Thursday, 30 January 2014

El Cortijo Carranque

Clare complained of feeling slightly out of sorts a few days before she left, but thankfully was much better by the time she was due to return to Cardiff. Now I know what she meant, as I had a the kind of headache I associate with someing poisonous in my system, and it took me ages to feel fully awake yesterday, even though I was out of the house early enough to say morning prayer with Jim at eight thirty. I arrived without specs, however, which made reading impossible, so I had to leave the reading to Jim, and then slip back to the apartment to collect a pair before celebrating the midweek Eucharist. After the coffee morning, and a spell in the office, I did minimal food shopping and spent the rest of the day indoors keeping warm.

This morning I felt better enough to stick with the plan to drive up to Coin and just beyond on the A-366 road to Ronda to visit Martin and Angela Tomlins at their retreat house of hospitality, ´Cortijo Carranque´ in the rio Grande Valley before you get to the village of Alozaina. It has all the peaks of the Sierras de las Nieves as a dramatic backdrop beyond the immediate hills in the valley. Its the building in the foreground with the white tower, which used to be a dovecote.
The Camino Rural road must be an old road. It´s certainly the one that gives access to many of the small neighbouring farms. Cortijo is the Spanish word for a substantial farmhouse, one that'd be defendable, I learned from Martin, whose labour of love the adaptation of this building has been over the past seven years. The farm with its citrous orchards and nut trees is on 17th century maps of the area, but examination of low courses of brickwork and other features suggest a building was on this low promontory over the river in Moorish times, so it could go back to the fourteenth century if not earlier.
The entrance to the main house retained its traditional courtyard. Martin's adaptation design uses an adjacent yard to re-create in outbuilding space five guestrooms.
Another yard the other side of the house is converted into a cloister-like space - a shaded open air social area, leading off the internal dining room.
There are two more self contained cottages attached to the end wall of the main building. Internally there's a modern kitchen, dining room and the little chapel they've created next together all in a line. I really like that kind of arrangement. It has both a theological and architectural integrity to it.

Angela cooked a marvellous paella for lunch, followed by cheeses and fruit. We sat outside and chatted before and after the meal, then went for walks with the dogs - one down to inspect the rio Grande, fast flowing and stocked with fish. In the rainy season a three metre stream can rise by two metres in a day and spread ten times its width carrying all before it when in spate.
After tea we took another walk up the hillside to a distant cross, set in the landscape apparent by a Scandinavian doctor some forty years earlier who had plans of establishing a healing centre on land below it. His dream never materialised, but the cross remains. Martin and Angela's vision of making a place where exhausted ministers and others could find a retreat and recuperate has come to realisation, and is gradually becoming known. You can find out more on their website here, and my other photos are here.

It was a lovely refreshing afternoon, and we parted with the beginnings of a plan for a Chaplaincy day of reflection to prepare for Passiontide and all this means here in a context where there´s so much liturgical theatre on the streets of every community. I'll enjoy preparing for this over the next two months.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Home via the airport

We left Ronda after breakfast and confused by the road signs, we ended up taking the more modern A397 highway over the Sierras and down the long valley meeting the coast at San Pedro. A much easier drive, also scenically spectacular. We stopped in Benalmadena to shop for a picnic lunch to eat at the airport, and got to find out how to reach the Buddhist monument so prominent on the coastal horizon east of Fuengirola. 
There's a temple building on the same site also.
We arrived in good time for Clare's departing Vueling flight to Cardiff and ate our picnic before checking in and saying farewell. The trip was a lovely conclusion to her fortnight's stay. I returned to the apartment and stayed there the rest of the day, feeling tired after the drive, and not wanting to do much apart from getting used to being on my own again. There are lots more pictures of photogenic of Ronda to look at here

Monday, 27 January 2014

Ronda sightseeing

When we went down to breakfast, cloud enveloped the whole of the town and the mountains around. Slowly during the morning the cloud lifted, revealed the plain and the peaks. By mid afternoon all was bathed in bright sunshine again. We walked and walked all day, seeing as much as we could manage of this extraordinary town with a millennium of rich cultural history. 

One of the most remarkable places we visited was the garden of the house one of Ronda's Moorish rulers, which contains 'La Mina', a 14th century flight of 208 steps, about 200 feet down from one of the garden terraces to the river.
Remarkable, because it was excavated by Christian slaves through and inside the limestone conglomerate of the cliff face, hardly visible from the exterior. Even so, the stair well was illuminated through brickwork lattices at points where the the stairs were through open cliff face. Slave power carried water up from the river to the gardens by means of a human chain. An extraordinary feat of engineering from the days before pumps were invented.

Ronda doesn't have a Cathedral, but it does have a huge Collegiate church of high ecclesial standing. Until the re-conquista, it was the grand mosque of a predominantly Moorish population.
In the same square, to the right in this picture is the current Ajuntamiento, which began life as a mediaeval Moorish market and served as a cavalry barracks during its long history. The church tower with its ring of bells started life as a substantial minaret. Inside the entrance area of the church, the ornate mihrab of the mosque was preserved, when it was uncovered during restoration after a nineteenth century earthquake.
There's also a seventeenth century convent of the Poor Clares, still in use and occupied by a community of contemplative nuns, which still lives and worships within a prison like enclosure.
Everywhere there amazing views of the surrounding countryside from balconied parks and walkways -
There are also an immense variety of views of the canyon and its three stone arched bridges from every level.

Ronda also has Spain's oldest bull ring. It's the town where the present theatrical ceremonial surrounding the bull fight was invented in the late eighteenth century and spread from here. Hemingway and Hitchcock amongst many creative people found inspiration here in another era. It doesn't appeal to me, the town and its environment are quite enough.

We dined in the Parador for a second night, and I ate white bean and partridge stew, a traditional rural dish, very filling, the portion I was served would have done two ordinary meals if I was cooking it myself and I couldn't finish it. A bit like Ronda itself, such a lot to see, too much for one very full day. We must come again!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Journey to Ronda

I was on my way out to celebrate the Eucharist at Calahonda at half past eight this morning, just after the rising sun had flooded the east facing vestibule of our apartment block with light that gave its black marble a numinous golden glow - a great start to the day. I noticed a group of people chatting animatedly in Spanish, eating breakfast together outside a cafe-bar at the the top corner of plaza san Rafael, near the barrio's covered market. Apart from this unexpected sign of life, the streets were quiet, few shops or eateries were yet open. It was too early for holidaymakers or foreign residents. It gave me a little glimpse of what local people do if they´re not busy at the weekend.

There were twenty plus at Calahonda, and two children made a presentation to the congregation at the end, which was received with enthusiastic applause. There were nearly sixty at Los Boliches, as more winter visitors arrive and settle in.

After lunch we drove to Ronda in bright afternoon sunshine on the slow scenic route over the Sierras de las Nieves on the N366 from Coin via El Burgo, a striking looking village that nestles beneath the sierras - seen here in the distance from the high vantage point of the Mirador del Guarda Forestale , up 900 metres above sea level.
We went up further from there to the so called Pass of the Wind ( it sounds funnier in English) at 1290 metres before descending to Ronda, which is 732 meres above sea level. For much of the route, the road is narrow, winding and challenging to drive because there are so many enchanting views to distract attention. We arrived at the Parador de Ronda an hour later than expected, but we still had a couple of hours of daylight left to look around and enjoy the sunset before dining in the Parador restaurant.
Ronda is situated on a huge limestone outcrop surrounded by a bowl of mountain peaks. The outcrop is divided by a huge limestone canyon forged by the rio Guadelvin, four hundred feet deep in places. The Parador sits on the edge of the cliff above the gorge next to the late eighteenth century puente nuevo bridge.
It used to be the town's Ajuntamiento building, and has been extensively modernised to provide high quality accommodation for visitors. Our room gave us a view over the western end of the gorge, gloriously lit by the setting sun. We dined in the Parador restaurant, and enjoyed a selection from a marvellous nouvelle cusine menu making the most of the local ingredients and traditional recipes.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

St Paul's day on the beach

Today's the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, and the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. No extra duties today, but it's been an eventful week with memorable experiences. We were delighted to discover as we stepped outside this morning that the wind we could hear howling from inside our apartment was pleasant mild air. We went over to the office so that I could print out my sermon notes for tomorrow and to take advantage of the internet connection to email the Parador in Ronda, where we hope to spend a couple of nights before Clare's flight home on Tuesday. 

Then we visited the market and bought a couple of sea bream for supper, one of them rather large, but sold with charm and enthusiasm by our usual fishmonger, ever ready to help us get our heads around the different names in English and Spanish for the creatures on his counter. A stroll along the beach before lunch and another stroll along the beach and a sit down out of the breeze to enjoy the winter warmth for a while before the sun hid behind the beach front apartment blocks. This is special for the end of January when it usually rains. 

Altogether, quite a lazy day, and while we were cooking those amazing fish, an email from the Parador confirming our booking. The bream is an oily fish like mackerel, but its flesh isn't early as dense and the flavour delicate. Despite the formidable size of the fish I'd picked, it was a pleasure to eat with rice, broccoli and haricot beans. It didn't leave me feeling I'd eaten too much. For pudding we had half a persimmon each accompanied by a yoghourt which was a mixture of goat and sheep milk. Beautiful delicate flavours together, worth repeating when we're in family banquet mode over Easter.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Burns Night in Fuengirola

We whiled away a couple of hours shopping in El Corte Ingles this morning, had lunch there and drove out of town as far as the Mijas Golf resort to explore the Fuengirola riverside park, which I've passed several times on weekends and seen lots of people there enjoying picnics and barbequeues. On a Friday afternoon however, there were only children playing on the swings and seesaw on the way home from school. We saw a shepherd on horseback herding several hundred sheep along the riverbank, and there was a flock of green parakeets roosting in the unkempt plane trees that provide the recreational area with shade.

For a good deal of the year, until the aquifers are filled with winter rain, the river bed is dry and dusty. The wide dirt track running alongside it is used by walkers, horse rides, bikers and joggers, but unfortunately also by lorries commuting to a building site up river, plus fast car drivers and quad bike riders ignoring main road speed limits and raising huge clouds of dust. It wasn't the most pleasant place to walk, but we persevered for a while, exploring roads up wind of the dirt track on the far side of the river. Much of the open space on the edge of town is given up to golf courses. You need to drive further out to find open countryside to walk in.

In the evening we attended the annual Burns Night supper in St Andrew's church hall, with about forty others sitting down to a traditional meal of smoked salmon, haggis and swede, presented with the usual ceremony accompanied by an excellent Scottish piper - who happens to be of Argentinan origin and Scottish ancestry. His daytime role is as one of the local English speaking funeral directors. It was an excellent enjoyable occasion, very well organised, and was asked to say Burns' famous grace 'Some hae meat ...' in the best approximation of a Scottish accent I could manage. It made me think of my dear friend Peter Slessor, and those long summer evenings at his house in Sauvergny, eating kippers, drinking red wine and telling stories.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Midweek in Monda

After the Wednesday Matins, Eucharist and coffee morning, Peter took Clare and I to the newly purchased Chaplaincy house to look around. If all goes according to plan, I`ll be moving in there at the end of February. It´s a generous sized family home with good views of the sierra de Mijas on the side of the house where the study will be. I took lots of photos and later made them into a Powerpoint show so that others interested can see what it´s like before the housewarming, whenever that will be.

Thursday we drove up to Coin for their fortnightly Eucharist, and over coffee afterwards we started planning a Shrove Tuesday Quiet Day to accompany the Lenten day of prayer scheduled to take place at Caroline´s house. Then Clare and I drove on to Monda to look around and have lunch. I had hoped to find the castillo hotel restuarant open, at the end of the very steep climb up to it, but the place was closed for renovation. It was most gratifying while we were up there to see a man riding a mule returning for lunch after a morning with his pruning shears in one of the orchards on the rugged hillside. There are places a quad bike or a four by four still can´t go nearly as well as a four footed friend.

We lunched on beer and tapas, incredibly cheaply al fresco, at a bar in the square overlooking a fountain and public wash house several hundred years old in its present form. The Fuente de la Jaula is one of four locally, whose origins and water engineering date back to the time of the Moors, as does the castillo. We couldn´t linger long, as I was due in Fuengirola´s Rosario parish church for another Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Service at five. To my delight there were a hundred people present for a service once more in English and in Spanish. I accepted the challenge to read some of the prayers of intercession in Spanish, since John the Scottish Presbyterian locum pastor, could only read in his contribution in English. It was a first for me, and I was surprised at bringing it off without embarrassing myself. Shades of ecumenism in Italian during my stay in Taormina last year but one!

After the service we dined out at la Vieja Escuela restaurant, where I´d eaten with Bill the day of my arrival. With a gentle bottle of rioja to accompany our fish dishes, it was another pleasant experience to conclude a satisfying day.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Historic waters

The weather´s been decidedly better this past few days. Tuesday, we drove along the coast and then inland to visit the remarkable village of Ojen, nestling in a steep valley several hundred metres above sea level. It´s a village which has limestone caves that have been used over the centuries for human and animal shelter. In a cliff at the side of one of the main streets a couple of caves have been made safe with stylish iron railings and iron park benches for people to sit and chat or just enjoy the view looking down the valley and out to sea.

We had a tapas lunch in the square opposite the Parish Church of Our Lady of the Incarnation. It´s currently being renovated and was wreathed in netting and scaffolding. The exterior north wall is decorated with huge lemon trees which have been trained espalier fashion to lean against the wall decoratively. I wonder who gets to benefit from the fruit?

There´s a well in the same square which dates back to the early twentieth century, although the containment of the spring and its original channelling of water to irrigate citrous and other fruit trees locally originated with the Moors a thousand years ago.

We drove on up the mountainside and returned to Fuengirola by way of Alhaurin and then the Guadalhorce valley, right around the sierra de Mijas. A decent circular trip for a very pleasant sunny day.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Monday Ecumenism

I got up early and wrote a homily for this evening's service before breakfast, much to my surprise. We then did some food shopping, and then drove up to Mijas to show Clare around for the first time and have lunch. The sun shone but it was fairly cold up there, but not impossible to sit and eat outdoors with a view down to the sea ten kilometres below us. We returned to Fuengirola for the service at five o'clock. There were twenty of us present and several had been at the service last night as well. 

It wasn't a grand affair, but it was none the less a worthwhile opportunity to reflect again on the extraordinary progress the churches have made in forging a common witness to faith over my lifetime in ministry. Healing the wounds caused by past conflicts between Christians is important to reconciliation, shaping the future of mission around the challenges facing all believers as a result of global rapid change in the past few decades is another matter altogether.

I wonder if I shall live long enough to see really substantial progress on this front as well?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Ecumenism in Malaga

Saturday was another overcast rainy day, but it didn't prevent us from walking the length of the promenade to the Castillo de Somillo. We stopped soaking wet in the Central Bar opposite Fuengirola bus station on our way back to have something to eat. Clare had tea and tapas, I had a racion of excellent paella and a beer. It's a cheery sort of place with exuberant conversations going on between staff and regulars. It lifted our spirits while the rain cleared for some weekend shopping and the walk home. By the time I went over to the office to print off my sermon for tomorrow, the sky was clearing.

Sunday morning was clear and bright for the early morning trip to Benalmadena to celebrate the Eucharist for a congregation of twenty two. Then, back to Los Boliches for the second Eucharist with a congregation of fifty five, the largest assembly since I first came here, reflecting the comings and goings of those who don't live here permanently. We had a quiet afternoon relaxing after a late lunch, to prepare for an evening outing to Malaga Cathedral for the annual Archdiocesan ecumenical service in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, presided over by the Bishop, Don Jesus Catala Ibanez.

We were collected for the journey from the Recinto Feriale by a coach organised by the local Lux Mundi group, the Catholic organisation which takes the lead in ecumenical affairs and social action. It contained several dozen congregation members of some of the different churches in Fuengirola, which is richly blessed with communities of Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Scottish as well as English people.

We arrived early enough before the service to allow participants to have a snack at the bar in the square in front of the Cathedral West end. Clergy were advised to go into the Cathedral early, find the sacristy and get robed and briefed for the service. The seven o'clock evening Mass was just about the start when I arrived with one of the Danish Pastors and the Scottish Church locum Pastor, and we were taken off to a room at the north west corner of the Cathedral, lined with portraits of previous Bishops of the diocese, for the duration of the Mass, and then collected as other began to arrive nearer the start time.

There were twenty clergy seated together up on the steps of the main altar during the service, one half of them Catholic and the other half representing non-Catholic churches - interestingly, no Orthodox, no Evangelical, nor Pentecostal representatives among them. The order of service, in Spanish and English, with additional contributions in German and Scandinavian languages  was devised by a Canadian ecumenical group. It involved lots of participation by laity as well as clergy. Ther Bishop preached and is homily was rendered in English by the organiser of Lux Mundi. Later, I learned that the Bishop handed her a copy of his address in Spanish just before the service. From where I was sitting she looked as if she was reading from an English text, whereas in fact, she was translating it live! An impressive feat for someone who wasn't a professional interpretor.

With a couple of hundred people present, sitting in the sanctuary gazing into the vast vaulted depths of the Cathedral roof (originally constructed as a mosque) was an impressive experience, so different from visiting as a tourist back in November. The service made reference to the importance of the Second Vatican Council and how it led to a transformation in relations between the Roman Catholic Church and others. I couldn't help but reflect on how significant an influence the Council had been on me in student years, and more importantly when I was training for ministry. Even though I didn't read all its documents, they were influential in re-inforcing and stimulating the Anglican approach to worship, pastoral ministry and mission, and have done a great deal in practical outcomes to draw our churches closer together in witness and service in the forty years since they were published.

We were home again just after ten. As we got off the coach and said goodnight I discovered that I'm meant to be preaching at tomorrow's re-run in English of the Unity Week service at St Andrew's. A busy day tomorrow then.  

Friday, 17 January 2014

Consolation in the rain

Yesterday, overcast and more rain threatening. We went beyond St Andrews along avenida Jesus Cautivo to discover a very local archaeological excavation site, turned into a neat little park tucked away between the highway and some apartment blocks. It's the site of a Roman fish processing factory and baths, going back two thousand years if not longer. You can see kilns where storage pots were fired, and a series of square salt pans where fresh fish were brought for filleting and curing. Close by are the remains of the baths and its tiled courtyard. All is very well explained in a series of interpretation panels, and there's a little cafe in one corner which was hardly open for business at this time of year in the drizzle with only us as visitors. 

From there, we walked to the tourist office near the centre of Fuengirola, to get a town street map for Clare then back along the sea front. On our way we bought some emperador (swordfish) for supper, this time to be eaten with mushrooms of variety and flavour hitherto unknown to either of us, from the main market. We often eat fish at home, but here we can eat fresh fish every day if we want to, as most medium sized supermarkets have a fish counter, and the town has a substantial fleet of small and medium sized boats working the coastal waters night and day. 

Today, it rained all day, right into the evening. We went out and walked the length of the promenade to the Castello Sohail, then back into the centre of town, where we lunched at the Bar/Cafe Central opposite the bus station. Clare had boquerones and the local version of Russian salad tapas, I settled for a racione of the house paella, real comfort food, as rain had penetrated my outer jacket, leaving me feeling cold and soggy. We bought a couple of dorada (sea bass) for supper. It was my turn to cook. The only frying pan we had wasn´t really big enough for ambitious cuisine, so the fish were slowly sautéed with olive oil and just a clove of garlic, nothing else. To my surprise this worked with plain steamed broccoli, carrot and new potatoes. We had lined up a mediaeval music concert to attend at the Rosario church in the town centre, but as we were about to leave it was still raining persistently, so we curled up on the sofa instead, lacking nothing.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Clare`s arrival

The rain stayed away yesterday, and so I got out and walked as much as I could, first up the promenade as far as Torreblanca, then later down as far as Fuegirola RENFE station and up to El Corte Inglez. It gave me an opportunity to piece together the different routes I drove around town when I was here in November into a single mental navigation map, I cooked a minestrone soup for supper, and went off to Malaga Airport to meet Clare from her flight arriving promnptly at ten o`clock in the evening. On the way home I missed the turning for the motorway and we ended up driving back on the slower coast road. It´s better illuminated in the dark and somewhat less stressful to drive as a result. 

In the morning I left Clare to wake up gently and headed to St Andrew´s for Morning Prayer and Eucharist at eight thirty. Thankfully, from where I'm staying this time, it's just a five minute walk instead of a fifteen minute car journey. After I´d socialised for a while at the church coffee morning, I collected Clare from the apartment and we walked the promenade as far as the statue of Our Lady Queen of the Sea, and back. 

I showed her where the most convenient shops were located and the barrio market, where we bought some fresh lubina (hake) for supper. Then, as it was starting to rain, we went by car to the big El Corte Inglez to buy her a dressing gown and have lunch on the top floor with a view across the rooftops to the encircling hills and encroaching clouds. On our return we went out again and walked as far as the port and back, in need of more fresh air, despite the drizzle. We had tea and Applekaka with vanilla sauce in a small Swedish restaurant not far from the port. In our culinary context, it seems we call Applekaka is Apple crumble and custard, Nice to know that it´s appreciated elsewhere. 

I took Clare to show her the church and office, and we Skyped Rachel in Arizona while we were there and had a good signal. Then I had a few work tasks to accomplish before settling down for the evening, so Clare returned and cooked us the lubina fillets with a pimiento sauce from a Basque country recipe, plus spinach and new potatoes, all locally grown or caught. A wonderful way to live and eat.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Rain in Spain on the plain

I got up late, and being in a somewhat secluded apartment, it was only when I left for the church office that I realised it was overcast and raining. It doesn't happen all that often around here. You can tell by the way the roads and pavements don't drain efficiently, and leave surface water puddles everywhere. It's not worth the extra effort to improve water run-off, as it doesn't rain for long, and dries up remarkably quickly, to the eyes of anyone used to the kind of rainfall we normally get in Britain.

After a few hours tuning in and catching up with the round of chaplaincy affairs, the rain abated so I went out in search of the new chaplain's house, recently purchased and now in the process of being equipped for use. I had a rough idea of where the housing area in question was located, and found it easily. The plan is to have it ready by the end of February when the short lease on the present apartment expires. Then, Clare and I will have the challenge of a trial occupation to iron out all the issues that arise when a new house is commissioned for use. 

It was good to have tea with Jim and Della on my way back to the office, and learn about two local Beléns, created by the same parishioner, worth a visit before Candlemass. Then, back to the office to book flights to and from home before bargain offers run out. Church treasurer Val arrived for session with the book-keeper bringing me a handful of wonderfully ripe avocados from her garden tree. What a tasty treat to accompany a supper of one of my favourite tapa dishes - white broad beans with jamón.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

First stop, Alhaurin

After breakfast, I checked the sermon on my laptop, and scribbled down some precis notes. I was satisfied with what I'd written on the significance of Christ's baptism, and thought it better not to ad lib and risk losing a thread of ideas about solidarity. When I emerged from the apartment, it was mild, sunny and bright with only high level decorative cloud. I enjoyed the drive up into the sierras to Alhaurin to celebrate the Eucharist, meeting again the worshippers I started to get to know last time. After the service a handful of us sat in bright sunshine outside the bar in the main street where church folk gather to socialise, and chatted for half an hour before descending to Fuengirola.

Before returning home and making lunch, I stopped off at what I think is a Chinese run domestic hardware supermarket called Hiper Sur which I got to know back in November would be open on a Sunday. All the other Spanish run supermarkets in this region close on Sundays, leaving the trade to just a small number of foreign owned open all hours mini-markets. I needed a couple of wine glasses, and even more importantly a cafetiere to ensure I'm not drinking sludge in the mornings. I bought these for the princely sum of €5 and drank wine for lunch from a glass rather than a tumbler.

Rather than sleep away the afternoon, I took myself and camera for a stroll down the promenade and sat in the sun until tea-time, waiting until sunset to pop up to the church office and get on line to catch up on the day. It's good to be back here again, picking up where I left off at the beginning of Advent.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Up up and away

This morning I was up at six, out of the house by half past, walked down Romilly Road, intercepted an 18 bus just picking up passengers at the stop on Cowbridge Road. It dropped me outside the bus station in perfect time to get the airport shuttle before the one I was walking to catch! Cardiff Airport was at that time very quiet so this time I passed quickly through bag drop and security check, and had an hour to spare. The flight left on time and arrived twenty minutes early, and I arrived in an overcast Malaga, at about the same temperature as the Cardiff I'd left. Bill picked me up, as he did last time I arrived, and drove me to Fuengirola, showed me the apartment, and then took me to lunch at an excellent restaurant, a few blocks from where I'll be living for the next couple of months until the new Chaplain's residence is ready to occupy.

The apartment is on the first floor above a row of shops and restaurants on the beach promenade. The living space and balcony faces the street behind and has two bedrooms, lounge and kitchen, well equipped for a comfortable stay with a full range of European satellite TV channels. It doesn't enjoy a great deal of natural light, but that matters less when the great outdoors is very congenial, except in the worst of weathers. Once I'd unpacked and done a food shopping trip El Corte Inglez supermarket by Los Boliches RENFE station, I collected the Chaplain's phone from the church office, and registered my new laptop on the wi-fi to check my messages and call home, and write a sermon. Unfortunately I couldn't print it off, as the main computer's access password had been changed since November. It was ten o'clock by the time I'd cooked my first meal back in the apartment, and then crawled into bed quite tired, but not aching from the unusual exertions of office moving yesterday, thankfully.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Office moving - downs and ups

Today was office moving day. Unusually for me, I drove in nice and early, before the office removers had started working our end of the room, borrowed a flat bed trolley and moved all the electronic equipment I'd packed up down to the car parked with permission in the basement. I drove over to Wharton Street and waited until the guy with the bollard keys returned to let me into the pedestrian precinct, just as other service vehicles were moving out for the day. 

With official Council authorisation I parked outside the library door and delivered four crates of sensitive documents and half a dozen pieces of computer equipment quickly, carrying everything up the stairs to the equivalent of a second floor office, with vital help from Julie. The lift, when not used by the removers was too slow to be useful. By half past eleven the vital computers were running and Julie was carrying on where she left off yesterday, generating invoices. So, I took the car home, had a coffee, then returned by bus to get on with setting up the network. 

The PMR engineers came in to set up the SaftyNet software on the newly acquired Windows 8 PC. I must have forgotten to log off properly after configuration yesterday, as it kept defaulting to the email address login page, rather than the computer only user area login specially set up for SafetyNet installation. The guys had the correct password, but it didn't work. Windows was presuming exclusively an internet login was required, regardless of the fact that there's no internet connected router until BT installs new phone lines for us. Should have been yesterday, my be some time next week. Despite promises BT don't do quick! 

Anyway, I returned to find two bemused engineers, and had to dive straight into troubleshooting, as I didn't understand why the option of different logins were't available from the initial screen. Trouble is that Microsoft presume those who are forced to purchase their operating system can/need to/must/should do things their way, and bury vital options without making the trail to find them easy. I'm not enjoying hearing how to use this operating system, it hinders my workflow, reduces my control. And why anyone should presume the universe of users all want one and the same user interface on every device, beats me. Do these super inteliigent people not understand the difference between big and small screens, proper physical keyboard and silly jumping around on-screen keyboards? 

I left early to complete my packing and relax, but got a panic call to say that the metal foot, part of the stand on the new SafetyNet PC had not arrived in the box with it. I swore that I packed it. It can't have been lost. But not all the unpacking had been done, and won't happen until Monday. I was so busy troubleshooting the log-in issue I didn't notice the problem with the stand. Such a pity. If I had noticed, I'd have hunted down the piece, knowing what I was looking for, and which in crate it might be hiding. In the end, there was nothing I could do except let go, and get an good night's sleep.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Packing and more packing

Back onto the office, first thing, to meet with Julie and get her started on invoicing using my old Dell office laptop, finally free of Windows Vista and working sweetly on Windows 7 with all the programs and data she needs. Then I got on with unloading into collapsible crates borrowed from home some filing cabinet drawers in which our security sensitive business material is kept, ready to spend the night under lock and key with the electronic gear, so that there's no unfortunate mishaps with either while the removal people are taking our furniture. My job for tomorrow will be to shift all this stuff over to our new admin base, and get the office network running. I'll be crossing my fingers as it's the day before I return to Fuengirola. It needs to be perfect so that I can work remotely with Julie in the office.

The engineers from PMR turned up just ahead of me to start the installation of new signal relay equipment and the remote monitoring kit for our new office. I had first to take the new PC to them to work on, then later a couple of our radios for test purposes. People working in the next door office, where City Centre Management will in future operate were busy transforming their orderly environment into the usual chaos of packing up to move out. Our room won't be empty of its furniture before mid-morning tomorrow. I hope ours will arrive in good time for me to set up our equipment properly before the day is out. I need the peace of mind. So much so that in a rare fit of zeal I started packing my travel case this evening - a whole day before I usually get around to thinking about it.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Business on the move

We were relieved to hear Rachel and Jasmine had arrived safely after the ten hour flight back to Phoenix. Jasmine woke up in the afternoon and went for the briefest of introductory visits to her new school, then back home for more rest. Rachel did some house hunting, in preparation for her move into the city from deepest rural Cottonwood. It'll be great when we know they are settled in their new situation.

Meanwhile, there's a CBS office move to prepare for at the end of the week. Monday and Tuesday afternoons were taken up planning how we can keep working without interrupting the first key task of the year, mailing a hundred or so invoices out to the first batch of signed up radio users. For me it meant preparing the mail-merge data and getting it to run properly, so that Julie has an editable file to work on when she arrives on Thursday. Inevitably I hit snags, and opted to complete the chore at home. With all the admin PCs are configured to synchronise with Microsoft Skydrive, I can put its usability to the test, when Julie comes to work this Thursday on the invoice file generated. 

This  lunchtime I had a funeral at Thornhill. There was a familiar face among the mourners who greeted me cordially after the service. It took a moment for me to recognise Fr Roger Balkwill, who was assistant Curate in Caerphilly the same time as me, forty five years ago. The deceased was his brother-in-law. We've met no more than twice in the years since then. USPG sent him to work in mission in Zimbabwe after his curacy, and when he returned, he went to work in the West Midlands, which was where we next met, twenty years later. Co-incidentally, the last time we met was nearly two years ago, at the funeral of priest who was a contemporary of ours.

Afterwards, I collected Owain from home and we visited PC World together to buy yet another computer for the office. The next CBS move will be our seventh. It will place us in a building where we don't have the 24/7 access we need, so we're arranging a hire a room for a night support base in our present location, where we do have 24/7 access, and that means we need to create a clone of our radio monitoring and recording system, a necessity for continued operation. An extra PC is needed for this.

 The decision to buy a Lenovo 23" all in one machine took five minutes, the purchase took the best part of an hour on top of this, so eventually we got back to the office and Owain got Windows 8 installed and updated, updating being necessary before it was possible to upgrade to 8.1, which is why it all takes so long. NOT a selling point in the business world where time is money! Even so, it took just over half the time it took me with each of the other two PCs I've dealt with this past two weeks, a testimony to the faster BT Broadband we have in the office compared with our very flaky TalkTalk home broadband. Even as I write this, not many minutes pass without getting an auto-save error message, and most nights the signal drops irretrievably and no even a router re-boot will fix it.

With Owain working on PC commissioning, I was free to help pack stuff into the huge removers' crates delivered to our end of the office, and to pack away as much electronic gear as we can do without for the next couple of days.  It felt as if we were making little impression on the task in hand, since our admin area also doubles up as a radio workshop and is rarely tidy, but by the end of the afternoon, most of the cabinets and cupboard were empty and ready for the removers to take. We're looking forward to having extra space with our new arrangements, and hopefully that'll bring more order and calm to our work-space.

Monday, 6 January 2014


The house seemed quiet and empty as we cleaned and tidied up on Monday morning. Just before lunch I received an email from my cousin Lindsay to tell us that his mother, my Auntie Joyce had died in her late eighties, at the nursing home across the city, where she's lived since her husband my Uncle Gordon died eight years ago. Her daughter Christine lives in Hong Kong, and given how long it will take for her to arrive home, the funeral won't be any time soon. Sad to say, neither Clare nor I can attend this significant family gathering to say our goodbyes, as I'll be out in Spain again on locum duty by then.

In the afternoon, Rachel sent us a message from the departure lounge at Heathrow to say her flight had been delayed. It took off four hours late, we later learned from the British Airways website.Not a pleasant experience with a small child to care for. I will be restless until I know she's landed at the other end, even though transatlantic flying is safe and predictable for the most part nowadays.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Epiphany Sunday farewell

Clare and I went to the eight o'clock Eucharist at St Catherines before breakfast and helping Rachel pack everything ready to depart. As her Mac is currently unserviceable, I've given her my little HP 11.6" travelling laptop to take back with her. It's been a constant companion in my travels over the past three years - Canada, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, North Wales, Kenilworth. I think I may miss it. O wonder if I shall get along as well with the new 14" touchscreen machine - less eye strain hopefully.

Last night I discovered Libre Office wasn't working, possibly due to an installation error when I updated a few days ago, or else something I did when removing all my data to make way for hers. So be it, I set about downloading and re-installing afresh, but the TalkTalk Broadband internet connection was so erratic, stopping and starting as it often does in the evening and at night, that the installation file download failed twice, and then a third time while acquiring a copy of Foxit Reader. After a half hour wasted waiting for downloads to throw up error messages, I looked in my new laptop's download folder and found a copy of Libre Office I could transfer and use to re-install, and all was well.

We left in reasonable time and arrived at Thatcham in good time for a fine Sunday dinner of roast lamb, followed by trifle. We made our goodbyes and headed back down the M4 while there was enough light for Clare to drive half the distance. As soon as we were home and fed, Clare took down the cards and un-decorated the Christmas tree. No point in waiting for the real Epiphany day tomorrow, now that our magic month of family togetherness is over, I guess.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Final holiday weekend

Another damp miserable day yesterday. I stayed home while the girls went out to Roath Park in the morning, then traipsed into the office to work on generating the first batch of 2014 invoices ready for issuing next week. Last year I did them in November before going to Sicily. It's not a difficult task. The difficulty, when I only get to do it once a year, is remembering how to produce a decent data-set from the RadioNet client database, then getting Word's mail-merge to make use of it.

I did most of the work in the office, but when I hit a snag, I decided it was better to go home and figure it out, as background office noise was too much of a distraction. Now that I've got my home and three office PCs linked to Microsoft Sky Drive, and, it seems to be working as intended, this was easy, and it meant I wasn't late for supper. When I return to Spain it'll make it that much easier to work on things, as if I was at the next desk in the office - provided the internet connection works.

Today Owain joined us and we went to Castell Coch. Annoyingly, it was closed for the month for restoration and cleaning work, but according to the CADW website it was open. We were able to park outside the gates - not even the car park was in use, and the narrow roadside was lined with the parked cars of walkers. Not a good idea. We let Jasmine explore the outside of the castle precinct. She found a discarded ivy wreath in the dry moat, seemed to know exactly where it was meant to be, and took it back where it belonged and hung it up on the door.
Then we walked up the hillside and played with her in the woods for an hour.
We then drove over to St Nicholas and visited the Tinkinswood and St Lythan's burial chambers. 
We had lunch in the excellent Duffryn House visitor centre restaurant in between the two visits. Fortunately, the rain stayed away long enough for Jasmine to make the most of the children's playground outside while we finished our meals, although the place she seemed to love playing the most was at Tinkinswood, and it was quite a challenge to persuade her to leave when we were all ready to go and eat.

We returned home for a final family meal together with Owain before Rachel and Jasmine leave for Arizona on Monday. Tomorrow we drive  them to her in-laws for a final night's stopover before the flight from Heathrow.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

About time too

First day back at work in the New Year, Ashley and I met with top Council, Police and Retail Partnership officials to review the documentation needed to get the Business Crime Reduction Partnership re-launched on the most robust foundation possible. We came to a conclusion that I was happy with, even though it meant scrapping the draft constitution I've been working at, on and off, over the past five years. Finally we're in a position where the Partners are willing to take ownership for setting up the organisation in their own right and not relying on Cardiff Business Safe to carry it forward on their behalf. About time too.

It means we in CBS can concentrate on developing the service we provide, freer from external pressures and interference, as the boundaries between the Company providing the service and the Partnership will be evident, as they should have been from the outset. Good intentions foundered early on, however, when the City Centre Management was taken over by the Council following the demise of Cardiff Initiative and the Chamber of Commerce from which it originated. It's amazing that RadioNet and Cardiff Business Safe didn't fail at the same time, but thanks to Ashley it didn't. I won't be involved in the re-drafting work, only in responding to the document when it appears, much to my relief.

In the afternoon, there was a break in the bad weather, long enough for Rachel, Jasmine and I to visit the beach at Barry Island. It was not unbearably cold, and we stayed long enough to dig a sand castle with an avenue to its own swimming pool, and to walk the beach and scramble on the rocks.
At the top right of this photo is the site of the old eastern beach shelter, which has been derelict for many years. In its present state it's hard to know if it's a demolition or a construction site. Curiosity, however, led me to discover a complete makeover of the shelter is now under way, to restore its original functions and add a few more. The Welsh Assembly government has invested in a £3m regeneration programme, see this page on the Vale of Glamorgan Council website.

Barry Island beach has been a popular resort for holiday makers and day trippers for a century, and for most of my lifetime it's always appeared a little unkempt and down at heel. The western end facilities have been much improved over the past decade. Restoration and enhancement of the eastern shelter will give the whole of the shoreline a much needed uplift. And about time too.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

That scynching feeling

Rachel got in about half past three, tired but happy, and we all got up late. It rained most of the day, and Clare took Jasmine around to Anwen's house for another afternoon of play. With nothing better to do, I decided to update the funeral database record I've kept since returning to Britain in 2002. It's occasionally useful to consult if a family request me to conduct a service for another of their kith and kin. I was appalled to discover that I hadn't made any entries since the end of May, only filed away some, but not all of the paperwork. There were half a dozen entries to make, not counting the half a dozen funerals taken in Spain on three separate locum visits. I didn't have any documentation for those, only odd notes in my diary, and very different recollections from those attaching to the sombre routine of pastoral duties close to home.

I'm now making an effort to maintain a degree of consistency between records and documents kept on all work and personal Windows machines via Sky Drive, still fearful that I'll end up losing stuff with automatic synchronisation, because I've forgotten to configure something properly. The source of this apprehension is trouble I've had with getting X-Marks to behave synchronising bookmarks between devices, phones, tablets and computers. Not configuring something correctly at installation of a new browser extension, I find it hasn't merged, but added the same set of bookmarks to the X-Marks web server, then synced multiple copies of the duplicated set of bookmarks to other machines. I then have to spend time de-duplicating bookmarks on X-Marks web server, and browsers I use - two, sometimes three different browsers for each operating system installed, ten different uses of X-Marks on current and legacy computers. It's a tangled mess going back years. It's what you get when you allow auto-sync to rule before checking you have it configured correctly. It's good to achieve some order and consistency, but it can be dauntingly difficult. It's not the stuff of which to make New Year's resolutions, it takes too much time!
I also use Google Drive to shift material around between machines I use, work and personal in a rather ad hoc manner, simply because all our accounts are GMail. This system also has its virtues, though I'm not in a position where I work collaboratively on documents that can take advantage of them. In a perfect world all work and personal stuff would be backed up on both Google Drive and Sky Drive for any kind of access, but it's hard to imagine Google and Microsoft competing Cloud systems being able to synchronise with each other.  

New Year comes

It rained most of New Year's eve, but Jasmine was happily confined indoors most of the time, playing with Clare's god-child Anwen. The mums and grannies even managed to get the kids out into the park to play on the swings and roundabouts for an hour during a brief respite. I went to the office to take the newly set up 17" laptop to its new abode. Getting it to work with the office router turned out to be a time consuming nightmare, nothing to do with this machine, but with a desktop machine which was both hard wired to the router and had its wireless card switched on. I had it on in order to set it up to synchronise with Windows Sky Drive. 

It wasn't obvious at all but I suspected something was amiss when I first spotted a 'wireless available' icon flash up as well as the wired network icon at boot time. The BT router isn't the newest piece of kit, and this model has given us many hours of confusion and tribulation in the past for no apparent reason. Now and then it needs a reboot to get every device back on line, but it didn't fix the issue this time around. Eventually I concentrated attention on the desktop PC, established the wireless card was running and competing with the wired connection for the router's attention. Once I'd switched off the desktop PC wireless off the router stopped misbehaving and accepted the new workstation's wireless login. At least I learned something but it slowed me down prevented other jobs from getting finished and delayed my departure, so that I had to walk home as the normal evening bus service had be this time simply withered away - so I was late for supper again.

Once Jasmine had gone to bed, Rachel went into town to see the New Year in with some dancing. Clare and I snuggled up on the sofa in front of the S4C review of the year programme, which saw us through to midnight. We then went up to the attic bedroom and watched the fireworks erupting into a clear black sky from the heart of the Millennium Stadium just over a mile away. Quite a good spot from which to contemplate the festivities, rather than exhaust ourselves joining in. I found myself thinking a lot about the joys of last New Year's Eve festivities en famille in Taormina. I confess that dark cold rainy Sicily was a much more cheerful place to be than dark cold rainy Cardiff.