Saturday, 29 June 2013

Ordination Day

I drove to Brecon this morning to attend the ordination to the priesthood of Chris Bowler, a student who was in my tutor group at St Michael's last year. Apart from the Bishop and principal ministers involved there were about fifty clergy robed and in attendance, and I joined them. Brecon Cathedral is an ancient large Benedictine Priory, with central tower and cruciform shape, so there was plenty of room in the chancel for all to sit. I was quite close to the episcopal throne where the ordinations took place and was able to take a few surreptitious flash-less photos, of the part of the ceremony that follows on from the laying on of hands and priestly consecration prayer, once I'd seen others doing likewise. I used the little Sony W690, as it's small and unobtrusive to use and carry. Nice to have a memento of a special occasion to send to Chris later. But I only took a few, and spent most of the service listening and praying.

The Cathedral was equipped with quality CCTV and monitors to permit people in far flung corners to see the action. Before we began it was announced that a technical glitch meant the video feed and hearing aid induction loop were unable to run at the same time, so the decision had been taken to run the video and not the loop. I found this quite disturbing, as it denies hearing disabled congregation members equal access to services offered - against the law maybe? Modern culture seems to take for granted that if something can be seen it must be shown for people to see. In this context, not all worshippers would be able to view the screens showing the service, so why choose the video over an audio feed provided to ensure inclusiveness for hearing impaired people? Regardless of how much time and energy and good-will was invested in video-tech for the day, it's no justification for a conscious discriminatory act.

The service went on for a full two hours, and I had to leave after receiving Communion, before the rest of the congregation came out and starting making for their cars or coaches. My next destination of the day was St Woolos Cathedral in Newport, for the ordination of another tutee, Rufus Noy, to the diaconate. It was an hour's drive away, for a service in an hour's time. It took me ten minutes to reach the outskirts of Brecon, dead on two o'clock, and I drove to Newport in fifty two minutes, as the roads were fairly clear. Once I got to the town centre, I lost my way to Stow Hill and St Woolos, so it was two minutes past three when I pulled into a providentially empty parking slot right outside the gates. I found a seat tucked away at the front of the north aisle with an unimpeded view of the liturgical action. As I'd suspected that I might be late, I didn't arrange to join robed clergy on this occasion, and it left me freer to take photos without bothering anyone.

For the Bishop of Monmouth, this was the second full ordination service of the day, as there were enough candidates with family members and supporters to fill the Cathedral twice over. For this second ordination the Cathedral choir didn't sing, so the service was less elaborate with more congregational music, giving it more of a homely feel, than the impressive theatrical full choral liturgy in Brecon. The form of service was the same, but readings and hymns were different in both places, making the day's worship seem less of an endurance trial. It was the same service, different context, but differences in the way it was adapted and performed. There's nothing industrial about the way liturgy is done nowadays.

Afterwards, the Bishop and candidates made a photo opportunity in the churchyard. Among Rufus' Italian in-laws is a retired priest who lives in Assisi, who'd travelled here with his sister from Florence. He was able to get a photo of himself and his nephew with the Bishop, which unfortunately I saw but missed. As the Bishop has no Italian I wondered if anyone had told time that this priest, like himself is also a monk - a Benedictine of Monte Cassino in fact. Ah such a rich family life in the household of faith!

In the evening Rufus and his wife Daria gave a dinner to celebrate Rufus' ordination and fiftieith birthday at 'il Canale', an Italian restaurant in Goytre Wharf, eight miles from Abergavenny, a scenic watering hole at a turning place in the Brecon to Newport canal. It was hard to find, tucked up a country lane a couple of miles from the main road, but an enjoyable evening ensued, and the forty minute drive home was in the dark. I got back in time to catch the part of Rolling Stones playing at the Glastonbury Festival. I soon lost interest, as I was tired after 135mile round trip during the day. In fact, there was nothing sufficiently compelling enough about the performance to stop me switching to a stupid movie. Enough said.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Back on the job

Adjusting to an hour time difference after returning from Europe is nothing compared to the adjustment of ten degrees cooler, and worse, overhanging grey skies. For a few days I wonder if I'm unwell, since the change makes me feel so different. But, at least it was dry enough to put washing outside, and the sun did put in an occasional experience during the day.

Clare and I went into town together at lunchtime. I accompanied her to the station to catch a train on her way to looking after Rhiannon one night, then attending her youth theatre group end of year performance tomorrow. I then went into the CBS office for a few hours to try and sort out problems with Ashley's computer. The sound and webcam don't work properly since his hard drive failure before Christmas, and it seems that although the requisite software was re-installed, a couple of hardware links to the mother board, running the Blu-Ray player, sound channels and webcam were either not reconnected, or came loose. Only the virtual web cam, avatar image displays, and it's a monumental irritation. So, another call to the Dell service engineer is required. I wonder how long that will take?

After work, Owain and I met up for a coffee at Pipi's, and then we walked back home together, discussing the hows and wherefores of a little digital media campaign to help boost interest in the crime monitoring functions of our CBS Business Crime Reduction Partnership. Now that we've got our own Intranet crime intelligence database up and running, and the organisation running nicely, it'll be good for all our users and citizens to raise our public profile. The last year has been one of real progress for us, and yet there still new technical challenges. 

Yesterday saw the topping out ceremony of the Admiral Insurance tower block being constructed between St David's shopping centre and Motorpoint Arena. It's taller than the St David's Centre, and the sheer mass of its metal framework will have an impact on how radio signals will propagate right across the city, and introduce reception dead spots in its immediate vicinity. Soon we'll be able to assess the impact on the RadioNet system, and figure out with our engineers what needs to be done to maintain the quality of reception at its highest. That's something we'll need to budget for that wasn't on the horizon until permission to build was received, two years ago.

Thursday, 27 June 2013


I was up horribly early, to get the sheets and towels washed, and make a picnic as well as have breakfast. Then I popped down to the supermarket as soon as it opened to buy a chorizo for Owain. I was ready for my rendezvous with churchwarden Judith by ten fifteen, and drove with her to Malaga airport. I was glad to be in good time as my memory of the airport layout from two years ago was poor, and I had to wander around to find the security access gate. Although vast and efficient they aren't usefully signed from where you check in. As I didn't have bags to check in, there was nobody to point me in the right direction in the normal casual way the booking clerks tend to when handing you a boarding pass. Anyway, after a long walk and a short wait, I was in queue boarding by EasyJet flight to Bristol. 

We left early and thankfully I slept most of the way. We landed on time and I was boarding a bus into Bristol in just fifteen minutes. I had only a ten minute wait for a train, and was back in Cardiff by four fifteen, to be greeted by Ashley at the station for a brief catch up before arriving home at five. It was ten degrees cooler and the usual slate gray cloud cover was in place. Summer seems to come and goes with increasing  frequency this year, but the garden looks lovely, and there were fresh picked strawberries for a homecoming supper. In the evening, before we turned in early, Clare and I looked through the photos I'd taken. You can see them here. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The poor you have with you always

I walked down to the Church shop to celebrate the Eucharist for nine people first thing this morning, then sat and before returning to prepare the house for Geoff and Carol's return and pack ready for my departure, I chatted outside Rosie's Bar for an hour. 

Nerja breathes an air of quiet prosperity with such a huge number of holiday visitors all year round, yet there is another side to life. I learned about regulars who come to the shop who are homeless, sleeping rough on benches and in parks when holidaymakers have returned to their hotels.  Others with remnants of stable life behind them but with not enough to rent a room. There's a woman living in a parked car near a remote beach, who walks several miles into town daily.  For much of the year, it's warm enough to sleep outdoors, but it's terrible to have no shelter when it rains hard. Some people beg in the streets, peddle cheap goods, or are casual labourers - there's plenty of seasonal fruit picked to be done in this very productive horticultural region

I've seen young mothers quietly begging outside of each bigger supermarket, bearing a card stating how many children they are having to fend for, alone. There's severely physically disabled and very thin young man begging at each Tuesday Mercadillo, and I've seen him in town as well, stripped to the waist holding a crucifix in one hand, like a figure from a Goya painting. Somebody must bring him there. There's no sign of a wheelchair nearby. I've not seen poor people trying to survive here given a police escort away from the public eye.

Last Saturday night, a man installed himself in a corner under a tree near the entrance to our section of the urbanizacion. He had a plastic chair, sleeping bag and rucksack, and a transistor radio to keep him company. He might have been a peddler arriving overnight early to grab an early pitch at the Sunday morning flea market cum car boot sale. He wasn't there the next night.

In these severe economic times, state social services must be under great pressure. High unemployment amongst the young is coped with by supportive families, but what of those who become estranged from their kin? Impoverished older folk, isolated by chronic health issues, relationship failures or lack of family aren't always looked after by neigbours, particularly if life has displaced them from a community where they once belonged. In this era of increased longevity it's an increased concern.

My final walk out with a camera was in the late afternoon, to visit the site of the abandoned sugar factory and rum distillery near Maro. It's a few hundred metres up a stone track in between plastic sheeted fields which act as greenhouses, still irrigated by the brick channels laid down 130 years ago for the sugar cane crop that fed the St Joachin factory. The water channel still runs fast and fresh, across and out of the front of the building shell. It's a magnificent ruin in yellow and red brick.
Only two outlying buildings have the dangerous remains of roofing in place. All else is stripped and the brick shell is open to the sky, like the remains of an ancient monastery in a deserted place.
On one side below the building, an unusual circular vegetable garden had been created in the middle of a larger field. The reason for this layout is hard to fathom, but it's very pleasing to the eye in its context.
I was told that the large open space of waste land surrounding the factory is now used by model airplane enthusiasts. The estate still belongs to the company that took it over from the local family which had built and run it at first, before closing it sixty years ago, when industrial production methods changed. It's a remarkable piece of industrial heritage, with complete 'at your own risk' unregulated public access. I can't imagine the being permitted in Britain - just on health and safety grounds, let alone heritage.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

More rites of passage

I made the fifteen minute from Church House down to the Thanatorium de Nerja in good time for this morning's funeral service. Since I was last here the building housing Nerja's local funeral service, located just outside the public cemetery has had a recent make-over.

In the foreground is the old cemetery building, emptied of furniture, save for a long low table on which a coffin may be placed for public viewing, with a crucifix on the wall above it. It represents the traditional convention for people to pay their respects to the departed before burial in the cemetery close by. Behind this, enclosed by a posh modern fence, is another building, recently renovated. The fence has been constructed with a gate opening into the back wall of the old building. This suggests a plan to demolish the old building, stalled due to non-communication between council departments not expecting to relate to each other. (I must go back and take a photo of that gate that leads to nowhere.)

On the ground floor of the renovated building is the usual marbled reception area and a light airy chapel that seats about three dozen people, perhaps reflecting the numbers expected to turn up for a funeral service at relatively short notice, as is still customary here. Indeed, the chapel was just full, and it wasn't much more than 48 hours since the woman died. What I'd not expected to find when I arrived, was that her coffin wasn't closed, as is usual these days, but open for all arriving to see the departed and pay their respects. The widowed husband and children expressed their grief openly. Others arriving had to figure out how to relate to a situation less than usual. 

Having received the immediate family's guidance yesterday, I was well prepared to perform the funeral office for this occasion. The difficult part came at the end when the family and rest of the congregation had to leave the chapel, so the funeral attendants could close and remove the coffin without drama. From my point of view, it all happened as intended. Close family went with the coffin to a cremation in private with no further religious ceremony at Almuñécar Thanatorium. I couldn't invite myself along, but I'd have liked to see what happens, if only to know what to advise bereaved people, should a situation like this ever arise again.

I got the impression that the conscientious care and service offered by funeral companies to bereaved families here is much the same as it is in the U.K. apart from the conventional timescale between death and disposal, which is that much shorter than in the U.K. I supect it has everything to do with expectation whether at the level of the organising community or family. It says something about the different ways of dealing with the pain of bereavement that persist between Britain and Spain.

Monday, 24 June 2013

St John's day

As I was preparing the service sheets to take with me for today's funeral, I was surprised to have a phone call requesting another funeral service tomorrow, here in Nerja for someone who had died overnight. Such a short turnover time is still commonplace in Spain, unless delay is necessitated by mourners having to travel great distances. Before I left for todays's service at Vélez-Malaga, accompanied by churchwarden Judith, I was able to arrange a rendezvous to meet members of the bereaved family, although it meant giving my apologies for being unable to accept today's after-service lunch invitation up in the mountain village of Periana. The widow was very understanding.

Vélez-Malaga Thanatorium is set on the edge of the town, next to the public cemetery, for which there is a large old chapel, alongside a modern building containing bereavement services administrative offices, a bar and reception area, with the chapel downstairs in a cool and quiet corner. Both share the same parking area. It must be a nightmare when there's a burial and cremation service running at the same time, though this was not the case today. About thirty people attended, including a group of men who'd worked on building the house the deceased had been renovating and only move into two months ago. As they were Spanish only speakers I read some prayers in Spanish, hoping I'd be understood, unsure how it would sound to Andalucian ears. It all went according to plan, and after a recuperative coffee in the bar, we were on our way back to Nerja for lunch, and preparation of tomorrow's funeral.

The widower and his two grown up sons came to meet with me at Church House. This was easier that it would have been for me to find their house out in the campo, up the Chillar valley in the Sierra Almijara behind Nerja. The family had been living in Nerja for 24 years, involved in rental and property sales. It turned out that they had even been involved in selling Church House to the parish a decade ago. After half a hour's conversation, I had enough to enable me to work on service preparation, and they left me to go an visit the Thanatorium to complete arrangements there. It's another co-incidence that last time I did a spell of locum duty here I was told not to expect any funerals and ended up with two, and it's the same on this occasion. Well, offering oneself for locum duty is a matter of being ready for anything, or nothing at all apart from routine assignments. That's what makes life in retirement perpetually interesting.
Today is meant to be a fiesta, but to me it all seemed rather quiet. I wasn't aware of anything special happening. Some though not all the shops were closed. Banks were closed. I suspect the fiesta of Saints Peter and Paul next weekend will be more eventful, as it marks the start of the Spanish school holidays.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Sunday duties

I met up with Judith again this morning at eight thirty to drive to Almuñécar for the nine thirty Eucharist. This week, no sea mist, but bright sunshine and cool morning air. Then, we returned to Nerja in good time for the midday Eucharist, after which I was taken out to lunch by a group of congregation members in a small restaurant that served British style roast dinners, still favourite with many. I went for fresh grilled tuna with my three veg, with a home-made tomato soup to start with, a La Mancha Crianza Tempranillo to accompany it, and an excellent coffee finish. 

The wife of the proprietor, who spoke English, turned out to be Italian of Sicilian origins, whose journey of migration had her growing up in Milano before moving to Andalusia. She has a sister living in Catania, and so we talked about Taormina, and Sicilian food - an unexpected pleasure on top of the good company over lunch.

When I got back to church house there was more work to do on the service for tomorrow's funeral, as the family had agreed the details among themselves. There was still another request for a reading change to be put into place, and the email about that didn't arrive until gone eleven o'clock, not that I minded. It was all ready to print off, with time to spare.

I had meant to go down to the beach to see if there were any antics going on relating to the fiesta of Sant Juan tomorrow, but there weren't even any fireworks, so I didn't bother. Tonight, by the time the moon rose about the houses it was completely dark. It seemed to have risen two hours later than last night. It'll take me a while to figure out exactly why. This photo was the best I could do.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Country pastoral visit

I made a visit this morning to the home of the man whose funeral I'm preparing for Monday. They'd only recently moved from Nerja into the 'campo', to an Andalusian farmhouse he'd restored, near the village of Periana, high on a hillside among olive groves overlooking Viñuela reservoir, a large lake in a wide valley above the town of the same name. This is view from the terrace.
The journey there was a good 50km from Nerja, along the coast, then going inland passing Vélez-Malaga where the service is to be held.

We'd arranged a rendevous at a village called Puente don Manuel by the roadside 10 minutes drive from the house, as the place was not easy to find. I spotted a sign and followed the road, and while there were lots of new houses in the area, I couldn't find the row of shops described as 'English' - apparently there has been an influx of English speaking people settling here inland, sufficient for several to have opened shops and restaurants for the new clietele. But no sign of them here. A couple of phone calls later, it transpired that I'd gone into the centre of the 'old village', having not yet reached the commercial heart of the new development, a couple of hundred metres up the hill and around the bend. Soon we were united and heading to our destination.

To the east of this scenic valley is the imposing massif of the Sierra de Tejeda, part of the high Sierra de Almijara running eastwards from inland down to the sea beyond Almuñécar.  
The last kilometre of to the property through the olive groves, and up to the house itself was un-metalled road. I had to leave my little car by the gate and drive up the steep slope in a four by four, to be on the safe side. Three of the grown up children of the family had come over from U.K., and one had flown in from L.A. It was a strange co-incidence that the son-in-law of the one daughter had not only worked as a construction engineer in CERN while I was living there, but also attended a funeral at which I officiated for the wife of the CERN cricket club president. It would have been an even more extraordinary co-incidence if he'd remembered me. I wasn't white haired on those days.

Having made this personal contact, it wasn't necessary to stay long, as the family still had lots more to do, and for the children, a visit to see dad and say their farewells in the Thanatorium at Vélez-Malaga, later in the day. We would be able to prepare the service in detail by exchange of email. So, I returned to Nerja and did a small amount of weekend shopping, and got busy drafting a suggested order - and getting my Sunday sermon finished and printed also.

I was sitting in Geoff's study, and looked up from writing, as the sun was setting, and there just above the roof of a neighbouring house sat the '|Mega-Moon', as the news media have dubbed this summer solstice manifestation, when the moon's orbit brings it closest to the earth. 
When it's low in a clear sky you get the impression that it's bigger than usual, but it's more a matter of its luminosity close to the horizon that tricks the eye. This photo is my favourite moon shot of the evening.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The longest day

Apart from being the longest day, today was unremarkable, save for interesting cloud formations, and the sea mist which hovered along the coastline, rolling in and out, a little like the tide.  I walked a circuit of the town. The beaches were almost empty. When I came to the Balcon de Europa it was enveloped in mist, creating an eerie atmosphere.
I heard for the first time on this visit raucous bird noises from the palm trees above the plaza, and spotted a pair of noisy parakeets in confrontation with a pidgeon. Not that it's as easy to tell from the photograph as it was from the noise they made, as they staked their claim to a branch.
The skies cleared as the evening wore on, promising normal flamin' June weather tomorrow.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

House building - local signs of life?

Another cool and cloudy day and that encouraged me to go out walking over midday and afternoon, rather than hide indoors from the heat. As I was about to set out, I received a phone call about a funeral to be arranged for next Monday at Velez Malaga crematorium for a Briton who lived in a village inland from the town. I plan to go out and meet the family on Saturday when they've gathered from far off places where they live.

Once the initial arrangements were firmly in place, I walked out into rio Chillar valley below us, crossed the ford and went up the ridge on the other side almost as far as the Autovia de Mediterraneo. It's a hilly area of orchards, market gardens, new houses and houses under construction with mostly unmetalled roads. Then I crossed another smaller fruit and olive tree line tributary valley, to reach another new area of housing above and beyond it. This was more of a planned development, with larger houses being built on bigger plots. One advertised for €59,000 would be on the market for five times that much in Britain. It says a lot about the impact of recession here. 
Despite the economic crisis, several houses are being worked on by contractors. The other night I noted that a large hotel sized area beside a roundabout on the way out of town has a tall crane working on it. The site was at a standstill when I was last here two years ago.  Green shoots of recovery, or is someone taking a huge investment risk? Growth may now be slow, but Nerja has developed enormously over the past thirty years, and has a lot of visitors. There are empty shops, but proportionately fewer than back in bustling Cardiff.

I walked out of the urbanizacion and came to the main road into Nerja from the autovia roundabout, close to to the Lidl supermarket, and the newly built 'Thanatorium la Esperanza', funeral parlour yet to be opened for use. I wonder how long before marketing services to the bereaved take this form in the U.K.?
As I walked further down the road to cross the main bridge into town, I noticed a huge bank of sea mist rolling inshore, touching the mountains on either side of the bay.
It's not quite what you expect to see on a Midsummer Eve on the Costa del Sol. Pleasantly cool is far better than horribly humid. More like a British summer, which already seems to have come and gone, by all reports.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Every picture tells a story

A cloudy day today, pleasantly cool. I walked down to the church shop to celebrate the Eucharist for the half a dozen people who came, drank coffee at Rosie's bar next door, then strolled home in a roundabout way for lunch. I only took one photograph all day, and that was in the evening, when I went for a walk out of town towards Maro again, with the aim of exploring the urbanizacion Oasis de Capistrano below the main road where I'd seen a bride and groom having photos taken a few days ago. The houses are just that bit larger, more up market, and set around the ridges and slopes of a valley leading down towards the sea. 

On the out of town side is the market garden with a brick aqueduct. I wanted a closer look. In fact, water still trickles along the aqueduct to feed the orchard of fruit trees below. It may be fed by a spring. There's also a stream running separately through the valley. Its vegetation and flowers make it worthy of  'Oasis' as a title. On my way uphill, completing the circuit of the peripheral access road, I was taken by an odd sight, in this tidy, well manicured landscape, and took this photograph. 

I couldn't help wondering what story lay behind this abandoned toilet roll on a road side bench in an area so well maintained that its few rubbish bins were scarcely needed.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Messy Church on Market day

Another cool and cloudy day, with occasional big gusts of wind, to make life interesting, especially for the people setting up canopies over the stalls in the nearby Tuesday mercadillo. I took my camera and went for a wander. It wasn't easy to resist the temptation to buy all sorts of attractive fresh fruit 'n veg, but being on my own, it's important not to over-buy as well as not to over-eat. 
Ninety percent of the stalls sell clothes, shoes and bags. There's a few stalls selling household goods and toiletries, a couple selling watches and sunglasses, a couple selling videos and music CDs, sending out pulses of Andalusian popular music into the crowd, if not the Concierto de Aranjuez, always a favourite.
No more than half a dozen stalls altogether sell food. Several specialise in honey, preserves, nuts, herbs spices and teas. Notably, there are no stalls selling wine, cheese, fish or meat products. So I wondered if the site wasn't licensed for that kind of trade. There's so many nice things to buy, but not enough time to use them all. Only rarely would I carry anything extra home to Cardiff. Heavy luggage is a no-no!
I did buy a kilo of tomatos peras for one euro, two kinds of olives and a tiny sachet of garam masala to add a little flavour interest to my cuisine experiments.

After lunch, I walked down to iglesia san Miguel to join the team of half a dozen preparing the hall for Messy Church. We welcomed half a dozen children and their parents or carers for a session of maritime play around the theme of Jesus stilling the storm. At the end we assembled for a brief story telling and prayer time which I led, with lots of actions and noise imitating the sounds of wind and rain. The children decorated figures of the disciples wielding oars to install in a cardboard model boat. After tidying up, I carried the enhanced model boat to churchwarden Judith's car, so that she could take it into the church shop for others to see. A sudden strong gust of wind emptied the boat of its crew of apostolic rowers, sending them into the air before scattering them along the street. It gave us a laugh, after the anxiety of the chase to retrieve them. 

A very happy afternoon, with the over sixties ministering to the under tens in the presence of parents or carers. Something made me think of stories told of communist Russia, how Christianity was transmitted, leap-frogging a generation due to the nation's baboushkas (grannies), pressed into child-minding service and using the opportunity to secretly catechise the kids, and introduce them where possible to places of worship, something they could get away with in times of persecution because they didn't have jobs or positions of importance to lose for defying the atheistic state. It's hardly that bad for us today. We enjoy the good-will of parents, happy to let their children be taught, when they themselves may either not be so confident to catechise, or simply too pre-occupied with work and maintaining the economic status quo to give that kind of quality time to their children. One thing is certain, whatever the circumstances of the era, the elders will always have a key part to play in sharing the tradition of faith.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Visitor services

After yesterday's sea-mist, a return of cooler air currents and high cloud, making this a different sort of day on the Costa del Sol. I walked down into town in the morning, by way of Burriana beach, to take some pictures of the fishing boats I missed a couple of days ago when I forgot to take my camera out with me. What caught my attention was not the fishermen that hang out in the vicinity of their boats, but a couple of guys that sell scarves, sunglasses and other casual commodities to beach visitors. It seems that a few of them store their goods on one of the fishing boats, and prepare to go out selling from there.
I imagine that, like the  fishermen, they earn enough from their labours to make it worth persisting day after day. How well the many beach restaurants do also gives me food for thought in these times when holidaymakers have less disposable cash than usual.
After lunch and a siesta, I ventured out to the nearest supermarket to buy some chicken to cook for supper, late afternoon, and that was it for the day. The sunset was superbly dramatic, and gave me an opportunity to mess around with camera settings to find out what variations in picture are possible. I'm not entirely sure I know what I'm doing, but some of the sky photos are pretty.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Sunday duties

I was out of the house at eight thirty this morning to greet church warden Judith and let her into the car park, so that we could then travel together to Almunjecar for the first of two Eucharists of the day. To our surprise as we reached our destination the coast road and town was enveloped by rolling sea mist, and the Fishermen's chapel was coolish and clammy to start with. By the end of the service, attended by twenty eight people, the sun shone bright and clear. 

The readings and prayers, not to mention my sermon, were a little longer than usual, and that meant we had to skip a social cup of coffee with the congregation, to get back to Nerja in good time to prepare, as it's a good half hour journey between the two places. Although Nerja had been bright when we left, it seems the cool air and sea mist had moved down the coast, and it was dispersing, as we descended from the motorway. 

We had a congregation of thirty six, and after the service a handful of us went to a small restaurant for drinks together. Last time I was here there was a hostelry opposite the church, but this has now closed, a casualty of economic downturn, so we had to walk a couple of hundred metres further, something which many congregation members haven't yet got accustomed to, by the looks of it, as there were relatively few of us.

Some who came had drinks with tapas provided, from a typically interesting selection of half a dozen dishes served at the bar. They were told off by the proprietor for taking their tapas an sitting down at table, as he insisted that they must be consumed at the bar. This doesn't go down to well with the Brits. One lady insisted on standing next to a table to eat hers, so that she could join the conversation with others like myself, seated and drinking coffee or beer. 

It was gone three by the time Judith and I headed back to where she'd left her car, and much later by the time I'd prepared myself some lunch. The rest of the day I spent in sheer indolence, too lethargic to go out for an evening stroll. Although I'd taken a camera out with me, I hadn't taken a single picture all day.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Heritage and modernity in Nerja's townscape

This morning I went into the centre of Nerja with the aim of exploring the large and newer district that is bounded by the the rio Chillar. Unlike much of the Costa del Sol, whose skyline is is dominated by tall apartment blocks, much of the development of Nerja has taken the form of Andalucian style smallish family residences, grouped along the hillsides in artificially created villages. There's variety in the way groups of houses are arranged, and designed, so that although overall appearance is similar, nothing is in uniform rows laid out on a grid pattern. Even though such a grid lay-out is found in the older part of town, as in many settlements since Roman times, nowhere is it strictly rectangular, perhaps reflecting the way housing extended first along ancient, not always straight paths. 

The most recently developed part of the town, I wanted to explore reflects acquiscence to more recent demands to optimise valuable space and build upwards. A less than rectangular grid street plan suggests  piecemeal development but all buildings are taller, and there are several sizeable supermarkets built into the ground floor of six storey apartment blocks, with a few ten storey hotels or apartment blocks. This district lacks the visual interest and beauty of the older part of town, but it allows residents to access the nearby beaches and shops easily, is clean and easy to maintain, and I found a health food store where I was able to buy a jar of tahini to make hummous - something I did as soon as I returned.

I spent the heat of the afternoon preparing my Sunday sermon, and then walked out to the village of Maro along a quiet main road - a section of the national Mediterranan highway, the N340 - thankfully nowadays by-passed by the autovia del Mediterraneo. The road, as it rises, has some interesting view points back across Nerja. There's a shallow ravine with up market houses and gardens, where I caught a glimpse of a young couple posing for their nuptial photo-opportunity.
In the valley below the road a hacienda perched on a promontory boasts a tall brick arcaded aqueduct to feed orchards on slopes beneath.  
On the hillside above the road, beyond fields of is the fine brick built shell of a sugar factory dating from 1880, now abandoned, but preserved for its value as industrial architectural heritage. 
The factory also gave birth to its own aqueduct spanning a steep sided ravine, once taking water to market gardens and plantations of supplying sugar cane. |It is carefully preserved, and in a recent renovation, for some bizarre reason, it has been painted, a pale burgundy hue with yellow highlights. 
The municipal left hand obviously doesn't know what the right hand is doing here. All the tourist publicity shows the bridge coloured golden yellow, and not two tone. The original brickwork of factory and viaduct was a pleasant light sandy colour. Is the paint a preservative measure? Or a reflection of rivalries in local politics? Was the public consulted? I wonder how many tourists will go hunting for a golden aqueduct?

Friday, 14 June 2013

Burriana beach

Late morning I strolled down into the centre of Nerja, bought some cards and stamps from a machine in the doorway of the main Post Office, and made another attempt to photograph the abundance of swallows and swifts whose shrill cries on the wing as they hunt make a background soundscape to all the chatter of visitors, whatever their native speech. Only a fraction of the fifty taken will be of any use, but it's all good learning experience.

After a quiet afternoon avoiding the heat, now it's around thirty degrees centigrade during the day, I went down the steep hill to the popular Burriana beach, one of Nerja's key tourist venues. Just ten per cent of its area, at the westernmost end is given over, not to playground, but to an area for local fishermen to leave their boats out of the water. They have a place of their own just behind the promenade at this point, and a handful of them sit outside and chat, waiting for sunset when their day's work begins in earnest.

Several restaurants on this beach make barbequeued fresh fish cooked over a wood fire their key offer. It makes the early evening atmosphere interesting to say the least. I'm not eating out, but, as ever, enjoying some experimental cooking at home. And then there's Skype conversations both work and family to round off a quiet day.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Down the rio Chillar to the sea

Apart from a visit to the shops in the morning I stayed in during the hottest part of the day, and today was several degrees warmer than yesterday. Getting acclimatised takes me a good while. Finally I went out at six and walked for a couple of hours, this time down the Chillar river valley to the sea, along un-metalled road linking market gardens, horse stables and builders' yards, with the rest of the town's infrastructure, by way of a tarmacked access strip by the main town road bridge. There's even the imposing ruin of a tall building, which is most likely to have been a cane sugar refinery from the 19th century. 
 The riverside is a sort of pre-modern industrial zone, and perched on the thirty metre cliff over the east bank are buildings that represent modern times - apartments and holiday homes of the tourism industry era.

You pass under the tall viaduct of the town centre's by-pass road. Under its massive beams hundreds of swallows and swifts roost, and during the day swarm relentlessly in search of insects. Here the river runs slower and spreads out into streamlets, which I imagine are a good breeding ground for midges and flies. Modern scale hospitality caters for visiting birds en masse as well as humans. 
A quarter of a mile further on, is the century old town road bridge, flanked by a supermarket and other buildings that show you're close to the heart of the modern town. 
From the other side of the road bridge, right down to the sea are nicely constructed promenades on either river bank, providing pleasant places to stroll of an evening and links to recreational facilities. as well as to Playazo and Torrecillo beaches. 
 These improvements to the river banks stop flash floods inundating lower lying residential areas created for tourism and so the area benefits from tourism. Here the river run is channelled with concrete making it easier to clear of debris, also providing shallow areas where birds can safely drink and keep an eye out for predators.
By the time I reached the sea, the beaches were almost empty. Visitors would now be in their hotels or apartments getting cleaned up and ready to go out for the evening stroll and supper. The walk full circle back to church house through the town took me another 45 minutes. Two and a quarter hours out in full sun left me feeling scorched and much tireder than yesterday's walk upstream into the Parque Natural. Despite this, it gave me an interesting view of how Nerja has developed.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Rio Chillar explored

After a comfortably warm night's sleep and breakfast, I made the half hour walk down into the centre of town to the church charity shop to celebrate the Eucharist at 9.30am for seven people, both shop workers regulars and visitors - two newcomers - who turned up. It's a well established pastoral point of contact with English speakers who either live locally or take holidays here. We celebrated St Barnabas a day late, and afterwards a few of us drank coffee together at Rosie's bar next door.

I walked home in a more leisurely way than I'd walked down, making several attempts to capture images of the hundreds of swifts and swallows which hunt for food relentlessly in the air day by day. I caught some remarkable images of them in a street two years ago. Here's one of the best.
This is one of this morning's better efforts. Will I improve on it with practice, I wonder?
I'm still getting used to a new camera, which doesn't have a separate viewfinder. Its display screen doesn't perform well in bright light - unless I haven't yet found out how to adjust some hidden setting.

After lunch and a rather wakeful siesta, which ended looking at a local map, I went out to see if I could find the path down to the Chillar river valley floor which is on the far side of urbanizacion Almihara 1, but not signposted. There's actually a proper road leading down to a river ford and to the un-metalled track which runs up the valley. It provides access to the several orchards, market gardens and stabling compounds along the sides of the river. The steep ravine separating urbanizacion I & II contains several caves. One of them, high up has been transformed into a dwelling with a terrace, and there's another one further up river right underneath the autovia del Mediterraneo viaduct where it spans a steep gorge. I can't imagine living with the traffic noise there 24/7.

I followed the river valley inland, and after half an hour's walk came to some neglected and abandoned buildings with a large panel in front of them announcing this to be the Parque natural Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama, telling you all the things you were not allowed to do therein, warning of the risk of fire, but giving no other information about the features of interest in this limestone river valley.
From here on it was necessary to walk in the wide river bed, and eventually it was impossible not to get walk in the river shallows and get wet feet.
The water proved pleasantly luke-warm and I pressed on, walking for another half hour until I came to a three metre waterfall, close to which hummed a hydro-electric power  generation plant.
At this time I turned for home, having seen dozens of young people walking back down river, it was clear they'd started earlier during siesta and were heading back to spend an evening in town.
When I got back to the entrance area of the Parque natural, a young man, bronzed and long haired, was sitting on the back ledge of a small van with the doors open playing the guitar and singing, with only his German Shepherd dog for an audience. He stopped, smiled and greeted me, and asked first in Spanish with an accent I couldn't penetrate, and then in English, if I was the last walker out, and would I like to buy a drink from his picnic chill box. How enterprising I thought, out here in the back of beyond. I didn't want to stop and chat however, as I'd set my heart on getting back in time to listen to the Archers on digital TV. My little stroll turned into a delightful three hour trek up-river through forest, past bamboo groves, with majestic plane and pine trees. I'm pretty sure I saw a yellow wagtail, and a pair bullfinches, though I must check the colours and markings to be sure.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Mercadillo morning

We were out of the house and on the way to Malaga airport at seven this morning, for Geoff and Carole's eight o'clock check-in. As we departed, an assortment of white vans were arriving to set up stalls for the Tuesday mercadillo in the  large open space between urbanizacion Almihara I and II. It was lovely to see the early sun lighting up the peaks of the mountains to the south behind Malaga bay, and the roads were fairly quiet in both directions. Driving back facing the rising sun was somewhat challenging, as I was re-acquainting myself driving Geoff's car. I had to settle for the the relative safety of the slow lane with the lorries on some steep gradients of the autovia Mediterraneo

Anyway, I got back to Nerja safely, and headed straight for the nearest supermarket to stock up on fruit and veg for the week before returning to church house for breakfast. The weather is bright and clear, cool and sunny, not too hot. It feels more like spring than summer, and apparently winter and spring were cold cloudy and wet throughout, just as in Britain. Only in recent days have conditions improved. Straight after breakfast and morning prayer, I went the mercadillo, where I bought myself a decent straw hat and a pair of shorts for five euros each. The XXL shorts fit OK, though I'd have preferred them to be a less perfect fit for comfort - added incentive for losing a few more kilos.

After siesta, church warden Judith came and collected me to attend a Messy Church planning meeting with three others for next Tuesday's session, in the church hall of San Miguel parish church, which is host to Anglican pastoral activity as well as worship. Recently a couple of young families with children have started attending, and whilst this challenges the retirement age congregation, its pastoral leaders are keen to welcome them and provide for the younger generation in an admirable way.

I went for a sunset stroll around the periphery of the urbanizacion and glimpsed the new moon for a second night, hovering above the shoulder of the valley through which the rio Chillar runs beside the hill on which the housing area is set. Sadly the moon is too small and faint to show up in a such a small image as this.

Leaving for Malaga

With an evening flight booked yesterday from Bristol to Malaga, an unusually relaxed morning was possible, packing and visiting the bank. By the time Clare took me to catch my train, the city centre area next to the MIllennium Stadium had gone into crowd control mode, with Westgate and other streets blocked off, and pedestrian access only to Central Square in front of the station. Tonight is the opening night of the UK tour of pop star Rihanna. Clare had to drop me off in front of the bus station entrance, leaving me to walk the last 150 metres to the ticket office, slowed by a growing tide of mostly women, overdressed or under-dressed, depending on age or taste, heading out of the station to the Stadium in a mood of high excitement. Thankfully there was no queue at the booking office, and after battling the tide of concert goers to get up the steps on to the platform, I arrived with a couple of minutes to spare.

The airport bus from Temple Meads arrived a couple of minutes after I reached to stop. It was delayed, by a couple of minutes by two private cars parking opportunistically in the reserved bus space to drop off passengers, ad because the bus couldn't park, it blocked the passage of other vehicles around the station one way traffic system. No police officer or traffic warden to be seen when needed, as ever. Although it was rush hour the bus sped through the most congested inner city streets and was ten minutes ahead of schedule arriving. With only hand baggage, getting through security took just ten minutes, despite the huge number of holiday makers also departing on evening flights. So I had a good two hours to relax and eat something before boarding. 

The southbound flight sped high above an unbroken layer of grey cloud, that not only produced amazing sunset effects, but also huge patches of diffuse red-orange glow in the cloud when we passed close to urban street lit areas. It was like looking down into a volcanic fissure or a steel furnace. I don't use my Samsung Galaxy Ace II phone camera much, but on this occasion it was less hassle than retrieving the camera from my case in the overhead locker, and risk losing this other-wordly phenomenon. Despite the ice crystals on the inside of the double glazing, and the cabin light reflections, one of ten photos well conveys the scene, also capturing the thin sliver of a new moon.
The 'plane arrived a good twenty minutes early. The pilot announced it was time saved on this route as the flight was directed to Malaga's runway two, the shortest approach from our flight corridor. Geoff and Carole were waiting at the arrivals gate, and just after midnight we arrived at Church House. The night time temperature is pleasantly warm, not too humid, just right for a short night's sleep before I return to the airport with Geoff and Carole, on their way to start their holiday back in the UK. It's good to be back.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Leaving St Mike's

Quite an easy start this very sunny morning, with a quarter of an hour's drive from home to St Michael's Tongwynlais to stand in for the Vicar at the Parish Eucharist. I enjoy going there, not simply because of the warm and welcoming nature of the community, but also because this is the village where my father dawdled his way to school to learn his letters and numbers a century ago. I had to discipline myself to keep strictly to the homily I prepared earlier in the week, so that I could finish on time to drive straight back to St Michael's College for this year's Leavers' service. Eleven students coming to the end of their courses. Ten to be made deacon and one sent out for a period of lay ministry in a Cardiff parish, while she settles into married life, before eventual ordination.

The service was longer than usual, as it included blessing the leavers, handing over stoles of office and certificates of course completion.  I blessed Rufus and Rachel, two of the leavers in my group. It was great to see Rachel's dad had come to support her. In the case of Cath, the last ever Methodist student, and one of my tutor group, she received a Communion set for use in her pastorate as a probationer minister prior to eventual ordination, and was given the customary Right Hand of Fellowship by Dr John Wilkes our Methodist staff member. 

It's such a shame that the immediate ecumenical dimension of residential training in St Mikes has been lost after several decades of collaboration. Every denomination has its own survival strategy, however, and while that leads to a certain drawing apart, hopefully it doesn't signify any loss of good will, only a lack of creative imagination in forging a common future in the face of resources lost. It seems to me that all our institutions may have to die out before there is a real practical reconciliation of churches able to value and work with each others' different histories and traditions. I thought I'd live to see it, but inertia for truly radical change was lost decades ago.

Today was my final appearance in College as a group tutor. I have enjoyed accompanying students over the past two years, and it's been challenging and demanding on times, not simply in the Lent term when I was locum Dean of Residential Training. It was good to work as part of an excellent staff team and to share in careful thinking about developments in curriculum and models of training. However, I often felt inadequate to the responsibilities of the task, and behind that lay a feeling of powerlessness in the face of inability to change anything that would really make life together for students more bearable. It's a down side of retirement, I guess.

My desire is to stick with offering locum duties mostly in situations that need to benefit from familiarity and continuity during times of change. I wish the training system was flexible enough to allow a handful of students to accompany me in the range of pastoral duties I get to cover. In future each minister is likely to be covering a wider area, and will need to adapt to many more circumstances and people than is normal even in a broadly diverse parish. There's nothing better than learning by doing.

The limitation of College is that all are faced with having to conform to a university culture of learning that leaves too little time for spiritual formation, and living with differences in community. Combined pressures train future clergy to be workaholics, and don't really give them the right quality of time together to learn in depth from each other's way of faith. The one thing that conflict between students of different religious opinions revealed to me was how little some knew about or understood, let alone respected the faith of others unlike themselves. 

For all the higher theological input students receive, it means they are likely to emerge from training looking more like survivors rather than initiates transformed and enabled by a formative experience. It's nothing a year's diaconate won't put right, if they're lucky to get the right kind of supervision. But to my mind that only shows how much all ministerial formation and scholarly learning needs to be rooted in the communities students are being prepared to serve. I campaigned on that issue forty five years ago when I was a St Mike's student. It's improved, getting closer to being that way, but there's still much that needs to change before the paradigm shift takes place.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Sunny pleasures

Yesterday I started thinking at last about my trip to Spain. I renewed my EHIC+ travel insurance policy for the year and printed off my EasyJet boarding pass I was I little annoyed some fifteen hours later to receive a nagging email from EasyJet urging me to check in on-line. Confusing to say the least, but as EasyJet in the drive for better efficiency move exclusively to on-line check-in, so that all you need to do is drop off your bags when you arrive at the airport, there are bound to be teething troubles. This time I've opted to take only hand luggage with me, as last summer in Spain I found that I didn't need nearly as much as I took with me, as it was so easy to wash and dry clothes. So, I've had a practice run at packing what I need already. Now that the weather is more consistently warm and sunny, the trip to far hotter Spain looks more like the work it is and not just an excuse to escape from the British climate.

Before dining out at Stefanos with Clare and Owain, I spent the afternoon in the CBS office, making sure that communication from afar will be hassle free. Since Ashley's hard disk crisis last year, Skype hadn't been  re-installed on his computer, so that needed to be fixed. We'd used it when I was working in Costa Azahar, but not when I was in Sicily and it had just been forgotten. It's silly really not to use it when we're calling each other from offices, not least because of the ease with which exchange of documents can be effected while a conversation is going on, and then discussed. Must try harder to use more common sense. There was also the list of chronic debtors to be revised prior to taking recovery action - thankfully dad debt is small now compared toa couple of years ago, but we'd be better off with little or none.

This morning we enjoyed our sunny garden, uploaded Clare's Arizona photos to the web, and after lunch outdoors, went to Dyffryn Gardens to have tea, walk around the arboretum and sample the virtues of the Leica's wide angle lens in my new Lumix DMC-LX5 in shooting close-ups of leaves and flowers in the bright afternoon light. Here's three examples:

I love the way the sunlight shines through the leaves in the one above, and how it makes the flowers glow in the one below.

And the one below makes me think of something extra-terrestrial, from the world of sci-fi.

I was struck by the volume and birdsong out there in the Vale, in comparison with our neighbourhood, which is definitely down on numbers of garden birds this year. And while other parts of the country are complaining at the dearth of buttercups, there are vast fields of grass, gold and green.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

A new role for Facebook?

Another beautiful warm sunny day, and with the door into the garden open, the sound of a crowd cheering wildly somewhere in the distance. It took a while to realise that it wasn't someone's telly turned up loud in a kitchen with the patio doors open, nor the distinctive roar of a crowd over at Cardiff City Stadium in Leckwith, it was the cricket crowd at the SWALEC stadium on the Taff side of Pontcanna. The noisy excitement that accompanies the modern game isn't something I've yet got accustomed to expect on the summer air.

I went into the office for the afternoon, to meet Dave Sharpe the co-ordinator of the Barry Business Crime Reduction Partnership, and discuss with him the use of our new crime data sharing ABCP Intranet. He also related how information on suspects and their associates could be gleaned from their Facebook public profiles, thanks to the ingenuous impulse many have to self-publicise. This prompted me to open a CBS Facebook account, to give the CBS team its own access opportunity. It may also be useful for some kind of crime reduction publicity in due course, and help us to raise the profile of who we are and what we do. It's several years since I gave up using Facebook. I found it such a waste of time at a personal level. I'll be interesting to see if if any of us does research suspects in this way.

I got home in good time to cook supper before driving Clare and Gail to Dinas Powis before going to my Tai Chi class, Tonight, by special request, in the absence of our teacher, the group opted to do the entire short form three times - that's the most I've done in one session for years, and it enabled my to work at a part of the sequence where my memory is most flaky. I expect to sleep well after this workout.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

CBS website now in public realm

Today in College, Curates-to-be met with their training Incumbents for the day, for a mutual briefing programme. As a tutor I was given a half hour slot with each of my two ordinands' Incumbents for a personal briefing, as part of the 'get to know you' process. It's a constructive way of adding value to reports already written and read, especially with an eye to identifying future training needs and goals. It was good to get some extra impression of where both will be working and with whom.

However, I also had arranged a meeting with Fr Derek out in Cowbridge around locum duties this autumn so I wasn't able to stay and socialise after these meetings. I arrived in good time to eat lunch and talk as could abouth future plans. Then I drove back home, left the car for Clare to use and caught the bus into town for an afternoon session at the CBS office.

The crowning achievement of my afternoon's work was the outcome of a half an hour session on the phone with the British Telecom web support team in Scotland using the BT remote access web plugin. I have been trying to link the website I built three years ago using Google Sites with the CBS web domain name registered with British Telecom ever since, but it requires elevated account administrative access which I don't have, or else BT keeps to itself unless asked for. Anyway at the end of the session, finally the CBS website is live, accessible and in the public domain at: http://www.


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Wanderer's return

I cleaned the house through first thing this morning to prepare for Clare's return from visiting Rachel and Jasmine in Arizona. Then Phil came around for coffee and catch-up. Then I went into the CBS office for several hours before going to St Mike's for a final meeting with my tutor group. 

On 29th June two will be ordained to the diaconate, at the end of August one will welcomed into her first pastorate in Methodist ministry, leaving two to return for their final year of studies. We did a bible study together. It was all a bit flat and unemotional really, but so what? They've all survived, but best of all, one who sought to swap sponsoring diocese to start ministry in a strategically advantageous setting has been sent to parish that will be both challenging and beneficial - a happy outcome after enduring a long season of risk and vulnerability.

After checking flight arrival times, I knew when I left College that Clare's flight would be two hours late arriving. It gave me time to go home, prepare a meal and get to my Tuesday Chi Gung class on time before meeting her off the coach. It all worked perfectly. By nine we were at home eating together, and by ten I'd had my first glimpse of the 200 odd photos she'd taken, many of that unique and distinctive rural landscape, beloved of cowboy movies, which is Arizona.

 Like Spain, but redder I thought, as I looked through them.

Monday, 3 June 2013

My kind of bargain

On Saturday, I spotted a Lumix DMC-LX5 advanced compact camera in John Lewis'. I looked at online reviews over the weekend, and decided that with its particular set of features, at 26% of its launch price it was an irresistible bargain, a piece of weight saving kit I could take with me to Spain next week instead of my cherished Sony Alpha 55 DSLR. So, on my way in to the CBS office this afternoon, I revisited the store and found that the bargain camera had not been bought by someone else over the weekend. It's what happens in times of recession. It's very much a buyers market, particularly for skinflints like me that don't really enjoy spending money without good cause.

With my new acquisition, I can learn to vary manual settings easily instead of relying on 'Auto' as I habitually tend to, and then transfer my acquired knowledge to a more sophisticated device - well that's my excuse. I took it out for a walk around Llandaff Fields as the sun was setting, and enjoyed playing with the results afterwards. It's not the 'state of the art' camera of this type, but it has more capability that I'll learn to use well. I especially like what it can do at close range, and wide angle settings. A camera can never truly represent all the eye can see, or exactly what the mind selects for attention from what it sees. But it sure makes to think about everything you look at in a fresh way.

And that's what makes me enthusiastic about taking photographs.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Sunday lunch outing

Up at seven and off to St Fagan's in bright morning sunshine to celebrate the eight o'clock Eucharist for a dozen people. I had spend time yesterday preparing different sermons for here and St Timothy's as they use different lectionaries. For some reason that escapes me, I prepared a sermon around the wrong set of readings for St Tim's, and so had to ditch it and improvise around the given readings. I did so without going on for too long and was quite pleased with the outcome.

I then went and collected Owain and we drove to Newport together for a leisurely lunch with Martin and Chris and their family with four other invited guests. It was warm enough to sit outside around the pool after we'd eaten, and I fell asleep in the sun. In addition to Martin's 90 year old mother, plus Andrew and Robert, who live permanently with them, they are temporarily looking after another two teenage boys. It's quite a household, inspiring and amazing to see how Martin and Chris succeed in enabling young people with learning difficulties to develop confidence and social skills in a non-institutional setting. This week the two of them are going to London to dine at the house of Lords at the invitation of a good friend, Baroness Eluned Morgan, also co-incidentally they will get to hear her contribute to the debate on the gay marriage bill. Quite a sixtieth birthday treat for Martin.