Note from Sasha: Hayley Cull writes the Slow Guide to London which I reviewed here and also the Slow London blog. As I said in my post, the Slow movement “aims to get us off the treadmill of London life and make us slow down and savour our time, appreciate the small things, rather than simply spending time, cramming in all we can.” I’m a serial diary-over-filler and multi-tasker which means I live life a little too fast and don’t stop to smell the roses enough. But I think we can all agree that it is far nicer to spend an afternoon strolling round Borough Market than racing round Tesco. So I wanted to ask Hayley how, in a giant metropolis like London, with a trillion things to do and people to see, we can slow down and chill out. Here’s what she said:
I moved here a few years ago, straight after finishing the Slow Guide to Melbourne, my hometown. I think I still had my slow goggles on as I got to know London, so I quickly fell in love with its individuality, its traditions, communities and the much-appreciated little pockets of nature. It seemed a natural fit to work on Slow London a few years later. I was really excited to meet so many people along the way who shared their views of London, and also to take in the long-term local perspective of my co-author, Robin Barton.
2. London is an incredibly fast-moving and stressful place – how are you able to “zone out” and slow down, especially at work or on public transport? How do you make yourself appreciate the small things in life?
It starts with simply not cramming too much into my days, prioritising quality over quantity and not being afraid to miss out on things I ‘should’ see or do. With work it’s about being conscious of my own time, planning and preparing so I can use it effectively. As often as possible I take proper lunch breaks outdoors, let my mind wander whenever I make a cup of tea, and make sure to finish each day on time. I find that I actually get as much work done as the days when I chain myself to the computer for hours, because my head is always clear and I can focus completely. On public transport I try to use my time creatively, so even if I’m squished into a sticky Northern Line carriage I’ll be sketching a cityscape or imagining stories about the people around me. By allowing even five minutes extra to get where I need to go, I don’t feel rushed or find myself willing the driver to go faster, so I can actually really enjoy the travel time for my own thoughts.
Photo courtesy of Mark Chilvers/Slow London blog
3. What benefits have you found from slowing down?
It sounds a little clichéd, but I definitely feel healthier and happier than when rushing about between work and a manic social life. I eat better and sleep better, which obviously makes a huge difference to my general energy levels. And rather than feeling like I’m doing less, I actually feel like I’m getting more out of life: my social connections are stronger, I really take in the art I see or places I visit, and I feel more creative and therefore happier with the work I’m producing.
4. Are there activities that you do, or places that you go, that help you slow down?
Since living in London I’ve discovered a love of gardening, and my boyfriend and I have expanded from a lovely little collection of tomato pots to an allotment around the corner. I volunteer as much as I can and try to shop locally where possible, which really gives me a sense of community. I love the fact that there is always free art in London, so I will often pop into the National Gallery or some other space to look at a single work, or make an effort to go via some little exhibition on my way to wherever I’m going. I also try to travel around the city as slowly as possible, walking or cycling where I can or taking the bus.
5. The Slow Guide recommends getting in touch with nature, but this can sometimes be hard in a big city like London. Where can you get away from it all?
In researching the book I was surprised to hear that London is one of the greenest cities in the world, but then again you can always find a patch of grass nearby. Sometimes I’ll step off Tottenham Court Road to sit under a tree in the Phoenix Garden, wander along the Regent’s Canal towpath or even make sure to catch the sunset over the Thames, simply so I can squeeze a bit of nature into the day. It’s about state of mind, really; even in the smallest patch of green you can focus on the sound of the birds or the way the light shines through the trees and not only feel far from the commotion of the city, but part of something much bigger. Sometimes it’s enough just to fuss over those tomato pots in the garden.
Photo courtesy of Mark Chilvers/Slow London blog
6. What do you do when you feel uninspired or need cheering up?
The usual things: share a big slice of cake with friends, visit the local cinema, teach myself a new song on the guitar or spend a whole afternoon browsing a favourite bookshop. I love visiting unusual exhibitions like the Horniman Museum, the Wellcome Collection and the Royal Observatory, because you can’t be unhappy and enthralled at the same time. I also have a few favourite views dotted around the city that really lift my spirits, such as Battersea Power Station from the northern riverbank, sunset over the Embankment’s docks or the City from Brockwell Park.
7. And finally… imagine your perfect day in London – where would you go and what would you do?
My perfect day would have to be pretty simple! It would start with a lazy breakfast at home before wandering along the River Wandle and through my local market, Merton Abbey Mills, on my way into central London. At Marylebone Farmers’ Market I’d pick up some provisions for a picnic, spreading out with friends under my favourite old London plane tree by the lake in Regent’s Park for a few hours. I’d have no plans for the evening, I’d rather just see where it takes me, maybe dinner, theatre, a drink by the river or even just a quiet night in.