Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Day 39. Onesse et Laharie to Taller. 26 kms

Sic transit gloria mundi

As I walked out of town, a couple of old ladies cycled by on their way to Santiago, their bikes laden with bright red side packs. They greeted me cheerfully. I say "old", but they were probably younger than I am. I watched them ride into the distance.

Then I had a choice, to continue along the road and save a couple of kilometres, or venture into the bush. Normally, I take the short cut, but my foot wasn't hurting, and the weather was fine, so I followed the track. 

I have had a persistent blister or sore spot on the heel of my left foot for a week or two. I had the same problem last year, and it is perhaps the result of a grass seed getting down the back of my boot and puncturing my heel at the base. I had been protecting it with moleskin, but yesterday I bought and applied a large Compede or second skin, and put the moleskin over that. It worked, so I was quite willing to walk a little further if the going was pleasant.

It was, and I'm glad I did. Today, I didn't amble and I didn't plod; I simply floated along without paying any attention to the guide, and both in the morning and the afternoon, I arrived at my destination unexpectedly. This time it was not a dirt road but a track, and it wandered a little, and that made all the difference. The breeze was blowing lightly, the birds were singing slightly, and the sand was soft under my feet. I fell into a reverie. I thought about my schooldays at Scotch College in Perth.

In what would have been the equivalent of grade 6, I was sent to a private school, or what was termed, in the English fashion,  a public school. I hadn't wanted to go. I was quite happy at my state school, and it must have been quite a sacrifice on my parents' part. I remember seeing the bill once, in 1953 or 1954. It was £33, quite a sum at the time. I never thanked them for it. As I look back now, it was the right decision, for it led to university.

I have already mentioned the headmaster. I think he is the only person I have met, before or since, who reduced his first name to an initial and gave prominence to his middle name, in the manner of J. Alfred Prufrock. This was briefly fashionable in America at one time. His polite nickname was Buncher, less complimentary was Greaser, but most of the time, he was known as the Boss.

Many of us had nicknames in those days. There was Tubby Martin and Banger Bentley and Sticks Brayshaw, and Tommo and Jacko and Mazza and Halc, and a score of others I've forgotten. I think I was Cheese or Moo-cow for a while, but fortunately, these didn't stick.

And the masters and mistresses. There was "Stein" Jenkinson, and "Jazz" Dancer. There was "Drut" and there was "Dang". We were somewhat discreet. Spell the one backwards, and replace the vowel in the other, and you'll see what I mean.

Dang Gardiner was a former state cricketer, and had once hit a six out of the WACA, the West Australian Cricket Ground. The WACA was well attended at State and Test cricket matches, and this gave rise to the expression, which may still be current,

It stinks like the dunny at the WACA at half time.

What do I remember from Dang's class? The square of 24. He told a little story about four Arabs eating their camels.

And there was "Lemon Head", a young, bald master. One day, after school, in a moment of madness, and to impress a friend, I called him by his nickname, and hid. He found me, took me back to his room, and gave me the cuts, six across the bum. I deserved it, and bore him no grudge. We got on well after that.

I also remember getting the cuts from a young Pommy lady teacher, six across the hands. I can't remember what for, and I can't remember what we learned in her class. It has been observed that I don't have an accent as broad as that of some of my fellow countrymen, and in fact, to my embarrassment, I am sometimes taken for a Pom. It certainly wasn't deliberate on my part, and I don't know how it happened, but perhaps she spent the year giving us elocution lessons.

This was a time when Australia was still very British. We sang "Land of Hope and Glory" and "I vow to thee, my country", and we stood at the Pictures for "God Save the Queen". At the time, in polite society it was not considered desirable to have a broad Australian accent, and in society, some Australians would put on the plum. Even today, you will still occasionally hear older people putting on a plummy accent, as if they were British. It doesn't work, of course, they sound like Australians putting on a plummy accent. Think of Edna Everidge.
There was another master who was a muscular Christian. If you swore, he would wash out your mouth with soap. He didn't have a nickname. And there was Beady Eye Thomas. I always thought that this was rather unfair, and it was some years before II learned that his initials were BDI. He was a brilliant caricaturist.

And there were others whom I have totally forgotten. Is it better to be remembered unkindly than not to be remembered at all?

What else do I remember? Once, we took all the screws out of the classroom door and awaited the arrival of our history teacher. He opened the door and it fell out of his hand and crashed on the floor in front of him. He was a Pom with a double-barrelled name and an M.A.

And in the same classroom, one of the boys, Kershaw was his name, shouted an insult at a painter working outside. The painter came in through the window to get him. The rest of us must have been laughing or shouting, for Kershaw was about to be beaten up. He was saved by the timely arrival of Jumbo, the Latin teacher. I can see him now, quite vividly, standing in the doorway, holding them apart.

I have a very early memory of Jumbo in my first year, teaching introductory Latin, bouncing a tennis ball up and down on the desk, and singing "Come into the garden, Maud". I don't think his heart was in it.

I remember Shakespeare.

Once more unto the breech, once more,
Or lay up the wall with our English dead.

I loved Henry V, but I tried to teach it once, and it bombed.

I remember the English teacher saying peevishly, "You boys let off at either end whenever you feel like it."

I remember getting into the Chem lab at lunchtime and making laughing gas. We found the afternoon classes quite hilarious.

I remember Art. The Art room was a separate building on sloping ground away from the rest of the school. One by one, we would jump out the window, quite a drop, and nonchalantly come back in by the door. The master didn't seem to notice.

I remember having to learn the 23rd Psalm and the Beatitudes in Scripture class. And I remember being kicked out of Junior School Choir by Ma Wyndham. To this day, I wish she had given me a second chance.

Once a boy a rosebud fair
Spied among the heather...

It is ironic that we remember incidents like these from our schooldays, but not what we were sent to school to learn.

We are all reduced to fragments of memory, and these too will pass.

In no time I arrived at the half-way village of Lesperon and sat on a patio overlooking the church, drinking my coffee.

In the afternoon, I set out along the road. I came upon a flattened hedgehog, cut down in the prime of life by those "dicing timesters". I paid my respects.

Ode to a Hedgehog

Hale to thee, unhappy Hedgehog,
Cut down before thy time.
Hadst thou but stayed among the sedge, Hog,
I'd not have penned this rhyme.

Thou must have spied a tasty snack
And ventured on the road,
But then there came a mighty whack,
By Fate on thee bestowed.

Hadst thou but crawled into the ditch
To find thyself a bite,
Then life would not be such a Bitch,
And things would be all right.

There is a moral to this tale
From which we all can learn:
We well may seek the Holy Grail,
But end up in an Urn.

I passed a machine like a backhoe, with a grapple and a saw in place of the hoe, cutting down trees, and sawing them into lengths. No lumberjacks here. And I saw some more foxgloves.

I arrived at Taller, called at the bar to pick up the combination for the lock at the gite, and settled in. Again I am alone. I had to get my own dinner, so instead of my usual sausages and lentils in a can, I tried beef and beans in a can. It tasted the same.

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