Trough my one half-open eye, I am taking in the new landscape and country. I have never been to Central America. The houses are roadside shacks made of whatever materials were to hand: some brick, some wood, some corrugated iron, some steel, some chicken wire, some Toyota suspension parts and shock absorbers, all fnished oﬀ with a splash of magenta or cyan or mustard or a combination of all three. We pass one such multicoloured patchwork shack with six dead fridges outside it. No doubt they will feature soon in the construction of some other properties and cars.
Each little village has little more than a church, a football pitch and a Coca-Cola sign. Skeletal horses are wandering the streets and we nearly run over the dog oﬀ the front cover of J. M. Coetzee’s book Disgrace. It had the good sense to not be standing in a pothole, otherwise Seasick Steve would almost
certainly have hit it.
The children here seem happy enough, though. Those who are over the age of ten are playing around on motorbikes and scooters. The younger ones are riding on the saddle-less frames of push-bikes twice their size. The wheels of one bike are bigger than the boy riding it. All the playful children are smiling, despite being deprived of internet connectivity or social media. They seem to be able to socialise without media, and they can even climb trees. Father Christmas gifted Joe and Mary a bike
each, two years ago, and they have sat in the garage ever since. I asked Mary why she never rides her bike and she told me it was because she had lost the charger.
Some ex-friends of mine in London once bought a child like these, from Mexico. It was legitimate, not kidnap. They couldn’t have children due to faulty ovaries so went through a Jewish adoption agency specialising in Mexican children. They became better friends of mine during the adoption process; so much so that they asked me to be a referee. I had to be interviewed by a social worker to attest to them being good, non-childmurdering people. They bought their child from a young Mexican girl who was a drug addict. I never met the child because my friendship was no longer required once the adoption process was completed and the papers said that a partner in a law firm had validated their credentials. That is the type of superficiality with which I have slowly come to terms in London.
Despite the unsuspended cars, the deep potholes, the undernourished farm animals, the oversized bikes, the roadside fridges and the DIY accommodation, Costa Rica topped the Happy Planet Index rankings in 2016 (having previously come top in 2009 and 2012 as well). Even though its economy is based primarily on farms and hotels, its people have higher well-being scores than in the US and the UK, have a better ecological footprint, and live longer. It is smaller than Scotland but is home to the greatest density of species in the world (which is what brought me here, as Haywards Heath only has badgers and squirrels). But perhaps Costa Rica’s master stroke in achieving happiness and contentment is that it abolished its army in 1949 and has since reallocated defence funds to be spent on education, health and pensions. It is a surprisingly simple idea, but unlikely to be tried in England despite the fact that the last time we were invaded was in 1066.