In 1973, I hitch-hiked down through the east coast of America as a 21-year-old seeking a meaning to life. I didn't find it, still haven't. I had just been one of the first to join a tiny organisation called Friends of the Earth. I can't say I achieved much in that organisation other than once hearing Professor David Bellamy saying in a lecture: 'My question today is does the Earth need friends like Maxwell, and I would suggest it doesn't'. He then ripped our campaign for outlawing non-returnable bottles to shreds.
I can't say I achieved much on my hitchhiking tour either, other than once, whilst passing through New York, being invited to stay at an inner city commune and thinking that it seemed more fun than living alone. I had a red afro that bounced when I walked. Not a good look. A few years later I tried, without success, to help my father (a green politician) establish a commune in Morvern that would be an exemplar of ecologically responsible living. That failed through lack of money and we couldn't really see the point in what was in reality a group of middle-class hippies living in a remote area growing lettuces and talking to each other about revolution. Though, to be fair, some good people worked on the project and gave it a fair shot.
Move on to the early 1990s and another opportunity came along when I was able to buy an old cottage on the outskirts of Edinburgh for next to nothing in a fire sale. Again, the vision of the intelligent commune – and, to an extent, it came off. We grew our own vegetables, kept hens, talked a lot of waffle, but again achieved very little. However, we did have rather good open house tea parties on Sundays. A few dozen nice people also became my lodgers for a cheap rent or got free digs in exchange for gardening.
I did run for a couple of years a weekly column, and then a daily cartoon strip, in The Herald
('The City Crofter'), trying to sell the idea that the way ahead was for people to live in small groups and grow their own food. Well, that was the pitch anyhow. In reality, I was more interested in being paid to make people laugh on their way to work.
And today? After almost half a century of chasing my tail on the hunt for a meaning to life, I find myself sitting here, now, at The Pause. And I wonder – is it really worth putting any effort into re-establishing my city croft, now once more a tumble-down cottage with an overgrown garden? Or should I sell it to a banker, who will no doubt turn it into a Laura Ashley love nest – and I'll spend the rest of my days working my way through his dosh drinking gin and watching Cash in the Attic
Is the notion of a new normal being based around smaller communities, more accent on the growing of vegetables and general community interaction, just hippy nonsense that will never happen? It does sound like it until you start looking at the other option, which is even worse. The concept of returning to where we were, heading on a suicidal journey to the ecological Armageddon – no radical intervention – just more of the same old, same old, as we head idiotically towards the cliff.
And so what now? Fifty years on from my hitch-hike down America, it's hard not to despair. The 1960s came and went without making much of a dent, and even projects such as Woodstock were eventually morphed into cynical money making pop festivals run by people with eyes like granite chips.
But where is the vision that will save the planet? Maybe Professor Bellamy was right and the Earth didn't need a Maxwell as a friend, but who and what does it need? Certainly radicalism. We don't have time for a gradualist approach and what we really need is a leadership in the Green Movement that has moral integrity combined with efficiency and a fierce drive.
Although I would follow Andy Wightman out of a trench with my claymore flashing, even he has yet to sell the message of ecological responsibility to the man on the Leith Walk tram. Can we look to America for guidance? No. China then? No. The European Union? I would like to think so, but Brussels has never really sold itself to me as a church worth worshipping at.
Maybe the Scottish nationalists are right. Maybe it's our own country that will be a lantern for the world to follow in this terrible darkness, though it's hard to imagine Scotland delivering much that will lift the world as it swithers in the economic maelstrom that will follow independence.
If I did believe in a God, I would pray for such a solution. As it is, I am sorely tempted to reach for the gin and the telly switch, and just let the weeds grow high on the city croft.