26 pages of info on The Camino de Santiago (for those who want to spend a week or so on “the road less travelled”)

Having walked the last stage of the Camino de Santiago along the lesser known and, therefore, less commercial Portuguese route to research my book Pins and Needles, I became somewhat of an accidental expert. In order that this knowledge shouldn’t go to waste I put together a 26 page booklet in pdf form giving some tips and information for anyone who’s considering putting a backpack on their back and setting off for a week on the ancient pilgrim trail. As you’ll see from the guide, I thoroughly recommend it for all sort so reasons. You can download the free pdf here. Buen camino!

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When in Rome…

From Il Sorpasso
The imaginative parking of some makes life difficult for others but Romans take it in their stride…

Because I’m in Rome, I’ve been sitting in a little delight-of-a-trattoria, sampling a pear and walnut salad with Gorgonzola.

Because I’m in Rome I’ve been sitting near the open window to escape the heat. When I left Dublin this morning it was wintry and I feel that getting acclimatised will take a while.

I’ve been observing the quandary of a woman and her car, which had been parked front-to-footpath in the appropriate fashion outside.

Because this is Rome, she returned to find herself practically trapped into the parking space by a large people-carrier vehicle, parked in manner that is illegal, even in Rome.

Because she is clearly from Rome, she didn’t make a fuss but, instead, took a deep breath and began to attempt the Houdini-like escape feat of extracting her vehicle from between a motorcycle, a car and the thoughtlessly parked black monster.

In a true spirit of Roman humanity, a man appeared on the scene from nowhere and began to wave, shout, coax, gesticulate and cajole the woman and her car through the intricate set of manoeuvres that he felt would set them both free. Being Rome, a small crowd of assistants, supervisors and onlookers soon joined in. He who had been first to step up to the task was not to be unseated from his heroic status, however. He persisted until, between his somewhat ambiguous directions and the driver’s growing nervousness at the scene she was causing, he had contrived to leave her wedged tightly between all three vehicles.

To me the situation seemed hopeless. But, this being Rome, the woman’s savior was not to be outdone.

“I’ll move it,” he announced, and, taking the keys of the offending black people carrier monster out of his pocket, he did so, putting the twenty minute struggle to an abrupt and satisfactory end.

This being Rome, nobody seemed perplexed.

 

Scammed and feeling stupid…

I’m feeling rather stupid. I consider myself pretty web-smart. My junk mail filters rival those criss-crossing infrared lights that protect the Crown Jewels. Ocean’s 11, 12, 13 or, in fact, any number of accomplices would have a tough job sneaking a scam mail into my inbox. And, should one slip through, I raise my one still-functioning eyebrow in bemusement at the thought that someone honestly thought they could scam me with an improbable story about unclaimed millions waiting for my greedy co-operation to unlock.  So, as I said, I’m feeling rather stupid.

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I’m awaiting a delivery from Lithuania. I was told that it would be here today but I was told neither what time to expect the delivery nor given any tracking number nor phone line to make inquiries. So, when my phone rang an hour or so ago and an unrecognised international number displayed onscreen I nearly dropped it in my haste to answer. Despite my lightning fingers, there was nobody on the other end. I rang back. I got an international tone and then, success. I was through to the mystery caller. At least, I was through to some noises, squeaks and whistles. I presumed that it was difficulty with the overseas connection and persisted for a while before deciding to hang up and try again.

I’ve spent the past hour trying to answer calls that rang only once or twice and then dialling the numbers to track down the poor, lost, Lithuanian delivery man who must, I felt, be tired, hungry and frustrated with his undelivered consignment keeping him in this strange rainy land, far from his… well, you get the picture. It was when I finally managed to answer a call and heard an un-Lithuanian-sounding woman’s voice saying: “Please hold the line to hear news that will benefit you from our financial controller…” before the line went dead, that a memory stirred. The language might have been a reading from one of those scam emails I so scornfully dodged as a matter of course. I checked the country codes in my call log of the numbers that had phoned me and, more pertinently, that I had phoned back. “222” – Mauritania and “248” – Seychelles. My geography is not at a level that would see me competing on a general knowledge tv game show but it is sufficiently rounded enough to recall that neither Mauritania nor Seychelles are in Eastern Europe. A quick Google search revealed the truth.

This scam works on a baiting principle. The mark, in this case me, gets a phone call from a foreign number and, driven by innocent curiosity, calls it back. There are a range of possible ploys at the other end of the line to keep the mark from hanging up because, the number dialled is a premium number and the international premium call is costing a fortune. It’s not even illegal because the poor fool has voluntarily made the phone call.

My Lithuanian package has still not arrived but I probably can’t afford it, anyway, now…

800 years of the Irish in Santiago

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Hundreds of scallop shells, each hung there by a passing pilgrim and each one with a personal message. So many stories…

Since at least the year 1220 there have been Irish people leaving St James Gate – home, now, to Guinness – and heading by sea and land to Santiago de Compostela. Of course St James is the English name for San Tiago. I’d left St James’ Hospital a little dejected at having been told that post concussion dizziness and fatigue take on average 43 days to pass if you completely rest the brain or, on average, 100 days if you use your brain (that’s me, I fear, as I don’t know how to switch my brain off), when I saw the sign, pictured below, outside St James’ Church on St James’ Street.

There is an office, there, in the church, staffed by volunteers, giving information and documentation for those intending to walk the Camino de Santiago. I decided to drop in and see if any of them wanted to come to the book launch next month (date to be confirmed). A friendly chap there told me that, when excavating to build the Dublin City Council head office on the banks of the River Liffey they found thousands of scallop shells, such as those above that I photographed on the Portuguese way while researching Pins and Needles. According to the guy, it was customary for pilgrims arriving back in Dublin by boat from their Camino to Santiago to throw the shell that they’d carried for the entire trip overboard and this is what led to the huge number of them on what would have been the riverbed. I’d been surprised, when first arriving in Santiago, to find that Galicia is a Celtic culture and that the people there see themselves as being connected to us here in Ireland. It seems that our connection does, indeed, go back through the centuries.

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To the left hand side of this church front on James Street is the Camino Ireland Office, staffed by volunteers and providing a wealth of information for anyone considering walking the Camino.

Birth of a character captured…

I was archiving old video footage and came across the clip below from walking the Camino De Santiago while researching my book ‘Pins and Needles’. It’s the moment when I decide that I need a character who will be able to help the Spanish speaking vagabundo and the priest to communicate. The rest is history. You’ll now find the character Álvaro in the book…

When readers give birth to books…

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The seaward side of Ireland’s Eye – a haven for all types of sea birds – pictured from my little Hunter 19 Europa sailboat.

I was out sailing my little boat from Howth around Ireland’s Eye and, as often happens when the towering rock face blocks the wind, the sails fell slack and the boat was left bobbing in a sort of micro-doldrums. I sat  contemplating the myriad seabirds ensconced in every nook and cranny of the cliff as I waited for the breeze to find the canvas again and set me back on my way. Many times during the writing of Pins and Needles, when I’d been stuck at a plot twist or character development problem, I’d come out here for a sail to clear the mind. Before joining the yacht club at Howth I used to sail from Malahide and I’d just had word that the first bookstore I’d approached – Manor Books in Malahide – had agreed to stock the novel. It set me thinking of the new publishing reality that marries traditional printing, e-books and ‘print on demand’ – in my case through Amazon. The traditional print run of Pins and Needles that is underway at the moment is necessary so that people who decide to get hold of a copy of the book can do so on the same day in a bookstore. However, watching the tiny young seabirds finding their feet on cliff ledges or in the sea around me, it struck me that there’s something rather beautiful about the relatively new world of ‘print on demand’.  When I finally signed off on the book it became available to buy through Amazon but didn’t, at that point, exist in physical form anywhere. Each person who then clicked on the ‘purchase button’ to buy a copy was, I realised, actually, breathing life into a physical manifestation of my book. Each purchase meant that the buyer had caused a book to be born, packed and shipped into the world. At various places around Europe now copies of my book have been created in answer to readers’ requests. As they make their way by courier to their new owners they are starting a life that could take them anywhere but they are starting their lives wanted. It’s a pleasant thought for a writer.

Keep an eye on this website if you want to know which bookstores are stocking Pins and Needles. We expect the first copies to hit stores around mid September.

Four key packing points for the Camino

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On the Camino your material world often comes down to what you’ve decided to carry on your back.

I’m immersed in writing a guide on walking the Camino De Santiago that I plan to make available for people who are considering following the footsteps of my “Pins and Needles” characters along the last 100km or so of the Portuguese route. I’m on the bit about ‘what to bring’. When it comes to packing – and I get asked about that a lot – I realise that there are two areas of advice – general and specific. The specific deals with what type of backpack works best, what footwear to go for and what to avoid et cetera. The general, though, comes down to these four points which I thought I’d share here:

  1. Make sure that clothing is light and fast-drying. You can layer up for warmth but a thick, soggy article of clothing is something you want to avoid.
  2. Be prepared for cold rain and hot sun. Either can happen – and quite possible on the same day. But don’t overdo it. Remember that your raincoat could remain unused and your sun cream might come home unopened. Ten day weather forecasts are pretty accurate so consult them.
  3. Don’t bring a large bag. You’ll end up filling it. A smaller backpack forces you to be economical with what you bring.
  4. There are shops in towns along the route. If you forget something or find you need it you can buy it. On the other hand, if you bring something you don’t need you’ll be stuck carrying it.

Well, I’d better get back to writing the guide…