Writing The Camino

My last post on this blog was on 10th April this year – Camino Postcard: St. John Pied de Port. I wrote it on my iPad the day before I began the Camino.

My intention had been to walk every day and in the afternoon or evening write a new ‘postcard’ to let you know how the day had gone.

As it was, however, that did not prove to be a practical idea: after finishing the day’s walk, I was either too busy, too tired, or, I have to admit, too lazy.

Well, I am happy to report that I am writing this post back home in London a week after finishing the Camino – I reached Santiago de Compostela on 16th/17th May (two dates? This will be explained).

So, let’s stop being lazy and start writing my Postcard account of the journey, which turned out to be the most wonderful experience of my life.

As of today, I will try and write three posts a week – on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday. If this does not prove possible, or I find I have time to write more, I will let you know. Don’t forget, though, you can get my posts delivered to your e-mail inbox by following the blog (see the sidebar on the left).

Without further ado, then, I shall end this post, and start writing Camino Postcard: St. John Pied de Port to Roncesvalles.

A Camino Postcard: St. Jean Pied de Port

Today was my designated acclimatisation day before the big walk over the Pyrenees tomorrow. It has felt, however, a bit of a nothing Day: as beautiful as St. Jean Pied de Port is, I want to be on the road, pushing on step-by-step to Roncesvalles and Santiago de Compostela. As a result, my wandering around town took me only up and down the citadel (the down part being the descent of muddy and slippery steps) and to sundry benches where I stopped to listen to some music and write. I wrote a few notes for the Fixxbook. This was a mistake as it accentuated my Nothing Day blues. Tomorrow, I’ll leave at 6-6:30am. The pilgrims’ office said the Napoleon route will be unsafe due to the weather so I’ll take the Valcarlos. It won’t be spectacular but it will be safer.

I must break my one paragraph rule here to acknowledge the fact that today is the 55th anniversary of Evelyn Waugh’s death. As a man he had a lot to object to but he knew this and daughter God’s help. As a writer, he gave the world some beautiful and hilarious stories for which we owe him a great dent of thanks – EW: Requiescat in Pace.

click the sidebar link for more Camino photos on my Instagram account

A Camino Postcard: London to St. Jean Pied de Port

Yesterday, I left home just after 3:30am in the morning to begin a journey that would take until mid-afternoon to complete. From London to Saint Jean Pied to Port in southern France: I was really doing it! Except for one incident when we had to get off the Stanstead express because of an ‘incident; on the track, the journey was a seamless one. The only moments I didn’t like was whoever the aeroplane banked steeply – it felt like falling. I have a strange calm in aeroplanes, though, for whatever happens is completely out of my control so there is even less point than normal in panicking. Other highlights were drinking a beer at 8am at the airport and seeing armed French soldiers at Bayonne train station. After arriving in Saint Jean, I took a quick look around before returning to my hotel to catch up in my sleep.

– For more of my photos, click on my Instagram link in the sidebar. You don’t need an account to see my photos.

On Monday morning I experienced

a flashing in my right eye. I am very short sighted and every time I go to the optician he says ‘if you experience any flashing, go to the A&E department of Moorfields (my nearest eye hospital)’ – being short sighted makes one prone to this problem which can be quite serious.

When the flashing occurred, I looked up Moorfields A&E department on its website and it told me that they were only for eye-threatening conditions. As I didn’t feel I was about to lose my right eye, I thought I better go to the optician instead.

I went there and a space was very kindly made for me in a full schedule to see the optician on Wednesday at 10:25am – yesterday, as I write this post.

So, yesterday, I went for the appointment. The optician – I should say optometrist – looked into my eyes and could see nothing wrong. After the examination, he told me that from the way I described my symptoms, I might have had a visual migraine but advised me to go to Moorfields for a fuller check.

I could have left it until another day but as I am sure you can appreciate, when it comes to medical matters, the sooner one knows what’s up the better.

I arrived at Moorfields at around eleven thirty AM and was there until somewhere past four o’clock. God bless our NHS but it moves slowly sometimes.

Yes, there were plenty of out-patients there, but after I arrived in A&E I had to sit over here with a ticket and an immigration form to be completed. Here wasn’t so bad as after a short while, my my number was called. The person took the form and asked me to now sit over there. Actually, there wasn’t too bad, either; when my name was called, though, I was simply taken to a different waiting room. I remained there for somewhat longer before my name was called again, and a nurse took me away.

Hurray! Now, we’re moving. Kind of. She did a couple of preliminary checks on my eyes before taking me back to the waiting room. Now, the longest wait. Finally, the doctor called me and the proper examination began. Before it ended, I had to go to the imaging department on the lower ground floor to get a scan of the back of my eyes taken. Yes, I got lost on the way there and back.

Finally 2.0. I managed to locate one of the waiting rooms I had previously been in and spoke to a nurse who – despite my woeful description of him – found the doctor for me. Not long later, he arrived and we looked at the scans. The good news is that he could not see anything wrong with my eyes. The awkward news is that the flashing could happen at any time. And if it does, I should go see my optician (said the doctor)/A&E (said the optician).

Ordinarily, this would not be a problem but what about the Camino? I asked the doctor what I should do in France/Spain?

I must be honest and say that I was really hoping he would tell me it would be fine to wait until I came home; but, no; he said I should go straight to an eye hospital and ask to see a doctor.

If you’ve got to do it, you’ve got to do it but I hope, hope, hope nothing happens because I speak too little Spanish. I guess I just have to hope that if it does happen, someone at the hospital speaks English.

About The Immigration Form…

Being British, I had no concerns when filling out the form. I even had some fun with it. The declaration invited either the patient, or the person completing the form on their behalf, to sign it. If you were the latter, you had to give the patient’s name. Of course, I should have ignored the question but I couldn’t help myself. I answered On behalf of (if not patient) by replying ‘myself’. The next question asked, Relationship to the patient (if not completed by patient). I wrote ‘I am me’.

There was a report recently that the Home Office had ‘rejected an Iranian asylum seeker’s claim because he said that Christianity was a peaceful religion’ (see here). In their refusal letter, the H.O. officer had select-quoted passages from the Bible to demonstrate this. Given their religious illiteracy, I reckon I could have written ‘I am who I am’ on the form and got away with it.

More seriously, asking someone to prove their immigration status while they are in a hospital is a fiendish thing to do and the government should be ashamed of itself.

  • While writing this post, I found this on the immigration form that I had to complete. You can bet I signed the petition even if it is two years old
  • If you would like to see the immigration form I completed, click here and scroll down to Pre-Attendance Form. The web page is for the Worcestershire NHS but the form looks just the same

Items Bought, Calls Made, & Medical Matters

In my first post of 3rd March, I mentioned the Camino items that I hadn’t yet bought,

  • A hotel room in Saint Jean Pied de Port for the 9th April (I intend to stay in an albergue on the 10th before leaving SJPdP on the 11th)
  • Walking sticks or staff. I so want to buy a staff like Gandalf’s but I imagine I will have to ‘make do’ with sticks.
  • Sandals
  • Toiletries
  • Adaptor
  • Sewing Kit
  • Travel Insurance
  • Waterproof trousers (Possibly. I might stick with what I have got)

Today, I am very happy to be able to say that with just two exceptions (although see below), all these things have now been bought and are ready to pack (incl. waterproof trousers).

The two outstanding items are toiletries, which I will either leave until the last minute or buy in Saint Jean, and travel insurance.

I’ll come back to travel insurance in a moment, but first, a money update.

I have had a quick look at my earlier Camino posts and it looks like I didn’t share as much as I thought I had about this important topic, so I will here. Please excuse me if I am accidentally repeating myself.

I am paying for my Camino out of my savings. I initially took £2,500 out*: £1,050 for the Camino journey itself, the rest for everything else. E.G. all equipment, the flight out and back, the hotel in Saint Jean and Santiago, and any other bills that might crop up along the way.

In regards equipment, when I first visited Cotswold Outdoor I had no idea how much buying it would cost – backpack, clothes, trekking poles etc; the figure of £500 swirled around in my head but it had no basis in reality.

Indeed it didn’t because having now bought everything that I need, except the two items mentioned above, I have £1,112 left of my £2,500. I have spent, therefore, £1,388. (BTW: If you are reading this in Britain and are thinking of doing the Camino, join the Confraternity of St. James: I saved about £300 thanks to the membership discount).

Now, if I had truly bought everything I needed to get me started on the Camino on 11th April, I might have been tempted to leave the £1,112 alone. However, I know that when I arrive in Biarritz I will have to pay for a transport to Saint Jean. And I haven’t yet bought my hotel room in Santiago or my flight home.

So, today, I called my bank up to ask for a further £700 to be released into my Camino account. It was no problem – I called, the call centre man listened, asked me the relevant security questions then completed the disbursal process: the money will arrive next week.

The thing is, though, I hate using the phone. I don’t know why, I just do. As a result, even though I have known for the last week or two that I would have to make this call, I have kept putting it off until now. I feel very stupid for being so apprehensive but there it is. I wish it was otherwise. When I ended the call today, I was so thrilled I got hope and did a few fist pumps! I really did feel like I had conquered the world. How silly, but it’s true.

* Not literally. I created a new ‘Camino’ account with my bank for the sole use of Camino related expenses. I didn’t want to put the money in my regular account in case I ended up accidentally spending it on books or iTunes

Travel Insurance
At the start of this week, I logged on to the Compare the Market website to find a travel insurance policy. A backpacker deal by a company called Cover for You seemed to fit the bill so this morning I started filling out their online application form.

The medical section asks you to tell them if, amongst other things, in the last two years you have been to see your doctor for an unresolved condition.

I have, and the condition does remain unresolved. It isn’t a serious one – I am not receiving any kind of treatment for it – but as it is there, I thought I better mention it on the form.

However, the website also asks you to tell them what exactly it is. The problem is, I don’t know. When I went to see the Doc. I didn’t ask, and he didn’t tell me. As it approximates to a muscle strain in my right leg, though, I initially wrote that. But then I thought, I better find out if that is enough. So, I called Cover for You up to ask.

It’s just as well that I did because they recommended I find out from my doctor what specifically he wrote down (if anything). This, I was told, will make things a lot easier if I have to make a claim.

So, I toddled along to my surgery to ask for my medical record. Receiving it is not the thing of a moment. I had to fill out a form and will now have to wait a week until they are ready to pass me the information. Once they do, I will go back to Cover for You’s website and complete the application form. Once it is done and ‘sent’ has been clicked, I will have completed the last necessary action before leaving for France!

I am very happy that I didn’t leave sorting out the travel insurance any later than I did. I do regret, though, not dealing with it first. I leave the U.K. in just 18 days. I would have preferred at this stage not to be waiting on any forms.

There we are, then; today has been a day of little achievements that mean a lot to me. Just 18 days to go!


Sehnsucht and Wine isn’t my first blog but that doesn’t make writing the first post any the easier. I created the blog a few days ago and have been sitting on it since, waiting for inspiration to strike.

A few minutes ago, an idea occurred to me: instead of writing about a particular subject, why not introduce myself a little by writing about things or people that mean something to me?

So that’s what I’ll do. To give the post some sort of form, I will categorise them according to what S&W will be about: the arts, religion, and politics.

The Arts
I love reading. I have many favourite authors but the two who mean most to me are J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. One of the reasons I like Tolkien so much is the heroism and nobility of characters like Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. I love reading about heroes. I also enjoy reading C. S. Lewis’ fiction but as it is his Christian apologetics that mean most to me, I’ll come back to CSL in the religion category. I am also very fond of Evelyn Waugh, Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Ernest Hemingway’s books. I don’t read nearly enough poetry, but when I do, Anglo-Saxon poetry and Sylvia Plath are my favourites.

In my youth I was a very casual Christian – the kind who went to church at Christmas and Easter; this changed in the early 90s when I went to university. That’s when I saw Shadowlands and started reading C. S. Lewis’s apologetics. Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain… they were a rich feast! In my third year at university, the Holy Spirit led me into the Catholic Church. It isn’t always easy being a Catholic but whenever I read something a disagree with or find upsetting I always remember St. Peter’s ‘where would we go?’ comment.

We have our moments, but I love the Church, and, of course, God. In just under two months, I am (Him willing) going to Spain to walk the Camino from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. I’m doing it to say thank you to God for all his kindnesses to me. I’ll come back to the Camino in upcoming posts.

I am right-of-centre. For context, I am British, so this means my natural political home is the Conservative party. I used to be a member but after they won (kind of) the General Election in 2010 I didn’t like what they were doing enough to stay.

Last week, several Labour and Conservative MPs resigned from their respective parties to sit as independents in the House of Commons. In their various statements it was very clear what a hard wrench it was for them to leave. I was a very casual Conservative so it was no wrench at all for me.

All political parties have their various wings. As a conservatively minded person if not an actual party member, I align with the One Nation Tories. What do they believe? Here is a statement from Wikipedia:

One-nation conservatism (also known as one-nationism, or Tory democracy) is a paternalistic form of British political conservatism advocating preservation of established institutions and traditional principles combined with political democracy, and a social and economic programme designed to benefit the common man.

You can read the full article here. I have to admit, though, the way our politicians behave sometimes, I will happily admit to thinking that maybe we should reintroduce autocracy with added Divine Right of Kings for extra measure.

I can’t finish the section on politics without mentioning Brexit. I want Britain to leave the EU as I don’t like super states but not if it is going to profoundly damage the country. As I write these words, we are entering the final weeks before the 29th March 2019 leaving date. Will Britain leave them? Will it be called off? Delayed? We’ll soon find out and I will write about my thoughts here.

So, there you are. I hope telling you a little about myself hasn’t turned you off reading this blog. If it has, thank you for reading this far and I wish you all the best.

For those of you who are still here: There’s so much that I haven’t said! I haven’t mentioned sports, artists, and – most of all – the historical figure who has dominated my life for a decade now – Alexander the Great. I’ll come back to him in a future post. For now, though, let me draw this one to an end with a thank you for reading; I’ll see you next time.

Oh, and I said I would introduce myself: Hello, my name is Malcolm. Welcome to Sehnsucht and Wine!