One can be a slack-arse on climate change for only so long

Another Big Year gnawing away at me, the idea of getting back into activist mode to secure a better world for grandchildren. This Big Year is problematical  but why? Because activism just doesn’t suit a loner geek. But it can and must be done.

I couldn’t find a 2018 climate change book that beckoned to me for holiday reading, so I’m turning to the most recent (2015) book by one of the clearest voices on the issue, Joseph Romm. His “Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know” ( could be a book that helps me sort out my priorities. (If this proves to be too basic, I have a fallback I can go for.)

Should I be like Martin Sheen for a year?

Remember “The Way,” the half-hokey, half-wonderful film about the Camino? The closing scene has Martin Sheen, having conquered the Camino, striding sunburnt and righteous on another unspecified pilgrimage. Well, an easy notion for me at the age of 60 was to dedicate a Big Year to what I called Long Walks, and what I saw as long walks was pilgrimage-style epics. Perhaps, I imagined, I’d do five or six of the classic global pilgrimages in Europe, Japan, and United Kingdom. I’d experience being away from home half the year, trudging maybe close to 4,000 kilometers.

I’m not so sure now. I still love the very idea of hypnotic trudges on well-worn routes but several factors mitigate against trying this. First, my better half undoubtedly would only join me for a portion of such an obsessive quest, and I’m at the age I’d prefer not to be apart too long. Second, this kind of Big Year chews up time from writing (although I’ve toyed with the idea of hiking early mornings and writing in the afternoons). And third, and this is most important, what would be the point? Always, that’s the question to ask: what’s the point?

Long hikes naturally fit into the domain of religious pilgrimages and I’m a rabid atheist. Does this detract from or add to the appeal of such trips? So . . . during this hike (itself a piligrimage route), I’ll dive into Phil Cousineau’s “The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred” ( This is defiantly not “my kinda book,” so let’s have a go at it anyway.

Birding is more than a hobby

Three days into an eight-day birding tour in the northwest of Spain, it’s clear to me that steady, sustained birdwatching feels highly meaningful to me. Of course, being chauffeured around and having birds pointed out to you and identified for you by a guide is a different proposition to birding by yourself, but they’re both equally enthralling. For hours you focus your eyes and your mind on the terrain around you, looking for movement and then attempting visual contact and then identification. You’re in nature, as deeply as you’ll ever be. You’re affirming a future for the world, a future you know humankind is messing with. You’re puzzling out, it seems to me, your role in the wider world.

My cultural Big Years: it’s not a case of when but how . . .

Next year will definitely see me returning to some form of cultural obsessiveness. Abstaining this year is driving me nuts. Probably I’ll launch back into reviewing, which is a punitive and often thankless role that nonetheless fills me with joy.

I’d like greater clarity on the societal role of this kind of activity. So . . . an easy choice seems to be Houman Barekat’s “The Digital Critic: Literary Culture Online” ( I’ll report back.

My Big Decade: What to do on a holiday from words . . . read words!

From tomorrow, for two and a half months, I’ll be free of the yoke of substantive Big Years. Last year we didn’t do any major trips, so this represents the first hefty downtime from daily strictures in well over a year. I’ll be busy but differently busy.

I welcome the holiday but as always when given some breathing room, I feel an urge to dream, to dream big. So I’ve decided that in snatched spare moments, I’ll try to envision what future Big Years should entail. Why not? What could inspire more?

And being the geek I am, my chosen method of picturing the future is to read books. So I’ll use six recently published books to reflect on six possible Big Years. Sometimes a chosen book seems to be right on song, sometimes it’s the best I can do and might not amount to much at all. At the very least, I breathe to myself, let’s set the imagination soaring.

My Big Decade: A pilgrimage

In a week we head off to “do” the Way of Saint Francis of Assisis, a 560 km walk that is one of those global walks labelled as a “pilgrimage.” Why this term? Because religious pilgrims used to ply this route. Now, of course, people like me attempt it.

I’m an atheist. What does it mean to spend five weeks on a pilgrimage route? Why am I attracted to such a hike? While legs and feet provide my locomotion, my mind shall, I hope and plan, think about and reflect upon exactly that question.

Photo by Dan Gribbin on Unsplash

My Big Decade: Any point to critics in the digital age?

Check out this invigorating scrutiny by the AFR’s Chris Power of the role of critics in what we call the digital age. Is a review just an opinion, equivalent to your fellow book club member’s drunken judgement, or is a well-made (whatever that means) review something of societal value? Me, I say yes to both extremes: humanity needs a new stream of independent, intelligent reviewers but of course reviews are, in the end, just personal views. Why is this important to me? Next year, hopefully, I hope to include a Big Year that launches a new reviewing service/website. Stay tuned . . .

My Big Decade: Check out Footprints: The Path of Your Life

We watched this doco, about one and a half hours long, yesterday on Netflix. Eleven questing Christians from Arizona walk the Camino’s northern route (actually, they deviate from the track quite often), closer to 600 kms than 500. As might be expected, I found the endless proselytising maddening, but the location photography is intoxicating and I gained a better feel for the travails of day-on-day hiking than most such films provide. I recommend it if you’re attracted to pilgrimage routes. One of my theoretical (i.e. as yet unprogrammed) Big Years is to “do” a number of the main global pilgrimages within one calendar year. Something beyond the classic religious underpinning of a pilgrimage appeals mightily to my mind and heart.

Echoes from last year’s Rock Music Big Year

The opening verse of “Sweet Dreams,” the opening track of Angel Olsen’s Phases:

“Every time I close my eyes, something small within me dies. Can’t say if it’s dark or bright, but it’s all I’ve ever known and when I sleep, I sleep alone.”

Last year’s Rock Music Big Year brought Angel Olsen’s magnificent My Woman album to my attention, and Phases, an interim album of outtakes, etc., also delighted me. What intrigues me is that both have haunted me since, and today I brought them out to listen to while walking to and from Bar Ristretto. It’s the timbre, the sound, the boomy attention to detail, that hits my heart.