What’s the point of walking?

27 07 2015

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I’ll never forget a friend asking one day: what’s the point of walking, I’d rather read a book? I have to admit when I’m pressed for time, or when it’s really lashing it down, I’d much rather be curled up inside with a good book. My idea of heaven would be a library set in a tree house overlooking a meadow. There I would live in complete bliss with all the inspiration I need right before me. This week I’ve been forced to walk because an elderly dog I’m currently looking after detests going in the car. So in deference to his seniority, I’ve clipped on his lead most evenings, to his tail-swinging delight.

Because I wanted to make the most of our time together and make the walks interesting for us both, I made sure we took a slightly different route each time. One evening I took my camera to record some sights along the way, and was rewarded with good light and some wonderful work on a suitably ethical sculpture trail.

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My favourite was Walking on an Empty Stomach by Malcolm Gurley, an arresting image of a hiker with no middle, which was playful, but also poignant as it made me think of soldiers severed on the battlefields of the First World War. Its incompleteness was ghostly. I also loved the old goat made from recycled textiles and the giant plastic snail made from recycled milk cartons.

Walking is something I rarely do now unless I have a dog. I used to walk for miles along the cliff path when I was working on novels, and the process of walking helped to generate the rhythm I needed to write. I gave up proper walking when I started to train my horses. Most of my walks now involve the company of a horse and while I love these walks, I can’t really lose myself in the landscape or my own imagination because I need to be fully present for my horse.

Walking dogs doesn’t require the same focus or attention as walking horses. Walking dogs takes me to different kinds of places, and it allows me to notice what’s happening close to home. This week my walks have shown me that the town in which I am so fortunate to live is vibrant, social and ethically aware. Some seaside towns are tired and traditional, and don’t bother to welcome visitors with anything new. A sculpture trail is a good place to start people thinking about what we do with the stuff we chuck away. I’m glad that Teignmouth cares enough to engage with the question.

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Adventures in Ethics

18 07 2015

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Is there anything you would be prepared to give up to save the planet from human excess? I put this question to one of my philosophy groups this week after admitting that I was trying to give up buying bottled water, not always easy when I’ve gone out in hot sun completely forgetting to take a drink with me.

Graham said that there were some things that he would be prepared to give up, but not at the expense of marital harmony. His wife was against any form of ethical living and his attempts to sort out their rubbish for recycling really annoy her. I joked that he’d have to start taking out the rubbish under the cover of darkness and he said that it was no joke. One night his wife caught him eating something perfectly edible from their kitchen bin, and went ballistic. He wondered whether ethical living was worth the hassle he would get from someone who thinks that people who care about such matters are basically nutters.

Painful as it was for Graham to be so compromised in his own household, antipathy and even downright aggression to people who want to live according to ethical principles is fairly commonplace. Judging by the amount of rubbish in my street and the road I walk regularly, there are more people chucking food wrappers and drinks cans out of cars than there are people prepared to pick up the litter. If I want to live ethically, I can’t walk past the grey, flattened bottles, the plastic bags and the drinks cans washed up along the hedge without picking them up, and most of the time I resent having to do so, even while I’m ranting at those who DON’T CARE.

There are many objections to living ethically. Here’s a list of some of the most popular ones.

Living ethically is dreary

Living ethically is earnest

Living ethically makes others feel guilty

Living ethically is difficult

Living ethically will change who I am

Living ethically will make people dislike me

I’m too old for ethics

I’m too young for ethics

Ethics can’t make a difference, as the planet is already doomed.

I’ve decided that I can’t really teach ethics without at least trying to address some of these objections and practise some of the philosophical ideas I’m inviting people to explore.

So, I’m committing to a year of living ethically and I’ll be sharing my adventures in regular posts. For starters, taking the first objection on the list, ethics really needn’t be dreary. Ethics can be fun and it can also involve young people, who love to get involved, as long as the ethical is served up with a generous dollop of spontaneous play. I’ll offer an egg-hunt as my first example of how ethical living can be an adventure.

One the morning after their sleepover I’d promised Anna and Elen pancakes, but I had run out of eggs. We had a choice. I could either nip to Tesco Express and buy some and make the pancakes pretty swiftly, or we could go and feed the goats and ponies and buy the eggs on the way from a local farmhouse with a little roadside stall and a tin for the money. Guess what the girls chose? We went to the farmhouse, but the stall was empty. There are no guarantees of success with this way of shopping. I knew of another farmhouse with eggs and an honesty box, but it was two or three lanes away, and we were by now starving. The girls had to make another ethical choice: go to the supermarket or go to the second farmhouse. Guess what they chose?

The farmhouse had eggs, and what eggs they were, all different colours, from hazelnut brown to sky blue to olive green. We bought two dozen, some for us, and the rest as gifts. We admired these eggs. We talked about them. We wondered about the hens that had laid them. We put them on the counter and photographed them. And then we made golden pancakes and ate them.

If you’re willing to share, I’d be fascinated to know about your own ethical adventures.