Life In The Slow Lane – What Leaving London Taught Me

The 18th-century writer Samuel Johnson once said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” And as much as I hate to admit it, I was tired of life. I was fucking knackered, in fact. London had worn me down, hard, into the ground, leaving a thin trail of my former self smeared over her grimy pavements. Her spiky stiletto heel had crushed every last morsel of energy from my being, every last penny from my wallet and every last ounce of patience from my psyche. Pressure to succeed, to be skinny, to make money and have an amazing career while also always being the most fun person at the party rained down on me like a shit-storm. I found myself drowning in a sea of sweaty Tube rides, overpriced almond milk lattes and unread emails. My time was spent either desperately trying to forge a successful career, catching up on sleep or drinking enough alcohol in one night to kill a small child. Booze-fuelled weekends gave way to guilt-laden weeks and everything rushed past me at 1,000 miles per hour.
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But still, I kept on – pushing myself and my body to its limits, thriving on a disastrous concoction of caffeine, stress and booze. Until suddenly my body gave up and I got ill, diagnosed at 28 with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. But in a strange twist of irony, it was a lifeline, giving me the time and space to reflect on my existence, outside the madness of London.
Never one to dwell on my misfortunes, shortly after I’d finished the intensive rounds of chemotherapy I decided to take myself out of the Big Smoke and indulge in a bit of R&R. So I packed up shop and headed to Sicily, land of gluten and the good life, where gelato in a brioche bun is a totally acceptable afternoon snack and the sun shines brightly six months of the year.
I settled quickly into the slower pace of life, London’s stresses literally melting away in the 30-degree heat. I could breathe again and when I started to look at my life with a renewed sense of clarity – wow, did I need to reassess my priorities. I realised that I’d been putting way too much emphasis on certain areas of my life (career, partying, fads, money) while other, more important areas (health, family, mental wellbeing) had been slipping. Lo and behold, a key life lesson and a realisation that I needed to slow the fuck down.
Time in Sicily really does move s-l-o-w-l-y. There’s actually a thing called the ‘Slow Living' movement here, which emphasises a slower approach to everyday life – a way of living I badly needed to start practising. It was born out of the Slow Food movement, a grassroots organisation set up by activist Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1989 as a reaction to McDonald's opening in Rome. Its core values are to promote local food production, uphold local recipes and go back to enjoying our food slowly. "Eating is no longer about love, but about consuming fuel,” Petrini insists. “Neither is there any fascination with food. In Mediterranean Europe, there is still that fascination, still the conviviality, the ritual. The most important thing about eating is to enjoy the moment of affection between family members, or friends or work colleagues. A civilisation that loses this ritual becomes very poor.”
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Italians prioritise time for food. A lunch break is a lunch break, it’s not a quick dash into Pret to grab a cold salad to consume on the Tube between meetings. Visit any Sicilian town between 1pm and 4pm and it will feel eerily quiet, with shops closing so everyone can eat and snooze. One lunchtime I passed a group of builders huddled under the shade of a tree having a BBQ, steak and salads in abundance. Now that’s what I call a lunch break!
So out of the Slow Food movement, the Slow Living movement began to grow. Coined by journalist Carl Honoré in his 2004 book In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed, the philosophy looks to revolutionise our way of living and questions the notion that faster is always better. As we live in a world of widespread technology use, everything seems to have sped up and we are becoming increasingly impatient. We can make a payment by tapping a credit card, book a holiday at the touch of a button, order dinner directly to our desks, and we're furious if our Uber doesn’t turn up in five minutes. London’s drug of choice is cocaine – fast heart rates, fast talking. Fast, fast, fast!
Living in the fast lane means we forget to give ourselves time to listen to our bodies, to look after ourselves, to connect with nature or simply to reflect. Relationships break down, our health starts to suffer.
There are now all types of 'Slow' movements gaining recognition internationally. Slow City movements are springing up across the globe, from Italy to China, and Slow Work movements in countries such as Sweden and Norway encourage a shorter working week and more breaks (yay!). In Italy there is even a Slow Sex movement – proof again that Italians really do, do it better.
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As I write (slowly, it’s taken me over a week!), perched on a day bed, looking out across the bright azure of the Tyrrhenian Sea, London really does feel like a distant memory and I find myself wondering what all the fuss was about.
I guess it has been good to me, its rich tapestry of cultures and diversity ensuring I’ve grown up liberal and with a serious lust for life. It is addictive – intoxicating, even – with its heady mix of aspirations and young dreams; humanity trying its hardest to figure it all out. Its night haunts have provided me with many life-affirming, relationship-cementing moments. There have been lock-ins and house parties, warehouse raves and open-air gigs. But really, what makes London are the Londoners, who so often get a bad rep. “They’re so unfriendly!” people on the outside cry, “No one ever speaks to you on the Tube!” But just look at the solidarity, the humanity and the compassion they’ve shown over the last months, as tragic event after tragic event hit the capital. It’s the Londoners who I will return for.
So this is my last month in Sicily. I’m forcing down as much pasta as is physically possible and in the next few weeks I will continue to revel in my newfound sense of slowness, allowing my body the space and time it needs to heal. The allure of London is beckoning and inevitably I will return, but with a fresh outlook on life. I hope I can take some of what I’ve learnt and recalibrate my life in the Big Smoke, a piece of Sicily forever imprinted on my heart, reminding me to slow down, to relax and to enjoy the simpler things in life.
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