Monday, October 4, 2010

Interview With Robert of The Solitary Walker

Our next interview in this series is with Robert of The Solitary Walker.  Robert and his blog straddle a number of disciplines from Literature and Philosophy to The Arts.  Robert's blog, while broadly focused on the aforementioned subjects, has you accompany him on his extensive inner and outer explorations. Wherever and in whatever domain you travel with Robert, you will have an learned, perceptive and sophisticated guide.  From inner, illusive depths to outer earthly peaks, Robert will help clear your path and whisper timely words of encouragement by means of his musings, poems, essays, humour and quotations.  Do not miss the opportunity to frequent this erudite blog. 

All the wonderful photographs in this post were taken by and are the property of Robert.  To discover the precise locations of the photographs visit The Solitary Walker.  A link is provided at the end of this post.  Let's find out more about Robert now:

Could you give us a brief overview of who you are, where you live, current interests or preoccupations, how you occupy your days?

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.

You describe a wide range of interests Robert, but since walking is in the title of your blog, tell us when did you first begin your walking excursions?

I've always walked, but the longer trails I've only done over the past few years. Job and family commitments have made it difficult to take extended periods of time away - until recently. But all my life I've dreamed of doing multi-week, even multi-month treks.

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.

What do you still want to learn?

Most things, probably. At times I feel I know absolutely nothing. (But, Zen-wise, this may be a good and positive thing!)

How do you make your life feel meaningful?

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?

Again, paradoxically: that I'm going to die sooner or later. And every day it gets sooner. So nothing really matters that much in the end, even the depression and heartache of difficult times.

And also: a kind of universal love, or agape, that courses through me from time to time like a wonderful blessing, and which makes everything else seem flippant, irrelevant and inconsequential.

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?

Robert Macfarlane's magnificent book, 'The Wild Places'. There truly is no more poetic, aesthetic, sensitive and original writer writing about British landscape today. And Jon Kabat-Zinn's 'Coming to our Senses'. Although over long, and at times repetitious, it's a very well written book on mindfulness and meditation, influenced by Eastern and Buddhist thought. When I read it a few months ago it came just at the right time, and was one of those ' healing' books in one's life.

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?

Oh yes, very, very important. Some people are naturally dignified. I honour and respect that. Dignity should be a wonderful, natural thing. But other people can have dignity wrested from them. This is a crime. Dignity is our human right. We must fight to preserve human dignity at all costs. (Funnily enough, I was listening to Dylan's great song 'Dignity' at my son's flat in Manchester just a few days ago.)

What question have I neglected to ask that would have given readers more insight into who you are?

What's your favourite Italian ice cream flavour?

And what is the answer to that question?   Rum 'n' raisin - closely followed by tutti-frutti!

Finally, Robert, when you are on a solitary walk, what tune are you most likely to whistle or hum?

I usually take well known tunes - such as 'God save the Queen' or 'It's a long way to Tipperary' - and change the lyrics. Substituting them for rather more earthy and profane ones, should we say. Well, it keeps my brain occupied! And stops me thinking about food, and what I'm going to eat many more miles down the trail...

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.


  1. Another enriching interview, Bonnie. As I have been following Robert for some time now, I take pleasure in listening to him here in this warm and fluid chat with you. I am kicking myself over not having signed up for his other blog earlier. I will enjoy playing catch-up there, I'm sure.

    Robert, one of my pet blog daydreams is to do a camino together, or part of a camino at least. We'll have to plan one if you like. I so wholeheartedly agree with and embrace what you say about life being a pilgrimage. Your own pilgrimate seems to have taken you from God-fearing to God-loving, which strikes me as a hugely important step, perhaps one that can only be taken by doing many trails with the kind of sentient eye and questing spirit that you bring to your walks and blog.

  2. Hi, Robert. It's nice to meet you after seeing you at George's and Lorenzo's. I began following The Solitary Walker some time ago and am a silent walker there. I had to look up camino. Blogging is great for educating this girl. How I would love a pilgrimage with you guys; I promise I'd be quiet, trying to keep up, both physically and intellectually.

    There is much to connect with here in your interview with Bonnie. Your Methodist Church was across the street from my Baptist Church. Finding the spirituality that lies beneath religion is a journey I share with you. I have read much of Krishnamurti and found a lot of sense that resonated with my spirit.

    Lately it seems that several of us (I'm sure Bonnie is the impetus for this in large part) are discussing the wonder of discovering precious friends through this medium, and also the level of quality of writing and expression are so stimulating and inspiring that the rewards are vast.

    All the best to you, Robert, in your walks, physical and spiritual.

  3. Loved this interview, have followed his blog for some time.
    But now for a question for you.....what brought you to this "interview thing"?

  4. This is another terrific interview, Bonnie! Robert has become a wonderful friend and it's great to have this opportunity to get to know him even better.

    Following Robert's postings on "The Solitary Walker" and "Turnstone" has become a rewarding part of my daily life. I go to these sites because it's always a joy to walk beside Robert on his inner and outer journeys. Robert's writing is erudite, insightful, and informative, and it is usually leavened with both humor and humility. Perhaps most important, "The Solitary Walker" and "Turnstone' are places where a pilgrim can enter the heart and soul of another pilgrim and leave with the comfort that one is not alone in this journey.

    Thanks for your honesty and openness, Robert. I look forward to the continuation of this conversation as we continue along the path.

  5. Another excellent interview Bonnie. This is a new blog to me. I don't recall seeing Robert around the neighborhood but it's always nice to meet another seeker.

    this is a great series and with every one you have me wondering who will be next.

  6. Thanks for your most kind and generous comments, Lorenzo! (Though probably 'God-fearing to God-seeking' would be nearer the mark.) That Camino idea sounds like such fun. The Camino de Levante may be a suitably solitary one? But it won't be for a while... I remember with gratitude and affection your warm invitation to stay the night with your friends in Extremadura last January...

  7. SW's has long been one of my favourite blogs. 30 times to Bob Dylan though - that's some achievement!

  8. Hi, Ruth. Quiet? I sincerely hope not! And do not actually believe so. Though, to be honest, I can be pretty quiet myself. 'The spirituality that lies beneath religion'. Yes, that's it. That's exactly what I'm interested in. And as for Krishnamurti - I find it comforting that, weirdly, spirituality can, at its heart, be sensible and rational too. Thanks for your good wishes.

  9. Thanks, Hilary - do you mean Bonnie's interview, my own spoof interview or my recently posted poetic interview? Oh, hell, I'm tying myself up in knots here... Interviews, being interviewed, all part of the fun, isn't it? As long as it's not a real job interview! In which case I'd probably be stuck for words. Thanks for your loyalty and support.

  10. George, what can I say? Your rapport and dialogue with me from the outset has been so immediate, heartfelt, genuine, illuminating and entertaining. I must say I feel the same about your posts too. May the journey continue... Thanks so much for your comment, and I'm staggered and humbled that my modest writings can strike such a chord...

  11. Thanks for reading, ellen! Just going over to your blog now, as I've missed out on it too. Seeking is so much more interesting than finding, or so I've discovered (or not discovered).

  12. Rachel - well, thank you, and can I unhesitatingly invite each and every one of you to visit Rachel's blog at once? Or at least once? Ok, it won't be for everyone. It's unique. She's deep, she's shallow, she's serious, she's feisty, she's complex, she's fun, she's creative, she's emotional, and she's a really good writer. Don't be put off by the mateyness of her loyal band of commenters. Just get in there, with something interesting to say, and she will respond. But she don't stand no nonsense..!

  13. nice...little squirely on some yeah i think the afterlife will wait as need to waste much time on it...guess we will figure it out when we get there...

    i had not met robert before but there are many things i connect with...the idea of pilgrimage for instance...though i usually just refere to it as the journey...popping over tom make his acquaitance

  14. Brian - 'squirely'! Now does that mean chummy or condescending? It can mean both ;)

    After your riveting interview with Bonnie I popped over to your site, Brian, and was challenged and stimulated by your poems.

    Pilgrimage, the path, the journey... whatever! Glad to make your acquaintance!

  15. I'm shallow?!?!
    Well, OK...sometimes maybe I am.

  16. Of course, as I'm sure you realise, I meant shallow in the deepest possible sense, Rachel! In a Mariah Carey-ish kind of way ;)

  17. Oh what a delightful interview! I loved the questions and really enjoyed the answers. And now I have 2 new blogs I'm going to enjoy following.

    Do I see a new job in the future as an interviewer????? Because you don't have enough to do now, right?!?!

  18. Thanks, Gwynnie, and good to meet you! Glad you enjoyed the interview. Popping over to look at your own blog as soon as I can...


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