The pilgrim’s progress . . .

Companies should consider sending staff on pilgrimages and retreats to help reduce workplace stress, according to new research by academic experts. A great idea, says Philip, although such trips aren’t always as serene as you might hope . . .

My work-life balance guru (Robyn) is always chiding me to take more time away from the office. I don’t think it’s anything I said or the strong cheese I favour in my packed lunch; I simply think she’s keen on ensuring I don’t ‘burn out’.

Time off can be a double-edged sword, however. While tearing yourself away from your desk can seem highly beneficial, there’s always the chance of suffering a case of FOAMING (Fear Of Accidentally Missing Interesting New Goings-on) or returning to a desk groaning under the weight of Post-Its and problems.

The mobile, as we all know, doesn’t help because it just means you take work with you; “I’ll just answer that email while we’re choosing which over-priced swill to eat at the motorway services or awaiting a fully body-search in customs . . .”.

I did, however, take some time out earlier this month and it has helped me to recharge my batteries.

The destination was Lisieux in Normandy – the birthplace of St Therese – where I went with a party from the Holy Spirit Catholic Church and other congregations in West Bridgford. As well as being time away from a busy life, it was also a chance to reconnect with people and with one’s faith and generally reflect on things that matter beyond the working environment.

The benefits of such trips to staff and their employers were highlighted this month in research by academics at Strathclyde and Lancaster universities.

For our sojourn, we travelled by coach and ferry and stayed for several days at a Carmelite nunnery. A spiritually refreshing experience, the pilgrimage has – over the years – also enabled me to hone a whole new set of skills.

Top of the list of potential new responsibilities for me was Tour Rep. I was often the one marshalling passengers and arranging pick-up times for different locations. It would have helped, however, if I hadn’t left my car keys in my coat and locked my coat in the coach, necessitating taxi trips across town to retrieve keys, then car, then marbles.

I also made rather a comely Trolley Dolly, if you don’t mind me saying … and if you’ll pardon the use of such a potentially unenlightened term. Can you have ‘cabin crew’ on a bus? Do coaches have ‘road stewardesses’?

Whatever you like to call the role, I was in charge of beverage provision which entailed haring up and down the aisle serving while explaining the drinks menu – “No, I’m afraid we don’t have a double-shot skinny mocchachino with beetroot sprinkles but you’re welcome to tea or coffee” – and trying not to spill scalding water and inflicting second-degree burns on unfortunate passengers.

I also served an apprenticeship as a Garage Mechanic. An unfortunate chain of events led to the coach reversing into some railings, piercing the boot and snapping the fan belt. Have you ever tried to procure a fan belt in rural France?

Let’s just say le fan belt is not stocked in Monoprix and, in these more respectful times, it’s not the done thing to ask any ladies present if they can spare a stocking for running repairs. I didn’t have a spare in my luggage, either.

Fortunately, the mechanic we found soon had us back on the road . . . by tracking down the needed part, rather than giving up hosiery, I might add.

I was also able to lend a guiding hand as a Good Shepherd. With the best will in the world, people get lost; even the ones to whom you don’t direct such an order or the ones you hope will just take a hint.

Two of our party managed to mishear an instruction about where to meet the coach, took a wrong turning and vanished into thin air.

They turned up at the hotel later the same evening, emerging from a police car once the local gendarmerie had taken pity on the errant ‘rosbifs’ and given them a lift.

Overall, we had a lot of fun and returned in one piece – by and large – spiritually uplifted and relaxed.

It is good to be regularly reminded of what’s really important in life – friends, doing things for others, and coming together as a community.

And no one mentioned Brexit once.