Health and safety - or happiness?

IAN COLLINS Happiness is strange and elusive. It's like a sudden intake of helium which leaves me, if not convulsed with laughter, feeling a surge of exhilaration: the thrill of life lived to the full.


Happiness is strange and elusive. It's like a sudden intake of helium which leaves me, if not convulsed with laughter, feeling a surge of exhilaration: the thrill of life lived to the full.

This wave of well-being can strike over an everyday marvel of nature - butterflies on the buddleia, the blackbird breakfasting in my kitchen - the timeless genius of a work of art, the shining kindness of a good friend.

It can flow from a dream, memory, idea or physical experience - a swim, a cycle ride, a kiss. I favour a lot of kissing.

But for me the joy of maturity is the increasing ease one feels (with luck and after a lot of labour) with oneself. A sense of liberation comes from all the things we now know we don't want and don't need.

It comes from no longer (if we ever were) being imprisoned by other people's opinions. To anyone else, however near and dear, or detached and disliking us, we are a passing thought. We travel always with ourselves alone.

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I can't stand self-love - a little humility lends a lot of dignity - but the philosophy I live by has no place for envy (that curse of youth and the permanently infantile). It brings a basking in good fortune and a duty of appreciation.

While acknowledging the inter-dependence of the universe - with a green agenda, for example - the key point is to accept responsibility for ourselves. We should bask in the freedom of our unique natures and crucial independence.

By trying to help, and certainly not to hurt, others we best guarantee the rights with which this society is now obsessed and fast obliterating. For we are being treated as children, if not as cretins and clones.

Just as at 30 I discovered a sense of vertigo, so, nearing 50, I'm chased by galloping claustrophobia. I can't bear queues or crowds or any sense of being caged.

I like a wide panorama and the infinity of the sea. I sleep beside a wide-open window.

While there's joy in the familiarity of everyday things, we need to link to wildness and wilderness to be properly free and fully alive.

Happiness, in short, is a world away from health and safety.

High among many joys of Southwold is a wealth of walks across diverse and dazzling scenery. The beloved town is set between the North Sea and an ocean of greenery - the hinterland bequeathed by William Godell five centuries ago as our common birthright.

Here I am most free and most likely to feel those surges of exhilaration. At times, however, I'm jolted by fury.

When walking over green, common and golf-course, savouring the view to Blythburgh, all's well. Then on the road across the marsh to the harbour comes my first electric shock of anger.

Yobs fling garbage from car windows - all the detritus of takeaway/throwaway junk food - the cans, cartons, wrappers and plastic bags of an all-consuming poison leaving millions of Britons distressed and demented.

I pick them up, aware that the view is now abroad in this nanny/ninny state that the leaving of rubbish is a human right that others have the responsibility of clearing.

My spirits revive in the stroll along a working harbour which not merely survives, but thrives. But what's this? The car park where I normally walk by the water's edge, enjoying the racing Blyth, has acquired a Berlin Wall array of fortifications.

As well as the bollarded-bank of the harbourside, and the old bar barrier, there is a huge metal fence and, cutting even further into the car park, another bar affair. Four walls in all, with lots of rubbish strewn in between.

Even that great blot is not enough. The biggest blight also sports warning signs advising us not to climb on an "unsafe structure". They carry the logo "Waveney District Council: Serving the Community". Wrecking the community more like.

Having picked up so much evidence of toxic junk food, and now looking across to the spreading cancer of Sizewell A-Z, I behold the total perversion of health and safety.

A beloved view has been stolen. Just imagine if these idiots were let loose on Amsterdam or Venice!

Our harbour badly needs investment. But this wanton waste of money is worse than useless - adding further to the summer car congestion of Southwold, and giving me in place of freedom a sense of claustrophobia.

Anyone, in any position of power - from any party on any authority - please, PLEASE help free us from the creeping fascism of health and safety.