The way I use the term “headbanger” is peculiarly Scottish. Sure, a Google definition will bring up a reference to Heavy Metal which I suspect is not on the Periodic Table. However when people from Glasgow call someone a headbanger they could easily mean that they are seriously intellectually challenged. Equally it could simply mean they are totally crazy. It can be used as a term of endearment or of scorn. This week I met a few headbangers.
I´d come to Santiago with a number of resolutions. I wanted to work in the Pilgrims´Office dispensing wit and compostelas in equal measure. I wanted to have lengthy late afternoon lunches with friends after work. I wanted to write entertaining blogs. I promised the Friday Night Boys that I would blog regularly and keep them posted. On the flight to Santiago I wondered if I could become the Alistair Cook of Santiago. I planned to sit quietly of an evening with a chilled glass of Alboriño fueling the creative process. Hugging the Saint, visiting friends, writing two important personal letters and going to see Joaquin at the organ in the Cathedral were all on the list.
8 days later. Nada.
Dealing with the unremitting flow of pilgrims is demanding. Collectively we write 200 compostelas an hour. Personally I spend around 3 minutes on average with each pilgrim. Only time for a brief word of welcome, a cursory inspection of the Pilgrim Passport, the stamps and then their name applied in Latin on the Compostela. Pilgrims have questions. Where can I sleep? When are the Masses? How do I get information about the route to Finisterre? Where can I charge my battery? It is absorbing and has taken over the lives of the staff and volunteers. I can see it happening. It is exhausting. There are no long lunches, only a shower and a sleep. As I drift off their faces often appear:
The wee woman of 72 who walked on her own from her home in Switzerland. She simply sighed as the final stamp went on her credencial. Ramon from Madrid who had walked for 5 days from Sarria. He cried when I gave him his Compostela. “I never knew it would be like this” he said. The tall, proud Spanish chap who appeared with a crowd at the head of the queue. “Is this a group?” I asked the usual question. “No,” he said with his chest swelling, “this is my family, 26 of us from all over Spain, we have come together to walk to Compostela.” So they trouped in mingling with Scouts and nuns, the young and the older, those who had walked from afar and those who had clearly walked far enough.
As if to counter the ugliness of the incident yesterday today brought the arrival of Amado, Redemptorist priest, Professor of Theology, athlete, peace protester and former political prisoner. The pilgrims who he had met on his Camino and those around him in the queue knew nothing about him except he was the priest who had walked barefoot from St Jean de Pied Port in France. I knew he was to arrive today and as the morning wore on I wondered if I should go and find him in the queue and bring him forward as I knew he wanted to participate in the Mass at 12 o´clock. I decided not to do that. He was a pilgrim like all others. Although he is leaving tomorrow there are two other Masses in the day. However Amado, barefoot and long back in the queue mentioned to his companions that he was worried about not getting to the Mass. Word was sent forward in the queue, pilgrims whispering to pilgrims. The huge crowd parted and a way was made for the barefoot priest who was cheered along the line and up the long staircase into the Pilgrims Office.
There´s a message there for heabangers everywhere.