With the gradual opening up of the UK economy after the third Covid lockdown, it is a good time to reflect on one of the things that helped me through the stay-at-home enforcement. Yes, you guessed right: my car.
You may have seen stories in the press about people wanting to move out of London as a result of the pandemic, in part looking for more space, and gardens in which to watch wildlife and birds. Many attribute this to the fear of being stuck at home again in cramped conditions and remote working has caused them to revaluate what really matters to them. Even as things start to get back to normal, people are willing to accept a longer commute knowing they can work from home for 2 or 3 days a week.
Well, I’m here to propose another idea. The movement out of London is actually due to a desire to own a car, have their own driveway, and drive to work.
My rationalisation for this is based upon the following 10 activities that kept me functioning during the lockdown with children.
1. Taking the car to the carwash
To many people this might seem like a chore. The drive to the nearest IMO, the 10-minute queue, and then 5 minutes sitting in the car watching the blue flaps swat away the dirt from your car, which seemed to get filthy more often during lockdown, mainly because everyone on the street I live on has been doing some form of DIY.
I always took the kids. Loaded up with a mini bag of popcorn it was like a visit to a theme-park without the hassle of driving to Chessington, which was shut anyway. They loved it and we got a clean car.
Time Used: 30 minutes
Frequency: Weekly per car
Pros: Strap them in, you have little to worry about.
Cons: None – easily, the best in-car entertainment for kids
2. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto testing
The Eloy app has evolved during Covid, going from an idea to a prototype to a full launch with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.
Apple CarPlay testing
I have written previously about testing Apple CarPlay, but this was also a good way to do work whilst keeping the kids entertained at the same time. They keep asking who Siri is. And they were able to learn a few of the Eloy voice commands such as ‘Drive to favourite location’ and ‘Report road incident’.
Time Used: 60minutes
Frequency: Daily over 1 month
Pros: Strap them in, you have little to worry about. Combined work and parenting.
Cons: Children pushing buttons (your buttons and the car’s buttons).
3. Building the go-kart
With schools closed, no childcare support, and with both parents working in our household, we needed to think of some creative ways of preventing the kids from getting bored whilst keeping up with their schoolwork.
Out went the schoolbooks, and in came wood, drills, old lawnmower parts, and a saws the kids could build their own car.
Whilst technically nothing to do with the Skoda parked on the driveway, getting the kids obsessed with their own car made a lot of the other activities more exciting.
Time Used: 2-3 hours a day for 2 months
Pros: Combined work, parenting, and home schooling
Cons: Need to be careful with power tools
4. The sleep drive
Although, the routine forced on us by lockdown has made some things easier, a lack of things to do has sometimes meant children have got bored or frustrated. And as all parents will attest to, this tends to manifest itself at bedtime.
Enter the sleep drive. Aimlessly driving around gives one parent a break and the little nippers usually fall asleep after 3 laps of the ring road.
Cost: £2 (petrol)
Time Used: 20 mins
Pros: No shouting.
Cons: Need to transfer from the car to bed. Pollution.
I never would have planned this as a fun activity for kids, but letting the air out of the car tyres and then pumping them back up again proved to be a hit.
We discovered this when pumping up the children’s pedal bikes and they asked if we could do the same with the car. Various iterations of the game developed depending on whether we used the foot-pump or the more powerful electric pump. Plus, the odd trip to the petrol station air pump also took place.
Time Used: 15 mins
Pros: Could teach a little physics at the same time.
Cons: Can’t drive the car in an emergency.
6. Washing the car on the driveway
We predominantly used this in the first lockdown in May 2020, when the sun was out, and before I discovered the alternative car-wash entertainment.
Simply fill a few buckets up with warm water, buy some large yellow sponges, and get the kids into their swimmers. Water fights usually followed, so make sure you are first to the hose and give the kids the less powerful water guns.
Time Used: 45 mins
Frequency: Weekly to clean the car, daily for water fun
Pros: They want a water fight, you get a clean car
Cons: Nobody is going to see your very clean car.
7. Car cleaning game
Cleaning the inside of the car is one of my most hated chores, but luckily, I found the kids would happily spend up to an hour clearing the rubbish (mostly left by them to be fair) and vacuuming the car.
Cleaning the car
Things to note: they liked to vacuum up everything. So, when they took their socks off, the socks ended up in the Henry.
Time Used: 1 hour
Pros: Clean car
Cons: Nobody is allowed to see your clean car.
8. Musical car seats
One of the big reasons why car ownership will continue is that cars are not just a mode of transport. They are a place of storage. The main thing we store in the car are child car seats and we won’t be putting them into a rented self-driving car-shared Uber in the future.
The children enjoyed moving the car seats around to find every combination available in a 7- seater SUV with 6 available places for 3 car seats. We even squeezed in some advanced statistics: there are 126 different ways you can arrange those seats into the car. Each combination used up 10 minutes to set up … that’s 21 hours of child entertainment.
Time Used: 21 hours
Frequency: spread over 3 days
Pros: Virtually none
Cons: Scratched hands as you try to unhook the Isofix.
9. Petrol science
This game never really took off as the cars didn’t go anywhere during lockdown and my children weren’t quite as interested in the workings of the internal combustion engine as I am. But we spent some time discussing why petrol goes into the car and why we will all be using electric charging at home in the future.
Time Used: 0 hours
Pros: Virtually none
Cons: Didn’t use up much time
10. Car electronics
This was a broad lesson for the children. Firstly, with the cars out of action for much of lockdown, I unhooked the car battery. This accomplished 2 things. It stopped the battery running down whilst the car sat on the driveway for months, but it was also a good way to reset an issue with the car window: it was struggling to stay shut and kept re-opening. Unhooking the battery is a simple way to reset the car electronics and remove this glitch.
I was also able to show the children how to change a car headlamp. This was towards the “jobs to be done” list that we created at the start of lockdown.
Cost: £11.99 for the headlamp
Time Used: 1 hour
Pros: Vital tasks
Cons: Oil on my hands
Cars are part of the family
I’m very sceptical about ride-sharing outside of city centres. Eloy has mentioned time and again that vehicles are not just a means of transport but also a mode of storage. For those with children, the convenience of car seats, snacks, and clothes will always trump any ride-sharing offering if you can afford your own vehicle.
Covid-19 may have limited road travel during lockdown, but it has encouraged much more car use since lockdown has ended, with more vans and lorries on the roads and we expect more private car use as people shy away from public transport. (London bus use is down 50%, and underground use is down by about 75% as I write this).
Most importantly the children see the cars as part of the family – that’s why they call them Minty (VW Polo) and Kody (Skoda Kodiaq).