Wednesday, 18 October 2017

St Luke honoured nevertheless

It's St Luke's Day, and I confess my sadness at not having an opportunity to celebrate this fiesta at Mass with a worshipping community. We know more about the kind of man he was from his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, than from any biography that might be constructed about him. I'd like to think that the attention his writings give to people, and what they had to endure in life, has had lasting influence on how pastoral care is  understood among Christians.

The morning's overcast weather turned briefly to thunder and rain by lunchtime. After rain, a fresh outbreak of birdsong from the trees in this neighborhood. The distinct voice of the blackbird among the hosts of starlings and doves. Once the skies began to clear, I walked out across the charco road bridge, then up and around the periphery of the Marina del Torre Golf course, where last year I spotted hoopoes and took several photos. No such luck this time. 

Rain threatened, which brought me back downhill quite fast. I hung around the area for three quarters of an hour, waiting to inspect the small array of shops servicing golf course apartments to reopen after siesta, listening meanwhile on my Blackberry to St Luke's Day Evensong, broadcasted on BBC Radio Three. It was strangely soothing at the end of a dull uneventful afternoon.

The shops, in the basement of an apartment block were half shoe and clothing outlets, most of the remaining space was taken by a Chinese dry goods store. I love the Greek term 'pantopoleion' which describes such comprehensive retailing. The corner nearest the street was a mini-market whose stocks reflected current lack of demand from holiday visitors. Few people I imagine, apart from staff live in this area out of season. Interesting to see, nevertheless. 

The economy in leisure resorts is by nature, cyclical. Only those who are good at long term planning will profit from investing in property and infrastructure here. There's always money to be made around the staging of big one-off leisure events, like festivals and tournaments, but those investing time and energy in those activities are not so likely to be there long term. 

It's interesting to compare different kinds of economic enterprise, with the diversity of inter-relationships between species in the natural world. Inter-dependency, balance and resilience under external and internal pressure enable all kinds of species to flourish. Disasters happen when any part of any dynamic system fails to take into account its connection to the whole. 

It's what see now in relation to brexit, and in America's relationship to everything which isn't of America, as defined by the Trump presidency. The world is in the process of re-learning essential lessons at the moment. The harsh way, unfortunately.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Caring for the watercourse

After a good long sleep, Monday began with a walk to Mercadona to shop for groceries. Then came a call about a funeral on Friday, another bereavement in the hamlet of Los Corrascos outside Arboleas, in the early 1990s urbanizacion I was called on to visit about a funeral last week. My tea time bird watching walk was interrupted by a call from Ashley. We spent a long time on the phone which led to me drafting a statement for publication about recent BCRP changes for emailing by Julie to the CBS user base not long before I went to bed. 

Today it's been mainly cloudy and cool, good walking weather. First I went to the nature reserve and saw an egret for the first time this year. Curiously, it was roosting in a waterside reed bed a couple of metres away from the one grey heron I've now seen a couple of times.

I continued walking up the north side track along the bank of rio Aguas. Where the river bed bends at the top of the valley, a large tracked vehicle with a mowing arm was attacking the tall thick forest of reeds and cane that has taken over the surface of the river bed where water runs underground. Last time I walked up here, I noticed that extensive clearance of the watercourse had recently taken place. 

Further up towards the pueblo, the dry river bed seems free of this kind of vegetation. Gravel bedding whether natural or artificial, I don't know, seems only to permit a scattering of small bushes there. It may be that subterranean water runs under bedrock or at least too deep for reed and cane to flourish in that section. It makes sense to clear the watercourse, as dense vegetation would impede the immense if occasional flow of storm water and cause a low lying area to floor. Prevention is better than cure. The marine wetland area will suffer damage any time there's a huge amount of storm water but as I've seen, following last winter's coastal floods, the ecosystem is indeed resilient.

I climbed up to the top of Mojácar Pueblo, right to the mirador on the site of the mediaeval castillo. The imposing 1970s hotel El Moresco dominating the north face of the hill on which the town stands has been 'closed for repairs' for the past seven years, its glass front entrance doors and walls have graffiti on them now. An early victim of recession, refurbishment fund-raising or investment beyond reach, it's slowly turning into an eyesore, in contrast to the rest of the pueblo, which looks well kept and prosperous.

When I was here mid November last, I arrived to find that the huge north facing mirador terrace had been closed and was being excavated. I believe the condition of the car parks underneath the terrace was the reason for this unexpected activity, at the end of the autumn holiday season. Sure enough, the terrace had been restored, and its neighboring restaurants were open for business. It looked, however, as if the car park restoration is still a work in progress. More parking nightmares for locals, sadly.

The walk back down to the apartment took another hour despite taking a shortcut on tracks away from the main road to Mojácar Playa, and I made it before twilight. A walk of about 10km in all. I'll sleep well tonight.

Finally, I got around to remembering to look back at blog entries made during my stay here last year, in an effort to recover the forgotten local Spanish word used to describe the nature reserve's water enclosure. It's charco which translates as 'puddle' rather than pool or pond, perhaps because by nature it may grow or shrink according to weather conditions, so its boundaries may be somewhat fluid. A nice little linguistic curiosity.

Sunday, 15 October 2017


Yesterday was uneventful, just getting ready for Sunday and walking out, late in the afternoon, along the coast road in search of a pharmacy open for business. All three I identified were closed, as one may imagine on this Spanish bank holiday weekend, but none displayed information about any local 24 hour pharmacy which might be open. Ah well, nothing open. But, there must be a way of finding out where there is one.

This morning I drove to Llanos del Peral to celebrate the Eucharist. I had no trouble finding my way there, but was surprised I didn't recall the 5km journey from the main road up to the village in much detail until I drove it. I've noticed that I rely on visual memory and knowing where the sun is to take me places I've been before. I recall specific landscape features and navigate point to point between them. I was clear instructions to reach a coffee morning venue, except they didn't specify the starting point or general direction. Fine for locals who know where's where, but disconcerting for a stranger like me. No such thing as a stupid question however.

We were forty worshippers, in a chapel that holds fifty, with a positive receptive atmosphere in which to preach. Outside the chapel is a patio where umbrellas, chairs and tables are arranged for after-service fellowship. At this time of year the midday temperature is a pleasant 25C, so it's a pleasure to sit around and chat for a while before heading back to Mojácar.

Early evening, I walked along  the Camino del Palmeral, the back road leading to Mojácar Pueblo. I didn't have time to walk  all the way up there before dark, so turned back at the filling station towards Mojácar Playa, making a 6km circuit before the sun set. The last couple of kilometres I walked along the deserted beach for a change, enjoying the sound of waves crashing on the shore and gravel crunching under my feet as the sun set. A good conclusion to my second Sunday here, rounded off with an early bed-time.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Happy prospects

Alwyn and Pam dropped by this morning and took me out for coffee and a catch up chat. They were on holiday in Egypt just before I arrived, but when they returned to the UK, were caught out by the collapse of Monarch Airlines, and had to wait several days until they could get a flight back home to Alicante where their car awaited them. Both are looking happy and relaxed, and not just because they had a lovely holiday with the family over there, but also because the search for a new Chaplain has been fruitful, someone has agreed they want to come and minister here. Just knowing that much lifts a great burden from their shoulders. People will speculate and gossip, but it'll be a while before the name is announced here and elsewhere synchronously, but never mind. Most of the wait for a new priest is over. I'm happy for them, and happy to be out of another locum job, in effect.

I walked back from town via the Consum supermarket, after chatting with Alwyn and Pam, and bought a few sampler packets of dried meats to try. After a siesta, I walked inland along the north side of the rio Aguas and back along the south side, crossing at the point where there's a track over the river course, but it runs several metres underground. I got several photos of birds in a flock of white wagtails that comes down to the river as the sun sets to catch their supper. When the sunilight is at a certain angle, it may make insects easier to see. Their aerobatic flight path is bizarre, a succession of zig-zags in tight formation, not nearly as gracious as that of swifts, but more difficult to sustain, as they don't glide much. After a short series of aerial manouvers, wagtails set down on a branch or a reed to recover, before taking off again. I observed and photographed a few last year. This year there are many more of them.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Columbus Day

Apart from a walk up to the bridge over the rio Aguas to check out the evening wildlife, I stayed in, all day Tuesday and Wednesday, sleeping, eating and drinking Thyme Tea, to alleviate the symptoms of the cold. And it worked. By the time I woke up today, my head was clearer than it has been for a week and my chest was less sore. I wasn't concerned that another 45 minute drive up the Almanzora Valley to Aljambra would make me feel worse, and set off for the Midweek Communion service in the capilla with confidence. It was made a little easier by the lack of traffic on the roads, as today is Columbus Day, a Spanish Bank Holiday.

During my two days of down-time, I wrote both a Thursday and a Sunday sermon using Trinity 18 Mass readings, but focusing on the Related for one and Continuous for the other. There are times when both are interesting enough to be worth exploring separately, which you can't do in one sermon. I continue to enjoy working on Jewish scriptural texts in a way I didn't when I was younger, when I would happily have done away with Old Testament readings on grounds that they lacked relevance to today. As I get older, many more of the Psalms seem to connect with how I experience what is going on in the modern world, and difficult though Old Testament stories and prophecies can be until their context is exposed, I can find contemporary relevance in them more easily than ever. Here's hoping my audiences agree!

After the service, David and Kath took me for lunch at 'Bistro Bonita' in in the country village of Oria on the plain north west of Albox. All shops close, and most restaurants are fully booked with families enjoying time out together. The restaurant is owned and run by an ex-submariner British chef, with his sister, since his wife died. It's a favourite eating place with expats as his menu is wonderfully unpretentious British 'home cooking', delivered with the highest quality fresh ingredients, and loving application of olive oil and garlic where necessary. The Aljambra congregation can raise forty for the annual Christmas dinner here, and it's packed to the doors. Salad, spatchcock chicken, apple and plum crumble with custard. It was most enjoyable, and the conversation over lunch was also a pleasure.

The journey on minor roads of the main highway took us past a huge industrial plant, whose purpose seemed to be the conversion of locally quarried gypsum into plasterboard panels. Trees and plants in fields for a kilometer downwind from the factory were coated greyish white with stone dust. It would be impossible for people to live in that zone. I wondered about the health of the wildlife too.

Much of the region's gypsum is exported from Garrucha Port in bulk carriers, for use in similar manufacturing plants in other Mediterranean countries where I imagine labour is cheaper. Last weekend I observed one bulk carrier loading on my way through Garrucha, and three anchored off shore. That's twice as many ships as I saw queuing to load up this time last year. Also I noticed a tower crane in action lately on the unfinished apartment buildings on the tall escarpment overlooking the rio Aguas. Small symptoms of an economy beginning to pick up? I hope so.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Worship travels

I woke up yesterday morning conscious that a chest cold was developing. Whether it's a late development of the bug that laid Clare low last week, or a bug picked up on the journey here is anyone's guess. The roads were almost empty as I drove the twenty minute journey to the Capilla de San Pascual de Baylon to celebrate the Eucharist there were over sixty of us present. I was glad the Chaplaincy's resident retired Church Army Captain Edwin Bates was there to assist on my first Sunday back here since this time last year. 

After stopping off for a drink with half a dozen fellow worshippers on the way back to the apartment, it was half past two by the time I was cooking lunch. Then I had an hour to prepare another sermon for Evensong, before setting off on the forty five minute journey to the Almanzora Valley to Aljambra, where there were fifteen of us for the service. Instead of going out for supper with members of the congregation at a favourite Chinese restaurant, I decided to head back to Mojacar and bed, as the effects of the developing cold became more apparent.

Sure enough I woke up with a miserable cough, and though it took me a while to get going, I knew I would be able to cope with another drive up the Almanzora Valley to Arboleas Thanatorium for the funeral at midday, this time a forty minute journey. There were about thirty mourners there, many of them from the neighbourhood where all had bought homes and settled in retirement back in the early nineties. Afterwards, the hearse drove the coffin to a crematorium on a separate site elsewhere. Mourners stood outside, and gave a round of applause as it went past them.

On the way back, I stopped at a hardware superstore in Los Galliardos and bought a small saucepan, one of the few essentials lacking in the apartment kitchen. Then, the week's main grocery shopping at Lidl's in Garrucha, before returning to the apartment to lie low for the rest of the afternoon. I did go out later in the evening, in search of something to take for my cold, and decided to try thyme tea, a herbal remedy much used in France apparently. It has a distinctive taste and a wonderful aroma. I hope it makes a difference, or I'll have to move on to something stronger. At least the 4km walk in the dark warm evening air (21C), didn't make me feel worse. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Natural engineering

After breakfast, a walk around the nature reserve to discover how the sand bar, denuded of vegetation at its southernmost end had been re-forged along the line of least resistance for the flood waters, giving an interesting shape to the lake's sea shore boundary. The lake waters still teem with fish. There's an abundance of coots, a few mallards. a heron, grasshoppers,and butterflies. I heard and saw briefly on the ground a single warbler. A puddle in a mud patch under the road bridge played host to scores of small brown frogs. The only notable absence, which I observed last night was the colony of egrets. Winter flood waters may have wrecked the habitats of some species, though nature is resilient, so maybe the egrets will return some time.

At the end of the afternoon, I drove to Arboleas for the bereavement visit, meeting the wife and son of the man who died. They had been able to nurse him themselves at home right to the end, which is a real blessing for an old man. Co-incidentally, I officiated this time last year at the funeral of another man who'd lived in a nearby street of this urbanizacion. When the place was built in the early nineties, most of those who settled there were retired British or other European expats, content to live out the rest of their days far from their native soil. Whether this generation will be replaced by other retirees in the present political and economic climate remains to be seen. I don't suppose I'll end my life somewhere abroad. Much as I appreciate the climate and landscape of places I visit, I have yet to find a place where I feel I could settle permanantly. Where we live in Pontcanna is far from being my ideal location. It's a compromise, we can live with, and probably die with.

No internet connection all day today. The device is working, and displays a green light, but doesn;t deliver, and this time I know not why. I investigated the router firmware, but this didn't shed any light on the matter. Can it have exceeded its monthly data cap already in 36 hours? I'm not such a heavy user, no video only a few hours of radio streaming and some VOIP calls, unless yesterday's call from Geoff, lasting over an hour wiped the monthly allowance. There's no way of finding out however. The router isn't as smart as a smartphone.