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Slowly Does It

Let’s face it, we are generally obsessed with speed. We’re fascinated with Usain Bolt’s recent world 100 metres record of 9.58 seconds. We are impressed by the latest fibre optic cable broadband that can download the average length film in less than 20 seconds or all the episodes of “Friends” in under 10 minutes.

We marvelled at the first Japanese high speed “bullet” train that travelled from Tokyo to Osaka at 130 m.p.h. and cut the journey time from 4hours to a little over 3 hours. We were proud when British Rail introduced the “125” trains in 1967 even though these trains travelled slightly slower than the famous Mallard which set the speed record for the fastest steam train in the world of 126 m.p.h. back in July 1938 which stands to this day. We are now in a state of shock over the claim that HS2 will cut the time of a journey from Leeds to London from 2 hours and 12 minutes to only 82 minutes. Of course it  will be about 25 years before this happens by which time we may not want to go to London anyway and, more worryingly, everyone in London might want to come to Yorkshire for lunch!

This love of speed is not new. In 1866, The Great Tea Race saw clippers sailing from China to Britain in just over 3 months. The record was bound to be broken after The Suez Canal was opened three years later and by 1872, The Cutty Sark had sailed from Australia to Britain in only 67 days. In the twentieth century, attention turned to the Atlantic crossings. In 1935, Harold Hales formalised his own rules for the crossing, commissioned a trophy that was made in Sheffield but he did not usurp the rights to The Blue Riband. In 1952, The Queen Mary lost the record that she had held since 1938 to the SS United States which had been specifically built to challenge for The Blue Riband and did so cutting the crossing time to 3 1/2 days.

In the air, it has taken only a hundred years for aircraft to have increased their speed from the Wright Brothers flying Kitty Hawk at 6.8 m.p.h. to the unmanned NASA hypersonic jet at 7546 m.p.h. On land, over much the same time the record increased from a gentle 39 m.p.h. to a far more exhilarating 763 m.p.h.

The phrase “Fast Food” was only coined in 1951 and yet one of its major exponents, Macdonalds, now has over 31,000 restaurants around the world and has set a standard for speed of service followed by many others. The first TV frozen dinner was a Thanksgiving turkey special that appeared two years later, manufactured by C.A. Swanson & Sons. They surprised themselves by exceeding their initial expectation of selling 5000 meals and sold 10 million in the first year. The attraction was clearly speed (it took only 25 minutes to heat up) and convenience.

But not everything needs to be so fast. The Slow Food Movement was established in Italy in 1986 and now has 100,000 members worldwide. Their aim is to promote local food production and consumption using traditional cooking methods and recipes. This inevitably leads to more languid and reflective meals which can be enjoyed leisurely and slowly by family and friends. In today’s hurly burly life, such time for reflection and fun is becoming all too rare and all the more necessary. We may at times struggle to keep abreast of technological advances but we also need time to absorb them and adapt them to our own lives. If we move too fast and do’t allow time to ponder and reflect, then we run the risk of making more and more mistakes because decisions have been taken unnecessarily rashly.

We should be proud of the 22 world land and water speed records that Malcolm Campbell and his son Donald broke between 1924 and 1964 and there are clearly times when we must act urgently but we must also recognise that speed is not necessarily everything. Aesop’s fable “The Tortoise and The Hare” tells us this most poignantly but if that race was ever to be run again, the hare may well have learned his lesson and win but the tortoise will undoubtedly have a far better dinner.