I’m sitting in a bar, and there is no cliche coming (if you are as old as I am, you can remember the opening lines of Skyhooks’ immortal classic, “Why don’t you all get f*#*#d”, and if you are much older, you can’t)! The first real day on the Way has finished, I have no blisters but my legs are sore, but nothing that a beer and a bed won’t fix. The bed is sorted, at St Anthony de Padua Albergue — €21 for bed, dinner and breakfast, so beat that, TripAdvisor — and the beer is in the only bar in town. This is fun!

I’m surrounded by all these country blokes playing their Saturday afternoon cards and dominoes. There is only a soundscape as I can’t decode a word. It’s the local idiom and it is fast. The dominoes are crashing down, the talk over the cards is sharply focused. These guys, for there isn’t a woman to be found, do this every Saturday and have been coming here their whole lives. Think small country pub, without the TAB take people’s attention away from each other. Bless ’em.

Outside it’s at last blue sky, bathing this extraordinarily ancient church tower in light. The whole edifice is just stork nests, and I have not idea if mass is an option. The statue of pilgrim St James sits outside, and I’m wondering if he ever got sore knees following Jesus up and down the road — depending on which Gospel you choose to read — to Jerusalem. Did Jesus get sore knees? Probably not, he was dead at thirty-three, so my knees have seen a hell of a lot more mileage. God, make my resurrection knees titanium!

I’ve walked the scales of Leon’s industrial area from my soles, the scab of our prosperity. In the grey light of morning, I walked up hill and called upon the name of The Lord as the drizzle came down and forced me into waterproofs. Amidst the moors and fallows I welcomed the sunshine and finished the journey in my shirtsleeves. I haven’t seen ten pilgrims all day. Yet, in spite of my meditative footsteps, I still don’t have an answer to today’s existential question. Where do you go for a slash in the summertime, when there no bloody trees on the track and 1500 pilgrims at day?

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The news is showing the exploits of the latest hero matadors, and I’ve probably more patience with the violence of the bullring that I did before I got here. In one hand he holds the cape, in the other the sword. The consequence of this game of life is death, probably for the bull, but he has a fighting chance, as do we all. The Spanish are at least honest in the consequences of their games, so much more real than that ultimate confection, American Football. Life is the moments we snatch before death — at the table opposite, the eyes are down, the old blokes are terribly focused, the dominoes are tapped with increasing tension. With a crash, it is over…

This is my life and my pilgrimage. I have control over neither of them, in the end. Open hands and open hearts, that’s all.

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The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage
— Sir Walter Raleigh

Give me my scallop shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope’s true gage,
And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.

Blood must be my body’s balmer,
No other balm will there be given,
Whilst my soul, like a white palmer,
Travels to the land of heaven;
Over the silver mountains,
Where spring the nectar fountains;
And there I’ll kiss
The bowl of bliss,
And drink my eternal fill
On every milken hill.
My soul will be a-dry before,
But after it will ne’er thirst more;
And by the happy blissful way
More peaceful pilgrims I shall see,
That have shook off their gowns of clay,
And go apparelled fresh like me.
I’ll bring them first
To slake their thirst,
And then to taste those nectar suckets,
At the clear wells
Where sweetness dwells,
Drawn up by saints in crystal buckets.

And when our bottles and all we
Are fill’d with immortality,
Then the holy paths we’ll travel,
Strew’d with rubies thick as gravel,
Ceilings of diamonds, sapphire floors,
High walls of coral, and pearl bowers.

From thence to heaven’s bribeless hall
Where no corrupted voices brawl,
No conscience molten into gold,
Nor forg’d accusers bought and sold,
No cause deferr’d, nor vain-spent journey,
For there Christ is the king’s attorney,
Who pleads for all without degrees,
And he hath angels, but no fees.
When the grand twelve million jury
Of our sins and sinful fury,
’Gainst our souls black verdicts give,
Christ pleads his death, and then we live.
Be thou my speaker, taintless pleader,
Unblotted lawyer, true proceeder,
Thou movest salvation even for alms,
Not with a bribed lawyer’s palms.
And this is my eternal plea
To him that made heaven, earth, and sea,
Seeing my flesh must die so soon,
And want a head to dine next noon,
Just at the stroke when my veins start and spread,
Set on my soul an everlasting head.
Then am I ready, like a palmer fit,
To tread those blest paths which before I writ.

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