How not to write an MA

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It’s done!
I have handed in my MA dissertation.
More last minute than it should have been, not read through as many times as it could have been, not the masterpiece it was never going to be.
But it is done.
It’s been a tortuous journey, especially for an academic doubter like myself.
I have been a permanent lecturer for a year now. And don’t get me wrong, there is much  that I love about it.
I still wake up every morning wondering how someone like me got is doing something like this.
I love the teaching.
I love watching those “wow,”‘moments . ..that look in a student’s eye when something you have said suddenly opens a door, when a previously obscure concept suddenly makes sense to them.
I love that our university is full of students who perhaps never dreamt that they would  ever get a degree.
I love watching their confidence grow as they realise that they are definitely ‘clever enough,” to be at university, it’s just that their intelligence has been hidden beneath a pile of self doubt and a lack of self-belief.
I love that their blue- sky thinking becomes the cloak they wear.

And I love that every time I read and prepare for a lecture, I learn something new.
What I struggle with is the link that often seems to be missing between academic research and it’s usefulness to anyone outside academia.
I do understand the importance of research.                                                                                  I have friends and family who would not be here if it weren’t for medical research.
Our lives are shaped by technology that is the result of research.
The research that has been partly responsible for the destruction of the world, will hopefully help us to save it.
But there are times when research appears to do nothing more than add Dr in front of your name, when self absorbed hours are spent reading and writing to improve an academic’s CV rather than help anyone or make a difference.
And I struggle with that.

Because the truth is, if I have to choose between my inherent gregarious humanness and research, I will choose humanness.
If I have to choose between actually helping someone or writing about how to help them, I will choose actually helping them.

Or perhaps those are just an excused for not actually starting to  write my dissertation.

And good excuses for not writing it became my reason for being.

Aside from the fact that every time I sat down to write, I immediately started thinking of great children’s stories  which I definitely needed to write before I forgot them.
Or the million other little things that absolutely need doing before any book can possibly be opened or pen picked up: the washing up, the hoovering, the texts that need answering, the phone calls that have to be made, the tortoise that needs finding, the alcohol that needs drinking….distraction is the antidote to sitting down and writing.
Distraction becomes an addiction. I took a shot of distraction with my morning coffee and absorbed it gradually throughout the day.

But one of the things I have learnt from this process is that I can only be me.  Chaotic, last minute, well intentioned, me.
At the beginning of my MA , I thought it would help me become someone else. Someone well organised, erudite, good with long words.
I am none of those.
I’m just more tired, more grumpy, more stressed. All of which I express in very short words.

I filled the house with books… mountains of them.

Balanced on every table and chair, every available surface area. I thought perhaps that if I looked at them for long enough and sat close to them, then I would automatically know what was inside them.

“Where are we meant to eat?” my long -suffering husband would ask, trying to balance a plate on top of “Research Methods Made Easy.”

And in the end, I had to admit defeat.                                                                                                I  ran out of space on my library card, surfaces in our house and reasons to procrastinate.

So one day, I got home from work, opened my computer and started writing.

That’s what I learnt:  You just have to start.

I think perhaps, I had known that all along.

But what I didn’t know or expect were the things that happened because of writing my MA.

The encouragement from friends: “How’s it going Becky? Nearly there? You can do this.” The freshly baked banana bread, my neighbour’s expresso martinis  (which help you get  get drunk and still stay awake.).

And most unexpectedly: the kindness of strangers.

It was the night before hand-in and I had spent 2 days, with the help of our ever-patient librarians trying to sort out my references .

But at 5 o’clock the library closed and I was many references short of completion.

I moved, all alone, to my office.

That’s when it happened, I got logged out of the system. Lost access to everything, to my whole MA…. the clock was ticking,, the library staff had gone home, there was no one who could help me log back in.

That’s when the academic deserted me and the primal instinct to run set in…. without knowing it, I found myself running, at the door of the closed library, my reflection in its shining glass running helplessly back towards me.

I knew the doors were locked. I knew the staff had gone home. But desperation makes you do meaningless things.

And there, standing if front of the building with its empty-windowed stare, was Vito.

“The library is closed,” he said helpfully. (Like I didn’t know).

He was a complete stranger. ( I only learnt his name later) and laptop bag slung over his shoulder, keys rattling in his hand, he was trying to go home.

But desperation is as blind as love, so even though I saw all this, even though it was nothing to do with him, I still had to tell him my story.

“…and I have to hand it in tomorrow,” I ended, taking a deep breath which wasn’t meant to sound like a sob.

And instead of shaking his head sympathetically and heading for his car, this man, this complete stranger, did something amazing.

” You know,” he said, ” I have to hand my MA in in 3 weeks. I understand how stressful this is, I’m not going home until I have helped you sort this out.”

And right then, I heard it…the celestial music.

His working clothes replaced by white robes,  a halo hovering just above his head, we walked back to my room together.

” Are you my guardian angel?” I asked, as he managed to change my password and log me back in.

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He laughed,  ” No but I think the problem is your computer keys…..they’re very, um… sticky.”

Any other day that would have embarrassed me.

Sticky keys are not something to be proud of.

My husband tells me that often enough, but  when it’s pointed out by a complete stranger, even if they are your guardian angel, you know something is very wrong.

That day though, even sticky keys could not diminish the sense of elation and relief I felt at being logged back in.

” I’m going to stay until you have started typing,” he said ” just in case…”

And that’s what he did, he watched me start referencing again and then slipped out of the room.

I tracked him through my window, walking back to his car, already, in his head, explaining to his wife, that he was late because he had had to rescue a sticky-fingered, MA last-minuter.

I saw him the next day, after I had handed in my dissertation, and I couldn’t help hugging him.

“I was just doing my job,” he smiles.

But I know he wasn’t.

An hour after he should have been at home, his one early night of the year ( the library usually closes at 10pm), he was at work, helping me.

And that, right there, is what made writing my MA worthwhile.

Because embedded in the academic language and the pre-formulated minutiae, hidden between the literature review and the methodology section,  is the beating heart of human kindness.

And if that is always part of research…then I’m a convert.

 

Thank you Vito  GetPersonaPhoto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last day on the Camino……………………… Mud and Flowers

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So we have finished for now.

8 days, 190 Kms and more stories than there are words to tell.

Our last day walking the Camino was full of mud and flowers.

The way was claggy but from all sides the red and blue flowers turned the fields purple and scattered the way with carpets of colour.

We wandered through villages nestled in valleys with roses climbing their historically modern walls.

We passed the tumbled remains of almost-forgotten towers and walked under the arches of deserted monasteries.

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And almost before we knew our day’s journey was at an end in rain covered Castrojeriz.

It is time to hang up our mud-soaked boots for another year.

It was strange to sit in a taxi on our way back to Burgos, Strange to watch the world pass by from the wrong side of the window.

The part of the journey that had taken us 2 days to walk, took 40 minutes in a car. That is the speed at which we live our lives in this 21st century full of 3 second sound bites and ever faster ways of passing through the world.

Already I am missing the subtly changing shades of green  and the texture of the earth beneath my feet.

Missing the sound of the cuckoos and the infinitesimal movement of the air as a bird swoops onto the path in front of you.

The world speeds by storyless and without the richness of conversation that has shaped the past 8 days

Every  now and then we glimpsed the paths  we had walked and searched the Camino for rain-caped pilgrims.

But it is time, for now, to rejoin the century we live in. Tomorrow trains and planes will take us home. We will wash the Camino mud from our clothes and boots and put away the Camino passport with its stamps from ever place visited.

But Camino dreams are not so easily swept away.

We have experienced the warmth,  generosity and kindness of strangers. We have shared meals and laughter and stories. We know the magic of the Camino, whatever you believe that to be.

I hope that, until we return, we will live our lives more humbly, and each moment more completely

And if we happen to find ourselves searching the skies for storks or collecting  stories from strangers…. it is simply the part of the Camino we carry with us.

Because the Camino is not something that you ever leave behind.

So until next year, we leave a little part of our hearts amidst the mud and flowers.

Keep them safe for us fellow travellers. Go well.

Buen Camino.

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Camino Rainbows

Burgos to Hornillos del Camino 20km

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Burgos is a wide-streeted, half modern, half ancient city and we felt strangely displaced wandering past shops and offices ( all closed for a fiesta). It made me understand that longing that restless souls have for the open road.

Our eyes would search for changing scenery, for mud- spattered rucksacks, for smiles of Camino  solidarity. Like lost souls we found solace in beer and red wine and tortillas.

It was a relief to be  back on the path this morning. We are beginning to feel  more comfortable in walking boots and rain capes than we would care to admit (especially to our children).

As we left the city behind us we walked with a German/Canadian traveller. He left Germany 14 years ago and has made his life in Edmonton, Canada. He is walking the world, Nepal, Indonesia and now the Camino.

” I don’t buy into all of this  Camino spiritual bullshit,” he says. ‘It’s just a path we are walking along. If we were up on that hill we would still be walking through fields in Spain. It’s just walking..”

Beneath our feet the Camino stays silent and the fields on either side of the flat path change from dark to vibrant green.

 

He tells us about two of his friends from Germany who met in the Camino. ” You know in German this walk is called Jakobsweg,” he says. “These 2 friends, they are married now and have a son . And guess what he is called… Jakob.” He looks away.

” I mean I like children. Jakob’a a cool kid, but I don’t know if I want any. … I’m not getting any younger and I’m not sure about being an older parent.”

“Perhaps you just haven’t met the person you want to have children with yet ,” Ninesh suggests.

“But I think I have , in Indonesia,” says our companion.

” Only it’s a long distance relationship and they never work and her family have all these religious customs  and……”

He trails off , out of ideas as to why it can’t work.

I stop and look at him.

“If you spend your life not doing things because you’re worried about  what just might possibly go wrong, you will never do anything” I say. ” if it doesn’t work you will be in the same position as you are now. but if you don’t give it a chance,  you will never know. Live for the moment. Has the Camino taught you nothing!”

He laughs. “Perhaps you are right. I’ll just go ahead and make a few babies!”

” How did you meet in Indonesia?” I ask.” Perhaps you can name your first child after the walk, like Jakob.”

” in that case our first child will be called Tinder,” he says.

” Well,” says Ninesh philosophically, “at least that’s a  gender neutral name.”

We walk on through villages clustered around churches and across hills with rolling  fields reaching as far as the eye can see..

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The day stretches before us. There is something about walking that seems to regulate time. Hours pass with solid predictability creating a sense of calm and peaceful certainty. . I am not surprised that there are Camino love stories like Jakob’s. If you allow your life to slow down you have time to meet people properly, time to talk, time to fall in love.

We spent this evening with a couple who live in Spain now. He is from Wales and she from Ireland. He is walking the Camino for the fourth time but they met at a walking group for Camino goers.

“It feels as though the Camino brought us together,” she says.

And the hostel we are staying in tonight, Hotel de Sol la Sol, is part of a love story all it’s own.

As we walk through the door Ninesh points at a poster.

It is from the film “The Way, ” . A story of a group of people walking the Camino starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son: Emilio Estevez. The poster is signed by both of them.

“Were they actually here?” I ask the owner, trying to take the “awe-struck,” out of my voice.

He grins as though he has been waiting for us to ask.

“Let me tell you the true story of that film,” he says. ” One day Emilio Estevez and his son Taylor, they come into this hotel. But there is no room and so I send them to stay at the house of my mother. And while they are there Taylor falls in love with my sister. So they stay longer and longer and that is when Emilio he phones his father and tells him he has an idea for a film. It is happened at the house of my mother, the idea for The Way. And one year later Taylor and my sister, they are married.. and I am at the wedding with Emilio and Martin Sheen and Martin Sheen comes up and shakes my hand and knows who I am. They are very nice people. They have been here  3 or 4 times.

“So the film was written because of  a Camino love story,’ I say.

He nods

The Camino provides, however famous and fortunate you are. – a plot for a film, a love story, a wife.

Hornillos is a beautiful, one-. street, yellow -stoned village. Cool and trendy and as old as the Way, it’s hard not to fall in love with it. We spent the evening in a restaurant filled with music and delicious food  and the shared warmth and laughter of Camino travellers.

It is our last dinner on this ancient path for this year. We have one more day of walking left, one more day of stories to share, but tomorrow night we start heading for home.

Already I know it will be hard to leave this ancient modern world we have become part of. It is hard not to feel sad.

But as we step out of the restaurant and onto the road, a rainbow arches across the sky, its colours so close and intense that they seem to make the air shimmer.  It’s impossible not to smile at something so naturally and inexplicably beautiful.And in the rainbow tinged half- light, splashing through the muddy puddles, under the arcs of colour,  pilgrims are dancing in the rain.

 

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The Bold Gift of Time..

Atapuerca to Burgos 21km

We left sleepy Atapuerca this morning.
” We have only 40 residents here, ” the owner of the restaurant told us last night. ” But every evening it is like “pilgrim attack.”
He is right.
As the doors of the converted -barn restaurant open, the hungry pilgrims pile stiffly in.
But the owner will not let his sophisticated dreams be limited by the size of the village or the blistered feet and simple tastes of the Camino goers
While jazz music creates a relaxed backdrop to the multi-languaged conversation, he serves up locally grown works of art on impeccably white plates.
” My wife and I, we cook it all,” he says proudly. ” one day we will move to Southern Spain and start a vegetarian restaurant. We need sun and warm evenings sitting outside, it is better.”
He is called away by the arrival of 2 Spanish walkers, so we pay and leave him to his culinary dreams.
But his words represent an economic truth about the Camino that we walkers, searching for a spiritual truth, rarely talk about.
If it wasn’t for the business that thousands of pilgrim feet bring to this part of Spain each year, many of these towns and villages might not survive.
Perhaps the constant warmth of the welcomes should not surprise us so.
But still, they take me by surprise. The smiles, the help when we look lost, the efforts people make to help us understand, the unexpected handshake.  The yellow painted messages of encouragement sprayed onto driveways.

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It is what makes the experience of the Camino such a human one.

Walking away from small village dreams this morning, we climbed a hill scattered with the gnarled grey trunks and silver-green leaves of now -wild olive groves.
And at the very top of the hill are pictures and patterns made from stones.
Stones piled in different shapes or made into pictures. are a symbol of the Camino.
Perhaps because they are part of the earth, part of the foreverness that it represents. When we are no more, like the Camino itself the stone piles and pictures will still be there to tell our story.

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And on the Camino there is always time to create.

The art is unexpected . Turning a corner, there will suddenly be a tree hung with ribbons, painted wood scattered amongst the trees.

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No explanation given, no story needed.
Like all of us, the art on the Camino just is….and like the spirit of the Camino, it is hard to capture in a photo, despite the care with which Ninesh chose which of his many cameras to bring.

” Have you taken many pictures?” I ask one of the walkers.
We have seen him often, usually walking alone, a heavy camera slung round his neck, a rare sight in these days of mobile phone photo-shoots.
And so he and Ninesh begin to discuss cameras and we spend the rest of our journey together.
He is a nurse from Japan, travelling the world for six months.
“My friend has done the Camino three times,” he says, ” so now it is my turn. It is good I think. Friendly. ”
He smiles, a gentle smile, full of warmth .
As we cross fast flowing rivers and wander through grass- carpeted woodland he tells us that he gave up his job as a nurse in intensive care to travel.


” When I go back to Japan, I think I will work on the children’s ward,” he says, “I think even if they are very sick, I can talk to them….I think I will like to tell them stories..”
For a moment he is lost in thought.
Then he laughs.
“I have a lot of time to talk to myself about it on this walk. To help myself decide. ”
Suddenly he stops walking and looks at us both.
“So what do you think makes good childcare as parents? What makes good parents?”
The depth and intensity behind the question take me by surprise.
As a lecturer in Childhood Studies I should definitely have an answer.
“Listening to your children,” I say. ” always explaining things, helping them to understand. Making sure that they know they are valued, that they are loved always,”
I hope that these are all true but it is Ninesh who says it best.
“Time,” he says simply. ” You need to be there, with them. To listen to them. To eat dinner with them. To hug them good night. ”
I am overwhelmed by the absolute truth of what he has said. I, who pride myself on knowing theories of child development and strategies for dealing with challenging behaviours, I had missed the most important thing.

Time….it’s what we walk the Camino to find. It’s the greatest gift we can give our children.

Our Japanese friend nods as though it is the answer he was hoping for.
” In Japan,” he says,” we don’t hug. Parents don’t hug children. The first person you hug is a girl-friend. And that feels strange. I think it is because we are shy.”
But his explanation is tinged with sadness that he seems to have been carrying inside him for years.

And when we leave him to head into the centre of  town, it is hard not to hug him goodbye.

Perhaps ,if he becomes a father, the time spent walking the Camino will make him bold and brace enough to hug his children goodnight

 

ABlog a Day the Camino Way……… Sun on your Back and the unlikeliness of storks

“What is it about the Camino?” our friends have often asked us “what’s so great about spending a holiday waking up early and walking all day?”
It’s a fair point and one that is hard to answer.
The magic of the Camino is hard to quantify.
There is magic in the conversations with strangers.
Magic in the colours of the flowers

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Magic in the diversity of the landscape,, in the sharing of laughter and stories.
But there is something more than that.
Although neither myself nor Ninesh, my husband, are religious there is something powerful in the concept of a pilgrimage.
“Some people just treat it as a walking holiday,” says a fellow traveller who is taking the sense of “pilgrimage,” very seriously.
I catch Ninesh’s eye..
Is that what we are? Walking- holiday-makers dressed in pilgrim’s  clothing?

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But the Camino is not like that.
There are no rules. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe..
And yet, despite that, there is a sense that all of us, strangers to each other, are part of something shared, something unfathomably old and much p, much bigger than anything we can comprehend.
Each day we walk in a world completely lacking in prejudice where everyone’s story and views hold equal value, where people from different cultures and countries and of all ages  become, for as long as their journey lasts,   one community.
Perhaps we all have different reasons for walking but we share a goal , we are all of us heading in the same direction.
We are walking towards Santiago de Compostello. And while we are walking we will do everything we can to help each other get there.
We do not need to explain what joins us as we wander the path.
And there is something hugely and unexpectedly comforting in simply knowing that.

Today the yellow arrows and shells took us through cities and villages, along smooth tarmac roads and up steep, stony footpaths. We squelched through deep red mud and walked along wide orange-earthed paths. We walked through woodland edged with long-stemmed purple heather reaching towards the light and over hills that were lush with green-velvet grass.

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It is a way of constantly changing scenery, of  never-still skies and endlessly interesting conversations.
There is time to think, to reflect, to dream.
Some days the walking is hard, some days the skies are cloudy, some days the scenery is less beautiful.
But always we walk on.
We do not wake anxious about what unexpected calamities the day might bring.
We do not have to worry about all we have not done.
Instead we wake up, put on our walking boots and follow an ancient route.
All we wonder is who we will meet on the way.
There is something almost primal in the simplicity of walking.
As though we are being  reconnected with long forgotten instincts, with knowledge that has been lying dormant.
We are walking continually West, we know that because in the morning the sun is constantjy behind us, in the evening, in front of us. If it is anywhere else, we have made a wrong turn.
Distance takes on its true meaning.
In a car a day’s 30 km walk is reduced to an hour, in a plane to seconds.
In our fast-moving lives of 6 second sound bites and instant gratification, time taken and  distance travelled is  means very little.
Yet when we rest our aching feet at the end of each day and look back at how far we have walked and all that we have seen and experienced, the distance travelled becomes something rich and meaningful.
We become part of the world we are walking through, there are no doors or windows to separate us from the sights and sounds that change with each footstep we take.

And we have become especially fond of storks.
Nesting precariously on chimneys and telegraph poles, storks are a sign that we are approaching  a city. We watch the skies for their strangely prehistoric shapes. Legs held out neatly behind them, beaks too long for their short bodies, it seems almost impossible that they should be able to fly.
The impractical unlikeliness of storks, the way they have made use of man- made structures to roost so high above the world seems proof, somehow, of infinite adaptability.
If storks can survive In this crazy world and use it to their advantage, then there is hope for all of us.

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Walking the Camino puts us back where we should be.
It realigns forgotten values.
It creates a shared sense of purpose, a community of travellers who, for just a little while, walk together.
Accomplishment is not measured by how well we complete innumerable tasks, but by the distance travelled to get to where we are.
There is value in every footstep we take.
And as long as we can feel the sun on our backs, we know that we are travelling in the right direction.
How often can we say that in life?

A Blog a Day the Camino Way….. 21st Century Pilgrim

Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado- 21km

We leave Santo Domingo while the mountains in front of us are still horizon-shadows in the early morning light.

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As usual, we are all still shrugging off sleep as we walk into the day.

Talk is subdued until we reach the next town, Viloria de Rioja, and our first cup of coffee of the day.

And just past the cafe we are joined by a traveller from Holland . He is half English and half Dutch, lean and tanned, bent forward under the weight of his overfilled ruck sack.
“I was with my wife in Amsterdam for 10 years,” he tells us. ” 7 together and 3 married. But then it was over and we were divorced. We were living in my family home but she said she had as much right to it as me……and so I signed everything over to her, packed my rucksack and started walking.
And I haven’t stopped walking since.”
In front of us the green hills of the Camino unroll with his story.

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” The Camino has taught me that the more possessions you have, the more you worry about losing them.” he continues. ” And worry is a waste of energy. I know that now. I have my stove and my tent and my rain cape in my backpack. That is all I need.”
I am impressed
He is walking the Camino as a true pilgrim
If he sees someone is cold, he gives them his jumper.
If he sees someone is struggling, he carries their bag as well as his own.
” Helping people makes you feel good,” I say.
He smiles.
“Carrying that extra bag was my happiest day on the Camino.”
Every Sunday he rests..
Instead of walking he goes to church.
” I am walking the Camino as it is meant to be walked,” he explains. ” with as little as possible. I try to spend no more than 1 Euro a day.”
” And do you manage to?” asks Ninesh.
Spain is cheap, but not that cheap.
” Most of the time,” says our pilgrim ” some days are harder than others. But the Camino always provides. I was walking for 2 days through the forest in France. There were no shops, just trees. I didn’t know it but my water container was leaking. I stopped to cook my spaghetti and found I had only half a litre of water left. I was hungry but I thought either you can eat now or drink for 2 days. I put the spaghetti away. But just a little further on in the middle of the forest, I found 2 Coke bottles full of water. Just standing there. So you see, the Camino has taught me, the more you give the more you get back.”
Like a medieval monk, he is choosing the spiritual over the materialistic..
Except for his mobile phone, which he uses constantly.
Because the Camino has not only provided him with 2 coke bottles full of water, it has also found him a new love, a soul mate,
As he came out of church on a rest day in Toulouse, he (literally) bumped into her. An Italian au pair with dreams as blue-skied as his.
When he finishes this Camino he plans to do another one with her.
But long-distance love needs constant lines of  communication and he is, after all, a 21st century pilgrim.

For a while the path takes us next to a road
On one side is civilisation, smooth concrete roads with lorries roaring past.

Neither the Camino nor its pilgrims can completely escape the modern world.  We are, all of us children of the epoch we are born into.
But Under our feet stones crunch into the thick clay-red mud.
On our other side, meadows, stretching endlessly, swallows swooping between the ears of unripened wheat.
For a while the three of us walk on in silence.

Our new friend texting while I try to fathom what is wrong with his story. Because somehow something seems to be missing.
It feels as though his altruistic journey is an answer to a question that we haven’t yet asked
As though he has created the spokes of a story but the hub is missing.
” So you don’t regret leaving everything you own, all your worldly possessions to your wife?” I ask.
He doesn’t miss a step.
“I broke her heart,” he says, staring determinedly at the path.”I broke her heart, I couldn’t break her life in Amsterdam as well.”
And there it is, the centrifugal force that has driven him ever on.
His is not a journey of redemption, it is a journey of penance.
He has sacrificed his home and his life in Holland.
But that isn’t enough.
The Camino is giving him a chance to right a wrong.
He cannot fix the heart he has broken but he will help others until his giving can equal what he has taken from someone else.
He will keep carrying the load of others and casting off material possessions until his conscience is salved.
I hope by the time he reaches the end of his journey and stands on the edge of the world at Finisterra, that the Camino will have given him permission to forgive himself.
We arrive at sleepy Belorado, the end of our day’s journey.
He is carrying on.
A girl he met earlier on his travels has left her yoga pants, a yoga top, a sweater and underwear at a hostel in the next town and has asked him to pick them up for her.
That pretty much sums up the complete contents of my luggage and I wonder what she has left to wear.
Ninesh reads my mind
“Is she walking the Camino naked?” he asks.
Our 21st century pilgrim laughs and  shakes our hands.
“It’s been great walking with you both. We will see each other again.”
I glance at his walking boots. They are more rips than boots.
“While I am sure you will make it to Santiago,” I say, “I’m not sure that your boots will. I hope the Camino provides you with some new ones.”
He glances down at his feet.
” It will,” he says, ” and if not, Decathlon is selling walking sandals for 19 euros.”
It’s good to know that when the Camino can’t provide, at least Decathlon can.

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A Blog a Day the Camino Way Day 3. …..Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada…..21km The theory of explosivity and a single flower

 

The 21km seemed to disappear beneath our feet today.
Perhaps because the way was more beautiful today, gently undulating Rioja vineyards and unending fields of wheat against a snow-capped mountain backdrop.

The only sounds the warning call of birds skimming the fields and darting across our path.

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But mostly the miles sped by because of the conversation.
Re-meeting some of our companions from the last few days, we found ourselves walking with Fabien from France, tapas bar friend from a few evenings ago. Before most people would be eating breakfast, we were deep in conversation about four day runs across the Alps, the shortest distance between 2 points in the desert “the one which takes you past the oasis of course”, he grins. Before the sun had completely decided to rise, we were deep into banking.
” I used to work with businesses and banks,” he tells us, ” we used to make complicated calculations, quoting figures up to 8 decimal places when all the time the figures to the left of the decimal point were wrong.”
He laughs with infectious scorn.
“It shows it’s just all bullshit,” he says, wrapping the word in French charm. “That is why I have given it all up and I am now a student of maths.”
I’m impressed. Not just that he is studying maths but that he has chosen to study again.
” Do you still work as well?”
He gives me a sideways look.
“Well when you are my age (just past 40) studying maths is a full time job, believe me. Once you
are past 40, you lose all the parts of your memory that you need for maths to… ” he pauses, searching for the English word ” it’s … you know sometimes I am trying to understand something from all the pieces of paper on my desk. And I know I nearly understand it and I have to just go for a walk and I am thinking about something else, like girls, and suddenly it is like, you know, explosiviity and I can see it…”
For the next few kilometres of vines and wheat we try and work out what he means by explosivity but none of our suggestions are quite right.
“Perhaps it is a new theory,” he says at last. ” Fabien’s theory of explosivity.”
And with a new theory created we leave him in a cafe, pensively sipping a cup of coffee, perhaps thinking about girls. Perhaps thinking about maths.
The clay path winds its way through meadows edged with wild flowers, the reds of poppies and blue of cornflowers intensified by the wide greyness of the cloud-heavy sky. Like a trail of colour, they guide us ever on.

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At the top of a hill there is a deserted town, all the mostly- empty buildings built to support the now-empty golf course that has been created there. Like all the deserted, lock-gated factories we have passed, many of the houses stand forlorn and neglected. They tell a wordless story of economic decline that seems to haunt much of Spain.
But on the empty street, we bump into Mario, a fellow walker from Argentina.
As we don rain capes against the drizzle, he begins to tell us his Camino story.
“It is long,” he says.
” The Way is long,” I say, pointing at the red path that is winding towards the horizon in front of us.
He smiles and begins.
“Well. When I left my ex-wife, I was with someone for 2 years and all the time she talked about the Camino. She has walked the French and the Portuguese Camino as well. And I kept thinking that I must do it. And although we are not together anymore, I knew that it was time. So I started my journey in Bayonne”
He pauses.
And we wait for his story to unfurl.
Bayonne is not the usual place to start the Camino.
” Many, many grandads ago my family came from a town near Bayonne, Ainhoa,” he explains ” and so I knew I needed to start walking from there. At the hostel I tell them my family name and that a long time ago we came from Bayonne. And all of a sudden they are cheering and smiling. And they are telling me that this name is not in the town anymore but that they know some of my relatives. And they take me to their house and they are so happy to see me. And we are all hugging each other and laughing and crying. And there is an old lady there, 89, she was drinking whisky and smoking because she is 89 and she doesn’t care and she is so funny. And they don’t speak any Spanish and I don’t speak any French or Basque but we understood everything. Words are not important.”
He stops for a moment, staring at a bank of poppies
“But that is not the end of the story,” he says. ” My mum, she died last year and always she talked about coming to Ainhoa to find our family. So I bring a little bit of her ashes with me. And I scatter them in the square and when no one is looking I pick a flower, just one flower. And I make it flat between the pages of a book. And I carry it with me for the Camino.”
” she sounds like she would have liked that I say.
He smiles, a gentle, sad smile.
“Oh yes she would.”

We have reached the end of our days walk but Mario is carrying on to the next town, carrying his new family and a single flower with him wherever he goes.
Buon Camino Mario.

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