From Canterbury to Jerusalem

Alice spoke with author Guy Stagg about his first book.

I first met Guy Stagg quite a few years ago at a drinks party. I had begun with ‘So what are you up to at the moment?’, and to my surprise, the answer, for once, was both unexpected and fascinating.

Guy it turned out, had recently arrived home after walking all the way from Canterbury to Jerusalem, alone.

On hearing this, I cornered the poor man for the rest of the evening, gleaning every detail I could. Just what an amazing thing to have done! There we all were sitting at our desks day in day out in London, justifying our ‘careers’ to ourselves and everyone else, endlessly attending banal drinks parties, or just drinking too much cheap white wine in the pub, and Guy, aged 25 had, instead, decided to make this stupendous trip, and not only that, he had done it alone.

Over the last couple of years I had heard he was writing a book about his walk, and when I got wind it was soon to be published, I decided it was time to get in contact again.

So we met, on one of those abnormally freezing spring mornings, in a Dalston coffee shop, and Guy kindly told me all sorts about his own journey, why he took this pilgrimage and why he decided to write about it.

In June 2012 Guy set out on an impromptu walk from his flat in South West London, with the aim of reaching Canterbury the next day.  He walked in a pair of borrowed hiking boots and his Barbour, and he reached Canterbury Cathedral on the eve of midsummers day, and says, on arrival felt ‘pure exhaustion’.  He said, as he lay in the grass in the shadow of the cathedral bathed in evening sunlight, he felt for the first time in a long time, completely ‘in the present’, the walk had allowed his ‘mind to be cleared out’. 

 Outside Canterbury Cathedral, there is a stone which marks the start of the pilgrim route the ‘Via Francigena’ and on seeing this stone, it was in that moment, that the idea came to him, and he knew that what he would do next.  He knew that he needed to do it soon, to plan quickly and just go, without too much time to think about it.

The part of this that I find amazing is the complete courage, the courage to walk away from your day job, your ‘career’ and to undertake a venture into the unknown, and also to do it completely alone.

Guy studied English at Cambridge, and says at 16 he knew he wanted to be a writer.  After graduating the logical career seemed to be journalism, but the fast-paced journalistic style on the comments desk at a newspaper turned out not to be a path that would make him happy. He says at that time ‘he was not proud of his writing’, indeed writing was actually making him unhappy.  He was for a time on anti-depressants, and was saving money for law-school, with a change of career in mind.

In the spring of 2012 he came off the anti-depressants, and it was at this point that he decided to make the impromptu walk to Canterbury that changed everything.

 Six months later, on new years day 2013, he set out for Jerusalem with the intention of ‘leaving his life behind’. Although he was following a pilgrim route, this wasn’t a religious pilgrimage, at this point Guy ‘wasn’t a believer’ and didn’t believe ‘that ritual could heal’. His only initial deadline was to reach Rome in time for Easter.  He took everything he would need and could carry, planning for the alps in the winter, and far warmer climes further East. He navigated using maps, although of course he did have a phone with him just in case.

On the way he stayed in refuges and monasteries, and started to go to mass, sharing in the worship and practices, mainly out of politeness but also out of an intrigue for these medieval rituals, and the people who performed them, and the desire to know ‘what it felt like to be a believer. ‘

He passed through France, Switzerland, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, to Istanbul where he witnessed the Taxim Square Riots, and on through Turkey, Cypress and Lebanon, and did take one flight to Jordan and then onto Israel, walking around eight hours every day.  He says he rarely felt nervous mainly because he ‘had no prior experience or danger, and hadn’t thought about the risks’. But his ‘perspective on highs and lows shifted’.

He also hadn’t anticipated just how kind people would be, nor how much they would share about their lives and experiences. He says that perhaps they were prepared to share more with him, as he was just a stranger passing through. And that often the personal information and fundamental experiences being shared had a religious strand - marriage, children – the most important times in peoples lives, which he found ‘nourishing’.

The purpose of this trip was never to write a book, but as he went, he kept a diary every day taking notes, initially mostly functional jottings, but as he went on, he started to capture events more closely as they had a ‘deeper emotional effect’.

On reaching Jerusalem 10 months later, he says he was just ‘so glad to have done the walk and ‘is glad for every step, good and bad’.  He also says he has ‘opened up to being changed’, with a ‘broader shift on his own life’,  and he could identify with his experience in a more ‘holistic way’.

On returning to England, he felt almost obliged to write about his journey ‘I have to write about it’, the unusual historical events he had witnessed, along with his shifting understanding of religion, and this unique perspective he had gained.

And so this incredible experience brought him back to writing, it has been an open-ended process, and it has taken him four years ‘for it to be as good as he can make it’. And he is proud for having worked on something consistently for four years.

We spoke a little about travel writers, and Guy says one of his biggest influences has been W.G Sebald, particularly his ‘Rings of Saturn’ in which Sebald intertwines the precise details of a walk in Suffolk with history, crossing space and time.  Other writing influences have been Bruce Chatwin and his ‘In Patagonia’ and Olivia Laing.

I wanted to ask about his religious beliefs since completing the walk, and Guy said that he now attends church twice a month, and the walk has drawn him closer towards Christian traditions, fundamentally mysticism, although he still doesn’t agree with the creed. For him, religious ritual is a valid resource even for non-believers.

He also says ‘his need for walking’, for the moment ‘has been fulfilled’, although he has been for some walks around England since arriving back from Jersualem.

 His finished book, The Crossway, excitingly is now complete, and I can’t wait to read it.

Alice xxx

Guy Stagg

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Rosanna Lonsdale Lamps💡💕

Making flamingos copyThis week I had lunch 🍛with Rosie which was delightful.  We chose the King's 👑 Road as she borrows a rather fun office space there (I suspect full of other cool entrepreneurs 👧👦 , I am rather jealous!).  I was at school with Rosie, and about a year and half ago she decided to quit her super job in advertising 💯 and start her own company making lamps 💡 @rosanna_lonsdale.Rosie is one of these incredibly positive 👩 people, and is always genuinely interested in what you have been getting up to -  she always asks the good questions, the ones other people forget to ask and you always feel very at ease in her company.  So after a quick catch up (blogging ✏️, different career paths 📷 and, of course, love life💕 😉) we got down to lamps 💡💡.Rosie started making her marvellous lamps 💡 a year and a half ago, and her business is now in full swing.  She uses a decorating technique passed down to her by her Grandmother 👵which I think is rather nice. And she hand paints 🎨 all the lamps 💡 herself 👩, it was fascinating hearing her talk about this process.She starts with a glass vase  which she hand paints 🎨 and decorates from the inside.  The technique she uses is called Decalcomania, and each vase requires 3 layers of lacquer 💧 and 3 layers of paint 🎨 in order to achieve the perfect finish ✨.  She hand ✋ paints 🎨 each vase herself and it is amazing the time ⏰ and energy 👩 that goes into this very delicate process, particularly as every layer has to dry before another can be applied.  It took her a while to find the best paint 🎨 and lacquer 💧combination (there are all sorts) -  and the final result is fantastic, the lamps 💡 have a really wonderful lustre 💎.Once the 6 layers of paint and lacquer 🎨💧have dried, brass bases 🔆 are added, and they are all wired 🔌 up with electrics, so that they can be plugged into the wall etc (this part of the process hadn't even occurred to me, I was concentrating so much on how pretty they look 😍).  Rosie really focuses on the details, each lamp is fitted with a proper brass base 🔆 and a silk cord wire 🎐 , certainly not something easy to come by at a reasonable price 💰 anymore.She also provides the lampshades 🔔, which are silk, with silk linings and are all handmade in England.  You can have empire shape - gathered (more traditional) or rolled (modern)  - these are simple and very elegant, and sit perfectly with the beautiful bases they are standing on.  She is also planning on introducing ikat 💈patterned lampshades, so if you are looking for a bit more pizzazz 💥 in your lampshade, this will soon be an option.Most exciting for me are the designs 💕🌴. Rosie has an excellent eye and the designs are fresh, and fun, but not too invasive.  She started with flamingoes, and has branched out into zebras 🐎, humming birds 🐦, banana leaves 🍌🌴 and chillis among others - 9 designs in all.  You could quite happily have any of these charming lamps 💕💡 on your bedside table  and I think they would fit happily into both a traditional interior and a more contemporary one.  She also makes plain coloured 💙💛 lamps 💡(a particular favourite of mine is the coral orange 🍊), so if you are not a pattern person these are the perfect option.The really nice thing is that she does bespoke projects, so if you are wanting a lamp to match the colour tone of a newly decorated room 🔵, she is happy to do this for you.  Or if for instance there is an animal 🐩 that is particularly special to your, this works too (we might have to be encouraging a dachshund lamp soon Rosie 🐶😉).It was so intriguing to hear her talk about her lamps 💡💡, and starting her own business.  The whole process, from painting 🎨the lamps, to sourcing the parts 🔆, deciding on the designs 🌴, to selling 👩 all takes a huge amount of dedication and I am so impressed.  It is no mean feat to get a business up and running yourself, with such success so early on.Her first sale last year was at our old school 🏤 annual christmas 🌲 fair, and I love the idea of all the girls 👧 and their mothers 🙎eyeing up Rosie's superb lamps 👌💡💕.  I hope every school girl is demanding a Rosanna Lonsdale lamp 💡 for Christmas 🎅 this year!Alice xxwww.rosannalonsdale.comIMG_0850IMG_1467IMG_2223Banana LeafIMG_2320Flamingo @rosanna_lonsdalewww.rosannalonsdale.comPhotos by: Katrina Lawson Johnston

Peter Vaughan - All Over the Shop

Today I am veering from the path slightly, and will give you a detailed update of my weekend activities tomorrow.And instead, I am going back to Peter, musician and writer, who I met up with on Wednesday and to me, in my unemployed status is a breath of fresh air - I think he only asked me once how my job search is going, and instead very kindly allowed me to ask him all sorts of questions about what he gets up to.  For the record, he is completely not 'all over the shop' but he does love to use the expression 😉..So as I am writing this I am listening to Peter Charles Franklin Vaughan’s album 'The Road that leads to Love leads back out again', which is incredibly heart warming.Peter creates his own music - always melody first, lyrics second, and describes his music as 'traditionally folk'. He has recently written a song about the Thames and I really enjoyed listening to his explanation of this process. The song evolved first by creating a melody on the guitar, playing with chords and rhythm, trying to recall the sound of an English river - a recent reading of Jerome K. Jerome's 'Three Men in a Boat' was part of this inspiration. This led to further research on the Thames, and the incorporation of place names along 'The Devil's Highway' a Roman Road that ran from the bridgehead of the Thames. To Peter it is important that his music will 'translate infinitely' - it can be understood by everyone, and he always incorporates metaphors and adds an element of humour to his lyrics.I am not a particularly musical person, although I do enjoy listening (and dancing!) to music a lot, and it was really wonderful to hear Peter speak so eloquently about his process.Peter sings and plays guitar and has started performing his own music with a band - he is thinking of calling it 'Peter Vaughan & sons'. He also currently plays bass for both Lou E and Dregas. For Peter, performing live is an adrenaline rush, a chance to show off, and to make people listen to him - because if you can't say it in a song, when can you say it. I think it is incredibly exciting that he has spent the time teaching himself to create, write, and perform his own music. He only took up guitar aged 16 after hearing a friend play 'House of the Rising Sun'.Peter also writes, and recently won a prize for a short story 'Real Love' which I have just read.  It is incredibly poignant, a love letter to friends, and has a Kerouac-esque feel to it.  To me it is a quiet, but powerful homage to a new generation of artists, musicians and writers, united by a a deep, abiding friendship and mutual respect for each others endeavours.  He himself is very well read, Hemingway, Nabokov and Orwell were mentioned as people who have inspired him, along with the Albert Camus quote ' A novel is never anything, but a philosophy put into images'. We also spoke about Orwell's six rules on writing - I learnt rather a lot!We spoke about a few other things including dressing up - Peter likes to be able to laugh at his own appearance and is often changing his hair style, narcissism - he sees himself as a narcissist; his first tattoo - a memento for being part of the shoot for the band Formation's new single 'Love'. He really enjoys hosting and cooking for people (he is a vegan) and finally that he would like Daniel Day-Lewis to play him in a film about his life.Peter is one of these people who is entirely himself, and does not make any compromises. He speaks very eloquently about things that absorb him, and he is always interested in your point of view. For me it is really exciting to speak to someone who is wholeheartedly pursuing their passion, has veered from the unconventional career path, completely taken it in their stride and I am very excited for what is to come next 😊IMG_0716IMG_0715IMG_009812341547_10153601613585845_5361957211499214468_n