The Way After – Day #8

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

Puente La Reina to Estella – 21.8km.

A steady walk along dirt roads in an undulating landscape.

That’s how we expect life to be.

There will be some more difficult uphill walking and some summits to look out from.

There will be some easier down hill walking and some hollows where it is difficult to see ahead.

Part of making any journey easier is having the right tools.

When Sando and I used to go winter mountaineering in the Cairngorms, we took some extra tools – ice axe and crampons.

It is difficult to describe walking up a the steep side of a mountain in snow with just crampons and your ice axe for extra purchase. Ropes are not always needed.

When there isn’t any snow, the same route is difficult even with ropes.

Along the way you meet people with more tools than you.

And you may have different tools to them.

Sando had the tools of being relaxed. Able to immediately see any difficult situation in a humorous way. He broke the ice of tension easily

Like peregrinos on the Way, you may walk with some people for a short time or most of the route. You may just rest and share food or water, or wine! You may chat about the small things of life or the large questions which come to us all eventually.

Sando never asked why him in anything. 

We never questioned why he developed a brain tumour. 

It was there and he had a life to be lived.

He hoped to see certain milestones with his family.

Perhaps there was a little more impatience for some of these milestones to come more quickly than otherwise might have been the case.

The destination for this day’s journey is Estella.

Development of this town began in the 11th Century after a shooting star led people to a cave where they discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary. The town quickly grew as did its reputation, soon being known to travellers as ‘Estella la Bella’, Estella the beautiful.

Look out for what is beautiful around you.

The Way After – Day #7

Pamplona to Puente la Reina – 23.8km.

A steady route up to and down from Alto de Perdon, at 790m. 

In medieval times there was both a Basilica with a pilgrim hospice and a hermitage there. Today there are forty windmills along the skyline generating electricity.

There is also a metal sculpture of peregrinos on their ‘way’. This was erected by the energy company who put up the windmills.

The inscription for the installation translates as ‘where the way of the wind meets the way of the stars’.

A common adage urges us to reach for the stars. Reaching for, isn’t grasping however.

Wind is often a symbol of change or positivity – the winds of change, a chill wind blowing, or a fair wind, a warming wind.

The Greek words for the Spirit of God are ‘pneuma hagion’ and ‘pneuma’ can also be translated as breath or even wind.

In Camino lore, Santiago’s – St. John – bones were discovered after shepherds saw stars fall into a field.

This image of the wind meeting the stars is to me a ‘thin’ place. A place where the boundary between the spiritual and the temporal are so close they practically touch.

The Romantic poets of the 18th/19th centuries believed that when they walked out into nature they were drawing closer to their imagination and creativity, because they were close to their Creator.

There are periods of life where we draw closer to God.

Perhaps it is better put that we are more acutely aware of how close God is to us during these periods of time.

Many of mine and Sando’s exploits were outside – closer to nature – for me closer to my God.

Looking back it is easier to see where the wind met the stars.

We walked. We trekked. Through mud. On firm ground. Through rain. In sunshine.

We appreciated the opportunities we had and they were a frequent source of remembrances and tall stories.

One of the last ‘events’ we marked was travelling out to a particular cafe which we always frequented in October, as part of a wider group trek.

Due to the virus the trek didn’t happen but we gained a small window with which to strike out for the cafe part.

It was just the two of us. His health wasn’t great. We still treated it like old times. 

Sando cried – but I’m sure that had more to do with the fact that they had sold out of his favourite steak pie!

The Way After – Day #3

 Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

In Sando’s copy of ‘John Brierley – A Pilgrim’s Gude to the Camino de Santiago’ there is a quick 5-point reference page.

It lists the following points: Travel – a quick guide; Preparation – Outer; Language; Pilgrim Passport, Protocol & Prayer; Preparation – Inner.

Under travel it refers to when and how long. Life questions in themselves.

Both Sando and I grew up in the Cold War, and much has changed in the world within the scope of our lives. We would often joke about when ‘we were lads . . . ‘ knowing full well that when we did so those around us had only a vague notion of what we were referring to. Life moves on quickly.

I used to wonder in amazement, when I was a young boy, at my Great-Grandmother who had been born in 1901. Her life had begun when only birds could fly and encompassed men travelling to the moon.

Sando and I had grown up under the shadow of nuclear weapons and MAD (mutually assured destruction) and was now overshadowed by a virus pandemic. We definitely hadn’t considered that after he first collapsed.

The Camino journey is normally estimated at 33 days of walking and a couple extra added in for rest days when needed.

Sando had the blessing of six years extra than cautioned once he was diagnosed.

In sport and many outdoor adventures we were both mindful of the necessity of preparing well. Despite the advice to travel as light as possible, we both would carry ‘extra’ to help out others.

Travelling light is a concept underpinning many business and personal life coaching.

Jesus was probably the first recorded teacher sharing this message as the disciples were sent out into the surrounding countryside, being told to take nothing but their cloaks and sandals.

Medieval pilgrims were exhorted similarly, teaching them to seek nothing but dependence upon God.

Memories weigh nothing – expect perhaps the emotions they conjure up – so carry as many of those with you as you can.

Plenty of other things can be left behind, or dispensed with when you realise on the Way that they are unnecessary.

Friends often help you out spotting these things ahead of you doing so. Listen to them.

Language. Sando was well accomplished in this department and his mastery of Spanish a definite advantage in the Basque north of Spain.

Learn other languages and try and find ways to practice them. 

The more people and cultures you come into contact with will broaden your horizons dramatically.  

I am good at reading and listening but my speaking of other languages wouldn’t even get me onto the bottom of the grade chart.

If you are the same – get yourself a Sando!

Pilgrim Passport, Protocol and Prayer.

The credencial is a document which you carry with you and show at the various albergues along the Way. In return you will receive a stamp which is conformation in Santiago de Compestella that you have indeed walked el Camino.

Be grateful to your hosts and respect your fellow peregrinos. They will not always look or sound like you.

Maybe we should be given a credencial at birth and collect stamps as we go through our years? It might alter our sense of accomplishment and remind us of events easily forgotten.

Pray always. We always need to be reminded of this.

Preparation. Once you reach Santiago you show your credencial and receive your compostella – your certificate for completing the Way of St. James.

If you state your reason for walking as religious, you will receive a certificate written in Latin. If you state your reason for walking as personal, you receive a certificate in Spanish.

Note how you declare this at the end and not the beginning?

Your answer may have changed in the course of El Camino.

Remember everyone of us is on the ‘Way’ and the ‘Way’ changes us.

Despite our best efforts to ‘carry on’ as we always did, Sando and I both knew things had and would change. 

We made adjustments without mentioning them.

I can’t say with any certainty, however, that I was prepared for the end as it came.

The Way After – Day #2

https://youtu.be/t99KH0TR-J4

I hadn’t heard this Queen song for a long time until today.

When it first was released it was so incredibly poignant and obviously reflected Freddie Mercury’s own life.

When I was younger a friend’s elder sister was a massive Queen fan so I had heard about the rumours of his diagnosis with Aids long before it hit the music press and made national headlines.

For me the song is typically Queen in style, but the sense of introspection in the lyrics is humbling.

Sando never appeared to be a big fan of Queen but he certainly embodied the sentiment of the title, before and after his brain tumour diagnosis.

Life is never easy for anyone and there are undoubtedly periods of frustration and annoyance for many different reasons.

He always seemed to express his immediate sense of frustration, with a frown and forthright dialogue, then straighten up his tall frame, fix his often impish smile, and carry on.

I was – probably still am – much more of the the opposite – I have an immediate sense of anger and then simply carry on being angry.

In Sando’s presence, it was far easier to be persuaded to lose the anger, and that together we could, and would, just carry on.

His passing leaves us feeling alone and with that it is easy to ‘stay’ angry, to be lost in the selfish realisation that we have to carry on by ourselves now.

As the words of the chorus say:

Inside my heart is breaking

My makeup may be flaking

But this is when our memory of Sando must come to the fore, and remember that his . . .

. . . smile, still, stays on

The Way After – Day #1

Yo soy el camino, la verdad y la vida.

Sando loved his languages, and foremost was Spanish.

I was never sure whether the food and wine were the ‘bonus’ to his linguistic talent, or simply necessary to access the wine and the food!

When he spoke Spanish he became more animated than usual.

I would joke that he probably was just reciting some song lyrics by Julio Iglesias which he had learnt by heart.

I think he probably saw himself more as the son than the father, the youthful Enrique rather than the senior Julio.

I am the Way, the truth and the life.

Early Christians were known as followers of the way.

The ‘way’ was a direction, a movement.

The institution of religion can seem the very opposite.

Solid but stood still.

Jesus and his followers were always on the move.

Pilgrimage was, and is, faith on the move.

Yet the churches and cathedrals stand waiting for those on the way.

Sando seemed to be both.

His was tall and well dressed. 

He spoke in more refined English tones and loved cricket. 

He was taught in boarding school and also taught in boarding school.

Yet he never stood still.

(Despite my own belief that five day test cricket was nothing more than standing still.)

He moved, like the way.

We met each other, and we met others along the way.

Many pilgrims who have walked El Camino de Santiago realise that the journey begins but never ends.

Attending the final Pilgrim’s Mass in Santiago de Compostella is simply a milestone on the way.

The Way After

Sando and I talked about ‘the Way’ for many years.

El Camino de Santiago. The Way of St. James. 

An 800km pilgrim route through northern Spain.

I cannot remember how it first came up in conversation. He mentioned it. 

He was familiar with it. I was not.

It was one of those great adventures we often dreamt up, like walking the Great Wall of China. 

We dreamed and occasionally managed to get somewhere near our imaginations.

If it was not possible now, we would keep it on the list for the future.

Wiser people than ourselves realise that sometimes the future, however, is sometimes interrupted.

In this instance the interruption was his death.

Our plotting had gotten us on track for the last 125 miles of El Camino, some seven years ago. 

A dream partly realised.

He walked it, just over six and a half years ago.

I did not.

We still schemed to accomplish the full route.

He collapsed.

I wanted to, at his news.

There were still things he wanted to see and do.

I had to be there too, for the humour value at the very least.

Six months became six and a half years.

We still schemed. Sometimes we even achieved.

We may not have walked the ‘Way of St. James’ together, but in the future we will.

Until then there is this passage of time and unknown expression of grief.

I will walk the way.

I am sure he will accompany me.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Rest Day 1.

The total time for the Maillot Jaune wearer of Julian Alaphilippe to complete ten stages of the Tour and reach the first rest day is 45h 27’ 15’’.

So what do you do when you have a day off and are only halfway through the race?

Get out on your bike of course!

You go for a team ride of around four hours. You are keeping your body going, keeping it under strain but giving it a little bit of recovery. Some commentators will tell you that the winner of the Tour is the person who can suffer the most and recover the most between stages of suffering.

Rest days allow the media outlets to take stock of what has happened so far and make fresh predictions about the teams and the riders they will tip to be taking the stage glory and the jerseys overall.

It is like a collective sigh and deep breath all in one go.

Creative people should perhaps follow this pattern. Intense hard work. Rest day. Intense hard work. Rest day. Intense hard work. The creative equivalent of the the final stage procession into Paris and the laps around the Champs Elysees.

The actual length of the ‘rest day’ might be longer than 24 hours but here it is deliberate. Exhaustion and creative numbness don’t come into it. No need for ‘writer’s block’, as we’ve programmed in for our brains to think about something else.

The rest days could be promises of family time/trips out as a reward for your hard work and their patience and understanding.

Remember thought that you still have to get on the bike and spin the legs, because tomorrow it is another stage and another day of hard graft at the office.

Creative Swagger.

Click the link for a video about a running group – hear me out – I promise I’m not going to make you run!

Watch, then continue reading.

Writers, artists, and musicians, used to do the same kind of thing.

They would meet up and hang out. In coffee shops, and salons, and restaurants.

They would meet up and share ideas, be inspired, argue, fall in love and out of love.

They would debate society and plot new artistic revolutions.

Like the Track Mafia, they had a purpose and a passion.

Is there such a thing as the Creative Mafia?

Not that I like the term ‘mafia’, with too many connotations of crime and nefarious personalities. A rough translation of the word mafia, which derives from the Sicilian adjective mafiusu, means ‘swagger’, but it can also be translated as ‘boldness’ or ‘bravado’. I like swagger much better.

Do creatives ‘hang out’ anymore. If not, why not?

How many other creative do you know? Are you hanging out with them?

Twitter doesn’t really count, by the way.

Maybe it is time for a new creative movement, which takes back the coffee shops, and bars, and restaurants?

What do you think?

Three Writing Lessons from Taken.

So, this evening my youngest son and I sat down to watch the Liam Neeson movie Taken.

When I say youngest, he’s almost twenty.

And he is as incredulous as you now are that it took us this long to watch it together.

I love movies like Taken; other personal favourites being The Equalizer and Man on Fire.

The reason why I like these kind of action movies is that there is a clear set of ‘bad guys’ and the ‘hero’ gets the job done. Black and white. No ambiguity.

So how can I possibly get three writing lessons from Taken?

  1. Brian Mills clearly tells the kidnapper at the other end of the mobile phone, who has just seized his daughter, that he has a special set of skills.
  2. Mills calls in favours and gets people to assist him.
  3. He uses the important phrase ‘I will’.

A Special Set of Skills.

To begin with Brian Mills has a special set of skills. He has spent years learning, practicing, and executing those skills. He has learnt his craft and become a master.

You have a craft. The use of words in sentences, in paragraphs, in chapters. The use of plotting. The use of creating characters in those plots which your readers care about.

Continue to learn, practice, and execute those skills.

People to Help.

Mills has a core of equally enterprising and resourceful friends, which he can call on to help him at any time and anywhere. He has also learnt how to gain the services of others when he needs them. You perhaps need to be more polite in the way you ask for that help, however.

Get yourself a group of other writers, or artist friends, who can understand you and assist you. Reach out and gain help from others, whether it is for location details for your novel or the couple in the coffee shop who are oblivious to you noting their speech patterns or movements towards each other.

Gain the trust and help of others to accomplish your tasks.

I will.

Mills thinks in the definite. He will hunt them down. He will find them. He will . . .

Perhaps, maybe, I think . . . all need to be tossed in the bin. Now, you will. You will complete the draft of your novel in the next thirty days, or you will solve your plotting issue, or you will improve your characterisation or location settings.

You will write the best novel you can write. Definite.

Three Writing Lessons from Taken. Done. Definite.

 

Five Friends Continued.

In my last post, Five Friends, I put a spin on the old saying that you are a reflection of your five closest friends.

I asked you to consider who your five closest writers were.

I thought it only fair to invite you into the circle of my five closest authors.

  1. Ray Bradbury – My first introduction to Mr. Bradbury was through a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes, borrowed from my father’s bookcase. I must have read it over a hundred times before I was out of my teens. Then came the short story collections and Fahrenheit 451. I love the fact that he really does let his imagination take over and you are often presented with something which seems like the world you are familiar with but then he adds the twist.
  2. Lee Child – The first Lee Child book I read was Without Fail, which was bought for me by my youngest son from a school fair when he was only six or seven years old. It is still my favourite Jack Reacher book. Anyone who reads a Reacher story, immediately wants to be Reacher. It is because of Lee Child that I completed my first novel, after reading Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me by Andy Martin. Martin basically peered over the shoulder of Lee Child whilst he was writing the novel Make Me and asked him lots of questions. Learning that it was okay to write not quite knowing where you would end up really helped me complete a story or even begin it to start with. Following normal writers’ advice and plotting in detail left with a sense that the story was completed and my brain had already moved onto the next idea before writing any sentences of the first idea.
  3. Haruki Murakami – I picked up Norwegian Wood, in its replica form of the Japanese original in the two-part red and green books. This was quickly followed by Sputnik Sweetheart, and South of the Border, West of the Sun. I have all of his books, including a signed first edition of Kafka on the Shore, which my wife bought for me. Murakami’s style of blending coming of age stories with a sense of the mysterious, is very much in the Ray Bradbury way of story telling. He also owned a jazz bar and likes coffee – why wouldn’t I include him?!
  4. Michael Connelly – I will confess that I had not read any of Connelly’s work until after I had seen the first season of Bosch, starring Titus Welliver. Now I am hooked on both the tv series and the novels of Harry Bosch. His new character of Renée Ballard in The Late Show is an instant hit as well. I love the way Connelly’s novels are so detailed in procedure and description of place; even though these are the two biggest weaknesses in my own writing. Bosch’s need to right wrongs, no matter what the cost, is very compelling.
  5. P.G. Wodehouse – My wife takes the credit for this one! Wodehouse is her favourite author, especially Jeeves and Wooster, and Lord Emsworth at Blandings Castle. I can’t tell you the number of hours in which these characters have rattled around my head via audiobooks. What has remained is the flow of the conversations between the characters and the simple but effective plotting. If you haven’t encountered Wodehouse then what are you waiting for?

So, there you go. My famous five. Along with a few simple reasons why.

I look forward to hearing about your five.