Memory and coincidence

Yesterday I wrote something about the Dark Angels course I’ve just led in Aracena, Spain. I mentioned how it had got me thinking about the time, years ago, when I took the course myself, as a student not a tutor. Today, tidying up my study, I pulled a notebook from my shelf at random and opened it at random. By coincidence, I found myself reading some notes I’d made when I arrived in Aracena as a nervous writer with a sharp pencil and an empty notebook. I thought I’d write them up and share them…


Aracena, 2012.
I remember reading about this place, this course, and wondering how could I possibly do that? How could I afford that? How could I invest in myself that way? And yet here I am.

I have my own room, with a temporary bed, two sofas, a piano, and several chairs. Double doors open onto a covered verandah of terracotta tiles and what looks like a croquet lawn. The rain drips from the gutter of the verandah. A church bells tolls in the valley. The chestnuts on the trees are weighed down with rain. The smell of… what? Jasmine? A herb? Maybe thyme? I don’t know, but it is beautiful. Birds sing all around and there is a low mist. I feel like I am in the Cameron Highlands. It should be sunny and ten degrees warmer, but I like it.

I’ve been for a run, shared a breakfast with everyone on the course – except one writer, who didn’t appear – and am now free until we start ‘work’ at 2pm. How will I use the morning? I could walk down into Aracena and hang out in a cafe. I could read a book – the small hallway outside my room is full of books. I could sit here and work on an article, or on some writing of my own. I could email some ideas to Frank.

The thing that I feel like I ought to do is the thing I want to do least of all – email some ideas to Frank. I am bored of writing for Frank, of that kind of work. I need to move on.


Well, I’m happy to say that I did move on. I stopped working for Frank (not his real name). Instead of pitching him some ideas, I decided to write something for myself. This…

The rain fell harder as the taxi made its way along the dirt road. Neither of them spoke the language of the driver. But his eyes and his grip on the steering wheel told them how much he disliked the lack of tarmac on these country roads. The beaded crucifix hanging from the rear-view mirror hit his windscreen with every rut and bump.

When the SatNav told him to pull off the dirt track onto an even rougher side road he stopped. It was clear that he would take them no further. A price was agreed with much gesticulation and their bags were lifted out of the boot and onto the red mud track. ‘You walk now,’ he said.

They used their mobile phones as torches and set off in the direction the driver had pointed, dragging their wheeled cases over the gravel and puddles, listening to the wind crashing through the trees, hoping it wouldn’t bring any branches down on their heads. The brochure implied that the weather would be better than this. He had brought t-shirts and shorts and a feeling of fragile optimism.


A lot has changed since then, but I remain an optimist. Several years later, Frank came on a Dark Angels course himself. He loved it.