Wave the car goodbye;Mind and body

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
If you're left fuming by the daily drive through traffic-clogged streets, try getting on your bike, or your skateboard, or even your skis.

Steven Hastings goes in search of alternatives to internal combustion.

The average British worker spends 328 hours a year in the state of enforced confinement known as commuting by car. Over the average working life, according to another government statistic, this adds up to a year spent bumper to bumper in crawling traffic on clogged arterial routes. But it doesn't have to be this way. After all, not everyone is the average commuter.

The journey to work can be fun, healthy and invigorating -as good a reason as any for getting out of bed in the morning.

We all know walking or cycling to work would be good for us. Adrian Davis, adviser to the British Medical Association, claims that escaping the sedentary trap of commuting by car is one of the best lifestyle decisions we can take. "It's a win-win situation," he says. "Cycling to work is a great way of getting the minimum physical activity you need to be healthy. Your exercise becomes a part of your daily routine, so there's no need to join an expensive health club."

If a five-mile cycle journey to work seems daunting, then Robert Bryant, of Recumbant Cyclist magazine, recommends you take it lying down. "With a recumbant bicycle there's no more aching back, stiff neck or sore bottom; you just settle back into a nice, easy-chair position and enjoy the view."

Tim Gunn, of Aythorpe Roding in Essex, claims the view is even better from his own choice of bicycle, a penny-farthing. Riding carries, however, the risk of a nine-foot fall and has taken him six years to master. He uses his "penny" for work and pleasure. "It's like riding nothing else," he says, and this can be reflected in price tags of up to pound;12,000. So, if you're thinking of riding one to school, make sure the bike sheds are secure.

For a cheaper set of wheels, consider in-line skates. More and more teachers are skating to work. In fact in Brighton and Hove it's getting so popular there's now a mini-rush hour along the sea-front. Peter Hill, a careers teacher from Hove, is one of the converts. He claims the benefits are mental as well as physical and that it sharpens him up for the day ahead.

In the United States, skating to work has become a social activity. At Moscow High School, in Idaho, seven teachers skate to school together each morning. Karla Harman, a physical education teacher, says they find it "a great stress buster", and "it's nice for the kids to see us doing something different".

For teachers really seeking credibility points from their pupils, skate-boarding is the streetwise choice. Greg Palmer, who works in London, adopts an integrated transport approach. He uses his board on the streets, tucking it under his arm to hop on the Tube. "It's smooth and fun, and makes every day a bonus," he says.

Skateboarding, skating, and even cycling are best in flat, well-surfaced areas. But different geographical challenges call for different solutions.

Peter Bissett and Jean McKenzie are the staff at Luing Primary School, Argyll and Bute. As they live on the mainland and the school is on an island they have no choice but to take to the water for their daily journey. The ferry that takes them to work holds just six cars, and the journey is all over in two minutes. None the less, bad weather can frequently lead to the crossing being cancelled.

At Tobermory High School on the Isle of Mull, teachers and pupils also arrive by ferry, and have a series of routines worked out to cope with bad weather. "We have to rely on the ferry company to keep us informed in case the boats are unable to make the crossing," says James Bell, who travels daily to Mull from Lochaline on the mainland. "Sometimes we have to leave school early or use our emergency accommodation arrangements if we can't get home."

For the seven children at school on the Isle of Gigha in Argyle, the day sometimes starts late because the one ferry from the mainland cannot get the teacher, Josephine Blount, to school for a 9am start. "The headteacher lives at the school," she explains "but if she's away, at a meeting or something, the children have to come in later and have a short lunch-break, or the secretary has to hold the fort until I arrive."

Inclement weather on the way to work isn't just a Scottish problem. Take John Westerlund, director of physical education at Northfield High School in Minnesota, who arrives at work in a face mask. "It's to prevent wind damage," says John, whose winter journey includes an eight-mile, cross-country ski.

Arriving to take classes at the Glaciology Field Centre in Tarfala, northern Sweden, teachers John Moore and Peter Jansson need to wrap up even more warmly. Transport from the nearest railway station is by snowmobile for the first five kilometres, after which there's the small matter of some uphill skiing. Cross-country skis are useless in the harsh terrain, and the staff need special alpine touring skis to make the journey. "We carry avalanche transponders, ropes, harnesses, ice axes and crampons, just in case," says John Moore.

If this kind of overland exertion isn't your thing, you could always take to the air. Judith Howe, an infant teacher in Nottinghamshire, belongs to Sheffield Aero Club. She loves flying for a hobby, but for others at the club it is a way of long-distance commuting. They fly syndicate-owned, two-seater Cessner aircraft, which they claim are much cheaper and more flexible than commercial flights. But the fuel bill is still heavy, weighing in at around pound;30 an hour.

Michael Dale, a modern languages teacher in Lancashire, manages to trim his fuel bill down to a bale of hay and handful of oats by riding to work on Bertie, his horse. "It began as a way of exercising Bertie when I was busy and having to stay late," he says, "I'm lucky that there's a livery stable just down the road from school. It's a fantastic way to start the day. I really miss the fresh air on the days I drive in."

Not that driving to work necessarily means a lack of fresh air. Steve Allen of the Vintage Sports Car Club, regularly makes his 60-mile round journey in a 1933 Morgan - three wheels, no roof. "It's a car," he insists, "not a museum piece."

While some people choose their means of travel out of necessity and others for its health benefits, plenty of people just want to make the journey as much fun as possible. If travelling to work is going to account for a year of your life, then that makes sense.

But if you still can't find a way of commuting to suit you, the place to teach is the Australian outback, where the vast distances involved mean lessons are conducted by two-way radios, often home-made. Carmel Orchid is one such teacher "Yes," she confesses, "I have taught the odd lesson from the comfort of my bed."

Sheffield Aero Club, tel: 01909 475233. Vintage Sports Car Club,tel: 01608 644777. Old Bicycle Co (penny-farthings), tel: 01279 876209

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