Monday, August 14, 2006

Commuting as Indulgence

Norm has a brief but insightful and sceptical post here, in response to an article in the Times concerning research lauding the benefits of commuting. As someone who has lived a 10-minute walk from work and who now commutes 35 miles (8 minutes by car to train station, 55-minute train journey) to the same office, I reckon I’m familiar with the benefits and disadvantages of each option.

You might reasonably assume that a 10-minute walk through Georgian Dublin of a morning would be not just convenient but also uplifting, particularly given that part of that stroll included the leafy bank of the Grand Canal. And you’d be right. Indeed, I was even able to walk home at lunchtime, make myself a sandwich, and turn the TV on to watch the news, offering me a complete separation from work half-way through the working day. It also meant that, because the office has flex-time, I could choose to go into the office at 10 having had a long lie in, leave at 6, and still be home at a civilized hour for my evening meal before strolling down to Haddington Road or Toner’s for a couple of pints or further into town if there was a gig on worth catching. I could even have deigned to read a book, such was the scope of my options.

Why would I then choose to move out of city centre Dublin to Mornington, 35 miles north, a suburb of another city entirely, in fact (Drogheda)? Well, there’s the rub. For one thing, the size of a mortgage required to live in the city centre was preposterous, and indeed still is, whereas Mornington was, back then, at least, laughably undervalued, since the south of Dublin was still regarded as the most desirable area for commuters (especially Dalkey, Killiney, Bray). For another, the quality of life in the city centre rapidly deteriorated in the late 90s. Not only would there frequently be shouting or fighting in the street at 2 in the morning, but there were also people coming inside the front gate to have a piss, to throw up, to fuck prostitutes, or to eat their kebabs from Abrakebabra on Baggot Street. One of my good friends was hospitalised by a gang of thugs in Portobello, the streets were increasingly covered in dog shit and takeaway wrappers, and the local shops and pubs got more and more crowded as Dublin became the venue of choice for stag parties, hen nights, international business conferences, MTV Awards, the Tour de France, you name it.

By contrast, when we moved up north, we found Mornington to be quiet, secluded, friendly, and clean. We found a house just two minutes’ walk from the beach, the same distance from the mouth of the River Boyne, and close to the National Ecology Centre and specially designated wildlife preserves. Our commuting options are limited to the M1 and the train, but the train starts at Drogheda, one station down the line, so it is still almost empty when it arrives in Laytown, offering us a choice of seats (the Belfast Enterprise, which also stops at Drogheda, siphons off those commuters who want a quick trip in the morning). Rarely is the train packed to the point where those standing cannot comfortably move around, and although the train makes 6 stops before reaching Connolly Station, the trip along the coast is simply spectacular and relaxing. If you have the time in your working life to appreciate it, it is a genuine pleasure.

This trip is also the reason why I read much more than I used to. Living in town presented me with so many options that it was much too easy to plump for the least taxing, namely, allowing myself to be entertained by a band or a comedian or by several pints of Guinness, all of which involved the spending of cash I didn’t really have thanks to that fucking mortgage! Yes, I should have been reading more books back then and taking advantage of the spare time offered by the short commute, but that wasn’t how things worked. It’s only now, when I don’t have much choice (I have an mp3 player but regard listening to music as a waste of time – seriously!) that I find myself tearing through books at a rate of two a week, thanks to a lengthy and comfortable commute. Sure, I get home much later, (7.30 p.m. most days), but that only motivates me NOT to waste what time I have watching the TV. Instead, I’ll make the most of that time either writing, playing tennis and coaching the local youngsters, reading some more, or sitting in the back garden with a bottle of wine contemplating philosophy or the smell of the ozone from the Irish Sea. There’s a lot to be said for that long commute, trust me.

Apologies for such an eminently self-satisfied and bourgeois post on an ostensibly anarchist blog. But fuck it, even anarchists commute.

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