I sometimes travel by train to random destinations - for the pleasure of discovery and the luxury of a prolonged period of reading, uninterrupted by the distractions of domestic routines and commitments. On the way I read newspapers, periodicals and magazines in order to find out what's going on in the world. And, when I arrive at my destination, I nose around to see what's going on there. Lately I visited the small, Welsh coastal town of Pwllhelli which sits, with its missing consonant, so temptingly at the end of a branch line.
In my newspapers the big story was taxation or, rather, the avoidance of it by the rich and determined. According to one columnist Google paid a total of £2.4 million in UK taxes in the same year in which it received £2.5 million in government subsidies, making it a net beneficiary of the social security system and enlightening us as to the hollowness of its "don’t be evil" slogan. Taxation is a simple principle to understand - a proportion of the wealth generated within society is pooled to provide services - but it is complicated in practice by those who consider themselves to be exempt from the social compact.
Less prominently featured was an article describing how software companies are actively recruiting people with autistic tendencies to work at testing their products. Could this land them in trouble? Legislation seeks to prohibit employers from discriminating between potential employees. But then, what type of personality is most likely to apply for such a job?
Less prominent still was the startling revelation that a bumblebee with a full belly is only 40 minutes away from starvation - such is the rate at which it burns energy. Having just eaten my lunch and with no imminent prospect of physical exertion I was inclined to feel that we humans lead a privileged life.
The train eventually pulled into the Welsh-speaking stronghold of Pwllheli just after the shops had closed for the day. I walked through the quiet town-centre to my accommodation, a high street hotel/pub which had recently been rescued from closure by a thirty-something bloke with a rough-and-ready approach to the hospitality business. He asked me to write down a lot of personal details on a form while he went upstairs to prepare my room and left me in the bar with the only other customer, a silent, tramp-like figure who looked as uncomfortable as I felt. My room was clean and comfortable enough but I left it in search of food and, hopefully, company. I found the former but, having decided against attending the performance in Welsh at the arts centre, the remainder of my evening was filled with more reading.
On the return journey, while scouring the pages for hidden gems, I took wry pleasure in the discovery that a growing number of French universities are now offering courses taught in English so as to attract international students. The French, who - like the Welsh - are protective of their language and harbour resentment towards us English for the pan-global adoption of our language, seem to be learning to live with the inevitable.
I felt less than smug, however, when an article about internet identity theft made me realise that my own security precautions are quite inadequate and that I should change all my passwords (if I can remember them) toute suite (see, no hard feelings). I recalled with a chill that I had last night obligingly written my name, address, email and phone and credit card numbers on a piece of paper for a stranger in a deserted bar in semi-hostile territory.