• Sunshine

    shadows-on-the-camino

    The lights had snapped on without warning in the dormitory. I had been awake for an hour or two, serenaded by an orchestra of snoring, grunting and farting.

    The Duck had not been awake.

    “Pu**** de m****.” He greeted the artificial dawn. “You do this in France…you die.”

    We walked the first half an hour guided by Stu’s head torch. We may have passed through the Garden of Eden – I don’t know. It was dark.

    An hour down the road, after a fortifying breakfast of omelette sandwiches and milky coffee, our mood improved. Sunshine appeared. We walked together, even made conversation.

    The Duck provided a running commentary on the flora and fauna that we passed on the farm-path. Seriously. Who knew? The Duck is a short, foul-mouthed, Basque version of David Attenborough. Together with Stuart ‘Bill Oddie’ Smith, it was a twitcher’s segment on Autumn Watch.

    After the steep gradients of day one in the Pyrenees, this was much more the ticket. There may even have been a jaunty whistle or two.

    His artistic side awakened by the sunshine and wildlife, the Duck produced a massive digital SLR and started taking stunning photos.

    “Is there no end to your talents?” I asked.

    “F*** off.”

  • Keep Calm!

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    Every time I think things are calming down…

    Sterling is down, the FTSE is up, consumer confidence is up, no down, no it’s…

    “HARD BREXIT!”

    “Boo! Soft Brexit!”

    “Wait! No Brexit.”

    I do wish that everybody would take a moment and calm down.

    The UK voted to leave the European Union. To do so, it must trigger a process. It must say, “We are leaving.” There then follows a period of negotiation, on how the UK and the EU will interact.

    That’s it folks. No Armageddon. No plagues of locusts; essentially, a lot of chat.

    As the Prime Minister has indicated that she is going to trigger the process, the negotiations have, in effect, started. The ones that we get to hear about are the pointless ones – where politicians posture and spout nonsense, all the time checking polling indicators after each comment.

    Again, the nonsense is not from one side or the other – everyone is talking rubbish.

    Negotiations can be daunting things. Actually though – they are straightforward.

    Right now – there are no tariffs between the UK and the EU. Post exit, they could be left as they are, revert to World Trade Organisation defaults or be somewhere in between.

    On the UK side – pretty much everyone is happy for there to be no tariffs. Where there is difference is on what other things might need to be accepted. Free movement of labour being the current hot topic.

    The EU side is a little more interesting. There is an open secret that many EU leaders fear that should the UK prosper outside of the EU, then the Union itself is under threat. They want the UK to struggle. “There must be a price.” This is a political imperative.

    For the majority of member states, free trade with the UK is profitable and contributes to economic prosperity. There is a clear economic argument for free trade to continue, unfettered.

    Were I a cynic, I might believe that some EU leaders will only offer access to the single market at a price that they know the UK won’t pay. I might believe that they are prepared to put their own political agendas before the interests of their citizens welfare and prosperity.

    The negotiations around Brexit may become about the reshaping of the EU, they may not. The UK may have unfettered access to the internal market, it may not.

    The British civil service rates itself as the best of the best. With some justification, it considers itself as the body that gets “the real work done.” The diplomats and technocrats are doubtless already working away. We should keep calm and let them get on with it.

    Let me leave you with a quote from Sir Humphrey Appleby, in “Yes Minister” 1980.

    “Diplomacy is about surviving until the next century – politics is about surviving until Friday afternoon.”

  • Back in the real world

    Weary, both from the walk, and a long wait at Bilbao, I was ready for a lie-down.

    As I emerged into the arrivals hall at Heathrow, I was met by the four ladies in the picture and their banner. The grown ups are Kate and my wife Margaret. The wee ones are Kate’s daughter Jessica and her friend Ivy.

    For Barbarians – Kate was known to us all as Bob (merci, Rowan Atkinson), and is part of the Dexter-Smith clan. The banner, it must be said, is a work of art, entirely completed by Jessica and Ivy and now a prized-possession.

    What a fantastic surprise! A huge thank you.

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    The camino.

    What can I say?

    It will come as no great shock to you that I can, in fact, say quite a lot.

    Add in the reflections on the Tight Head and the Talonneur, and it might run to a book…

    That’s the plan. I am going to put together a short e-book, which will go on sale through Amazon. All royalties from the sales will go to Our Lady’s Hospice.

    The book will not be expensive, nor will it be War and Peace. It will however be funny. Believe me when I say, that in a month of Sundays, I could not have dreamed up some of the stuff that happened. I am hoping to bully my extremely talented and busy writing-buddy Amanda Fleet into editing it for us, which will increase the quality ten-fold.

    This is where you come in.

    Can you persuade/cajole/bully/beat your friends into buying a copy?

    We really appreciate that many of you have already donated and we are grateful for your generosity.

    Naturally – I will publish some posts here. The Duck took some stunning pictures for a start, but as he says,

    “Buy the book. It’s the real stuff.”

  • Bilbao

    img_0573The Loose-head has made it to Bilbao. Faced with a 5 hour wait for the tight-head, I headed into downtown Bilbao for a mosey around. With luck, we will have a post Camino lunch here next Saturday.

    What a charming place it is.

    I have been taught by the best in dealing with Basque hostelries, so I found somewhere busy that looked great, and went to the empty place opposite ‘for the local stuff’.

    Cheeky.

    Team updates indicate that some drink was taken last night, but that swift recoveries are expected all round.

  • Duck Season

    A rare sighting last night of the Black Duck.

    In pensive mood.

    The team is assembling, with Franck, Gigi and the Duck in Bayonne/Biarritz. Today they will be joined by JC before moving up to Saint Jean Pied de Port.

    Here, its just gone 4am. I’ll be leaving here at 6, arriving in Bilbao in time for lunch. Then Stu will land and we will make our way to St Jean in time for supper.

    The weather forecast looks set fair, which is probably an indication of impending storms.

    Right – time for a shower.

    Look out Camino. Here we come.

    the-duck

  • T minus 2!

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    Good Grief.

    It’s happening. T minus 2. Too late to back out now.

    Although – not too late to make a donation.

    24 Hours from now, I will be waiting for Stuart Smith (it was ever thus) at Bilbao Airport.

    48 hours from now, I will be toiling through the Pyrenees, closing in on Roncesvalles, gasping for a beer and a lie down.

    “ANDERSON!!! I bet you are laughing your head off!”

    The bag is packed. (5.2kg if you are interested.) Hanging from the bag is the obligatory scallop shell, the symbol of the Camino. Mine was picked up on Malahide beach when I came for a practice walk earlier this year.

    Anyone called Stuart on this walk wants to thank the French for being French…

    “Ah, a walk? For Terry? Of course. We’ll be there.”

    Thanks also to everyone in Ireland and the UK that has helped get us ready; and most especially to our long-suffering wives. Every year we find new and exciting ways of exasperating them and yet they soldier on, to date, with minimal violence. Ger, Mags – you are saints.

    We’ll see you in a week or so.

    After all, what could possibly go wrong?

  • The Camino

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    Been a bit quiet here.

    Mostly because I have been blogging here.

    I’m off on a walk. In memory of the man in the collage above, Terry Anderson.

    I’m not alone, I will be walking with friends. Laurent Gauduchau, Jean-Christophe Poussou and Stuart Smith. We all knew Terry through the Prague Barbarians Rugby Club. Last year, after a punch-up with cancer, Terry passed away at Our Lady’s Hospice in Blackrock, Dublin. If you have a pound or two spare, then I know those people would put it to incredibly good use. You can donate here.

    Keen to show their support (or possibly to laugh at us) two more Prague Barbarians are coming to walk the first day with us. Franck Neel and Germain Gouranton.

    The Camino, particularly the route that we are walking, the ‘Frances’, is a well-trodden route. We will be far from alone. The route is 500 miles give or take, and I intend to walk it all, but in stages.

    This year, the four are starting in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France and walking hard for six days, staying in hostels along the way. With luck, we may get as far as Logrono; a hundred miles. We may not. We shall see what we shall see.

    I set off on Saturday, less than 48 hours from now. I’m flying to Bilbao, where I’ll meet Stuart, who is coming in from Dublin. We will then transfer to SJPDP where the French contingent await us.

    As the day draws nearer, I’m nervous. I have the gear, I have done some training, but I have never tried to walk 100 miles before. Will the knees hold up? Will I hold up the others? Will we grate on each other’s nerves in hours?

    Truth is, I don’t know.

    Along with the nerves, comes anticipation. It is something that I have never done before. It is challenging. It is different.

    That’s kind of cool.

    Maybe I’ll write about it.

    On camino, I’ll be updating www.stuartlennon.com and @frontrowcamino

     

  • Entente Cordiale

    It’s National Poetry day here in the UK and the Tight-head has come across all lyrical.

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    ‘Agincourt, Waterloo and all the rest; not to be trusted, the French. Garlic-eating, cheese-munching surrender-monkeys, The French.’
    Germain, Jean Christophe, Franck and Laurent are French and yet, THEY are the ones walking with us: Curious lot, The French.
    Terry was irascible, difficult-to-know, hated fakes, kicked people in the shins and yet he seemed to love The French.
    He loved visiting France, especially Bayonne, going into the mountains, drinking, eating and sharing his pleasure with The French.
    They have a lot to answer for, The French.
    I don’t know much, but I think I like The French.
    Even though they are French.

    Stuart Smith – 6th October 2016

    I have no idea what has come across our wafer-thin friend, but I feel certain that ‘The French’ will beat it out of him by suppertime on Sunday.

    Thank you once again to all of those who have donated. Should you need any love poetry to woo the apple of your eye, Stuart is writing to order in return for donations…

    Ultreia!

  • Stampede!

    dublin

    Photo: A genteel get-together of some famous Prague-ites. From left to right, Dec, ‘The Decorator’ Smith, The Scrum-half, El Tel, Gonzo, the Duck and Johnnie ‘I’m a tree’ Pullen.

    First, two named Stu chose the follow ‘The Way’.

    Along waddled a Duck in their wake and the ‘Sensible Shoes Camino, a Front-row on Pilgrimage’ was born. Then came Jean-Christophe, a slightly unbalanced second-row, keen to guide us along.

    On a late burst, (as is a centre’s habit) Gigi came storming up, promising supper and a day’s walking.

    Now, a sixth has pledged to don his sensible shoes. Welcome Franck Neel, who is also joining us for ‘camino-light’.

    Honestly, any more and we will have a bloody sevens team.

    As regular readers will know, we are walking to raise some money for Our Lady’s hospice in Blackrock, Ireland where our dear old mate Terry spent his final weeks.

    Thank you to those of you who have donated already.

    Stu, (the scrum-half-shaped one) was musing on how we might winkle some more cash for this incredible hospice from the endeavour.

    ‘Let’s have a sweep.’ I suggested. ‘How many times will Laurent use his favourite Anglo-Saxon word  on camino?’

    Ten euros a guess. You can have as many guesses as you like, but each costs ten euros. (Paid to the Just Giving page please.) When you have made payment, submit your guesses to either Stuart via Facebook, or here on the blog. 

    The closest guess will win half the pot*.

    It would be uncouth to write the actual word to which I refer, but all of you, particularly the English, will at some point have been referred to as this by the Duck. In fact, he often quacked, “We’re all just a bunch of c*****”

    *Terms and Conditions apply. Winners must be over 50. Winners must present themselves, with their four living grandparents, to Goose Green, the Falkland Islands, on February the 30th to collect their prize.

  • Team Apparel

    Once again, a word from the Tight Head, or perhaps ‘Pin-head’ might be more appropriate? Is it me or is his head now too big for his body? I, of course, still have the inverse problem…

    t-shirts

    As is well-known, behind every ‘good’ man, stands, well in this case, three, good women; Lil, Terry’s wife, the long-suffering Ger and Brid Buchan (wife of Raymond Ultra Marathon runner and pacemaker in the ‘Are we there yet?’ training walk of Howth hill).

    Lil and Brid came to drop off these wonderful T Shirts courtesy of Maria from Off the Wall Promotions. The modelling was done by yours truly, and has already attracted some unkind comments from my fellow front-row colleagues; intimating that my physique may be more suited to open side flanker or, heresy of heresies – the back line…

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    Despite the fact that all props and hookers have thick skins, honestly, a scrum-half? Really, was that absolutely necessary Mr Lennon?

    I look forward to these shirts becoming an emblem of all we intend to give back in the name of a good man over these next few years. Of course, I fully expect them to turn up in pubs and restaurants in Ireland, France, Spain and England for the foreseeable future, witness to great deeds of middle-aged daring-do.

    If you have already donated, thanks from the bottom of our hearts. Please feel absolutely free to do so again. 🙂

    If not, time to get the wallet out and bang us over a few quid.