I LONG TO BE ABLE TO READ A BOOK DUR­ING THE DAY

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Lifestyle -

Can any­one tell me what hap­pened to April and May? They were gone be­fore I had a chance to get to grips with them, and they are two of my favourite months of the year. I am told that it is some­thing to do with age: it makes the days, the weeks and the months seem to speed by ever faster. It makes me feel re­sent­ful, es­pe­cially when a bright day dawns af­ter rain and the whole world seems to sparkle. I get up early as a rule, be­tween 5am and 7am. But be­fore I know where I am, it is dusk and the black­bird is singing from the chim­ney tops to sig­nal the end of an­other 24 hours. Then I read that HS2 will cut the jour­ney time from Lon­don to Birm­ing­ham by 20 min­utes, and I am meant to be pleased. Life will then move even faster, for you can bet that the 20 min­utes saved will be swal­lowed up some­where, and that none of us will feel that we have gained time – sim­ply re­al­lo­cated it. I find my­self mus­ing on the likely con­se­quences of such haste. When I first came to Lon­don from York­shire as a stu­dent in the late Six­ties, the jour­ney time by train from Leeds to Lon­don King’s Cross was about four-and-a-half hours. Now that jour­ney can be ac­com­plished in two-and-a-half. Do we need to make that jour­ney even quicker, and if so, why? How fast is fast enough? We need new run­ways and new air­ports, we’re told. Why? If you can’t get on a flight, stay at home. It’s quite nice here and you don’t have to take off your belt and your shoes ev­ery time you want to go any­where. Travel used to broaden the mind; now it sim­ply ir­ri­tates the pants off you (and the belt and the shoes). The same is true on the roads. That white van man who cuts you up – why does he need to go at such a lick? He is work­ing, yes, and clearly has a laud­able work ethic, but to­mor­row he will have for­got­ten to­day and it will not make a jot of dif­fer­ence whether he ar­rived two min­utes early or three min­utes late. All he re­ally did was an­noy you and other road users. And why does he travel so close be­hind? Will those three or four yards he in­sists on tak­ing up re­ally make a dif­fer­ence to his time of ar­rival? Of course not: all that the lack of space be­tween your back bumper and his front one will do is make him more tense as he chivvies you along, and you fear­ful that if a cat runs out in front of you, sev­eral tonnes of van will end up in your back seat. Ev­ery now and then, it would be good for all of us to as­sess the speed of our lives and see whether some­thing can be done to re­duce our miles per hour. I know that the hands of the clock will turn at ex­actly the same speed as they have done since time im­memo­rial, but we can kid our­selves into feel­ing that they go just that lit­tle bit more slowly. Sit­ting and do­ing noth­ing is a good way of stretch­ing time, al­though, for most of us, it is one of the hard­est things to achieve. I long to be able to read a book dur­ing the day, for in­stance, with­out feel­ing guilty. I read ev­ery night in bed be­fore turn­ing out the light, but to open a book in day­light hours, ex­cept when on hol­i­day, seems a crim­i­nal of­fence. Then there is sit­ting and star­ing. When did you last in­dulge yourself in such a he­do­nis­tic pur­suit? I don’t mean sit­ting in the gar­den, spot­ting a weed and leap­ing up to pull it out. No; the real achieve­ment is star­ing at it and leav­ing it ex­actly where it is. The pace of life is ex­ac­er­bated in my own case by a patho­log­i­cal ad­dic­tion to punctuality. I sel­dom ar­rive later than five min­utes early. If I got up half an hour ear­lier, could I take the day more gen­tly? Prob­a­bly not. I would be swept along by the speed of other folks’ ac­tions. Do not mis­un­der­stand me – I am not mak­ing a case for sloth, sim­ply for a more sen­si­ble pace of life. Our pre­de­ces­sors seemed to have un­der­stood this rather bet­ter than us. The work­ing lives of our grand­par­ents, though hard in the ex­treme, were not, it seems to me, taken at such break­neck speed. They did not have to re­spond to emails within min­utes; they could save up for a Penny Black, find the parch­ment paper and the seal­ing wax, the quill and the ink and care­fully craft a re­ply that would then be dis­patched by the mail coach. What a lovely thought… I can­not ad­vo­cate a re­turn to those te­dious af­ter­noons of Ge­or­gian Bri­tain, when the up­per classes needed to find umpteen point­less ways of killing time, but how I would love just half an hour where that was the prob­lem to be faced. I never have to kill time – it com­mits sui­cide right in front of me. Most of us who imag­ine that re­tire­ment will of­fer a way of slow­ing the clock are liv­ing in cloud cuckoo land, for Parkin­son’s law comes into play at ex­actly that mo­ment, and the work ex­pands to fill the time avail­able. A friend who worked in a high-pow­ered po­si­tion on a na­tional news­pa­per con­fessed to me that his life in re­tire­ment was so busy that he could not un­der­stand how he ever found the time to work. And yet, in the face of all these dif­fi­cul­ties, I will strive to spin out my days, to re­main serene and calm in the face of the fran­tic ac­tiv­ity of those around me. Where pos­si­ble, I will travel off­peak by train – al­ways a calm­ing pur­suit, ex­cept for the days when they have en­gi­neer­ing works, and I shall take an ear­lier train than I re­ally need, so that if it is de­layed, it won’t mat­ter and I will have just man­aged to read more of that book that I felt guilty pick­ing up. When the train ap­proaches my des­ti­na­tion, I will not stand up and get my coat from the rack be­fore it has reached the sta­tion. No – I shall wait un­til the train has come to a halt and ev­ery­one else has el­bowed each other out of the way. Then I will rise to my feet un­hin­dered by a sea of bod­ies, take down my coat and my lug­gage, leave the train and walk down the plat­form af­ter all the bustling pas­sen­gers have de­parted. It is only a lit­tle ges­ture in the di­rec­tion of a calmer life, and yet it might just be worth mak­ing. Is that the time? Must dash…

Life’s a blur: the next time I travel by rail, I shall wait un­til the train has come to a halt, and ev­ery­one else has el­bowed each other out of the way, be­fore I rise to my feet un­hin­dered by a sea of bod­ies

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