The genius of slow time

When it comes to things musical - or just things general, for that matter - I've never really thought of myself as a ''slow time'' man, to borrow Keats's measured phrase. Those deep and ponderous passages seem to me mere groundswell, as only a kind of mumbled preparation for the glories of a fast and furious climax. This is a rather vulgar failing, doubtless - a lack of high and solemn seriousness - but one whose tar not a few of us are brushed with, I suspect. Yes , I'm a con brio and con fuoco man, if not positively a con delirio one: lentamente is for the snails. . . And yet . . .

The brilliant and breathless are such commonplaces of our century: the race is to the swift - the hare trounces the tortoise - they don't ''serve who only stand and wait'' - not nowadays.

In the eyes of the up-to-date there is no deadlier sin than Delay. . . . And yet. . . .

Talking of delay, my wife and I were travelling by London underground a week or two ago. We were on holiday, officially, but may well have been in a hurry all the same. I don't remember. But what I do remember is a tiny black child and her young mother in the compartment, because this child had hit, with total unselfconsciousness (and that's a quality to keep), on the essence of ''slow time.'' She was eating an ice cream. No, she wasn't eating it - she was enjoying , she was relishing, she was (almost literally) absorbed in it - but absent-mindedly. Gradually everyone near her found himself watching this infant; but the infant had no idea at all that anyone anywhere was watching her.

An ice cream, of course, is par excellence the hastiest of pleasures: now you see it, now you don't. Almost before it is paid for it must be licked into shape -

. . . At my back I always hear

time's winged chariot hurrying near. . . .

Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street . . . Euston; the train shot through its tunnels, doors opened and shut, passengers rushed on and off - Mornington Crescent, Camden Town. . . . In all this motion and commotion the possessor of the ice cream sat in her push-chair blissfully undisturbed, taking a very occasional and a ve-ry small taste of it ve-ry slow-ly on her tongue. The dollop of ice collapsed, the warm runny cream melted into the paper wrapped round the wafer cone (by now soggy with wear and tear) and over the child's hands and down her front.

Adults can mysteriously adore in babies what they wouldn't for a moment tolerate in older children. This glorious mess prompted nothing but smiles, and her mother (now attempting to clean her up a little) was immensely proud of all this admiration. If her baby could have known Andrew Marvell, she might have suddenly looked up and announced:

. . . Yonder all before us lie

deserts of vast eternity.

The poet meant these words as an incentive to speed, but they could, I feel, mean just the opposite: ''So what's all the hurry?'' Certainly this child, this prodigy of slow-motion, would have taken them that way. She introduced into the hive of haste, the underground, a profound gradualism. At two years old she had understood something deeply true, and something deeply funny, about ''slow time.'' Perhaps there is something to be said for the pace of snails, after all.

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