Tales of the City: Speedy exit from life as a slow coach

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I've been listening with interest to the daily readings from Radio 4's Book of the Week, namely Carl Honoré's In Praise of Slow, in which the author (shocked to discover the existence of the One-Minute Bedtime Story Book) argues that the whole world is "time-sick", everyone is in too much of a rush, and we should all chill out and savour the passing parade a bit more.

I've been listening with interest to the daily readings from Radio 4's Book of the Week, namely Carl Honoré's In Praise of Slow, in which the author (shocked to discover the existence of the One-Minute Bedtime Story Book) argues that the whole world is "time-sick", everyone is in too much of a rush, and we should all chill out and savour the passing parade a bit more. My once dervish-like colleague Clare Rudebeck recently test-drove Mr Honoré's book, and for about 24 hours, achieved inner calm and an expression of seraphic contentment, but we soon put a stop to that.

Now, I've read the book and approve of its suggestions (Aga fry-ups, tantric sex, joining Speeders Anonymous), but I'm puzzled. Do I really have time for all this medieval lethargy? I'm sure the texture of life was richer when our ancestors took four days to amble round to their cousins 20 miles away, and when conversations went on for hours and were full of meaningful inspections of each other's faces, but how practical is slow-lane life in the modern city?

I decided to give it a try.

8am. Rise slowly from bed. Linger over sl-o-o-o-ow shower, softly laving my weary urban frame with Lentement Monsieur body gel. Mmmmmm. Ve-ry satisfying. Cries of, "Get a bloody move on, it's 20 past!", from stressed family in kitchen. Feel sorry for them. Wrap pampered body in luxuriant Champneys towelling robe. Tearful daughter at bottom of stairs cries, "Mrs Hobbs said she'd skin me alive if I was late again!".

Put children in car, explaining, with maddening calm, new no-rush regimen. Drive to school in robe at 15mph, stopping to allow cars out of side-roads. Gestures of gratitude from all. Different gestures from cars behind, sad and - yes - frenetic people. Arrive 9.03. Children depart cursing. Return home in second gear for leisurely, slow-cook breakfast at 9.30. Seven-minute boiled egg not a success.

11am. Arrive at work, spookily calm after slow ride in hansom cab with ancient, clip-clop, funeral-parlour horses. Boss in panic. "We need," he says, slightly too fast, "2,000 words by 5pm on 'Hip-Hop Parenting: The Next Frontier?'. Can you do it?" I consider his suggestion. "For Christ's sake, man, say yes or I'll go mad," says the boss. "And we'll have a hole in the paper the size of a policem-" I ponder some more. One mustn't rush into these things. "Y-" I begin. "Thank God for that," he says and stamps off.

1pm. Chairman of the Booker judges calls to ask how I'm getting along. "Fine," I say. "Enjoying the challenge. And I've discovered how much more satisfying the whole reading experience is when you sloooow it down." There is a silence. "What?" he says.

"I now read novels ve-ry slooow-ly," I explain. "So much more fulfilling than the old way. It's taken a month to read the new Jeanette. The Hollinghurst should take me until July..." "For God's sake!" he says, with a trace of asperity. "You've got 130 books to get through by August. Speed up, will you?" I explain about the intense marinating quality of slooow reading, but he hangs up (pretty quickly).

1.30pm. I stroll over to Whitechapel in the balmy sunshine to visit my poule de luxe, Daphne. These used to be frantic episodes, full of ripped lingerie and lost socks, but I'm a changed man now. "Oh, hi," she says. "I've got a meeting at 2.30, so we've time for a quickie." "With you, never again a quickie," I say, echoing George Hamilton in Love at First Bite. "Always a longie."

We fall a-kissing, very slowly. I recall what Carl Honoré had said about taking things slowly. By 2.15, we're still kissing. By 2.25, Daphne is waving her hands in (I think) ecstasy. "Get off, you moron!" she cries at length. "Do you think I'm a lump of chewing-gum?" I explain to her about the five-hour Slow Release of Ecstasy, but she huffs away in her Prada suit, slamming the door.

Back at work, I take my time, staring out the window at the fleecy clouds over Mudchute Harbour (why had I never gazed like this before?) and thinking slow but brilliant thoughts about the article. The words appear on the computer screen - fluently, calmly, logically. Carl Honoré had been right all along...

"HAVE YOU FINISHED THAT SODDING PIECE YET?" the boss shouts in a stressed, old-fashioned, Fleet Street sort of way.

"It's going really well, boss," I say. "It's, ah, 378 words so far, but they're wonderfully, serenely..."

"It's 5.30, and we're going to press any minute now," he hisses. "You're fired."

Well, that's a bit of a blow, I think as I clear my desk - sl-o-o-owly, deliciously, savouring every unearthed Strepsil, every excavated billet-doux in the top drawer - but it will give me more time in the future to share with my loved ones, with Nature, with the silken textures of the forgotten world. It's just a shame that the Cult of Speed is the one with the salary attached.

Invasion of a different sort

The physical abuse of Iraqi prisoners by their American captors - where did all that come from? Where did the nasty, sadistic prison screws get the idea that they could invade the personal space of the vanquished, and subject their flesh to intimate touching, to rude penetration and casual fingering, as if they were no better than pieces of meat - and then photograph it all going on, for the amusement of others? Donald Rumsfeld, while regretting that such things had happened, seemed to imply that it was all a bit beneath him, that this revolting behaviour was going on at the bottom of the military food-chain. I'm not so sure.

The licence to treat captured Iraqis as nonces, to be interfered with any way you please, comes from the capture of Saddam Hussein in December, and the pictures of "army doctors" (yeah, right) poking and prodding around in his cheeks and throat for the edification of the CNN cameras.

I thought at the time that it was a bit unnecessary, a bit gross and gloating, and would cause trouble - since Arabs do not take kindly to having their flesh touched and invaded by infidels. I didn't realise that it would be a green light to prison sadists everywhere.

Comments