The Insider – Carl Honoré

31st December 2007 (Last Updated December 31st, 2007 18:30)

Carl Honoré has been described by Newsweek as "an international spokesman for the concept of leisure". As author of In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, he shares his ideas with Christopher Kanal about slowing things down.

The Insider – Carl Honoré

“You need a good physical environment in order to slow down. A hotel presents such an opportunity, as you are freed from the pressures of home and the office.

There’s nothing worse than going to a hotel and feeling that you’re just another brick in the wall. You come away and think, ‘that was utterly forgettable, nothing distinguished it from the last hotel or the one before that’.

“Slowing down is about noticing details and enjoying the texture of the moment.”

The best hotel I stayed in was actually a farmhouse in Tuscany, on my honeymoon. What I liked best about it was that, in the evening, the couple that ran it would cook an amazing four-course meal. There would be flagons of local Chianti from their farm and all the guests would sit together. It was wonderfully convivial.

There is good slow and bad slow. If you’ve just been on a red-eye and you arrive and have to wait a long time to check-in, I consider that to be bad slow. What is wonderful is when you arrive at a hotel and the check-in is seamless.

I had a moment of personal epiphany. I was speed-reading Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to my son and he said, ‘What happened to Grumpy and why are there only three dwarves tonight?’ What should have been the most relaxed and tender time of the day became a war of wills between my speed and his slowness.

The day’s work was done but I was stuck in fast mode. I soon came across One-Minute Bedtime Stories. I caught myself thinking, ‘this is a great idea,’ and I realised, ‘Oh my God, has it come to this?’ As a journalist you are not only investigating your own life, but you start looking at the bigger picture and I just set off from there.

Speed has a role but the problem is that a lot of us are stuck in hyper-business, hyper-stimulation and we don’t move back and forth between speeds. It becomes very hard to switch off.

SWITCHING GEARS

A big part of the slow ethos is the ability to shift gears. I’m sure the Dalai Lama rushes unnecessarily sometimes. It’s about finding a natural balance. The pace of daily life quickened over the last century and that was a good thing. Today, the pendulum has turned and, on balance, speed is doing us more harm than good. We are out of kilter and have moved too far from our natural balance point. I think we know it. If my book had come out ten years ago this would not have been something everybody got. It would have been of interest to a few post-heart attack executives and new age gurus.

In a hotel, I like the flexibility of eating at different times. We are often straight jacketed into doing the same thing at the same time. With more freedom, it’s easier to slow down.

“I make use of the hotel spa and try to rejig my stay so that I can stay longer.”

Too many hotel rooms have a TV dominating the room. My feeling is not that there are too many gadgets but that they are too intrusive. The TV is often on with a welcome message.

It’s not relaxing to be pelted with sound and images. I’ve stayed in some boutique hotels that had plasma screens everywhere you turned. I’ve also been to chains that are oases of serenity, where gadgets are subtly hidden away.

Slowing down is about noticing details and enjoying the texture of the moment; this all comes from local input and personal touches.

You don’t just go and stay in a five-star hotel; you explore the locale. That’s where the hotel staff come in, they’re local and have a network. You see that in the Far East, where the staff will take you out to do Tai Chi. I also like the idea of the general manager of the Hotel Concorde Saint Lazare in Paris inviting his guests to join him for a jog every morning.

Even if you are busy, you can still carve out some time and perform what I call, slow acts. My business travel used to be a constant dash, now I make use of the hotel spa and try to rejig my stay so that I can stay longer. There is no single formula, but everyone needs to find the right balance. Hotels can give people an extra push and make it easier for everyone to find their inner tortoise.”

Carl Honoré’s new book, Under Pressure, is out in spring 2008.