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Lourdes Of Money!

My adventures in the pilgrimage trade

‘Moan, bitch, gripe, tweet-f****ing-tweet’.

Said I to my wife this morning before I leaped from our cosy bed into another dark October morning.

Faking it until I could make it.

The wind was moaning and swaying the garden greenery all night, and rain beads were now spattering the bottom of the window visible beneath the gently rattling blind.

Summer definitely over as I pulled up my freezing trousers and fumbled for last night’s T-shirt.

Dogs to be called and children to be fed … or was that the other way around?

Amazing what brain throws up, isn’t it?

Far too many years ago this was the catch-phrase my fellow travel agency guides and I adapted one season in Lourdes.

‘Moan, bitch, gripe, tweet-f***ing-tweet’, we’d chorus before switching on our tour guide smiles and facing our public.

I was the only man in our team of five, and one of the older-hands had seen this little cartoon in a magazine.

A baby chick sitting in a nest. Looking miserable.

Four pictures, the words going with each:

‘Moan’

‘Bitch’

‘Gripe’

‘Tweet-f***-tweet’.

Perfect for us guides working the Lourdes beat.

Yes, that Lourdes, the small town in southwestern France famous for the apparitions of the Virgin Mary that local peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous claimed to have seen in a cave, or grotto, there in the mid-19th century.

And as these things do, word got out and soon Lourdes Tourism was born.

Packed pilgrimage planes in and out from April to October, mostly, flashing hotel signs, shop after shop crammed with laminated mass and sympathy cards, Virgin Mary water bottles, illuminated grottos, and discount Apparition Pill Boxes.

Day trips, walking tours with lunch, decent restaurants, disco or nightclub to unwind …

Opportunity knocks. Or maybe Opportunity Knock to follow?

The grotto itself, though, and the baths and the volunteers, the afflicted looking for solace or a miracle, was an amazing and humbling experience. No matter how many times you went there. And entry there was free.

Lourdes grotto (1)
In the grotto ….

The whole experience offered a fascinating insight into Catholic Ireland at the grassroots level.

Decent people, largely, getting by and so many of them visited with some awful disease or tragedy.

Lovely to deal with and look after. Even the awkward ones who expected you to get their dentures repaired that morning, or know which souvenir shop they left their umbrella in.

Many wonderful priests and religious people too, doing their best and doing so much good for their parishioners. Especially the sick ones.

And then you had some plump parish priests, pampered by adoring flocks who treated them like Jesus reincarnated (again). Men who wielded their power and influence shrewdly and whimsically.

Social influencers in a soutane.

Liked the best of food and wine, and could be bought over with gifts and flattery by other tour operators, and bring their lucrative custom flocking with them.

But there I was, anyway, getting my cut of the religious souvenir and pilgrimage action.

Not the worst job I’ve ever done. A small basic salary paid into my account back in Dublin and living on the commission from our various ancillary activities.

A sliver of the financial pie from the hotels or lunchtime stop-off points on day tours, 10 per cent of the price of each group photograph taken near the three basilicas built around the famous grotto where Our Lady supposedly appeared.

One or two other things and usually generous tips from each departing group.

There would generally be two groups a week, 200 people or more.

A lot of photographs and a lot of steak frites …

We reps would be friendly enough with the bartenders, coffee shop people and hotel desk operators, but conversation often revolved around how well the season was going.

Our clients were obviously not your usual Benidorm sun holiday merchants. No crazy-eyed Bear Grylls types or manic mountain trekkers, packing in two warm-up hikes before breakfast.

God love them, but ours were usually older folk, often not well, of course, though the really sick ones stayed elsewhere, much nearer St Bernadette’s Grotto.

We are all familiar with that helplessness that can come over us on any kind of organised trip or tour.

Competent, capable people, we see our assigned guide and suddenly we lose all independent thought and reason.

And the poor guide is to blame for everything from the crap weather to the traffic tailback on the M50.

It was like that for us in Lourdes, only more so.

Loads of fantastic, lovely people.

And lots of moaners and groaners.

“Why was that mass so short this morning, and was there no one there to do it in English anyway … and why is the toilet so far away?’

Wouldn’t say a word to the French hotel owner who treated them with hauteur and downright rudeness, of course, but plenty to say to their tour guide!!

Or put into a stinker of a letter to the travel agency itself.

I did the gig for two seasons.

It came about originally after I had moved home for good from France.

I was looking for work when I saw the ad for Bon Voyage Travel. Specialists in tour packages to Lourdes.

I spoke reasonable French, did the interview and got it.

Eventually, the money I earned went a long way towards funding my diploma in journalism course in Dublin.

And the pilgrimage of my secular soul took another turn.

    • Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed it, try another one! Follow my blog and you won’t miss out again.
Shank You Very Much

 

*My Word of the Week (#WotW) for @RaisieBay is “Lourdes”

Shank You Very Much

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41 comments on “Lourdes Of Money!

  1. Is there no end to your talents? It must have been a really interesting time and having worked in customer service roles for many years, those moany folk often provide some fabulously funny stories for a night out.

    #DreamTeam

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a fascinating place to have worked, must have been a great experience, definitely hard to keep s,I long for tourists all the time though! #dreamteam

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a fascinating experience, Josie … especially as a non-religious person! I don’t know if I smiled all the time, but I did try to be friendly and useful: not so hard when you’re paid for it!!!

      Like

  3. Happy days, eh? I now have this picture in my mind of you standing, holding the official tour guide emblem – the rolled umbrella – waiting for your flock of the aged and incontinent to catch up with you. Interesting too that there seem to be two titles for this piece, one that may have been borrowed from Harry Enfield and the other revealing that you used to sing ‘Come On, Eileen’ to yourself while you waited for them 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • I borrow from everywhere, Clive … I changed the title to the latter from the former! Me and the rolled umbrella? Yeah, to wallop errant pilgrims with, or yank their crutches away down at the grotto … may your God forgive me!! Hehe

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s a fair game, I do that too for a lot of my titles. Nothing to forgive: they probably deserved it 😂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Enda! Hope your week is going well, can’t believe it’s Wednesday already! Anyway, my dear, I am just popping by again with #BloggerClubUK x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. such an interesting place to work! Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. First time reader and I really like your writing style! I haven’t come across another travel blog like this. You have gained a new fan! Look forward to reading future pieces #KCACOUS

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Shelley … not a travel blog, really, but glad you enjoyed reading this piece. Do drop in again!

    Like

  8. What a fascinating place. I am sure you could probably write a book about your experiences here, both good and bad. #KCACOLS

    Like

  9. I really enjoyed reading this. Your writing is exceptional. Thanks for linking up to #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Well, I think it sounds like a very interesting job. I certainly couldn’t do it. Although I’d like to visit Lourdes, I have too much doubt for a cure, but you never know!
    Anyway, it sounds much more interesting than some of the jobs I’ve had, including a Bingo Caller! (which was actually a lot of fun sometimes.)
    Thanks for linking up to #WotW.

    Like

  11. I have to admit that I am quite surprised to hear you had so many moaners and groaners. When visiting a place such as Lourdes, you’d think they would be moved by the location and take in its wonder. I guess some people like to moan about everything. I’m more of a seeing the best in every situation kind of person! #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Never a dull moment, I’m sure. What an interesting experience and it couldn’t get much better just before a writing career. #wotw

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Well hello there Enda! I feel like I’m some kind of linky stalker 😉 Wishing you a fab weekend x

    #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m so glad I’m not the only one struggling to get out of bed on a morning.
    What an interesting job you had. x

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I can imagine that working as a tour guide in Lourdes must have been an interesting experience. I have a couple of medical friends who organise taking a group of disabled children there every Easter and it does sound like an interesting place to visit. It’s funny how people do tend to become a little more helpless on organised tours and of course you do get moaners and groaners anywhere. Hopefully the nice people more than made up for them! #WotW

    Liked by 1 person

    • The nice people sure did make up for the groaners, Louise. It was a really interesting experience and I’m glad I did it!

      Like

  16. You were a tour guide? I bet that made for an interesting day 😉 I don’t think you can ever win with some people. And yes, isn’t it funny how everyone expects the tour guides to know absolutely everything about everything. Sounds like an interesting place though and I can imagine the stories you have to tell about those tours! As always, it’s a pleasure to have you as part of the #DreamTeam Enda.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah it was a pretty interesting experience, Annette, Most people were fine, the moaners just always seem to be more memorable!

      Like

  17. twicemicrowavedtea

    I can imagine Lourdes would be a really interesting place to be a tour guide. Tour guide is one of the few jobs I’ve not had(!). I did, however, once help take 40 international conference delegates on short weekend tour around Scotland, and after that experience, I became fairly clear that I’d always rather be on the tour than leading it! #BloggerClubUK

    Liked by 1 person

  18. What a fun experience that must have been – but how obnoxious that people would bitch and moan to a tour guide about things not within their control. The weather! I would have told them where they could complain as I ran away from them.

    Guess it’s a good thing I wan’t a tour guide! #GlobalBlogging

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Pingback: #GlobalBlogging link up 133… | Shank You Very Much

  20. I’d love to go to Lourdes (yes I am Catholic!) – sounds like an interesting job, as many of us seem to have before ending up in journalism #DreamTeam

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Tracey Carr

    That is a pretty cool work experience story to be able to tell Enda – none of mine are remotely interesting! I bet there was rarely a dull day. It sounds tiring though, having to put on the cheery, happy face each day. I’m not sure if I would be able to maintain it! #bloggerclubuk

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha … you kind of got used to the “happy face” thing … but that was our reason for the “moan, bitch, gripe …”mantra, to get us in the mood!!!

      Like

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