BUSKING TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
In the first of a series of weekly dispatches, Ben Nimmo describes life on the road, as he sets off with a trombone to busk his way from Canterbury to Santiago de Compostela
Sunday 11 April 1999
D-day! Left Canterbury at 8am. Complete lack of cheering crowds - must work on my publicity. Walked to Dover on North Downs Way via Roman roads, Saxon churches and the A2. A glorious day: sun shining, larks singing, bees buzzing, shotguns popping. Ah, rural England.
Reached Dover at sunset. Tried calling home on wizzo mobile phone-fax- modem bought specially to accompany me on my walk to Spain. Battery flat. So much for Vorsprung durch Technik.
Knew when I'd reached the Hoverport by the cars bulging with beer. Crossed the Channel in the company of gentlemen wearing trench-coats and carrying empty shopping bags. "On business," they said. Better not to ask.
Monday night in Ostend. Belgian teenagers on mopeds with racing tyres - muy macho. British pensioners on foot. Managed to recharge the phone. Most exciting event of the night.
Tried calling home again. A voice! "Sorry, call not authorised." Taught passers-by some new obscenities. Then started walking.
Preconceptions of Belgium: flat, grey, damp, full of faceless bilingual bureaucrats. Reality: flat, grey, damp. People: "Parlez-vous francais?" No, only Flemish; but very generous.
Begged for some water at lunchtime - given a pint of chocolate milk. Ditto at teatime - given a bottle of wine. They must like my sign language.
Camped in an abandoned farmhouse just outside Bruges. The lap of luxury.
31 March/1 April
Belgium gets better and better. Eat breakfast under glorious sunrise. But am then interrupted by removal men. New family arrive in abandoned farmhouse today. Hasty retreat. Indigestion. Rang mobile helpline. Calls authorised, signal now totally inaudible.
Bruges: Lace, chocolate, and more medieval-looking buildings than you could shake a trombone at. (Trust me.) School parties of all nations, the Brits playing football. Started busking. Interrupted every 10 minutes: "My son/brother/husband (never wife) plays that!" Better than Freemasonry. Invited back to stay at a local's place for the night.
Spent the evening discussing Flemish-Walloon tensions and drinking lots of wine. Conclusion? Blame the politicians. Some things are universal.
Easter weekend, so raining again. Walked along the canal in the direction of Ghent. Barking dogs everywhere, plus a woman washing her car who gave me a bag full of fruit and her very last chocolate waffle - what can I say? Cyclists wearing skin-tight Lycra also everywhere. Suits you, sir.
Solved the phone's inaudibility problem: hold it the right way round. University education. Wonderful thing.
Reached Ghent soaking wet. Hostel full. Hotel full. Everywhere full. Trudging back to campsite: "Mister Nimmo, Mister Nimmo!" Receptionist sprinting down the street after me. "We've just had a cancellation, we're holding it for you!" Soulless bureaucrats? Never.
For information on the charity trombone walk to Santiago de Compostela, visit the website: www.netplaycafe.co.uk/ bonewalk
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