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At the Pass with Tommy Banks

This month Tommy Banks, chef & owner of Roots (York) and the Michelin-starred Black Swan at Oldstead, discusses the surprising freedom of the drive to work

words by Tommy BANKS

Speed freaks and petrol heads have something of a saying: ‘Freedom is a full tank.` It’s a beautiful notion: the idea that all you need in life is a set of wheels and a tank of gas. But let’s be honest: It’s a term more typically used by those rocking a little something special under the hood. My brother, for example, is the proud owner of a souped-up Audi. You know the kind I mean: The kind of car that has its wheels set at such a low profile that hitting a speed-bump becomes a genuinely intimate experience.

Personally, I don’t drive a tricked-out Audi, I drive an environmentally-polite hybrid Lexus (no disrespect to the Audi, but the Lexus drives so well it’s as if it were built for me). But I’m still a big believer in the idea that driving does provide a certain sense of freedom, maybe even a little rebellion. It might seem a little ironic, but this is particularly true in the case of the daily commute.

In my experience, there’s a lot to be said for the morning drive to work and the headspace that it provides. In its simplest form, it acts as a buffer zone between two opposing mindsets. It’s the grace period you need to overcome the morning’s mental inertia and get into gear (see what I did there?). It’s certainly the warm up I need for a more active mindset before getting into the restaurant.

That’s not to say that the daily commute isn’t without its own, small hint of revolt. If you really think about it, the drive to and from work – monotonous though it can often be – is not without a certain element of rebellion. We live ever-busier lives, after all. We need to take whatever time we can for ourselves. It doesn’t sound like much, but that drive to work becomes a small act of defiance in that respect: Used well, it’s a great way to win back a little of your day. Now, this won’t sound particularly edgy or rebellious, but I think the humble podcast has played a huge part in that. 

Through the podcast, we suddenly have this wealth of information at our disposal, and it’s more easily-digestible than ever. Thanks to the podcast, the ride to work is more than just a means to an end. It’s no longer a routine, it’s an experience. It’s a brief, transportive window to someplace else, taking you on a journey that goes far beyond the ride to work. Whether you’re listening to some innovator or entrepreneur wax poetic about their own success on How I Built This, or taking an emotional trip down someone else’s memory lane with Desert Island Discs, a podcast can take you further than the car you’re in. 

Naturally, they have their downsides too. As podcasts become more varied and widespread, the concept of ‘podcastination’ is starting to creep in. We while away the hours listening to other people’s thoughts, confusing our productivity with theirs. But used correctly, podcasts are great avenues to education and enrichment through entertainment. Pairing the drive to work with a podcast transforms that drive into something totally different: It becomes a small victory in that age-old power struggle that is the work-life balance.

We should take those victories where we can. Whether that’s blazing down the motorway in a tricked-out Audi, or gliding along in the safety, comfort and quality of that hybrid Lexus. TB