IN a mist as thick and as wet as grey gazpacho, the Optimistic Man – dreaming of warmer winds and the mountains of Spain – passes through a nest of windmills and is reminded of Cervantes’ memorable literary triumph, Don Quixote. The man had, optimistically, started to read it once but got bogged down in a tavern and never recovered sufficiently to pick up the trail.
The windmills turn now, just as they turned for the man from la Mancha. Though where soft winds blew across the high sierra from the sands of north Africa, these cold hills are cloaked in drizzle bleeding in from a hostile Irish Sea – which isn’t quite the same.
At a crossroads with three signposts, the Optimistic Man heads higher into the clouds, to the summit of a moor where a television mast sings songs on the wind. As a child, he would wave to the mast from his bedroom window, and the mast would respond with unwavering kindness, beaming monochrome images of Valerie Singleton and John Noakes into his kitchen every Monday and Thursday after school and Harry Stretch.
Down the bog-cloaked slopes of a moor in the teeth of the wind, scattering herdwick and the occasional rabbit, the Optimistic Man glides in his golden shoes, his legs burning in the drizzle. There is an urgency to run, and run, and run.
Through an empty farm with a waterwheel that never turns, across a railway line where lonely trains clatter to Millom and beyond, and to a landlocked island where crows perch on dripping cliffs, the man runs to the drab sands of a drabber estuary.
On these sands, fifty years ago, stood an army of guardians – line upon line of concrete posts to stop Jerry landing in his bloody Heinkels. Now they are gone. Washed away by sea and sand. Scoured from memory by abrasive time. Were they ever here at all? Were they a figment of a child’s imagination? Will we all return – like the concrete posts – to the sea that spawned us those countless millions of years ago, and be erased from memory?
Along flat and unfriendly shores the Optimistic Man runs, his golden shoes pat-patting on hard sand and scuffing through shingle. Dreaming optimistically, he could run to the edge of the rain, to the rim of the cloud, and bask in sunshine like Don Quixote on his dusty trail. There again, he could call it a day and head for the Black Dog, where rumour has it there is a beer festival tonight . . . Hmmm.