Field Notes on a slow(er) approach, or a balanced, possible & positive relationship between life and art…

Why Slow, Why Now?

“The world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling, and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.”


This is a quote from my personal journal from December 2013:

“Two events today made me realise that I need to STOP, draw breath, focus and, with luck, survive to fight enjoy another day.One was Fin (one of my twin boys) giving me a drawing of a smiling figure in a small boat and beaming ‘It’s you daddy! In the drawing he’d captured the person I aspire to be, but it felt a million miles from who I currently am.

The second was in the wet hassle of a Christmas Oxford Street.

For years I’ve had the habit of Christmas shopping against the ticking clock. With the efficiency of a military operation I’d picture what I wanted to buy – usual 13 or 14 pictures if I’m honest – and away I’d merrily go, intoxicated by the bright lights and the crowds, and get the job done. Arriving home footsore and satisfied that Mammon having been sated for another year.

This year was different.

This year I went in to town as usual, but the magic failed. This year I didn’t find Christmas. The stores dizzied me. In one department store I could feel tears welling up, and I couldn’t hold them back. A panic attack set in.

And no, this isn’t a glib description of a man’s panic when forced to shop! Far from it in fact, as I’ve always prided myself on and enjoyed getting the right gifts. No, this was something darker, and potentially far more dangerous. I felt lost and confused, cast adrift and close to tears. I left Oxford Street as quickly as I could, swallowing down calming breaths, in through the nose, hold 1- 2 – 3… and slowly out through the mouth 5 – 6 – 7…”


When you pride yourself on what had always stood you in good stead i.e., your solution-focus mindset and a ‘can do’ attitude it comes as a shock when things unravel.

That Xmas experience confirmed to me what I’d suspected for a while, that I urgently needed to stop taking things for granted, that I needed to take stock and take seriously just how debilitated and unhappy I’d become, and how deeply it was affecting everyone around me, both at home and at work.

Now, I’m not one for Sunday Supplement quick fixes, I didn’t want a veneer solution wrapped up in a New Year’s resolution. What I found myself looking for was a means to – put simply – increase what does me (and those around me) good and reduce what does me (and those around me) harm.

Essentially what I felt I needed to do was to slow down and find the time to respond rather than constantly reacting to the rat-run and rush of modern life. Time to notice. Time to think. Time to savour…

As I wasn’t seeking a revolutionary, closed or monastic existence locked away from modern life what I began to explore was an evolutionary accommodation with modern life. To get more out of life I would try to simplify, savour and celebrate the moment, people and places; to plan less and enjoy my life and my world, at a gentler pace.

UPDATE: I’m still on that journey. I often fail. In late 2016, after thirty years of teaching, I walked away from the profession. It wasn’t a good time. It’s still hard. I feel out-of-kilter, and often guilty at the choices I made. However, good or ill, here in my mid-fifties a new chapter is opening and yes, it will be a slow chapter.


A Slow(er) Approach


To be clear my Slow(er) Approach isn’t an off-the-shelf prescription for happiness or a panacea for life’s ills and it’s likely that my approach will differ from yours, though perhaps we’ll have the same starting point, which is to achieve a more balanced, possible and positive relationship between love, life, work and art…

My approach, at it’s most basic is a ‘list of reminders’ and helps to point me in the right direction when I lose my way. It’s a process (a set of attitudes and practical actions combined), it helps ensure that more often I’m in the right place to acknowledge, mark, map, engage with and celebrate life to the best of my ability and, essentially, it’s ongoing.

My Slow(er) Approach might be summed up as:

  1. Silence: from writing & reading essays, short stories, poetry & books, to film-making, photography and walking…celebrate the unspoken word. Go out on my own with old maps and a digital camera. Remember digital cameras, filming, poetry, maps and notes can frame the imagination and just possibly take me home.
  2. Savouring: from friendships to family life; from work-time to free-time to me-time; from slow food to whittling sticks…celebrate the senses, stillness and the slower pleasures of life. Let my thinking take off in any direction that suits me. It’s OK to go off in unfamiliar directions or go in a familiar direction but try to see things in a new way.
  3. Seasonality: from Inlanding Journeys to foraging; from Boat Rallies to canal-side flora; from seasonal events & rituals to earth / water / air / fire… celebrate the seasons and the stories and pleasures they bring. Develop a sense of the creative transience of things. Enjoy the moment and the history.
  4. Simplicity:  from day boats to tin ware; from corrugated iron structures to to low impact living and sustainability…celebrate paring back and the aesthetic of the essential. Develop a poetry out of the commonplace. The two aren’t opposites. The inexplicable and the obvious, the mundane and the fabulous talk to and reside alongside each other.
  5. Slowboat: from working on the boat to researching her history, from journeying inland on her to glamping aboard her…celebrate the joy of owning an old boat. Get afloat. Often. Stay close to the water. Know the boat. Know the water. Go inland.
  6. Sense of Place + Place of Sense: from roots to old boats; from local history to local geology; from microcosm to the night sky… celebrate connections, belonging and history. Explore second hand bookshops. Build up my sense of the Great Good Place by valuing the senses, knowledge and feelings equally. Buy books on the inland waterways  – on social, industrial, natural history and folk art. Study them. Then walk the Water Road, or sit aboard the boat, or gather folk around the stove and talk, and look, and see whether I can make sense of the present in relation to the past and my own engagement with both, and with the landscape, familyscape and waterscape around me.


The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white


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