A little milestone was passed this week when I bought my first car. I learnt to drive five years ago. I wasn’t the sort of person that started lessons as soon as I turned 17. I saw no need, and waited until I was 20. After passing my test, I don’t think I drove for about another two years.
Driving has never particularly appealed to me. A lot of people find it strange that I am so fanatical about motorsport, but have little interest in driving on the road. But for me the pursuits are unrelated. I don’t see the fun in driving on public roads. I find it more stressful and frightening than anything else.
I was lucky because my home town of Kirkcaldy has pretty good public transport connections, so it was easy to see the car as a non-essential luxury. Almost anywhere I needed to go was an easy train or bus journey away.
The current commute
But the past year or so has stretched that idea to breaking point. I now work in St Andrews. Many assume I get there by taking the train to Leuchars then a bus from Leuchars to St Andrews. But I can’t be bothered with the fuss — plus it would be pretty expensive.
Instead, I have generally gone by bus. The plus side is that it is very cheap. You can get a ticket that can be used multiple times across seven days on any journey within Fife. This costs £23 a week. That’s what I used to pay to go to Dunfermline, but the journey to St Andrews is much longer, so is better value for money.
That brings us to the very problem with the journey — its length. The bus journey itself takes 65 minutes. The walk from my house to Kirkcaldy bus station is roughly ten minutes. The walk from St Andrews bus station to my work is roughly ten minutes.
So basically I spend around three hours every day travelling to and from work. That is 15 hours a week. As far as I’m concerned, those 15 hours constitute a full day minus sleep.
I don’t mind the journey so much in the mornings. Even though I am not a morning person, getting up at 6.45am has not been as bad as I had feared. To my amazement, I have never once missed the bus — even if it has involved some Olympic walking in order to catch it. The journey itself is quite a relaxing way to start the day. I could have a wee snooze, listen to podcasts, and generally ease myself into the day.
But the journey on the way home was never so good. At that time of day, you just want to get home as soon as possible. But all of the biggest bus problems have happened on the way home.
There is a bus that leaves St Andrews at 17.10, which is normally fine. But what if that bus doesn’t turn up, or I have to stay behind a bit at work, or someone wants a stop-and-chat? I basically won’t be getting home for at least two hours. For some reason, the bus that leaves at 17.40 only goes as far as Leven, and I have to wait 10 or 15 minutes at Leven to hop on a bus that will get to Kirkcaldy.
The bus is seldom comfortable either, and it can be incredibly stuffy, even in winter. Less fuss by bus? Really?
The decision to buy a car
I became used to the lengthy bus journeys after a while. But it was a real drain on my spare time. The plan has always been to try and move closer to St Andrews, and somewhere that had a good bus connection. But that has taken far longer than I had anticipated.
The final straw came this week when I was trying to work out how I can get to Alloa to visit my brother. When the least fuss-free option was a bus journey that lasts well over an hour and involves changing at Kincardine, that was when I decided: it’s probably time to bite the bullet and buy a car.
It all happened quite quickly. It was not in my mind on Thursday. But I had more or less made the decision to buy a car on Friday. On Sunday, I bought one.
Choosing a Fiat
I opted to buy a Fiat Panda 1.1 Active Eco. I had experienced it as a passenger as my dad has recently bought one too. So I kind of knew what I was getting.
I find it quite an impressive car in terms of bang for your buck. I couldn’t find many cars cheaper that weren’t six-year-old French cars with a million miles on the clock. It’s nice to know also that the Panda’s fuel consumption is pretty good, and its low emissions mean that vehicle tax is £30.
The big thing I felt was the pride in owning a car. I hadn’t expected to feel anything particularly. But I realised that I have placed a lot of responsibility on myself. It is a vote of confidence in myself. The car is easily the largest purchase I have ever made. I think car insurance is almost the second largest!
It feels right to go for a Fiat. There was a big niggle in the back of my brain that somehow buying a Fiat would lead to me indirectly funding Scuderia Ferrari! But beyond that, I quite like Fiats and always have done. The first two cars I remember my dad driving were both Fiat Unos.
After that he bought a Daewoo Matiz, which is the car I drove whenever I ventured out before. But it did not seem like a robust car. Its screeching fan belt was notorious among my friends (it continued to screech even after it was ‘fixed’ two or three times), and it did not feel particularly confident going round corners.
That is not at all ideal if you are trying to drive on one of the windy, hilly roads on the journey towards St Andrews. I have a feeling that the Panda will be better to commute with.
The inevitable downsides
All except for one thing. I will not be able to listen to podcasts while driving. The car comes with an FM / MW radio and a CD player. As far as I’m concerned, that is like buying a PC that still has a floppy drive. At least with a cassette player you can use a cassette adapter to play your iPod through. A CD player is useless.
I love radio. I am also a big fan of DAB radio, which this car will not give me. I will survive sticking to bog standard FM / MW radio stations, but it will be a pain nonetheless. The Panda may be a great value car — but you still get what you pay for.
Who says I always manage to find the negatives?…