Friday, 1 April 2011

Thank you St James

I never thought it I would ever become scared to visit a blog…especially my own. However dear readers those of you who call in here occasionally may have noticed that for the last 25 days I haven’t written a word. I’ve had thoughts about things to write about. I’ve even logged on. But whenever I see the countdown clock I experience a rising panic that I am running out of time to get everything done. I’ve been busy.
The last 26 days have been crazy. First I had to cram in social engagements before Lent began on 9th March. These started with lunch with Adrian and Paula who are thinking of walking the Via de la Plata. He is a lawyer to trade now a judge, she is an academic specialising in education. They are also pilgrims.
I encountered them on a hot, sunny afternoon on the Camino Portuguese. They were carrying substantial rucksacks but they walked with the steady and determined pace of experienced pilgrims. It turn out they had walked the Camino Francés from France and enjoyed it so much they were exploring other routes. After the Camino Portugues they went on to walk the Camino Inglés.They have also walked to Finisterre. Adrian and Paula walk every step of the way and carry every ounce of their kit on their backs. It is also their preference to sleep in good hotels each night. We laughingly call them the “Parador Pilgrims”. They stoutly defend their right to continue to do what many medieval pilgrims did who slept in inns along the way. At least they aren’t being carried by servants like some in the past! The meticulous planning and booking of the itinerary is down to Adrian who has made his plans available on his website. To see it go here.  Adrian and Paula are fast becoming firm friends. Another gift of the Camino.

Then just before Ash Wednesday a different group of friends assembled for a final evening of festivities before the rigours of Lent began. I’ve told you before about the dressing up and partying that goes on in Galicia during Carnaval…that was replicated by friends in London who even included a re-enactment of La Quemada, a potion of homemade liquor set alight and served accompanied by a long poem about the witches and spirits of Galicia. During the high jinks of the evening I realised that if I hadn’t walked that first Camino I wouldn’t have been sitting there with all of these friends.
But as Lent began so too did serious preparations to go to Spain. First though there was the important matter of Brendan’s funeral. There were very few people there. “I’ve outlived them all” was his boast. I played and a young actor who Brendan had mentored recited the most beautiful sonnet. Then an older woman spoke. She was an actor too and wanted to thank Brendan on behalf of her whole profession for the help he had given her and many others as struggling young actors, “he fed us, tutored us and loved us” she said. To the strains of the Beethoven he had requested the curtains in the crematorium closed on Brendan for the last time. We all applauded.
I then launched into emptying cupboards, packing boxes and opening files which haven’t seen the light of day for years. I’ve been rigorous with my clothes – out have gone the city suits, the shirts with cuffs and the silk ties. That stuff was easy and I’ve made numerous journeys to local charity shops. More difficult were the books. I made the mistake of lifting one off the shelf and opening it before deciding if it would stay or go. 30 minutes later I was still thinking about it. “You’ll never get to Spain at this rate” I thought. So with a large leap of faith I’ve ditched most of them and a few lonely tomes now sit on the bare shelves waiting for transportation.

If the books were bad, sorting the music was worse. To be honest like many other musicians I’ve been hoarding for years. After several attempts I eventually disposed of my collection of musical hall scores from before World War 2 and lots of other pieces. I don't  think I'm likely to need the music for the Can Can. Do you?  Donations to local music teachers followed and gradually I am working my way along the shelves. I hate this bit.
At one point I felt the anxiety rising again – “Will I be ok”, “Will it all work out?” “Should you stop this nonsense now, John?” Taking a break from packing and worrying I got on with another project which has been waiting for some time, writing a guide to The James’ Way a new walking route in England devised by the Confraternity of St James. It covers 70 miles from Reading to Southampton and goes through historic sites, beautiful countryside and wonderful English villages. The route is dotted with 12 century churches, gorgeous stretches of river walking and frequent choices between having lunch in an ancient country churchyard or the local village pub. The route can be walked in 5 stages returning to London or another base each night or sleeping over on the way. The guide is largely written and when it is finished I’ll tell you much more about it. It will be published on the CSJ website as an on-line guide and I predict this route is going to become a “must do” for pilgrims in the UK and from abroad. When you see the pictures you may agree.
I very much enjoyed the walking and the writing. I could leave to start walking in Spain right now. But first of course I have to find tenants for my property and there is the little matter of getting all my stuff over there.
As I told you I had been plagued by estate agents when I made initial enquiries. They added to my feeling of panic. So I told them all that I would select one and get back to them one month before I was due to leave. I did that last week. They appeared literally almost instantly with cameras and clip board. Viewing hours were arranged. Each Saturday and Sunday 10 – 1.30 pm and each evening 5 – 8pm. With the thought of strangers coming into my home I started cleaning the place. Again.
Then I called in to see Don Antonio in La Terazza to ask if he could recommend a company to take my stuff to Spain. I should have known. “Si señor, my very good friend, he has been to this place many times, he delivers many things between Galicia and Londres. “ Without a pause, Antonio phoned the chap in Spain. “Si, si, si, si, si, 15 boxes, Santiago, si, si.” Antonio put down the phone and beamed. “It is all fixed, he comes to Londres twice a month. He will come on the date you tell him and deliver 3 – 4 days later.” Phew. What a relief.
With one problem solved I steeled myself for the invasion of the house viewers poking around. I decided to go out and leave it to the agents. So last Saturday to avoid the first of them off I went to walk the final stage of the St James’ Way from Winchester to Southampton. Exhausted I got back to find a note from the estate agents. “First viewings went well, we have client who wishes to lease your property at the price we asked for a period of two years.” Deal done. I can stop cleaning.

I’m on my way. St James, if you had a hand in this – thanks.


  1. In all, quite a daunting project, but also exhilarating, eh? And you still have 32 days! Hope that last bit goes smoothly for you.

  2. WOW, John, you're doing it! Where will your new home be?
    Enjoy your move!

  3. Hurrah, your off then? That post made me laugh out loud, sounds exactly like what Nick and I are experiencing. The sorting of books, music, charity shop drop offs, estate agents and anxiety. We are off at end of May so glad I am not alone.

    Interested in the removal company, was it expensive?

    Hasta luego amigo.


  4. Where will you be John? Any chance of a meeting in June?
    Hugs and best wishes for your new life!