• Living the Dream – 14. On Camino

    The Camino de Santiago. This post will, through the magic of wordpress, go live as I am finishing up a thirty two kilometre walk from Sahagún to Religeos.

    If you want to know more about the Camino, and why I’m walking it, click the ‘Camino’ category on the page and you’ll get a list of relevant posts.

    The photo is by Drew Robinson, whose excellent blog you can find here.

    Given the choice, Margaret preferred to have me disappear for a week before we left, rather than after. Understandably, she’d like to be a little more familiar with Cyprus before holding the fort alone for a week.

    While I’m swanning about in Northern Spain, there will be lots of packing and organising going on in England, so both Mags and I are playing to our strengths.

    This trip, my Camino-buddy, and best friend Stuart (no, really, that’s his name too), and I are planning to cover one hundred and twenty miles over six days. Twenty miles a day is a decent walk. I daresay at the end of it, I’ll be physically exhausted.

    Nevertheless, mentally, I will be completely refreshed. I cannot think of a better antidote to the stress of emigrating. The joy of the Camino is the singularity of it. Each day, we have one aim. To walk to the next stop. When hungry, we will stop and eat. When tired, we will sleep. At times we will talk, at others we may not even walk together. The Camino allows me the chance to be inside my own head. (It’s a weird place to be, trust me!)

    Life has a new rhythm. We arrive to our stop, check in, shower, change and then wash the clothes we just took off. Administration completed, we head out for food and wine. We write our journals, laugh and swap tall tales with fellow pilgrims. Sated, we’ll be early to bed and early to rise. The next day, we’ll do it all again.

    Once I’m back, we’ll be six days from leaving for Cyprus. The movers will be coming, there will be a thousand things that need doing, but I’ll be ready for them. Walking the Camino supercharges the soul and the spirit.

    Tough on the feet though.

  • Rioja – T minus 2

    It’s Sunday night. God and BA-willing, in 48 hours I’ll be in Bilbao, dragging the tight-head out of a bar and looking for the bus to Logrono.

    The plan is that we hook up with the ? in Logrono for tapas and perhaps a medicinal glass of Rioja. On Wednesday morning, we’ll jump on the early bus to Los Arcos, the village where we finished our walk last year. From there, we will walk back to Logrono, quite possibly for more tapas and Rioja. This first day will have the advantage of being pack-free as we are pre-booked into the same hotel for Wednesday night.

    Thence we will meander through the entire province of Rioja, finishing our six days at Burgos in Castilla y Leon. The plan this year is 150.7 km (93 miles), so a shade over 25km a day (15.5 miles).

    Backpack

    Charity. I don’t know about you, but I have some charity fatigue. Everyday, somebody is doing something for a worthy cause. This year, we are not tapping you up for anything. Personally, I think that a reunion is the time to raise some cash. For example, where young and stupid men fined each other with alcohol, wise (and infinitely better looking) middle-aged men might be better putting some cash in a pot. Just sayin’ (I am now known as “The voice of reason”).

    I’m looking forward to our second trip immensely. I have a few more miles in the legs this year, largely because I have been walking to and from the office. I’m not taking tech with me – just a compact camera. I will feel isolated for a while, but then the lack of ‘notifications’ will become a real pleasure.

    Most of all – I’m looking forward to seeing my walking-buddies again.

    Buen Camino

  • Camino 2: Rioja

    What Ho!

    It’s on. Later this year, the Front Row will pick up where it left off and walk another week of the camino.

    Dates have been agreed, flights have been purchased. The Belligerent Basque is primed and ready to go. (Isn’t he always?)

    Both Props were delighted to hear that the first camino marked an upturn in the Duck’s health; so much of an upturn that he is now permitted adult beverages. “Oh good!” We cried in unison.

    Last year, we managed to get to 2,700 Euros for the hospice on the Just Giving page, and we would like to push that beyond 5,000 this year.

    Last year, and more recently, various Barbarians have mused how much fun it would be to join us on our pilgrimage. After discussion, we would make the following observations.

    1. What? You must have forgotten how truly unpleasant we are, individually and as a group.
    2. With much love and respect, we suggest you all fornicate elsewhere. Each of us would heartily recommend that you undertake the camino. All of it or part of it. But do it alone, or in a small group, three maximum. At the risk of sounding trite, the passages of solitude are an important part of the experience – and those would disappear, if the walk became a tour.
    3. The tighthead is putting together a reunion in Bayonne next year. That’s the time to meet up.

    This year, we start at Los Arcos, a wee town on the river Odron. At the end of Day 1, we will pass from Navarra into Rioja until we reach Castilla and Leon a few days later. The tighthead will, undoubtedly, in between moaning about how cold he is, give us full background on each vineyard as we pass through it. Probably very interesting the first couple of times. Assuming he lives through a full day, then I imagine he might not bother on Day 2. Poor love will be hungry though, I’m sure.

    Los Arcos is at 450m above sea-level, and we finish in Burgos at 850m. In between, there are a few bumps (ees not a mountain, ees an ‘ill), the highest at 1,150m. The camino wanders from medieval village to medieval village, and in those days, you built your village where you could best defend it. Almost invariably, on a hill. Therefore, most camino days end with a steep climb.

    Fortunately, we always have the benefit of a jaunty stream of expletives in a panoply of languages from the Duck to help us along.

    The loosehead will, of course be i/c logistics and sore feet. I am particularly looking forward to the end of day 5, where the recommended overnight stop is in a “classic pilgrim village (pop 20)

    Having crested the highest peak on this trip, we will coast into this village, where there must a reasonable chance that one of the twenty inhabitants will say the equivalent of “Sorry chaps, no room at the inn.” I will smile, step aside and ask that the individual repeat this news to the Duck.

    The tighthead and I will probably enjoy a cool glass of something while the hooker beats some sense into, and finalises arrangements with, the poor fellow.

    What, as they say, could possibly go wrong?

     

     

  • Review

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    Ducks on the Pill Brook at the end of my street.

    This morning, I was watching a very brave journalist broadcasting from Aleppo in Syria.

    I do not claim to have any real handle on the rights and wrongs of that terrible conflict. I watched in horror and shame. Will we ever stop being a cruel and murderous, species I wonder?

    I am fairly certain that the involvement of this joker hasn’t helped.

    It is difficult to maintain any sort of perspective in relation to the events that I mention above, but I thought I might provide a review on a variety of things.

    IT. I posted here about moving away from Apple, and here about moving to Google. My Pixel XL phone is great. Reliable, efficient and fast-charging. I can say the same for the Chromebook. The biggest change though works regardless of hardware. Turn notifications off. All except phone. This one simple step puts you in charge of your apps, rather than they in charge of you.

    Politics. A lot of nonsense continues to be talked about Brexit. A favourite is the clamour for the government to publish a plan. A plan for a negotiation. A chocolate teapot. Eventually, the PM realised that all she had to do was agree. She will soon publish a plan saying – “We want free trade, and control of our borders.” Remainers will cry foul and demand to know what is going to happen. The government will respond – “Don’t know. It’s a negotiation.” Still. It keeps them busy.

    US Politics. From a field of two, one candidate won. He is certainly a departure from the usual. There is a lot of noise about the inherent unfairness of the electoral system, and at the moment, outrage that a foreign power is alleged to have attempted to influence the outcome of the election. Apparently such claims made with no trace of irony. How will ‘The Donald’ work out? I really don’t know. I suspect he will continue to delight in upsetting any apple-cart that he can find.

    The CaminoThe word alone brings a smile to my face. Somehow we managed to ensure that the pilgrim with the photos is the one least able to share them, so I have not written or posted as much about that week as I had planned. Walking twenty miles or more each day certainly simplifies life and I can’t wait for the second instalment next year.

    Journals, organisers and stationery. I have chopped and changed through a myriad of schemes to organise myself. Both digital and analogue. My preference is analogue, yet digital is far better for sharing. Thus, I use a hybrid. My calendar, shared with Mrs L, is kept on Google; accessible from multiple electronic devices. Many events, I also transfer to my Economist desk diary. Here, I get some perspective on how my week looks. I find this more attractive than an electronic output and better for my weekly review. On the move though, the diary has too much heft. I now carry a simple paper A6 notebook with a Fischer space pen. I would rather use a fountain pen, but I often dress casual – and ink and jeans can be uncomfortable companions. Here, I employ parts of the #BuJo system to run my daily tasks. Of late, I have even developed a double page system to prioritise. I also have a reflective journal – which I would like to keep daily, but often is neglected. Joyfully, the journal has no notifications function, and therefore does not berate me for missing a day.

    Corporate. I have a couple of clients for whom I provide support in anti-money laundering systems. I have also been reviewing a multitude of potential acquisitions. Both of those things are, by their very nature, confidential, but hopefully the work done this year will lead to good outcomes.

    Writing. The last few months I have done no work at all on Sean. I have been perpetually busy on everything above. Now, given that I am largely (when Mrs L lets me) master of my own time, I have to ask myself why it is that I can find time for anything, anything at all, except writing.

    That’s probably another post all on its own.

     

     

  • The roof of the world

    What Ho!

    It’s been a bit quiet here. The front row has been recovering from the camino experience.

    The tighthead is currently recovering hard with The Sheep and the Decorator. Were I a betting man, I might suggest that some rugby will be watched and some beers consumed, even as I type. Stu will also complain about the cold one hundred and thirty two times and how hungry he is, eighty four times. (Today).

    The loosehead, concerned by slight camino-induced weight loss, resolved to bulk up. After a month’s solid, non-stop eating, the concern has lessened, particularly as he can no longer see his feet.

    The hooker. Last we heard, the Duck was in remarkable form, having greatly enjoyed the camino. Naturally, his reaction to walking one hundred and twenty miles in six days was…to go for a walk.

    rsz_topoftheworld

    Delighted though we are that the Duck has been ‘en vacances’ with his charming son Leon, Laurent is in sole possession of the vast majority of the photographs – some of which, we rather hoped to share here. Carrier pigeons and bounty hunters have been despatched.

    This picture is from day one, our passage along the route Napoleon through the Pyrenees. At this point, it is fair to say there were some gritted teeth. The enormity of what we were taking on was hitting home. Stu, obviously, stayed behind me at points like this, well away from any drop-offs.

    At the summit, it was cold and wet. We had passed through the clouds, and the wind was icy. It really felt like the roof of the world.

    The descent into Roncesvalles is steep and many of the surfaces are loose. Rain doesn’t help. I was thankful that none of us was carrying any injuries.

    “Ah boys. I forgot.”

    “Did you hear that Stu? He didn’t swear.” (I really am that annoying.)

    “If I fall, and there is any bruising or bleeding – you must take me immediately to the hospital.”

    Stu and I looked at each other, and then surveyed the stark emptiness all around.

    “Why?” We chorused.

    “Ah…I don’t know. Something to do with the f*****g drugs they give me?”

    “Anti coagulant?” I ventured.

    “Yes. That’s it.”

    I counted to ten in my head.

    “Right. So, as we tackle these vertiginous scree drops, we should keep in mind that should the Duck go arse over tit and cut himself, he will bleed to death all over us.”

    The props shared a look and put their heads together.

    We tacked down the hill, looking to all the world like skiers with no skis and no snow.


    Later, as we waited for dinner, the Duck asked,

    “What did you two say at the top of the hill?”

    “Ah, nothing Laurent. We tried to imagine what Terry would have advised us to do.”

    “Mais Non! Put***. What did you decide?”

    “If he dies, he dies.” We answered in unison, raising our glasses to him.

    “Bunch of c****” he replied with a laugh.

  • 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.”

  • 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?