Saturday, 12 September 2009

Auld claes and porridge

It is hard to believe that this time last week I was still in Santiago about to start my final shift in the Pilgrims' Office. Then on the Sunday we flew back. Despite the rampant money grasping of Ryanair they continue to be reliable on the route from Santiago to London. The flight took off at 11.20, on time. It arrived 15 minutes early. There was a train about to leave Stansted which we caught and at 2.15 I was sitting in La Teraza, the Galician restaurant in Clapham!

Of course the week has whizzed past with meetings and a mountain of correspondence. I've also been looking at planning the music for Advent and Christmas. Doing that always comes as a shock. Yes, that time of year is nearly upon us.

But I've been snatching a few minutes every now and again to look at some of the images of the route from Madrid:

This proved to be a demanding route but it is really very special. I'm not sure I would recommend it as a first route in its entirety but Madrid is so accessible walking parts of it would be a splendid way to get away from it all or to practice for a first Camino. Madrid to Segovia would be lovely and is a stretch I will walk again. The memory of the majestic Cathedral of Segovia in the cool dawn light is vivid.

So too are memories of arriving at the Peaceable Kingdom in Moratinos. It was a short two-night visit and although I’d met Rebekah before when we had dinner in Madrid on a previous trip I’d never met her husband Paddy. Paddy is a former editor of a tabloid newspaper and then specialised in developing colour magazines and supplements. Rebekah is also a journalist. They met while working together on a newspaper. Newsprint is embedded deep in their consciousness and it is clear from conversation that they have both wielded the “simple sword of truth” very effectively in their careers. Perhaps too enthusiastically, sometimes, by their own admission.

These are all my own prejudices, I suppose, but aren’t former newspaper hacks meant to be living and playing golf on the Costa del Sol and daily boasting to other ex pats about the scoops they landed over the years?

Rather Rebekah and Paddy are the only two native English speakers in a community of 18 souls in Moratinos. The Camino Frances passes through their main street. “Main” is an outlandish description it could be called street number 1 because there only is one other street. Both short.

One of the things I had been thinking about their seemingly idyllic way of life was how they cope with the boredom of being there all the time, day in and day out. No bar, no cinema, no shops. I was therefore astonished to discover that they have also taken the decision not to have a television. The internet, which they supply to the village, is their link with the outside world.

But quickly an impression of their daily life emerges. There are the two dogs Tim and Una, both demanding care and attention. Both best friends of Rebekah and Paddy. There is a fiercely independent and very elegant cat called Murphy and a singing canary. I’m sure he also had a name.

Music plays all the time. Classical Spanish guitar performed by a friend of theirs. Jazz tinkled on the piano and songs of yesteryear. Dinner round a large kitchen table. They both felt easy. They are used to visitors.

I was fascinated by Paddy. I took to him immediately. I enjoyed his sense of humour, his crusty satirical insights into all aspects of human and animal behaviour. I can imagine him publishing outlandish stories to increase newspaper sales. Although I was relieved to find he wasn’t editor of the newspaper which published “Freddy Starr ate my hamster”. I can also imagine him ruthlessly pursuing individuals for a story. It turns out some of these things also remain on his mind.
But they are both in a new place. It becomes clear that isn’t just geographical. They describe their home as a “House of Welcome”. The sign outside is pretty and has a cup of tea illustrated. The message to pilgrims is “call in for a rest, a cup of tea, a friendly chat. Stay over if you wish. Rest awhile.” They operate on the traditional strictly donativo model. No charges. Give what you want. They also believe in the saying that “pilgrims take what they need and give what they can”.

Therefore they have pilgrims who stay and do work on the house and outbuildings in a fair exchange for a bed and food.

Is this like a classy bed and breakfast amazingly run on donativo lines? I think it is a whole lot more than that. Rebekah and Paddy are good people. They are both pilgrims. They live their lives in Moratinos. They are engaged with the local community. They have children, relatives and friends outside the pilgrims’ world. They go walks. They make pilgrimage from time to time.
But whether they like it or not, and I suspect Paddy will not like the term, they are developing a ministry to pilgrims. They have a policy of not turning anyone away. If someone has problems neither of them will walk by on the other side.

This can lead to difficulties. Not everyone likes everyone else. Paddy and Rebekah are not saints and neither are some of the pilgrims who come to stay. Both of them have views on the world and Paddy can articulate his with acid humor. I can imagine people disagreeing. I loved it. They embrace unusual people, needy people, people who might be freeloading, people about whom they know nothing. All are welcome.

I decided very quickly that I couldn’t do what they do. I just couldn’t open my home and my heart to every random stranger who knocked on my door. Well...I would try, but I couldn’t sustain it. Yet here they are. They seemed to have found a place in the world in which they are comfortable.

I can imagine Paddy commanding the editor’s office dispatching journalists to deliver the evidence and verdict on politicians and criminals. But what I saw in Moratinos was a man entirely comfortable with his animals and whose face broke into the proudest smile when describing Max the new cockerel who is now literally ruling the roost.

Nowadays the office which Paddy commands is the vestibule of the church when he takes his turn with the rest of the villagers to open it to pilgrims in a new project. Instead of spiking some stories and publishing others he now stamps every pilgrim's passport.

As we got into the car to leave for Santiago I looked back into the Church at Paddy and thought, “there’s a man who has found some peace”.

As for me this week has just been back to old clothes and porridge to use the Scottish term. Maybe a week in Spain in November sorting out the new guide to the Madrid route….hmmmmm.

1 comment:

  1. timgray1948@gmail.com27 September 2009 at 04:34

    Nice word pictograph of the Peaceable Kingdom, for those of us who follow their blog also. I enjoyed your "it doesn't matter rules" in the previous post. Hope to camiando in 2010.