Mens sana…

That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet. —  Jahumpa Lahiri

Fotherington-Thomas, from Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Seattle’s Down with Skool

Given that at the moment the walk exists only in our imagination, a fair amount of the preparation has consisted of reading, not just about the End to End walk itself, but about walking in general, and about connected topics … like hedgerows and clouds.

All these books are non-fiction, which means that the piles of gorgeous volumes by my bed are dipped-into rather than read cover-to-cover, because these days I’m finding it pathetically hard (like Fotherington-Thomas: ‘uterly wet’) to concentrate on anything that doesn’t have a strong narrative arc.

So fiction is what I’m mostly reading at the moment, and mostly not of the improving or literary variety. Just good books to help me get to sleep. In Pratchett’s Discworld, the sixth element out of which the world is made is called narrativium. Its function is to ‘ensure[] that everything runs properly as a story. For example, if a boy has two older brothers, chances are they will go on a quest. The first will be strong, and fail because of his stupidity, the second will be smart, and fail because of his frailty and the youngest brother will then have no choice but to go out, succeed and bring fame and fortune to his poor family.’ I suppose I’m a plot junkie because I want to recognise the shape of a story as it unfolds, and feel the deep structure of narrative holding things together in familiar forms.

Although I’ll be loading up my phone kindle app with books (and I hope we’ll be able to listen to an audiobook or two together as we walk), I am expecting to be too tired to read. I also want to get away from the stuff of work. I don’t want a busman’s holiday: I don’t want to think. I just want to ‘be’ for a while, without the permanent anxiety provoked by piles of unread books and an inability, developed over a quarter of a century of teaching literature, to read without analysing.

But can we experience our lives without narrating them to ourselves? I am imagining our walk in this sense as a kind of a quest, connecting us to some of the earliest fictional narratives that have come to us down the millennia. An Odyssey of our own. Joseph Campbell theorised that all quests had the same structural elements, some of which sound exhilarating (‘The Call to Adventure’) and others which decidedly do not (‘The Road of Trials’). Time will tell whether or not we will experience this structure for ourselves. We intend that the story of our walk should take around ten weeks to accomplish – but then maybe Ulysses planned to be home in ten weeks.

Memo to self: Do not open the bag of winds.

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