I have stayed all these weeks at the farm, having set out in July on the Chemin Saint-Jacques cycling from England, not knowing what was going to happen. Within two days of arriving I had been telephoned by a school in Spain offering me a job. If you have followed the blog you will know that I went back to Canterbury to collect all my things. (Well, what things were left after I had been burgled while away… Thanks, England, for that last insult!)
And so I remained for the rest of the summer in France with my friends Barbara and Chris, and went on the lovely donkey piligriminage. All the time now I was thinking about what lies ahead: a new job, teaching in Spain. I had no idea that would be the outcome when I left England all those weeks ago, trying to survive on the last £50 until I reached Barbara and Chris, halfway down France. Some very lovely people came to my aid – via the CP & S blog – and I am very grateful for that; and also to my guardian angel in Canterbury when I returned home to collect my things. Now it has reached departure time, and the final small miracle: there is a direct bus service from Poitiers to exactly the town in southern Spain where my job begins in a few days time, and helpful people who kindly offered to deliver me to the bus, and other kind people who offered to collect me at the bus station in Spain.
My last treat before leaving the farm was a crash course in aerial donkey photography. Clearly, Barbara does not want the donkeys sneaking into her vegetable garden and eating all the carrots, beans, courgettes and anything else they can their teeth into. One sensible way she has developed to spot donkeys in the vegetable patch is aerial reconnaissance. It also helps to have photographic evidence, so Barbara has developed the art of aerial donkey photography as an essential part of her vegetable garden. So Barbara took me up in the vintage Piper Cub and we flew very low over the farm with the aircraft door open and your versatile rabit piligrimin slackening off his safety harness to lean out of the door and catch the donkeys in the act, either in no-man’s-land or flagrantly in the kitchen garden.
However, we have already seen how donkeys are normously intelligent creatures and know how to outwit rabit piligrimins in various ways. On this occasion, the clever creatures saw Barbara setting off to the airfield with an extra set of flying headphones, and they also noticed the rabit piligrimin preparing his camera and going with her. There was only one conclusion that a reasoning donkey would arrive at: an aerial reconnaissance sortie was imminent over the carrots in the kitchen garden.
If any of you are experts in aerial photography, you would think we had come down to 500 feet, but this would be breaking the law… and erm, we won’t admit to that. Luckily, there’s a special tool in Photoshop which simulates going down slightly below the legal flying limit. That’s our story and we are sticking to it. With Barbara flying as low as possible (err… but still legal, I mean) and rabit piligrimin hanging out the door trying not to look suspicious, we attempted the donkey reconnaissance mission. Sadly you will observe an incontrovertible absence of donkeys in this photograph, and in fifty other photographs that the rabit piligrimin took, as we skimmed the treetops. (Some treetops come dangerously close to the 1000 ft legal limit for flying, it should be explained.)
But the donkeys were nowhere to be seen, for they had already raided the kitchen garden and were now cooking themselves a carrot lasagne in the kitchen, having rumbled our ruse earlier when they saw us setting off to get airborne. And so, your intrepid rabit piligrimin’s first attempt at aerial donkey reconnaissance failed to get the evidence we needed. Next time I must pack the camera in a beach bag and shout as I am leaving, “Hey look donkeys: I am going swimming.”
On the way back to the airfield we made a rather thrilling swoop over the spire of Saint Savin abbey, low enough to read the car number plates in the square. Of course, some car number plates when clean can be read from 1000 ft if you eat a lot of carrots, so please do not assume we were below the legal limit. And again, it is wonderful what that special altitude-adjuster tool in Photoshop can do.
Your rabit piligrimin is very impressed with aerial reconnaissance, and as he prepares to return to teaching – in the new job in Spain – he is already keen to impress his new managers with a new cunning plan about catching pupils by surprise when they are being norty and think they are not being observed. In fact, I may even write an article for the Times Educational Supplement: The Uses of Aerial Reconnaissance in Managing Pupil Behaviour.
The last part of rabit’s piligriminage on the Via Turonensis – the route of the Chemin Saint-Jacques which goes from Paris to the Pyrenees – was unknown to him when he set off from Canterbury in early July. It turns out that the stage from Poitiers south was destined to be in a Eurolines bus, heading to a new job as a teacher in Spain. Already, the Christmas holiday piligriminage is planned: a trek across the Meseta between Burgos and Leon in the bitter cold of winter, on the Camino Frances.