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Going Faster But Where? -
> Another Economist Essay Competition Entry, which due to recent events know there is no chance of winning it.
> This assessment is quite correct. I did not win. I feel slightly exploited by Shell as there have been many emulatory advertisements to this and last years entry ... yet no financial backing has been forthcoming. Profits should not come before people, free power is good, especially for those on puny pensions, which will be us, in the future. Think real ... realise that you too will grow old and dependent and you wouldn't wish to be exploited in your sunset years would you? Would you not want more disposable income and more time both for self and for family and for others?
I decided to go out for a walk, to reflect and relax. I'd had a hectic week and needed to start the weekend in a pleasant way.
I live in Swindon, Brunel's visionary railway town, now overtaken by cars including Cathedralic Manufacturing environments at Honda and Rover. My walk took me via the Town Gardens to the Old Railway Path. This was the route of a local railway network running from Old Town, the Original Swindon right into the rural countryside. Now people travel faster by car, waiting on a roundabout traffic light system and jams, instead of a Railway forecourt with a cooling cup of tea.
The Railway path was cool and tranquil. I paced the walking even and steady, occasionally picking up a 'treasure', a granite rock or one that looked like jade or marble or a bit rusty, iron. These were the foundations of a previous era of speed. A week later in a traffic jam I noticed the same treasured shades in built in the tarmac. This was a road running parallel to a part of this route path. Walking along underneath a superbly substantial Railway Bridge, and a revealed cross-section of ancient rocks, a slow spring stream flowing by, flowers that grew at a reasoned rate, the countryside panorama sprung from the tall tree canopy into view, all of nature, naturally breathing, living, existing and surviving at a pace known to man, on Sundays.
I was aiming for the canal. This was the first fast way to navigate cross country. The waters in the canal were now still, still as a village pond. I stretched up and reached to sit on a recently built bridge over it 2000 in granite shaded stones, jutting out from the rest, for a rest, and to look on the waters and beyond. In front of me was another yet better railway bridge with a huge high Norman archway impressively over the canal. Flying above was a World War II sounding small aeroplane, from today's standards leisurely coasting across the clouds, propellers rotating. In the near distance the M4 was going vroom, vroom, vroom, both ways, no sign of stopping to be seen. Just a bit further afield was the Great Western Railway route currently in use. For the most part of the time I was seated watching and waiting for my feet to feel ready to fly into fast footsteps, the sleepers upon which the rails like limp spaghetti sat, silently slept. And then as quick as a flash, blink and you'd miss it, a train! An actual train on the track! Moving, Yes! I worked out why really the sleepers are called sleepers, because with this system it sleeps most of the time.
Feeling refreshed, I made my way home. Passing the stream again I reflected on how The Industrial Revolution was sparked off via safer simpler transport. What I mean by simpler is that the roads were not so rocky so both goods and people arrived in good shape, and what I mean by safer is as it was massive transport for the masses, there was less 'going it alone' so fewer opportunities for highway robbery. And as we have moved faster our wealth has increased logarithmically. Now we Jet off on our holidays to far flung places at the price of a national railway ticket. The first ever holidays away from home were taken courtesy of the railways, for most people. We now do boat trips, where coal was once pulled by single horsepower in a week, as a weekend event. One wonders where we will go next. As home working increases in its' time capacity, will office blocks in town become places of unimagined pleasure today? Will they use them for massive sports halls, themed to a T Restaurants, or wired up in synchronicity to others in other cities all across the globe, or to view real time places with real space smells and electric atmospheres plugged into our consciousness? It's a surreal thought. Who knows. Probably on a more real pressing subject, politics, the masses will be in power, posting votes and points to ponder on the ultra-high-speed connections, a real democracy. Parliament consigned to Museum status as Palaces of previous Power are now. This is the way of life. Why not? As long as all the work is done and all are happy and content. We can then invest instead of in offices of paper, into trees and openness.
I dream of even faster transport methods, but no-one is seriously investing in anything really new now, just photocopies of the past, so maybe we will all be taking it slower in terms of personal physical mobility. Perhaps people physically want to pace it as a person can personally move all by themselves. In Mental movement there is an increased desire to upgrade the processing power of our internal neuronal networks. The love of Flight Simulators Stimulates us. So perhaps our era will move in a way, like the trains of the past weren't thought possible, as trains of thought interconnected between stationary people. Maybe we will in our times, and for a long time to come, be so absorbed by the growth of our networks within ourselves and networking with the world internationally, our desire for physical speed will drive less hunger within us. We may well move up to pole position, a priestly caste, and see things in a way inconceivable now.
On Sunday, I thought I would go for a shorter walk. I simply went to the Town Gardens Bowling Club. The club buildings themselves resemble a railway station. The main block at the back with a forecourt area with an awning made of see through plastic supported by wooden beams jutting out as cover from inclement British Weather, when it rains. There were three benches you could sit and contemplate on, or watch the competition from an angle of advantage. You could pretend you were waiting for a train. Two tables made of a darker weathered wood were there. These were there for tea and other light refreshments. Their design really resembling a carriage wheel, reminding me of The North Star or Stephenson's Rocket. Exactly parallel to these tables were two mature pine trees, one lighter than the other, that looked as if they were space rockets with their trunks as the fire of a craft that had just lifted off. Behind and around them a very thick thicket of trees.
Some old friends of mine were playing the field that day, their team was on the timetable board by the window.
Jo Fifi Winifred
Peter Jon David Mike
They started chatting.
Mike : It's so
nice to get out and relax.
David : Yes, I do try to unwind with a jive or playing jazz.
Peter : Or on the old computer. I like Space Invaders. I beat my best score last week.
Mike : No I find computers wind me up, they're a right turn off. I preferred it when people took the time to talk to one another.
David : That's why I like Jazz. You chill out with a chilli an' all that!
Mike : Cool!
Peter : Computers can be useful. You know what amazes me most about computers is that we are quite prepared to use them on anti-ballistic missiles and super-sonic aircraft, yet for some strange reason, unbeknown to man, they don't use them in cars.
Jon : Yes, I was reading the stats. on that. Apparently it's more dangerous in a car than it is flying. More people die in road accidents than they do in the air. Yet everyone goes on about air traffic control et cetera and lets lunatics loose on lorries. It's madness.
David and Mike : Yes
David : So if computers drove cars, right, would it be legit, as it were, for me to, say, not mind the road, and get out my Sax.
Jon : Yes it would. And I could read up on sailing and surfing.
Peter : I like sailing.
Mike : Surfing's for me. I surf the net, the world wide net for the wave reports in the morning. Get up at the crack of dawn, and I'm off. The thrill and sense of danger ... and the beach life ... of course.
Jon : I'd like to go everywhere in the world. I've got this map, in my study, that's what I call it to the wife, I do what I like in there, really, and I've got different coloured flags on it, Red where I've been, Blue where I'd like to go, and White where I might go when I've finished the Blues.
David : That's fun.
Mike : Can I come.
Peter : We could go as a crew, one team in my boat, one team in yours'.
Jon : Yes, there's loads of places on the coast.
Mike : Here come the girls.
Fifi : Hi Mike!
Jo : We'll be with you in a tick. We've just got to go and sort out the equipment for us all.
Winifred : I'll come. I can lend a hand to help.
Pat : Wait for me!
Pat : These bowling
balls are a bit heavy. Do they do one of those robot dog things to carry things
Fifi : Yes too right, we should've taken up fishing.
Jo : We could say we were really busy all day, go to a trout farm, buy a really long one ...
Winifred : Oh No Jo you can't do that, it's dishonest!
Jo : It just saves time. And anyway I can do the sitting down bit in fishing. It's just my neck, I can't pull them out of the water.
Pat : Yes, and it is a bit cruel and pointless taking them out with a spike up their noses in their mouth, and then just popping them back in again. What a waste of time.
Winifred : Like going to Sainsburys. I spend hours in Sainsburys, first finding things, they're always moving them about, second, testing them,
Fifi : You've got to get the best. I do that. I squidge the bread, and weigh the lettuces, they're all the same price you know.
Winifred : Then you've got to drive there, drive back.
Jo : I like to get things done. I hate shopping. I write a list.
Pat : Do Sainsburys do that internet shopping thing?
Winifred : Yes they do.
Jo : It costs £5
Fifi : I can't afford that. They say they care about us old folk, special this special that, but what we like is special you don't have to pay for this or that.
Jo : Yes and they do it all for you from your list. Then I can do my knitting.
Mike : We've sorted
out the gear while you girls were chatting. And we heard Everything you said!
Peter : We were thinking of arranging a sailing trip ...
Jon : A spot of fishing!
David : Wanna come?
All the girls : Oh yes, please, that'll be nice!
A week later, on the hottest Sunday so far, I thought I would go to Coate Water, a country park in Swindon, to get cool and wet, where there is a miniature railway, run by the North Wiltshire Model Engineering Society. I first of all chose to ride the steam train "Britannia," maroon, with a patriotic insignia on one of the passenger carriages and GWR in a circle on the other. We passed a car with an England badge on the back of it in a cross, the cross of St. George, who slew a mighty, fiery, dragon, near an intersection of the tracks, as we were steaming through, at the rate of knots. I was really near the front and could see everything. Just one small child ahead of me. It was really sweet and fun, all the working engineering parts going, steam flowing up, and the beautiful smell of the burning coal and the oil. Heritage transport always excites. I was hooked. They had another vehicle an electric-cum-diesel with a huge battery in the front, you could see through the grill. This one had two carriages also, named on the nearside, Charlotte and Henrietta and on the farside Victoria and Florence. This one went quieter yet faster than the other one. I sat on the back and lent back when going under the small bridge. As I had embarked on this journey the Station Master said "Grip on tight to it with your knees, like as if you were riding a horse." There was another enthusiast on a bench on the station with a tee-shirt with a big T for Trader on it the other letters written smaller. I was ecstatic, I was really in my element here. There were adverts on the side of the station platforms one which was promoting trips to the seaside, and another Pear's soap. And just past that the signal box with a sign by it, "Whistle Here."
I walked home and viewed from my garden a building, near the current Swindon Station. SIGNAL POINT. I wonder which way.
Seeking solutions in transport is a people thing. People may wish to move faster in some contexts but yet move more slowly in others. This is notoriously difficult to predict, as you cannot predict the effect of other influences in life on their modes of thought. I have explored on a person to personal basis the way people think about speed and its need. Do we speed up to slow down faster? Are we comfortable with the greater interactions increased capacity to reach more people in a swifter timescale? What do we really need to be wholly human and to truly live life to the full? What is the definition of a fully led life? Is it in the relationships we have with others around us? I think it is and technology can assist us form even greater bonds even farther afield.