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?

Stampede!

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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…

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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.

FIVE! The team is growing.

A fifth man has joined the team. (It is alleged)

As is the way in communication between forwards, the message is somewhat confused, however, we believe that our numbers are now swelled by the addition of a back.

Take a bow, Germain Gouranton.

Being A. A back, and B, not a lunatic, Gigi plans on establishing a basecamp in St Jean Pied de Port, from where he will raise a glass in salute, wish us “Bonne chance” before sensibly retiring home to his warm bed.

Naturally, as a French back, he will mysteriously re-appear at the end of the pilgrimage, in a clean shirt, not a hair out of place and take centre-stage in the photos, before graciously conceding that

“You know, the forwards, they played well, mostly they kept out of my way. It’s normal in France.”

The Black Duck (Laurent) has been given the all clear by the Cardiologist to walk with us – we are unclear as to the doctor’s opinion on the filterless Camels.

So – turning into quite the mini-reunion.

Speaking personally, I know that the thought of 25 km uphill the next morning will serve as an effective brake on my drinking – but I’m certain Terry would approve of a fortifying glass of wine before the off.

Even in the Himalayas, El Tel was not averse to a swift half…

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A week on Saturday, we will gather in SJPDP and fight for the right to the bunk bed rather than half the double. Sunday morning, packs on and walk.

“Which way?”

“Up.”

How bad could it be?

A word from our sponsor

The title is not accurate. YOU are our sponsor, the Hospice will be the recipient of your generosity.

As some of you reading this are rugby players, I’ll say it a different way. YOU should click on the link in the sidebar – or even HERE, this will take you to a page where you can make a donation small or large to this incredible hospice where Terry was so well looked after.

PLEASE, PLEASE take a moment to make a donation. Otherwise, please be advised that Stuart Smith will track you down…and talk at you.

Stu and I have, over the years, presented several plans to Terry. I thought you might like to see his reactions.

seriously

“Do this in France; you die.” Nearly.

“Stu. Laurent is coming.”

“Good for him. Who’s the lucky girl/boy/goat?”

“No. Muppet. He is coming on camino.”

I dropped the telephone.

I had last seen Laurent in Bayonne, during the Rugby World Cup. As is a hooker’s wont, the Black Duck had gone slightly off on a tangent. Completely on track, Basque hookers can be a handful, off on a tangent, nobody else was going to go near him.

The Front Row code was invoked and the two props were sent to see if a course adjustment might be possible.

“Here’s the plan Stu. We have a few beers, then over dinner we tell him to get a job, stop smoking and drink less.”

“Brilliant. So, pint in hand we tell a Basque nutcase to stop drinking?”

“Got it in one!”

Smith is nothing, if not the eternal optimist.

“Right-o.”

I am nothing, if not easily led.

The Basque having been severely admonished by Drunk and Drunker, all retired to bed, promising to meet to watch France – Ireland the next day.

Ireland rather put the sword to the French, and we felt that this, combined with the eloquence and persuasive oratory of the previous night explained a rather muted hooker. As he slunk off, Stu and I ordered a celebratory carafe of almost undrinkable Cote de Rhone. (Almost, I said.)

Several hours later Stu’s phone beeped. And beeped. And beeped.

We slept.

“He’s had a heart attack.” Stu intoned.

“No, I’m fine.” I responded.

“No, the Duck is in hospital.”

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Not exactly the outcome we were looking for.

He assures us that he is feeling much better now.

How bad could it be?

“Wait! I’ve got an idea…”

A word from the Tight-head.

“A stroll, you say…”

I was visiting Terry on a weekly basis at the Blackrock Hospice, doing what I do best, spouting inane drivel, wittering on about this, that and the other. Those of you who know me can vouch that this is an unrivalled skill set. I have no idea what he was getting from it, apart from probably a headache, but he didn’t kick or punch me, which for Terry was a strong hint of friendship.

Then one day as I was relating the latest disaster to befall Northampton RFC when he cut across me.

“Smithy, let me tell you this, even with all the crazy, wonderful things I have done in my life, I am happiest and at peace right here right now”.

I held it together for another 20 minutes until he kicked me out (pure El Tel, that). I was overcome and the pure humanity and strength of the man knocked the stuffing out of me. The “Yes, he was a grumpy Old Man, but he was our grumpy old man” trope seemed less sure or right. We didn’t delve like that again, and he seemed content in my company, and I began looking at him in a completely different light.

Almost 6 months ago to the day he passed away in a loving, caring, pain-free environment.

I know, I was there.

I knew I wanted to remember him other than at a funeral, but what to do?

I’d promised myself that I would stay true , like he did, till the end, but then what?
Enter Colm Brady, a friend and all round fitness fanatic who casually mentioned over a little light supper that he was walking the Camino with some pals. I’d like to say the Eureka moment was mine, but it really was Mr B who turned on the switch.

From there it was a short hop to “I’m not doing this on my own, what other idiots do I know?”

I phoned Stuart Lennon.

“Stu!  It’s Stu. This camino, it’ll be a short walk and we can raise some cash for the hospice.”

He has spent 6 months on the logistics and managed to pick up a couple of Frogs along the way.

I even managed to entice him over to Ireland for a bit of training, which for once we took seriously; 37KM and it rained for almost 7 hours around the formidable Hill of Howth. We were led by Raymond ‘Ultra Marathon’ Buchan and aided and abetted by Wini Gallagher, Emma Jane Finnegan and Decorator and joined by Lil and Saoirse and friends of Terry back at the finish line for a cheeky bit of grub.

It was the first, and only time EVER that Lennon and I have stared at an open bottle of alcoholic grape juice and uttered the immortal line ‘No thanks, I’m a bit tired, I think we should hit the hay.’

That, my friends, is one hell of a legacy for Terry Anderson.

The Camino de Santiago

“We could go for a walk, I suppose.”

“Aye.”

I replied, raising yet another toast to Terry, whose funeral I was to attend the following morning.

So was set in motion our pilgrimage. Stuart and Stuart (you think you are confused? Try being us.) are going for a walk.

For any that don’t know, the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James is, technically, a walk. What I hadn’t quite appreciated was how much of a walk.

I daresay that we shall get into some of the detail of that later.

“Ah yes les gars. El camino. Eeeeets tough, you know?”

Laurent’s accent has to be heard to be believed.

“I’ll come with you. It’s normal in France.”

Oh good.

Below is a picture of us taken last year in Bayonne. Stu and Stu had gone to see Laurent to talk about maturity and moderation. No, really. We did.

It’s a front-row thing.

Left, Stuart Smith (SS). Tight-head prop, resident of Dublin. Middle, Laurent Gauduchau (LG). Hooker. Bayonne. Right, me, Stuart Lennon (SL). Loose-head prop (in 2 minute bursts), Hampshire, England.

Naturally, a glass of wine was taken before any serious talk.

So now there are three on pilgrimage.

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The day after this photograph was taken, SS felt a bit peaky, SL swore never to eat another bavette and LG had a heart attack.

So that went well.

On October the 9th (in less than one month’s time) we three Prague Barbarians are taking on stage 1 of our camino. We will set off from St Jean Pied de Port in France at first light. By dusk we will be on the other side of the Pyrenees in Roncesvalles, Spain. A 25 km walk, most of it uphill.

How bad could it be?

If you have managed to get this far, thank you. Now, click on the Just Giving link, and donate what you can to an amazing place that does an incredibly tough job. If you don’t, we might just send Laurent to live with you…

On this blog, we will keep an account of our adventure. I daresay the odd Terry anecdote may crop up too. Please comment and join the craic.

Stage 1 is a week. Stu and I have flights out of Bilbao on Saturday the 15th. Stage 2 will begin where we left off.

I plan to complete the 500 mile walk at one week per year, finishing in April of 2020. The rest of the front row? Who knows. The rest of the Prague Barbarians? Well, boys and girls, we know you are out there. Fancy a wee walk in the next few years in memory of Tez?

Bring sensible shoes.

Buen Camino.