Back in London

Oh it’s strange. I’m back in the world i left. I no longer have my bedroom although I do have access to my flat. I’m lucky. I rented my room to a performer who needs a place in town. I set a rate that allows me to be happy and her to know she can afford it. It means I don’t have a bedroom for a bit, but it means that nobody is going to demand a refund when Pickle wees on their trousers. Naughty Pickle has been religiously weeing in the spare room since I left it.

Sometimes people talk about numbers regarding what human beings might want to pay to sleep in my spare room if my flat was an idea. I have no desire to live with human beings who pay that sort of money, and I can’t easily make that idea real. But it’s always important and humbling when I’m tempted to say I’m broke that I remember how well off my glorious parents left me when they died so soon. I can make a haven. Bring me the artists. The weirdos. The huddled maniacs. You have a place to lay your head.

I had my first real world experience today for far too long. I’ve been back in London town. My hair is long. My beard is wild. I can’t find my hat. London throngy people instinctively distrust me because I don’t care. There is no way I could sell you a ponzi scheme with this stickyup hair and haphazard beard. Or anything else. Aerial photographs. Roses. I couldn’t sell any of them.

I went to see my friend in his new office. He’s got a huge office space and it’s gobsmackingly expensive. He’s speculating to accumulate. It might all go horribly wrong, it will all go horribly right. There are lots of clean people working there, all of whom have that thing where their image is more important than their truth. I got introduced to them all and saw the truth of none of them. One of them heard me described as a “guru”. With all the will in the world I detest that label. But I respect my friend’s intention in using it. I’ve heard it misapplied before. It’s not a helpful idea, the idea of a thought leader. Nowadays, when the answer to every question is a few clicks away, it’s good to connect to people who dig deeper. But we are all capable of Buddhahood in our own lifetime – or inner peace or whatever we want to call it. If we start to appoint gurus, we do so at risk of forgetting that we are our own gurus.

I help him think outside of his usual patterns, as he does for himself, as does his remarkable girlfriend for him. And he does the same for me, a free spirit in an office environment chasing an equally limitless ambition…

It’s good to be back in town. It’s been busy today. I can’t stop doing even if I should be resting. I had a good meeting with my brother, and came to the conclusion that I needn’t rush everything as much as I’m tempted to. As I say it’s odd being back. Many of my Camino friends are still on the trail. I miss them. I miss the  certainty of the path. I’m off to sleep.

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London, finally

The first thing about London is that it’s cold. Beautiful though. A crisp November morning. I’ve had no sleep. All the people confuse me. There are so many people. I keep saying “hola” to them. I’m not adjusted yet.

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This hasn’t stopped the party. My flat is full of theatre types. It’s wonderful. They can be energetic for me. Tom, Jack and I rehearsed Christmas Carol sitting round the table in my living room. It’s back again! This time it’s on in Sheffield and York. Something concrete to arrive back to, which is a glorious relief. All that walking. Time to do some acting.

Last night we saved €60 and slept on steel benches in Madrid Airport. Should’ve just shelled out, perhaps. Evil steel benches made by hateful spectres that hate humanity. They’re specifically designed not to be slept on. I have no idea how I’m still awake to be frank. It was a hateful night. It’s good to be home even if I’m sleeping on my own sofa. I’ve rented my room until Christmas.

Right now everyone is throwing out their terrible stories of things going wrong in shows. Best show reports they’ve had. Biggest live unnoticed disasters. I haven’t catalysed this conversation. These luvvie type conversations are reasonably rare in this flat. We cover many topics. But tonight, comfortingly, I’ve come home to work. We are talking about shitfaced audience members, almost killing people by mistake, creepy dudes, falling over – all the unpredictable weird wonderful madness that happens to us as we earnestly try to forge a living in this ridiculous profession. I’m glad to come home and remember where my home is. Christmas Carol will be lovely this year, if a bit low-fi compared to previous years. We still haven’t made it to New York, but we’ll be in York York in the week before Christmas which sounds similar.

“Rehearsal” went well, but then alcohol started to happen. With one hour of sleep the words are coming out me slowly. I just spent a good few minutes looking for a simile and gave up. My brain is as tired as my body.

Five hundred words minimum but for the last few months I’ve had long ones. Today, now? No more in me.

Happy November 18th, Nichiren Buddhist friends. I’m not going to any of your tozos. I’m going to be asleep sooner than I should be. Right now I’m going to go and hug my strange lovely theatrical friends…

Ffs. I posted it three days backdated and then tried to remove the evidence…

Madrid Airport

Ahhh the real world. I remember you now. Tiny little people with tiny little agendas doing tiny little nasty things out of spite.

I don’t give much of a fuck about my swiss knife. It’s not like it was given to me by the Dalai Lama. But as usual I made myself visible and paid for it.

I’m on an eight hour layover in Madrid airport. I’ll be here all night. There is nothing here. Macdonald’s and Starbucks. Metal seats. Unhappy people. I’m with Mel and one other pilgrim, Ali. I get airport lounge access on my bank account, but the only 24 hour lounge is the other side of international immigration. I decide it’s worth scouting it out for me and the guys.

We have just flown here from Santiago so we’ve already been through security before the first leg. We are on air side. Still, for some reason I don’t leave my rucksack with the guys. I carry it, pretty much out of habit. A mistake.

I get on an internal train. I go to Terminal 4s to try to get through immigration and to see if I can get all three of us into this lounge. After all, the passes reset at the end of the year. The guy at immigration tells me it’s more than his job’s worth though. This goes way up, he tells me pointing upwards to be totally clear how high up it goes. He’s in an airport so his gesture is slightly diluted. But his message is clear. Rules > people. The way the world wags.

No sleep for us then. I go back to the internal train disillusioned as now I’m staring down a really unpleasant night on a metal bench.

The escalators only go one way from the internal train so I have to run back down the up escalator with my pack on in order to retrace my steps. A woman says “You cant get back on the train,” as I get back on the train. I go back where I started but a man in a suit is waiting for me. He’s blocking me from leaving the train. I can smell him. He talks lots and gets in my way. I understand little of a constant barrage of angry words. He seems concerned and a bit sweaty. I have clearly transgressed. He’s vexed. I have to go to the next stop. So I do.

The next stop is the other side of security. I have to take all my clothes off again and back through the X-Rays to rejoin my friends. I’m the only passenger in security at this time. There are lots of staff. They have time to flex their tiny little muscles and oh boy they do.

I have a little airline legal swiss knife. Even though it was fine at Santiago, she wants it now. Maybe her sweaty mate has tipped her off about wrong way escalator man. Problem is I don’t know where in my bag the knife is, but she’s definitely seen it in the X-ray. I just shoved everything in. Her guess is as good as mine but we unpack the lot and it doesn’t show. She isn’t letting go though. Eventually she finds it by making me unpack literally everything. All my stuff is radioactive now. It’s all been through about 5 times.

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“The knife less than six centimetres long,” I tell her. “Not if I say it’s more,” she literally responds. “Get a tape measure,” I tell her with Google translate.

I’m surrounded by airport security. There is nobody else here. She won’t get a tape measure. “Have you got a tape measure?” “Si” “Will you use it?” “No”… Well then…

I’m me. I’m more interested in the principle here than the knife. I’m also just curious how they’ll respond if I calmly but diligently call bullshit on this. What they are doing is using greater numbers and red tape to spite someone from the outside of their machine. If I focus on the knife they wont take anything else. I bought it for the walk. The walk is categorically over as I run into this shit.

They close ranks against me. The man tries to strongarm me, implying that I’m lucky to have got off so easily. He doesn’t need to weigh in, the women have got this, but he clearly feels he should have a go. He’s all bluster and threat with his glasses, hung head and ducking eyes. The two female friends who work together here are all made of laughter and steel – front, rules and the knowledge that they’re safe in their team. I keep trying for just a tape measure until I realise how alone I am against these people. I only properly notice when some big bald fucker appears out of nowhere – where did he come from? – and starts ostentatiously putting on rubber gloves. There are about 6 airport staff around me. No other passengers. I haven’t got violent, but they could say I had, just like they can decide how long the knife is.

“Can I get your badge number,” I ask the woman that decides what 6cm is. Fuck knows what I’ll do with it, this is just for form now. I’m not writing a complaint, I’m trying to bring a knife on a plane. I’m interested in seeing if she gives it to me though. She doesn’t. She laughs. “You want my phone number?” she asks, fake flirting. Her friends laugh too because the little outnumbered man with no power is funny. I don’t like the power game here. I don’t get any of their numbers. I’m outnumbered.

This sort of thing happens every day, everywhere, all the time. Sometimes it doesn’t matter at all, like today. But often it matters a great deal, when people who can’t defend themselves get sorted badly, separated from their children, sent down the wrong immigration track without the language to explain… It can be prevented by people like my officer being able to remember that every individual is an individual. Simple. Everyone is human, even if you have to deal with lots of humans all the time. It can be tiring keeping alive to that. But surely that’s your prime purpose in a job like border security – to risk the exhaustion from constant connection.

I leave them with a brief Google Translated “You have not been a kind person, work on it,” which is received with gusts of laughter. At least I didn’t get a finger up the bum. I still know when and how to quit. Just about.

Welcome back to the world, Al. “I see dead people. Walking around like regular people.”

I need to find a place to rest my head for a few hours. Just as well I can’t go rogue in the airport with my tiny knife.

Muxia

It’s hard to believe that London will be ramming Christmas down our throats by now. Here I’m in a warm coastal town and they barely give a fuck. The radios are playing good music unless you’re in the lighthouse in Finisterre in which case they’re trying to kill you with saccharine covers of well known pop tunes. There’s lots of Queen, as there should be. It feels like Springtime for Muxia. I went to the beach. I took my boots off and Mel and I went for a paddle in the sea that was once so full of oil.

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It was a lovely lazy end to the trip before an ungodly journey home starting tomorrow morning at bastard o’clock.

Mel has been trying to sell her bicycle before we leave Muxia, as with thousands of pilgrims before her every year for decades. Everyone that lives here has a good mountain bike and two spares in the garage. Mel wants roughly what she paid for it which is never going to happen. If she was offering €20 people would still suck their teeth. But we walked it around in the morning anyway because it’s market day and maybe there’s a pilgrim. She had “se vende” stuck on it. “For sale.” But mostly round here that means “This has no value, give me more than its worth.” It’s stuck on all the desperate properties that got tied up in the bubble up and down the Camino.

We walked past loads of beautiful fresh fish, home made clothes and lace, in procession with the unwanted bike. This town is fishy fish central. I had some clams. In the past I’ve spoken to people who had shellfish poisoning and have subsequently convinced themselves that they are incapable of ingesting shellfish. “My body just can’t take shellfish anymore” they tell me flatly with shining eyes and the certainty of an expert, as if that sort of thing made logical sense. I usually bite my tongue when I want to suggest IT’S YOUR MIND YOUR MIND YOUR MIND!!! Mind can usually overcome body, for better or worse. But I don’t want to be that person because if I contradict their construct it’s going to result in a circular entrenched argument.

I’m not even sure that the horrible thing I had in Carrión was shellfish poisoning – (screw you, clams) – but I’m not going to allow my own brain to deprive me of something I enjoy and to build up a happy happy intolerance palace with cushions and jacuzzi. I grew up by the sea. It’s only grockles that pick at shellfish as if they’re going to jump at your face like facehuggers in Alien. I had lots of clams last night and slept like a baby. Yum.

We couldn’t avoid walking today. We arbitrarily set a destination of a beach around the headland and tried to schlep there without packs. Without the camino we ended up running out of path in the middle of some coastal woodland.

Since Saint Jean we have been spoilt by great big yellow arrows everywhere, unmistakably signalling the way. I miss the ambiguous nature of the “blanc et rouge” which I followed in France, occasionally stamped on trees or rocks. But we are back to being clueless. But wherever we go, it’s still a place. The Camino continues forever if we let it. Every day chipping off something. Parcelling the big into the small. At the start of this journey the distance seemed impossible. At the end, I know I could do it again immediately. Mind over body. A life lesson.

Addendum Camino: Lires to Muxia

Let me tell you a story about humans doing what humans do, told from the calm harbour at Muxia.

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Once upon a time, around this time of year, off the coast of Muxia, there was a boat called The Prestige. The Prestige was an oil tanker. She was carrying 77,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil. She had loaded up in St Petersburg. Her two sister ships, Alexandros and Centaur had both been found unfit for service. Somehow this little ship had avoided inspection. Maybe bribes?

She was flying a Greek flag, registered in the Bahamas and owned by a company in Liberia – a company that existed purely to own her. Hard to pin down who actually owned her. A previous captain had raised concerns about structural safety to whoever they were, and had lost his job. The current captain was just offshore of where I am now with his unseaworthy boat full of oil. It was 13th November 2002.  There was a storm in these waters.

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There was a large bang.

A 50 foot hole opened up in the side of this unstable vessel and oil started leaking out. The engine blew out and she was stranded, bleeding oil into the sea. The captain was quick to respond. “This boat is full of oil. We need to get it into harbor so we can contain the spill.” he said. “Not on our territory,” responded clever old Spain, sending out tugs to pull it out of their waters and stop the bad thing from existing. “Oh no you don’t,” said France, threatening international action if the bad thing came into their sight  “We should get it into harbor,” said the captain, quietly… “so it can be contained.”

Portugal sent the navy, but not to help. To make sure the bad thing didn’t come into Portuguese waters. Meanwhile whole days were passing with a damaged bleeding boat full of oil getting towed around. The hole was growing. “Maybe we should … get it into harbour?” tried the captain hopefully. The Spanish tugs pulled it around Spanish waters, up and down, anywhere but harbour, clueless headless chickens, ignoring the captain who knew his ship was breaking up. The crew was evacuated. Eventually, inevitably, excruciatingly it split in two on November 19th, after almost a week. In open water off the Galician coast. 77,000 tonnes of oil now in a shipwreck because nobody wanted responsibility.

The boat didn’t really legally belong to anyone or their lawyers were too good. This part of the Galician coast is terrifically important for fishing. Suddenly the Spanish had to suspend all fishing in the area for six months because, on the coast of death, the water was lethal. Appropriate.

The only way to cope with a spill that big is manpower. It is the single worst (preventable) environmental disaster to hit Spain. In order to clean the beaches and the water they needed people. People to wash the birds, people to take up the spills, people to contain the floating oil.

Muxia is beautiful, and it’s not far on foot from Santiago. It’s also only a long day’s walk from Finisterre. Even back then there were a fair few pilgrims finishing their journey and wondering what the hell to do next, like I have been. Knowing how I felt at the end of my journey, a couple of weeks cleaning birds would’ve been right up my street. Loads of pilgrims found out about it and made a mission to Muxia. They added their hands to a cleanup effort that, combined with the fishing ban, stopped the coast of death from becoming the dead coast. The fishing ban actually gave time for stocks to replenish. A thing we never do.

Because of that gesture by those pilgrims all that time ago, Muxia is still an official pilgrimage destination. The captain got a suspended sentence for disobedience. Nobody else copped it but nature and the insurance company. But now pilgrims finish here. And I’m done walking at last in this beautiful town.

There is already Catholic myth here, of the slightly less credible type. Saint James was sad, trying to convert the heathens but they believed in other stuff, the naughties. He sat like Alfred needing encouragement. Rather than a spider, he ended up getting the Virgin Mary in a stone boat, coming to shore here to cheerlead for him.  She used the same magic stone boat that definitely took his body back to Santiago from Jerusalem so quickly after his death 

I’m off to check out Mary’s Stone Boat in the sunset. Apparently she left it here and now it’s just a stone that looks like a boat! You couldn’t make it up…

Camino addendum. Finisterre to Lires

I’m addicted now. Since the market made it more cost effective for me to book the flight for Saturday and stay in albergues, I’m back on the path. There’s more Camino I can walk. So I’m walking it. It’s beautiful round here, and now the emotional journey is over, the weather is back to glorious. I’ve been walking down the coast, on my own, enjoying the views.

 

Fitbit is a few miles off buzzing but it makes sense to stop here. I’m in a little coastal town between Finisterre and Muxia. I’m out of sync with the people now so I don’t recognise the faces around me, but there are still plenty of pilgrims. As always it’s the Tower of Babel. If I were to run an albergue that’s what I’d call it. Every language is spoken here on the Camino in the attempt to be understood. I try to speak in Spanish and get responses in Italian. I have compromised on German before with people from Hungary or Russia, even though I have very little in the short term memory, because it’s the only shared language. We make do. We are all better at mime now. But I love the diversity of means of expression that different languages give. We can all deepen ourselves by association and understanding of one another. We are all part of one huge body of people, with different cultures and different rules, united in a shared goal of personal happiness and societal stability. The problem always comes when one culture decides they are the only culture and must impose themselves on everyone else while remaining untouched. Or when fear of difference rears its head.

A Korean is speaking Italian to an Englishman on my left. They are camping near the beach. The sun is falling and it’s tempting to wander back with them because the sunset over the sea is astonishing in this part of the world, but I got the ultimate sunset last night and tonight I feel like I might want to just chill out and read. I’m not feeling the urge to make friends again. I’m peacefully alone as I have been so many times on this journey. 

This is a tiny village. There’s nothing but this family run albergue between here and Muxia. The other guys have left while I’ve been writing and the young Spanish guy who runs the bar came out to take glasses. Now there are two pilgrims left.  The other guy is German. I’m “English”. “Whooooah” he says. “German and English! War!”

How is it that we hold onto the past like that?


I moved to avoid unwanted awkward small-talk, which was the only option where I was. I’m never not going to be small-talk averse. It’s a thing I’ve made peace with now. I don’t hate you if you want to talk about The Spice Girls for 30 minutes. But I just might wander over to the other side of the room for a bit.


And now I’ve been exposed. There’s no WiFi in the dorm and no data. So I’m back in the bar to upload photos and had to deliberately avoid all the enthusiastic souls. “Back so soon?” “No.”

Fuck it. The internet is too shit here to upload. I’m walking up a hill to try. I don’t think I’ll be able to put a photo on this.

Holiday at the end

I woke up in a lighthouse at the end of the world.

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This morning was earmarked for gently inserting myself back into the real world after such a long time operating under a different set of rules. I’ve booked my flight back to London, and communicated with lots of the people that need communicating with in order for my life to function well when I get back. But no matter how I spin it it’ll be a culture shock. I’ve barely justified a holiday in the past apart from LA which was not precisely a holiday. It’s a function of that optimism, believing that Katie Mitchell will call me in for an audition the moment I arrive in holidayland. But enough years have gone by without her calling that she must be ringing me on the wrong number. So I went away for a long long time on another holiday/not holiday and it was lovely and hard and all the things.

At the start of the walk it felt like I was wiggling out of a shitty cocoon I’d made for myself out of fear paté and grief cheese. Then I started wondering why I don’t walk fifteen miles every day as my head started clearing. Then emotional bombardment. Those things that wake you up in the middle of the night… I’ve looked at them all, experienced them all, and realised how little they matter in the light of what is to come and what is now. Life is as long as you make it, and I’ve got an agenda to make sure I stay alive and forward as the next few decades click by.

So I had all sorts of conversations today with all sorts of people today about past and present and future. Some were hard, others delightful with people open to possibility. We have to be careful not to get stuck in patterns of victimhood or entitlement. They’re both traps. When I get back I’ll have to bang out a new hole for a different shaped me, because that’s what I feel I am. You can tell by looking at my feet. You have to go away to come back.

Meantime I have a few more days in paradise. Now I’m not walking it’s not raining, of course. The narcissist explanation is that that rain was just to remind me to get on with it no matter what the external factors are. The sun has been out all day now SHINING ON ME shining on the Atlantic while I’ve been lying on a wall making phone calls to London.

I had a little walk. There’s an old hermitage that used to be a sun god shrine. It’s on a bluff overlooking the isthmus. We sat a while in thought.

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I took my pack up there and Mel and I watched as the day came to a finish. Tomorrow we will strike out to Muxia, and another good day of walking. But my flight is booked now, so this is pleasure-walking now. This is weaning my body off its habit of striking out at dawn and hurting itself by sunset. By all accounts Muxia is beautiful, and the weather looks like holding, and I’m in no rush. I’ve booked a flight for Sunday. Cheap but there’s an 8 hour stopover in Madrid. It was that or pay double for direct and give my money to Ryanair on Thursday which I don’t really want to do. Or like 300 which I won’t do on principal.

Three more days in paradise, and I have a credencial that allows me to stay in the cheap albergues. I think I can allow a holiday tacked onto the end of my pilgrimage…

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Finisterre.

I’m on a bus to Finisterre. The finish of the world. Land’s End. From there it is just the Campos Stellae over the Atlantic. The continuation of the Walk of Saint James of the Field of Stars, across the Milky Way to forever. Or more specifically to ‘murica but we’ll pretend we don’t know that yet. Here be dragons.

Sunset tonight is at 18.17. High tide is at 18.15. Then it’ll start to suck back out into the ocean. The coastline at Finisterre is affectionately nicknamed the “Death Coast”. Not as attractive sounding as the white, sun or brave coasts that they advertise elsewhere in Spain. Plus I’m hungover to all hell. Last night we tried to fit as many pilgrims as possible into a tiny bar filled with every possible form of alcohol. Then we gleefully shouted at each other for hours while spending our money and losing our motor skills.

At around 18.00 this evening, in this hungover state, I intend to be deftly scrambling down rocks past any signs saying “Don’t go here you idiot, you’ll drown.” I will be armed with romantic notions, incense, palo-santo, two of my mum’s silk scarves, a gong, a rosary, some stones and my mum’s flask of holy water. The intention of the exercise is to give myself some closure by improvising a ritual. Hopefully it won’t involve drowning, but I can’t rule it out. Hopefully it will involve some fire and smoke. Definitely it’ll involve floating my mother’s tin flask out into the ebbing tide as the sun sets over forever. All very romantic until I get hit in the face with a wave and smashed on the rocks like a ragdoll.

We all end up with dead parents. Some of us get it early, some of us late. But the only other option is to die first or never know them. I caught the dead in my twenties and it shaped my adulthood to a large extent. Grief is a process and I took my time going through it. I do love a process. (It’s why I enjoy process driven theatre – both watching it and indulging in it.) I’ll always hold my parents happy in my mind but it’s time to leave the negative bits behind – the bits I had attached to my mum’s preventable early exit. The blame. The deprioritising of myself. Time to drop that shit. That’s been a big part of this walk, recalibrating my sense of value. I’m finishing it with a wet dangerous ritual and a floating tin bottle. But first I have to take this bus.

Life is mounting up in London and it’s swiftly coming to a time where I have no choice but to stick my arms into it again. This has been a necessary journey and I’ll carry it with me. But walking to Finisterre would’ve been a bit too time indulgent. Nice to let the bus wheels do the rolling instead of my hooves. Time to let them recover before I put Scrooge’s stinky slippers back on…


Done. Ritual completed. It was extraordinary and worth every blister. Mel and I hacked down the slope ignoring the inevitable warning signs. We got to within throwing distance of the surf. The waves were crashing on the rocks. I burnt some palo santo shavings in my gong, and I lit a lot of “Saint Thérèse” incense from Lourdes. Mixing Christian, Buddhist and pagan I eventually smoked and chanted until, with Mel gonging behind me, I hurled the tin torpedo into the roaring waves, as the sun set. It had her name inside, the amethyst pendant I’ve worn throughout this walk, and my uncle’s rosary.

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Closure. This is what I walked for and it’s done. I’m lighter, literally and figuratively. These emotional weights get heavier the longer we carry them. Useful to find a way to slough them off, even if it involves a month and a half of walking and then a cliffside scramble.

 

Journey’s end: Santiago de Compostela

Today mostly involved running round in circles whilst people told us we were in the wrong place. It’s raining again, and after the simplicity of walking we have to integrate with the world again. We aren’t very good at it. In the morning we wandered into town, where there were far more people than I was used to seeing on an average day and i didn’t like it. We went to the correct place, decided it wasn’t the correct place, went to loads of incorrect places angrily, and eventually went back to the correct place again even more angry and wet as well. The atmosphere in my little group has been fractious and confrontational. It’s because we have done good work towards ourselves this last month. Our unconscious self-destruct tendencies are trying as hard as possible to undo it all and reset to old patterns already. Humans are strange fish. Good to catch it though. This work runs deeper than that shit.

As far as arbitrary destinations go, Santiago is a pretty attractive one. I got my Compostela and dedicated it to my mum in case purgatory is real. I had a little cry to the stern Spaniard who gave it to me. “Did you enjoy your pilgrimage?” he asked. “I think maybe. It was hard though,” I responded.

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Mel and I got the compulsory cathedral jumping shot.

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We walked around looking at shops selling bollocks to pilgrims. I’ll probably buy some of the bollocks before I leave because it’ll end up being happy memories.

It has been hard. But beautiful. Shifting. Emotionally complicated. Physically unfamiliar. I’ll need some time to process the processing, and because we have all arrived with so many people who have walked alongside us for so long, there’s a sense of a social obligation tonight. People are talking about dancing. I think it might kill me to dance on these feet but I’m game for trying until I fall asleep at about ten. I’ve only walked a fraction of my usual walk today. According to the Templar’s Fitbit I’ve walked about 697 miles since September 30th but that factors in midnight journeys to the loo and going back and forth to the bar. Still well over 600 clear miles. “When you set out for Ithaca, hope that your way be a long one.”

All for a piece of paper, and to go to mass in the cathedral. At least I didn’t have to kill hundreds of men who were trying to marry my wife.

It’s interesting watching mass in a language you don’t understand. It brings the theatricality of it all to the fore. People in costumes and hats sitting in power places holding props and sounding impressive. Lighting and relative positioning being used effectively to tell a story of splendor and importance. I sat at the base of a stone pillar doing gongyo under my breath. We were lucky today. They have a giant thurible that they only swing from time to time. It’s like a huge pendulum full of burning frankincense. It’s expensive as they employ six people dressed as Templars who know how to make it swing without killing anyone. It’s a very impressive sight and I’m glad I was there for it.

At the back of the church, behind the guy with the best costume, there is a statue of the apostle, James, whose body is here because that body they found was declared to be his by the Pope. Throughout the service as important things are said importantly, a constant stream of people pass behind the statue, who is facing the audience. Their hands snake up and gently throttle him as the hatman blithers. It’s called embracing the apostle, yet he’s positioned in such a way that you have to put your hands round his neck.

I think we have the Korean supergroup to thank, as they arrived in town today and were in the cathedral. Their travel company likely paid for it to swing. For once I’m glad to be staying in the same town as them, as they couldn’t fill all the albergues if they tried.

Not quite time to return to the world. I’m going to Finisterre tomorrow, to float out mum’s water in the sunset. Then I’ll think about flights. Or maybe walk to Muxia and THEN think about flights. Or maybe flights to Morocco…

Home might be pleasant for a day or so…

Day 42 – O Pedrouzo to SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

I get up. It’s raining. I pack my bag. My body is used to this process now, and my mind. I’ve organised. Most things are ready. Sleeping gear comes off. Walking gear goes on. Big socks. Thermals. There’s my fleece. Good old fleece. There’s my windproof – thank you Stephanie – still a bit damp, but what the hell. Magic trousers. Boots. They were soaking. Are they dry? Yes! Amazing. My cunning plan of jamming them onto the top of the radiator and tying them together with their own laces actually bore fruit. I assumed it would collapse like Brexit. Thank God. Last night’s espadrilles on the other hand… they’re terminally damp I fear. Still they go in the bag. I refill my flask of water. It jams into the little pocket next to the battered scallop shell. Then I blearily put the waterproof cover on my pack. I’m still not fully alert as I do it, as I discover later. Outside it’s raining like Blade Runner. My mind is on that.

I lift and drop my backpack on in a long practiced gesture. I’ve seen people do it in the past and marveled at their fluidity. Now it just makes sense. It’s safer for the straps, it’s safer for my back, and I have the arm strength and the smugness of long practice. I can be like that guy now – the guy who looks at you struggling to put on your rucksack and silently judges you.

The outside world beckons. I peek through the door. Horizontal freezing hideous rain. This is the wet rain that President Trump told us about. This is wet from the standpoint of water. Should’ve built a wall.

I steel myself. A wooden boat containing breeding pairs of all the animals in the world bobs past. I take a deep breath and plunge through the door after it, into the arms of nature.

Ten seconds later I’m in the café next door. “Café con leche por favor”. It’s only 16km to Santiago. Fuck swimming. I reckon I can wait this one out. I definitely plan to try.

As I gently sup my coffee, everyone in the café runs to the door exclaiming as nature drops a big one. It’s like a vast paddling pool suddenly exploded directly overhead. “Wow” we all say, thrilled to be under cover. I would’ve been out in that if I’d gone on a mission. Shortly thereafter, though, assuming that was the bulk of it, I decide the mission can’t wait any longer. I get my poncho on as best as possible and head out. Immediately, unfathomably, things start to improve. I couldn’t have predicted it, but I waited out the rain.

The path into Santiago is considerably more pleasant than the way into any of the other big towns we’ve threaded through. Effort has been made to keep nature visible on both sides for as long as possible despite the encroaching suburbs.

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The rain stops entirely, but the wind still blows and somehow I lose my rainproof backpack cover as I walk. Didn’t put it on properly. Just in time, really. One and a half hours before journey’s end. If it rains before I stop, all my stuff will get soaked, but it doesn’t. The weather is perfect. Unexpected. Even a bit of sun. I finally get into the city limits.

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I stop within 1km of the cathedral. Tomorrow, immediately upon opening, I’ll get my Compostela there. But this is the end of the journey. 42 days, on the 42nd parallel. The answer to the question of life, the universe and everything. How many roads must a man walk down? This one.

Tonight I’m staying in a huge seminary that I booked yesterday. It’s the last night of the year that the place is open. Lucky as it’s the cheapest place in town. I’m in a big dormitory on the third floor of a building that used to be for training priests. The usual protocol. Plastic waterproof mattress and pillow. Paper sheets. My own sleeping bag. Stinky blankets. Farting snoring people. Almost certainly one old man who will noisily leave before 6 just for the hell of it.

I’m off into bed now as I’m writing this later than usual. Bedtime. Oh joy. 1km left…