A man with a huge moustache is setting up a camera on the other side of the road. He makes sure the feet of his tripod are secure before attaching his long-lensed instrument to the top. Now and again he pauses to pull the material of his technical tee-shirt down over his ample stomach, and to pull the material of his lycra 3/4 length tights up over his ample arse.
I sit on the wall that fronts Ayacata's picturesque chapel and watch him. Once he's ready to take a photo, he steps back from his apparatus, stands with his arms akimbo, and waits.
My attention, eventually, is drawn away from him to the stunning views of the valley beyond the road and then back to more immediate surroundings. There's not a lot at Ayacata. Used mainly as a drop-off point to climb Gran Canaria's second-highest peak, Roque Nublo, there's a large lay-by for cars and buses to pull in off the narrow road. There's a restaurant, a bar, a small number of dwellings. There's a picturesque chapel fronted by a low wall.
I stare for a while at the road signs that nestle in the corner of the adjacent T-junction. Two point the way left to Tejeda and Roque Bentayga on the GC-60. One points the way right to San Mateo on the GC-600, whilst two more have had their directions covered over by black paint. They point to nowhere. I like that.
Tammy's sat beside me holding a tourist map and a bus timetable. We're bookended by the superheroes. Lightning's laying on the wall with his knees in the air. Whirlwind's looking a bit hot and bothered.
Tam's been running through some options since we'd been informed that the 2 o'clock bus to Maspalomas had been cancelled. All of them amount to not much.
'We're best off waiting,' I tell her.
'But the next bus isn't until 5 o'clock,' she replies with a heavy sigh.
I give her a little smile. She gives me her best pissed off look.
I glance back over the road to the man with the moustache. For the last few moments he's been pacing up and down. He stops again now, hands on hips, and looks straight at us.
'Do you think he wants us to move?' I ask Tam.
A few minutes later, we've set up camp in a shady spot in the far corner of the chapel's tiled courtyard. The superheroes are playing tag and Tammy's laid out, sunbathing with her head resting on a rucksack.
I sit with my back against a wall and flick through the morning's pictures on my camera. At 5915 feet, the summit of Roque Nublo had been the highest point I'd ever stood upon. We'd enjoyed a steady hike up, took a path that circled the peak, took a wrong fork at a path junction and enjoyed a mad dash back to Ayacata, aware that time was tight if we were going to catch the 2 o'clock bus back to the coast. It was in the bar, as we ordered cokes, that we were informed that today there wouldn't actually be a 2 o'clock bus.
If I'd been alone, this would have been no problem. I could have foraged out a few mountain trails and spent the afternoon running. I could have hiked over to Tejeda or down to San Bartolome and caught the bus from there. But I wasn't alone, and after a good 4 hour walk, Whirlwind, who's still only 8, was about done for. I figured waiting was the best option to take.
I sit with my back against the wall, turn my camera off and put it back in its case. Then I think about waiting. It's something that I can't recall having done before, but I've plenty of time to now.
Waiting. The word is loaded with so many negative conotations. But is this fair? As I sit in the shade, I'm reminded of a passage I've read recently in Rebecca Solnit's excellent history of walking, 'Wanderlust'. She speaks of '"the time inbetween" - the time of walking to a place, of meandering and running errands,' and berates the fact that, 'this time has been deplored as a waste, reduced, and its remainder filled with earphones playing music and mobile phones relaying conversations.' She concludes that, 'the very ability to appreciate this uncluttered time, the uses of the useless, often seems to be evaporating.'
In a world where people are increasingly judged by their ability to produce or their ability to consume, waiting is always classed as a 'waste of time.' In spite of industrialisation, automation and unbelievable advances in technology, the increased 'free time' that these promised have resulted in exactly the opposite. The time we have to ourselves, the time to think, contemplate and meander, for no other reason than it's enjoyable (and necessary), is being eroded towards extinction. Waiting is time such as this. Rather than view waiting as time taken away from you when you could/should be doing something else (something more productive?), why not view it as time that's been given to you. An unexpected gift. It's a subtle, but important, shift and it might make your life a whole lot better.
I've been given a gift of 3 hours to spend in a place where I've never been before. A wonderful place that nestles in the heart of the central high country of Gran Canaria. I could be doing something else, but I think I'll just enjoy waiting.
I stroll across the chapel's tiled courtyard and spend some time reading the plaques attached to its walls. I try the handle on the imposing wooden door, eager to have a glimpse of what's inside, but it's locked. I walk across the road to the spot that the man with the moustache has long since deserted, and then take a photograph. I sit on a low fence for a good time and let the beauty of what I see before me permeate every piece of me till I'm full up.
Who knows how much time later it is when I cross the road and head back to the chapel. I watch Tammy sleep for a while and then the superheroes set us the brilliantly pointless challenge of counting all of the tiles that make up the chapel's courtyard. We're up to 736 when Tam wakes up and suggests we get some lunch.
Sometimes all that is required to enjoy waiting is a little imagination. Some people are good at waiting. Some are awful. For most of us, it takes a bit of practice to get it right. The best waiters have the ability to exist in the 'now' - to cast aside the past and the future and simply 'to be.' Once you've mastered that, 'waiting' is not waiting at all, since 'waiting' requires a future act as justification, and you simply don't have that if you're living totally in the moment.
Chris Rea must be a good waiter. The story is that he wrote his dull, but oddly endearing, Christmas favourite, 'Driving Home For Christmas', whilst stuck in a holiday-season traffic jam on the M25.
JK Rowling was once taking the train from London to Manchester. A long journey - a long wait until she reached her destination - was made longer by inevitable engine problems and points failures. She used the extra time gifted to her to daydream and develop an idea she'd been kicking around for a while. By the time the train reached Picadilly station, she'd drafted out the basic storylines for the whole Harry Potter series.
In the years before we had a spare key for the front door, I'd often arrive back at our house to find that Tammy had gone out and forgot to leave our only key in its 'secret place.' It didn't take me long to get to enjoy these periods of enforced waiting. Sometimes I'd just tag on a few more miles. Most of the time, I'd just flop on the front step and savour the feelings that a long run leaves you with. I might close my eyes and doze. I might watch the elaborate sunset dance of birds on the nearby telephone wire. Or I might just sit. Nowadays, I never forget to take my key when I run. Even so, every run still ends with a sit on the step - a wait - before I go inside.
In the last 3 years I've also discovered a scene where waiting has developed into almost an artform. The Bob Graham Round, a 66-mile continuous circuit of the Lakeland fells, crosses a road on just 4 occasions. At each one of these road crossings, on each weekend from early May to late September, you'll find a whole community of people just waiting. Indeed, some of the best hours I've spent over recent summers have been whilst waiting for a contender and his team to appear of the hills and reach one of these crossing points. The friends you meet in these places will be friends for life. I highly recommend this form of waiting. Until you've tried it, you'll find it hard to believe you can have so much fun doing nothing.
We enjoy a delicious meal in a restaurant we'd never have visited had we not been given 3 extra hours in Ayacata. Afterwards, the superheroes drop small change into a fountain, whilst Tam and myself share a half-jug of sangria and watch the ebb and flow of the tide of cyclists, hikers and car-tourists that make up the restaurant's clientele.
Times getting on. I've still a challenge to complete, but the superheroes are busy with other adventures now, so I amble back to the chapel's courtyard and resume my count - a meditation in small steps and large numbers. I'm about a third of the way across the tiles space, and up to number 1802, when Lightning shouts that the bus is on it's way. I'm not one for leaving a job half done, but, as I walk to the roadside, I've a feeling that I might be back in Ayacata some day soon.
We spend our whole lives waiting for a bus. Its timetable is unpredictable. It might arrive before you'd expected it, or it may turn up a little later than you'd have hoped. But when it arrives at its last earthly stop - when the hydraulic doors slide back and you step aboard - it would be nice to think that that you'd be ready. It would be nice to think that you'd done your best. That you'd loved, daydreamed, meandered, got lost. That you'd tackled pointless challenges, walked winding paths, played in snow, read stories by candlelight. That you'd watched a lifetime of sunrises and sunsets, and felt both music and silence. That you'd spent your precious time not fretting over what you've done, not worrying about what you've got to do, but savouring every moment of what you're doing. That you'd waited wisely.
At the top step, you might fumble for change. It's then that a familiar voice might tell you that it's ok - that this last ride is free. You might be suprised, as you look up, that the person sat behind the wheel is you. You might be suprised, but you shouldn't be - there's ultimately only one person responsible for driving your life. It would be nice to think that now you would feel pride and not regret. There'll be no need for any grand gestures. Just a smile and a 'thank-you' will do.
Hopefully, the bus will be full. Full of the people that made up your life. Full of the folk that mattered to you, the folk that you mattered to - the people who wanted more than anything to accompany you on this last trip and say 'see you later.' You'll move along the aisle. You'll hug loved ones. You'll catch up with old friends. And, whilst the driver waits patiently, you'll eventually take the last remaining seat - the one that's reserved for you.
But it might not be.
There's two sides to every story. There's a flip side to every coin. And while waiting can be an unexpected gift of uncluttered hours, it can also be a curse that petrifies - a force so toxic that it takes the promise of a growing tree and turns it into dead wood. Whilst the hours of waiting foisted onto you can undoubtedly always be turned to gain, the periods of waiting you hoist upon yourself will always take and not give.
It may be that once you meet the final bus' driver, you'll find no words are necessary. That just a look into your own eyes - a mirror of chances never taken - will tell you that you could have done better.
It may be that the bus has far too many empty seats. Empty seats that should be occupied by friends you've never met, the faces from adventures you've never had. Empty seats that could have been occupied, but aren't. Blank, empty spaces left in a life half-lived because you used waiting as just an excuse.
As you walk down the aisle, past the empty seats, you might picture the life you could have had, but didn't. Around you, the excuses will echo:
'I'll wait until I'm older.'
'I'll wait until the kids have grown up.'
'I'll wait until I'm fitter.'
'I'll wait until I've saved more money.'
'I'll wait until the time is right.'
'I'll wait until tomorrow.'
On and on they'll echo. Drowning out the loving words of the people who are there. One after another. On and on. The last thing you hear as the bus pulls away.
It doesn't have to be that way. In a day or two, a new year starts. It's a time of promises and fresh starts. It's as good a time as any to make a change.
How many seats on that last bus are still unoccupied?
Use waiting to add and not subtract.
There's things you want to do, aren't there? I can tell.
There's changes you want to make - maybe tiny, maybe huge - that you put off because making a change is always harder than staying the same.
Whatever it is, here's a chance.
What are you waiting for?