Get me to school on time

10th June 2005 at 01:00
That rural idyll can turn into a nightmare when you face the realities of cross-country commuting. Kevin Berry explains

You see an advertisement for a wonderful job. It seems an ideal move despite the travelling that is involved. But have you considered how you are going to get to and from school every day? A 20-mile run in the car through lovely countryside? Sounds idyllic? Just the way to unwind?

Get real.

What happens if a bridge is down and there are lengthy diversions for six weeks? Or snow falls as never before and transport is paralysed? Being stuck in a traffic jam for hours on end is no fun - especially when your bladder is getting desperate.

You own a four-wheel drive? So what ? It's not so handy when the roads are clogged up with ordinary two-wheel drive cars.

Big tip: Listen to the radio announcements . One snowy morning I trudged six miles to the nearest railway station and caught the only train that was running in West Yorkshire. It was cramped and it moved painfully slowly. I eventually arrived at my Bradford school five minutes before noon, exhausted and barely able to see through steamed up spectacles. I hadn't noticed the absence of children and colleagues.

"What are you doing here?" the caretaker called out. "The boss rang in and closed the school at eight o'clock. It was announced on Pennine Radio."

I made sure that the Brownie points came my way, but I would rather have stayed in bed.

I know of a teacher who is in his sixteenth year of service at the same school. He commutes 30 miles each way, which means he spends three hours a day in his car. Opportunities have not come his way. He admits to being close to despair. Retirement is 10 years away... if he makes it that long.

Take a moment to add up your commuting time in a week, then a month and so on. The annual total can be frightening. There is little you can do in a car beyond listening to the radio and watching other drivers pick their noses.

Teachers who work on supply teams do enjoy travelling but they are not plying the same route every single day. People expect them to be late occasionally. Colleagues will soon mutter if you are late. If you are persistently late and they have to cover for you, they will soon be suggesting that you move house. Beware the property pages left deliberately open on the staff room table.

Before you apply for that enticing job, try driving to the new school during a busy period. There are roads in every town where the Highways Agency and every utility company seem to send their trainees out to practise digging holes. A road marked with many manhole covers and different patches of tarmacadam is to be avoided. It will be dug up in February and March because that's when managers check their budgets and work out how many holes they can afford to dig before the endof the financial year.

If your mind is made up, then take a driving refresher course with an instructor who charges a lot of money. They are usually the best. Then you must do two things - take the Advanced Driving Test, and study basic car mechanics at night school. Better to fix something in five minutes rather than hang around waiting for a stressed-out breakdown mechanic close to his own personal breakdown.

Treat yourself to a skid-pan session every autumn. It builds confidence.

Such sessions are becoming a popular birthday present, rather like a helicopter ride but much more practical.

Spend some time on a risk-assessment of your route. Where does water lie for long periods? Are there parts of the road where the sun does not shine? Are there regular deposits of mud on certain stretches? Is there an accident black spot? If there is, you will have to deal with occasional road closures and long diversions.

Travelling to a rural school is not all that daunting. Many can be reached if they are on the milk route. Local authorities grit the country lanes so that milk lorries can reach the farms. Work starts early in the countryside and farmers can quickly churn up the snow with their tractors. They can also pull your car out of a snowdrift.

As a relief from driving, use training days, when you have less to carry to school, as a way of trying out alternative routes. The bus, the train, a lift with a colleague, maybe even a bicycle. Having a folding bike is useful to use with a train or a bus ride - ten seconds and it becomes hand luggage. Top designers have looked at folding bikes and revolutionised them. They are expensive but they are worth it.

Whatever you do, aim to make your travelling comfortable rather than merely bearable.

Spare parts

* Advanced Driving Test: The Institute of Advanced Motorists offers instruction. The examiners are holders of the Police Advanced Driving Certificate.

* Skid pan training: some websites advertise locations and skid pan opportunities. Try driving and helicopter rides are advertised in the weekend newspapers, especially near Christmas.

* For folding cycles, talk to your local bike shop. Bike mechanics are far less intimidating than car mechanics. Look for road tests in cycle magazines.

* For adult cycle training contact the Cycle Touring Club: , where you will be put in touch with an instructor who will ride your commuting route with you.

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