Tuesday, 17 October 2006

slow travel, slow trains?

Inspired by a colleague, I took Carl Honoré's "In Praise of Slow" on a weekend trip to Cornwall. I decided to right down at bit about the slow experience..

13 October 2006

This morning I left in plenty of time to catch the 9.34 train to Birmingham New Street to connect with the Virgin Voyager train to Plymouth. Travelling with my bicycle, I was nervous about ascending the train with crowds of people, so I took the advice of the ticket office advisor to arrive early. The train turned up 15 minutes late after sending its passengers the length of platform 5 twice in anticipation of the train's expected arrival. I spent the entire duration of the journey to Birmingham wondering if I would make the all important connection to Plymouth.

After upsetting numerous passengers with the presence of my bicycle, I fled the train in Birmingham, to the nearest lift. Thankfully there were two minutes between my emergence on the correct platform and the departure of the 11.12 train to Plymouth. My legs were shaking in fear of missing the said train as I was informed that the next one would not depart for another 2 hours. The prospect of spending that amount of time in the dark depths of Birmingham's main station was too frightening a thought.

Taking a deep breath, I fell into the bright red Virgin Voyager seat and reached for my chosen travelling campanion, Honoré's "In Praise of Slow".

It soon became clear that the last hour and a half of my life was more significant than I imagined. Not because, having missed the train I would arrive at my ultimate destination hours late, but because the notion of time had totally absorbed my very being for the duration of the first morning of my weekend holiday. Rewinding further to when I first opened my eyes this morning, my schedule was fixed and everything I would go to do from that moment onward would be dictated by the notion of passing seconds, minutes, hours. It would influence my outlook on other humans, my work and the world around me.

I say work as the question popped into my mind between Nottingham and Birmingham New Street that, could time ultimately destabilise the very foundations on which ecoescape is built? In other words, if trains were unreliable, how could I be promoting this supposed alternative to the fast, angry, aggressive car? Thankfully Honoré's text came to me at just the right moment and my perceptions were tilted as swiftly as they became warped into an irrevocable situation.

It reminded me that ecoescape was born from the Slow movement. The fact that the train was late actually pales in its significance. It's about rejecting "time sickness" and opening up to the moment, the experience and making connections, (even if these aren't timetabled ones).

"In our fast moving modern world, it always seems that the time-train is pulling out of the station just as we reach the platform."

Luckily for me it wasn't entirely the case this morning. But all the same, it's helped start this trip off on a different level, one which coasts time, respects nature's time patterns and slows down.

Interestingly, over the course of the weekend, neither myself or my friends felt the desire to follow any time governed schedule and felt strange when we all had to leave on Monday to return to our fast paced lives. It appears that my watch also felt the need to slow down having lost several hours over the weekend and on Tuesday I woke up to natural daylight (which made me one hour late for work..!).

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