Sunday, April 23, 2023

You'll Never Walk Alone - On the Camino

Two weeks to go before we fly out to Porto and I am relieved to report that nobody within our circle of family and friends has popped their clogs recently. It is, of course, just over a year since my good mate H sadly and unexpectedly passed. Eric, Roger, Wayne and myself marked this first anniversary with a meet-up in Southend-on-Sea, visiting old haunts and downing several beers in honour of the big man. Included within these old haunts should ideally have been our old local, the rather splendidly titled The Aristocrat in Queens Road, but it seems that particular moniker was lost to the sands of time (or the sands of Southend-on-Sea?) many years ago. To be replaced by Pong.

Thirty nine years (since the five of us first started drinking together in The Aristocrat) is a long time and times change. But Pong

Hmmm. Fancy a nice romantic meal tonight at Pong darling? Perhaps a few pre-dinner drinks beforehand at that nice new place nearby Bit Shit Innit?

Sadly for Pong’s business owners, the place appeared to be locked up and no longer in operation. Some of my finest achievements took place in that building.

But, thirty nine years on and with more recent finest achievements in mind, the Camino is calling. Mrs C and I have been putting plenty of miles in our legs and we are feeling fit for the challenge, albeit my gout has been toying with me of late. I have all but completed the Spanish language internet course I originally purchased back in 2011 and mi espaƱol is mucho mejor que antes. Shame we’re going to Portugal really. And, in a valiant attempt to save spending on unnecessary baggage charges with Easyjet, I have removed the steel reinforcements from the back of my rucksack to ensure that I can squeeze my rucksack with belongings into a size no bigger than 45 x 30 x 20 centimeters. If all goes to plan, that should see me arrive at Manchester airport on 7 May wearing most of the clothes I am taking with me, thus resembling the Michelin Man, but I reckon that my money is better in my pocket than Easyjets and I’ll have plenty of pockets to choose from as I’ll be wearing most of them.

Let’s hope it’s not unseasonably warm in Manchester on 7 May. 

We expect this Camino to be very different to last year for a number of reasons, not least of which because there will be four of us, not two. As a generalisation, I am not one for detailed planning. As a generalisation Mick, one half of the Mick and Andrea with whom we will be walking, is one for detailed planning. In between these two somewhat opposite positions, Andrea (the other half of the Mick and Andrea with whom we will be walking) and Mrs C prefer a little bit of certainty in their lives. Thus I have come up with the brilliant wheeze that I will have little or nothing to do with the planning for this Camino which should mean that every day on the Portuguese Camino will, for me, be a mystery whereas the others should be able to start each day with whatever degree of certainty they desire, assuming of course that they have indeed planned it properly. They had better do so - my desire for spontaneity will be relying on them.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

When I'm Sixty Four


Wonderful times on the Camino last year with the lovely
Mrs C. Our next Camino is in the planning. I will start it 
as a nicer person than I started the last one. 

Six months later and not a day has passed without thoughts of the Camino occupying my mind. My self-published effort, detailing our experiences walking the Camino Frances, has been flying off the Amazon shelves in true Buzz Lightyear style. For those of you unfamiliar with the 1995 film Toy Story, Woody says to Buzz “Buzz, you’re flying” to which Buzz replies “this isn’t flying, this is falling, with style”. So maybe I should have listened to Christopher Hitchens in the first place? Who knows. You, dear reader, can decide.

During the second half of 2022 Mrs C and I filled our Schengen Area boots, wracking up eighty nine of our ninety-days-in-every-one-hundred-and-eighty-days allowance at our apartment in Mar de Cristal. And when back in the UK in November, I travelled down to Essex to meet up with old mates Wayne, Eric and Roger for our first get-together since H’s funeral in Rye last April.

And I’ve had another birthday! Not a big one with a zero in it which, as you know, I am not very good at but I’m still almost (?) early-sixties at the now ripe old age of sixty four. Paul McCartney apparently first penned his famous song in 1956 when he was just fourteen. A musical masterpiece it may be but it’s only once you start getting closer to this particular milestone that the obvious young years of the writer become apparent. Had Paul McCartney waited another fifty years before actually writing those lyrics, then chances are that he would have been looking for words that rhyme with NHS, poo sticks and invasive digits. Bloody hell, no sooner do you escape the world of work and the NHS is wanting to monopolise your newly acquired freedom by testing for this and testing for that, making you do unspeakable things whilst on the toilet and legitimising the direction of digital travel the wrong way up what was previously - and make no mistake about this - very much a one way street. I wouldn’t mind so much if I was actually ill, or even feeling a bit off-colour, but it’s no wonder the NHS has a back-log of seven million people needing treatment when it’s spending all this time on folk who don’t. Yes, preventative maintenance and all that. I get it. But it surely can’t be healthy worrying the bejeezus out of people in the first place who, just because they now have a six in front of their age, appear to be regarded as prime candidates for the knackers yard. 

As the Beatles famously sang:

When I get older losing my hair

Many years from now

Will they have me at the doctor’s surgery

Giving me poo sticks, checking my wee

Will they boldly go where the sun doesn’t shine

Because of my PSA score

Whatever’s behind it, they’re determined to find it

When I’m sixty four

H was sixty four when he died and Eric, Roger and myself have all hit this same landmark in the last few months. Wayne is a couple of years older than the rest of us but he only looks sixty four so he is an honorary member of the sixty four club as well; he just has a bit more experience of being sixty four, that’s all. Anyway, what with the whole country seemingly infected by the post-pandemic-response blues, resultant cost-of-living crisis, impending further erosion of civil liberties and erstwhile UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock finishing third in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, it strikes me that entering a new year at the age of sixty four demands one thing and one thing only. Mrs C and I are going to walk another Camino.  

Not all addictions are bad for you and there is little doubt that the Camino is addictive. Such is the addictive nature of the Camino experience that I have even abandoned a deep-rooted enmity towards Facebook and registered, albeit under a pseudonym, an account solely that I may follow and participate in various Camino-related Facebook groups. Hmm. I have to confess disappointment in myself in this respect. But addictive behaviour is addictive behaviour (I will, clearly, never make a philosopher) and whilst such addictive behaviour can assume various manifestations, it seems that I am not alone even in my own small circle of we’ve-done-the-Camino friends. And so it is that next May, if all goes to plan, Mrs C and I will fly to Porto with our good friends Mick and Andrea in our quest to complete the Portuguese Camino to Santiago de Compostela.

This will be very different.

As per Orisson tradition, after the meal everyone introduced themselves. All very nice and lovely. Almost, almost a bit too nice and lovely for my liking. Everyone was nicer than me, that’s for sure.

And so I blogged at the end of the first day of our Camino adventure in late April last year. Maybe two years of Covid-related frustration played its part in that less than generous comment but five weeks and nearly five hundred miles later, the Camino had worked its magic on me. Maybe it was the simplicity of life on the road, or the camaraderie amongst fellow pilgrims, or the generosity of welcome from the Spanish people, the sense of achievement, or even the beer? Maybe it was all of these things or none of these things, I haven’t been able to determine. But the nearest thing I have found to an answer is love. And so the penultimate paragraph of the book reads;

Writing this book has allowed me to relive every day that Mrs C and I spent on the Camino and to recall the whole experience in great detail. Every bar we frequented, every bed we slept in and every fellow pilgrim we met along the way. Had I needed any reminding, it also corroborated the whole wonderful experience. Perhaps love is indeed the answer to the question?

Our next Camino is already in the planning. I will start it as a nicer person than I started the last one. For those of you planning your first Camino, I will be one of the nice people you meet on your first night. Don’t fight it. Resistance is futile.