Friday, January 25, 2013
As a nation we are known for keeping to ourselves during our daily commute using papers, headphones and laptops to avoid conversation and eye contact with bus, tube and train passengers.
And our drive to work is often a solitary one – the thought of opening our vehicles to fellow commuters striking fear into our hearts.
But a group of five friends from Norfolk have shown that sharing can pay off – financially and emotionally – as they have been successfully travelling to and from work together for nearly 20 years.
Since 1993, Brian Bircham, Mark Custance, Tony Oliver, Jan Noble and Michael (Mike) Brown have been piling into one car and sharing their 23-mile journey from Bradwell to Syfer Technology, at Arminghall, near Norwich.
Through their daily commute, the five, who all work as engineers, have become firm friends and estimate their eco-friendly travels have saved them around 25,000 gallons of fuel – a cost in the region of £100,000.
Together they have worked their way through 37 cars and witnessed the construction of multi-million pound bypasses on the A47.
They have never had an accident, suffered one puncture and endured just a handful of nightmare journeys when heavy snow has hit or the Acle Straight has come to a standstill.
But their travelling club is now taking a diversion as founding member Tony retires next month.
Mike, 54, said: “It’s the end of an era. I suppose we’re almost like a family in some ways. We’ll miss his input and having him around.”
Tony, 64, added: “I shall miss the morning catch up and the banter but I certainly won’t miss the journey; you do tend to get a bit fed up with grinding through the queues.”
The father-of-two first began sharing his journey to work in 1982 when Jan, 55 – whom he knew as a previous colleague at engineering firm Erie Resistor – moved from Ormesby to Bradwell.
Just three years later they were joined by another Erie employee Mark, 49, after he was offered a position at Syfer’s Norwich base. He hopped over from his Gorleston home to Bradwell to fill the third seat.
Mike, another Erie ex-apprentice, was living in Bradwell but working shifts, so had to travel into Syfer independently. But when his position was changed to day working in 1993, he was able to join the club and Brian, 63, filled the final seat after he joined Syfer in the same year.
Each week the commuting companions have taken it in turns to drive, but despite the huge savings, the club has meant they could not splash out on sporty two-seaters.
Mike, who said the existing club members would keep in touch with Tony, added: “We buy our cars with the travelling in mind. There’s nothing worse than the five of you cramped in the car.
“My favourite [cars] have been the ones with air conditioning. When we first started travelling in the summer it was a nightmare, five blokes in a car with the windows wide open.”
Tony, whose favourite car was his first Vauxhall Zafira, added: “Now and again we say that little bit of solitude is quite nice; however I think the benefits of everyone being together far outweighs that and the conversations range from the weather to what we saw on TV to politics. Anything and everything goes and it’s an opportunity to put the world to rights.”
And having a chauffeur at the end of the day has also allowed the friends to immediately start their wind down from the working day.
Tony said: “It’s not unknown for one or more in the back seat to drop off.”
Mike added: “We all go to sleep and have a nap in the evenings when it’s dark, we do look forward to that.”