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Is that a fair term to apply?   I don’t know but I think I am a bit clearer. This is my last day in France and I’m in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port: St. John, actually two of them to be safe,  with a foot in the pass.  All about strategic location and some formidable fortifications. This morning was the lowest of the adventure so far, I didn’t want to leave France where I can sometimes understand much of what’s being said and can sometimes make myself understood whereas my Spanish is essentially zero. I knew the day was the first real hills and feared my legs and overgeared bike,  in both senses “overgeared”, might not make the 55km.  I think I also knew that this is a turning point in terms of “pilgrimage”: I could get a “credential” which is a stamp book which you can get stamped at places along the way and geographically this definitely marks a change. The town is quaint but full of rather kitsch tourist shops for “pilgrims” and it’s full of people in hiking gear with wooden staffs and scallop shells.

With a bit of embarrassment I finally fixed my own scallop shell which J had obtained for me in a lovely restaurant during the divertissement week. I had put it on a few days back but it was banging on the front light. I think it and the light are both OK now so I guess that was a bit of a public statement that I am (sort of) “on pilgrimage” or “on the Camino”.

It was a hard 57km with a long 7% gradient that was a shock: the first significant climbing since the North Downs really. It was also the first pretty totally overcast day with even a little rain but then that was perfect,  that climbing in 22 degrees was one think,  had it been 38 it would have been a nightmare.

I have even paid three euros for a credential!

So why am I doing this?

Well one thing that’s been going through my head in the last week is that I know that there’s something wrong with my life and that that needs fixing if I can find a way to do that. Part of that is the huge alienation I’ve been feeling from the NHS in the last few years and I’m fixing that by quitting, more on that in another post. However,  it’s more than just that, it’s a more general disquiet about much more in my, in “our”, i.e. all of our (“Western”) way of life,  a sort of superficiality in connectedness. Being alone for long hours just turning the pedals is on odd way to change that but there are waves,  nods and quick “merci” and “bonjour” as you pass others, particularly but not only fellow cyclists,  that seem less shallow than some much more sustained conversations “back home”.

Today I tried to sort out some of my continuing IT nightmares and the Office de Tourism lady,  the young man and woman in the tiny IT shop,  and Nadia from Montreal in the pilgrim shop,  and her next door neighbour (Maxime?) were all lovely and there was a simplicity in asking people across languages (English,  French, Quebecois French I guess, two who also spoke Basque/Euskera and one who started my Spanish lessons). The two in the IT shop tested things carefully and we fought the laptop to speak to the French keyboard I had bought earlier,  and confirmed what I suspected, that that keyboard,  not just the one on the laptop,  was malfunctioning but that the keyboard controller probably isn’t. They had no solutions but they thought I might find a smaller external keyboard en route,  perhaps in Roncevalles.  They didn’t want money for 20 minutes good humoured work

So here I am picking this out on the tablet in a snack bar with cheap lovely food (magical cheese, ham, saucissons and red wine,  all local) where he has robust Internet/WiFi and I have recognised one simple thing: that I want to come back connecting better, differently. I think I understand a bit more about that, and about how the quality of connectedness I had in clinical work was good, and how much I will miss that, but that will have to wait for another post, or perhaps comments from others as I can’t type like this any more. Oh boy, I do miss a proper keyboard!

    2 Comments

  1. Oh my, Chris, your journey through language and IT issues reads like an extended metaphor for the nature and purpose of pilgrimage. You more than merit your shell. (What a wonderful gift from J.) Go well, pilgrim.

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