Speed isn’t everything as life all too quickly passes us all by
LET’S face it, we’re 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 15 minutes.
We are bewildered by speed dating and confused by supermarket “fast lanes” that seem to discriminate against those with most shopping.
We marvelled at the first Japanese high speed “bullet” train travelling from Tokyo to Osaka at 130mph. 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 mph back in 1938, a record that still stands. We are now in shock over the claim that HS2 will cut the time of a journey from Leeds to London from two hours and 12 minutes to only 82 minutes. Of course, it will be 20 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.
This love of speed is not new. In 1866, The Great Tea Race saw clippers sailing from China to Britain in just over three months. After The Suez Canal was opened in 1872, The Cutty Sark sailed from Australia to Britain in only 67 days. In the 20th century, attention turned to the Atlantic crossings. In 1935, Harold Hales formalised rules for the crossing, commissioned a trophy that was made in Sheffield but still did not usurp the rights to The Blue Riband. In 1952, The Queen Mary lost the record held since 1938 to the SS United States and cut the crossing time to three and a half days.
In the air, it has only taken 100 years for aircraft to have increased their speed from the Wright Brothers flying Kitty Hawk at 6.8mph to the unmanned Nasa hypersonic jet at 7546 mph. On land, the record increased from a gentle 39mph to a far more exhilarating 763mph.
The phrase “fast food” was only coined in 1951 and yet one of its major exponents, McDonalds, now has more than 31,000 restaurants around the world and has set the standard for speed of service. The first TV frozen dinner was a Thanksgiving turkey special that appeared two years later, manufactured by CA 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. Ready meals can now be heated up even more quickly in microwaves.
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 with 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 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 don’t allow time to ponder, then we run the risk of making more mistakes because decisions have been taken unnecessarily rashly. Speed simply doesn’t necessarily mean quality. We should be proud of the speed records that have been broken and there are clearly times when we must act urgently but we must also recognise that too much speed, for example on the roads, is undesirable. Aesop’s The Tortoise and The Hare tells us this most poignantly. 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.
Robin and Patricia Silver own The Home at Salts Mill, Saltaire, www.thehomeonline.co.uk