The back page of the Weekend FT’s Life & Arts sections hosts two columns of which I am a regular reader, Tyler Brûlé’s The Fast Lane and Harry Eyres’ The Slow Lane. Tyler is forever jetting off in first class to his Swedish holiday home or Tokyo or Mumbai, full of tips on the best airlines and luggage and local retail offerings. Harry is forever reading Aristotle or watching birds or listening to The Proms. Given my recent embrace of the rural life, I feel I should have more of a natural affinity for The Slow Lane. But the truth is that I am just a little bedazzled by the life of Tyler. I always read The Fast Lane first, and not just because it’s at the top of the page.
Real life of late has been a mix of both the fast lane and the slow lane. At 5pm last Thursday, the news broke that I needed to be in Boston in time for Monday morning meetings. Thanks to some surreptitious IMing with the all-knowing, all-powerful administrative assistant Iva during a four hour meeting on Friday afternoon, flights, rental car, and hotel were secured before I left the Hampshire office at 5pm. I was heading back to Gloucestershire to meet out of town guests at the wine bar at 7pm, and while I drove I perused my mental to do list and wondered how I was going to accomplish it between now and when I had to leave for Heathrow on Sunday afternoon: clean bathroom before guests arrive (a feat which would require time travel); find American adaptor for laptop and mobile phone charging; buy toothpaste, hand lotion, tampax, and shaving cream (I had already determined all food related sustenance for husband and guests would have to be provided by the fine pubs and inns of our greater local area); pay buildings insurance; transfer money to unused bank account from which husband had randomly chosen to write a check for the refrigerator repair; do laundry; enter passport details and check-in online. Thanks to the mini grocery stores that grace the UK’s motorway rest stops, I had acquired all absent toiletries before I hit the wine bar. (Is it wrong that I have become so reliant on motorway rest stop grocery shopping that I now have favorites, namely the Marks & Spencer Food at the services just after Reading on the M4 and the Waitrose just after the Oxford exit on the M40?) I did not, however, manage to remember the U.S. adaptor and therefore purchased yet another one after clearing security at Heathrow. I am now quite possibly in possession of the world’s largest adaptor collection, of which I was reminded as I schlepped over to the B Gates of Terminal 5 and wondered what was poking me in the leg. It was in fact the American adaptor I bought last time I “forgot” one, stashed safely in the side pocket of my carry-on bag so I wouldn’t ever “forget” it again.
In contrast, life in Gloucestershire has been quite literally in the slow lane. It’s harvest time and tractors are using the roads to haul crops of corn and oil rapeseed, which serves as an effective yet no doubt infuriating speed deterrent for the hordes of BMW and Range Rover drivers who usually race along the country roads with the urgency of an ambulance. I do not fall into this category (and not just because I drive a Prius), despite the fact that I am perpetually running late. My commute time is my think time, and I think better at an amble anyway. Just on the outskirts of town a corn dryer rumbles away, producing a pleasant backdrop of white noise for all my musing. The barley and wheat will keep me company in the fields for another week or so depending on the weather (there are high hopes for a dry harvest after a wet one last year), their stalks bleached the exact colour of the dry stone walls that enclose them. Sunday I took the slow way out of town en route to Heathrow, past a herd of cows recently migrated to the field just behind Ethel and George, which includes a handful of lovely mushroom coloured calves and a sole ginger coloured heifer, past the Coln River and the long, narrow sheep pasture just outside of Coln Rogers, out Winson with it’s handsome field of racehorses and the stud farm, to the intersection just before Fosse Cross, marked by the tin-roofed barn. It took me an extra fifteen minutes, but sitting on the taxiway reading Harry Eyres I was reminded that it was worth the time.
It is with no small displeasure that I find myself on the cusp of a metaphor about my life involving the M25, the London ring road that employs a variable speed limit broadcast over digital signposts to keep traffic moving. It is, after all, a distinctly unglamourous comparison to make. And yet it is apt. It would be untrue to say I didn’t derive a sort of buzzy pleasure from the stress of a short notice business trip, as untrue as saying I didn’t enjoy the contemplation of a long Cotswold ramble, or naming my favorite trees Ethel and George, or learning the name of a bird or a flower that graces the hedgerows. Life works best for me at a variable speed; it’s how I keep my mental traffic moving.