Friday, 22 September 2017

Visit to Bienne long overdue

I walked into Montreux gare to get the 10.45 train prescribed by my discount ticket. At Lausanne I changed for another inter-city express to take me in an easterly direction to Bienne, also known as Biel, as the roeschtigraben seems to run through this town, so French and German conversations can be overheard on the streets. You're never sure whether neighbourhood passers by are going to greet you with bonjour or groetzi as polite social custom requires. It keeps you on your toes. Laura met me in the station car park. We were both incredulous that our last meeting was in 2010, the summer I retired.

First stop was a big Migros supermarket to buy fish, fruit and veg to cook with, then to Laura's amazing modern wooden house whose exterior is entirely glazed in armoured dark glass. It has a modern kitchen too, with powerful induction hobs to cook with - a good as gas. She invested in photo voltaic solar panels early this year, a wise long term economy in a place which gets more than average sunshine.

Despite the unfamiliarity of the kitchen, cooking the paella went well. I felt especially blessed to be able to cook with olive oil, which Laura was recently given by a Florentine cousin - pressed from his own Umbrian olive trees. I was pleased with the end result, and thankfully, so was Laura. She'd bought a Catalan Tierra Alta Garnacha red wine, which we drank with the meal, and afterward some ice cream with figs her cousin had also preserved. Memorable flavours all round.

After lunch and washing up, we went for an hour's walk in the communal forest to the east of her housing estate. It's mostly deciduous woodland flanked by cornfields currently being harvested. At the turning point of our walk, the snow capped peaks of the Berner Oberland were visible across the fields, some seventy kilometres to the south.

There was much to catch up on. News of our children, and the story of how Laura has come through the nightmare experience of losing her husband Daniel when he was away walking high mountain paths in Corsica. His body still hasn't been found. He was an experienced mountain man, careful and fully aware of the risks.The only other person I ever met who shared this experience was Peggy in my last Parish, whose fiancé, a naval captain, disappeared in Cairo towards the end of the war, and was never found. It's hard to imagine what it means to live with a person's unfinished life story.  Laura never ceases to be a positive person, and says that having many friends, and an active, varied musical life have sustained her this past three years. "Despite what happens, you just have to get on with life in the end" she said. Or go under, I thought to myself. Such admirable courage.

I left on the 16.45 train to Lausanne. It was very crowded, but I found a seat, and dozed off half way along Lake Neuchatel, waking up only when arrival at Lausanne was announced. The connecting train once more was conveniently just a 30m walk from one platform to another, and I was back in Montreux, walking home by 18.15 after a very easy discount journey. 

The rest of the evening I spent helping Ashley with crisis management resulting from a breakdown of relationships over strategic policy in the BCRP Board of Management. It's what happens when busy people don't take sufficient time to develop a full understanding of what 'partnership' requires of them, or try to lead on the assumption that everyone must agree with them. Everybody does it. Brexit negotiations show this happening day by day.


Thursday, 21 September 2017

Autumn equinox - already

Well that was an uncomfortable night, though not too painful thankfully. Now I am limping slightly, wearing shorts for the first time during my stay here, to avoid chafing the knee wound. It's many decades since I last had scabs on my knees. Bones and muscles don't seem to have been knocked out of alignment, thankfully, but localised kneecap swelling makes going up and down stairs awkward. I found some Voltarol Clare left behind, and rubbed that into the swelling, and over the course of the day, and with additional rest, the swelling diminished.

Earlier in the week when I discussed with Laura my trip to Bienne to see her, she suggested a way I could get a half price discount on an off peak fare, even though my abonnement demi-tarif expired last Saturday, by booking a ticket through the CFF website, branded as a billet degriffé. You have to register for the ticket with your name and date of birth, and it's not transferable. It's certainly worth the effort, if you have a flexible travel timetable, that's for sure.

Laura was church administrator at Holy Trinity Geneva during my time there, always able to find a good price, and the church benefited from them. She hasn't lost her touch in the twenty five years we've known each other. She travels a great deal as a professional musician and music teacher, and makes the best of internet commerce, something that wasn't available back then. To spare me using a UK bank card and having to pay currency conversion charges, she bought the ticket for me, and proposed reimbursement in the form of a paella lunch shopped for and cooked by me at her place.

This afternoon I ventured into town to see if I could obtain any of the Spanish spices I prefer to use, and assess how well I could walk. Thankfully, I had no joint pain, a great relief. But I did feel a little self-conscious about being out and about in shorts, as nobody else was. There were various paprikas on sale, all unknown and untried by me, but I couldn't find imported pimenton anywhere, only ground coriander, which I also needed. I also found a pack of chorizo sausages, quite a rarity here, and bought them to cook with, as they'll add an element of Spanish flavour to what is destined to be a seafood paella. Geneva shops, with a bigger Spanish population is more likely to stock what I need. There's a Portuguese shop opposite the station, with spices and sauces from back home, but not from the other side of the Iberian Peninsula.

After bouts of rain in the past week, the snow capping mountain peaks across the lake is thicker and lower than previously. Although it's pleasantly warm at the lakeside by day, the zero degree line up on high is creeping lower down, as autumn reveals itself. Many still green trees now have flecks of brown and gold in their foliage, though few have turned colour entirely. I learned recently that those responsible for tree maintenance, planting and planning have paid close attention to the diversity of deciduous and coniferous trees planted, and their positioning in the landscape, in order to enhance the array of autumn colours. We notice such stunningly beautiful displays, but don't realise the thought given to lending nature a hand.

This evening I was delighted to see on Facebook several photographs posted by Fr Phelim of Bishop June's visit to the foodbank in St Saviour's Splott, where she also celebrated St Matthew's Day. Adamsdown and Splott areas have been inner city urban mission frontiers for more than a century, so it's a positive affirmation of the 'Church for others' mindset which makes both St Saviour's and St German's marvellous parishes to minister in.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Preaching anniversary

Monday, after such an simulating Sunday, I wasn't so much tired, but had no desire to go out or do anything. So I stayed in all day, and spent my time writing and uploading photos, with breaks for meals and no lakeside walk. Sometimes I seem to need lots of time to just digest everything I've experienced.

Tuesday was the 47th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. No opportunity to celebrate this with others. That's often been the case over the years, as I was ordained on an autumn Ember Saturday before Michaelmass, and it's seldom been the case that I've been in a place where a daily Mass is the norm, But never mind, I was taken by to Monica's house for an afternoon Bible discussion group with six others, looking at the theme of last Sunday's readings on reconciliation, and that was enjoyable.

After lunch, I walked into town to do some food shopping, and in the evening, walked in the dark along the lakeside to Chillon. By the small marina near the railway station, I startled a large bird which took flight into the darkness, squawking its annoyance as it left, a heron, I think.

Today is the 48th anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate, and for me this has always been an important day to remember, as it's the day when my public ministry began. 'Take thou authority to read the Gospel in the church and to preach the same ...' said Archbishop Glyn Simon, handing me a copy of the New Testament, as is customary. It was and still is a task and a role which carries with it a measure of apprehension, as a task entrusted to me by the church. In the early days, I was nervous about standing up and speaking to a congregation. It was reflected in dreams about starting to take a service and being unable to capture the attention of people chatting among themselves as I spoke. Now and then I still have them, although I'm quite at ease in front of any congregation nowadays.

At the midweek BCP 1662 Communion service I had a congregation of three adults and a five year old brought by her mum. She helped me this time by lighting the candles as well as putting them out. We used the St Matthew's Day readings for tomorrow, as these were the readings used on the first Sunday after my deaconing, when I preached on the text 'We proclaim not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for his sake.' This is a salutary reminder to anyone who preaches. There's nothing wrong with anecdotes in a sermon that draw on personal experience, but preaching isn't an opportunity to draw attention to oneself and one's opinions, but to point to Christ. It's always a challenge. 

Before being ordained priest, a person has to serve a pastoral apprenticeship with an experienced cleric as a colleague. Spending time in the diaconate assisting in the ministration of sacraments and preaching but not celebrating, is a salutary reminder that the first calling of every priest is to proclaim the Gospel and gather a community around God's Word to celebrate the mysteries of the Lord's Supper. Without the former, the latter cannot happen. How often that has been ignored over centuries past, in which reading and preaching from scripture has been regarded as secondary to offering Mass. 

Are we getting this right today I wonder, distracted by clever opinions posing questions about the attention span of contemporary smartphone toting people? Politicians the world over are still fond of making lengthy speeches, but preaching isn't a type of religious oratory, even though a preacher may use oratorial rhetoric. It's a heartfelt communication between people who are together paying attention to God's Word and what it means for us in present experience. 

There's no reason why it shouldn't be a two way conversation when preacher and audience know and trust each others, as long as it ends naturally in prayerful silence. Time taken depends on how much time is available and how much people want to be included in this conversation. It's important not to benchmark our expectations by what psychologists or spin doctors say, but be guided by what the community needs to give attention to. I'm still learning this, fifty years after I started ordination training in September 1977 at St Michael's College Llandaff. Soon after I started there, I was called upon to officiate and preach at Sunday Evensongs in Parishes around the rural fringe of Cardiff. I reckon I've preached over three thousand sermons since then, and am still not bored with it. That's what I call job satisfaction.

Again in the late evening, I went for a walk before bed in the dark along the lakeside again. Near the small marina near the railway station,  there's a sharp bend in the footpath, occasioned by a large protruding rocky outcrop. This section is unlit and quite dark. I exercised caution in not walking too close to the low port wall to avoid tripping and falling in among the boats. Instead, I walked into the rocky promontory and fell on to it, hurting my knee and left hand.

It was so annoying, but nothing was broken and I walked, more than limped back to Church House before it began to stiffen with bruising. Both knee and hand were bleeding, and I couldn't find a first aid kit but was able to clean the wounds and apply a little calendula cream, before going to bed. I can't believe I'd forgotten that bend in the footpath, as I nearly tripped there before in broad daylight. Sheer stupidity.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Happy Sunday reunion

There were thirty of us at the St John's Eucharist this morning including retired former Chaplain Arthur Siddall, Adele's predecessor as Archdeacon. He came for a week's walking in the mountains with a group of friends who also accompanied him to church. I was told to expect no organist, as the usual one is not available, but we did have an organist, one who's new to Montreux, from Portugal. I think it was his first experience at sight reading English hymns, but he acquitted himself well.

All church mail comes to the Chaplain's mailbox, on the wall outside the front door. I collected two letters in the Saturday delivery and assigned them to the relevant in-tray at the back of the church. To the delight of everyone, one turned out to be confirmation of payment of a grant towards survey fees for the organ restoration project. The other was a formal commitment to awarding a grant of CHF200,000 from the Loterie Suisse Romande for the organ restoration. It's an excellent Victorian instrument, worth preserving. The church has a third of the funds it needs to achieve their  goal of CHF750,000. It's worth the effort, as there are still many excellent organists around keen to perform on church organs. Fortunately this is well understood in Switzerland. 

There are many people in churches today who prefer electronic organs if not altogether different musical accompaniments to the liturgy. It's all to easy to regard classical wind organs as obstacles to progress in putting on services using more popular and contemporary music. There's no reason why other instruments can't be used, separately from, or together with the organ, though sadly fewer churches seem willing to make an effort to develop their music resources for the liturgy.

I spent many years in different ministries doing just this, leading singing unaccompanied, or with guitar getting people to relax and enjoy singing. I've always been happy to sing a Mass in traditional style, and to sing with a liturgical choir, something I've enjoyed doing here. I value the richness of traditional forms, both musically and textually, and prefer them to popular choruses and hymnody, though in the end, all that counts in any setting, is to enable people to enter more deeply into prayer and worship. The last century has seen remarkable developments in modern choral liturgical music, with a remarkable capacity to evoke transcendence. Much of it is hard to apply in a parish context, but hopefully it will be influential on the worship ethos in the long term. So much of the canon of contemporary worship songs are fine for generating a sense of fellowship, but far less adequate for lifting heart and mind into the sacred space of the Beyond.

When the congregation had departed, the church wardens showed me around the church boiler room where an oil fired plant delivers heat separately to both church and house. As it's becoming cooler at night now, it's good to know how the system works in case adjustments are needed to keep the house comfortably warm. I heard that a plan is underway to provide a communal heating system for public buildings and local residents in Territet. A wood fired industrial plant, will, I believe, circulate hot water for central heating throughout the commune. It's not going to result in money savings, but rather emissions savings, as hundreds of less than efficient individual heating units are taken out of service. It's similar to the arrangement in Baulmes where my friend Valdo was Pastor until he retired a couple of years ago.

Taking of Valdo, after church I drove out to Aigle for a reunion with him and his wife Ann-Lise, in their new apartment with a view of the town's vineyards. It was such a delight to see them again after five years, during which so much has happened, not only retirement, but also the arrival of grandchildren. Their new place is just perfect for the two of them, and they love their new location, surrounded by mountains and vineyard slopes.

They have given up their car, and now enjoy total travel freedom with a CFF abonnement generale, giving them the liberty of travel on trains, buses and lake ferries across Switzerland with only a few exceptions. Aigle has a main line station with frequent main line express and local services. There are also two mountain railways, both of which run, like trams from the station through different streets out into the country, either side of the valley behind the town. One ascends to Les Diablerets and the other to Leysin. It's a train lovers paradise.

We conversed excitedly in French throughout the delicious lunch Ann-Lise prepared, and savoured a bottle of Valeyres Pino-Gamay rouge, from the vignoble of a parishoner back in Baulmes. A real treasure of a wine. Then Valdo took me out to see the old town centre, and we went to the Chateau, set in the midst of vineyards full of grapes nearly ready for harvesting. The vendange will be early this year because of the extra heat of the summer. One winery already has its large grape harvesting buckets out of storage, and parked them outside the property, ready for the weeks of intense work which lie ahead. I'd love to be here and witness that, but alas it's unlikely.

Valdo pointed out how the clos du vignoble (vineyard fields) on the valley floor are surrounded by stone walls, which is rather unusual. It may signify ancient patterns of terroir ownership, but may serve a practical purpose. To call these fields a clos, implies linguistically an enclosure, after all. In many agricultural places hedges and walls have been done away with in the interests of efficiency of operation, and this has not always been beneficial to the environment. Machine harvesting may be quite undesirable in this area, because the quality and variety of the grapes requires a human eye and hand above all.

The Chateau was erected in the 13th-14th century under the Dukes of Haute Savoie. The warlords of the Canton of Berne annexed the area and brought it into the expanding Swiss Confederation in the fifteenth century, the first francophone area to join. It was rebuilt and became a regional seat of government, in the Canton of Berne before being passed on for other use, and eventually made part of the Canton of Vaud. A programme of restoration after neglect led to the place being turned into a Musée du Vin

It's well stocked with local wine making artifacts to exhibit, and displays engagingly a narrative of the winemaking process, with an introduction to oenological science, tasting and the immense range of labelling artwork involved in marketing the variety of finished products over the past century. This alone was a fascinating treat which alone would reward hours of detailed study, as it says a lot about a culture which is highly aware of the value of its offer to a changing world.

It was a memorable couple of hours and despite the dull weather I harvested some lovely photos of the place and its surroundings. You can find the pictures here.

We returned to the apartment for a cup of tea, and then I left for Territet accompanied by warnings of traffic delays due to an autoroute accident. The ordinary road was unaffected by this however, and I was soon passing the Chateau de Chillon and joining there a slow moving queue of cars entering or passing through Montreux, so the last kilometre took ten minutes, as it normally does in the evening at weekends, with people returning home from the mountains. What a lovely day!

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Ascent to Caux by train

Today my month's abonnement demi-tarif expires. That's how long I've been here already, time has flown by. The weather was wet, but I was determined to take one last half price excursion, on the MOB railway line linking Montreux with Rochers de Naye. Hoping it would clear up, I waited until after lunch, when there was a break in the weather, then walked into Montreux gare to buy my ticket from the ticket office. As I approached the station, I found that I had left my abonnement demi-tarif at Church House, and you must have this and the correct ticket, or risk getting fined. Much annoyed with myself, I walked back to get it. And it started to rain. 

Rather than walk back to the station again, I decided to risk using the ticket machine at the funicular station behind Church House. This time I paid the correct fare for a journey up to Caux, rather than going all the way up to Rochers de Naye, because of the rotten weather, but the ticket it issued was another of those two hour time expiry jobs, as Caux is the outer limit of the local travel network zone. Printed on it was half the price I'd paid. I ascended to Glion on the funicular, and as I had ten minutes to wait for the connection with the train from Montreux, I decided to complain at the ticket office there. The ticket clerk was very dismissive of what I said, insisting the machine was always correct, refusing to accept that I had paid twice the sum I did for a proper point to point ticket. I was so upset, my French began to fail. The train arrived and I got on, thinking all I'd be able to do was ride up to Caux, then return on the down-train which crosses there with the up-train minutes later.

Thankfully, when we reached Caux, I had the presence of mind to check with one of the station staff about the time expiry terms and conditions, for the ticket doesn't state whether a journey must be ended in the two hour time frame or started. Still upset, I asked him in English and had a gracious response.  All you have to do is leave before the expiry time. It doesn't matter how long the journey takes. It wouldn't take much in any language to make that clear with a few words on the ticket.

So I had an hour before the next train, to look around and take photos. For the first twenty minutes it contined to rain, but then cleared up. I found my way to the former Anglican chapel of St Michael and photographes all its remarkable collection of stained glass windows on biblical themes. It's a tricky task because of back-lighting, and I'd have been happier to have my DSLR camera, but in any case I was pleased to have a second chance to take them, having forgotten my camera the first visit.

I returned on the twenty to six train, which was crowded with visitors returning from Rochers de Naye. Whether it was shrouded in mist and cloud or not I don't know. I remember that it was thus when we went up there to get a glimpse of the Alps and the whole of Lac Leman from 1,600m. One day maybe, I'll return to the top on a brighter day, with a proper ticket.

After a damp day of distressing minor misfortunes, there was a delightful surprise as the journey was nearing its end. In the front carriage a bearded craggy looking guy sat nursing a rather battered Sousaphone. I smiled, said 'Superb' and passed on up the carriage. Once the train emerged from the 180 degree tunnel which heralds the approach to the station, a Dixieland band struck up in the other carriage, playing 'When the Saints go Marching in', until we entered the station. I could only think the band had been playing a mountain top gig and were on their way home.

What a marvellous moment. It cheered me up and left me chuckling to myself as I walked back to Territet in the drizzle.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Luncheon outing

I received an email from former British honorary consul Sandra Darra, long retired but still very active as a member of All Saints Vevey congregation. She was inviting me to attend a community lunch she organises occasionally for British expats in the church hall. I decided to go to Lausanne today, and thought it would be a good idea to break my journey and enjoy eating in company for the second day in a row.

Yet again, I had trouble with the slow touch screen ticket machine at Territet station, and instead of receiving an open return day ticket, was issued a two hour time expired ticket on the local transport network. Both are the same price. This stopped me from going to Lausanne and having enough time for a good look around to refresh my memory of the place. I should just have bought a single ticket, but the thought of needing to use another of these wretched machines deterred me in the first place. So I paid more than I needed to for a trip to Vevey, and felt cheated by the misleading machine.

Anyway, I arrived in Vevey with enough time to look around and take photos before walking to the church, and joining nearly fifty people for a three course lunch. I met chaplain Clive Atkinson for the first time. He's been ministering her for fifteen years, a long spell in one place by diocesan standards. It means his five year contract has been renewed three times, and no wonder, as Vevey is a place with lots of opportunity for expat ministry, and he has excelled at building worshipping community. 

The group of diners was mostly older residents, several had come from Basel, other from Lausanne and Montreux. The food was good and the conversation interesting. It was after four by the time I made my way back to the train station, three hours after my inappropriate ticket expired.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Funeral in the rain

I opened the church ready for this morning's funeral, then received a call from my friend Valdo, with few corrections to the eulogy I'd written, and practiced reading it until the ladies from Residence Nova Vita arrived. Madame Morel brought an old Macbook with her, to display photos on during her personal tribute. Forewarned of this I was able to provide a couple of extension cables joined, to power the transformer, as there was no socket near enough to the place where she would have to stand. Fortuitously, it had a CD drive, which meant it could be used to play some recorded piano music. We tried it out and it worked fine.

When we went into church to set up the equipment, three quarters of an hour beforehand, we find that the Pompes Funebres attendants had already arrived and installed the coffin in the usual place, without announcing their presence. As the service was to be held in the choir with the coffin in the midst, I asked if this could be done, and they were most obliging. I was a little surprised that there were only two men in attendance. Usually there are three or four on a funeral back in Cardiff.

Attempts to link the Macbook to the portable amplification system to give a more substantial sound were however disastrous. The audio-out socket on the MacBook was not compatible with the standard 3.5mm audio jack. Another reason never to buy Apple products, no matter how good they may be. They enslave you to the consumption of their ever more expensive tech' ecosystem. It would have been easy to slip into the house and fetch an office Windows device to use for playing music, knowing that its audio output would be compatible with the audio cable and sound system, but Madame Morel insisted on sticking with her Mac, rather than juggling with different devices. Neither of us expected when it came to playing music at the start of the service that the MacBook would refuse to play tracks it already showed it could play. After a few minutes embarrassed fiddling we gave up, and did without.

I did the service and eulogy in French, apprehensive that my reading pronunciation would be intelligible, and even managed a few unrehearsed introductory comments in French. There were native French speakers and English speaking ex-pats in the congregation of dozen, so I recited Psalm 23 in English, plus the Kontakion for the Dead from the hymn book in addition. It seemed to be well received.

After the service, the reception took the form of a light lunch at the Hotel Bristol a few hundred metres up the road from the church. We all sat around a long table for a stylish finger buffet and wine. I was seated close to the three care home workers who attended, plus a Nova Vita resident who'd been a friend of the deceased, and was herself in her nineties. She was most engaging and interesting to converse with, having been born in an English colonial household in Malaya between the wars. She's a fluent speaker of French and German, and attributed this to having learned Malay as well as English in the home as a child. Before they met in Switzerland, her husband had been a prisoner of war in Italy. He was a career military man and they moved house twenty times during their life together. Returning to Switzerland towards the end of her life due to her daughter living here. An amazing lunch companion.

It rained all morning, and then I had to drive myself to Bex after lunch for the interment. In the town the signage to the cemetery seemed adequate, and I drove to within 500m of it on the edge of town, but was unable to recognise it, as there were no further sign posts, and although it's a straight road it's much further away from the town, with its walls surrounded by tall laurel hedges and nothing to indicate where the entrance is. I had to double back and solicit the help of a friendly local resident, just leaving home in his car, to find it. He took the trouble to escort me there, using a short cut only a local would have known about. Perhaps he was aware of how difficult it could be for a stranger to identify the place. How kind! 

It just kept raining throughout the interment, and I was glad that I'd slipped my order of service into a plastic wallet before leaving the house. Two cemetery workers joined the funeral attendants to lower the coffin into the grave, and apart from myself and the notaire, the three Care Home staff were present. 

Then we drove to a restaurant in the town centre for a final cup of tea before parting company, benefiting from a free parking day in the nearby parking place, as today is one of Switzerland's special jours de congé, Jeune Fédéral. A jeune is a fast, and there was a time when state churches called upon the population to pray and fast for the well being of the nation. Although Swiss church attendance is as dire as in any other secularised Western European country, Protestants more so than Catholics, special services are still held with this intention. The occasion is marked by messages from public figures in churches and state, reflecting on moral and social issues, and encouraging citizens to work together for the common good - a bit like the Queen's Christmas speech.  

One last thing about a demanding but fascinating day. Madame Morel and her colleague turned up at the cemetery in a large decorated high-top van, belonging and promoting her husband's business. He designs and builds kinetic sculptures. Over lunch she talked about their holiday Scotland before which he had to deliver one of his works to the MAD museum in Stratford on Avon. We had a very funny moment when she spoke of towing a trailer containing their motorbike and a sculpture of her husband. How strange, I thought, and quizzed her, which was when she explained he was a kinetic artist, of international repute, only slowly realising that she meant to say made by her husband. That says something about my limited knowledge of the nuances of French!