Friday, April 27, 2007

April heatwave

I am back from Belgium. I went wearing a scarf and took layers off every day as the temperature rose to 27 degrees centigrade.
Confession time.....I had to compromise with the travelling. I allow myself 1 flight per year and this was it. In the past I would have used flying without a thought;the thought of having to use the trains in England at the moment, based on last experience was too much. I would have liked to use the train again, but the price of the flight was less than if I had taken the train to London and Eurostar. I am not flight per year sounds reasonable in a world where people fly all the time. You may say that that is hypocritical based on what I have written in this blog previously, but in the end, change can only happen gradually, and I am still adapting. I would like to use trains more but quality and value are just not there at the moment.
On the continent though I have been happy with transport provided. Belgian railways even allows you to buy your ticket online and print it off at home. That to me sounds very convenient and saves postage, miles and trees.
Just for comparison, a 2 hour train journey standard ticket costs 16 euros, which is the equivalent of about £ 10. I travelled from one end of the country to the other end ( must have been about 150 miles) return for that price. A ticket to London from my station is at best about £ 45.00. A buspass in Gent for 3 days costs £ 10 allowing me to use any tram, bus etc in the city. One journey from my nearest busstop to nearest town ( 15 miles), costs £ 7.00 in the UK. You can see we have a long way to go.
There were neat signposts in the cities, with clear timetables, and most busses and trams at about 6 to 12 mins intervals. Here you have to wait about 1 hour if you are lucky.
In the city the children take the bus and tram to go to school and it is not unusual for commuters to take 1 hour by train to go to work. I shared a journey with a teacher who every day takes a 45 mins train journey each way to work. Here you could be bankrupt if you attempted that. Over 65’s travel free after 9 am and pay about £ 1.50 for a train journey.
I can see some other advantages : If the public transport system is reliable, clean and on time, you may not need to move home so often. Were there still cars...sure.

There have been changes by airline companies too. The flights to my nearest airport have been reduced to 2 per day. The plane they used was completely full to capacity and was a small plane. In the past I have been to Belgium in a half empty plane. They no longer provide food and meals on board which must also reduce the amount of packaging and rubbish generated. Its a bit tricky with security at the moment that you cannot take your own drink which leaves you at the mercy of expensive water but there you go, small sacrifice for safety.

The heat was palpable in the city, many students used bikes to get around ( it is fairly flat there), cafes and terraces were open and people sat and talked. The pollen count rose as many trees and grasses shoot up their pollen in a desperate attempt to behave as if it is July. ( Can we blame them for being confused). The temperature in Gent was the highest it has been in April since recording started in 1830 something. This is therefore an important shift.

How do you therefore find a balance between value, time and quality. It is a difficult dilemma, without investment and commitment to public transport it will never change to gain the interest and loyalty of the consumer and without people using the services provided, the transport providers will say there is no need. Yet, we need change and we need to be persuaded to change. Car emissions and flying are major contributors to global warming.

It has therefore got to be in the hands of the consumer...we have a choice. You may think that my choice was the wrong one and if the choice was purely ecological then I would agree with you. Having spent time searching my conscience and available alternatives, I did the best I could with the resources I have and made a choice. That in itself is an achievement; thinking things through and weighing up each option.

It was not really a holiday as such but I travelled love miles. Many families, as a result of cheap airtravel are settling around the globe and to travel to see them is going to require airtravel or more flexible working to allow you to take 3 months off while you take a boat journey to another continent.

Did my journey have a purpose.....It was not to sit in the sun, to explore foreign parts and soak up a different culture. I was born in Belgium and have many elderly relatives there. I spent time with them which may in itself be priceless. My life was enriched by the details they added to my personal history, their memories of what life used to be like, their fears about our future and the future of the planet and their anxiety about how the younger generation withdraw from society using ipods and MP3 players. You may ask how this is relevant.......Change is happening and faster than you and I think. There were real memories of skating championships on canals that entire communities took part in. These have not been held since 1997 as the ice has simply not been there.

I am human, therefore I am fallible. I try to reduce my footprint but it is hard. Alone I can achieve something but together we could do more. Temptation stands in the way, habits are changed slowly and yet I wish I could do more. What will it take for me to feel the pinch?

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