The Sloth Club

“Slow, Small, Simple: the authentic essence of Japanese culture.” Interview with a leading Slow thinker.

Speed Demon

I have seen the future of the automobile – and it’s sleek, sexy and fast as hell. It’s also environmentally-friendly.

On Monday, I took part in the annual Eco-Rally from Brighton to London. It’s a showcase for the new technologies that are greening automobiles of all shapes and sizes.

On a day of wind and patchy sunshine, fifteen of us drove a convoy of state-of-the-art sedans, sports cars and vans from the south coast of England to City Hall beside Tower Bridge in London. Our vehicles were powered by everything from solar energy to electricity to vegetable oil – with petrol and diesel often playing a part, too (think hybrids). Many of the cars were built using green materials and methods.

What does all this have to do with Slow?

Quite a lot, actually. We have allowed traffic to blight our towns and cities. A central plank of the Slow revolution is to take back the streets from the automobile.

That means a lot less driving and a lot more walking, cycling, scootering, rollerblading, street football and parties, road hockey, etc. Building a strong public transport network should be a top priority for every politician. As should cutting carbon emissions.

When it comes to cars, less is more.

But let’s be honest: there will always be a need (not to mention a desire) for private automobiles that can shuttle us from A to B. The key then is to make these vehicles as green as possible. And that is were the Eco-Rally comes in.

On Monday, I drove the Lotus Eco Elise. It’s a zippy, no-nonsense roadster with an engine that growls like an irked lion. The interior is lined with hemp and eco-wool.

My passenger was the clever and rather beautiful founder of a green consultancy. So picture the scene: hot car, hot blonde, heading-for-middle-age me at the wheel.

I felt like I’d stumbled into someone’s mid-life crisis. Possibly my own.

But the highlight of the day was taking the Tesla for a spin. There is only one word for this car: Wow! It is totally electric and almost completely silent, which means zero air and noise pollution. It also looks like something James Bond would drive, neatly obliterating the old saw that eco-friendly means boring and worthy.

And did I mention that the Tesla is mind-blowingly quick? We’re talking 0-60 MPH in 3.9 seconds. I have never felt acceleration like it. This is the kind of G-force you experience in a souped-up supercar, or a jet fighter.

The Tesla is a breakthrough. Okay, it costs a small fortune. But it shows that we can build zero-emission cars without sacrificing style, performance or sex appeal. And already a cheaper four-door model is coming to market.

But what about all that speed?

As an advocate of Slow, I certainly felt a pang of guilt climbing into the Tesla. But I have to admit that the unease didn’t last long. After the first surge of acceleration, I was whooping like a teenager on a rollercoaster. It was a bit terrifying, but also hugely exhilarating.

Can drivers be trusted with that kind of power at their fingertips? Can I be trusted? I have my doubts.

Which probably means I should stop fantasizing about getting a Tesla for Christmas …

Enough is enough

As recession bites, the excesses of the last boom look that much more absurd. Of course, many of the products sold during the largest spending spree the world has ever seen were designed to save time by speeding up even the most simple chores.

As a judge for the UK Landfill Prize, which compiles a Top Ten list of the most ridiculously unnecessary and wasteful products of the year, I saw some of these gadgets first hand. A few of the nominations were so silly I thought they were a made up. But they weren’t.

The grand winner was the motorized ice-cream cone. This is for people who are too lazy to turn the cone with their wrist. You stick out your tongue and the gadget swivels the ice-cream for you.

Third place went to the motorized fork. Yes, a fork that twirls the spaghetti for you.

One reader has just told me of another product that isn’t on the 2009 Landfill Prize list but would not have been out of place there. Give it up for: Selfy The Self-Making Bed. It was originally conceived for the infirm but its Italian inventor also hopes to sell to the able-bodied. Using a system of rails and runners, Selfy reportedly saves you 15 seconds a day. That’s a whole 105 seconds a week.

I think I’ll stick to Slow bed-making. Which means rearranging the pillows and pulling the duvet back up by hand.

Or not bothering to make the bed at all…



Travel slow

Hardly a week goes by these days without a journalist from somewhere in the world emailing me to talk about the rise of Slow Travel. And no wonder. The fast-forward approach to travel and tourism is taking a heavy toll. The environmental damage caused by our penchant for globetrotting in airplanes is well documented, but it is just the start. When we travel in roadrunner mode, we miss the small details that make each place thrilling and unique. We lose the joy of the journey. And at the end of it all, when every box on our To Do list has been checked, we return home even more exhausted than when we left. That is why Slow Travel is gaining ground. It’s about savouring the journey (traveling by train or barge or bicycle rather than crammed into a middle seat on an EasyJet flight); taking time to engage and learn about the local culture; finding moments to switch off and relax; showing an interest in the effect our visit has on the locals. The current issue of Newsweek Internationalhas a cover story devoted to Slow Travel and its title says it all: Slow is Beautiful.

What is a slow city?

I’ve just arrived in Lisbon to give a talk to a group of business people. My hotel is in the Bairro Alto, the old quarter where narrow, cobbled streets trickle live rivulets of water down the hill to the sea. It is hard to get anywhere in a hurry, and you wouldn’t want to anyway because the architecture is so beautiful. It’s all a million miles from so much of North America, where the roads are laid out so that cars can hurtle through, and the functional, disposable buildings offer nothing to arrest the eye or make you want to linger. When it comes to slowing down, Europeans, with their wonderful, old cities, definitely have an advantage…Now I’d better hurry up and rehearse my speech….

Iceland takes the plunge

I’m in Iceland at the moment singing the praises of slow. This may be a small country – the population is about 300,000 – but the virus of hurry has entered the bloodstream here, too. In Reykjavik people race around in their cars jabbering into mobile phones. Everyone has a packed schedules and the working day is long. But at least Icelanders have an antidote: soaking in the outdoor pools that dot the country. In one complex near my hotel in Reykjavik, people of all ages, shapes, sizes and income-brackets come to soak in the warm water underneath the northern sky. There are no Plasma screens showing CNN, no speakers pumping out muzak or MTV and everyone leaves their mobile and Blackberry at the door. You just relax, let the mind wander or chat quietly. The best kind of slow.