Saturday, 30 November 2013

By road, from rite of passage to messy church

I felt somewhat nervous setting out for Malaga Crematorium for this morning's funeral. I'd seen the signpost for it at the motorway junction, and written down the Google Maps instruction for getting there, but it still wasn't clear to me how easy they'd be to follow. My anxieties faded however as I approached the junction, as I recognised the building, still several kilometres away, nestling against a hillside, from the distinctive photo of it on relevant website. In fact, the route from the junction was very well signed.

When I got there, the place was a hive of activity. Just finding a convenient place to leave the car in the huge surrounding parking area is an indication of how busy. There are two large main chapels, and outside each I saw crowds of people milling around, chatting after ceremonies or waiting to go in. To the right of the main building is a large courtyard with a veranda running around it giving entrance to a couple of dozen rooms of smaller size where intimate services could be held or family vigils around the body take place. "In my Father's house are many mansions." I thought to myself.

I couldn't find a schedule of services to be held posted in any location. I bumped into the bereaved family who'd just arrived, like me they were wondering where it was all going to happen. An attendant was approached, who said there was also a place for ecumenical services (by which he meant non-Catholic) around the side of the building. I found it, but it was locked. The family had not been accompanied by the funeral director. They were just told the service would be in sala 3, but the only sala 3 was also locked. They were at a loss to know what to do next, and getting distressed. So, I went around to the tradesman's entrance to enquire, was greeted with cordial recognition and shown the way through the building to sala 3, which was then unlocked for us. It was the aforementioned ecumenical room.

After that the service went as smoothly as it needed to, and everyone came away content that the best has been mad of the occasion. As I was escorting the family to their cars, before hunting for mine, I spotted a small brick booth with a tiled roof out in the car park, labelled informacio. It had video displaying the day's schedule of services. None of us had spotted it on our ways in. We were all looking for a piece of paper on a notice board, of the sort you'd find in Britain - being British, naturally.

I drove up to Cartama to the house where the post-funeral reception was being held. In the warmth of the midday sun it was possible for everyone to sit outside to socialise. We were treated to chilli con carne for lunch. After chatting with people for a couple of hours I drove on to Alhaurin to join in an afternoon of 'messy church' activities around the Christingle theme. There were three dozen present, half were parents and grannies, the other half children of kindergarten and junior age. It was brilliantly organised, and a pleasure to take part in. Just as we were about to start, Julia rang up from Divonne-les-Bains in France for a chat, such a surprise. It was good to catch up with her, and in such an unusual place.

The event finished in good time to drive back in daylight, and get to church to Skype Clare before sundown and supper.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Taken on trust

I had a hurried phone call yesterday, from a lady called Jackie asking if I could officiate at a funeral within the next few days at a place and time still to be determined. She was a family friend acting on their behalf, who just happened to have the Chaplain's name in her phone. No further information, just an open request from someone looking for reassurance that a way could be found to help the family in a moment of need. 

This morning Jackie's follow-up call came, confirming that the funeral was to take place at Malaga crematorium on Saturday morning. The call took me up-country again, first to a rendezvous Jackie at a restaurant where I'd drunk coffee the day before with members of the Coin congregation. From there, I was escorted to the outskirts of the neighbouring town of Cartama for a bereavement visit. After an hour's conversation I had all I needed to return to Fuengirola and get on with preparing a funeral service to email it back to the family for approval. Early evening, by the time a small congregation had assembled to celebrate the vigil of St Andrew's day, the Patronal Festival of the Chaplaincy, I had to go-ahead to print out copies.

I returned from Cartama by way of fast main road down the Guadalhorce river valley to the junction with the A7 coastal motorway to Fuengirola. My last visit to this area was back at the end of August when I had time to kill waiting for Clare's flight to arrive and drove up the minor road from the airport to Alhaurin. At least I now have a clear picture of the road network to make it easier to arrive at the crematorium in good time for tomottow's service.

When I stopped to reflect on this day, I realised how so much was taken on trust. First, trust that the Chaplain's mobile phone number would produce someone who could respond competently to an expressed need. Second, the trust of a family intermediary that her initative would be honoured. Thirdly, the trust of a family to welcome a stranger to help them and not exploit them in their need at a time when they were made vulnerable by bereavement. 

The aim in any ministry to bereaved families is to offer the best possible service to help them come to terms with their loss in an unfamiliar social setting. When it comes to bereavement, what each of us experienced in our formative years influences what we seek to help us to cope in a new situation.

Back in Cardiff, local Funeral Directors know who I am. They know I have the Bishop's permission to officiate at services. They make their own judgements about my ministry as part of services they offer. They send me to visit a bereaved family and prepare a service with them. I feel honoured by the same trust they place in me. 

Out here in Spain, the reputation of the Chaplaincy with access through its contact phone number, built up over several decades, is all anyone in need of a familiar kind of ministry from back home has to go on. Trust placed in the reliability and consistency of the church's ministry is that much greater, here as undertakers work on a much shorter timescale, and a foreign minority group doesn't have the same close connection to them as local Catholic clergy.

To me, it all seems very fragile, but somehow, it works.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Winter cometh

This last couple of days it's been quite cloudy and a few degrees cooler, with gusts of wind chilling down the apartment. Yesterday, I celebrated the Eucharist at St Andrew's and chatted with people at the weekly coffee morning and sale until it was time to return for lunch. I walked down to the shops and back for some exercise, and that gave me an opportunity to photograph a couple of old 18-19th century well housings, situated either side of the road I take to get to the new road up to Alhaurin and Coin. They are located alongside an arroyo below a hill with olive trees, and have long been replaced for practical purposes by several others that are more modern, further up the bank of the arroyo
This is an open green agricultural space in an area with an urbanizacion uphill and shops downhill. It's fascinating, the inter-penetration of urban with agricultural spaces that are still being worked.

Today, there was no blue sky at all, though the cloud was very high, and it was wind with occasional rain showers for the first time since I've been here. Someone told me it's been the driest November for a long time. Winter is when the rains are expected to come, and if not, those wells tend to dry up. Since I've been here, I've heard people express worries about the plethora of golf courses in the region draining the aquifers and depriving farmers of much needed supplies for food crops.

This morning I drove up to Coin and celebrated the Eucharist for five of us in quite a chilly church. We went to the bar-restuarant a few hundred metres up the road for a coffee and chat before going our ways. Later, back on the coast, I noticed the sea was being whipped up by the wind, producing the biggest waves to hit the shore since I've been here. Not a congenial day for an afternoon paseo without a top coat. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Shopping and walking

I had to do some food shopping this morning and on my way there decided to follow the signs pointing the way to 'Hypercor' the large local branch of El Corte Ingles, which combines an ordinary supermarket with a multi-level department store in the heart of the built-up Las Lagunas area of Fuengirola. Free underground parking is offered with immediate access to car wash facilities and an escalator ramp up to a large scale shopping area and cinema. 

It was interesting to compare this with the Miramar shopping mall near Castello Sohail, a few kilometres away. It spreads out over an area of land the size of four football pitches. But here where land is scarcer, the building goes upwards five storeys with balconies looking out on to a spacious glass atrium. The building stands higher than surrounding six storey apartment blocks, and isn't attractive on the outside. In fact it sits in amongst several other ugly warehouse buildings. The design emphasis is entirely on a congenial indoor experience, no doubt beneficial in the extreme heat of summer. I had a brief look around, bought a bargain CD of Christmas Flamenco music, and was given a very cheery Christmas plastic shopping bag advertising the store to take it home in, at no extra cost.

I went to the local Mercadonna supermarket for food shopping, instead of exploring the vastness of Hypercor, as I know my way around then and it wastes less time. I spotted Advent Calendars for sale at the checkout, and thought it would be nice to take one home as a souvenir. Before lunch I went for a walk up the ridge ridge beyond our urbanizacion. It runs through the foothills of the Sierra de Mijas and gives good views of this rugged landscape, now dotted with luxury housing developments, and valley which leads down to the sea at La Cala de Mijas, linking the village 300 metres up with the small port which has been there since the time of the Phoenicians.

After a walk of an hour and a half, I had lunch, then went into the church office for a routine session of Skyping Clare and Owain and write some emails. It's good to have such means to keep in touch regularly with family and friends.

Monday, 25 November 2013

RIP Sir John Tavener

Another gloriously clear cool blue sky day - just perfect to do some washing and take advantage of a little breeze and sunlight. Along with other household tasks, and drafting next Sunday's sermon, the morning sped by, and after a snack lunch I headed for the church office to send some emails.

As I was browsing the news I discovered that the composer Sir John Tavener died ten days ago. Despite watching TV news twice a day, I hadn't heard this at all, although I recall listening to part of a HardTalk interview he gave on Talk Radio Europe, how recently it was given, I don't know, but it was wonderful to hear this great master of music with a truly spiritual dimension speak confidently and unapologetically about his religious faith, and of how he had in later years opened himself up to the riches of other world faiths without giving up on the Christian Orthodox belief he'd held for thirty five years. I found him as inspirational as any religious leader in his witness to spirituality and faith in defiance of trends in the modern world. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!

Before skyping Clare at tea time, I walked the eight kilometres to the far end of town and back, and while I was down at the far end, I took a photo of the mosque from an angle I'd missed before.
One of these days I must make the effort to see the Bhuddist temple which stands out in the distance on the hill overlooking Torreblanca. Another interesting indication of modern Andalusia's cultural diversity.

Prompted by Clare I spent the evening on a first draft of our annual Christmas newsletter, issued every year since I went to St Michael's College in 1967. By co-incidence the 2012 edition I looked at for reference was dated this day last year, just before I set out for locum duty in Sicily. I didn't keep copies of this newsletter until I first went digital 25 years ago. I wonder if anyone out there has kept them? If so, it would be an interesting summary to read.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Liturgical improvisation at Alhaurin el Grande

As this was my first visit to take a service, I arrived at Alhaurin el Grande cemetery chapel for this morning's Eucharist three quarters of an hour early, just a few minutes before Joan, the 'custos' opened up and started her preparations. It was quite cool, about 11C, but the sky was bright and clear. The sun comes up above the sierra de Mijas a couple of hours after it has risen down on the coast, and in the shade of the mountain without a warm breeze, the overnight temperature is maintained for longer. When the congregation turned up most were wearing pullovers, or jackets, but still remarking on the chill in the air, even though November has been unseasonably warm.
Today is the feast of Christ the King, or Stir up Sunday as we used to call it from the old Collect for the day, which is now relegated to being the post-Communion Collect. The Gospel speaks of Christ reigning over all things in loving compassion from the cross. But, the one strange thing about Alhaurin cemetery chapel is that it lacks a prominent crucifix or cross. It has a fine Greek icon of Pentecost and two others of Archangels Michael and Gabriel on the north aisle wall. In a niche behind the altar there is a statue of the Immaculata (Mary without Jesus), decked with artificial flowers. It can be concealed by means of a sliding wooden door in the case of secular funerals, but the only cross available for anyone wanting to use one liturgically was a crucifix hanging in the vestry.
I decided it would be more appropriate on this occasion to have a cross in view, than the statue of Mary, so I took the sacristy crucifix and attempted to prop it as vertically as possible up against the closed wooden door. This wasn't easy, since the cross was fashioned tree-like from rounded branches as beams - fine for holding on Good Friday, when you say "Behold the wood of the Cross ....", but not so easy if you want to stand it up - it stood precariously and threatened to slide and crash with the slightest vibration.

I hunted high and low for something to use to stabilise it. A spare plastic bottle cap for the foot, and then  a tiny blob of Blu-Tac scavenged from the rear window of the Chaplain's car, where it holds up a faded notice advertising the Anglican presence in Spain. This did the job nicely, providing adhesion for the top tip of the cross to the wooden door. Just enough to keep it in place, except for a huge gust of wind or an earth tremor. It was large enough to be visible throughout the building, and that made it easier for me to explain why I had shut Mary's image away on this occasion.

There were 26 of us present, and the average age of this group was  ten to fifteen years younger than the coastal congregations, possibly reflecting the influx of a new generation of settlers for work rather than retirement. After the service, I re-arranged the furnishings in order to leave it as I found it, then joined the third of the congregation that went to a nearby café on the main street for a drink and a chat before winding my way home downhill for lunch, and the rest of the day free to relax and enjoy.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Malaga walkabout

As today was free of assignments I thought it was time for an excursion to Malaga. I parked the car at the church and caught the eleven forty RENFE train. As I was picked up by car on arrival, I hadn't realised that the route passes through the airport - how convenient for comings and goings! The train stops at Almeida, just a short walk down the main thoroughfare from the historic part of town and all the main public buildings. 

My first port of call was the Cathedral, a huge building crammed tightly into an area of tall buildings, though none as tall as the Cathedral itself. There was an ancient church on this site which had been replaced by a very grand mosque. After the reconquista in 1475, the building was re-adapted for use as a church, then added to in the sixteenth century. One one of its twin towers was ever completed, due to lack of funds, but the base of the second one goes up to roof level.
The Malaguenos nickname the building 'La Manquita' - the one-armed one. The ceiling of the nave is an extraordinary construction - rows of circular fan vaulted domes, a touch of islamic architectural brilliance I guess.
From the Cathedral I made the steep climb to the tenth century Castello Gibralfaro, perched on a wooded promontory 13 metres above the city, offering wonderful views in every direction. With the Cathedral and its extraordinary roof standing out in the heart of the town.

The Phoenicians first made a settlement with a lighthouse here, then the Caliph of Cordova built the castle in the tenth century. A fortified palace, the Alcazaba was built by the Caliph of Granada at the bottom of the hill in the fourteenth century with a perimeter wall enclosed them both.
From the battlements I could hear the sounds of a heavy metal rock band somewhere far below. When I descended, after scores of photos and a refreshing beer, I tracked the noise to a park opposite the fine Ajuntamento building, sitting at the bottom of the hill. The band was playing to a tiny audience on a open air stage opposite one of the University buildings. There seemed to be some sort of festive event to do with a youth campaign of some sorts, hard to figure out exactly, but it might have something to do with the voting age with a strap-line that translates 'We are coming of age'. Walking on down the same long avenue, out of earshot of the band, I spotted two boys and a girl on a park bench, one was playing a guitar, and another beating out rhythms on a cajon and singing, the girl was enjoying being serenaded. It's a city proud of its culture of festivity both secular and sacred.

Quite near the RENFE station was a huge El Corte Ingles department store with another smaller 'Home and Household' store across the road. Outside the main building, an artificial hill to run sledges down is being prepared, alongside an old fashioned carousel ride for the coming festive season. Nearby, is the town centre's covered Atarazanas market. It looks as if it is a re-build, but the style is traditional Moorish
In this area, criss-crossed by several main roads, there are several distinctive churches, each belonging to the barrio it relates to, each needing to be where it is to have easy access to a main road. This is one of them.
What makes them so noticeable is imposing ancillary buildings attached to each one, as tall if not taller than the church. These look like dwellings several storeys high and each has an annexe with a large portal 5-6 metres tall built into it. External inscriptions indicate that each is the home base of a cofrida - the confraternity which takes charge of a particular wagon bearing a  tableau of the passion, or statues of the saints, taken in procession during Holy Week and other times. 

The cofridas are known for their rivalries as much as their zeal and devotion to duty. In all the places where I've seen cofrida buildings, they stand out in their environment as edifices of status in which much money and commitment has been invested. Being here for Holy Week next year is going to be very interesting indeed.

By the time I got on my return train I was quite tired, having walked for four hours. I was grateful to have done so on a cool and cloudy day and not in the forty degree heat of Andalusian summer.

You can see all the photos I took here

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Mijas pueblo stroll and Obsequies in Coin

After a morning preparing for today's funeral in the church office and lunch at home for a change, I drove up to Mijas, having found a signpost in that direction just up the hill from where I'm staying. It took me on some very steep, narrow and winding back roads, challenging enough to make me feel quite nervous, even though all were stable and well metaled. The route wound up through a series of urbanizacions, clinging to steep hillsides. It must be quite difficult if not impossible to access some of these roads if it rains, or if conditions ever become icy. Anyway, I stopped to park at the west end of the town and walked in through the barrio de Sta Ana, with its little church and fountain of seven spouts in its courtyard.
The place was just starting to wake up for the afternoon, as tourists finished lunch and began their walkabout. This place was probably first settled in the Bronze Age, and continuously inhabited since, but not on its present scale. Its present size and density of buildings in Andalusian style speaks of the huge expansion that has taken place since 1960. It looks traditional, but that's largely due to planners and architects keeping faith with their tradition, to good effect. 

The Parish church, sits on a promontory opposite the small Plaza de Toros and the gardens beyond overlook Fuengirola, 450 metres down below. 
The 16th century church is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, although the Parish dedication to Our Lady of the Rocks/Crags dates from earlier I suspect. The tower is 14th century and started life as a refuge from invading Barbary pirates, before conversion to a belfry.
The south aisle of the church was being made ready for a nativity tableau, with dark painted scenery and staging already in place. It's difficult to imagine how this will look when dedicated, but I won't see it this side of Christmas. With my return proposed within the Octave of the Epiphany, I may be in a position to see it then.  More photos of Mijas can be found here

After a brisk three quarters of an hour walk around the village, I drove to Alhaurin Golf village to join the funeral cortege which started from home. I was glad not to have to navigate there on my own. The cemetery chapel in Coín, is a great barn of a place built in 2001. Despite its mock traditional facade, it's not nearly as pleasing to the eye as the chapel in Alhaurin. This is how it looked after the service.
The dozen close family and friends were joined here by another fifty. The woman who died was known locally as a singer in clubs and bars. I imagine many of those who came to say goodbye were fans if not friends. The service went as planned and intended by the two sons. One surprise was the announcement by the younger son of his engagement to the young lady who'd just sung a song as a tribute to her deceased mother in law to be. It was dusk by the time the service finished, and once the coffin was loaded up for an journey to the crematorium unaccompanied by mourners, as is common custom here, the congregation gathered around and escorted the hearse out of the gates.

Although the road I took for the return journey was the top class one, I found it quite difficult to drive, as it's unlit outside of town. There are not nearly as many reflective surfaces to warn of changes as I'm used to in Britain. The hills are steep and the curves sharp, so a great deal of extra concentration is needed to avoid raising the pulse level. I cooked chicken with fuet spicy sausage, peppers and broccoli for supper, a welcome consolation after some challenging hours behind the steering wheel.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Pastoral Office to perform

As I was cooking supper yesterday evening I had a phone call from Tracey, an English woman who works arranging funerals in and around Coín, requesting my assistance with one this Thursday. I made contact with a friend of the family, and arranged to visit them up at Alhaurin Golf this afternoon. The sky had been cloudy in the morning, but it cleared and the drive up there was most enjoyable. 

Before the meeting I went to Coín, to see if I could find the cemetery chapel where the service is to be held, as it's not a place I've been introduced to so far. I had an idea of which side of the town it was located, and how to reach it. The only snag was that I couldn't identify by name the road I needed to take to get there, due to a lack of signage. So, I drove around the town centre's steep, narrow one way streets trying to spot a municipal sign saying 'Cementario', but without success. I spotted an advertisement for a funeral service company on a lamp post, that was all.

I met the two sons of the woman who had died, and we discussed the funeral ceremony. I was touched when they asked if it might be possible to place an old inherited family bible on her coffin, dating back to the 1850s. The eldest son promised to email me a text about his mother to read during the service, and we arranged that I should arrive at the house tomorrow in good time to follow them to the cemetery. It's a far cry from being collected by a funeral director's car and taken to a service, as is now customary back in Britain. No too places are the same, and that keeps us clergy on our toes.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Mercado al recinto ferial

There was a diversion on my usual route into the office this morning, and this led me to drive past the long open space, adjacent to the arroyo about half a mile from St Andrew's, labelled 'Recinto Ferial' on the town map, which translates into English as a fairground enclosure. It's the site of the Tuesday open air mercado. It's about three hundred yards wide and over half a mile in length, with three parallel roads servicing areas where stalls can be erected. Clothes, shoes, bags and accessories account for eighty per cent of the stalls, with once central section of about two hundred and fifty yards dedicated to a double row of fruit and veg stalls. I immediately abandoned the idea of going to Malaga, parked the car and walked back to visit the market. It was absolutely packed with people. This is the view back to the entrance from half way in.
It was a bright sunny day with a cold breeze. You could tell the Spaniards out shopping as they tended to wear more clothes - some with top coats, hats and scarves. The northern Europeans, Brits and Finns - there are a lot of Finns living or visiting this town - tend to be in Bermuda shorts, and maybe a pullover, more lightly dressed. The surface of the recinto is tarmacked smoothly, and this makes it easy for the considerable number of people using mobility scooters or wheelchairs. This is costa geriatrica as well as Costa del Sol. At the top end of the recinto there are a series of smallish buildings which serve as club houses for social and cultural organisations, several of them musical.
This, I believe is the place where last week's charity flamenco concert, which I couldn't get to, happened. At each intersection of service roads there were roundabouts containing iron-work sculptures with a musical or entertainment theme. This is clearly where it all happens.
I noticed the iron guitar had a broken top E string. I wondered if this was the result of exposure to the air or to vandals, or was it like this by artistic design? Top E strings break, not infrequently, when the instrument is being played loud and energetically. 

I love wondering around at markets like this, although I rarely look at stuff for sale. It's the abundance and variety of the food stalls that fascinate me. Here's just a couple of shots that gave me pleasure. First the olives, nuts and spices.
Then another to represent the scores of fruit 'n veg stalls.
After lunch I walked down the promenade to where the arroyo meets the sea, and the next stretch of beach begins - playa San Francisco aka los Pacos (Paco being the nickname for anyone called Francis in Spanish). A few days ago I noticed a family tiny birds picking insects from the sand, and wanted to see if I could get a decent enough photo to identify them. I didn't think much of the photo I got, but at least I was able to identify them as Dunlin in winter plumage.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Tarjeta dorada

The air temperature has dropped a degree or so again, and the wind when it blows is quite chilly. Although there was no rain to speak of in the night, some the distant inland peaks had a dusting of snow on them at daybreak. I did some CBS document preparation work sitting in the enclosed balcony of the bedroom, looking at the light changing on the mountains. Situated on the shady west side of the apartment it became too cool for comfort, even with a pullover on for the first time since my arrival, so I moved back to the sunny side to complete the task.

Once food shopping and lunch were out of the way, I drove to the church, and used the parking space at the back of the building, now that I've learned how to operate the gate by a remote control device. This is quite an improvement on hunting for a free parking space around the neighbourhood. I then walked into the town centre to the main train station and buy a tarjeta dorada the pensioners' discount rail card for five euros. 

No instructions for use were given with the card, and my attempt to use it at a ticket machine was a failure, so it's just as well I didn't actually want to go anywhere today. Anyway, Secretary Linda was in the office when I got back there, and she was most sympathetic as she'd had the same problem when she bought hers, and was soon able to explain what to do. I'm now set up for an excursion to Malaga, and who knows where else?

Clare and I talked on Skype. She told me all about Bill John's funeral at St John's. She'd managed to change her ticket to arrive in Cardiff in time for the service, and despite train delays she got there just in time, to find a packed church, presided over by Archbishop Barry and other clergy friends of Bill's. I'm sad that I couldn't be there with the community to share in this 'end of an era' occasion, but glad that Clare made it.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The world is a handkerchief

Another dawn obscured by cloud, but by the time I left to drive to Benalmádena for the first Eucharist of the day, the sky was clear and bright. Remembering my way there driving on my own was only problematic in the last half kilometre when I missed a turning and went too far uphill, but I was able to loop back at the next turning and arrive at the church from above rather than below. This week I remembered to take a photo of the chapel of St José in the undercroft of the main church. Behind me, where I stood to take the photo, is a door leading to 'columbarium' room, whose walls are lined with niches containing cremated remains. St José is patron saint of the dying, if I remember aright.
Apart from this the undercroft has an extensive suite of offices and rooms for community use and catechism classes, and an entrance on to the street down the hill. The chapel has its own entrance, down a flight of steps from the side. There were twenty two worshippers present, and I was sorry not to be able to join them for coffee, as once again I needed to be sure to return to Los Boliches in good time.

At St Andrew's there were thirty seven of us, and there was a spontaneous round of applause when it was announced that over €1,200 had been raised at yesterday's Fair. A remarkable achievement which had everyone smiling. During the service I was greeted with 'Bore Da' by an American who lives in Dinas Powis, who happens to be visiting here this week. Peter said to me: "As the Spanish say: 'El mundo es un pañuelo' - the world is a handkerchief."

When the congregation had departed, I skyped Clare and Rhiannon from the church office, and caught up on this blog before heading home for a very late lunch - should be call it 'tunch' maybe (tea+lunch)? Three Sundays gone by and my stay is half way over already. When I return in January, the familiarity I've gained with the place and people will make it all the more enjoyable to be here.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Autumn Fair at St Andrew's

For the second day in a row it was cool and cloudy at sunrise, so it took longer than usual for warmth and light to penetrate the apartment. For the first time since my arrival, a pullover was necessary for the first and last couple of hours of each day. But, once the sun was in clear sky it was pleasant enough not to need a jacket. The rain clouds stayed off shore, where precipitation was visible early on, but it never came inland and that was very good news for the Autumn Fair organisers.  

I got down to St Andrew's an hour before the Fair started, and the hall was busy with people preparing their stalls. Two gents were cooking bacon butties and were already doing a good trade. I started things formally with a welcome and a blessing at eleven. Already a couple of dozen people had arrived, and a steady influx continued for the next two hours. It gave me an excellent opportunity to meet and chat with a variety of folk, some of whom were long standing residents and others transient visitors. It was an enjoyable experience.

As activity began to wind down, I went off to a late lunch at the home of churchwarden Bill, who lives in an urbanizacion near the light house at the edge of La Cala de Mijas. He barbeceued some amazing local sausages outside in his garden, to go with the food his wife Suzanna had prepared indoors. We talked and ate most enjoyably until nearly six.

Dark clouds rolled in a little as the sun went down, and there was one flash of lightening and a thunderclap, but nothing more. The almost full moon penetrated the thin layer of inland cloud and lit the garden beautifully.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Urban piety

After finishing off and printing out my sermon for Sunday, in an office busy with people preparing for the church's Autumn Fair tomorrow, I decided to walk the length of the promenade, all the way down to the bridge across the rio Fuengirola, a distance of about four kilometres. There was a small number of people sunbathing, a couple paddling, but I saw nobody swimming in the sea. The temperature of the sea makes it inviting to only the hardiest swimmers now, and today's air temperature was some degrees lower, very pleasant for walking out in the sun. And there are always plenty of walkers out here.

There's an arroyo - a dry stream bed - that marks where Los Boliches beach ends. It boasts a large statue of Our Lady clad in agreen robe and the Christ child,  above the title 'Queen of the Sea'. 
Nearby, on the bank above the arroyo, nestling next to El Presidente holiday apartment hotel is a small shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima bearing the legend 'Fatima en Los Boliches' , with a statue of the immaculata in the outside enclosed garden and within. 
It's evidently a popular place, not only with visitors but with local people. The walls and ceiling of the shrine are covered with passport sized photographs of individuals, people I imagine being prayed for.
It's an interesting application of now readily available technology as an aid to intercessory prayer. I couldn't see any little silver votive thank-offerings inside, as is traditional in many places of devotion associated with miracle cures, but there were hundreds if not thousands of photos, suggesting an intense piety which is both public and personal.

I didn't notice this the first time I walked in the vicinity. I left both my proper cameras back at the apartment so used the Sony Experia phone camera again, and was quite pleased with the result.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

High road to Marbella

I drove inland up to Coin for this morning's Eucharist, hoping that I'd remember exactly where to turn when I got to the outskirts of the town, as last time I came I didn't drive there, making it less easy to remember. I got there without error however and arrived first. Four people came for the service, and as there was no organist we had a said service. As it was the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, we shared our experiences of where we were when we heard the news. Only one of us was too young to  remember! 

Afterwards we went into the town and found a bar where we chatted and drank coffee for half an hour. I was encouraged to return by the long route over the mountains and down to Marbella, and back along the N340 to Fuengirola. The road was excellent and very quiet, and the visibility perfect. Above the thousand metre mark, the pine forests were enlivened by splashes of dark red and bright yellow deciduous trees, now at last losing their paler green. 
A brown tourism sign pointing to the Refugio de Juanar caught my attention. Out of curiosity, I turned off the main road and followed a narrow winding metalled road five kilometres up into the Sierra Blanca de Ojen.
High up in a secluded valley at the end of this road there's a modest sized hotel restaurant, styling itself as a 'Parador'. I parked nearby and walked for a kilometre through the forest, following signs to a 'mirador' on a rocky promontory overlooking Marbella, a good 1,200m below and 10km away. In fact there's a signed footpath right down to the shore, and another along the crests which on of one of Spain's network euro-signed GR hiking paths. A great place on a bright sunny day. Not so when winter sets in, I suspect.
Getting back from there was swift and easy. I went to the office and worked there a while, skyped Clare, and bought some food supplies before attending the monthly ministry team meeting, attended by wardens, readers and worship leaders. It was good to sit in on the conversation and share the plans being made, and not to be chairing the meeting! After preliminary discussions and consulting with Clare, I confirmed my willingness to return in January and serve as locum Chaplain until Easter. Being part of a team again is an experience I value, and have missed over the past six years, since the Archbishop decided to dismember the Benefice of Central Cardiff. Now I have the luxury of participation without the buck stopping at my door. Ah, the pleasures of retirement - feeling useful without responsibilities to worry over!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Word play

I arrived at St Andrew's at 8.30am this morning to say Matins with Jim, then celebrate a BCP Communion for ten people. Afterwards, I chatted with people assembled for the midweek coffee morning and sale, and before I knew it, lunchtime had arrived, so I went back to the apartment, and spent more time working on a poetic meditation I started to create during the quiet hour at yesterday's Day of Prayer.

When I was sitting in the shade of the garden's fig tree (where better to follow Nathaniel's example?), first I wondered about trying to make a sketch, but then fell back, as I usually do, on playing with words. I had the idea to trying to write something with structure, rather than habitual free verse. So I attempted to discipline my thoughts to eight syllables a line, though I'm not sure it has the consistent rhythm it needs to work when spoken aloud. Still, practice makes perfect. It's nice to have the time and freedom for this.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Garden retreat and Hittite findings

After an uneventful day yesterday, today was one of the two Chaplaincy 'Days Of Prayer' held each year at the home of Lay Reader Linda and her husband Peter. They have a pleasant house set on a wooded hillside about a kilometre from the sea, with lovely terraced gardens and a swimming pool, with several areas of shade where it's possible for people to sit outside quietly on their own to reflect.
There were ten of us present. We were led in prayer and reflection by Caroline, the other Lay reader in a well prepared offering on a theme of 'Open Hands'. There was an opportunity for solitude in the garden in between the first session and lunch on the terrace of the house. Our second session of prayer praise and reflection led into a Eucharist which I let. It's the first the first time in three years I've led a 'house' Eucharist with everyone gathered round a coffee table. The last time was at Manel's in Geneva.

We finished with tea, then I drove back to the office to Skype Clare, did some shopping and then headed for home. It was dark and again I took a wrong turning, then another to recover my route, and ended up on the Toll motorway heading towards Marbella. I drove 15km to Calahonda before I could turn back, and had to pay €2.80 to exit on to the N340 coast road. I wouldn't have minded the drive in daylight simply to survey the landscape, but in the dark, it was half an hour's extra endurance. On return, I prepared to cook a meal, then realised I had no onions, so I had to go out again downhill to the nearest convenience store and stock up before getting properly started. So, it was gone nine before I supped.

Still, it was a peaceful pleasant warm blue sky day and I didn't mind too much. On the telly afterwards there was an archaeological documentary about Hittite civilisation, its extraordinary construction achievements and subsequent disappearance of the its culture from the history of the near East, save for its library of 30,000 cuneiform tablets. Once deciphered these gave a considerable account of Hittite society and its achievement but without giving any clue to its rapid decline and descent into obscurity. The latest theory is that in-fighting between members of a tightly bound ruling elite led to the breakup of their extensive empire, and abandonment of Hattusa their capital city in the Anatolian mountains from which they ruled with an iron grip, until brought down by the enemy within. 

Something I obviously didn't take in or recall from when I studied ancient near eastern religion and culture in St Michael's, was that Hittites were of Indo-European linguistic and cultural origins, not semitic. Decoding the language was still a work in progress in my youth, and had been going on only for fifty years. Now there's both a dictionary and a grammar, of this oldest Indo-European language from way back in 1500BC. Amazing, the progress made int the twentieth century.  

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Remembrance Sunday

I drove west on the N340 in good time to find my way to Calahonda for the first Remembrance Sunday Eucharist. It's a drive of about fifteen kilometres from where I'm staying, another five from Peter and Linda's nearest junction, so I was venturing into unfamiliar territory, looking out for the correct turning. It wasn't too hard to spot, but on a first visit with a time deadline I was nervous about over-running the turning, until I saw it and made it. 

The parish church of San Miguel is set just above the highway junction in the middle of a big roundabout. It's an attractive modern building with rooms behind where a Sunday school can meet.
I noted from the noticeboard that an English speaking evangelical church meets here in the afternoon, so the local Catholic community is ecumenically generous. There were thirty adults and five children present, and some enthusiastic singing from a choir of half a dozen. When I arrived before the service, the choir was rehearsing Christmas music for the first time this autumn.
As the service included the Act of Remembrance and lengthy notices, it went on longer than usual, so I was unable to stop for a coffee and chat before taking the fifteen minute drive back to Los Boliches for the eleven thirty Eucharist. Thankfully I found a convenient parking place near St Andrew's, and that left me plenty of time to prepare.

This morning during both observances of the Two Minutes Silence, my mind was back at St John's Cardiff, remembering Bill John reciting the allocution - "They shall not grow old ...", no longer with the voice of the stern History teacher of my adolescence, but the frailer gentler voice that comes with great age, charged with recollection and insight from the hidden days of his youth - sixty-odd years after his return from Burma. As a schoolboy, I don't ever recall any of our masters speaking of their war-time service. In fact, I only learned of Bill's participation in the Burma campaign when I went to St John's.

We will remember them.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Weekend ventures

I spent much of my time yesterday in the church office, getting my sermon finished and printed out, completing the batch of CBS documents I've been working on urgently all week, with occasional walkabouts to relax, and a Scottish mutton pie for lunch from the Jodi's little pastry shop which I visited yesterday. Some good quality snacks here to showcase traditional British food. 

I was invited out to supper at Peter and Lay Reader Linda's house about five miles west of Fuengirola. The sun was setting spectacularly as I got in the car, so I decided to capture the moment on the Chaplain's mobile phone which I was carrying with me in case I needed contact numbers. It's a Sony Experia, and I felt confident of a decent result, although camera phone isn't as easy to use as a proper camera.
Driving in the dark on completely unfamiliar roads without sight of normal landmarks was trickier than I'd anticipated - should have done a dry run in daylight. Kilometre markers were on my map of how to get there, but a lapse of attention meant I could't figure out whether the numbers were increasing or decreasing, so I came off the N340 at the wrong exit, circulated around a giant shopping centre, got back on the highway, came off at another exit, still unable to figure out which way the numbers ran. Then I rang for guidance, and was soon on my way. I didn't expect to drive six kilometres further before the turn off. 

Phone satnav is useful for giving location, but it can't give you a readable bigger picture to inform you of your whereabouts in relation to a destination further afield - especially fumbling in the dark! Once off the highway, I followed the map provided and was there only five minutes late, somewhat chastened.

I had a lovely evening meal and table talk with Peter and Linda. Both are retired from careers in the Royal Navy, she in nursing and he a submariner, and both with fascinating tales to tell. They have been involved in St Andrew's Chaplaincy for over thirty five years, and not lost their enthusiasm for its ministry. Getting home in the dark was hardly a bother, with a good idea now of landmarks along the urban highway to be spotted while driving in the dark. Glad to crawl into bed at the end of another challenging day.

I slept for a good nine hours, got up and did some washing after breakfast, which dried quickly in the bright winter sun. Then I went for a drive to the far end of town, retracing the first part of my journey last night to have a proper look, first at the giant Miramar shopping complex, with hypermarket and cinema, and then at the moorish Castello Sohail, dating from 956 on a 40m high promontory nearby overlooking the rio Fuengirola, where it meets the sea.
The Romans first occupied the site 1250 years earlier and eventually built its first fortifications of which now only traces remain at the base of the hill. It was renovated and opened as an events and tourism venue in 2000 and is an attractive destination for tourists and locals alike.
It was however closed to visitors, possibly for the winter season, to judge from the positioning of a single notice stapled high up on the west gate, but even in the heat of the day people were climbing up to look around and disappointed to find it was closed. There was no closure notice displayed at the base of the hill!
Along the west bank of the rio Fuengirola, as it meets the sea is a childrens' park with a tower and aerial runway that crosses the river. The leisure boats are in the shape of big water birds - 'swandolas'.

Friday, 8 November 2013

In memoriam Bill John

Clare emailed me this afternoon to tell me of the death in his late eighties of Bill John, lifelong member and one of the stalwarts of St John's City Parish Church, and Lay Reader Emeritus. Sadly he didn't live to meet the new priest in charge: Canon Sarah Rowland Jones, inducted just a week ago.

Bill was a Burma Star veteran, one of the last remaining, and took part in their annual service, as long as he was fit to do so. At the end of World War Two, before he was repatriated, he lost a kidney, and did well to have survived to such a great age.

This for me is a personal loss, not only because he was the eminence grise gently offering wide and sound advice during my time at St John's, but back in my youth, from 1956-61 he was a Grammar School History teacher in Pengam and taught me up to O level - I think I learned perspective as part of understanding life's affairs from him. During our latter years together at St John's I was able to thank him for that.

Sadly, I won't be around in person to share in celebrating his life and passing, but with his life-long involvement in the Church in Wales, its education programme and its governance, there will be no shortage of distinguished people there, from the Archbishop downwards.

His welcome ministry to parishioners and visitors to St John's, always at the door after services to meet and greet people went back decades, and in a way has left its mark on the building. The west porch has lately been transformed, must to everybody's delight. Bill didn't see it completed. He stood next to the old porch every Sunday he was at church greeting people with his kind smile. 

Ironically his fall and the broken hip he sustained in the very spot where he stood, often warning others of the trip hazard, was a catalyst that started an urgent project which took five years to complete. Common sense and duty of care were overshadowed by due process. But Bill did everything by due process, and counselled patient compliance with regulations.

You didn't argue with that. He was one of those who'd put his life on the line for the freedom to do things properly, both in the church and the world. He was a great educator - the kind we need more than ever today.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Trip into the mountains

This morning I drove out of Fuengirola inland and up into the Sierras de Mijas on the road leading to Mijas pueblo, and then around the massif to Alhaurin el Grande a village turned into a town of 24,000 inhabitants. I last drove this road in the opposite direction during my six hour wait for Clare's flight to arrive at Malaga at the end of August. I met up with Lay Reader Caroline in the municipal cemetery car park for a briefing on her work up here among settlers in the mountain village communities of the campo. The cemetery in present form is of relatively recent origin, as a result of the twentieth century expansion of the town as a dormitory for Malaga commuters, as well as expats. So, its a place with plenty of empty spaces. Outside, in the car park is a capacious modern chapel accommodating  English speaking services as well as funerals, courtesy of the municipality.
The regular congregation is a couple of dozen, but as it draws on a wide constituency of settlers away from the coast, there can be up to a hundred worshippers on special occasions, many of them children. Caroline with others, has started the Mustard Seed Club for youngsters meeting around worship times. I'll be here celebrating the Eucharist on my fourth Sunday. 
Until last year there was a retired priest here on a house for duty basis, but economic recession has meant this can no longer be afforded. Caroline does the key pastoral work, along with other lay worship leaders in the Chaplaincy Team, and the regular chaplain takes services up-country several times a month.

We then drove to the outskirts of nearby Coin a town of over 20,000 inhabitants on the road down to Marbella. Here the Chaplaincy uses the building belonging to the independent evangelical Church of Christ, which has a tiny congregation. Here there's only a fortnightly Thursday morning Anglican service. The church has a small apartment built over its sanctuary, made available to occasional visitors or people in urgent need.
It's a simple baptist-style chapel, with an immersion font behind the back curtain, sadly finding use as a repository for furnishings and equipment not in current use. There are scripture texts carved on four wooden plaques adorning the walls giving a homely touch to an otherwise austere interior.
We returned from Coin and had a tapas lunch at the bar-restaurant where the congregation socialise after Sunday worship, right on the main street.

I returned to Fuengirola on the newer faster road, which brought me into another part of town that was new to me. Slowly, I'm putting together all the pieces of the area. Could do with an old fashioned tourist map however. In wandering around the barrio I came across a small shop which sells British savoury products, run by a man with an Essex accent. Some was hand made, some high quality imports from the UK. I bought a giant sausage roll and enjoyed it thoroughly sitting on the plaza St Raphael.

Back in the office, I worked on a sermon and on CBS document preparation until it got dusk, then headed for home to cook supper, and do some more document preparation, It's not easy to stay on line with my mobile dongle because of reception indoors. I can't take my laptop outside for long because its battery in now in terminal decline after three years of hard work. It now drains of power very quickly and will only change to fifty percent, but perhaps that's to do with slightly lower mains voltage here. The combination makes work of this kind very stressful. Not what I need. But it gets done, eventually.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Sociable mid-week at St Andrew's

An early start this morning, as Jim and I had arranged to meet for Matins at eight thirty in St Andrews. A few people were already working behind us in the hall preparing to open the Chaplaincy's weekly charity shop, which followed on from the nine thirty 1662 BCP Eucharist for all the Saints of Britain, at which I gave an ad lib homily. OK, I cheated. It's meant to be All Saints and Martyrs of England. The observance for Wales is on the octave but today in the Welsh Calendar is St Illtyd, one of our Glamorganshire Church Fathers. 

There were fifteen of us for the service and a few outside, continuing preparations for opening time. A dozen or so others, visitors and regulars, came and went, drank coffee, brought stuff or bought it, and caught up with friends if they'd been away. It was a gently convivial occasion which I thoroughly enjoyed. It ended with a nice cool beer al fresco in a restaurant a couple of blocks away with Jim and Della, and Father Peter Ford OGS, who has retired here. Like me, he does locum duties in a variety of places in the diocese in Europe. 

As we sat there under the toldo, several people came past and greeted those assembled. It's obviously a good place to hang out. Father Peter said that in another Chaplaincy he was looking after, he found the most frequented hostelry to hang out in, then advertised it as a place people could meet with him.

On the way back to church, I bought some fruit and veg in the Mercado de la Virgen, then after a chat with church administrator Linda, I walked down to Fuengirola Port, a couple of kilometres away in the beautiful warmth of the afternoon sun, taking photos as I went, and uploaded them in the office on return. Slowly but surely, I'm getting acquainted with the area. 

Down at the port there's a modern retail and restaurant area, designed in mock-Moorish style, in homage to Andalusia's past. It has some small domes and minarets for atmospheric decoration - a bit of a mockery of a great architectural style to my mind.
There were several West African street traders about plying their wares cheerfully to restaurant clients. One was a tall woman in a trouser suit, her head bound with a turban, and on top of the turban balanced a small tray full of the ornaments she was selling. I was unable to get close enough for a photo, but I did get one of a man with a fantastic punk hairstyle. And then I saw another. Such a distinctive way of marketing oneself as a street vendor!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Blue sky Guy Fawkes

I went down to the church office this morning at ten thirty to skype Clare as she was starting her day. I spent the remainder of daylight hours machine minding while the Chaplain's slow XP machine updated, with a new anti-virus package, and two dozen Windows updates. In between times, I visited Jim and Della, made a few phone calls, met the man running the twice weekly Bridge tournament in the hall. 

I also had a look around the barrio, taking in the Parish Church of Our Lady of Carmen and St Faith, the market and the long golden beach with pristine well-managed sand, and hardly anyone on it in the bright midday sun. The temperature was more than congenial for sunbathing, with a light breeze for perfection, but no takers on this archetypal winter herald day in UK. I bought something for supper but forgot to eat lunch, so I popped out to the little Finnish cafe next to the church for a cafe solo and a pancake around tea time.

At last I was in a position to upload photos taken so far and label them properly. You can find them here.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Getting settled in

I rose with the sun once more, and pottered around all morning, saying prayers, writing, catching up with Ashley on the weekend's happenings. After lunch I walked down the hill in the direction of the town, as far as the junction with the N340, which is about 3 kilometres away. It took me fifteen minutes to reach the nearest mini-market (closed for the siesta) and twenty five to reach Mercadonna, where I bought a couple of cleaning cloths for the kitchen. A little further on, I found a hardware supermarket, where I got a cheap cafetière, some wooden spoons and a small sieve. The walk back uphill is quite steep, so all on all I got myself some much needed physical exercise.
At the roadside as road above starts to climb steeply, is an intriguing addition to the built environment called the 'Capillo del Silencio', which really got me thinking.
You have here just the west and east walls of a chapel. The east has a niche holding the figure of a Capuchin Friar holding his finger to his lips and a bell-cote above. Between the walls, a metre of space. Nothing else. No graffiti, no rubbish. That's all. I guess it's a sculpture/installation. It's newly built, not a remnant of an historic monument. So that makes it a statement, but what sort of statement?

In 2012 a more monumental 'Chapel of Silence' was constructed in Helsinki, a substantial modern public building funded by the Finnish Lutheran Church, but a building with no liturgical furniture, just beautiful quiet empty space with seats that anyone can use to sit and meditate. It's quite a strong contemporary idea of creating a sacred space that can be used by people of all faiths or none, united only by silence. This roadside edifice is a wry kind of homage to that idea, using traditional Andalusian design and materials. There's no interpratation panel (not that it's needed), but therefore no idea of who the designer of this folly might be. Nothing on the web that I could find either. I must ask around.

Later, I went back down to town by car down to St Andrew's, about six kilometres away, to investigate the office facilities.  The church hall was open and in use, and a handful of people were there for the first rehearsal of a Victorian Music Hall extravaganza for December. I couldn't access the Chaplain's computer, as it was password protected, but while I was there the new church secretary came in, and let me use hers.  When I shut down the inaccessible machine, it started installing nineteen updates, and this too over an hour. It runs Windows XP, so there won't be many more such updates to come. Lucky I had plenty to do and the means to do it.

As the router was the same as the type I've been using for years back home, I was able to access its set up and find the wi-fi password, which yesterday I discovered had been changed. So immediately I was able to log in the chaplaincy phone and my laptop, and do some necessary updating of my own. This is a well organised chaplaincy, as befits its thirty years of experience of serving expatriates along the Costa del Sol. I want to be able to give of my best while I'm here.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Sunday duty again - in Spain

After a good night's sleep, I got up at sunrise, did some Chi Gung and had breakfast. Val called for me at eight thirty, to show me the way to Benalmádena for the first Eucharist of the day. We parked the C3 outside St Andrew's Los Boliches, then drove in Val's car along the coast road in bright sunshine to the neighbouring town's huge church of Nuesta Señora del Carmen.

The undercroft chapel of San Josep is used weekly for Anglican services, Eucharist on first and third Sundays, and Morning Prayer led by a lay Reader second and fourth. It's a well, kept nicely decorated chapel with seating for eighty. Twenty people were present, and they sang with such gusto they could have been twice as many.

We then returned to Los Boliches in good time for the eleven thirty Eucharist, attended by forty people, another lively welcoming and sociable congregation.
St Andrew's Church and the Chaplaincy office are set in the ground floor of an apartment building 'Edificio Jupiter', property leased to the church and well adapted for liturgical and pastoral use for up to a hundred people. There's a little cafe next door, but refreshments were served after the service from the little kitchen/bar in the nave / community hall section of the church building.

Only a few stayed on this occasion, and after parting company with people, I was taken to the nearby home of Jim and Della for lunch, stopping for coffee at a bar on the way. Della has recently stepped down as church administrator and was able to brief me about how the church runs. I was also given the opportunity to Skype Clare and Rhiannon in Kenilworth from their computer, having not succeeded in hooking up to the office wi-fi earlier.

It was late afternoon when I left them, to return to base. I was taken to the vacated Chaplain's house to collect the returned Citroen C4 to use from now on. It's bigger a livelier, despite being diesel powered. I spent some time trying to figure out how to operate the official Chaplain's phone, a Sony Experia - also Android driven, but somewhat quirky in comparison to the Samsung, and the operating system language is Spanish. However, it does have all the vital parishioner contact numbers I'll need, once I get used to it. I added some chorizo and rice to the other half of the meal I prepared yesterday, and ate watching two very interesting BBC Four documentary and discussion programmes raising debate about the concept of Exile in Jewish history, spirituality and politics. It was based around the excavations of the site at a village in the Galilee district, where there was a first century town called Saphira. Findings there indicate close integration between different Jewish and Pagan communities remaining under Roman rule at the time of the first and second century 'Jewish Wars'. 

The point strongly made was that through trade even more than conflict, Jews lived dispersed throughout the world, and so exile spirituality had long been part of their culture. The fall of Jerusalem, and the subsequent destruction of the Temple was a landmark event, and as a result more Judean Jews were forced to join the diapora, but throughout Palestine especially Galilee, co-existence of Jewish communities with Christian and Pagan communities as established fact. It was part of Judean Jewish history and mythmaking that Palestine was exclusively theirs, other Jews saw things differently. Yet, 19th and 20th century Zionism re-invented this notion of Jews entering a possessing the land, not only right to return but right to take over and exclude, and this was the the ideology that governed the foundation of the land of Israel and its subsequent separationist policies. 

Documentary make Ilan Zev sought to make the point that the dominant foundation narrative is not the only possible intepretation of Jewish history. It could be beneficial to explore alternative perspectives in resolving the Palestinian 'problem' founded upon the overlooked facts of multi- cultural Jewish history in Israel itself.

Quite an unexpected and stimulating conclusion to my first Sunday of locum duty.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Return to Costa del Sol

I got up at half past six, and was out of the house with my luggage heading to the bus station by ten to seven. Half way there a 61 bus conveniently appeared and I took it the rest of the way there, and had plenty of time to get the seven twenty five Cardiff airport bus. Still, I believe, not enough promotion of this excellent half hour shuttle service is being done. There were only three others on board.

The airport seemed very quiet when I arrived to check in. I stopped immediately to drink the coffee I'd missed at breakfast time, and headed for the security bag check at ten past eight, only to find that there were over fifty people queuing, and only one of the three available bag scanners staffed and operational. The boarding call for the Vueling flight to Málaga was made just as I was cleared. That's thirty five minutes compared to ten in Bristol. The number of staff and scanners in Bristol is higher, matching the higher volume of traffic, but Cardiff's security portal is running at one third capacity. Staff are excellent, but being worked too hard for their own good. The new airport management has some catching up to do in order make the place attractive to customers and new airlines.

I sat next to a lady from Llanmaes going to stay in Nerja for a spell. It turned out she was Anglican, and parishioner of Llanmaes into the Llantwit Major Rectorial Benefice, not far from the airport. We talked intensely throughout the flight, as she has a long standing dedication to working internationally  with the Church's mission among Jewish people. Apart from the few occasions when I've fallen asleep on take off and awakened on landing, this is one of the only occasions where I had not a moment to enjoy the ride, staring out of the window. A fascinating conversation however.

Churchwarden Bill met me, as arranged, outside the main Arrival entrance door, and drove me to Fuengirola, where I met Val, the church secretary. We had lunch together, then went down to St Andrews church in the district of Los Boliches to pick up a Citroen C3 for me to drive for the day until the outgoing Chaplain's diesel C4 car is returned after his departure tomorrow. We had a brief look around the church, then Val escorted me to the apartment where I'll be staying, a couple of miles inland. 
I'm in this ground floor one bedroomed apartment. Here's a section of the Residence El Albañil, looking from the road below. My apartment is at garden level behind the hedge third from left.
And here's the view from the study window. More a place to contemplate than to work! Thankfully there is also a well equipped church office in town, about 3 miles away.
 After unpacking, I drove down to the nearest Mercadonna supermarket and stocked up with food. Later, I went back to St Andrew's Church in Los Boliches church, one the communes of Fuengirola, for an All Souls prayer service, led by lay Reader Linda and her husband Peter. I arrived early and went for a wander around the area, found another supermarket and bought a couple of essentials I'd forgotten first time around - onions and lemons.

It was dark by the time the service was over, and I missed my turning inland going back to the apartment, but eventually backtracked until I spotted a familiar portal I couldn't spot in the dark first time around at the street junction I needed. Only at this moment did it dawn on me that I hadn't properly memorised the address, and there was no map in the car, so I was relying entirely on landmarks registered in the two trips I'd made and nothing looks the same at night.
Anyway, I returned safely, and cooked a vegetable sauce with white beans to eat with pasta, before hunting down BBC Four wrongly marked on the Astra satellite menu, and watching Inspector Montalbano before heading to bed, tired but happy to be here, just hoping that my sermon prepared yesterday would be relevant in this new context.