Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Old Ways

Most of the products of our doomed culture seem specifically designed to get on my nerves, almost as if their authors have looked inside my head and thought to themselves: now what can we do here that will irritate Adrian the most. Of course this is a paranoid, solipsistic way of thinking and probably as silly as the implied idea that in the past things were better. Much rarer are the cultural products that come my way that seem to be written just for me. Last year I saw a couple of films Fish Tank and Wendy & Lucy that were that way; a couple of books: The Fortress of Solitude and The Art of Fielding and one play: Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth. This year so far no films have wormed their way inside my solipsistic mind but a recent audiobook has. The book is The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane, which could have been written solely to give me pleasure. It's a travel book about Macfarlane's adventures walking on the 'old routes' of Britain, Europe and further afield. Along the way he ruminates about other famous walkers and their journeys on foot: Rousseau, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Wittgenstein, WH Davies, Edward Thomas, George Borrow, John Muir etc. who are writers that I also love (Patrick Fermor's A Time of Gifts may be my favourite book of all time). Macfarlane is something of a naturalist and he observes flora, fauna and landscape with a keen eye. And it's a philosophical book too. Macfarlane is at one with the German Romantics who felt that one's surroundings could influence one's spirit and who recommended travelling to the wild places as a way of coming to understand oneself. The outward journey leads to the inner one: nach innen geht der geheimnisvolle Weg as Novalis says.

Listening to The Old Ways as an audiobook while walking through the city or the countryside or along the beach was such a pleasure for me that I had to ration the book out to thirty minute increments a day lest I finish it too soon. Most of my heroes, it seems, are big walkers: Iain Sinclair walked the route of the M25, Werner Herzog walked from Bavaria to Paris, JA Baker tramped over the Essex marshes looking for peregrines, George Orwell tramped over England and France looking for authenticity and the incomparable Paddy Fermor walked from The Hook of Holland to Constantinople looking for adventure. There's nothing quite like walking to connect you with the place you live in or a new place. If you're not a big walker or need a little inspiration along the long lonely path may I suggest that you get yourself an Audible account, and as your first free audiobook get The Old Ways which I really cannot recommend highly enough.