Thomas Moore lived as a monk in a Catholic religious order for 12 years before leaving to become a university lecturer, writer and psychotherapist. Now aged 77, he has a wife and two children and lectures on psychology and the role of spirituality in medicine. In his latest enlightening book, he offers a new approach to ageing, arguing it is something to be cherished, not feared.
What does it mean to age? Many of us find the idea of ageing both sad – the loss of youth, hair, loved ones – and frightening, as we confront the possibility of a future dealing with illness and mental or physical incapacity.
But as a former monk and a psychotherapist who has counselled thousands of people over the past 40 years, I want to tell you that there is another way to look at growing old.
Of course, we must be realistic about the downsides, but there is much to be positive about, too. What I want to teach people about is the joy of ageing.
When I use the word “ageing”, I mean becoming more of a person over time.
SARAH Jane Adams is just like any in-demand model — jetting from Sydney to New York, Paris or India is all in a day’s work. And like many of her peers, Adams’ modelling career started via social media, when she began posting selfies and quickly amassed tens of thousands of fans of her quirky style.
Read the full story here: Is the era of anti-ageing over?
One of the more interesting side effects of the stroke I had about 18 months ago – was that I lost the ability to recognise people’s faces.
It’s called Prosopagnosia and it’s caused by damage to the fusiform gyrus on the right hand side of the brain. It’s not that I can’t physically see people’s faces, it’s just that they don’t mean anything to me or ring any bells – even if I know that person really well. I lose family and friends in crowds and even supermarkets and pubs. I know of mothers who can’t spot their children in a playground and teachers who don’t recognise their pupils. I’ve heard of work colleagues introducing themselves to fellow workers at least three times in one day. Or not knowing who someone is once they change something about their appearance like the cut or colour of their hair.
If I hear a voice, however, then I immediately know who they are. It’s not like I’ve forgotten them, just that the bit that ties what someone looks like to whom and what they are to me – is missing. Think of it like this. Imagine there’s a smell that takes you back to a time or place, but one day, you smell that scent and it means nothing to you. It doesn’t bring back the memories and emotions. It’s just another smell. Sort of like that.
One of the odd things about this is that you don’t recognise celebrities or actors. I’ve watched whole films and when the titles come up realised that I’ve been watching an actor I know really well. Not just from other performances, but personally! But they’ve looked different, or acted differently or used a different voice and I’ve had no idea.
There are tests you can take to see if you have this issue – 2% of people have it from birth, so it’s more common than you might think. Mine is the rarer ‘acquired’ type. Oddly, since having this, I’ve discovered that a couple of people I know quite well also have a version of it and didn’t even know that they did.
There’s the other side of the coin – ‘Super Recognisers’. These are the sort of people who can pass you in the street and remember that they were at school with you 30 years ago. But for now, let’s stick with the Proso’s and the point of this article.
I’ve also discovered another major side effect of this condition – is that I don’t really know what counts as good looking or handsome or ugly or pretty or gorgeous or plain or attractive purely from someone’s face. I need to look past that into their character. Their words, their actions, their demeanour. Everything but the one thing that normally acts as the flag. Their face. Which is good news if your face isn’t what you’d like it to be, because it doesn’t matter a damn to a Prosopagnosiac. It’s an old cliché about looking past the face and into the soul, but that’s exactly what we have to do. We care much more about what’s on the inside because we have no idea what’s on the outside.
People, in general, could learn a lot from Prosopagnosiacs. We have to be very careful how we approach people because we might already have said hello, or they might be someone we’d rather not engage with, or they might be a friend or a family member – we don’t have a clue. We have to assume that anyone who smiles at us, knows us, and so we smile back (not a bad recipe for a nicer world). We hope we don’t accidentally snub people that we do know, by blanking them when we’re at social events because we haven’t recognised them, so we’re super- friendly to all and sundry. And we never, ever take people on face value, because to us, their face has no value at all. It’s what’s behind the eyes that counts. And when you’re in the dating pool, that’s what takes you out of the shallows and into the deep end.
Blood has been such a massive part of my life for the last 37 years. Every month, from the age of 12, I’ve bled like a stuck pig. One of my best friends recently said how much she enjoyed her periods. My jaw just dropped. I’ve always hated mine violently. From the first drop. Bleeding pints, great big fat clots the size of my fists, soaking up ultra-maxi pads in one gush, spilling over the sides, through my black pants and through my dark trousers, leaving a bloody puddle leaching into my chair in the middle of a business meeting. The shame of discreetly trying to wipe it off, waiting for everyone else to leave first and hoping no-one would notice.
And the pain, don’t talk to me about period pain. That time I was 15, curled up on the bed in my first boyfriend’s bedsit, then him calling out the GP (in the days when they would do home visits) to give me a massive shot of morphine to take away the most incredible pain I’d ever experienced. The morphine felt good.
That time in my early 20s on a rural bus in Java, when I was writhing in pain on the plastic seats, silently crying big fat tears down my cheeks. I had no sanitary protection as I’d been taken by surprise. A kind Javanese lady took me off the bus and into her home to clean me up, give me painkillers, wash my clothes and let me rest before making sure I got home. A good Samaritan.
The only respite I ever got was going on the pill as a teenager for seven years.
“You’re not to use it as a play pill,” my mother scolded. Little did she know. Too little, too late.
Numerous tests showed nothing – no endometriosis, no fibroids, no this, no that.
“Dirty blood,” a Javanese reflexogist told me, prescribing a thick black liquid brew that tasted putrid. But I downed it every day, desperate to have clean, light, easy blood.
Trying to get pregnant in my mid-thirties (my mother had me at 39, I thought it would be easy – too little, too late), how I hated my blood even more. Every month obsessing over cycle lengths, daily temperature charts, and urine samples. More tests.
“You have an unusually long womb and a tight vagina,” the gynaecologist said. Dirty sod.
Then a miracle. Just as I had almost given up – a missed period and a positive test. Excitement, elation, at 37 I was going to have a baby. Not my first pregnancy, but this time I wasn’t afraid, I was older. This time much coveted. Oh, but then the blood came. Hang on, that’s not right. Is it? “Go home, don’t worry about it, everything is normal.” Three months came and went. Blood came and went. Still the baby grew. Clinging on. Heart beating somersault twists and little kicks. Until the clots started coming. As big as a fist. No, no, no. This isn’t right. This can’t be happening. Please God no.
“Your placenta is coming away – see that shadow there – a large clot of blood,” the consultant said. “Very touch and go. Go home, rest, and wait.” A death star lurking in the lining of my womb. There is no God.
My waters broke at five months – ah, what a gush that was. 48 hours later I went into labour, was whisked into the Royal Sussex, sirens blaring. My beautiful perfect, tiny Tom Thumb of a son was born on 2 May 2006. The sun was shining on a glorious bank holiday. But everything was black. My world stopped turning. For the next three years.
“Dirty blood,” said the woman at the nutritional supplement centre, “full of copper, no wonder you lost your baby.”
The cow. So tactless – so unprofessional. I was furious. Bereft. Obsessed.
Then my first husband fucked off. Sick at the sight of my dirty blood. Wanting new blood – fresh and young.
Then I hit my roaring 40s. And how I roared, and wept, and bled some more – a whole lot more – as if my whole insides were falling out. Has someone just been murdered? Has someone slit their throat?
The period pain is minimal now. Almost non-existent. My cycles are starting to dither about but my sex drive has gone through the roof – the sex-surge they call it – do keep up; all that testosterone. The hot flushes come thick and fast (always carry a fan), night sweats come and go. My short-term memory is hopeless, and I’m forever losing things. Ah, the perimenopause. Bring it on – I want it to stop. No more bleeding at long, bloody last. No more packing spare sets of clothes, wearing two pairs of black pants, no more shoving a MoonCup up myself (I care about the environment) and yet still having to wear a maxi-pad, so what’s the point? Dear MoonCup, please can you make a bucket size cup – the size of the blood red moon?
Oh, hang on a minute. When my periods stop, that will finally be it. The finality of my fertility. And I will grieve all over again. Not as intensely, but it will still happen. Lurking in the shadows, popping up on Mother’s Day (will someone please send me a frickin card?), popping up when siblings start to become grandparents, all those life stages and milestones that my second husband, friends and family celebrate as their children grow. Of course, I celebrate with them.
The joy of being an aunt, a great aunt, a fairy godmother…the magical, mysterious, marvellous elder that comes bearing gifts. The exotic elder that always plays and dances, makes up stories, dresses up, hides and seeks. They all clammer to try on my jewels and trinkets. The elder that still goes clubbing in Cardiff nightclubs and gets crowned Queen; the elder that takes a drag, and does all the things their parents can’t as the responsible adults. I am fun personified. I’ll settle for that.
“Aunty I love you.” The best thing a child could say to me, as he gives me a big fat cuddle. “I love you too darling.” So much love – a bottomless well of it.
There was a time when I had to grit my teeth and sob behind dark glasses, closed doors, and in the loo at work. Although that time has gone now, I’m still a mother, and it was still a birth – however invisible, however silent. Always there. Always loved.
Dirty blood. I’ll be glad to see the back of you.
An imagined 11-year-old
Somewhere, in a parallel Universe, there is a bold young boy playing with his vorpal sword that goes snicker-snack. His name is Vincent. He has blonde hair, and blue eyes; he’s very creative and loves to dress up. He wears feather boas, and glitter. He’s a glam rock star in the making. He loves to fly kites. He can ride a horse and swim the ocean. He loves physics, art and dance like his mother. And English literature and New Wave films, like his dad. He’s a brave young boy, playing in a field full of sunflowers.
9-15 October was National Baby Loss Awareness Week. On the Sunday, I lit a candle and danced – a wild dance, shedding skins in celebration of a short life but whose soul lives on in my imagination, making me feel more, laugh more and love more. SANDS threw me an umbilical lifeline when my world stopped. You can support them here.
”OFFS why does women ‘empowerment’ always have to involve them getting their kit off?” This was one of the responses on the Wearing Wellbeing Facebook page to a call for volunteers for – “A TASTEFUL (yes they did use capital letters) nude shoot for a piece about women and body confidence”.
Why did I jump at the chance? Well, primarily it was to see if I really had embraced acceptance of my older self. Also, I reasoned it would be useful research for my project, The Invisibility Myth. What I didn’t immediately get was the wider picture. I believe there’s a need for people to see normal body-confident golden agers and younger women who are embracing their natural body changes not fighting them; the softening, the battle scars of survival and of a life lived.
Our bodies are the manifestation of any issues that we normally conceal under clothes and makeup. Strip those away, and we have to face who we really are, no hiding. For me at 61 years old, this was an important part of my personal development. Holding a mirror up to see if my acceptance of my physical is actually real now. I’m no longer that young, confident self-made woman who lost her way in her 40s under the weight of fluctuating hormones and major life changes. I’ve been on a postmenopausal rebirth since the age of 50 and am, at 61 in a place where I’ve grown into my own skin and made peace with who I was then and who I am now, even though it requires constant vigilance!
I arrive at a photographic studio in Hoxton, East London feeling a tad apprehensive. It’s not about getting naked per-se, more an in-built unease and cynicism about the media and how I will be portrayed. Although the accompanying interview for the article has been read over the phone to me and I am happy with it, I know it’s not been edited yet, so it could all go tits up – literally! I walk into the groovy reception area, where there is a beautiful young woman with vitiligo, (I later find out she is one of the models) quietly feeding her week old baby girl. Not what I was expecting to see.
Friendly young hair and makeup ladies bustle around behind flimsy curtains preening a small group of women, before they shyly shrug off their robes to pose in the white, brightly lit studio space. I go hot and panicky. In those first few minutes, I think about bolting, but pause instead to chat with a simply AMAZING looking 87 year old woman. YES 87 with spiky red and white hair carefully arranged to hide her hearing aids. She is wondering out loud whether or not to keep her flesh-coloured thong on (it would be retouched out post shoot) for the benefit of her grandchildren. I laugh, gulp, take stock, calm down and get a grip.
Before I can think too hard I take my clothes off, put a thong, fluffy robe and slippers on… and suddenly there is a pause for lunch and chat. I recognize one of the models is a lady I met on the AoA OUTageous Bus Tour. It all begins to feel so normal, in a surreal kind of way. The (male) photographer and his young assistant join us and are so affable and confidence inspiring, I feel myself starting to warm to the occasion. The only covering our bodies have under our white robes is a thin coat of shimmering skin buffing cream applied with a body mitt (yeah there was much joking about nooks, crannies and creases!).
By the time it comes for post-lunch action, we three 87, 61 and 30-year-old women have bonded and the group shots of our bodies (think Dove commercial-esque) become a hilarious, really quite touching celebratory experience rather than a daunting on. We are stripped literally and metaphorically of anything to hide behind and I feel an endorphin flood of love and respect for these strangers with whom I am engaging in such an intimate unforgettable moment.
The photographer is happy to show us some of the results as the shoot progressed – he really knew his stuff. There was one shot of me sitting on the floor, my modesty carefully arranged intact, that I had to admit was wonderful. It remains to be seen what the finished article and photos will look like, but whatever, I stand firm that my decision to do it was right. I leave the studio with a big smile on my face, feeling euphoric and proud of myself. I believe the other women feel the same. My reward is to trot down to the 24 hour Brick Lane Bagel Bakery (oh how many times I went there after all night benders in my youth!) to scoff a lox bagel AND a wedge of cheesecake, before meeting friends for a well-earned drinkiepoos. What started as something well outside my comfort zone, ended as an adventure. I am so pleased to have felt the fear of and done anyway.
In a time when we are all going to live longer and longer, I’m now in my Golden Age and quite frankly I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks when the article comes out. I have earned the right to live out my years in as self-determining and visible way as I choose, for as long as this beautiful body of mine holds up, until I shuffle off this mortal coil. If it’s not your thing – step away and please refrain from judgment – the latter just perpetuates the myth that the only way forward is for us to be tucked away out of sight and invisible. Ain’t happening on my watch. How about yours?
My hair was always my ‘thing’. Thick, dark, dramatic. When I was a little girl I had a crow. Blackie. Well strictly speaking, my brother did. He shimmied up a tree and stole it from a nest, though he only admitted that recently, having said for years it had fallen out, just in time to be rescued. So Blackie would perch on my shoulder and preen and peck away at my wild nest of hair. We made quite a pair.
Now my hair is coming out. It’s all over the bathroom floor, the kitchen floor, the corridor. They’re the areas with light tiling – I can pretend it’s not all over the carpets as it is less easy to see there. So it nests in the carpet, festers till I get the vac out.
The top of my head, the ‘crown’ is no longer host to my crowning glory. It is patchy, like a mangy dog. Oh and did I mention ageing? Well, I always looked really young for my age. Not anymore – or as far as my hair is concerned.
I’m 60 in September. I just moved to London, just in time to get my ‘Freedom’ pass to the city – trains, buses, the tube. All those eyes! And I’m thinking about hats, headscarves, feathers. Well, maybe not feathers. Not that brave, just yet (Rose Rouse). Still, I need to find some camouflage.
A woman told me recently at a party that I was very brave to come out without covering up my (lack of) hair. We all have faults, she said to my reaction of surprise, as if I should own it, grow up. Well, I was shocked because I admit I’m still in denial. I honestly thought that making a poor attempt at a double-plait at the back of my head (a piece drawn from each side) with a jewel blue slide, would hide my thinning hair. Clearly, it didn’t. On reflection, I honestly think she meant well, though she hit a a sore spot. Or more accurately, various bald spots. So what to do?
Writing this article is one way of outing myself about it. I really do want to feel more relaxed about it all.
Several comments to my venting in a Facebook post suggested shaving it off altogether. Serena Constance even posted up a pic of an elderly lady with a bald head, tattooed all over – just to complete the deal, egg the pudding and gild the lily. She looked striking. Talking of striking, Serena arrived at a recent ‘For the Flamboyant’ Advantages of Age party wearing a kind of…well, Aztec headdress and as she arrived we all clapped her down the stairs. A fabulous entrance.
Loss. I’m losing my identity. My hair has always been so ‘me’, so much of myself is bound up in visions of dark-haired beauties. ”I want to look like Elizabeth Taylor” I told a hairdresser, many years ago and he gave me an ‘urchin’ cut that was just so Liz, it was thrilling. People remarked about it on the street.
I started to go white when I was 17 – it looked wonderful actually when my hair was silvered with ‘grey’ hairs. Then it was streaky like a badger’s coat. Then aged 30, it just began to fall out. If I hadn’t had so much to begin with I would have been bald many years ago.
The very idea that I could lose my hair – ridiculous. At my convent school in Cheshire my velour hat was something of a sensation. My friends tried it on – it came down to their noses, looked all Fred ‘Parrot Face’ Davies – remember him? A big bowler slipping down his nose was his calling-card. So I thought I still had a big head and asked the woman at the party if I could try on her amazing hat then said – ”Oh no, it won’t fit my big head”. Which was the starting gun for my rude awakening – as she pointed out it’s just a normal size. It was my hair that made my hat so huge, that made my school friends call me ‘the girl with two heads’. Now I’m just normal – normal head, normal life. Well, if ‘normal’ is a woman going bald on top. Anyone can wear a hat. Not everyone has masses of dark hair.
So do I cling on, root by disappearing root to what I have left? I still have ‘pre-Raphaelite’ tresses at the back. Wavy, still a bit wild, almost tamed. Shall I get a ‘topper’? It’s a weave made from human hair for women with ‘male pattern’ baldness, in which over years the hair just falls out until you develop an impressive monk-like look. You have to go back every six weeks so they can rearrange it over what’s grown back. That’s a lot of time and money (it ain’t cheap) to invest in retaining your ‘real’ hair. Is it hot? Does it itch? Does it look the business? Or does it look a sorry mess?
So now – it’s ‘make your mind up’ time. Shall I go for the ‘scorched earth’ look? The shiny pate? Shall I wear a wig, wondrous hats and scarves? Or just have a topper, the ‘crown topper’ that demolishes my resistance, my determination that I’m still a girl. A wild, untamed girl with a wild, though tamed crow perched on either shoulder. Preening and pecking away at my glorious locks, my calling-card. My hair.
Going bald. I might as well have a ball.
Read the full story here: The Work: Looking Up From Beneath the Surface – Duncan Alldridge
Pilgrimage – originally a journey to the shrine of a saint or holy person, undertaken alone or in the company (think the Canterbury Tales) to give thanks, worship, ask them for something or just taking the time to work things out at a turning point in life. Some hardship is usually involved – travelling on foot for example – and the separation from everyday life is an important element. The journey itself – or the spirit in which it is undertaken – is as meaningful as arrival at the destination.
The origins of the pilgrimage to Santiago of Compostella was to visit the tomb of St James, one of the 12 apostles, who is said to have journeyed to Spain to preach the gospel. In the last 30 years, this has become a very popular pilgrimage largely due to the Council of Europe in 1987 declaring it as the first European cultural route. Consequently certain parts of the route – particularly the Camino Frances in Spain – have become the pedestrian equivalent of a pilgrim motorway.
July 2016. A hilltop basilica filled with light, a sacred spot in fecund Burgundy. My first thoughts of retirement – letting go of one (long) stage of my life and a starting point for the next. I decide I will walk to Santiago de Compostela. My wife objects to me calling this a ‘pilgrimage’. Catholic by upbringing but certainly not by inclination. It’s just a long walk, she insists.
Only two fixtures in an otherwise gossamer plan. The start point: Vezelay. The start date: 21 June 2017. My 61st birthday. The summer solstice, when a pathway of light runs down the centre of the nave of the basilica (those clever medieval builders). But how long will I take? And how far will I walk? Do I go it alone or invite others to join me along the way? Does anyone believe I will really do this? Do I?
First step. Negotiate terms. We agree I’ll take one month, with a plan to meet and walk together somewhere towards the end of that period. Next step. Plot the route, my route, on an old road map of France. I underline in red, the towns I will pass through. I pin the map on my wall so I can see it, remind myself that it’s real. I order my pilgrims’ guide book. I get my credential, my pilgrim passport. A few steps further. My retirement date slips from the end of April to the end of May. But I will hold to my schedule.
20 June 2017. I’m packed and ready to go. A sense of dislocation, unreality, before leaving home. A send-off dinner in the garden with my family. I imagine they think I may never return. A broken night and an early start the next morning. New walking shoes and unfamiliar weight of the rucksack on my back. I decide to leave my carved stick at home, not sure if I can get it through security. I’ll find another along the way.
At Vezelay station, I have my first encounter with another pilgrim. We share a taxi into town. The taxi driver complains about the heatwave. It’s 36 degrees, not good for walking. I’m lodging at the Centre de la Madeleine, my first pilgrim hostel. This is all very new to me. I’m bewildered, and very hot. As I register with the hostelier, I accept the offer of a pilgrim blessing the next morning in the basilica. Casually.
I sleep badly and wake before dawn. Just in time I get to the basilica. Two other pilgrims are there for the blessing. Mark, a tall bearded American who appears to have fallen out of the sky. And Helios, a young man wearing a flat cap and a beatific smile who has walked all the way from Aachen. I am transported by the ritual, the transcendent ancient chants. The blessing is heartfelt and heartening. I leave with a copy of Luke’s Gospel and tears streaming down my face. My journey has begun.
The first day of walking is tough. I’m not prepared for the heat. By mid-afternoon, I collapse under a tree outside a cemetery where there is a water tap. My head is pounding and I have another 5 km before I reach my lodgings. I have no energy or will to move. But I have found myself a stick, a piece of coppiced hazel. It’s pleasingly crooked and I start to carve some marks on it. Eventually, I summon the energy to get up and stagger on. I arrive at my lodgings, exhausted and slightly delirious.
On my third day, I walk 31 km in sultry weather and mostly on tarmac. Too soon to be so ambitious. I lodge with Claude and Bernard on the outskirts of Nevers. Claude sends me to the pharmacy to have a couple of ticks removed from my leg, hopefully averting Lyme’s disease. Next day on my way into town to visit the cathedral, a Moroccan shopkeeper looks at my piece of hazel. ‘This is the stick Moses used to part the Red Sea.’ Later, I find myself in a side chapel called ‘La Chapelle du Passage de la Mer Rouge’. How do these things work, I wonder?
I cross the bridge over the Loire. It feels significant, a passage pilgrims have made through the ages. The weather gets cooler. I am heading into rural France. I start to notice things. Place names that make me laugh. The daily yellow post vans. Carefully tended vegetable patches. Barking dogs in every back yard – why so many? Romanesque churches, elegant and almost Protestant in their simplicity. The depressing frequency of derelict and abandoned houses in the villages. And the speed of traffic – why is everyone in such a rush?
Gradually I’m finding my own rhythm and I feel well in my body, like a sturdy little pony. But my legs and feet are aching. I get my first blisters and chafing in my arse. I start to develop a small love affair with French pharmacies. After my first week of walking, I take a day off and stay in Chateaumeillant, once a Gaulish settlement and Mediolanum, now just a provincial town with a small museum. My lodging is a mobile home in the vegetable garden. I think I could grow roots, stay a while.
I have a sense of slipping out of time and entering into an altered state. My thinking mind is on vacation. Not much in the way of concentrated or systematic thought. Half thoughts, thoughts for nought, wisps that pass against the backdrop of mind. Background noise, low static. Sometimes it gets in the way and I miss a turning, distracted, abstracted. Remembrances and fantasies. Ear-worms – tunes that are stuck in my head. As I walk I hum, sing out loud the bits of songs I can remember.
I’m alive to sights, sounds, and smells. The Wind in the hedgerows. Birdsong. Cloud patterns. Sunlight on fields. Fresh cut hay. Old green lanes, Roman roads, forgotten byways, hollow ways, scooped out tunneled tracks through the woods. Each day starts on an up, those first few steps. Twirling my stick, heading off down the road. For the first time in years, I feel free, in a sort of ecstasy. The joy of not knowing what comes next, where I will sleep at night. An adventure.
The road, walking, becomes my meditation. I feel connected to land, nature, spirit. A force that flows through everything. My intuition feels much sharper. In churches, I pray, clumsily because I can’t find the right words, silently and out loud. Where the acoustics please me, I sing or whistle my own music. I understand these are sacred spaces. And so are the hedgerows. Which gods do you worship?
The Vezelay route is a solitary one. For the first two weeks, I meet no other pilgrims along the way. I’m happy in my own company. But solitude can feel like loneliness when I’m the only one sleeping in a hostel. One night I lodge with Paul, an elderly widower, in the damp, musty wing of his large house. After falling asleep, I wake up to torchlight and muffled sounds downstairs. I lie there for ages, frozen in fear, before dozing off again. Come morning – I realise that what I heard in the night was Paul laying out my breakfast. I feel foolish and a little ashamed.
Being alone for long periods, I get lost in myself. Imagination becomes more potent than reality. What might it be like to go feral, live in the wild? Naked, unaccommodated, instinctual. Walking through great silent woods, I expect any moment to stumble upon a writhing, orgiastic mass of bodies. Pan and Lilith hold sway here. Feverishly I make up lurid stories and scribble down notes in my journal. Is this how the devil tempted Christ in the wilderness? Is this how Mara tempted Siddhartha, the soon to Buddha? Am I also being tested?
I take another day off walking. A combination of blisters and the heat of the road has made my feet swell up painfully. I rest, v get a massage, leave offerings at a menhir. I meet Sylviane and Albane, grandmother and granddaughter walking together. It warms my heart to be with them. I start crossing paths with other pilgrims. Bernd, who has walking poles and a purposeful stride. Vanessa, who has lost her God. Patrick, who has written a sequel to Lord of the Rings. Bärbel, who wheels her tent behind her on a trolley. Mostly we don’t walk together, only meeting in the evenings. We are nodes on a line, pearls strung out on a long necklace.
Heading slowly south the landscape has been changing all the while. At walking pace, it’s subtle, details you wouldn’t notice flashing by in a car. Walnut gives way to chestnut, chestnut to fig. Cows become fewer, maize and sunflowers more prevalent. In the Dordogne, the countryside is still green. But the ground underfoot is harder, drier, rockier. I hear crickets for the first time. There is fruit in the hedgerows though not yet ripe. This is still deep country but there are more foreign registered cars and holiday homes.
I now feel as if I could walk forever. Come rain or shine, blisters or no. But soon, all too soon, my journey is coming to an end. I’ve lost a few kilos and I feel fitter than I have for ages. I’ve got a magnificent farmer’s tan. I feel a fresh sense of purpose and identity. The plan to meet my wife and walk some of the ways with my daughter for the final few days is abandoned. Relief for all of us as the logistics are tricky, and the late insertion into such a personal journey even more so.
18 July. I arrive in Perigueux, my stopping point for now. A large town, busy with tourists. I feel the tug back into everyday time. A new sense of dislocation. Fear about reintegrating, settling down again. I’m going to miss so much of this. My companions who are continuing their journey to Santiago. The welcome relief of the pilgrim hostel at the end of the day. Conversations with strangers along the way. The friendliness and respect for those who make this journey. The simplicity of just walking, eating, sleeping.
The joy that has fuelled me along the way stays with me. This journey will continue. Ultreya!