The chapters of Janet's journals are not entirely in the order they happened. Specifically Part 4 should be the last, but they are presented here in the order in which they were accumulated.
Good news of Janet. I left her at Coventry station on Monday morning and by the same evening she was already in Le Puy, the start of her walk, having found the connections in France excellent.
The next evening, Tuesday, she rang at the end of the day's walk in the village of Montbonnet where she had been to a restaurant with other walkers, mainly French, and had coped well with the language barrier! Amazing what a bottle of red wine can do to confidence! I hear from John, her husband, that she had arrived in Saugues some 28km further on after a very uphill day and was planning a more leisurely day to follow. Having tried her rucksack this doesn't surprise me.
My family presented her with a scallop shell, the symbol of St James, at the start of her journey, so I can only hope this is proving lucky especially since she had injured her knee a few days before leaving. Nothing serious I think but enough to sap confidence if the journey starts badly - this does not seem the case and if the weather is similar to here, it may be mixed but certainly not cold. Janet spoke of a dormitory with long platforms to lie on - fortunately there were plenty of sites to choose as this is not the most busy season - again the red wine should help with the difficulties of an austere life-style.
There has been a marvellous response to news of her trip - many sponsors and offers of varied help including Spanish lessons for the second half of the walk - so gratifying to know that people are actually interested. The Leukaemia Centre where Janet has had her treatment were delighted to know that their funds will benefit from her efforts - they have many plans to upgrade the possibilities of treatment within their centre which will now be designated as a teaching unit for such types of cancer to allow more sophisticated techniques to take place there. Amazing to think that when Janet first went for treatment, consultations frequently took place in the corridor and chemotherapy was administered in a tiny waiting room. Now they have a new centre and several very enthusiastic specialists who deserve the financial encouragement. This makes Janet's walk even more relevant and I know the aim to help them will carry her along even on the bleakest days.
I will keep you posted every few days. I feel quite excited to see that she is now on map 2 - only 20 to go on this stage of the walk!
Latest news was received via John, Janet's husband, to say that all is well and Janet is making good progress and is not too troubled by her knee - many French people on the walk but no other Brits so her French is being tested to the full. Several instances of simple kindnesses - she was offered several plums as she walked and a chair and a glass of water in a shop (I think) when the going was a bit tough. It sounds as though she is averaging about 12 - 15 miles a day unless I'm getting my kilometres mixed up! Will check on that piece of information. Yesterday was my daughter's graduation day in Oxford and we returned to be told by our puppy-sitter that Janet had rung here so unfortunately I missed that bulletin. Will keep you posted every so often. Greg Dafoe is kindly posting this to the NHL list and this morning I have tried to give him more detailed information about the walk etc so if you are curious to know more he has all the gen and may be sharing some of it with the list. Can hardly believe that this time last week Janet was here chatting about the journey - I expect it seems a long time to her too!
Speak to you soon Kath
Had a long, clear conversation with Janet last night. She had enjoyed a beautiful day on Saturday climbing up to the Aubrac plateau which stands about 4,000feet. Having succeeded in climbing to what she perceived to be the high point she then saw what she described as the equivalent to Pendle Hill ( in the Lancashire witch country of England) looming up before her - however, undeterred, she made it to the top and enjoyed the rest of the day's walk along the tops of the plateau.
Sunday in contrast was a foul day with blistering rain and strong winds which shredded the waterproof of one of the other walkers she met. It proved a good test for her equipment as apart from wet boots she arrived without damage and was drying off her boots in front of a roaring log fire in the evening. The walk has brought her consistently in touch with a group of three walkers from France whom she has nicknamed the Three Musketeers, two men of about 60 and one of their wives in her middle 50s. They tend not to walk together but have successfully left messages pinned to trees or in cafes along the way and they now greet Janet when they finally meet with great warmth and they frequently share an evening meal. Janet feels her French is improving through force of these circumstances - in addition she is aware of feeling stronger and in her concentration not to slip along the way, especially in bad weather, she has become less and less aware of the weight of the rucksack so is feeling very pleased that so far her energy is proving sufficient to the task. The Aubrac area is well known for its mountains and cross country skiing - the possible risks were brought home two days ago when a young male walker accompanied by two female friends jumped across a ford, missed his step, and broke his leg - fortunately the road at this point was only some 100 yards away so they were able to summon help - however this has focused Janet's concentration as a solitary walker. At times the old pilgrim way has had to give way to modern development - in one such place where a new road has been constructed a tunnel path has been left for walkers under the new road - Janet was amused to see that they had called it the Saint Jacqueduct. Last night she was in St Chely d'Aubrac (spelling may be faulty here) and pleased to realise she has been averaging about 20km per day, about 12miles plus, which is well on target for her plans for this section of the walk. She is full of enthusiasm and thoroughly enjoying meeting new friends along the way - last night she had the luxury of a room to herself in the gite, with the three Musketeers in another and some Dutch people in a third - when the walk is busy no doubt this luxury disappears and any number are required to share as the rule is that no one is ever turned away on the walk.
So far so good - will keep you all posted. I gave Janet your messages. Kath
John rang last night (Wednesday) to give me an update. Janet was then at Espeyrac having enjoyed a 25km walk in good sunny weather - fairly easy and pleasant walking. She seems to have kept up with the Three Musketeers and obviously likes their company - hence the sense that her French is much improved. They had all deliberately shaken off the company of another group who were very standoffish and worse still snored vociferously all night which made life in the dorm somewhat fraught. Tonight at the gite towels and sheets provided and £10 for bed and breakfast - not bad at all! Thursday should be a relatively short day's walk to Conques where Janet hopes to have a rest day, look round the town and generally take it easy. Her knees are now back to normal, however, so she definitely feels her general fitness has improved.
Well if the walk is good enough for Michael Portillo, it's good enough for Janet, or should it be the other way round.
That's all for now Kath
Have just had a really long, clear telephone conversation with Janet who has arrived in the abbey town of Conques where she plans to have a rest day tomorrow. She has now walked about 199 kms, about 120 miles, and is feeling great. She is obviously loving every minute of the walk especially since travelling alone other groups are particularly friendly to her especially the Three Musketeers who, unfortunately, return home tomorrow having set aside 2 weeks holiday to do this stretch of the walk only. Tonight they are all staying in the Abbey of Conques which is open only to pilgrims and offers lovely rooms, towels, sheets and a hot meal this evening. They will all sit to eat together as they have done in one or two other gites where food was provided. Tomorrow she plans to have a lazy day writing cards and sightseeing in the town. The cost of bed and breakfast is about £3.50 with extra for the meal. Janet has been told that the Aubrac mountainous section which she walked at 4000 feet in driving rain and wind is the worst part of the walk so she is feeling very gratified and is well on target for the first section. She is meeting every European nationality and in addition, a Brazilian, Juan, with whom she spent the best part of today - but not a single Brit in sight! So her French continues on apace. Lunch time she mainly eats a baguette, bought in the morning, perhaps with cheese or salami - salami travels better! - and stops en route often joined by other walkers - each group walks at a different pace and has its own structure for the day so although meeting up from time to time, she rarely walks with other people but hasn't found this a problem especially now that her rucksack isn't a constant nag in the background.
Janet has asked me to thank all from the list who have sent good wishes. Along the way there are many small crosses, metal and wood - it is customary to leave a pebble by the cross as you walk by - similarly it is customary to light a candle in the churches visited along the route - Janet has followed both these traditions with thoughts of all her friends both on and off the NHL list and especially of those who are currently not well. She asked me tell you how often she thinks of you all and feels encouraged by the interest you have taken. So thank you on her behalf.
On a lighter note, a recommendation from Janet of a light novel she read on the way to France, recommended by a friend, since part of the action takes place on the Pilgrim Way - 'Therapy' by David Lodge.
That's all for No5 Kath
As you know Janet took a rest day at Conques where she stayed at the wonderful Abbey. She enjoyed her day sightseeing in this very picturesque town. The down side to this was that she found the next day very arduous even though the walk was not particularly demanding. It obviously pays to keep going. However when she spoke to me yesterday she had enjoyed another good day and was staying in the evening at a place called Grealou on Map 8. As she says - after a hot bath and a glass of red wine the day seems retrospectively highly enjoyable and the day to come even more inviting! Pleasingly she is well on target bearing in mind that she had set herself 22 map pages to cover on this trip and her return ticket is for the end of October - so all continues to plan and she is feeling well and enthusiastic about the experience.
A post card received today identifies the reason for this as a sense of belonging and acceptance by others on the journey. Little is discussed about people's personal lives but the conversation concentrates on the journey and incidents which have been experienced - the sense of camaraderie is paramount.
Yesterday John, her husband, and I drew up an article for the press since many of her supporters probably do not know Janet personally but wish to support the sponsorship causes she is representing. I think I may have said already that she has been very touched by the offers of support both for the hospital Leukaemia Centre where Janet herself has treatment and for the Cancellation of Third World Debt about which Janet feels very strongly. Some people have elected to support one or other of the two causes but many have pledged themselves equally to both - as Janet says, on black days this is more than enough to keep her going!
Since the Three Musketeers have now returned to their homes, she is linking up with others in the evening but is content to walk, in the main, alone. This takes away the pressure of walking at a speed to match that of a group and Janet prefers to start early in the morning with the prospect of several breaks for food and drink along the way.
Her enthusiasm for the experience is such that I know she feels slightly guilty about emphasising the pleasures of the journey since it was possible originally that I might have joined her. However, several reasons prevented me from doing this - firstly, a daughter graduating in middle September, secondly, another daughter returning to University with half the house contents, and most of all a new labrador puppy who is whining as I write. Added to which a character who is not so robust or determined as Janet! Those who have met her will know of what I speak.
On a more serious note - I have already spoken of the tradition of lighting candles in the churches along the Way. In these last days Janet has lit her candle in respectful memory of Danny, Madeleine's brother, who has sadly lost his fight for life in recent days. In making this symbolic gesture, Janet is frequently thinking of Madeleine and her family who have endured so much and with such stoicism. Those on the NHL list will be sharing her sadness.
Enough for this bulletin
Had a good chat at lunchtime the other day - two day's ago? Janet had stopped for lunch at Varaire having stayed at Limogne-en-Quercy the evening before. Like any worthwhile travelling experience there have to be the more negative aspects and Janet had met him the previous evening. Now that the Pilgrim's Way is less populated with the onset of Autumn, she had arrived at a gite to find herself the only occupant apart from a solitary Frenchman - in his 40s - rather strange, obviously lonely, who followed Janet around the gite in a somewhat bizarre manner- Janet explained that she needed time to think in various ways - no joy. Finally she resorted to years of teaching and said in no uncertain tones that she wished to be alone - and those of us who know Janet would feel this to be sufficient - no joy! As she was on the points of leaving the gite the caretaker arrived and was quick to understand Janet's predicament. Whipping off a reserve notice she allocated Janet a private room and once inside indicated the strong bolt in the interior. Problem solved. Now Janet was planning to stay off the route on the following evening to avoid a second meeting having already passed Monsieur en route. It will be interesting to know how she has fared since in her avoidance tactics. Fortunately it appears he is a slow walker. One other negative input - a resident en route who stopped Janet to express her views that this pilgrimage is all a waste of time anyway and why do people bother - on hearing that Janet hoped to raise funds for charity the reply was that she could simply give the money and do away with the walk! Ah well it takes all sorts........ Other than that Janet remains ahead of schedule and has been told that the next stage of the walk is both beautiful and wild so more of that later. Thanks to all who have sent personal messages to Janet - these will be passed on verbally and also by e-mail to await her return. Thank you.
Best wishes Kath
As planned, Janet had a rest day in Cahors - a small pretty town flanked by a river - but has come to the conclusion that rest days are really unhelpful as the next walking day seems much more difficult initially, especially as it seemed likely that a 20 mile walk - the longest ever - would need to be covered to arrive at the next stopping place, Montcuq. At about 3pm today Janet arrived at the village of Lascabanes planning to stop for a break before covering the final 9 kms to Montcuq. In fact she arrived to find the village mayor opening the new village gite and was greeted as the first walker to arrive, rather like the Prodigal Son. She was immediately taking part in the opening ceremony along with several hundred villagers, considerable champagne and much merry making to be followed by a village party tonight. The gite is an old building which has been beautifully renovated and provides bed breakfast and an evening meal - thoughts of Montcuq, not surprisingly, vanished. Along with the champagne went much hilarity as an elderly lady, small in height but extremely rotund and who was sharing the same wooden bench as Janet suddenly found herself falling head over heels as the structure beneath the bench collapsed under her. Far from being shocked the lady burst out laughing and Janet, helping her up, found herself in the company of the most jolly lady at the celebration. All this watched by a tiny man, far too small to help, both in height and stature - probably some 5 - 6 stone and wearing a little woollen hat. 'Meet my husband' said the corpulent lady! Many speeches later Janet was able to have her meal along with a German couple who insisted on buying red wine with the meal - an excellent one provided by the gite curator who was obviously going to the party later. To think she provided onion soup with cheese and croutons, chicken and potatoes, salad, cheese and ice cream for a small cost would seem an excellent achievement in the circumstances - but the German couple complained throughout - so Janet left the gite for some peace and came to phone me. However she was feeling very merry and convinced of a good night's sleep to come!
One or two problems - she has lost her glasses en route so is having to read with prescription sunglasses - resembling a member of the Mafia. The strange Frenchman is apparently ahead of her now since her rest day so she is likely to come up with him again - everyone on the Way seems to know him so he is probably quite harmless. Footprints can be useful - feeling very lost the other day and not knowing how to check the route, Janet suddenly spotted special footprints in the mud - those of a Swiss walker who wears very unusual trainers - little does he realise he acted as a guide at a tricky moment.
Off to Montcuq by lunchtime tomorrow, Sunday, and then on from there to an unknown destination. Thanks from Janet for those on the list who have sent their personal messages which have been passed on to her. I have also forwarded your e-mails to her home to await her return.
Janet is particularly surprised to find that she can be content with her own company for hours on end. So much so that it is not always easy to tolerate very chatty people at the end of the day, although that does of course depend on the company.
Cheerio for now Kath
Came in at lunchtime today, Tuesday, to find an answer phone message from Janet. She wanted to tell me about a 'dirt cheap' lunch she had just enjoyed which was fantastic. Perhaps as well I missed the news having feasted on a ham sandwich myself! Anyway she was at Malause en route from Moissac and intending to make it to Auvillar tonight. I reckon she must be roughly half way of the planned route for the first half of the walk still averaging about 15 miles a day with occasional longer days and presumably some shorter. 15 miles seems to be the optimum length for the day not to become too arduous but now that she feels so much fitter the prospect of extra kms is not so worrying.
That's all this time - I expect John heard more as she was going to ring him in my absence. Puppy improving slightly though has an insatiable appetite for human flesh and anything else available. The four cats have formed a posse against her but she, undeterred, defies all.
Enough for now.
Best wishes Kath
Since I missed out Post 9 this is the second number 10! Never was good at maths! Had a long conversation with Janet yesterday (Wednesday) Being technologically naive I still wonder at the clarity of conversations at such a distance! Well, Janet was en route to Miradoux and had left Auvillar in the morning. Auvillar of all the villages and towns visited thus far, has won the prize for the best welcome. On collecting the key for the gite, walkers are presented with a special certificate produced in the town and signed individually by three 'top' people from the area - unlike some villages where Janet feels there is a tolerance but little enthusiasm for 'pilgrims', Auvillar opens its arms to them and is apparently a most beautiful place. Many of these villages are mediaeval often sited on high points with the last 2 or 3kms an uphill climb into the village at the end of the day's walk. In the centre of Auvillar is a central meeting place called a moot which is a roofed building supported on pillars with stone/brick seating - a place for villagers to meet and discuss the issues of the day - not sure if this is still used for that purpose since it is originally mediaeval too. This must be the source of the expression 'moot' point - often wondered what that meant. Janet has been meeting up with the same German couple mentioned in a previous post. He is an excellent cook from which Janet has benefited on one or two occasions and she has warmed somewhat to them on further knowing. They are obviously very wealthy, keen hunters who own expensive guns and think that a house worth £1,000,000 is fairly commonplace - not in our world it isn't! However as they are still fairly open in their criticisms of basic but satisfactory facilities, Janet makes herself scarce at times when they are likely to be judgmental. That way they rub along fine. Other characters along the way? The eccentric Frenchman has injured his knee and dropped behind, probably seeking medical help - a newcomer, a Spaniard from Minorca, called Ricardo, who Janet likes enormously - a fast walker but an enthusiast of all the villages along the way who gets caught up in sightseeing, so allowing slower walkers to meet up with him again. This area is not quite so dramatic in scenery terms and much of the Way here consists of manmade footpaths and roads designed for walkers where the old tracks have disappeared for building etc along the years. In the first section of the walk the route was mainly along unmade interesting paths and tracks. Finally to the lunch of two days ago - Janet arrives for lunchtime soup and is asked how old she is - 60 - in that case you are eligible for our special lunch says the friendly owner - OK says Janet and is given: Chicken noodle soup, Avocado and Tomato salad with as much pate as required, Pot au feu - a stew containing haricot beans, sausage, ham etc, Salad, Cheese, Fruit salad or Fresh fruit All washed down with a litre of wine (Janet had to pass on some of this to avoid being arrested inebriated en route) Price : £4.50
In spite of all this excellent food Janet reckons she has lost a stone in weight and is feeling very fit - is about to tie her trousers on with string!
She was cheerfully anticipating another good meal at Miradoux where she had booked in in advance to a gite offering bed, breakfast and an evening meal. So I'll leave her there for now, having had baked beans on toast for my lunch!
Best to all Kath
Since I last wrote to you all, I have had two messages from Janet, the first via John, the second today which unfortunately had to be curtailed as Tig my daughter was about to leave to catch her train back to Oxford. However I do have an idea of what has been happening. Janet arrived in Condom two days ago and planned to stay there for a rest day. The first night in the gite was probably the worst she had had - not quite sure why but she had a very restless night and decided to spend the following night in a small and inexpensive hotel also in Condom. This rest day coincided with the World Rugby match between England and New Zealand and it seemed appropriate in an area of France where rugby is very popular to spend part of the day watching the match - hear it was a good game with a bad result for us. Another job to be done was to have the Pilgrim Passport stamped which is done in every place visited along the Way. This stamp is known as a 'tampon'. As Janet says, to ask for a 'tampon' in Condom stirs an English-speaking imagination but is difficult to translate!
Today's call came from Montreal - the day in Condom had been good especially knowing that 500 kms has already been walked and that the pressure is less for realising that. I know that John felt that Janet was becoming slightly disenchanted with the need to make new contacts each night now that the number of walkers is reduced and no particular group have jelled as happened in the early stages of the walk. However there was the same enthusiasm today and a reaffirmation that Janet is fit and well and enjoying her new slim figure especially in the light of good eating and drinking a la francais. Montreal is an interesting village where archaeologists are digging on the site of a Roman villa which is also the site of the gite where Janet is to stay tonight.
Rests a decision for tomorrow - choice of pulling out all the stops to walk some 36kms to Nogaro, hopefully with the possibility of some short cuts along the way, or aiming for Eauze some 20kms away. Much will depend on the availability of other gites along the way and the spirit of the walker!
More on that later
Since Hattie, the labrador puppy in our life, got the go ahead to explore the world outside, I seem to have frequently returned to find that I have just missed Janet's calls - she has also missed John once or twice too. However I have a little news but no gossip. The decision left in Pilgrim Post 11's cliffhanger was made and she chose the shorter walk to Eauze moving on to Nogaro the next day. She had found some new company in the form of 3 Frenchmen - which can't be bad. (Based on a French film I watched late into the night last evening - The Apartment - even my old hormones were circulating!)
She had asked John to send on a sleeping bag to St Jean Pied de Port which is a landmark place on the French side of the Pyrenees which suggests that her progress is such that she may well have time to cross the Pyrenees before returning home. The evenings here are now certainly much colder and no doubt she is sensing a change of temperature over there too. But also whereas on the French side of the walk a sheet sleeping bag is sufficient with blankets provided, it appears that a sleeping bag is a prerequisite in Spain where little or no bedding is provided. I believe she is expecting to arrive in St Jean in about 2 weeks but not sure. All I do know is that her return ticket is for the end of October so she will need to assess whether she has time to cross the Pyrenees before returning. Certainly transport connections will be easier from St Jean than from Pamplona on the Spanish side but she may prefer to go on anyway since it would be helpful to start the second half of the walk on the Spanish side - this from discussions we had before she left. Not very newsy I'm afraid but all I can offer today.
Of late, Janet and I have had only the briefest of conversations, although sufficient to know that all is well. However the two Johns have had more lengthy talks with her and I now have more detailed news to convey. Over last weekend Janet was in Navarrenx in thunderstorms but her equipment was standing up to the test. She seems to have linked up with the German couple again together with a new Frenchman called Claude. The German man is having trouble with his Achilles tendon but insists on continuing although this may be unwise. Janet was given hospitality by a parish priest who refused payment and said that her smile was sufficient! From Navarrenx it was planned to go on to Aroue - interspersed with nights in the pilgrim gites Janet sometimes elects to stay in a 'normal' chambre d'hote (guest house) both to ring the changes and also to escape communal living and the inevitable snoring accompaniment to her nights. Whether or not she contributes to this we shall never know unless someone else is recording similar messages!
Today Janet is at Arberats Silleque, a day's walk from St Jean Pied de Port which as I said before is an important stopping place before the Pyrenees. This is Basque country where the people speak the Basque language and all signs are given in Basque as well as in French. As the land has got higher so the architecture of the houses begins to resemble the chalet houses of Switzerland and Austria presumably designed to withstand heavy snows. Today has been a beautiful day with the warm glowing tints of Autumn. Since there remain some ten days or more before Janet's homeward travel arrangements are booked it seems likely that she will continue on into Spain aiming for Pamplona. I watched a programme the other evening which showed wonderful shots of this town and featured the famous bull run where young bulls are released to chase the crowd through the narrow streets of the town on every day for a week - it's an annual festival with much drinking, dancing and fiestas through the night with traditional bull fights as part of the entertainment. The programme has been made to celebrate the life of Hemingway and to trace all the places and activities for which he won his fame apart from writing. Michael Palin of Monty Python fame is the front man. Very appropriate.
So we have now arrived on map 19 of the 22 which lead to Pamplona - all is well and, touch wood, the signs are that the first half of the walk as planned has an excellent chance of being accomplished.
More as soon as I have news
Today my first long conversation with Janet for some time. Well she arrived in St Jean Pied de Port yesterday (Wednesday) and has spent today there enjoying a 'normal' day sorting out various things. St Jean Pied de Port is the last main town in France before the Pyrennees remain to be crossed into Spain. So today has been spent exchanging money for Spanish currency, going to the hairdresser's where Janet excelled herself translating for an American lady with no French, having a lost filling replaced (£25 - cheaper than in England), collecting her sleeping bag (sent on), looking around the old citadel area of the town and booking the next hotel, some 8kms distant and the first Spanish stop. Janet is staying in a hostel in the old part of the town where the host provides bed (single room) breakfast and an evening meal of a substantial soup all for £8 - extra food can be cooked which Janet's group organised last night and the host joined them for the meal.
Two friends of Janet's set out across the high route across the Pyrenees yesterday and completed 20kms before being literally blown over in spite of the fact that they were clinging to each other. They were obliged to return, one with a broken finger, both with significant bruising requiring treatment. Janet has wisely elected to avoid their route and will be following the old Pilgrim route, a winding track/road running through the valleys of the mountains. 8kms tomorrow and then a further 16kms to Roncesvalles and eventually to Pamplona, her destination, where hopefully she will have two or three days to spare and enjoy this famous city/town before her return journey. The aim is to arrive there on Monday - enjoy the chance to relax - and then home to England arriving a week this Saturday. We have already planned our reunion for a week on Sunday giving Janet a chance to see John, go to church and meet her supporters and come over to our home on the Sunday.
Who is around these days on the Pilgrim Way? One small Frenchman who spends his evenings in football shorts over a pair of tights, wrinkled because of his diminutive stature! A Swiss with his beautiful obedient dog (I wish!) who has set off over the mountains now without his dog who is being taken back to Switzerland by his friend because dogs are not allowed in the Spanish gites ( they are welcome in the French equivalent). Jurgen and Karin the German pair - Jurgin has travelled the last 200kms on two sticks because of his Achilles tendon trouble - everyone had told him how risky it was to continue but he is very proud and angry about his condition so much so that no one had to mention it - However he has finally realised that it is impossible to continue and they had arranged a taxi to St Jean some miles back from where they will return to Germany. By the way Jurgen is a journalist and Karin a sculptress/jewellery maker. Hence the huge diamond set in gold that Jurgen wears on his finger. Janet finally suggested that to use the word peasant in English was somewhat derogatory - said Karin 'I meant it to be'. Enough said. The three Frenchmen are ahead and will return home from Roncesvalles.
Unbelievably St Jean Pied de Port represents a walk of some 450 miles from Le Puy - only 50 more to go on this stage!
Not surprisingly Janet is amazed and thankful to discover she has gone so far without sore feet (apart from an old corn) accident or major mishap, feeling very fit and tanned (unfortunately the result of the tanning by the wind and sun has also highlighted wrinkles! - pity the cream was sent back to reduce the luggage weight along with other items).
Today a huge candle burns in the church of St Jean Pied de Port as a thanksgiving for safe arrival and a recognition of the love and support of her many friends especially you all on the NHS list. In some 10 days' time she will be back on-line to tell you herself.
Meanwhile, in loco Janet
For over 1,000 years, Christian pilgrims from Europe have often made pilgrimages to particular places of worship for many varied reasons. In the Middle Ages there may have been some, like Muslims going to Mecca, who did so in the hope of some personal benefit, though for many centuries the attitude to forgiveness in Christianity has radically changed and the Church would eschew the idea of meritorious pilgrimage. There were many ancient pilgrim routes, mainly to Canterbury in England, Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.
In recent years the route from Le Puy in south central France to Santiago de Compostela has been developed as a long distance way-marked route for walkers, and thousands of people do the walk each year. The name Santiago de Compostela means St James of the Field of the Star, a name which hangs by a legend that St James the apostle was eventually buried there, his body having magically arrived by boat covered in scallop shells. So the scallop shell is a symbol still used by pilgrims today.
Some years ago I heard about this walk of 1,000 miles and thought vaguely that I might like to travel that way, sometime. But I put it aside as way into the future since I was working and 1,000 miles requires about three months at least to complete. Then, when I was diagnosed and had chemotherapy for NHL, all kinds of things flooded into my mind about those things I wanted to do, sometime, and I started to do them, one by one.
First, within two weeks of finishing my treatment, I went to Australia to see relations I had never met, one of whom I had written to for fifty years, since we were both eight years old. Then I went to see my daughter when she was studying in South America - I went twice, once to Ecuador and then to Brazil. I also came to the Washington Cancer March to meet many Internet NHL friends. But this year, 1999 I reached retirement age at 60 and thought about the Pilgrim Way. A friend happened to know of my interest and aroused it again by lending me a book called "The Field of the Star" by Nicholas Luard, about his pilgrimage while his daughter was suffering and dying from AIDS. It is a very moving book. And I thought that if I did not do it soon I might not have the physical capacity. There is also the likelihood that my NHL will return and get the upper hand.
In the summer I began practice walks with a heavy pack on my back and found it a considerable struggle. Eventually I could do about eight miles and once I managed ten, but I was not fit. Nevertheless I kept going out day by day doing a few miles here and there. I booked to set out on September 13th. A few days beforehand I fell and slightly damaged my left knee (I already had a slight problem with the right knee from 1972 when I damaged it quite badly and it still gave problems especially going down steeply).
My plan was to complete the first 500 miles in 1999 from September 14th to October 28th from Le Puy to Pamplona, and the second 500 miles next spring from the end of April into June 2000, from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela.
I did not have any particular goals other than to do the walk, to have time to think about my life, my priorities and all the things one never has time to think about without hurry. I don't believe that prayer and reflection can create miracles (in any case I think that miracles would indicate a God of unfairness), but I do believe that spirituality can change our attitude to the way we live. Reading about other people's experience of pilgrimage and how it changed them, encouraged me.
Finally friends and family suggested that I should invite people to sponsor the walk. It therefore received lots of local publicity and I am raising money for two charities: One relates to the Underdeveloped countries of the world, where if women or children get cancer they are very unlikely to receive either diagnosis or treatment, and where the life expectancy of women is still only about 43 years. I have already had seventeen extra years compared with the majority of the world's women. That charity is called Jubilee 2000. The second charity is my hospital's Leukaemia Appeal, which in fact is for all the haematologic dysfunctions including NHL. The fund has already raised enough to improve the facilities amazingly since I first went there in 1996, but it is a local hospital and wishes to develop its base. There has been an agreement with the teaching hospital ten miles away that they can become a centre for teaching about the blood cancers and to develop the latest treatments like stem cell transplants. So the money now is being raised for all the most up to date equipment required.
The sponsorship money so far promised is a relatively small amount - just over £1,000 at the moment. But five newspapers and a radio programme here have covered information about the walk and about Non-Hodgkin's Lymphomas. I am now going around giving talks and showing slides about the Pilgrim Walk and explaining about NHL as well.
When I left for France my practice walks in and around Rowley Regis had made me realise that walking more than eight miles a day, every day, would be a struggle when carrying everything I needed in a rucksack. And I knew I would need to average far more if I were to complete the first half of the route. Since having chemotherapy for Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 1997 I had become used to being rather a couch-potato and often took an afternoon nap! Now I would need to keep going.
I need not have worried. At the end of the first day I met three delightful French people (with whom I am still in touch). They were very encouraging, and although I walked alone at my own pace, I often joined them at a pilgrim hostel in the evening and we shared the evening meal. The thought of lagging behind often encouraged me to do an extra few miles at the end of a day and I soon found myself regularly able to walk 15 miles without too much stress. I became stronger and my knees were soon better than they have seemed for over twenty years. The longest day's walk I did was about 23 miles (a struggle with a heavy pack), but I averaged around 12, which included having the occasional rest day, for washing clothes and looking around an interesting town like Conques or Cahors. I climbed to over 4,000 feet on two occasions and nearly always had to struggle uphill at the end of the day, since mediaeval villages are almost always sited at the top of a hill - it was useful to have practised walking home in Rowley - we live at the top of a hill!
Journey's end was reached in Pamplona in northern Spain six weeks after leaving home and well before even my most optimistic schedule.
There was plenty of time for reflection along the Pilgrim Way:
· Sometimes thoughts came at random, like my awareness of the tremendous pressures on the poor women of the underdeveloped world. They walk with heavy loads for miles and then have to do a day's work as well. I could not imagine how they managed all that carrying of water and firewood, with a child on their backs and crops to tend and meals to make. My heart went out to them. I was glad to be raising money to support the Jubilee 2000 debt project, which could make a difference to some of them in the future. At the end of my walks each day I could have a hot shower, a good meal and a bed.
· Of course I thought a great deal about the people I have met through having cancer. The Pilgrim Way passes through many villages with pilgrim churches, built centuries ago, and I frequently lit candles of encouragement for people struggling with Leukaemia or NHL and other cancers. The thought of raising money for the Leukaemia Fund at Russells Hall Hospital was also an incentive when walking became an effort. My hope is particularly that youngsters may have access to the best and latest treatments available, through the plans to be able to provide Stem Cell Transplants at the hospital. I have had wonderful opportunities in life and I want other people to be able to fulfil their potential if humanly possible.
At one time I was thoroughly lost on the Pilgrim Way and wondered how to find the right route. Suddenly I noticed some familiar footmarks. The pattern of the soles was shaped rather like a cross and I remembered noticing them on the trainers of a very tall young man from Switzerland that very morning, so I marched after Jon's footprints and soon noticed a sign showing I was on the right path. This led me to think about the fact that we often need people to guide us or to help us to realise that we are doing the right thing. I thought of the people who had influenced me in life. I met Jon again later and was able to thank him for his unwitting help. Often the people who have helped us do not know because we never tell them!
· Many of us begin life with very little in the way of possessions. But as life goes on we may accumulate quite a lot. This is so for me, since many of my family have died in old age and I have inherited lots of bits and pieces. Nowadays at home we have about three of everything! But on the Pilgrim Way I began with only a rucksack. Every week or so I realised there were things in it I could live without. I either gave them away or sent them home to lighten my load. On one occasion I left some porridge oats at a hostel and weeks later met the young man who had been thrilled to arrive at that hostel without food when the shops were shut, to find some porridge to eat! I ended the walk with much less than I began, but had everything I needed. I think there is a lesson for me here, and I must start giving away more of the things I never use, those things I think might come in handy "sometime" but in some years never have. In the case of wealthy people, I wonder if they should think of giving away more than they do, so that they just have enough for their own needs. The world is not a level playing field at the start of each life, perhaps we could try to make it more so.
There were other reflections that had more to do with the reading which I managed to do occasionally, or the result of conversations with people on the Way, people mainly from France but also from Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Spain and Brazil. Unlike a tourist holiday, walking brought me into contact with local people in hostels, villages and cafes. All in all it was a wonderful experience.
Surprisingly I had no physical problems. Unlike other pilgrims I did not slip or fall down in the mud (though I was careful to use two sticks when the going was rough) and everything remained dry in the wettest of weather under my excellent cagoule and waterproof trousers. When I left I weighed in at over 11stones (154pounds) in weight. On my return, despite eating enormous meals, with supplements of condensed milk and sugar in my drinks, I was under 10stones (140pounds) and feeling very fit.
I hope to remain in remission long enough to continue the Pilgrim Way from Pamplona to Santiago after Easter 2000. Until then I am enjoying receiving sponsorship money (not really due until I have completed the 1,000miles next year). I have sent off cheques already: £170 to the Leukaemia Fund and £77 to Jubilee 2000. I have further promises totalling over £800, but that figure does not include the amount offered on sponsorship forms at Russells Hall Hospital and elsewhere.
(Lest anyone should be in doubt, I paid all the expenses of the Pilgrim Walk myself and will continue to do so. All the sponsorship money is for the charities concerned.)
Actual places and distances covered: September 14th Le Puy to Montbonnet 15kms (7+miles) September 15th Montbonnet to Saugues 25+kms (15+miles) September 16th Saugues to La Roche de Lajo 23kms (14+miles) September 17th La Roche de Lajo toAumont-Aubrac 24kms (15miles) September 18th Aumont-Aubrac to Montgros 23+kms (14+miles) September 19th Montgros to St-Chely-d'Aubrac 20kms (12.5miles) September 20th St-Chely-d'Aubrac to St-Come-d'Olt 16kms (10miles) September 21st St-Come-d'Olt to Estaing 17kms (10+miles) September 22nd Estaing to Espeyrac 24+kms (15+miles) September 23rd Espeyrac to Conques 13kms (8+miles); September 24th at Conques September 25th Conques to Livinhac-le-Haut 24kms (15miles) September 26th Livinhac to Figeac 26kms (<16miles) September 27th Figeac to Grealou <22kms (13+miles) September 28th Grealou to Limogne-en-Quercy 28kms (16+miles) September 29th Limogne-en-Quercy to Vaylats 16kms (10 miles) September 30th Vaylats to Cahors 25kms (15+miles) October 1st at Cahors October 2nd Cahors to Lascabanes 23kms (14+miles) October 3rd Lascabanes to Lauzerte 23+kms (<15miles) October 4th Lauzerte to Moissac 21kms (13+miles) October 5th Moissac to Auvillar 21kms (<12miles) October 6th Auvillar to Miradoux 19kms (<12miles) October 7th Miradoux to Lectoure 19kms (11+miles) October 8th Lectoure to Condom 35kms (<22miles) October 9th at Condom October 10th Condom to Seviac 19kms (11+miles) October 11th Seviac to Eauze 16kms (10miles) October 12th Eauze to Lanne-Soubiran 30kms (<19miles) October 13th Lanne-Soubiran to Aire-sur-l'Adour 31kms (<20miles) October 14th Aire-sur-l'Adour to Arsacq-Arraziguet 32kms (20miles) October 15th Arsacq-Arraziguet to Arthez-de-Bearn 36kms (22.5miles) October 16th Arthez-de-Bearn to Maslacq 8+kms (5+miles) October 17th Maslacq to Navarrenx 24kms (15miles) October 18th Navarrenx to Aroue 19kms (<12miles) October 19th Aroue to Ostabat-Asme 24kms (15miles) October 20th Ostabat-Asme to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port 20+kms (12.5miles) October 21st at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port October 22nd St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Valcarlos 8kms (5miles)in Spain October 23rd Valcarlos to Burguete 18kms (11+miles)over the Pyrenees October 24th Burguete to Larrasoana 27+kms (<17miles) October 25th Larrasoana to Pamplona 16kms (10miles) October 26th Pamplona October 27/28th overnight train via Paris, Pamplona to Rowley Regis
Total of 38 walking days; total of 504 miles; average 13+ miles Total of 42 walking and resting days during walk; average 12 miles
Janet Nightingale [email protected]
Thank so much for the mail.
First off, the walk was something I simply decided to do as one of the things which had been slightly at the back of my mind for doing "sometime in the future". Having made those things come to the forefront after my chemotherapy for NHL I decided that the time was right, especially when I reached 60 and wondered if I would ever have the energy to do such a walk, since recently I have become what we call "a couch potato".
The fundraising arose because our parish (my husband is a vicar) asked if they could support my walk, so I decided to advertise the walk more widely and received an excellent response (five newspapers locally and the local radio). I have sent off about £250 already, but most of the money will come in when I finish next summer, but some arrives almost every day.
I could write very lengthily about the experience. There were lots of lessons learnt which were interesting and valuable (mainly Christian, so not necessarily appropriate for the list):
1. The footmarks on the Pilgrim Way nearly all point in the same direction, and if you are lost you can generally follow the footmarks - "Oh let me see your footmarks, and in them plant my own" is a well-known hymn here.
2. I set off with my backpack weighing in at about 12 pounds. I kept discovering that there were things I really did not need, so gave them away or sent them home - especially books! At the end of the walk the backpack felt better and was about 9 pounds. It made me think that we should treat life like that and start off-loading rather than accumulating (a comment on the fact that all my family have died and I have at least three of everything, but keep thinking "well, it might be useful sometime").
3. While walking upwards of 20 kms a day (up to 34 on rare occasions) I realised that some 3rd world women walk that every day for wood, water, markets etc AND have to work. What a life they must lead. For me the walk occupied from 8am to about 4pm and I had to do very little else except provide myself with food, but usually in a cheap restaurant.
4. Carrying food for the day was something which had to be planned because of the weight, which made a new meaning for "Give us this day our DAILY bread" and made me realise how much we plan ahead, not only with food but for all kinds of events, rather than living more in the present.
There were other insights which I value.
Lots of friendships began, especially with three French people who helped me greatly at the outset - my Three Musketeers.
But probably the best thing of all is that I am much fitter than I have been for years. This will probably be of little consequence if/when the NHL returns (and I noticed this week that one lymph node is a little larger than it should be), but it makes me feel good to walk around full of energy and I like being 140 pounds instead of 153 - I look better too. I try to walk every day - to the shops for example - when normally I would never have thought of not using the car. I would love to stay feeling like I do now.
So you are right that I am looking forward already to the next half of the walk. I have even bought the Spanish book in Pamploma describing the route in detail and started Spanish lessons. I am itching to get going and already find everyday life a little boring by comparison. But I can keep going in anticipation. John hopes to join me for the first ten days or so (weddings permitting) and Kathryn just might take time off work to come along - though she is always a last minute kind of person, so I shall leave it to her to decide. She would make a good companion too.
French food, wine, people (pilgrims and others) were all great to enjoy. One walked through tiny hamlets, many derelict or almost so, and I was given gifts of eggs, plums, drinks and had interesting conversations with people with thick accents, barely intelligible (about things like politics, religion, how my husband managed without me - they were very traditional people and the men did not like the fact that I was alone!). Only one person said she thought the pilgrim way was a waste of people's time - she was gardening a lovely garden at the time, so I could quite understand that she thought I was neglecting my responsibilities.
It is one of the few times I have been to another country and benefited from meeting people on their own terms and not as a "tourist". It made a great deal of difference to the people one met and their willingness to talk.
I could go on... six weeks is quite a time for memories. John and I are astonished at the low cost involved. I have just received a Visa bill for seven full five-course meals including wine, two nights in hotels, a pair of spectacles - I lost mine on a wet day - £121.86pence!!! Most of the time I paid cash, but that just gives some idea of the prices. Spain is even cheaper than France and the exchange rate is very much in our favour.
Sorry to go on. But if you have a trail outside the house that is a wonderful way to start. When I began practising here I had several regular walks of 2 miles, 3 miles and 5 miles. Now I can do them without breaking into a sweat; previously I would arrive home breathing very hard - but we live on the top of a hill.
All the very best. Hope you are keeping well. I have my check-up on the 9th December and have informed my specialist of the lumpy node, so will keep you posted. I don't want to comment on the list at the moment, since I have no other symptoms at all, and the node is less than marble size.
Janet in UK
Well after the lovely celebration party/barbecue/service on Saturday, the intrepid threesome left Rowley Regis on Sunday to stay at David's flat in London overnight leaving on Monday morning for Pamplona in Spain. Early on Monday morning I had a message from John to say it was 9am in Pamplona and that on the previous day they had arrived by train in Paris to enjoy a lovely meal in Montparnasse (part of Paris) followed by a pleasant journey through France changing at Irun and finally arriving at Pamplona (where Janet finished her phase of the walk) at 1 am in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Mary, with her excellent command of Spanish was able to dragoon a taxi driver into finding them a cheap hotel for the night where they had spent a fitful, hot night disturbed by the snoring of Papa which hadn't gone down too well! However they were about to set off after going to the cathedral to have their Pilgrim Walk passports stamped in preparation for their journey.
Today I have received my second message - apparently their first day of walking ie Tuesday was thoroughly exhausting as the weather is very hot and the route took them up a very high hill littered with windmills and leaving John, at least, wondering whether he would ever make it - however they arrived at their hostel and found a decent place with lovely views of the hills and providing a good evening meal and breakfast - this being at Puente La Reina. At the time of phoning me they were enjoying a break by a fountain in Lorca with the prospect of carrying on to Estella tonight (Wednesday) - this day's walk about 22kms. People along the way are very friendly as Janet found. John reports that they can keep pace with each other and that relationships are friendly 'mostly' - quite a test for any normal family I imagine!
Hope all is well with those reading this. More to come!
Kind regards Kath
Dear Greg and all
I spoke directly with John on Thursday evening - a good time to talk since they had just enjoyed a good evening meal at their hostel after a 20 km walk during the day. Mary somewhat put out by a 6am start (so would I be!) but they had achieved the day's quota by lunch time and been able to spend a more leisurely afternoon and evening in Los Arcos. In typical Nightingale fashion there was some dispute who had been mainly responsible for providing the evening meal - was it Mary was it David? - will we ever know? After a shaky start on day 1 it would appear that John is now gaining stamina with his two offspring suffering from sore feet. Pleasant encounters along the way with pilgrims on horse back and a redundant Englishman who has decided to commit himself to driving up and down the Way serving coffee to pilgrims from his motor caravan. Not quite sure of their proposed destination today (Friday) - will no doubt hear retrospectively.
More to come.............. Kath
Dear Greg and all
John was in contact Sunday night. After leaving Los Arcos on Friday morning,that evening was spent at a larger place, Logrono, rather beautiful with sophisticated shops highly tempting were it not for the prospect of having to carry any extra goods. In a restaurant they asked a lady traveller on her own to join them. She was a birdlike animated French lady who managed to communicate with them through a series of highly dramatic mimes - John found himself imagining she and Janet meeting alone and being transported into their own version of the Marseillaise after a few glasses of vin rouge! - after a life spent raising 8 children and helping to raise 20 grandchildren, she had decided at the age of 64 that they could all look after themselves for 4 months and was thoroughly enjoying the independence of the walk. John is struck by the wide variety of 'pilgrims' - all ages, all types and all with their own personal reasons for undertaking the journey (some religious, many not at all). Many prefer to walk alone keeping to their own pace and meeting up with one another in the evening.
Saturday night was spent at Najera, a smaller place built amongst large rocks with many caves. Their companions of the evening - an Italian lady and a German woman studying for a doctorate based on physical and emotional reactions of live audiences in the theatre. While we were all basking in the English football victory over Germany, the Nightingales were amongst Spaniards celebrating theirs over Austria - so much so that long after John went to bed David and Mary were enjoying the night life, the beer, and congas round the town! All this after one of their longest walks to date - some 29 kms. Sunday had been a lovely day high on a plateau with plenty of sunshine tempered by a refreshing breeze - somewhat different from their first day in temperatures of 40 degrees - no wonder John had doubts that day of his ability to survive the journey. So here they were Sunday evening in Santa Domingo de la Calcazada sounding very refreshed, more accustomed to the physical demands and no longer feeling the stress of carrying a pack all day. David's new boots not surprisingly have caused him problems with his feet and a strained tendon and feeling rather sick on Sunday didn't help - but by the time I spoke to John he was feeling somewhat better. Certainly their morale is good and John feels that at present Mary is the strongest of the three of them but they are all in good form. No problem getting into hostels so far - some people arriving late had been put up in sports halls etc but no one turned away without somewhere to sleep.
More to come.....................
Dear Greg and all
I heard from John on Thursday evening - all is well and they had spent Monday evening at Belorado where there was a fiesta much appreciated particularly by David who had enjoyed the 'jolly' until the early hours amongst the interesting people that they continue to meet along the Way. Walking was mainly in high hills decked with pinewoods and wild flowers - although it is now quite cold at night the days are beautiful. Tuesday found them arriving at St Juan de Ortega where they stayed in a house attached to an old church dedicated to that saint which had originally been a monastery - quite primitive but as ever there is kindness, in this case demonstrated in the provision of coffee for the travellers. Then on to Burgos, a larger town where a free trip by train was organised for travellers to see the sights of the town including the cathedral - more beautiful externally than internally. Here David and John left Mary, who was waiting to meet Simon Smart, her boyfriend, who incidentally is an excellent drummer, expected to arrive by train to join them. So on Thursday, David and John set off together with an arrangement to take things slowly, giving Simon and Mary the chance to gradually catch up with them. Now they have been in the highest parts of Spain called the Meseta, a high plateau almost bereft of trees and cultivated with wheat fields whose crop has now been cut. Again beautiful sunny days but very cold in the shade at 3000ft - believed by Spaniards who live in the area to be the coldest part of Spain - however conditions ideal for walking and they are constantly meeting up with charming people, both the locals and fellow walkers. Today, Friday, two more messages from John in case Simon and Mary contact me for their whereabouts - a slight deviation in John and David's route has resulted in their staying tonight, Friday, at the Hostel of St Nicholas in Puente Fitero, in idyllic surroundings - this is a converted building which houses 10 travellers and where there is the prospect of a communal meal for all who stay there. I can tell by John's voice that this is a fulfilling trip and that they are all well and refreshed by both the journey and their companions along the Way. And this is only the second week.......................
From their passive reporter in England Kath
Dear Greg and all
To talk of our family's adventures would have seemed highly inappropriate in the last days and I have been quite relieved that John's most recent message only came through today when I was able to speak to him at some length. Like us all they too have been preoccupied with events in America and John relays the enormous sympathy and concern of walkers they have met from so many different countries. They have had access to newspapers and been able to see some of the Spanish TV coverage from time to time so are fully aware of the situation.
Against that backdrop, they reached the half way mark of their journey some 4 days ago and there were a couple of occasions when my task was to link them together from England when they were unable to get messages through to one another - they had been split up, once when Mary remained behind to meet up with Simon Smart and once when David went on ahead to arrange accommodation only to find there was none available and was trying unsuccessfully to link up with John by mobile. Anyway they are all together again spending tonight, Saturday, at Rabanal, situated in the hills between Leon and Castile. This is a beautiful area with splendid views, after some 150kms recently walking in very flat lands. Tonight is one of the better 'refugios', especially from a British perspective, since it is run by the British Association which provides electric kettles and the luxury of teapots, so David was energetically supplying cups of tea to walkers as they arrived. Unfortunately Simon had some problems with a pulled muscle but kept going and finally left the group to return to England from Leon. Apparently Leon is a beautiful ancient city with the most gorgeous cathedral with a wonderful facade and much internal restoration with magnificent stained glass windows and carvings which have been restored in an impressive yet simple way and presented really effectively in striking vivid colours. Friday night was spent at Astorga where there is a beautiful Gaudi palace. Simon added a dimension of extra fun to the group and their relationships are on the whole good - any friction seems to relate more to conditions - David and John have never reacted well to heat which means that Mary must start out very early every morning to keep them 'sweet'! John's main irritation is some backache from carrying the rucksack and Mary seems so far to be the one least troubled by conditions. In their desire to reach the next stopping place they have been moving at a fast pace (good job I didn't go!) usually aiming to walk for 2 hours before breakfast, then a further 2 hours before lunch and finishing the day as early as possible although sometimes not before 6 in the evening. So it is a very tiring schedule. In the main the hostels are good - one fracas began when David was refused accommodation only to see the 'host' allowing others in. In the meanwhile John had found rooms in a nearby hotel. David, being Janet's son, and resenting the injustice, went back to the hostel and insisted that he would sleep on the front mat outside to demonstrate the unfriendly attitude of the patron - at that he reluctantly allowed David in. The next morning on his arrival at the hotel to meet John and Mary the hotel owner accused David of having spent the night at the hotel and trying to avoid payment. An altercation ensued where John took exception to being accused of cheating him but said he would pay extra money rather than be considered a liar. At this point the landlord backed down! Janet would be proud of them! This however is a rare incident, since in the main they have met with nothing but kindness and friendship. Hostels are run on an individual basis - some very regimented with strict rules, others with a very relaxed attitude. One lady 'hostess' with perfect Spanish turned out to be an Australian woman, who not feeling up to the strain of walking the Way, moves from hostel to hostel offering to run them for a few days at a time. Along the way there are opportunities to meet people of all nationalities - John particularly mentioned meeting many Germans whose company they have particularly enjoyed. And characters who live along the Way also make fascinating meeting - one such, an artist nicknamed Monsenor is an old man, an artist who was trained originally in painting church frescoes, who now shows himself to be a master of different styles - in his workshop they found him creating beautiful paintings on pebbles and are bringing some to show us. Mary is trying to keep a video record of their journey - John's alternative diary written on his hand-held computer won't be coming home - he lost it yesterday and actually sounded quite relieved that he would now be free to take in events without having to record them every day!
Sending love from all the family, in UK and in Spain to all our friends on the list in America and round the world. Kath
The simple way of life they are leading on this journey seems so much richer and intrinsically right in the light of current events.
Well apart from John, my husband, having an informal chat with Mary when the others were asleep, today came my most recent communication from John , in fact two - I think he had to gather up steam between reports! I couldn't ask questions since I was working but here is my resumee. The last report left you at Rabanal at the British hostel which John confirms Janet would have loved - probably because of the very British mod cons I described earlier. On Sunday the walk took the trio over high hills with wonderful views in both directions and a meeting along the way with a hermit/healer leading finally into Molinaseca where David and Mary bathed in a mountain stream - John comments that Janet would not have liked that and he's right! On to Cacabelos, I presume on Monday, where John himself took the plunge with Mary in a lake fed by another mountain stream but with water considerably warmer. Here they met a Dutch woman, Wendy, accompanying her aged father on the Way. Perhaps the name belies the person since Wendy turned out to be tough ex-army material with stories of disarming her foes with her bare hands ( I was thinking of Peter Pan until I heard that bit). Don't know why but it reminds me that Janet was nearly christened Angela - I don't think that would have been right do you? Discussion with Wendy and her father over a meal turned into a rather heated discussion about religion - stimulating and enjoyable and just up Janet's street as John reflects. On to Ruitelan - a hostel once again run independently by two men who put on an excellent cold buffet for the travellers. The one specialised in Shiatsu - why they didn't take advantage of a massage is unclear but the masseur also had a predilection for highbrow music and the food was served to the accompaniment of Benedictions sung by the Monks of Selos. This followed by a dawn or pre-dawn awakening to the sound of invigorating Strauss music (David apparently used to wake to the same at his school, Atlantic College ) presumably designed to clear the hostel early rather than late. Wednesday seems to have offered a wonderful walk rising steeply up to the town of O Cebreiro ( not sure if this is correct) a town consisting of thatched huts typical of this part of Spain known as Galicia, in the west. This is Asterix territory, the area not conquered by the Romans, though in the books presented as being part of France. Here are the mountains of central Spain to the east, mainly dry lands, while Galicia to the west is land reminiscent of England, far lusher and green, with many streams and plump juicy blackberries for the picking. The first signs of potential rain on the journey with an overcast sky. Mountains rear dramatically out of the clouds. Now it's Wednesday of this week, and the journey leads into the heart of Galicia, an area of Gaelic influence as its name implies. Thursday, today, and the three found the market of Sarria and several friends made along the Way - lunch with them and time to enjoy grapes bought at the market along with octopus cooked in a peppery sauce - conversation takes the mind off any squeamishness and in fact the meal was enjoyed by all. Octopus is not in great supply in the UK!
And so a more reflective end to the message - along the way are Swiss people who have walked from their homeland, Norwegians, a few though not many Canadian/Americans. In the main a truly European experience at its best. Religious belief is varied - Catholic, Protestant, people of no religious persuasion at all. People work to connect through their limited knowledge of languages - Mary has excellent Spanish, David just a little. John and David have some French and a little German - yet everyone manages to connect across the linguistic divide. The common experience is that whatever the initial purpose of undertaking this journey, each individual feels somehow changed by the experience. It is a spiritual journey however small the s. It is evident from his voice and reflections that John too has been affected by this 'time out' on a spiritual way - from what he recounts so have David and Mary. And so, I know, was Janet.
In practical terms, the group are on course to arrive in Santiago de Compostela by next Monday - then two or three days to relax before taking a train back to Paris and back to their lives in England - thoughts turn to enjoying the pleasure of buying keepsakes which hasn't been possible yet because of the logistics of carrying everything along.
And John ends his call distracted by the flies buzzing round him as he speaks!..............................
There'll probably be at least one more if you can bear it!
Much love to all Kath
Dear Greg and All
Well it had to come - RAIN - and lots of it. Galicia the western province of Spain is apparently reminiscent of the Lake District where Janet's parents and my mother lived in the latter part of their lives. Very green, hills, mist, and of course rain. No more the baked earth and the fields of wheat but smaller farms with farmyard animals, cows, sheep, flowers, vegetable gardens - not so interesting to an English eye in terms of novelty but a friendly, if damp, community. On Saturday evening after intense rain for 24 hours and more predicted, John and Mary were at Palas de Rei, described accurately in the guidebook according to John as 'a small town with all facilities but no interesting features'. With the end in sight Mary and John have slowed their pace which results in their meeting again with people who have caught up - one such couple an elderly lady with her daughter sound like the tortoise in the 'hare and tortoise' fable - up precipitous paths, down valleys they have plodded pulling the equivalent of a shopping trolley behind them - Brazilian, Portuguese speaking, rather sullen and suspicious in manner, our three have slowly but surely started to get through to them, mainly I think with the help of Mary's command of Spanish/Portuguese.- and here they are catching up and meeting again. So Saturday night was being spent principally drying out. David however had decided to go on ahead - he has become engrossed teaching other walkers card games and practising his TEFL skills en route.
The slower pace and the rain seems to have brought out some minor ailments in John and Mary - a few aches and pains in tendons and joints but nothing serious. And the reality now is that they should arrive in Santiago Tuesday evening with the possibility of spending some 3 days there before they have to leave the hostel (most hostels along the way only allow the one night). Then by train to the Spanish French border , train to Paris and depending on timing a return to London on Saturday or Sunday. So the end is in sight.....................
Dear Greg and all
Had a lovely long chat to Mary the other night - there they are finally in Santiago with it's beautiful cathedral celebrating the arrival of pilgrims who have undertaken the Way. It was evident that there is a euphoria in those who have achieved their goal and many jubilant meetings as fellow travellers arrive to join in celebratory meals and are themselves joined by familiar faces who arrive in their own time to eat drink and share memories of the journey. There are masses in the cathedral for the pilgrims to share in common worship and thanks for safe arrival - Mary was particularly excited by the fact that they had witnessed an event which doesn't happen very often - apparently when there are special events or visitors, the mass involves six men pulling a huge pulley to swing an enormous pendulum-like censor (I think this is the word) across the congregation in this vast cathedral - a golden censor which expels incense across the throng and is strangely terrifying as it swings over their heads in the immense space. Thoughts are now directed to home, with Mary thinking of Simon, a reunion for David and Stefania and John thinking I am sure both of a return to life without Janet and the prospect in October of his being installed as an Canon in Birmingham Cathedral - an honour bestowed on him by the Bishop of Birmingham who this week has announced his impending retirement - I hope I am correct in saying that he too lost his wife from cancer and has been very supportive of John - it would appear that he has also recognised John's immense courage and determination to continue going forward after the death of both his parents and Janet within a few months - the honorary canonry is a recognition both of his courage, I believe, and his work in the community. He well deserves it.
When they return sometime this weekend, Mary will initially return to Bristol, to see Simon and prepare herself for her new course. David will reestablish himself with Stefania and with his work as a teacher of English as a foreign language, John to his parish and renewed demands in his work as a parish vicar. No doubt there will need to be a period of readjustment. John has said quite clearly that this journey affects one's perspective of life - may be there will be an initial restlessness in all of them - a desire to be on the road again. But whatever the future holds, this family journey has been the best tribute to Janet's memory that any of her family could give. It has been in the very best tradition of the messages given by her in her funeral services - live for each moment, seize the day, and never forget to show and declare your love to the people who matter to you.
This journey has been a candle lit for her.
Much love to you all - thank you for being part of this journey,
Dear friends, fellow lymphomaniacs and partners in care,
Like Stephen and others it feels very odd to be delighted to know that someone is willing almost to kill you, make you feel and look ghastly and then bring you back! But I am delighted:
1. Specialist phoned me yesterday to deal with my legs - prescriptions. He has heard from all the path labs and apparently I have the NHL Diffuse Large B-cell which is in Lorraine's book [last mention on page 513] and mentions "Anaplastic" in the Kiel classification - don't know what difference that makes, if any. 2. Appointment tomorrow, Friday, to have lots of tests - blood, liver, kidney etc prior to chemo for the SCT starters. 3. Monday, while out cold for the Methotrexate, I shall a line fitted. Which one, Hickman, Groshong etc will be decide by the guy who does them, apparently he constantly tries to work out which has been the best and will choose his latest fad. (Suits me). 4. Shortly afterwards I shall hear about going into my lovely local hospital ward - where my specialist is in charge (small, new and with all the people I know on the staff) to have 5 days of MiniBEAM. 5. Then Queen Elizabeth Hospital specialist centre will set me up for the hoped for Stem Cell Harvest (crossing fingers here of course). 6. All being well, the major chemo and SCT to follow.
Everything else in our family is going ok - including permission from my Guy to go to London on Monday after the Methotrx and line, stay over for a day training as chair of the Complaints committee for my job. Then theatre and meal with my son and partner, then back on Wednesday. [As a Senior I can travel off-peak first class eg my round trip of about 300 miles is £20 [$30], including refreshments! I am staying in a very nice apartment in Trafalgar Square, courtesy of my job and my FIL who made John and me life-members of the Royal Commonwealth Society, and paying £60 for the extra night.] I wanted David and Stefania to have a nice time before I look like ^)*_(*"!*+-#
Love to all known names and faces,
Janet in UK
Not much time, but today I spent a time in my OP clinic having my legs and other side-effects sorted one way or another - injections and various other bits and pieces (already reaping dividends I can feel).
But Guy gave a paper he had looked up when eventually all the path lab results came in. It does seem to us to illustrate how the mistakes could have been made all along.
The paper is entitled, very grandly: Anaplastic large-cell lymphomas of B-cell phenotype are anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) negative and belong to the spectrum of diffuse large cell lymphomas.
(Reading away I gather that they have sometimes been confused with some of the T-Cell NHLs.) The paper is six tiny print pages and illustrations but includes the following:
> In all cases the neoplastic cells showed the morphologican characteristic > of anaplastic large cell lymphoma, namely large polymorphin cells with > abundant cytoplasm containing irregularly-shaped nuclei with coarse > chromatin adn one or more eosinophilic nucleoli. Bi- and multi-nucleated > tumour cells were detected in all cases: in some they were numerous, with > a Reed-Sternberg-like or horseshoe nuclear appearance.
Reed-Sternberg are a main identification feature of Hodgkin`s Disease.
Obviously last year they got it wrong. Now they have got it right. It has quite a good prognosis according to this paper.
Kind regards to the scientifically inclined!
Janet in UK (who now needs a rest).
Dear Greg So we meet again! Janet has asked me to keep you posted on behalf of the NHL list. As you know she went into hospital today expecting to begin chemo prior to stem cell treatment/collection. We have just had a long conversation - she is happily ensconced in what she describes as her 'penthouse' which certainly has all mod cons as it is part of a new unit at her local hospital. In fact they have postponed treatment today as she has a slight temperature and they are trying to establish what is causing it. However she feels Ok and is looking forward to watching a high profile football match on TV tonight. She has eaten a hearty meal and is well supplied with CDs, books etc so is enjoying the excuse to lie back and read, listen and view! I shall speak to her tomorrow and let you know what is happening. Hope you are OK - it seems quite a while since our correspondence relating to the walk.
Will be in touch
Thanks for writing. Have been in touch with Janet every day and all is well. They have started the chemo and so far the anti-nausea drug seems to have worked well so she is still enjoying eating and is spending the time relaxing, reading and planning for alterations to the new house she is about to buy. As to people sending cards etc she expects to be home in the middle of next week and doesn't want people to feel they should write since she will be back in contact with everyone soon. However she is more than happy for you to have her address which is: The Vicarage 192 Hanover Road Rowley Regis Warley B65 9EQ I will let you have any further news as and when.
Have just had my daily chat with Janet who was having chemo as we spoke. She is still thankfully not experiencing nausea and all is well apart from the food - British hospital food is never the most delectable but the caterers are on strike so the quality has gone down a further couple of notches. However the cavalry - ie John her husband - is bringing in supplies from the outside so things are looking up in that area. Not sure how many more days she will be there - 2/3 possibly but will let you know. Hope all is OK your end.
Well food does seem to be the bugbear at times of chemo! Not only is British hospital food pretty grim but Janet's hospital is in the throes of a strike at present so what is tolerable becomes yuk in the extreme. Added to the awful taste in the mouth which I believe most chemo patients have to endure and you will appreciate that Janet can't wait to get out to roam her own larder in spite of her luxurious surroundings. Possibly this could be tomorrow although since she is still experiencing sudden temp rises and sweats they may decide to keep her longer. Fortunately she is not feeling nauseous - the term she prefers is 'feeble' - although humour and intellectual interest are still alive and kicking! As ever she craves independence and I know will be much stronger for being at home with sources of interest 'on tap'. So let's hope for an early release and then I've no doubt she'll be back on line to tell you about it herself. I have forwarded your messages by the way. I am sure she will appreciate your barbecue anecdote! Thanks on her behalf for your continued concern.
Best wishes Kath
Janet sounds much stronger tonight. This is probably because they have located an infection in the Hickman line and are giving antibiotics - also she has been receiving blood for anaemia. Fingers crossed that when the last blood has been given tomorrow she may be allowed home. Food is always a preoccupation in our family so I know she will be delighted to have actually enjoyed some soup today without the revulsion she previously was feeling. Perhaps she is better off where she is at present - Britain is certainly going through the mill at the moment - foot and mouth disease is taking a hold over the whole country and there has been a terrible train accident today. These events coupled with appalling weather conditions in some parts make bed an attractive proposition! I haven't asked how you are at any time these last few days - do hope you continue well. I have just started a new job today so am completely saturated with new facts etc - the old brain is really on overdrive. Will be in touch unless Janet is in a position to do so herself.
All the best Kath
Janet persuaded the medics to let her home on Friday although some were reluctant. However she couldn't wait to get some home cooking and was obviously glad to be home. However she has had to go into hospital every morning for antibiotics, platelets and injections to help her immune system. This morning they wanted her to stay in because her reading is down to 0.1 - she persuaded them to let her home for the rest of the day and she has to return this evening at 8pm. She said you would understand the term 'neutropenic' which is her situation at present. She is not feeling ill in any way - only very weak and lacking in energy so it looks as though she will have to stay there until they can sort things out. So I will let you know how things progress. No doubt she is at present tucking in to her planned roast dinner before heading back.
Regards from Janet and from me Kath
Although Janet is having rather a rough passage at present there are some positive signs - her white count has now gone up from 0.1 to 3.0 which is pleasing, but she still has a temperature which is to date unexplained. Since all food still tastes revolting she is feeling weak and tired - she hasn't found anything so far which tastes decent so it's a bit miserable for her. We chat on the phone every day but only John is visiting as she doesn't have the energy to talk for long periods. Hopefully the new readings mark the turn of the tide and that the next few days will bring further improvement. Hope you are OK - the sun has just come out after a morning of rain so I shall get out with the dog while it lasts.
News of Janet I'm afraid is not good at present. She has had a debilitating cough for some days which has been ruled out as bacterially caused. They continue to investigate viral causes but she is needing oxygen at present until they can hopefully sort out what action to take. There had been promising signs of the white count increasing but this is a major setback and we must hope that they can find a way of alleviating the problem. Janet had asked that we didn't visit because of potential infection but she is currently very weak and I think in need of family TLC so I shall be going to see her tomorrow in the hope that I can at least give her some comfort. It is so difficult to talk on the phone because the cough sets in as soon as she tries to speak. I will let you know how things progress. There is so much uncertainty with this illness as I am sure you appreciate. I'm sure she is supported by the knowledge that you are all so concerned and for that I add my thanks.
Many thanks for writing and to members of the list sending their messages of support. It is much appreciated. I went to see Janet today not knowing what to expect - in fact she is much more comfortable behind the oxygen mask since she is no longer plagued by the debilitating cough which made conversation very difficult. She is obviously less comfortable when the mask is off - necessary for taking drinks etc and quickly needs to return to it. However after a very bad night and morning this afternoon she showed improvement and before I left the oxygen levels were reduced. The current thinking is that Janet has contracted a chest/lung virus often associated with AIDS patients but as yet this is not certain. They had considered a move to Intensive care but so far she is holding her own. All the Janet assertion/humour/opinion was coming through loud and clear which for me was an encouraging sign. However we do know she is not out of the wood and only time will tell. The care is evidently especially good as I witnessed myself today - so we cannot ask for more.
I will of course keep you updated of her progress.
Thank you again Kath
Dear Marilyn and Greg
There is no easy way to say that Janet is losing her fight for life. The treatment for pneumocystis was not taking effect yet when I saw her on Tuesday she was Janet as we know her although breathing through a mask. However she was gradually becoming weaker although I was told she was stable on Thursday. In the night of Thursday/Friday however she had a massive stroke which has taken away her speech and the use of her right side. It was very severe. All the family, the two Johns, David and Stefania, Mary and Simon and myself were with her all day yesterday with frequent discussions with the specialist and staff. It appears that she would be unable to breathe without the oxygen which is currently supporting her life. With gradual sedation she became very peaceful and any restlessness and confusion seemed to abate. I hope she was aware of our presence, conversation, tears and laughter but who can know. John and I came home at 2am today and at some point a decision will be taken when the children have been able to spend time with her. The specialist has not given us room for hope. The world is losing a very special person.
Dear Greg and Marilyn
I have just spoken to John and after discussions this morning the decision has been made to stop the antibiotics for the lung infection since it seemed not to be working anyway. They will continue to supply oxygen but the prognosis is that Janet will gradually slip away - we may be talking hours or possibly a week - no one really knows. John has asked me to convey to you his total appreciation of the care Janet is receiving and the compassion of all members of staff. John, my husband and I will visit later - Janet's children are there now and we are trying to give them the time they need on their own. My two girls are in bits, both of them away from here - one of them is phobic about hospitals and I can't persuade her that she might feel better by visiting - one has major final year projects and is torn in half - my son is in Cambodia returns tomorrow. Such is life at these times. I also want to pass on from Janet's John his appreciation of all the encouragement and support received from the list - he knows only too well how it has sustained Janet at all stages of this illness. We are all sustained by the knowledge - I can vouch for this - that Janet has no fear of death and has personal experiences of the all-embracing love which is waiting for her. Doesn't sound like Janet's intellectual approach but it is true. I recognise that my distress and that of my family is purely selfish in that we cannot imagine life without her strength and direction to support us. Would that we had her conviction and trust. We are impoverished without her direction.
Dear Greg and Marilyn
It is 1.30am and we have just returned from being with Janet. Imagine her, peaceful and serene with the 8 of us around her reminiscing about happier times. Janet has written an account of her childhood and we read from this for the benefit of our children and their partners. I have tried to share with them family stories, both funny and poignant from the 56 years Janet and I have known each other and we have all contributed our individual perceptions of her - I hope that deep down may be she has been able to share in this. Surprisingly it has been a treasured time for all of us and I know it will help in coming to terms with what I feel to be the inevitable outcome. David her son tells me that this morning she opened her eyes and looked about her - I think that only this evening after a conversation with a very experienced nurse has he come to terms that withholding a miracle there will sadly be no other significant communication. I know that in her positive desire to give the stem cell treatment her best shot, Janet actively discouraged visits from any of us to protect her lack of immunity. She had decided that were things to take a turn for the worse there would be time in Intensive Care to talk to David and Mary - the stroke was unforeseen and has sadly denied them the chance to communicate with her. Mary has adjusted well to this but for David it has been more difficult - however by the end of this evening I think he is more at peace with the situation. Janet is never alone - there is always a member of the family with her - and we are promised that any distress will be alleviated medically. I am confident that if it is to be, Janet's death will be beautiful and dignified.
I arrived home tonight to read many moving e-mails from members of the list, which of course I will pass on. Janet's strength I think has made many of you, like us, feel that she was invincible, and consequently the shock is greater. I do know however that the last 5 years since diagnosis have in some ways been the best in Janet's very rich life and the last thing she would want is for her friends on the list to lose heart. I know she would want you to enjoy each day to the full and look expectantly to the future as she has always done.
With love Kath
Dear Greg, Marilyn and Everyone
I have not been over to Dudley (Birmingham) today but have been in contact with David and Mary. Since Janet's condition remains unchanged it has been decided today to leave well alone for the time being. I promise you she is peaceful and calm and I hope that in some way she is aware of the compassionate care of the staff in the unit and of course the love and commitment of her family and friends. Today she has been visited by other special friends both from Christian Aid and from John and Janet's parish. All the personal and moving messages I have received from members of the list have been forwarded to Janet's home and David and Mary know they have been sent and will by now have had time to read them and share them with John when he returns from the hospital. I am sure he will pass them on to Janet. On their behalf thank you so much - I know some of you felt you were writing to strangers but so many of your names are really familiar. Janet has certainly talked frequently to me about you, shown me photographs, told me both sad and funny stories in your shared experience - in terms of her illness you have been her extended family and your messages are witness to that. Those of you who are concerned that we may not realise that Janet can possibly still hear be assured that this is a chatty family and there has been endless conversation at her bedside - we are not given to silent vigils! Those who know Janet very well will realise that the saddest element of all this is that Janet is now silent. However all of us take comfort from the fact that she appears to have no pain or distress and we can ask for nothing more at this point. I will of course let you all have any news.
Dear Greg, Marilyn and everyone
I am so very sad to have to tell you all that Janet died at 5.20am today. John was with her and she died very peacefully - as John said she just simply slipped away. This weekend was very special for us here. It gave us all time to be together with Janet - I am so glad she didn't die without warning last week which could so easily have happened. Your lovely messages continue to arrive and totally reflect how we are feeling too I am only sorry you have had to face this 'in front of a screen' as someone so aptly put it - I think that must have been much harder than being here. The worst part for us begins now knowing that somehow we have to keep our family together without her. I am struggling for words here so I shall keep this short. However I do want to say that the best way you can show your love for Janet is to continue supporting one another and living life to the full - she would hate to think that any one gives up because of her death. We have had a freezing cold few days with sleet and keen winds. Today as I sit here the morning sun is shining and I can hear lots of birdsong - the winds have dropped and the sky is clear - it is almost as though the world can relax knowing that Janet is now safe.
I send love from myself and all Janet's family
Needless to say our NHL list today has been a beehive of posts from people expressing their grief at the loss of one of our most cherished members.
There are so many people from around the world that wish they could come to the UK to give John, and the family a hug, and attend Janet's funeral. Needless to say that cannot happen so one of Janet's friends from Australia (Gerry O'Connor) came up with the idea of lighting a candle and taking a moment to reflect upon Janet's life, at a predetermined time.
You, and John and the family might like to know that on Tuesday March 20th at 20:00 GMT there are going to be several hundred people all lighting candles in Janet's memory. Each list member has been instructed about their own time zone to ensure everyone is coordinated for the correct time. Those who for any reason are not able to light their own candle will try to be on-line and visiting our Cyber family Website at: http://www.wizard.com/NHL where a virtual candle is burning even now at the bottom of the page. Others will be viewing the candle on Janet's own web page. People from the U.S. Canada, the UK, Germany Israel, Australia, France and many other places will be participating.
Collectively we are each going to "light one candle" for Janet.
Dear Greg and everyone
John and I have just had a cry together on the phone at the thought of the lovely tribute members of the list will make this evening with the lighting of candles round the world, from Gerry in Australia with his love of animals to Pooh and Nan and Marilyn at your side of the world and so many of you whose names are so familiar to us all here. We shall of course light ours along with you all. The candle flame is such an appropriate symbol for Janet and one which she frequently used in her own writing. So thank you all for planning this moving tribute to her and for sending such loving messages to us. I promise you they are much appreciated.
Dear Greg, Marilyn and Everyone
As you may be aware Janet was treated throughout her illness in the Georgina Unit in her local hospital. Her specialist was outstanding throughout and the care and commitment of all the staff second to none. Most of the care she received was as an outpatient but her last three weeks were of course as an in-patient. Since Janet requested there should be no flowers, we are making donations in her memory to:
Dudley Leukaemia Unit Fund c/o Mrs Ros Bratt-Wyton Georgina Unit Russell's Hall Hospital Dudley DY1 2HQ
When Janet walked the first half of the Pilgrim Way she invited sponsorship for this fund so we know it was a cause dear to her. Had Janet been able to continue her stem cell treatment she would eventually have had to go to a much larger hospital in Birmingham. I believe that this fund should eventually make it possible for such treatments also to be carried out at Dudley - I do know also that they are also planning to increase the number of beds from 11 to 15. The warmth and intimacy of the Unit both for patients and family is hugely comforting. We think Janet would want us to support their aims.
Dear Greg and all Janet's loyal friends with special mention of Gerry
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this incredibly moving tribute to Janet. I am almost drowning like Alice in a pool of tears and so many of Janet's UK family and friends have joined you all tonight in this symbolic lighting of candles. Thank you so much Gerry for starting this and making it happen. My candle is still burning brightly as I write this - what else can I say but thank you all. I hope Janet's burning flame for justice, equality , human rights and love will stay bright in all of us. That is her message.
Dear Greg, Marilyn and everyone.
Mary Hanson has written to me suggesting that members of the list might like to have details of Janet's funeral arrangements so that they can be with her in thought at that time. I will copy to you what I have told her.
It has been decided, mainly at the request of the children, that Janet's cremation next Thursday, 29th March at 3.15pm will be a very private ceremony for intimate friends and family only. I know the children want to have an opportunity to speak openly in front of a small, familiar group of people and the service will be conducted both by John and Jan Pickard, a very dear Methodist friend who was their neighbour at the time the children were born in Nigeria. On Friday 30th March at 11.30 am there will be a service at St Giles, Rowley Regis, Birmingham, their own church, for parishioners and the many people representing different aspects of Janet's life who wish to attend. I believe that Leo Wood from the list intends to come. He will be warmly welcome as will anyone who is able to join him.
You will appreciate it is a mammoth task to ensure that no one is forgotten and Mary and John have been sending out a huge number of letters. They are anxious that you should all know how deeply moved they were by the candle lighting last night and by the kindness and love shown in your letters.
Thank you all once more
I am writing this for the UK and the US lists so those on both lists, don't bother to read it twice. I'm sure I will leave out many details but I hope the following description gives you something of the essence and that you will forgive it being so long.
Yesterday was the perfect Spring day, warm and sunny with blue skies..very fitting to the mood. Although the family had said no flowers, I picked some small flowers and herbs from the garden to make a little posy for Janet..flowers always ease my spirit anyway. John and I set off in good time as Birmingham can cause delays..and we were there about 45minutes before the service began. Leo parked just behind us about ten minutes later and we 'recognised' each other straight away...good to match faces and names.
As we went into the church there was a table on the left, with a candle and a plate for donations for the Leukaemia Unit where Janet was treated and a printed sheet which explained the lists and our candle lit homage and the lovely poem which was quoted from the chat room. I left my posy there and the envelope containing my family's sponsorship for Janet's pilgrim walk. We were all given a hymn book, a service sheet and a candle, complete with paper cuff to prevent wax splashes. The service sheet was lovely, underneath Janet's name and dates a photograph was printed, taken during the walk, with a rucksack on her back, staff in hand and a very Janet like smile on her face, and underneath that was written a verse from one of her favourite hymns: 'We are pilgrims on a journey, fellow trav'llers on the road. We are here to help each other, walk the mile and bear the load'. How well she followed that maxim throughout her life.
The church was early 20th century, spacious and well lit, the fourth or fifth one on that site since 1199. In the front of the altar there was a sheet of purple cloth with a cross,and a stand holding thirty of more candles in front, and to the right was a large vase of white madonna lilies. There was an air of serenity and peace with sunshine flooding through the windows. The church quickly filled and my husband estimated that there must have been about 300 people in the congregation. The women minister was young and very pleasant, she welcomed us to what she called a very special service, to celebrate the life of a very special person. She smiled when she brought out a large sheet of paper which held Janet's instructions for ' farewell party'. The opening hymn was 'Thee I will love my God' sung by a soloist with a beautiful voice, listening to which seemed to fill with church with quiet peace. More hymns and gospel readings followed, linked by the theme of a journey. The description of Janet's life and character was given by Michael Taylor, the only man with an official role..and he said to include a man was a late decision taken by Janet. John, Janet's husband and her daughter and son and family were sitting on the front right pew and took no active part in the ceremonies. Michael Taylor was the Director of Christian Aid and had known Janet for many years...he obviously felt particularly close to her because his son had had a stem cell transplant to treat leukaemia a couple of years ago and had survived. He spoke very clearly and well, and said although Janet has left instructions to make it as short as possible, and with honesty and humour...he could not make it short nor funny. I think everyone enjoyed hearing all the background to her life and to the instances which brought her character to the fore. I could see that many people were emotionally affected by what he was saying, but humour did come through, he mentioned the final irony, that of Janet, 'who could talk the hind leg off a donkey', being silent at the end.
This was followed by the lighting of the candles...two men walked along the nave with a long lit candle and lit the candle of the person at the end, who in turn lit the one next to him and so on along each pew. So candle flames were bright again and many of them. We all sang the prize winning hymn that Janet wrote for the millennium and I'll write it down here for you: Light the Candles.
'Light the candles, bring your presents, let us celebrate good days, With rejoicing and thanksgiving, for great actions give God praise. Now's the time for jubilation, lift your voice in joyful song: Thanks for justice, Christ-like anger, Friendship made through righting wrong.
In the shining of the candles, dust shows up - as in the sun. Thus revealing all our failings, power misused and work not done. In our praying: 'God forgive us', let's remember those reviled: Folk exploited, women wordless, children who have never smiled.
Light a candle in the darkness, flames will penetrate the night; Pass the brightness to your neighbours, 'til the world is full of light. Act with justice, use your anger, be on God's side - choose the least; God, in weakness, will receive us, calling us to share their feast'
The young preacher then read out the prayer/saying that John had chosen. I'm sure it is familiar to you all but I'll enclose it for those who have not read it before.
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
This someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!"
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!" there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: "Here she comes!" And that is dying.
Henry Van Dyke
The commendation and final blessing which we all responded to ended the service.
Into the light of the sun and moonshine We let you go Into the dance of the stars and the planets We let you go To all who have gone before you We let you go Into the Spirit's breath and the love of the Starmaker We let you go Go safely, go smiling, go dancing home. We love you, We miss you, We want you to be at peace.
Janet had left instructions for some personal belongings and these were then handed out and the recipients lead the way out of the church.
Janet's staff was handed on to the family. Her Bible and robe handed on to someone in training for the Ministry in the Methodist Church. Her rosary was passed onto the children of St Giles Sunday School.
Every member of the congregation was welcomed to a buffet lunch in the church hall. I found Katherine, Janet's cousin and told her I was bringing love and condolences to the family from the members of the nhl lists. She was so kind and so welcoming and said how much the messages from the list members had been appreciated. She was worried that the UK list would fold without Janet, I said, no, it would not, that Leo was taking it over. We talked quite a bit about the last week of Janet's life and it was good to do so...she was so anxious that no-one would feel vulnerable because Janet had died, I think we all must have all felt that, I certainly did.. she was so strong in her fight against the beast. Leo brought the cards sent to him and I know he and David discussed the web site. I did speak to John and repeated the messages of condolence from you all and I spoke to David, but did not get the chance to speak to Mary, Janet's daughter...she looked a lovely girl. I mentioned to Katherine that I remembered Janet saying she went out for dinner with David and Stephania...and she had said, 'I want to leave a happy memory.. just in case things go wrong'. I think in future that thought will give a lot of comfort to David. I also printed out an email that I had saved in my 'Janet Nightingale' file...it was one to you Dixie when she told you about the journal she had started to write, I thought it too would give pleasure to the family to read her thoughts about it.
As I may have mentioned, one of my personal reasons for going to the service was to make myself accept Janet's death...but now the main impression within me is that she has not died...her spirit, her generosity, her inspiration is still with us all. I felt it very keenly then and now...its part of the history of the list, as is everyone's testimony...and it makes us strong. Together, the living and the dead, we are a force that will prevail. much love Kate
It is now Saturday and there is that sense of anticlimax which comes after all major happenings. The last two days have been overwhelming - inspiring, heartbreaking, loving, funny even. Some twenty of our close family and friends met on Thursday for the Cremation Service which was led by Jan Pickard a friend of Janet's from her time in Nigeria and who now lives and works at a religious community centre on the island of Iona - she was helped so bravely by David and Mary. David read a piece he had chosen from Beowulf and Mary read from thoughts that Janet had left for us. I had asked that the poem chosen by Gerry and written at the end of the list of those lighting candles should be read and it was - I wanted you all to know that you were involved in the service - you meant so much to Janet. We had music from Enya one of Janet's favourites and you will imagine that the whole experience was one I shall never forget. We don't all meet up very often and so we went to a local hotel and stayed for several hours reminiscing and enjoying a meal together before going our separate ways.
Yesterday was much different - John and Janet's huge church was almost full with members of their parish and people representing all the many areas of Janet's life recent and past. There was a simple stand of lighted candles at the front and Lizzie Janet's friend and John's friend and ex-curate led the service.
Dear Marilyn and Greg
I am writing to you both in the hope that at least one of you will be able to convey this message to the list on behalf of John and the family. When I think that it will soon be 6 months since Janet died I feel ashamed that so much time has passed since I last wrote but I think we all needed to step back for a while after such an emotional experience. John is now back running the parish and very busy as ever, David is still teaching English as a Foreign Language to students in London and Mary (Katherine) is at present in South America partly on vacation and partly working for a short period with street children in Guatemala - I think she is looking forward to coming home to see everyone and begin her post-graduate course in the Autumn. I have just returned from a week with my husband, John, in Ireland and am off for a week to France with a friend on Sunday, which is an extra holiday out of the blue. I am still working for channel 4 Schools television and for Chinasearch a local company who buy and sell discontinued china all over the world - we often get requests from people from areas in the USA, Australia etc whose names I recognise from hearing where members of the list come from - it's amazing how they come to hear of us - mainly from the Internet I expect. Our children are back and forwards with holiday plans - Jo got her degree and is busy applying for jobs - Tig has changed her teaching job and Simon is still busy with the BBC and has been sent to Brazil and Taiwan this year, lucky him!
Anyway apart from keeping you up to date with this general news there is a specific reason for this letter - John particularly wanted you all to know that as planned at the time of Janet's death the family are holding a celebration party on the 25th August at their home. It will be a barbecue because they are expecting quite a large number of people - it will be held at their home from 12 noon onwards and there will be a short celebration of Janet's life at 5 pm for those who would like to attend - this may be in the garden or it may be in their church - no final decision has yet been made. John would like you all to know that anyone who is able to come would be very very welcome - you can just turn up or if you prefer you can let him know you would like to be there by e-mail on [email protected] - the address is The Vicarage, 192, Hanover Road, Rowley Regis, Warley B65 9EQ, which is close to Birmingham. So if you happen to be in England at the time please come and join us. There is a second reason for having this celebration at the end of August. As planned, John, David and Mary (Katherine) have arranged to set out on the second half of the Pilgrim Walk to finish the journey on foot that Janet began and was sadly unable to complete. They will be leaving a day or two after the celebration and plan to complete the walk in about 5 weeks - there may be others joining them for all or some part of the way I am not sure at this stage. They will continue the sponsorship which Janet began which was to be divided between The Leukaemia Fund at Russells Hall Hospital where Janet was so well cared for and The Christian Aid fund to alleviate third World Debt which was another cause very special to her. If anyone does wish to be involved in that aspect of the walk cheques can be sent directly to John in the name either of Christian Aid or The Dudley Leukaemia Unit Fund but John has asked me to stress that this letter is primarily to invite people to be with us on the 25th August rather than an appeal for sponsorship. Similarly their continuation of the walk is principally a personal family tribute to Janet and a time for them to reflect and remember her in a special way.
To the many of you who will not be able to come we send our love - none of us have forgotten the love and kindness shown to us by you all when we needed it most.
Thinking of you and wishing you well Kath