I live in Nottinghamshire, in the English Midlands, and my interests remain what they have always been: walking, travel, the countryside, the natural world, books, music, the Arts. I studied Languages and Philosophy at university, and have a degree in German. I'm a qualified librarian, though most of my life I've worked in publishing sales - half this time freelance. I like being self-employed; it suits me.
I've also worked as a labourer in mills, on farms and on building sites. Last year I was a taxi driver. To be honest, I'm having a bit of a job crisis in my life. I've been lucky enough to be able to take a year off work this year, but it hasn't turned out quite as I'd planned. Even the research for a book I've been longing to write has barely begun, let alone the writing of it.
On you sidebar, you say that your blog is about 'pilgrimage'. How are you, Robert, a pilgrim?
I think all of us are pilgrims, in a sense. Secular pilgrims, religious pilgrims, life pilgrims, whatever. I consider myself a secular pilgrim - but with strong religious, spiritual leanings. Once born into a strict, God-fearing, Methodist family, you can never wholly escape.
Incidentally, my blog, even though it's called 'The Solitary Walker', isn't at its heart really about walking - though, paradoxically, there's a lot of walking in there. It's more about life pilgrimage (a term, of course, which may not include walking at all).
So could you summarize in a few words, Robert, what is the essence of your blog?
There are many different ways in which to walk and many different paths to follow - both literal and metaphorical. When I think about it, this is in essence what my blog's really about, the common theme which runs through its variousness. Walking in a line or in a circle; walking up a mountain or round a mountain; walking for penitential, religious reasons or purely for pleasure; walking for recreation or inspiration; walking solo or with others; city walking or rural walking; walking across the world or walking in one's own back yard; walking in the mind; walking through life; just walking per se, on its own - can be a creative and artistic act.
You have another blog, entitled 'TURNSTONE'. Please tell us about it.
I started my 'Turnstone' blog because I kept coming across little shards and snippets of wisdom I couldn't always find a place for on my day-to-day blog. It's a sort of pot pourri, a condensation, a summary of thoughts and ideas and wise words that I didn't want to forget. There are quotes on there I really like, and poems too - including some of my own. I don't suppose it's got that many readers, but the ones I do have are very loyal, and seem to enjoy it.
What would you name as a few of your strengths?
Oh dear, these 'what are your strengths and weaknesses' questions sound too much like a job interview, Bonnie, and I was tempted to duck them! However, I've been told by others I am enthusiastic, energetic, spontaneous. Will that do?
Just an attempt to get to know you a little better Robert. Would you name one weakness?
This is more my bag. I fear my weaknesses are manifold, and to name one would be quite unfair on the others.
You must be very good at ducking in dodge ball Robert! I knew I should have eliminated these Marcel Proust Questionnaire questions from the interview, but could you share one thing that you would consider among your greatest achievements?
Again, I react against this 'achievement' idea, Bonnie - it smacks too much of job interviews, materialism and corporate success. Things I've turned my back on nowadays. But I'm probably being ultra-sensitive (another weakness?), for I know your take on the term is wider.
Ok, I'll answer it. All the trauma of family life withstanding,
- to have been married to the same person for over 30 years, and to have two children, whom I love dearly, but to whom I know I should express my love more frequently;
- to have written a few essays, poems and bits-and-pieces I feel quite proud of;
- to have completed three caminos;
- to have seen Bob Dylan more than 30 times live in concert.
What qualities do you value most in your friends?
Empathy, loyalty, and not asking me to lend them books or money! (You just never get them back.)
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Physically: my neck is far too wide. I would like to be more swan-like. Spiritually: everything. I seem to go round and round in circles in my quest for God. But hopefully these are ever-widening rather than ever-decreasing circles. (Or do I mean the reverse?)
What global issue most concerns or angers you?
Where do you begin? I'm feeling wound-up now, and I really was quite calm a moment ago! Iraq, Afghanistan, poverty, starvation, global warming, pollution, deforestation, celebrity culture, fast food, the unacceptable face of capitalism - oh, and all the rest. Ok, if you narrow me down to one, it's got to be Tony Blair's smile (though I don't suppose that's a global issue, is it?)
What do you consider the most over-rated virtue?
That's an interesting question. One of your interviewees answered 'humility'. Actually I think quite the opposite. I fear this is one of the most under-rated virtues. Over-rated? I'm cheating here (I know it's not really a virtue, though society would like to make us believe that it is): material success.
Which living person do you most admire? Aung San Suu Kyi.
Is there a historical figure, or a figure from literature, with whom you identify?
Goldmund, in Hermann Hesse's 'Narziss und Goldmund'.
How do you play? Badly.
How do you attend to your spiritual needs? Walking, Reading. Above all, listening to music.
Do you believe in an afterlife? I'm more interested in the pre-afterlife.
Is there one thing you wish you had learned or discovered earlier in your life?
To be less sensitive to and worried by the judgement and opinion of others; to be more confident in my own opinion of myself. No one gives a damn about you really. You've just got to believe in yourself.
I try to create some kind of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual order out of the chaos of existence.
What is your greatest fear?
Death. I know a lot of people say they don't fear death. I don't know whether to believe them or not. But I do, and have written about this a couple of times on my blog. I think about death every day, more or less, and have done so from an early age. But, paradoxically, this doesn't mean I'm a morbid person. Quite the opposite, in fact!
What sustains you through difficult times?
What two or three pieces of advice would you give to a young person just starting out?
If you don't value yourself first, you can't value others.
Try not to be seduced by the malignant, superficial, siren calls of marketing, advertising, TV, celebrity culture etc. Think for yourself.
Don't have unprotected sex.
What brought you to blogging?
I don't really know. I found it and liked it immediately. I needed a form of creative self-expression. I needed to communicate. I needed feedback. I found a small but interesting world of like-minded people.
What keeps you blogging?
The same reasons. I still have the same impetus, probably more so. Sometimes I think I'm addicted to it (I have a bit of an addictive personality). The comments are important to me. I would still do it without them, but they're the icing on the cake. Without them it would be in danger of being pure masturbation.
What have you learned from the experience of blogging?
That some people out there have similar thoughts, feelings, longings and desires as me. We are not alone.
What is one thing about you that would surprise the readers of your blog?
To be honest, I think if anyone's read my blog from the beginning, and has read between the lines too (that's the most important thing), they'd probably know me quite well!
What two or three classic pieces of literature contributed to your personal philosophy of life/living?
Krishnamurti's writings. Hermann Hesse's romantic walking meditation, 'Wandering'. Existentialist novels such as 'The Outsider' by Camus and Sartre's 'Nausea'. Thoreau's 'Walden'.
What two books, recently read, would you recommend to your readers?
What sound or noise do you love? The sound of one hand clapping.
What sound or noise do you hate?
The petrol and diesel engine. (I travelled the motorways of England for 30 years until it sent me slightly crazy. Now I'm totally indifferent, if not hostile, to cars and all that stuff. To put it another way, think of Jeremy Clarkson. I'm his exact opposite.)
What is your favourite word?
I'm plucking it straight out of the air... but 'autumn' will do for now.
How important is dignity to you?
What question have I neglected to ask that would have given readers more insight into who you are?
And what is the answer to that question? Rum 'n' raisin - closely followed by tutti-frutti!
Just one more thing Robert. You were once interviewed by someone much more insightful than I. Could you direct us to that exclusive interview?
Thank you Robert for agreeing to let us peek a little further into your fascinating mind and your richly considered and travelled life. You and your blog are a delight. To visit Robert's blog The Solitary Walker, click here.