A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Solitary Walker: An Exclusive Interview

Aphrodite, intrepid reporter from Mythical Love magazine, managed to track down Robert, The Solitary Walker, the other day, and he agreed - slightly reluctantly (but also a wee bit flattered) - to this short interview...

Aphrodite. Hi, SW, nice to meet you at long last! It's been difficult finding you at home recently. Any more treks or travels planned for the rest of the year?

SW. Hi, Aphrodite! May I just say first of all, you're even nicer in the flesh than in my mental store of universal Jungian archetypes! Yes, one more walk is on the cards - backpacking part of the South-West coastal path. I'm really keen to try out my new lightweight camping gear.

Aphrodite. I've been wanting to ask you this for ages, but why is your blog called The Solitary Walker? Does this mean you're quite a solitary person yourself, or are you really a gregarious and extrovert barrel of laughs behind a sensitively-contrived facade?

SW. I think I've explained this a couple of times already on my blog, Aphrodite. The title comes from the book Reveries Of The Solitary Walker - Rousseau's confessional series of walking meditations on life, the universe and just about everything else. And yes, I can crave solitude. Being alone - for days, even weeks on end - does not phase me. But I do like company too. I love it, in fact. It's just that, in the wrong sort of company, I get itchy feet very, very quickly. And feel a compulsion to make a break for freedom and independence once again. No, I'm not a hearty extrovert. But neither am I a solipsistic introvert. Should we say I'm somewhere between the two? Like a lot of us?

Aphrodite. Why do you blog anyway, SW?

SW. That's a hard one, Aphrodite. But I have thought about it from time to time. I started blogging back in June 2007 - that's just over 3 years ago. And I loved it from the beginning. I think there are lots of different reasons I like it and stick at it. Here are just a few. It fulfils some kind of artistic need in me: constructing a post with words and images in a concise, unified and hopefully creative way gives me a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction. I think there's a deeper, psychological need too, a confessional need, and a need to make some kind of sense of the existential random tragedies and brutalities of life. Also there's a communicative need, a need to share experiences with kindred souls who can respond immediately with a 'Yes! I know what you're talking about!' Some things hinted at or more openly revealed in blogs are somehow not the stuff of your average off-line dinner party conversation (oh, how I hate dinner parties!)

Aphrodite. Another question I've got for you, SW, since you're in a communicative frame of mind. What do you really hate right now?

SW. That was an unexpected one from the left-field, Love Goddess! Are you trying to cleverly switch my mood in the hope of some startling revelations? To be honest, though, you really have got me going. Mindless, yobbish behaviour. Rudeness and impoliteness. Fast food. The petrol engine. The cover-ups in Afghanistan. The fact that Blair and Bush have got away scot-free over Iraq. Materialism. Motorways. The destruction of the rainforests (though a muted cheer for the partial resurrection of the Iraqi marshlands). Cable TV ('57 channels and nothin' on' - Bruce Springsteen). Prejudice against the old, the infirm, the unstable, the unwell, the radical, the different and the... anything. Oh, and dinner parties. Of course.

Aphrodite. And, SW, what are the loves, pleasures and delights in your life?

SW. Many, many things. Temperamentally I like to see the glass half-full rather than half-empty, as I'm an optimist by nature, despite the huge odds against this stance if you look at things realistically. Perhaps I'm just an old romantic? A good book, a glass of wine, a great, lovingly-prepared, home-cooked meal, and a sympathetic companion. A solitary trek across the vast plains and rugged mountains of Spain. A short, local walk along the hedge-lined, flower-filled lanes surrounding my Nottinghamshire village. Philosophy, thought, ideas - and, more importantly, creative intuition. And marmite. Naturally.

Aphrodite. Do you ever get depressed?

SW. Yes, I think I probably have periodic mild depression - like many of us. (Melancholy I can deal with - that's fine and natural - just a bittersweet realisation of the transitory nature of life and beauty.) Some years ago I went to the doctor's with what I thought was a more severe kind of depression. She diagnosed mild depression and prescribed anti-depressants. I took them for a few days but they made me feel very ill and I've never taken any such things again. I hate drugs and medicaments. She also said she felt sorry for my wife - obviously a completely unethical and insensitive thing to do. I've tried to avoid seeing GPs since. Luckily I've hardly ever needed to so far.

Aphrodite. Where do you stand politically?

SW. I think it's obvious if I tell you I read The Guardian, Aphrodite!

Aphrodite. How's your sex life, SW?

SW. Sex is one of the greatest things in the universe, and I celebrate that. Aphrodite - you're beginning to hit below the belt here, typical of your titillating New Age rag-mag approach. Is this interview coming to a close soon?

Aphrodite. Just one more question, SW! Have you any aims and ambitions left in life?

SW. That was cheekily phrased, Aphrodite. I'm only 55! I have many aims and ambitions, though I don't like the phrase 'aims and ambitions', which sounds very CV-cliched-capitalist-non-wabi-sabi-speak to me. My main 'aim and ambition' right now is to take a short walk to see the sun set in a golden glow over the river. And that'll do for now.

Aphrodite. Thanks, SW! Be seeing you...

SW. Thanks, Aphrodite. But, if you don't mind, can you ask the mag to send Venus next time?

(The photo shows Robert, the Solitary Walker, photographing the interviewer. Though shouldn't it have been the other way round?)


Timecheck said...

Original, insightful, one of your best.

As an international reader I don't know the content of the Guardian. I assumed that compared to the Wall Street Journal or Washington Post, it might be on the Washington Post end of the spectrum?

Rachel Fox said...

The GP said she felt sorry for your wife? What on earth did you say to her (the doc)? Bizarre and not very professional. Was she joking?

Some GPs can be so bad (and some others so good). My Dad was a GP (good - so I'm told) and we had a great one for my Mum in these last years of hers. It's a huge task to ask (being a good GP) and only some can really manage it.


George said...

I enjoyed the interview, Solitary Walker, and find myself in agreement with you on almost every topic, the one possible exception being marmite. Candidly, I couldn't begin to tell you what marmite is, but the name itself sounds menacing. Oh, well, de gustibus non est disputandum.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I would not have recognised you from your profile in that photograph Robert - I think it is time you paid us a visit up here (with C of course) so that we can get reacquainted!

Laura said...

For Timecheck: http://www.guardian.co.uk/

I enjoyed the interview and nodded along on your list of "hates." I am curious, have you ever thought of moving to Spain like so many British have done?

The Solitary Walker said...

Definitely more Washington Post, Ralph...

I'm ashamed to say I said not a thing, Rachel. I was feeling so bad I could hardly string a cohesive sentence together at the time. I don't think she was joking. Comforting that your mum had a good doctor.

George - Oh dear! Menacing! Indeed, no! That foodstuff/drink/universal panacea is both nectar and ambrosia plus a shot of moonshine and a snaffle of communion wine thrown in. (I'm talking nonsense here. Some would say not for the first time.) Actually it's a thick, black, salty, gooey, chocolatey yeast extract - a product of the brewing industry here in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, UK. Distilled a mere stone's throw from where both of my children were born (aha, that explains it!) Think Vegemite. But much, much tastier. What? So you're still not keen?

Pat... hope to see you before too long for some serious family gossip!

The Solitary Walker said...

And Laura - we've thought many times about living in France, Italy or Spain, but, to be honest, the uprooting would be a major thing, and I think we're actually quite happy to visit, and then return. Also - we do like Britain! (And lots of Brits that have moved to mainland Europe seem to be trying to get back at the moment.)

gleaner said...

Enjoyable and agree with your list of hates. I avoid dinner parties too - I can't stand the boredom and the endless conversations on what year and make a bottle of wine is..and when one attempts to throw in a bold, random and sometimes outrageous comment just to inject some life in the party, the person is meet with vacant stares and silence.
I have just read in Hitchens latest book his hate of anti-depressants which he was prescribed whilst quitting smoking. He said he wouldn't take a tablet that says "fool yourself into happiness, while pretending not to do so" and that he would want his mind to be strong enough to circumvent such a trick. I tend to agree and think are society is obsessed with the very limiting and sometimes boring emotion of happiness.

The Solitary Walker said...

Bella, I agree with everything you say here. Hope all is OK with you.

ksam said...

Great read!
Marmite...George it's the strangest stuff, in a small round, dark jar, lovely bright label on the front. It rather resembles tar! It's salty and sort of yeasty and well Marmite! You spread it on buttered toast .. or that was my Mums favorite way. Now when I say spread..I mean thin...really really thin! Try it like peanut butter and I think you could wind up in the ER!

I'm probably one of the very few honest to God born in the USA Marmite eaters! It's not often and usually when I'm missing my Mother...Toasted white bread...light butter and then Marmite... God I can almost hear her voice when I have it....

Guess I'll be having a boiled egg and Marmite on toast for breakfast tomorrow.

OH..... It just hit me...George imagine a boullion cube made into a soft paste...that would be the closest thing over here.

The Solitary Walker said...

Marmite with hot, buttered toast and a half-runny boiled egg is the perfect combination, Karin. Yum. In fact I think I'll have that right now for breakfast.

Rachel Fox said...

No... I meant what did you say to the GP to make her come out with a statement like that! But I don't really want to know (even if you could remember). Some doctors do very much have an agenda and whatever you say they'll hear what they want to hear anyway... Maybe she had a husband who was driving her mad...

Glad you got through it and out the other side anyway. I do think mental difficulties make a person more sensitive to the difficulties of others very often...and that can only be a good thing. Doesn't always happen of course!

Bouncing Bertie said...

Very enjoyble read today. I've been a fan of your blog for a while, and it's interesting to find out just a little bit more about it's author. As a lifelong Guardian reader (originally from Nottingham, also in my fifties, keen walker, enjoy solitude, books) we have a few things on common. I feel deeply attached to the Guardian, it really is like an old friend, and have started to dread the day, I fear inevitable, when a paper copy is no longer available and I shall have to switch on my computer and stare at a screen whilst eating my breakfast (muesli of course!)
Cheers, Gail.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, indeed, Rachel - empathy through experience. (Though my son is just about to embark on his 2nd year of an MA course in Social Work and he truly has more empathy and understanding than I).

Thanks, BB! It's nice to know we have so much in common.

Tramp said...

Yes an interesting insight to an interesting personality presented in a refreshing way. There's a lot in there, you are obviously in an introspective mood at the moment. Your balance of the freedom of solitude and the love of the right sort of company is something I was trying to get over recently.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, I realise that, Tramp, and I'm in tune with your thinking. Thanks, as always, for your comments. I think that conflict between individual self and society is one of the most interesting and dynamic 'problems' in life. I know you touched on it in one of your recent posts. It will never be resolved, as few philosophical issues are: the workaday 'resolution' will always lie in accommodation, balance, and compromise - it must be said. Which is probably no bad thing. Probably. (Except that, if everyone adhered to this, no great works of art would ever be created.)

gleaner said...

:) Yes I'm good, just a little quiet on the commenting lately.

Perhaps my last comment on society's focus on happiness may have suggested otherwise but I've always had an abundance of joie de vivre. Even when I may feel disenchanted with the world etc. I still have at the core a huge amount of contentedness and joy of living. Hmm, this has me thinking I'm hypocritical and that I cannot be against happiness! What I'm against is the widespread belief that money, material wealth and success are necessary to achieve happiness.

I loved your recent post referring back to your Hardy poems from last year!

The Solitary Walker said...

Well, I identify with this completely, Bella!

Grace said...

Very enjoyable to read. I had to look up "yobbish" though.

The Solitary Walker said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Grace. Yobbish - a fine word, for a rather less than fine quality of behaviour!