (2010)

12 Jul

A year ago, my partner Donna, six year old Daisy and I were living in Manila, one of the most polluted cities in the world. Our road was so traffic-choked that everything in our apartment smelled of diesel. In the distance, huge chimneys pumped heavy metals into the air all day long. To my horror, I discovered that we were breathing in the equivalent of twenty cigarettes a day and shaving a decade off our life expectancies. The authorities had neither the funds nor the infrastructure to address these problems, so they were only getting worse. When my work stint was over, we came back to Britain determined to live a better life, if not exactly The Good Life.

Bristol seemed like the perfect choice. Its reputation for green spaces, cycle paths and general eco-friendliness preceded it. We got rid of our car and immediately noticed the savings on petrol, MOT, repairs and so on. We also cut our rent by moving to a flat in Hotwells without a parking space. This is a great part of town, within walking distance of Clifton Village and Down, the river and – sometimes at a stretch for Daisy this one – the city centre. All was going well until we realised that the nearest school with a free space was three miles away in Bedminster.

We started taking the bus. It seemed simple enough: a forty minute journey with one change in the city centre. However, we didn’t bargain for the Manila-like traffic jams (minus the smog of course) that blight both Hotwell Road and Redcliffe Hill first thing in the morning. Worse still, random vehicles – an ice cream van, a pink limousine, a Bentley – would park at our stop and dissuade the bus from pulling over, making us late for school almost every day. We got depressed. We questioned whether the government was serious about helping people – like us – out of their cars and onto public transport.

Now we have a solution: an adult-sized bike with child’s ‘tagalong’. It looks like something from a Victorian circus, but I don’t mind because I don’t have to pilot it! Instead Donna pedals her heart out up the hills of south Bristol, hoping that, one day, Daisy might pedal too instead of just sticking her arms out and shouting ‘Wheee!’ Nearing the school, they must brave cars driving on to the cycle paths because the road is too narrow, other cars parked on double yellow lines and speeding hypocrites who shout at them: ‘What you’re doing is so dangerous!’ So far, though, nothing bad has happened and Donna has kept her cool. I think I would have lost mine by now…

After an uphill struggle – literally and metaphorically – my family’s attempt to turn itself green is paying off. We’re no longer ‘blowing so much smoke around the world’ as Daisy puts it. I’d recommend the experience to anyone, but with two words of advice: watch out for cars and make sure your co-pilot pedals!

(Originally accepted by a magazine in Bristol that shall remain unnamed, paid for and then not used. Oh the injustice!)

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