Camino de Santiago - Brian's Update No 7

In which Brian contemplates a romantic encounter and recalls an uncle's youthful escapades

Days 35 to 39

28 April to 2 May - Niort to Berneuil

Out of Niort

Choosing to stay in Niort for an extra day was a great decision. My toe is well improved, I am well rested and I enjoyed the town. I have sent another lot of photos home, I was very impressed with the guy in the photo shop, did my discs for me while I waited. Would have edited the photos for me, but I said just record the lot. I had been under the impression that once the card had been downloaded it would be cleared, not so, as I was to learn later unfortunately. I should have cleared them myself on the camera.

The other good move I had made was to purchase sandals, the wee toe of my right foot was troublesome, the open sandals had a soft spot where the wee toe sat, so less friction. I also purchased toe separators, again it was this small toe which was the problem, I have a blister or soft corn on the inside of that toe and it is that which causes discomfort. The separators cured it. Whenever I put the heavy sports insoles which I wear in my boots into the sandals I have bought, the straps won't close without an effort. Not good for walking, so I find a cobbler who extends them for me.

Not bad for a man with little or no French! I begin to think I am another international linguist; like Pat Fitzsimons. Broad smile, hand stuck out, 'How's she cuttin?', speaks all languages. So I survive. Learned it all from him!

I start early the next morning, and why wouldn't I?

Hasn't my accommodation agent only booked me into a Chambre d'Hote, near Prisse la Charriere, with a hostess who not only will accommodate me but will also cook me an evening meal and dine with me!

I am intrigued, I have a very active mind, I wasn't thinking of musings or music that morning!

Boys, I was away ahead of the field. Quare lilt to my step I can tell you, could I not stride out? Anxious wasn't the word I would use to describe my eagerness to get there. And the sun shone. What a day!

I had a plan de Ville and I had mapped out my route, an elderly lady stops, (she must have been very old whenever I describe her as elderly). Perhaps as old as myself.

'St. Jacques de Compostela?'


'Bravo, bon journey'

I thank her and move on. City traffic is almost at a standstill, a few waves, and then as I check the map at a junction I hear an American accent,- 'Hi guy, your right, carry on. Good luck'

Loved to have talked to this guy, but lights change and he has to move in that unending chain, each link drawing on the next, or being drawn on.

I clear the town, sun is now up, time for a breather, rucksack off, coat off, unzip the bottom of the trousers, expose these white legs to the world at large.

I'll cut a quare figure, whenever I finally stride down the beach at Finnisterre, for my Atlantic swim. White feet and legs above the ankles, to the extent of the socks, white legs and thighs above the bottom of the shorts, and please God if the weather continues as it is to day, great tanned legs!

I remember an occasion in New Zealand, actually last year now, time moves so fast, I was thinking of it as earlier this year, whenever I had gone for a thermal bath. These baths were just a walk up the road from the small Hotel I was staying in at Turangi; I had used them on a number of occasions. You got your own private room, could accommodate several people, unfortunately there was only ever myself. I had been fishing the mighty Torringero, a majestic river, and having been out early, decided that a hot bath, in the thermal spring was just the ticket. But today I was going to complete the exercise.

Having had my hot bath, I was then going then to swim in the world famous, greatest trout lake in the world Lake (feck it I can't remember!), which is only about half a mile or less from my hotel. So I take the car, with a towel to put on the seat, sandals, swimming trunks, nothing else. The entrance fee to the baths, and the key to the hotel room. Stay in the tub as long as I could, must keep your mouth above water, there are signs warning you to do so, out into the car, drive to the lake.

Here's a crowd of young Maori children about 50 -75 yards away messing about on a sort of pier, diving in, swimming around and out again, that sort of thing. All one beautiful colour, I get out of the car, partly brown legs, playing golf in shorts, swimming trucks a lot shorter, white, white, Daz white showing in numerous places. Yahoos and calls from the assembled youth. I proceed to go down what is a slipway for boats, my God this water is cold. Cold!

I had forgotten that for the most part it is snow and glacier fed. I know this is perhaps just past midsummer in New Zealand but it is still cold.

However, having had the razzing there is no way I'm going to chicken out now. Plunge in, straight out for about 125-150 yards. and back in, out into the car up to the hotel and into a hot shower!

So be it I'm going to go multi-coloured again.

Back to the "Hostess"

What will she be like, how old, Christine has told me she has a little English - will we be able to communicate, will we get on?

Jokingly she had said 'Beware of the French women' - wasn't that a quare thing for a French woman to say?

Perhaps I should warn Gerry!

I pass through the larger village of Beauvoir sur Niort, nice looking restaurant, I'll stop here have a bit to eat, a glass of wine to fortify me and check with Christine. Name, route, signs, turning on the right, pass under the railway bridge, you'll see the house, large house, big pillars and gates, about 1.5k out of village. How come these are all Crossmaglen Inch measurements I am being given? But no matter, I am nearly at journeys end; my God if she is a blonde, someone's in trouble!

I pass the turn, I am looking for a place to buy some wine, at least if the lady of the house is preparing and cooking the evening meal, surely I could provide the wine. What should I get, I wonder. I needed have made the effort; I could find nowhere to buy wine.

I turn back at the end of the village, even if there had been anyone about, would they have understood me. why have I been so lazy with those French lessons, they always used say, 'Education is easily carried'.

Boys if I had the French, and if this blade is half the thing at all wouldn't I be on the pigs back!

I turn into the road, under the bridge, oh there's the house right enough, big pillars, biggest house around. That's definitely it. An inch to your step wouldn't be in it. I'm at the door before you know it. A timid knock, there's a young fellow, but he looks like a visitor, sitting outside at a separate and much smaller dwelling, I assume to be a form of holiday home, wouldn't be her son or he would surely have known I was expected and would have made some move towards me. I look in his direction, no response, knock harder this time, and then she appeared.

A vision, my God, even with my vivid imagination I could not have conceived of such an enchanting creature. Petite, would describe her figure, black haired, greying slightly but very prettily, an open face with a welcoming smile, I wanted to hug this woman.

She would never, I'm sure, have heard Ben's song, 'We all need a hug in the morning' , she probably would have chased me right away if I had made so bold. So I stick out my hand, warm handshake, no holding back here-

'I'm Brian' says I,


'Delighted to meet you Marilou'.

She invited me in, made me very welcome, the, cafe, whatever I wanted. She had reasonable English and worked very very hard at it. I am absolutely useless at French, so she had to do all the work, searching for the words to get her message across.

I could go anywhere I liked in the house, move around, come and go as I pleased, if I wanted to watch T.V. she had a private salon, (that sounded good, bells ringing), please feel free to do so.

Would I like to see the House? I thought it would invade her privacy and I said no, sorry now that I did so, I think she would have enjoyed showing me her home.

It was a beautiful rambling old dwelling, antique style furniture, very much lived in, not a show piece, a lived in home, papers here and there, where obviously she had been doing some work. Beautiful open fireplaces, designed to burn wood, would take biggish sized timbers.

But I had said no, and I had not the language to correct it.

She showed me to my room up an open winding staircase, probably oak or chestnut, I thought, but surprisingly I never inspected it too closely, which is something I invariably do, but this time I didn't, and was it any wonder.

She had turned, framed with light streaming through the large window, I caught my breathe, but then nearly choked -

'I will make this an exceptional night for you'.

Yahoo ye boy ye, up for your ball and don't come down without it, having trooooooouuuuuuuuble with keyboard, coooooontinuee later

Service is going to be slow might as well use the time!

The afternoon sun streams in through the large window and lights up the stairs, Did she know she would be framed in the light? Did she know that her profile showed such gentle curves, where gentle curves should be? My god man your ship's come in! Her tied back hair had come a little unstuck to the left of her face, and framed her face catching the light. a creature of beauty!

I fumbled with my walking canes; she took them off me and set them down.

'Don't fall up these stairs ye stupid oul shite. Act sort of sophisticated, as if "an exceptional evening" were nothing new to you. your a man of the world, well traveled, been there, done that, bought the tee shirt. For god's sake don't let her know that Alice was the only woman you ever had made love to in your life'.

I am shown the bathroom, no lock I notice, what the hell, I'm not big into modesty, into the bedroom - beautiful room, large fireplace full of books now, a bed that even Quinn's place up in Ballyconnell would be proud to have, a, whatever the size is above king size, duvet is on the bed.

Looks grand, be god you'd have a quare kafuffle in there. and the sun is shining, and it's still not 4.00 in the afternoon, take your time boy, don't rush anything, turn on the old charm you used to think you had!

'Would it be alright if I took a bath?' 'Oui' her voice is soft, I suppose I'm shouting in an effort to be understood.

Must watch out for that.

She leaves me, I know I have been in the presence of a self assured lady, one who does not have to impress,- 'Here I am, this is me, I am happy with me', no airs or graces, what you see you get. A creature of beauty and self assurance.

Into the bathroom, the first thing I note is the toilet seat cover - a scallop shell, a coquille, in a perspex seat-cover… St. Seamus, are you at work here for me, is this my Camino, is this why I have left my native land to travel the roads of France to finish up here, with a beautiful woman?

I run a hot bath, and let myself into it gently, I have taken all the bath shampoos etc from the last Logis and these have been put in as the bath fills, loads of suds, no lock on the door, I muse, maybe she'll want a bath herself, plenty of room for two in here! thinks I and watch the door expectantly.

No one comes. I lie back, what does 'an exceptional evening' mean I wonder, she had said something about a meal later, aye, a meal would be grand, but would it be exceptional.

Perhaps not what I had in mind about exceptional!

Be God the waters nearly cold, time to get out of here, there's going to be no action here.

Normally after the evenings bath I'd lie down and relax. Relax be damned, get down there and see what she's at. I hear a lawn mower, oh there's herself cutting away at the front lawn, hey boys big lawns front and back here, big house, big gates, great order, no sign of a man either. Watch yourself, don't appear too anxious, play it cool.

I pull my extensive wardrobe out of the rucksack, what's it to be, what's the man of the world wearing these days, Concern Tee shirt, or ordinary shirt? I can't wear that Concern shirt I was wearing coming in, it's sweaty, first thing would put a woman off, I'll wear the shirt and the clean trousers, leave off them shorts, well they're actually trousers, but you can take off the bottoms, they're sweaty too. Good job I got the Laundry done in Niort. All the clothes are clean.

Down the stairs, I wander outside, beautiful afternoon, actually the warmest part of the day, I let it flood over me, a few deep breaths, my God I think isn't this the life, 'Was it for this the Wild Geese flew' and Vincy's answer comes ringing in my ears, emphatic, no ifs or buts. 'Yes'.

Shean O'Boyle had retired after many years of dedication to teaching in St. Pats, Armagh. Himself and his good wife Alice, together with Pat and Eilis Fitzsimons, and his brother Vincent and wife had come to holiday in Spain to spend the money which had been raised as a gift to him in recognition of his many years in the college. They were all sitting enjoying the evening sun and a glass of wine whenever he made that philosophical remark. Vincy soon put an end to that philosophy.

Anyway as I look around I ask myself the same question, and my answer is just as emphatic as Vincy's had been many years before.

My hostess for the evening has finished the front lawn, she comes over we sit outside in the evening sun, I remark that I see she has a studio and indeed she does, I had seen it on my way in.

"May I look?"


We go together into what would have been a barn whenever this dwelling had been a farm. It is in the middle of rich farm land, mostly arable as far as I can see, and I assume that this was a working farm at some stage.

She is a portrait painter; there is a nearly finished charcoal portrait on an easel. A neighbour, a friend, but she is not happy with it, she looks at it quizically, holds one hand up to a part of the face, something not quite right. I feel sure it will be right before this lady is satisfied. Eventually she excuses herself, she has to cut more grass, she moves with grace and ease, self assurance in every movement. I watch her.

Now the analogy which I intend to use to describe my observance of this creature must not be taken other than at face value.

My friend Finn has on several occasions warned us of the dangers of a bull - "You could be in a field', he says, 'there's a bull in it, maybe a few cattle, you always take heed of the bull. You think he's not watching you, but he sees every move, he's fully aware at all times of where you are. And, ' he says, 'if you are negligent you could find yourself in serious trouble'

So I watch Marilou, for that's her name, bull like, always aware of where she is and what she's at. I don't do it furtively, I don't stare, because that would be impolite, and I want to create the right impression, so like the bull I am always aware of her presence.

My oh my, I wonder when is this lady going to prepare the dinner, and cook it? Does she never stop? I wander round the garden and take a few more photographs. I had washed out trunks and Concern T-shirt in the bath water I take them down and hang them on the line in the back garden. Marilou had disappeared whenever I came back with the washing.

It's nearly eight o'clock when are we going to dine?

I go upstairs, take off the shirt and put on my evening wear - a clean Concern T-shirt!

I have already shaved, I don't have any fancy aftershave, and I don't have any aftershave! No unnecessary weight, but might make a difference you know. What will she be wearing, perhaps a little off the shoulder job, showing a bit of cleavage, perhaps an evening gown and shawl.

I'm very limited there's not much you can stick into a rucksack, the aftershave might have been worth it! But however, 'Faint heart never won fair lady', I'll head down.

Oh here she is, as beautiful as ever, hair has changed now, not tied back in the same way, almost shoulder length, square across the back now, it suits her, shows off her face, which is turned smiling to greet me.

'Can I help?', well, I thought I'd ask, a look of dismay, an emphatic 'Non', but then a little later, bottle of white wine and opener - "Will I open it?".

"Of course!" - I open but don't pour, Marilou pours a little in her own glass and charges mine.

We salute, I say Slainte and take a sip, it's good. Dry, refreshing. We are to have herring cured in a tangy sharp marinade, tempered with crème fraiche. It is delicious, Marilou serve herself first and offers me the dish to help myself.

Marilou has put on a clean top and is wearing the same, or at least they look the same bottoms she was wearing earlier. But as me Aunt Katie used to say, 'Beauty becomes a dish cloth', and indeed Marilou was beautiful.

A little earlier Marilou had gone out to the garden returning with that coarse type herb that is often cooked with lamb.

'… you like?' she says, putting it up to my nose.

'Oui', (I'm good at that!) and off she goes, breaks it up a little more and puts it on the lamb chops which have been simmering very gently on the stove.

We are having a second glass of white wine at this stage, but let me explain - these are smallish glasses of wine, at the rate we are drinking you probably get 8-10 glasses out of a bottle.

She removes the wine, "For digestive" she explains, and I was enjoying it!

But watch yourself ye boy ye, you don't want to get too much drink. I had at this stage already opened the Bergerac rouge and it was breathing gently waiting to be poured.

I lift the bottle and nod, yes pour away, 'A little', this lady is not big into drinking. She explains that occasionally, her friend, the friend is the unfinished portrait, I had seen earlier and lives quite close, and herself dine together and then perhaps she might drink a little more.

She enjoys cooking, family food, good wholesome food, simple but good. And for me an exceptional meal this evening.

I had heard that word before, exceptional, of course it has an entirely meaning here, I know she means special, an experience for me, a well cooked French Family meal, one which I could never experience in a Hotel.

But her earlier use of the word was different again, definitely, I could feel it in my bones, she could not have stood framed in that evening sun and meant anything other than the interpretation which I had taken out of it.

While I poured out the wine, and when her back was turned, I added an extra drop to her glass. You couldn't be up to these fellows reared in South Armagh, cute whores, every last one of them!

Marilou had taken another pot off the stove put the contents into a dish, and was now putting butter off a knife over it. She returns to the table a plateful of chops in one hand and the dish, which contains spuds peeled and cut up into sizable pieces and what is either a little cabbage or leeks mixed through them. She again helps herself and offers me both dishes.

If she notices that her wine glass is a little fuller, she passes no remarks. You scored there ye boy ye!

The chops are cooked to perfection and the spuds butter and leek could not be nicer. I have long since come to the conclusion that the only way to enjoy a chop is to take whatever meat you can off it with your knife and fork and then lift it, twist it and turn it in your mouth getting every last morsel of meat of it. I believe we had 4 small chops each, but I can't be sure, I'm in a dream like state.

Here I am, with a twenty year old inside me mad to get out, trying to converse in a foreign language, and I haven't a clue, chatting up this 18-20 year old, I will not use the word bird, when describing this vision in front of me… this charming lady! And what are we talking about?

Of course what all 20 year olds, talk about whenever a young fellow is making his pitch - Children, grandchildren, the usual stuff!

I learn that Marilou has 4 children, and 10 grand children, 3 boys and a girl. One up to Marilou, I have 2 boys and 2 girls, 8 grandchildren. Of course one of mine has yet to start, the one who told her Mother, 'I'm going to have my babies at home', no way was she going to marry and leave home.

Marilou, works hard at her English, she thinks in French and then tries to explain in English, eyes screwed up, fist up to the head, concentrating, I do my best to find the right words for her but I know that often we miss the point being made. However I am more convinced that here is a self assured lady works hard, has worked hard to get her home as she wants it and now has it. Has worked for 20 years with the mentally handicapped, hard demanding work, 'Yes I need my space, my peace', I gather she has not worked for a while, how long since I do not know, but she is happy here, she has her garden and her painting, reads a lot in the winter.

"My God" I think, "it could never be winter in such a beautiful place, all that sun today, the growth in the hedge rows, the leafed trees, the lush grass"'.

But yes we do have a winter, I read a lot, I started English last October, from books'

Amazing how well she has done, must be very disciplined. You don't mess with this lady.

Marilou has cleared the dishes - 'Dessert?"

'Oui!' - anything to lengthen this delightful evening.

But my God, what has she got; a beautiful dish of strawberries, they have been cut up, liberally covered in sugar, red wine has been added and they have sat for quite a while letting, sugar, wine and juices mix. Again she serves herself and offers me the dish.

Is St. Jacques at his work here, who could have told her, my favourite!

They are delicious. Far too many to finish in one sitting, like everything else this evening, she has not stinted one little bit.

'Could I have some in the morning?'


As on other occasions during the evening I have surreptiously slightly topped up her glass, she doesn't notice or chooses not to comment.

By this time I have resorted to charades to try to explain whatever it is that I am trying to get across. And then, she says 'We will finish the wine and go to bed'.

Did she see me, see the jolt in the chest, hear the quick gasp - but I'm up for it, I recover my composure and take a good draft of wine.

'The wine is very good, I'm enjoying it, helps to loosen the tongue'

She doesn't understand the last bit.

Resort to charade mood again!

Horror of horrors, I stick my tongue out at her, waggle it about, even grasp it between my fingers and give it a good shake.

My God I definitely blew it, well that's the only conclusion I can come to later whenever I review the evening in the loneliness of my bedroom.

I have almost single handedly managed to consume the Bergerac, great stuff, but the bottle is now empty time to make a move.

No minerals up in the balcony here, no Ladies Choices, no 'Good night sweetheart' no last dance called, no 'Did you walk or come on the bike'.

God wasn't it great to get a girl up on the bar of your bike, 3.00 in the morning, celidhe or dance over, and you leaving her home. Her lying back into your arms, your face buried in her hair, you could feel the softness of it, the smell of it, your arms around her protectively. Hard work up the hills mind you, but worth every bit of it on the way down.

Marilou has moved over to the far part of the kitchen- 'Bon nuit', I am being dismissed, but I thought we were going to bed!

She is standing with her back to me, clearing dishes or arranging dishes, earlier she had taken the left over bones out to the yard and put them in a dish.

She has 5 cats, I am not a cat lover, actually I dislike them, and I think the feeling is mutual, but they do not get inside the house. I had noticed they kept their distance, obviously well trained. Is there nothing this lady couldn't do?

I cannot just leave it there, I stagger across the floor, now it wasn't the wine, I've drunk lots more than I have tonight and not staggered, anyway her back is still to me she would not have seen, I take her by the shoulders and gently turn her round, I do not hug her, my God I could devour this woman, never mind hug her. Those of you that know me know I'm big into hugging - 'We all need a hug in the morning, and one at the end of the day, and as many as possible squeezed in between to keep life's troubles at bay. But no matter how far you may ramble, your problems be great or be small, it is my belief for instant relief a HUG is the best thing of all'

Benny Sands must have had me in mind whenever he wrote that song!

No I don't hug her, this lady leads and you follow, so having turned her round and she hasn't swooned into my arms, I look directly into her eyes, take her two hands in mine, tell her and thank her for an "exceptional evening", wish her 'Bon nuit' and kiss her on the cheek. She offers me the other cheek, 'Bon nuit' she says, both cheeks. So that's how we left it.

Up the stairs, into the room, look at that fine big bed, get undressed I don't have pyjamas, unnecessary weight, so it's to bed with briefs on only. I plug in to recharge the phone, switch off the light, pull back the duvet and slide into bed.

Although the light is off the charging XDA11 has a little glow which softens the darkness.

I am an eternal optimist, surely I didn't miss read the 'Exceptional' night bit, that wagging of tongues wouldn't put anyone off, any moment now the door will open, and there she'll be in a translucent night gown, there'll just be enough light for me to see her entirely -

'Monsieur Brian, do you need anything'

Of course I do, I need to check out 'The Larry Quinn Qualities', I think, perhaps, more of my own than this charming ladies. For those of you who have never read my requirements for my female travelling companion who I hope will accompany me to New Zealand in the not to distant future - one of them is, that, like Larry Quinn, who on numerous occasions has announced to all within hearing in Burren GAA Social Club, 'Here I am girls, and every bit of me works'.

I have no doubt that every bit of Marilou works, but I would have liked to have had the opportunity of finding out!

Marilou, if you ever read this and I hope you will, I am going to ask Bernadette, my daughter to have a friend of hers, Hugh, translate it into French, so that there is no misunderstanding in our language, and post it to you.

With all sincerity I say to you -

'Merci, merci beaucoup, I had the best day of my journey, my best day for a long, long time. I will live and relive the memory of it on my travels, and every time I think of me sticking my tongue out at you, to try to explain what I meant by loose tongue, I will laugh, as I have been doing this last few days. Thank you, thank you for an "Exceptional" night, thank you for making me feel 20 again, and May God bless and keep you safe'.


I got a great text from Gerry McAlinden this morning, both he and Christine have been terrific with both texts of support, booking hotels, and 'exceptional ' nights I had texted Gerry I think yesterday very briefly describing, 'The Tongue Incident', and the difficulty of communication, his text simply said,

'Could that be described as talking in tongues'.

Back to my Camino.

I get up the following morning, I hear noises down stairs, it's shortly after 7.00, into the bathroom, I'll have shower, the shower is not altogether cold, but very much leaning towards the cool side.

Aw to hell with it, here goes, St. Kevin of Glendalough, how are ye, 'In Glendalough lived an ole saint renowned for his faith and his piety' or Christy Moore's 'Delirium Tremens'

'And there was original sins, and venial sins
and mortal sins by the score,
so I tied barbed wire under my underpants
and flagellated myself on the floor'.

The cold water would soon cure any man's courage. In I go, get a dam good dousing. A brisk rub down, no need of a hair drier here, I can't even remember using one! Dress and down to meet the day.

Me beauty's here, hair different again, now loose, tidy, yes it would almost be shoulder length, by God she'd be some blade to have on the bar of the bike. Dressed now in a red dressing gown, buttoned up to the neck, where's that translucent night dress, I wonder. Well away out of view I'll tell you. Wearing glasses now, she has been reading and sipping coffee. Away she goes, gets the strawberries, can I be sure no one told her of my weakness for strawberries? They were even nicer than on the previous evening, well, well soaked, flavours intermingling, by God she knows her stuff this one.

Coffee, new carton of milk, I hope she didn't buy this whole carton especially for me, could be them god dam cats! I again express my thanks for the evening before and try to express how much it meant to me, thinking to myself of course, it could even had been so much better. A man is entitled to dream, isn't he?

'Will you walk with me this morning?',

'Yes, to the village'

Great, Marilou will walk my Camino with me.

'I will get ready'

Away she goes, I finish my coffee, and I to have still some packing to finish. Some packing on a rucksack. Just as I came out of the bathroom, she comes up the stairs drying her hair - 'Second bathroom', so much for a chance meeting in the bathroom!

Her bedroom is directly opposite the one I had slept in, a few short steps across the landing, the door had been ajar as I had come out of my bedroom that morning, and even though I knew she was downstairs, I had not looked in, tempted mind you, what had I missed? Such is life, it is a hard life.

We meet downstairs, in my excitement of yesterday evening I had forgotten the clothes I had hung on the line, out to get them now, gingerly crossing the dew laden grass, they are wet but I'll have to stick them in the bag anyhow.

She is ready, nice neat hat on her head, though for the photo, I take it off and replace it with mine. I also have my photo taken, ready to walk.

She takes her bike, and we head off, possibly as far as 2km to the outskirts of the village, at the far end nearest my next stopping place, the town of St. Jean d'Angely. I go into the "Marine" mode of my youth - won't give up that easily, there's still hope.

As we approach what I can clearly see is the end of her walk, I would not want her to go onto the main road, I stop - 'Will you come and dine with me this evening in St. Jean d'Angely'. Perhaps 17 miles distant, and she has a car. 'I would love to repay your hospitality'.

Hospitality be damned, if I got her in, I'd make sure she had more than a few sips of wine - 'Aw too much to drink, you couldn't drive after that, you'd be better staying the night', cute South Armagh whore again. It comes out in me an odd time; it's there, though not always evident.

'It's not possible. Non", an emphatic non.

Even I know when I'm beat, and she has me bet.

I lean my sticks against a pole of sorts, I take the bicycle off her, I'm not leaving without giving this woman a hug. So I put my arms around her, where the hell can she put her arms, I've this bloody rucksack on me back and a belly bag on my front.

But hug her I do, stand back take her warmly by the hand and bid her goodbye. She mounts her bicycle, she even does that daintily, a gentle flutter of her small hand and she rides off. I watch her to the corner, never a backward glance, or another wave. She disappears, will I ever see her again, I have invited her to Rostrevor, but will she ever come. 'Perhaps' was her answer.

I turn to walk away, the words of a song in my head, either sung by Mary Black or Maura O'Connell.

'All the girls that ever I touched,
I did not do it harmfully,
and all the girls that ever I hurt
I did not do it knowingly.
But to remain as friends, you need the time
to make amends and stay awhile,
but since my feet are now fast
and point away from the past,
I'll bid farewell and be down the line.

I strike it out for St. Jean d'Angely, a distance of 24km from where I then stood. Christine has been on the phone and has booked me into a nice Logis Hotel, not far from the town centre and actually on my road out for Saintes.

May 1st

Earlier today when I had been writing about my 'exceptional night', I had gone off to attend 10.30 mass. The large Cathedrale St. Pierre is only at the very most 2 minutes from this hotel. I am early, the cathedral is starting to fill, I sit a little over mid way up, in the back row of the front section of seats which have a wide aisle running horizontally behind them.

The organ, a massive affair, is being played filling this magnificent edifice with sound, reverberating off walls, completely surrounding you.

I sit there quietly, today is the blessing of the graves at home, all my children and grandchildren will be at Mammies grave, my sister Anne, husband Carl, John and Stephanie, if they know about it, will all be there, the Maguinness's will be there, some will go to Alice's sister Anita's grave.

Willie's wife, Josephine, and Alice lie side by side, one grave only separates them. They died a little over two months apart. They enjoyed each others company in life, please God they continue to do so now in death. All the Morgan's will be there, Josephine's brothers and sisters. Friends, who will be at their own loved ones graves will come over to see Willie and his two lovely girls Anne-Marie and Fiona, and my own family.

I get very emotional, but no one will notice, there's no one immediately behind me and no one yet has come into the seat. So I sit there and let the organ music envelope me, I think of my love for Alice and hers for me. Nothing, no one, can ever take anything away from that. We had promised on the 10th. April 1961 to love, honour and cherish each other all the days of our life, we had renewed those vows 25 years later in the presence of our families and friends, and we both were faithful to that promise.

Many, many years before, long before Alice was ill, she had asked me to promise that if anything ever happened to her that I would not remarry. In today's terms that would mean that I would never ever take a partner, or have any sort of liaison. She declared that if anything ever happened to me she would never look at anyone else. I refused, I had declared my love for her, I lived my life, every act declaring my love for her, it was as if she needed proof of that love. Actually that hurt me, I thought I proved it every day of my life, no further proof was needed. I could not make a promise which I didn't know whether I would be able to keep or not. Alice sulked a little about it, she tried again on other occasions to extract the promise but I held firm. I know she was hurt by that, but I still refused, I continually said none of us knows what will happen in the future, eventually she let it drop. I have no idea of how many years ago that was, but we were quite young with a growing family.

Had anything happened a few evenings before I would have had no guilty feelings about it.

The entrance hymn, congregation stands and Mass starts, I am still choked but in control.

'And since my feet are now fast, and point away from the past, I'll bid farewell and down the line.'

Tommy Boyle and "The Wake"

It's May 2nd. I have taken another day in Saintes, its a beautiful old town 2000 years old, they say, Gallo Roman, founded by the Gaul's, taken over by the Romans. It became the Province of Aquitaine and from 950 onwards was a very important stopping off place for Pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. There are several ancient monuments, like the Roman Amphitheatre, not very far distant from this hotel, no more than 5-10 minute walk, the Arc de Germanicus, which had been rebuilt on its present site, close to the river, but on the far bank to my hotel, less than 5 minutes away. There are numerous churches, thermal baths which I haven't yet seen. Plenty to see and wonder at. I have taken a rest from the relentless sun; I have been out and about all morning. Tomorrow I will be on the Camino proper; I will be off the roads, following in the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims who have walked this route for over 1,000 years. Perhaps I will feel their presence and they will support me on my way.

Sitting having my glass of wine earlier, together with mussels and rice with a beautiful sauce I had a text from my cousin Anita, they are all well thank God, but of course the mind and memory kick in and I began to muse about some of the antics of my Uncle Tommy. My mother's, God be good to her, youngest brother. A rascal, or as Granniy would have said - 'What are you at ye old bousey ye!, whenever he got up to some of his tricks about the house, and she would go as if to hit with dish cloth or whatever was handy.

But she enjoyed it and many games and tricks were played.

Whenever we churned, we'd be about the churn waiting to take you turn with the plunger, I could hardly see over the churn, but still I'd get my turn, although many's the time there was a hand further up the plunger.

When it came to Tommy's turn and that was often, he'd dance round the churn, maybe on one leg, throwing the plunger from one hand to the other, of course we'd be squealing in delight, in would come Granny - 'What are you at you ole eejit?" or amadan or bousey, "Give me that", grabbing the plunger off him. Granny would eventually be satisfied that the butter was made.

You made it you didn't churn it.

She'd wash down the plunger with hot water, use the plunger to bring the butter together, lift it out and make it into small pats, using small flat spade like wooden tools. Perhaps they were called patters, I don't remember. It was great day whenever you were churning.

This same Tommy was known around the country for his divilment, he could be at anything. "That Tommy Boyle fella…", got into many scrapes, but it was harmless fun, and I am sure has not lost anything in the retelling. I heard these stories several times, from different sources so I know them to be true.

A man named Paddy McCann; he lived down what we knew as Barney Lavelle's loanen. This loanen started in the north just short of the Free State Customs post, past Lavelle's shop on the left hand side as you went towards Dundalk. The Wog Trainor lived further along the same road, nearly as far as where the Carrive River crosses the Dungooley Road, coming from Forkhill. Carrif we called it but I think I have the right spelling in Carrive. If there ever was anything missing after the Wog had visited, be it to the mill or whatever, you'd be sent to fetch it, for there it would surely be. He could pass nothing, but it wouldn't be hid. You'd ask for it and it would be handed over. This wasn't done in any sense of anger or malice. There'd be something missing. 'Was the wog here, well bads grant to his soul any way the old whore', oh I, there was a great turn of phrase to the language. People think it coarse, but it was the vernacular, and nothing was ever thought of it. One of my cousins, mentioned earlier in some of my musings, was considered to be one of the best cursers in the country, and she was a girl! Could hould her own in any company.

There might even be a bit of frivolity about it, it was just the inconvenience that niggled.

This man Paddy McCann lived down this same lane. An elderly man living on his own, no woman about the place, he kept a bit of afire going and had the tea drawer stuck in it as black as the ace of spades, the tea was that thick it would hardly pour. Paddy died and the neighbours had to come in, red the place out and get ready for the wake. I don't know what sort of money there was for the wake but he had a few acres of land and probably a few pound put past. You had to be waked properly, and everything done according to tradition, so if you were like Paddy, you did your best to provide for the clay pipes, tabacca, a few bottles of stout, maybe a bottle of port for the women, though very few women drank, a bottle of whisky for whoever would open the grave, it was important that even in death you were well though of and remembered as being a decent man. So the house was cleaned, Paddy was laid out in the room, there'd be a kitchen with a room off it, that would be the house, all prepared and that evening word would have got around, and the neighbours from all around called to pay their respects and say a prayer for the repose of Paddy's soul.

Colm Sands has a great song by the way called 'The Wake Song', in it he captures the pathos, and humour of what people say at wakes -
'Aw he went very sudden in the end
and it's good to see him looking like himself,
and he never done nobody no harm,
except poor creatur to himself.
Oh I didn't like the cut of him last week
not looking like himself at all I fear,
but I'm glad to see he's mended well since then,
sure I haven't seen him look so well in years"

There wasn't even an oil lamp in Paddy's; you had the light coming from the fire, and maybe an odd candle.

Was it any wonder the country was full of ghosts that time, the bloody Tilley lamp and then the electric coped it for them fellas altogether.

The women were gathered in the room, round the bed, the men up in the kitchen, discussing the subsidy, the price of cattle North and South, what were fat pigs making, what was moving on the border, that sort of stuff.

Drawing near midnight, time for "The Rosary", anyone for home would be going after the rosary; those who were sitting up with Paddy would open a few bottles of stout after the people left.

One of the women come up to the kitchen, 'We're saying the rosary', silence, a few men move a bit closer to the room door. And whoever was saying the rosary would start.

'In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen, Come oh Lord and open our lips.' And the response, 'And our tongues will announce your praise'

So it would go on until the three hail Marys were said and the Our Father, and then

'The five Glorious Mysteries. The first Glorious mystery; The Annunciation

'Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee, blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus'

But this time a response from the corpse;

'Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen'

Pandemonium - 'Oh Mother of God!!!' - the women clear the room.

The Corpse rises in the bed, but its a lot smaller corpse than Paddy, Lord have mercy on him.

While all the talk, and tea making was going on, Tommy had slipped down to the room, got in under the bed cover, beside Paddy, waited his moment and timed it brilliantly.

He's the boy who could fairly liven up a wake, I'll tell you. No better man

More of Tommy Boyle's Antics

While I'm at it, I might as well tell you some more of Tommy's antics.

Himself and an even bigger villain, a John McNally, (a cousin of me Aunt Katies, married to Felix Boyle - Tommy's older brother), used do a lot of smuggling together, that is, whenever they weren't up to something worse.

John McNally had the biggest jaw ever you saw, it was set up for a straight right, how you could protect yon jaw, I'll never know, but anyway, many's the scrape himself and Tommy got into.

Recently, my cousin Pat Devlin gave me a school photograph of Ballinaclosha school in 1924, I think it was, of course I tried to pick out who I knew, the first one that came jumping out of the photo, John McNally, same big chin couldn't miss it, himself and Tommy must have been in the same class.

Uncle Peter was in it as well, and Kitty Murphy, or Kitty Tight as she would have been known, Angie and Mary Bridget Lynch, from Ballsmill. They would have walked over the fields from Ballsmill, into Dan's ground, down the Butchers Loanen, on to the New Line and then on to school. I suppose it wasn't really that far.

That's the road we'd often take going to Mass on a Sunday in Glassdrumand Chapel. I'd have to have the photograph to name others in it, but sure, it's in Rostrevor and I'm on my Camino.

The pair of boys, Tommy and John were in Newry, John had an old car, I'm sure it wouldn't be up to much, if you were smuggling the last thing you'd need would be a fancy car. A good going car all right, but not one that you'd mind getting a few scrapes on.

A neighbour woman had died in Daisy hill. Her name, Maurice Ruddy, a funny name Maurice, for a woman, but that's how it sounded. Herself and her brother had lived in a small house, as you would go over past Charlie Webb's cottage heading for Lower Tullydonnell on the road to Carrif. Charlie lived just at the cross roads, on the New Line where if we walked the road going to Mass, we would turn up for the Bog Road, where Paddy Quinn, Granny's brother, lived as we headed over to Glassdrumand.

This elderly brother and sister had very little, I don't know if they had a few acres or not, but I do know there wasn't any surplus about the place. There might be a difficulty with the burial, funerals no matter how small can cost a lot of money, and when you have none or very little, that's a problem.

The two boys thought - "Well sure, we'll take her home, we'll stick her in the boot of the car" - if you were smuggling you always needed a car with a big boot. And McNally was your man - "We'll carry her from the house in relays, no need for a hearse and sure, that'll save more money"

So up to the morgue the pair go, Maurice is coffined, out into the boot of the car and sail for home.

Up the Camlough Road, through Camlough, round by the lake, and on up Sturgeon Brae, on into and through Lislea, on to Owen's, Peadar Owen's.

A car managed to catch them before they reached Happy Days. (O'Hagan's got that name because the father always said when greeting customers to his shop, 'Happy Days are here again'.) Flagged down - "Did yous boys lose a coffin?"

On the way up Sturgeon the coffin had shot out of the boot, there was ice on the road; down it went like a toboggan, to finish up in the ditch.

About turn, back to the brae again, pick up Maurice and head for Carnally. There was some craic that night at the wake -

A neighbour man came to sympathise with Paddy, the brother; now alone, and to say a prayer over Maurice was heard to remark:

'Do you know what I’m going to tell you Paddy - it's a bloody good job Maurice was dead, or thon pair of whores would have killed her!'

Saintes to Berneuil

I have had a very easy day to day. Saintes to Berneuil. I was up early, well rested, on the road just before 8.00. The days have become so warm in the afternoon that it's good to get an early start. There had been thunder and some very heavy rain the night before but now all was clear as I set out.

Today would be my first day on the actual Camino, I have travelled down from Northern France on fairly major roads, except that is where I could find Piste Cyclable routes, or where I had deviated to get accommodation or where I had wandered along narrow winding roads beside rivers.

Those days had been the exception, but today and from here on it's Camino, so I bid myself "Buen Camino" and go along the bank of the river Charente towards the small hamlet of Les Gonds.

A number of people passing in cars toot and wave, obviously familiar with Pilgrim walkers, it is friendly and cheering. I have taken a good rest, my small right toe is comfortable, and I am again wearing my boots, now without any discomfort. I know that for the terrain I will shortly be on, sandals are totally unsuitable.

I leave the road and immediately I am walking along a headland. A headland is that part of a field where horses would be turned before heading back down or up a field, when ploughing. Here it is a division between two large fields; I am in very open countryside, cropped with what I take to be corn and some wheat or barley.

I should not describe these open spaces as fields; they are huge tracts of open ground, the odd tree or hedgerow. They got that grant here as well by the look of it! I wonder how long before there's a grant to put hedgerows back! Perhaps there already is.

After leaving the road the only people I meet, until I walk into the small Hotel in Berneuil, are two joggers, and I only meet them because our paths coincided where a road crossed the path of the Camino!

They were an English couple, youngish staying in a gite nearby. I told them of the roman amphitheatre which I had just visited a little over 1.5k back, they headed along the route I had come to go visit it.

The Camino is well rutted and mucky today, large tractors travel these routes now where once Roman Legionnaires and later Pilgrims hardened the ground with their continual marching or walking.

Perhaps I am wrong about the hedgerows, perhaps this was always open ground, and I am inclined to see things, as I perceive them to be at home.

I go through the small village of Preguillac, a road map probably does not show these villages, I had expected them to be dormitory villages of the busy town of Saintes, but no there is no evidence of large-scale new build.

They are sleepy little hamlets resting gently in the warm sun. A little less than 4 hours walking and I arrive at the small hotel where I will stay tonight.

Quite a few customers in for their midday meal. I'm peckish myself so I leave my gear up to the room and come down to the restaurant.

No menu, its on a board on the wall, a choice of 3 starters, 3 main courses and 3 sweets, complimentary wine, vin de table, 9.90 euros, the lot. I noticed a list of charges on the landing, 40 euros full board.

I order a starter; to be honest I wasn't sure what I was ordering but out it came; a selection of ham, salami, 5 different slices of this type of meat, with the basket of bread and a gherkin. The lady of the house had already left me a litre of red wine and water, two glasses.

I looked around; every diner had a litre carafe in front of them. You simply took whatever you wanted and left the carafe probably to be refilled for the next customer. I saw no evidence of abuse, drinkers were moderate. I had ordered Roti de Boeuf with frites. I was not disappointed. 2 very generous slices, probably about 8mm thick each, I like my meat on the rare side, this beef was just right and was tender. The chips were like the ones your mammy used to make.

Chips - probably cooked in oil as opposed to lard fat but none the less 'Mammy' like. Anyone of a certain age will remember those chips - peeled spuds, roughly cut, into the boiling fat, the sizzling sound, you only got a few as they went round the table, more were being put on, but everyone had to get a few, burning hot, throw them from one hand to the other, not quite soft a little underdone, none of your frozen chips or McCain's chips here. These were chips. I followed that with a little apple tart, an open apple tart, whole slices of apples on a light bed of pastry. I wasn't fit for coffee!

I met a lovely young couple last night, well youngish. There oldest daughter is nineteen, she is studying music, playing piano. They have 3 children, they are Flemish Belgians, I wonder how close to Flemish Dutch.

On a number of occasions in Lanzarote, Alice and I had met both Belgian People and also Dutch Flemish people. We should not generalise, but we have often said that these were the nicest people we had ever met, and we were fairly well travelled. What distinguished them I cannot say, but we found them to be agreeable, avoid conflict, get off side, as we did one night whenever we had gone into a harbour-side bar/restaurant, well known for good sea food in Puerto Del Carmen.

The couple who ran the restaurant were having an on going row, not a good atmosphere. 4 youngish people, around our own children's age were in the bar; one of them moved over to us, "Not good" or words to that effect "Follow us". Which of course we did. Outside, we had a laugh about the scene within, and then they invited us to join them for a meal. We had never seen them before, they all had reasonable English, they were younger than us, they had heard us talking, probably realised we were Irish, I'm not sure but they were so open, so friendly. We eat together, finished up in an Irish Pub, Alice sang, I sang, they thoroughly enjoyed it, we were overjoyed to have found such amiable companions, and we met at least 2 more times during the rest of our holidays. They were away home before us, a different travelling date. Of course we exchanged addresses, and we did receive cards but it faded away. They were beautiful people.

Talking about them reminds me of another beautiful person; for god's sake any of you who know this man do not let it be known that I consider him to be a beautiful person. He would die of embarrassment. He was a labourer who worked for H&P Campbell, my old company. We had arranged a few days in Jersey, for anyone who was in the company for 20 years or more. A chartered flight was flying into Dublin with ex-pats, returning empty to Jersey, so we got a good deal. We would go out on the return flight, and come back whenever they were going to Dublin to pick up their load. What could be better, and so it was arranged. Ollie was one of those travelling, a giant of a man, a great labourer, with a heart as big as himself. Whenever he got a few drinks, and that day he got too many drinks, he would grab the likes of me, in a big bear hug, and say, "It's nice to be nice" and he meant it.

So it was with these people, there hearts were big and open and Alice and I delighted in their company, and I have no doubt that they thought well of us. So yesterday evening I met Rik and Krish, they were sitting quite close to me, and I could see that Rik was having a little fun at the expense of the rather serious girl who was serving them. there were two girls waiting table, both dressed identically in neat fitting jackets and trousers, the more senior girl, I had met earlier in the day she was hovering as I came into the L'Auberge Portoise, in Pons, I could not recommend it highly enough, magnificent food, friendly and efficient staff. She then checked me in, had excellent English and agreed to download and print out some stuff for me from our Brian. Great girl, she would have been fit for Rik, so I watched and on one occasion he winked over. We got into conversation, or rather I talked, they bought me a drink, a fatal mistake, I talked some more, the upshot being I have invited them to come visit in Rostrevor, and I hope they will.

Rik told me a very interesting and humourous story, their surname is Guns, obviously not pronounced as written. The GU is lengthened I think, Guuuns, would be how we should pronounce it. The family, mother, father and three children happen to be in America at the time of 9/11, all airports are under strict security, top alert, and here is baggage with GUNS clearly written on it. Their 19 year old was the one spotted walking across a terminal, with a large case clearly marked Guns.

I looked out for them this morning, I was down for breakfast, I was on my own at 7.00, and then I left the hotel at around 8.00, we may have missed each other in the dining room, or perhaps they had yet to come down, but we will, please God meet again. I head out on my Camino at around 8.05.

Days 40 to 44   

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