“How old are you?” laughed the woman as I ran to the swings.
Play time is preciously short these days. And the child I pushed on swings almost 30 years ago is rarely around to share it. So he indulged me. Sort of.
It was my birthday after all.
My new world of work requires me to wear shoes. Shoes! And makeup. I need to wash my face and put on clothes before I start typing every day. Hair? That’s still a bit deranged but there’s only so much preening I can handle.
There are no more early morning strolls along the coast, boiling the kettle for that third cup of coffee, putting on the washing machine, checking emails, Facebook, Twitter, a couple of news websites and WordPress before typing my first sentence. Then stopping mid way to have another quick peek at Twitter. My walking boots, fleeces and down jackets are currently… resting. Read more
I picked up the phone to share momentous news with my friend today.
A few days ago she was the first person I thought of when I emerged from the first job interview in …oh … 30 years. I knew she’d laugh and reassure me over my unpreparedness and my fashion faux-pas. She’d share the outrage over all the questions they didn’t ask and interrogate me on how I answered the ones they did.
Today she would have screeched with a mixture of horror and delight when she heard I was becoming an employee after decades on the run as a freelance. But she’d “get” it; the security, the excitement, the trepidation, the adventure. She’d offer wisdom. And she’d throw a party to celebrate. The fizz would fly.
We shared laughter for years. Occasionally tears. Often shopping. News; always news. She partied at my wedding and ensured that I survived when the marriage crashed. She came to my mother’s funeral and my sons graduation parties. We holidayed in Spain and Sweden. And we made radio programmes together, although on one occasion we were so distracted by one another’s company (or was it the previous night’s gin?) we forget to load the recording equipment and had to drive miles to retrieve it. There was fun. Always food, drink and a bed when times were tough or tremendous. Unsuccessful matchmaking. The best of friendship. Legendary stories.
She wasn’t at the end of the phone today. And nor would she have been on any of the other times in the past month when I’ve reached to share a snippet or some nonsense. Or check on grammar. There will be no Christmas carols round her piano this year, no Hogmanay get-together or walk on the beach at New Year. And I won’t hear her voice or her laugh ever again.
Life is different without Jean. I know she’d tell me – and everyone else who misses her – to get a grip. But we’re just a bit lost without her; our go-to friend who provided the sense and the sparkle.
And it will be a long time before I lose the urge to share.
Camino Portuguese Day 2
Dogs bark and growl behind locked gates as you pass ; distant church bells ring through the trees; cockerels crow all day long; and miniature tractor and grass-cutter engines toil in fields.
Then there’s the endless grind and crunch of boots on stone and gravel.
The sounds of the Camino.
Too much of this Portuguese route has been on the edge of roads, requiring every sense to be alert to the dangers of fast traffic, but today’s path to Barcelos meandered through the copper and bronze of autumnal farmland and woods. The scents were of animals tied up indoors for the season; of mushrooms in damp forests; and of corn and wood gathered in for winter.
After 20 long kilometres I stopped, sat down and undid hot boots to savour my first Pasteis de Nata, Portugal’s famous rich custard pastry. If it means walking for a day to justify eating one of these heavenly delicacies, it’s worth every footstep.
The blue sky and warm sunshine encouraged me to walk on to reach the famous town of Barcelos. It’s home to the legend of the cockerel which apparently crowed to save a pilgrim’s life (even though it had already been cooked!) No matter, the cervesa was delicious after the long walk and (after taking a peek at the folk-dancers accommodation down near the river) I stayed in the great modern albergue run by the Amigos de Montanha, a friendly mountaineering association. We sat round the kitchen table, drank wine and ate pasta cooked by Lucie, Sonya and Jennifer then shared fruit and stories till bedtime. I slept soundly in a top bunk beside an open window.
It was everything I wanted and needed. What could possibly go wrong?
My mission this week involved driving 150 miles through some of Scotland’s most glorious scenery to interview salmon farmers on the far west coast. I’ve been deprived of snow all winter in my frost-free, east-coast cottage, removed from mountains and the spectacular raw wildness of the west. I jumped at the chance.
I saw snow alright, on the tortured hills of Glencoe, the mighty Buachaille Etive Mor guarding the entrance to the notorious narrow pass. Late afternoon sun broke through the snow clouds to create lighting effects that accentuated the drama – if that’s possible in such a place. I followed labouring lorries loaded with straw bales bound for livestock farmers on the islands. And I stopped to get close to ducks looking longingly for food.
And the work? A ride on a boat; questions about how salmon farmers handle protected predators like seals (scare them, deter them or shoot them). And finally a sea loch-side hotel and a sleep within hearing distance of the tide.
Chain links zig-zagged up, across and over the top of the rough cliff face, pristine steel glinting and signing the way. I tugged hard: the bolts didn’t budge. So no excuse.
“Suitable for children aged 9 and over,” the internet had reassured. But the sign low down on the path was less gung-ho: “Beware of being trapped by the incoming tide; of being struck by falling rocks and stones; and of falling from steep rock on hazardous coastal terrain.”
And this was just the short recce ahead of the full-scale birthday adventure planned for later in the month. So many thrills still in store. Eeeek.
The temperature in Sweden’s forests is sub zero, it’s slippery underfoot and thin ice is setting in swirling patterns on the lakes. There’s no scorching Meseta sun or cafe con leche around every corner and the paths are quiet and empty. Spain is thousands of miles away, yet the companionship of camino family and recalled memories of that pilgrimage to Santiago feels close.
Where next, yellow arrows?
A crown of candles on a white-gowned girl brightens Sweden’s darkest days of winter and celebrates the early Christian martyr, Santa Lucia.
It’s not difficult to understand that during a long Scandinavian winter, the notion of light overcoming darkness and the promise of returning sunlight has been welcomed for hundreds of years, and most likely in pagan times too.
Everyone in Sweden recognises 13 December as Santa Lucia day and listens to a Lucia and her attendants sing the customary song which describes how the Saint triumphed over the darkness and found light. Boys in white gowns carry little lanterns and wear tall paper cones on their heads and sometimes men dressed as chimney sweeps follow the procession, brushing away the darkness.
Lucia traditionally wears ‘light in her hair’, which is usually translated these days into a wreath of electric candles, but in one performance I watched a girl walking carefully while balancing the precarious ring of melting wax. Friends who have had the honour of being a Lucia describe the nightmare of removing melted wax from their long blonde hair for hours after their performance.
Other Lucia traditions include starting the day with rice porridge – sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon – and eating saffron buns and gingerbread. It’s a happy day, a great warm-up to Christmas, and I’m still humming the Lucia song two days later.
We specialise in recycling stones in Scotland, as our ruined churches, castles, cathedrals and crofts can testify. They each have their own unique atmosphere, some bleak and sad, others proud and magnificent even in stark destruction. But with our troubled history of battles and Clearances, few ruins feel as peaceful as Deer Abbey. This ancient site was inhabited by monks for 340 years, until Protestant reformers did their utmost to remove all traces of Catholicism from the country in 1560.
So it too has been through troubled times and most of the stone was stolen to build a mausoleum. And yet the vibes here are calm and tranquil. The monks may have been banished, but they left their mark.