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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Ambitions of Age #1. The Road... is Everlong...

I was half-watching a programme on BBC4 about the A303 when the presenter mentioned a quote from Hilaire Belloc's 1923 book, The Road.  It appealed to me tremendously and I looked it up immediately.  Ah, the miracle of the internet.  Within a couple of clicks I had ordered the book from Amazon (yes,  I know...)

"There are primal things which move us. Fire has the character of a free companion that has travelled with us from the first exile; only to see a fire, whether he need it or no, comforts every man. Again, to hear two voices outside at night after a silence, even in crowded cities, transforms the mind. A Roof also, large and mothering, satisfies us here in the north much more than modern necessity can explain; so we built in the beginning: the only way to carry off our rains and to bear the weight of our winter snows. A Tower far off arrests a man’s eye always: it is more than a break in the sky-line; it is an enemy’s watch or the rallying of a defence to whose aid we are summoned. Nor are these emotions a memory or a reversion only as one crude theory might pretend; we craved these things - the camp, the refuge, the sentinels in the dark, the hearth - before we made them; they are part of our human manner, and when this civilisation has perished they will reappear.
"Of these primal things the least obvious but the most important is The Road. It does not strike the sense as do those others I have mentioned; we are slow to feel its influence. We take it so much for granted that its original meaning escapes us. Men, indeed, whose pleasure it is perpetually to explore even their own country on foot, and to whom its every phase of climate is delightful, receive, somewhat tardily, the spirit of The Road. They feel a meaning in it; it grows to suggest the towns upon it, it explains its own vagaries, and it gives a unity to all that has arisen along its way. But for the mass The Road is silent; it is the humblest and the most subtle, but, as I have said, the greatest and most original of the spells which we inherit from the earliest of our race. It was the most imperative and the first of our necessities. It is older than building and than wells; before we were quite men we knew it, for the animals still have it to-day; they seek their food and their drinking-places, and, as I believe, their assemblies, by known tracks which they have made."

One of my long-held ambitions is to follow one of the ancient pilgrims' roads.  There's something about travelling slowly, and walking.  It's good for the soul.  Perhaps travelling in a fast car or high speed train is also good for the soul.  But it's different. Obviously.  A bit like the difference between looking in a real library, or in a real bookshop, perhaps even travelling to a different town or city to find a certain book or bookshop, as I used to do when young; and finding and ordering a book within thirty seconds of hearing about it....

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