My day in the fast lane

You'd love to do more with your life - if only you had the time, that is. Then maybe you could meet your ideal partner, learn to speak a new language, sharpen up your appearance. Wrong, says Clare Rudebeck, the only way to have more fun is to get moving. Welcome to the go-faster world of speed living
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Start day by eating a Max-Meal bar. This snack was designed with bodybuilders in mind, but the manufacturers, Maximuscle, claim that it is also "suitable as a meal replacement for people on the go". It tastes of nothing at all, but it does have quite a kick. Eating it takes three minutes, which is much less time than the 15 minutes it normally takes me to boil the kettle and put the bread in the toaster.

Squander the time I have saved by staring longingly at the bread and jam.

My motorbike taxi arrives to take me to work. Passenger Bikes claims that its service cuts journey times in London by half. My usual commute is 40 minutes and costs £2. We take 25 minutes and the fare is £25. But who cares when you're having this much fun? We overtake on the inside and outside. We nip through traffic jams. On the other side of the road, we spot another motorbike taxi with its passenger sitting bolt upright, gripping the handles with a panicked intensity. "It can be hard to find drivers who are both fast and safe," explains my driver, Tom Wickert, who is both.

Am so early for work, I decide I definitely have time for a second breakfast. There are some corners a meal in a bar cannot reach. These are filled by croissant and coffee. I head upstairs with my personal stereo and Michel Thomas's two-hour introductory course to Italian on tape. The accompanying booklet promises that "a knowledge of the language that would take months of conventional study can be achieved in a matter of hours". Perfect. By lunchtime, I will have a "basic foundation" in the language of love. Am hoping to use this new-found knowledge to attract suitors when I go speed dating later on.

According to the booklet, I'm about to experience "the amazing teaching method of the world's greatest language teacher, Michel Thomas". Woody Allen, Princess Grace and Emma Thompson are former pupils. I switch on and Michel welcomes me into the audio classroom. He assures me that his method involves no memorising, no drill, no notes and no homework. Instead, I am to listen to the tape and alarm my co-workers by shouting out Italian phrases. Michel will take responsibility for whether I learn the language or not. I must relax. Michel is my kind of teacher.

Am becoming slightly concerned by Michel's choice of vocabulary. What I'm learning is not so much the language of love as the language of the Italian caff. Phrases such as "I want to have it now!" and "It is not acceptable for me that way!" certainly have their uses in the bedroom, but will they help me to get a man there in the first place?

12 noon
I head to the Italian sandwich bar, Rina's, to try out my new skills. The shop is already crowded with lunchtime customers. I muscle my way to the front (very Italian) and get the staff's attention with one of my new phrases: "Ho fame!" (I'm hungry!)

Richard Tanzi, the bar's Italian owner, says something that I assume means: "What would you like?" I launch into my response, which I will translate as I realise that not every Independent reader will have Italian of my standard. "I want to buy... [realise Michel hasn't taught me any foodstuffs yet]... errr... ciabatta with chicken and avocado." OK, so the last bit was in English.

Am having so much fun ordering people around in Italian, I forget that I really should be moving on by now. Michel may not have taught me how to say "Hello", "How are you?" or "Do you come here often?", but if I ever want to throw a tantrum in a trattoria, I've got all the phrases I need.

Go to Canary Wharf to get my nails done. I do this by riding an electric bicycle. Mine is a Giant LaFree Twist Light. This is an ordinary bicycle with what looks like a large mobile-phone battery strapped to the frame. It also differs from a normal bike in that it costs £869. Electric bicycles are apparently very popular in China, where you can go as fast you like on them. In Britain, your battery can only legally assist you up to a speed of 15mph. I discover this as I hit 25mph before attempting a hill, only to realise that my battery has cut out.

Arrive at Canary Wharf and do a few extra laps. With this bike, you do not really feel hills or headwinds. Not realising that you are power-assisted, passers-by are forced to assume that you are incredibly fit.

Am 15 minutes overdue for a 10-minute manicure. In nail-bar terms, I am terribly late. As the manager of Nails Inc, Claudia Robertson, juggles her appointments, I notice a photo on the wall of a woman jamming her zebra-print nail into a man's mouth. Am not convinced of the eroticism of this gesture, but make mental note just in case I get lucky at speed dating.

My manicurist, Banny Ng, is available and I present my nails for inspection. "You really need the 30-minute treatment," Banny tells me. "The 10-minute treatment is designed for people who have a manicure regularly." I quickly discover that you can't rush a good nail. Claudia suggests that I go for a deep red varnish. "Come over to the dark side," she says encouragingly. Banny is not so sure, suggesting something lighter. I have three nails painted different colours so that I can see what I like.

Make decision on nail colour.

Leave nail bar with strict instructions to touch nothing for 15 minutes. However, I am behind schedule and decide to risk it with the bike.

Cycling was not a good idea. I arrive back at the office with five good nails (on the left hand) and five smudged ones (on the right, owing to a bit of heavy braking). But I have no time to worry about this as I am due for a two-hour lesson in the art of drawing. Turning on my Yes, You Can Draw! video, I am immediately told by my on-screen instructor, Nancy Margulies, to turn it off again. First I have to complete my pre-instruction drawing. When I switch the video back on, Nancy tells me that she is going to take this drawing and "make it look like it was drawn by an artist - the artist within you!" Although inspired, I'm a little upset that she has assumed that my drawing is absolute crap.

Have completed my first sketch under Nancy's tuition. The key, I have learnt, is to imagine that you can draw. And not to get bogged down by things you can't do. "I never spend time on ears!" Nancy tells us. Changing her outfits a lot also seems to help Nancy. Clutching my efforts, I head over to The Independent's arts desk for some informed criticism. My pre-instruction drawing is praised for its "untrained gaiety" (so there, Nancy). And, apparently, my second attempt has been heavily influenced by the work of Euan Uglow. Have no time to find out who he is.

Open my copy of A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. I've only got two hours before I need to leave for speed dating, but I have a secret weapon: Instant Time Management by Brian Clegg. Exercise 4.43 in this book, entitled "Rampant Reading", advises me to use my finger to read. "Or you may find a pencil-end less embarrassing than a finger," Brian suggests helpfully. By running this smoothly under each line of the text, I will experience "a marked increase in reading rate".

Disappointing. Am on page 33 and still mystified by the theory of relativity. However, I have learnt a few pieces of trivia that may prove useful when trying to impress my dates. 1) Newton probably wasn't hit on the head by an apple. 2) Stephen Hawking admits (on page 15 of the paperback edition) that the quest for a unified theory about the universe is actually pretty pointless. 3) The theory of relativity proved that time is not absolute. Am particularly taken by this fact. If only I could travel at the speed of light, time would stand still. This is, however, impossible.

Take Tube into London (have had enough of bikes), and arrive at my speed-dating event. Twenty-five girls sit round the walls of the room and 25 men sit opposite them. I have three minutes to decide whether each date is the man of my dreams.

Unfortunately, none of these men seems to be the one I've been waiting for all my life. However, some could have proved useful earlier in the day. Richard gives me some useful drawing tips. And Jim thinks he might be able to explain the theory of relativity. Unfortunately, he's only just got started when our three minutes are up.

Still no husband, but I have lost my innocence. Tim tells me about the time he went on a date with a woman he'd met through speed dating and she casually mentioned over dinner that she had a husband. Peter tells me that to guard against crafty married women he always asks for a landline number. "Never trust someone who only gives you their mobile number," he says. He reckons about 40 per cent of speed daters are already in relationships (although he assures me that he is not).

"Speed networkers put your hands in the air!" announces Oli Barrett. It's been a long day, but I've made it to my last appointment and I do as I'm told. "Speed networkers don't be shy! Come on to the dance floor!" he coos. "There must be an easier way to meet clients," mutters a woman to my left. Speed networking, it turns out, is similar to musical statues, except that when the music stops, instead of freezing you must engage the person next to you in conversation for three minutes.

An hour later, I have met, among others, a relationship counsellor, an IT specialist, a publisher and a entrepreneur. There was only one I wished would freeze when the music stopped, but that was because he kept spitting on my face.

Back home, I reflect on my day. The only tangible remains are chipped fingernails and a handful of business cards. However, I now have a command of enough Italian to give British tourists a bad name, the basics of portrait drawing and three facts about physics. I have met 25 potential husbands (although no actual husband) and 25 business contacts whom I may call (if I can find their business cards in my bag).

Life in the fast lane has not changed me. But, rather like some of my newly manicured nails, I look a bit classier - as long as you don't scratch the surface.