That Lakefield student is now the king of Spain
In 1985, I was teaching literature at Lakefield College School. A tall young man, age 16, arrived as a new student. He was from Spain: Prince Felipe, heir to the throne occupied by his father, King Juan Carlos. and his mother, Queen Sophia.
A mild, shy lad, he fit in unobtrusively for his year of study, and enjoyed cross country running all along the concession roads of Douro Dummer.
One feature that amazed us was that he came with three security guards from Spain. It was a time in Spanish politics of a violent independence movement in the northern Basque country. There had been attacks and deaths. (Spain and its Basque population came to a peace agreement in 2011).
Head Terry Guest of Lakefield had experience with royalty coming to the school, having had Prince Andrew of the U.K in 1977. Seeking to keep the school normal, he asked that the Spanish security people live in the village, not on campus. This worked well for the year. I think they were pretty bored.
I recall the graciousness of the Queen at the grad dance, gamely dancing with all the teenage boys, never mind the threat to her feet.
Spanish recent history is astounding. For 30 years after the Spanish Civil war (1936-39), a dictator, Generalissimo Francisco Franco ruled Spain, supported by Hitler and Mussolini. Before he died in 1975, he decreed that he be succeeded by King Juan Carlos. Surprise! The king ushered in a transition to democracy and a constitutional monarchy. His son, this young man. Felipe, has become King Felipe V! of Spain, now married to a former TV host, Queen Letizia, with a family of two daughters. He sailed for his country at the Olympics! He returned 20 per cent of his salary when Spain was undergoing economic hardship. I just saw him on TV visiting survivors of the Barcelona attack.
Now 32 years later, I am going to Spain to the main city of Basque country, Bilbao, and starting my pilgrimage to the cathedral city of Santiago. The whole distance is 700 kilometres, but my ambition is just 156 kilometres. Did I say “just?”
St. Augustine in 400, said, “All things are solved by walking.” I realize I am much too car-dependent. So my training has included walks, with a stick and my good hiking shoes, all over town.
I visited my physiotherapist, Connor. He adjusted my backpack. I was wearing it too low. He did the same with my collapsible walking pole, gave me four morning stretch exercises and advised me to get a hydration backpack. Now that’s something pokey: the sucking and the accessing water.
I read 11 books on the camino, from the truly pious (Sr Joyce Rupp’s “Walk in a Relaxed Manner”) to the hilarious (Tim Moore’s “Spanish Steps” about dragging a donkey across the route; donkeys don’t take to bridges), to the ridiculous Shirley MacLaine. And a novel by David Lodge called “Therapy.”
Perhaps best of all, I found a roommate, Arapera, who is a 73-yearold Maori widow from New Zealand. Her tribe is the Ngati Kahungunu (61,000 members). I expect to learn a lot from her.
What is in some doubt is the “holiness” of my pilgrimage. Our bags are transported to the next place of rest, leaving us with just a day pack. Our night bookings are made by the organizer. I am past the point of “winging” it, not knowing where I sleep, or arriving at a hostel and finding it full.
A friend sent me some notes about undertaking a pilgrimage. ”Travelling”, said writer Bruce Chatwin, “is not merely a spiritual act , it is the self ’s purest expression. It is a ‘sloughing-off of the world”. Not conventionally religious, Chatwin nonetheless wrote: “My God is the God of Walkers.”
I’m giving it a try this month.