Don's Diary

September 8, 1995

FRIDAY. Cycling to the airport, I remember at least five important things I did not do before finishing work. Make two phone calls from departure lounge sorting out three of them. On the plane relive meetings, tutorials, memos that needed writing, telephone calls that need making. Whatever happened to the slow slide down to the end of the academic year? Try to feel optimistic that a long cycling trip from Bordeaux to Santiago de Compostela will banish all work trivia - or even work momentousness. Over a cool evening beer ostensibly work out next day's route with partner but mentally list things to do when I get back to work.

SATURDAY. Begin 800-mile cycle ride. We are following the old pilgrim's route across the Pyrenees and northern Spain. Despite previous day's optimism, mind is chock-a-block with academic regulations to be drafted, student handbooks to amend/update/proofread/ write, memos to write, telephone calls to make, articles to start/finish/proofread etc, etc. cycling, and the thought that there are still days to go, fails to provide respite. Try to switch mind to building garden fountain and planning a new tailoring project for autumn wardrobe. Instead, think about colleagues in the further and higher education sectors who said they would not be able to take a holiday this year because of work pressures. Feel guilty and tell myself not to be ridiculous. Glumly realise that, ahead of me, partner's head is full of the minute-by-minute planning of college inspections for the next three years.

TUESDAY. Slowly but surely, work clutter is being replaced by "educational ideas and issues". In past two days I have mentally written three articles, complete with witty-yet-academic titles and potential journals, and have themes and authors for two edited books. Mental writing is great - you're always much more insightful and original in your head than on paper. Today, 50 miles cycling includes a 15-mile relentless boiling climb through the Pyrenees to Ronsavelles. At the height of the pilgrimages in the Middle Ages, 30,000 people a year converged on the monastery there and began the 500-mile trek to Santiago. Speculate about their retention and completion rates. The road climbs and twists. There is no shade. Adopt new mental strategies to keep going. Recite every word I know in Spanish, trying to fit this limited vocabulary to everything I see. Set myself very short-term targets (get to the next tree and you can have a drink of water). To my horror, begin mental listing of all the elements of competence in the National Vocational Qualification training. This truly is workaholic madness. Or maybe it's the sun. At any rate, competences deaden my kneecaps and I have to stop at the side of the road by a fountain placed there centuries ago for pilgrims. Drench my head, resume climb and resolve that NVQs must be banished - during this holiday at least. Cool evening beer watching the sun set over the Pyrenees. Neither of us allowed to mention Work.

WEDNESDAY. Began day with inspiring 20-mile swoop at dawn down the other side of the Pyrenees. Are now in Miguel Indurain's country - the Spanish cyclist currently winning the Tour de France, which we watch at the end of each day. Pass lots of walkers. Many undertake the arduous route as a lifetime's pilgrimage. It occurs to me that the pilgrim's route is a modular pilgrimage: many people do it in stages, collecting stamps - credentiales, with beautiful and idiosyncratic designs - from refuges, churches and monasteries along the way. Collect our own stamp at the refuge in a tiny Spanish village. Speculate about the stamps you could have in a modular credit scheme. Instead of 50 computer printouts each at assessment boards, students could collect the credentiales on a card. What design could you have for assessment and evaluation methods Level 1? Or academic tutoring and counselling Level 2? Spend at least five miles mentally designing stamps for all the modules I teach. A strong tail wind freewheels us into the city of Burgos.

FRIDAY. The baking red and gold plains between Burgos and Le"n stretch out in a shimmering haze ahead of us. Get really fed up with today's mental madness: planning every session for next term's teaching (complete with mentally rewritten handouts and module, of course). Have never known work intrude into holiday like this before: might as well be at my desk. Suddenly inspired to exorcise it by writing Don's Diary. Begin mental planning which occupies last 15 miles.

SUNDAY. In a crowded bar in a small Spanish town, men in black berets play an animated game of dominoes while on a huge screen in the corner, specially rented for the day, the Tour de France is speeding around Paris for the finish. Outside, the heat is absolutely awesome. Write up ideas for Diary on paper napkins. Partner is unimpressed by the mounting pile of notes on the bar. As Indurain breezes to his fifth consecutive win, the whole bar erupts in patriotic fervour. Suddenly feel convinced that the next 20 days will be a work-free zone. Barman asks me what I'm writing: Spanish stretched to limits of human understanding as I try to explain.

Kathryn Ecclestone

Senior lecturer in post-compulsory education at the University of Sunderland.

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