The Pursuit of Happiness
By Alan Russell
In some ways Americans are fortunate in that “certain unalienable Rights, among them Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” are enshrined in their Declaration of Independence. The Americans also have a written constitution. In Britain, where we have not had to declare our independence, we do not have such a document and nor do we have a written constitution. The Magna Carta is about the nearest we get.
A few weeks ago I was staying on the Isle of Wight for a late summer break. On the first morning I was up early and went for a walk along the beach. The sun was behind me. I could feel it’s warmth on my back and see my long shadow in front of me. There was a slight breeze easing the sailing boats across the water between Hurst Point and The Needles and then out to the wider English Channel.
Ahead of me in the distance I could see a man pushing a bike while a small terrier type dog ran excited circles around him. Every so often the man would lean his bike against a bench or the sea wall. He would then walk away from the bike holding a stick in front of him. From a distance I could not be sure what he was doing. Then as he got closer I saw that the stick was a metal detector and I could hear the electronic beeping it made as it traversed the ground searching for that elusive treasure trove. The dog was constantly running circles around the man, digging in the shingle or chasing seagulls.
I sat down on a bench that would be his next stop. The dog raced towards me and leapt at my legs eagerly waiting to be fussed over. Its eyes were bright and full of life. The man followed leaning on his bike. He was quite old, unshaven with deep lines on his face ingrained by life and the weather. He sat down and we started chatting about the weather, the weekend, the dog, where I was from, where he was from as we do in Britain between strangers. Then I asked the question.
“Have you ever found anything?”
I was hoping that he would say that he had found a few old coins or some jewellery along with money that had fallen out of people’s pockets as they sat down on the benches.
He looked at me in a way that made me think that perhaps I had transgressed his privacy. After a short delay he looked at his dog, put his hand on his bike and stood up to walk away. Then he looked at me again and smiled.