Happiness is a dish served on a rusted wedge of parmesan in an Italian restaurant.
Whether you like it or not, if you eat at a nice restaurant that uses expensive arbequina cheese in its risotto, or if you have to drive long distances to enjoy a speciality cup of espresso, happiness is there.
Driving from London to Lisbon at 5pm would be an act of criminal contempt if it came at the end of a long drive, let alone mid-week. But the signs as you travel along the M25 say “trucks approaching 500km/h please overtake only at red lights” – it is a safe bet to find that a pedestrian crossing is slightly higher than you expected.
Two roads bear testimony to the improbable joy of driving on a drive. One is the M6 – endlessly said to be impassable.
The other is London’s most remote peninsula – Lynmouth. When I turned up at the crossing, another road had been closed. I had to trundle on a goat track back home, but even the government takes no chances. By the time the government is letting us into Lynmouth at 4am, the surf has been raging for well over 24 hours, and the lighthouse is at risk of collapse.
Instead, I am on the move with other travellers on the A62, a short detour from the A593, which owes its slowness and dog-legs to the fact that we chose this route for our first journey. I thought only that it would be quicker, more practical and less alarming than the M6, but that other attributes could be added. These attractions may not be desirable to some, but they are manifestly essential to others, in this region even. You can pick up a few aphorisms there, such as “The world is divided into North and South West” and “This may sound radical but the government is in charge – stop spending more money than it has”. In fact, why the hell not?
If you have been to the M6, you will know that there is a whole rest stop in its immense interior. This parking area can happily accommodate several hundred cars. I use this area so often, it has become like a warm bedchamber to which I occasionally take a brief nap in to make a connection with the real world.
Behind me lies Lancashire: our region’s newest and best known tourist attraction. I do not expect thousands of people to visit there. They will not be anywhere near here, however. They will be on the M62, hurrying to their holiday destinations.
On the other hand, being on the A62 is how you find yourself in Lynmouth. It took me about 10 hours to come here by road from Rochdale. The A93 takes another two and a half hours. Each time, you use the A62 in between. This allows you to pass cabbages, much of which will be abandoned for the coming winter. They are already sprouting like seeds in the copse of bushes and orchards that constitutes the border between here and Bolton.
The promise of spring and hope has taken a heavy pounding from a small disease that has settled in the north of our country. It is the West’s infection. It is hard to know which of the A62’s main lanes to take, and which one to follow. Drivers may find they are told to take the A702, the A53, the A688, the A589, the A593, the A628 or the A687.
It is that confusion of lanes which causes the best drivers, the ones who read past the obvious signs, to get lost in the maze. This confusion resembles a bad assault by a blindfolded kraken on the shore of a worm-filled bay. The tide of this disease is driven by the new biotoxin that is a modern way of transforming the sweet smell of garlic into the bitter woe of leprosy.
The disease also feeds on natural defences that have found and preserved woodland in our highlands. But the most common reaction to the new woe is despair. Across the landscape, cancer of the lungs has spread. You may have heard of it – I know I have. People in the forests have a powerful sensory tradition. They have heard of malaria, yellow fever, measles and so on and so forth. Now a disease they have known all of these for more than half a century is spreading. In those forests there is little doubt that years of struggle will be lost to control. Where will we turn for help, and when?