As I said, it takes all sorts. We have all encountered people who talk too much, who ask you a question only to pick up on something you say in order to turn the conversation back to themselves. Last night at supper, I was sitting with a lady who made all the previous excessive talkers seem like introverts. I told her I was from Canada, the English part, but she insisted that I was from Quebec, and I gave up correcting her after the second or third time.
She was a cyclist and had been to Santiago, and recounted her experiences in a very loud voice, not really looking at me, but turning her head from side to side as if to include the empty air in her audience. I was reminded of a wooden clown at the Royal Show. We would put a ball its mouth as it moved back and forth in the hope it would roll down into the right slot and win a prize. She kept on going, even when I stopped listening, and later, when I escaped, she cornered a couple of teachers and went through it all again.
I don't mean to be unkind, and I wouldn't be writing this if there were the slightest possibility that she'd be reading it, but I got up very early to avoid her at breakfast. I like my peace and quiet.
Perhaps because I was anxious to get away, I set off in the wrong direction, but quickly realizing my mistake, returned to the village, and since the sky was menacing, I stopped at the war memorial to put on my rain pants. She appeared on her bike, and told me how important it was to read the directions carefully. I think she was probably a kindly soul and meant well, but I was relieved when she rode off, wishing me well.
I have met a few people like that in my life. One was a 73-year-old Australian woman in Spain. She said that her children had sent her on the Camino. We knew why.
It was a pleasant walk on a minor road to the next village. Just before Moustey, I almost stepped on an adder. It was curled up at the side of the road, right where I was walking. And it certainly wasn't a bright day. Fortunately, I was not talking to an imaginary comrade, or looking up to heaven, but walking along with my eyes fixed in front of me. After that, I popped into a bar for a coffee.
I was startled by a high-pitched squeal, like a wheel on an axle in need of grease, or the scream of the children last night at supper, and I turned around to see that I was being watched by a parrot in a cage. Occasionally, the squeal would turn into a warble. I was fearing even for my deaf ears, when the proprietor must have seen I was suffering and put it outside.
I was planning to take a short cut along the highway to Pissos rather than the boucle proposed by the guide. The lady at the bar had another suggestion. "Too many trucks on the highway," she said. "Turn right at the grocery, then walk for so many kilometres, then right at the thingamajig, and left at the whatsasname, then across a field and through a forest, and you're there." I knew that if I took this route I'd never be seen again, so I set out along the highway.
Now it was raining, and as the trucks whizzed by they sent up a cloud of spray into my face, and one of them whipped off my Tilley hat, so I fastened it on with my good old Aussie chinstrap. I should mention that having lost my old hat I had to buy a new one, so I chose the Tilley Outback, which in size and shape and colour is rather like a slouch hat.
I was half way along the five kilometres to Pissos, when a fellow on a bike haled me in English and stopped to chat. "You're from Quebec," he said. "I've heard of you. I met this lady with a very loud voice." Mike was from Texas, and had walked from Paris to Tours, but had then bought a bike to continue en velo. It was a pleasant little interlude. We chatted for about ten minutes, and then he was on his way. We won't see each other again, but we'll probably remember each other because of the lady with the loud voice.
At Pissos, I rejoined the Chemin, and after lunch, I set out in almost a straight line for my destination, Labouheyre. For more than half the distance I walked on a limestone track, and experienced the moors in all their variety. First the forest, and then newly logged land that had been ploughed over ready for replanting, and then a huge tract that had been cleared for corn, and then a vast area that had been abandoned and had reverted to marshland. No romantic place this! Cathy and Heathcliff wouldn't be romping over these moors.
I should point out that this was the region most dreaded by the medieval pilgrims. Long distances without habitation, no beckoning steeple every few miles, and always the possibility of bandits. It is a testing ground for the modern pilgrim as well. Walking, like learning, is much easier in manageable chunks: down a lane, across a field, through the woods, into a village. But 15 kilometres across les landes is something you have to be mentally prepared for. It is a time for reflection.
I thought about the children I had seen last night at dinner. Already their characters were being formed. I watched three girls run off together. The one in the middle grabbed the hand of each in turn and pulled the others along. She would be a leader, I thought, and generous in her friendship. I watched a couple of boys chasing each other around the yard, first one, then the other, taking the lead. They would be good mates. Then I watched another, sitting with others, but in a world of his own. It was me, sixty-five years ago.
Later, this tendency to daydream would get me into trouble. "Moody, get that sullen expression off your face!"
He is a dreamer, let him pass
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.
I have often wondered what sort of expression I could have had on my face that raised the ire of authority, for it happened twice, and both times I was simply lost in my thoughts. It still rankles, though. It was a thoughtless remark, soon forgotten, and I realize that in my career as a teacher I must have inadvertently said or done things that wounded the recipient. I am sorry for that. We are all such fragile creatures.
I have but a few memories of my early school days, when I was the age of the children I was watching.
I can see now the classroom in First Bubs when the boy across the aisle had an accident, and the girls all chimed: "Miss, Tommy's wet his pants!" I'll bet Tommy remembers that incident as well.
I remember the toilets out in the schoolyard. We used to pee up against a big concrete urinal wall to see who could reach the highest. No one made it over the top, fortunately, as the girls must have been on the other side.
I remember finding sixpence in the schoolyard on my seventh birthday, and from then on, seven was my lucky number.
I remember playing with plasticine. How I wish I could recapture that smell! That would be a Proustian moment indeed.
I remember singing a song from Annie Get Your Gun in a school concert, and now as I think about it, I find that intriguing. There was no music in my home, no singing, and yet something must have encouraged me to get up and perform. It was a good school, I think, the East Claremont Practising School, or Prac, as we called it.
Before that, I went to some kind of nursery up on Mary Street. It was run by nuns, but my mother took me out soon after I started. Something to do with a bottle of milk, I think. Or it may have been a case of Paddy-wack the drumstick, or Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about. The nuns were strict in those days. And then I went to another in a Baptist Church on Waratah Avenue. I didn't stay long there either. I may have been non-compliant. It was a Baptist Church with a board outside which displayed slogans such as "The end is nigh" and "Repent and ye shall be saved". Perhaps that had something to do with it.
I don't think my mother wanted me out of the house. She probably thought that I should be playing with other kids. I wish now that I could ask about these things.
You may have gathered from all this that the Camino is a time to think. It is. Deep introspective thought. "Know thyself," said the Greeks.
As I approached Labouheyre, and came off the marshland, I heard the larks again, and looked up to see them beating their wings frantically to stay aloft. Then I saw my first foxgloves, a sign of summer.
Tonight, I am staying at a very comfortable gite, with lots of rules, but a few extras like a towel so that I don't have to get mine wet. "And we disinfect against bedbugs every day," said Jacques.
I have mentioned before the practice in Spain and the south of France of grafting together the branches of plane trees to form an arch of shade. In Labouheyre they have succeeded in creating a complete panoply across all the square.
You will have noticed that I don't give my cumulative mileage any more. That is because I no longer trust the GPS on my watch. I was sitting down, I won't say where, idly watching the screen which showed the distance travelled and the average speed. And then the distanced changed. In the course of that stationary experience, I travelled 50 metres. So that's the second Garmin device I'll be taking back to Mountain Equipment Co-op.