It’s a truism about eccentricity that eccentrics don’t perceive themselves as such. And conversely, anyone who actively claims to be eccentric is merely putting on airs. I have no idea if Clare and I are eccentric or not. Whatever … we get the strong impression that people find it eccentric that we use a particular wheeled vehicle.
In part, it arose from the fact that we don’t drive. Both Clare and I rode motorbikes in our younger days, and got out of the habit for various reasons (for me, falling off a couple of times on icy roads, even though not at great speed, put me off it), but never upgraded to the car. This isn’t normally an issue; we tailor our lives around local shopping and public transport. But there are times when things need carrying around town, things too heavy and/or bulky to hand-carry.
The solution arrived when we lived in Hall Green, a suburb of Birmingham. Walking home one evening, we saw a skip containing some bricks that were just the ticket for a greenhouse base we were building; and handily, there was also a sturdy pram to transport them home in (it was a discarded Silver Cross, the Rolls Royce of prams – new ones cost upward of £1000 now). For some reason, we kept it, and rapidly found that its uses expanded, particularly to bringing home the week’s shopping from the nearest supermarket – not a light job, as along with our food, it included canned food for three cats.
We brought the pram habit with us down to Devon, and seventeen years and three prams later – despite a dwindling supply due to the popularity of lightweight collapsible buggies – we still have one. We’ve used the current pram (pictured above) for carting various things: grow-bags from the garden centre; the cats in their baskets to and from the vet; the materials for Clare’s annual craft fair to and from the local hall; boxes of books from my mother-in-law’s flat clearance to the charity shop; and compost buckets to a friend’s bin at the allotment. At Topjam, a local music group I go to, it has become known as the RRATD – Ray’s Russian Accordion Transportation Device – because I also use it to carry my accordion, as I’ve said a big button-key job that weighs about two stone (over 12kg).
If that’s eccentric, so be it. We’ve learned to ignore the funny looks and hearing “Where’s the baby?” jokes for the hundredth time. But is it so weird? For all of these trips, it provides a simple, human-powered alternative to using a car, for which short journeys are the least fuel-efficient. It’s surprising that the idea hasn’t caught on. A quick look on Google shows that transport carts do exist for industrial and storehouse applications, but they’re affairs with silly little flutter-prone castors, at the level of supermarket trolleys. Someone needs to invent, and find a way to market despite its uncool image (maybe by appealing to its Green merits) a large-wheeled transport cart for medium-distance outdoor journeys like these. It’ll look very like a pram.