Monday, 31 March 2014

Airport nature trip

After a long night of catch up sleep and a lazy morning, Clare and I drove Eddie and Ann to Malaga airport for their early afternoon flight. Then we decided to visit the Guadalhorce Nature Reserve, but getting from the airport to the dormitory suburb of Guadalmar to park on the sea front and start our stroll turned out to be more frustratingly difficult than we´d imagined. We went around in circles, to and from the airport approach road, criss crossing the vast commercial and industrial estates adjacent to the motorways, unable to find the sign that would take us to the minor road we needed. Yet, approaching the airport from the Feungirola side, I found it easy enough to spot the relevant motorway exit slip-road on my previous visit. Third time lucky, we ended up where we wanted to, and made it through the urbanizacion down to the sea front to park.

We did little more than walk along the riverside path inland, listening and looking out for birds as we strolled in the sun for as long as we could cope, as by now we were getting hungry. There were lots of swifts in the air and somewhat fewer swallows. On the foreshore an egret was feeding, and posed for a series of photos before taking to the wing when a couple of cormorants did a fly-past.
Satisfied with this small outing, we headed back for La Cala and lunch, satisfied that next time it wouldn´t be quite so difficult to find our way into the reserve, and be equipped with a picnic for a longer stay.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Mothering Sunday surprise

Clare and I drove up to Alhaurin for this morning's Eucharist. When we arrived the car park of the cemetery chapel was full of cars and a crowd of mourners surrounding a hearse into which a coffin was being loaded. There'd been an early funeral - they can happen on Sundays here, unlike the U.K. It was a quarter past ten by the time the hearse left and the crowd began to disperse. It didn't leave us much time to prepare for our service. It didn't help to discover at the last minute that the wrong set of readings had been printed for the  Sunday bulletin, so getting started was a bit of a shambles and a bit late, but all proceeded as intended as we settled into worship.

We returned by way of the office in Los Boliches, where I attempted to check in via the British Airways website on behalf of Eddie and Ann, and print out their boarding passes. Annoyingly, British Airways on-line check-in only opens strictly 24 hours before flight departure, even though you can check in at the airport a good two to three hours before that. I wasn't in the mood to hang around for three quarters of an hour to complete the task, and had to postpone it until later.

The four of us went out to lunch at the restaurant Olé down the road from the house, where I ate with Peter and Linda last Sunday. This time I had roast pork. It was delicious, but the portion was so big that unusually, I failed to clear my plate. I'm just no longer used to eating large amounts of meat or anything else for that matter. It's something to do with ageing I guess. 

When we got back to the house, Clare and Ann went for a swim in the garden pool, as it was just warm enough. Ann and Eddie have been in a couple of times this week already. Nothing could tempt me into the water this side of high summer. I'm content to be a wimp.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Family re-union

After yesterday morning's Lent group in church, I took Eddie and Ann with me to visit Cortico Carranque, as I'd arranged to meet with Angela and Martin to plan next Friday's quiet day there. We were treated to an excellent paella lunch, and interesting conversation. I timed the return journey to be back in Los Boliches by six for a chiropracter appointment, but when I arrived the place was closed, and later I discovered that I'd got the date and time wrong. The invitation to lunch with the Archbishop of Malaga and the appointment clashed, but I failed to notice it. If my back was still hurting I wouldn't have made an error so stupid.

Clare's flight was due to land in Malaga at 12.40 today. I prepared a meal before I left to pick her up and did some shopping in Los Boliches on my way there. I timed the journey to minimise the wait, in the hope that arrival would be punctual. At 12.24, as I was about to turn off the MA20 Autovia to enter the airport zone, I saw a Vueling jet coming into land, and wondered if it was Clare's 'plane arriving ahead of schedule. Indeed it was, and after only 20 minutes waiting we were on our way back to La Cala, and re-union with Eddie and Ann over lunch. Later we walked down to the beach and looked around the village. I took this photo using the camera's timer, to celebrate the occasion.
I was amused to find that it appears to show me shackled to the object alongside us. It's some sort of removable storage unit, probably for chairs, and it's chained to the bench.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Tale of two seminaries

The day started with a visit to Coin to celebrate the Eucharist for nine people in the Eglesia de Cristo chapel. I then drove back to La Cala to pick up Linda for a special outing to Malaga. On the way we collected John Le Page, the retired but still very active Church Army Captain, who is a member of the Chaplaincy ministry team. After the Week of Praye for Christian Unity meeting in Malaga Cathedral back in January, Mgr Jesus Catala Ibanez, the Archbishop, promised to invite all the non-Catholic pastors working in his diocese to meet for lunch. One personal blessing of being a locum priest here for the past three months is being around long enough to see that promise fulfilled.

The meeting was to be held at the Archdiocesan Spirituality Centre, a substantial complex of buildings out in the suburban hills up and behind the coastal plain. With the help of Linda's satnav, we negotiated the winding streets down and uphill from the urban Autovia and arrived punctually where we were meant to be, joining a group of thirty odd lay and ordained people in ministry to expatriate communities, Anglicans, Presbyterians, various European kinds of Lutherans - Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Dutch and German, being welcomed by the Archbishop and by the present Rector of the seminary, who was giving an historical talk outside the main entrance to the chapel when we arrived, before we went in to worship.
A first-fruit of Rome's response to the protestant reformation, founded in 1597, just after the Council of Trent, the entire establishment was once the seminary for educating and training priests for mission in a post mediaeval world, a hundred at a time, looked after by a community of nuns in a convent on-site. Now, there is no more than a tenth of that number of candidates in training. Very few nuns remain, and the convent is transformed into a retreat house and conference centre. On the same campus there are also church schools. 
The vast expanse of buildings, some dating back to the end of the sixteenth century, face south, and overlook a bowl of wooded hills which aren't built upon, so the environment feels secluded, peaceful and rural despite being surrounded on all sides by urban development. Given the modern appetite for land, it's amazing the church has resisted encroachments of this rather special oasis.

After the introductory historical talk, we gathered in chapel, a striking building with architectural forms that come straight from mediaeval Andalusian Arab architecture. There we were treated to a biblical reflection from the Archbishop on the theme of Christ the 'Good Shepherd', to whom the seminary is dedicated. 

He pointed out that this role model was one which all Christian pastors (male and female, he stressed) were inspired by and committed to follow. Our unity in service of others was found in the pastoral identity of Christ - a little masterpiece in the art of reconciling ecumenical theology. We learned that the seminary's founder had been beatified, but also that the Rector and a deacon seminarian (Blessed Juan Duarte of Yunquera) had also been beatified as martyrs of the Spanish Civil War a few years ago, murdered during that conflict in the 1930s. 

These historical fact no doubt help shape the priorities of the diocese when holding on to and adapting afresh for mission a four hundred year old institution facing a secularising society coping with new pathological expressions of extremist ideology. It represents a persistent expression of conviction that the church still has a vital offer to make in a changing world, and cannot do so without Good Pastors. Here´s a photo that was taken to mark the occasion.
The commitment to reshape this place of learning for a new future I found inspiring. Even more so after an email arrived on our way home after the meeting, telling me of the intention to close St Michael's College Llandaff for residential training in the near future - and this after all the enterprise and innovation undertaken by the Principal and Staff team over the past decade to re-shape its residential and non-residential training offer. 'Can't afford it', is most likely to be the excuse for termination. 

I believe our leaders and their expert consultants have lost the plot. Or they've lost the will to insist that life at close quarters for a year or more in a learning praying community is the only way to get people to understand in their own skins how to live and work together with others utterly different in temperament and faith priorities from themselves, whose company they haven't chosen. That's how generations of pastors have found out how to be 'good pastors' towards everyone they meet, not just those who agree with them, and go along with the quirks of their religiosity. I don't think the same can be achieved through short periods of residential training inserted into a largely home based programme, as it's always possible to avoid hard challenges, with the necessity of returning to the routine of parish life and distance learning. 

I believe that as a result, the church will suffer even more from loss of identity and purpose with an ensuing collapse into individualism and competitiveness, the opposite direction from the missionary demand for partnership and collaboration. I foresee that what gets demolished is destined to be re-invented in another forty years. Such a pity it has to be like that.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Libre Office triumphant

Eddie and Ann have been enjoying the garden, and strolls on the beach at La Cala this last couple of days. We went to Mijas pueblo for lunch and a walk around yesterday. Today, I celebrated the Annunciation a day late at St Andrew's, and did some preparatory work for the Good Friday Vigil at the Cross. When it came to prepare the St John Passion dialogue, I realised I didn't have a suitable text anywhere in my archive, so I had to download one and then edit it into an A5 leaflet format. Working with MS Office 2003 on the Chaplain's laptop, using first Publisher and then Word was infuriatingly frustrating, as neither program would let me control the pre-set format, and text wouldn't display as I wanted it. I wasted a couple of hours on this and then give up and went home feeling most annoyed. 

After lunch, I had another go with the same text I'd downloaded, and in half an hour had a print ready document, using the latest version of Libre Office. Each new edition marks an improvement on the previous one. It gives me all the control I need where I need it, and these days loads up and runs almost as quickly as MS Office, a credit to the work of hundreds of volunteers who had worked on code revision over the past couple of years. I've used Libre Office and Open Office before it, with loyalty, although never exclusively, as there have been times when I needed to use MS Publisher for special booklet production. I keep a copy on one of my several machines. All the rest have Libre Office. Why would I bother to buy a Microsoft product which insists it knows better than I do what I want and how I should do it. However inefficient and quirky my productivity habits are, I remain the best judge of what gets the job happily done. And in almost all cases these days that means Libre Office. Well done you guys!


Monday, 24 March 2014

Waiting for a 'plane

Time to get the apartment ready to welcome Eddie and Ann this morning, so Leah came in to clean through, I changed bed linen, swapped bedrooms and gathered up all of my goods and chattels scattered in every room. By midday I was shopping for a few last minute food items and then on my way to the airport with an hour to spare. This gave me an opportunity to turn off the airport motorway and head into the village of Guadalmar, which is at the western flank of the Guadalhorce Paraje Natural nature reserve.

The Guadalhorce river runs down a wide valley from the Sierra de las Nieves and meets the sea through two main channels, just below Malaga airport. So there's a substantial wetland and saltmarsh area, that's perfect for welcoming migratory birds
I parked the car by the modern church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, walked into the reserve from there, and explored some of the terrain along the riverside. 
I was fascinated to find that the ground was carpeted with green clover. I saw a couple of egrets flying at a distance, a flock of yellow birds which may have been finches heading away from me, swifts and swallows chasing each other overhead. A lark hovered and chirruped away, all in the three quarters of an hour I had to walk around. I can't think of a better way to kill time waiting for a 'plane to land.

I arrived at the airport punctually, only to discover that Eddie and Ann's flight had been diverted to land at Granada, supposedly because winds at Malaga were too strong for the smaller type of jet airliner flying from London City airport. That meant a long wait, so I left the airport and went to nearby Churriana to get a drink and some lunch and part the car for nothing while I waited. Just after three I had a text message from Ann to say they were on a Malaga bound coach. By quarter to five we were re-united and on our way to La Cala.

I was glad to have made time to cook a meal before setting out in the morning, so we went down to the beach for a walk in the light of the setting sun, before eating and relaxing for the evening.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Feast for Lent

My first service this morning was at Calahonda just ten minutes drive from La Cala. Thirty adults and six children present. I didn't sleep quite as well as I needed to and wasn't quite as alert as I usually am, and ended up leaving my reading glasses behind. Lately, I've got used to carrying two pairs at a time, however, just in case, so I didn't have to go back and pick up another pair on my way to Los Boliches. 

There were fifty people again at St Andrew's. At the end of the service, some took their leave at the end of their holiday, while others, just arrived introduced themselves or were re-united with old friends. It's striking how good some permanent residents are at remembering those who come and go according to season.

Peter and Linda invited me to lunch with two friends at the Restuarant Olé just down the hill from the house. I had a huge salad,  preceded by a plate of the delicious house green olives and followed by a large grilled plaice, with a few glasses of  Navarra vino tinto to wash it down, and that was enough to keep me going for the rest of the day. I'm very glad that Sundays in Lent aren't fasting days!

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Birds on Saturday

This morning I started re-organising the apartment, ready to welcome Eddie and Ann arriving Malaga on Monday from East Anglia, via London City  airport. Linda came in and made up a couple of beds in the second bedroom and I transferred all my goods and chattels to that room to free up the one with the double bed in it where I've been sleeping for the past month. Then I went up to the office to collect my alb, print off my sermon for tomorrow, and do the first half of the food shopping for the week ahead. After lunch, I did the second half of the shopping in the local Mercadona, and then went out for a walk, two kilometres along the coast towards El Faro, to see what birds I could photograph.

There was a strong breeze, but fortunately it was warm enough to walk along the exposed path alongside the N340. On the rock where I snapped a single Cormorant a couple of weeks ago, there were two at first.
Then, a third joined them. All three were breeding females, judging by the unusual display of white feathers on the neck, head and flank.
On the way back, I heard what I thought was an Oystercatcher's call, then saw a group of four wading birds feeding on the edge of the shore, which I didn't recognise at all.
I went through a list of the various suspects on an Andalusian visitor website, and Google Images gave me a selection of photos to compare with my own. My best guess is that they were Sanderling, a new bird to me.
These birds are so well adapted to sea shore survival that they aren't at all easy to spot among the stones and vegetation, except when they move about. Altogether I was pleased with the pictures I got today. My new camera is giving good results on Auto, but I must make an effort to learn how to manage its control settings as well.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Spring in the air

I celebrated the Eucharist in honour of St Joseph at St Andrew's on Wednesday, and after chatting to people at the coffee morning, worked in the office for a couple of hours before returning for lunch and some more preparatory work on Friday's Lent course session. Each night and day gets a little warmer and more comfortable, spring is on its way, and with it all kinds of blossoms and pollens that make me cough and splutter unfortunately. It varies from day to day, depending upon what's in air. 

Thursday was an idle sort of day until the afternoon, when I walked the length of La Cala village and then back along the beach before calling into Mercadona for some garlic and beer. Climbing the hill on the way back I had an allergic coughing fit, probably caused by pollen from the mimosa bushes lining the road on one side. It was a surprise after a fairly cough free day. Reactions of this kind are fairly hit and miss it seems.

I slept a good nine hours, longer than usual, and after a rushed breakfast arrived at St Andrew's with just enough time to print out my notes for the Lent Course session. There were five of us present, and we had a lively discussion around the review I gave of Marian devotion and how to understand it in this social context. 

Afterwards, I walked down the main road on the route I take to visit the chiropracter, in search of an poster advertising a Scandinavian Jazz Orchestra which caught my attention last week. There's a plan afoot to have a Jazz Songs of Praise at Alhaurin in May. Caroline, who's organising it, is on the lookout to recruit Jazz musicians or a band to take part. I remembered that the poster had an email address on it, so when I found it, I took a photo and emailed it to her for following up.

On the way back to pick up the car, I saw on the notice board of the Parish cofradia house, on the road next to Recinto Feriale, an advertisement for a meeting in Virgen del Carmen church next week at which this year's Semana Santa brochure and poster would be presented to the public with speeches and due ceremony. The town band will be there to provide music as well. Somebody told me about this annual parochial event. The processions are organised with great care and attention to detail, and it's considered an honour to have one's poster design accepted. Each community does something similar, aware that there is widespread interest, on the part of both fellow citizens and tourists.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Up the watch tower

It's been warm enough this past couple of days to shed a pullover while walking out in the daytime. Yesterday I worked on preparing next Sunday's sermon notes for the lay preachers, and ended up writing a sermon as well. All morning, I worked on completing my Lent course session for Friday, which puts me ahead of schedule.

As I sat writing and staring out of the window, I noticed lots of quite large black bees feeding off the blossoming Wysteria in the garden, and eventually, I got my camera out and spent half an hour taking pictures of them. You'll find them here. They are three times the size of ordinary honey bees, which feed alongside them. Later I identified them as Carpenter Bees. They bore into soft or rotten wood to make their nests, leaving neat holes on the surface. Impressive little creatures.

I walked into La Cala where Bill came and joined me for a beer. While I was waiting for him to arrive, sitting on the sea front near the mediaeval Arab watchtower, I noticed someone up on the roof and this prompted me to walk around to entrance to see if it was open to visitors. Indeed it was. It's a local tourist information centre and small museum, housing a collection of model sailing ships.
There was a trestle table displaying tourism leaflets and an enthusiastic lady welcoming visitors to enter and look around. There are rooms on two levels inside the tower, plus a roof terrace with views along the coast worthy of a watch tower.
There's also a history exhibition on the ground floor telling the story of the Earl of Torrijos, a General who led a military coup attempt against the tyrannical King Fernando VII. His expeditionary force landed at Velez Malaga, but failed in its objective. He and his followers were summarily executed on the beach at Malaga in December 1831. I was fortunate to find the place open as it opens irregularly at this time of year. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Sunday journeys

I drove to Benalmadena for this morning´s first Eucharist in bright sunshine. There were twenty nine people there, and at Los Boliches later there were fifty. This reflects the steady up-turn in the number of early spring holidaymakers, as did the increase of traffic on the coast road. This journey is likely to become slower as the weeks go on, and downright difficult to maintain punctuality in Semana Santa, five weeks time. Coupled to this is the arrival of holidaymakers with access to the closed car park that serves our building, taking up more spaces that they're entitled to, plus the on-street parking spaces all get taken, so it'll be a logistic challenge to turn up on time at St Andrews.

After lunch and a snooze, I drove up to Alhaurin to take part in a 'Songs of Praise' service, ably compèred by Gareth Marsh, the Baptist minister who is a member of the Chaplaincy ministry team. There were fifty people present, and we were blessed with mild evening and the absence of a wind. We had refreshments outside afterwards, by the light of the setting sun for half an hour before it disappeared behind the Sierra de las Nieves - a very pleasant experience - and I was home just before dark, testimony to the noticeable lengthening of days now taking place.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Yunquera visit

With all my Sunday preparations behind me, I had a free day, so I drove up-country on the A366 road in the direction of Ronda to visit the hill town of Yunquera, population just over 3,000, at the heart of the Sierra de las Nieves ´biosphere reserve' - a title upgrade from 'parque natural', used for other large expanses of land set aside from further explotation for recreation. The title indicates international recognition for the uniqueness of the region's biodiversity and the efforts in place to conserve it and manage it for receational purposes. It's the highest town in the province of Malaga.
It's exactly and hour´s journey from La Cala de Mijas, with a winding climb on a road in excellent condition, sheer pleasure in good conditions. I had the pretext of a pastoral visit to one of our inland parishioners. Quite a number of expatriates have moved further inland to enjoy a lifestyle encompassed in exquisite rural beauty, not to mention lower property prices. Apparently there are about 200 Brits in the local population. 

For most of the year, up at 2000 feet, the climate is congenial, although it can rain and snow in winter.The town is quite self-contained, with shops retailing everything one could need, reducing the requirement to venture twenty miles downhill to Coin to supply what's lacking locally. The views of the surrounding peaks, and down towards the sea, thirty miles away, are spectacular. Coin and Alhaurin appear against the backdrop of the Sierra de Mijas like a white blur on the distant landscape.
We looked around the town, found the sixteenth century parish church of our Lady of the Incarnation open, to visitors as one of the processional trona was being fettled up ready for use in Passiontide.
In the church a seminarian, hailing from the town is buried, Juan Duarte, martyred in November 1936 during the Civil War, tortured, soaked in gasoline and burned alive, one of scores of victims among the faithful honoured by the Catholic church in 2007 at a beatification ceremony in Tarragona. The image of Jesús cautivo was on display here, as in Los Boliches. It has a different kind of resonance against the background of 20th century local history.
Many in Spain are reluctant to speak about the atrocities of the Civil War. The church gets criticised for reminding the world of victims of brutal partisan conflict. There were certainly perpetrators and victims on both sides. But the church celebrates those whose faith, no matter how conservative or radical they were, put their lives on the line in the face of hostility and hatred. Those denied their human rights, those denied justice solely because of their inheritance of faith, firmly adhered to, no matter what their social or political allegiances, should never be forgotten, no matter how politically inconvenient that may be.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Don't forget to drink

Only one person turned up for the Lenten study group this morning, so I gave the handout I'd prepared, and we parted company unapologetically. Linda came by and we went to inspect the new Chaplain's house. All it needs is the electricity supply connecting and all the lights purchased for the house to be installed, then I can move in, hopefully in the coming week.

Before lunch, I walked to and from my chiropracter appointment, aware of considerable improvement over the past few weeks. It's down to fine tuning now, and I don't have another appointment for twelve days. Then I did some food shopping, returned and cooked lunch. I had intended to go back to church in the evening for a quiz night, but fell asleep watching the news, forgetting that I could expect to be tired after the treatment, as my musculature de-stresses. 

The thing Mogens Dahl keeps reminding me is of the need to drink a lot more water than I think I need, not only during treatment but all the time, as this will also help with the catarrhal congestion which has me coughing constantly at the moment. Thank heavens there's no infection, just irritation and discomfort. It's just a matter of changing habit. Mogens says I'm blessed to have a wife who notices, and reminds me to drink more water at meals, but at the moment she's not here, so I have to get used to reminding myself.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Upper Guadalhorce Valley

I drove up to Coin to celebrate the Eucharist this morning. The weather was kind and the birds were signing in the trees outside the Iglesia de Cristo chapel. After coffee, Caroline invited to me lunch at her house on the other side of town, a ten minute drive away. The house is set in a hillside overlooking the upper reaches of the Guadalhorce valley. The Sierra de Mijas towers above Alhaurin in the background to the south.
Behind Coin, the Sierra de las Nieves lies much further away to the west. The view down across the valley below is a colourful patchwork of different kinds of orchard, and the cultivated fields of market gardens. It was a rather hazy middle of the day so the photos don't really do justice to the landscape. There's lots of bird life too. I saw a kestrel on patrol as I was parking the car.
I returned to Los Boliches to meet a man who approached me at yesterday's coffee morning about receiving spiritual guidance. We talked for three quarters of an hour, then it was time to get ready for the monthly ministry team meeting and discuss arrangements for Holy Week and Easter. Everything has to be sorted out well in advance because the bi-montly chaplaincy magazine goes to press in the coming week. It was getting on for nine by the time I got back and started eating supper. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Decorative surprise

As I arrived at St Andrews to celebrate the mid-week Eucharist on this overcast grey morning, I was very surprised to see the eight spherical concrete bollards flanking the nearby pedestrian crossing were no longer grey, but brightly coloured, bedecked with knitted or crocheted covers. 
There were some special knitted decorations on one of the municipal iron street benches, also a knitted bicycle next to a real one chained to a handrail nearby, 
What a feat! I tweeted a couple of the photos, and soon started getting Spanish re-tweets, a first for me. In the background of the photo above is the entrance to the local Finnish language school. Nobody knows for sure but the speculation in church was that the street knitware originated with staff and students there. Given the Scandinavian enthusiasm for knitting arts, it's not an reasonable conjecture.

I was delighted to read today in Archbishop Barry's monthly Ad Clerum, that several colleagues have been honoured by being made Cathedral Canons, including Fr Mark, our Team Rector in Canton. This comes just at the same time as his colleague Fr Martin announces his departure for pastures new. I hope he won't be left on his own for too long. It's such a big and busy parish to run.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bird walk

This morning, I took advantage of having wifi in the apartment to install the Android app which streams BBC Radio programmes. It meant I could listen to the Radio Four Today programme while eating breakfast, as I routinely do at home, for the first time during my stay here. Former Chief Rabbi Lionel Sachs made a bright cheerful return to 'Thought for the Day' after a post retirement spell in NYC. He truly is a great evangelist for God. Linda popped in for a chat about Holy Week plans. Then I went through my liturgy archive and found some texts I'd like to use on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. After lunch, I went for a walk along the noisy coast path alongside the N340 towards El Faro and took some photos of a small flock of Dunlin feeding.
Also there was a solitary Cormorant presiding handsomely over the waves from an off shore rock.
On my way to the shore, and on my return, I saw several flocks of small birds black and white wings, with flashes of yellow underneath, flying about between tree and grass cover searching for insects. Possibly they were finches. Then a pair of larger brightly coloured birds flew out of a tree and headed to the nearby golf course. They may have been bee-eaters, a characteristic bird of the region. They over-winter in Africa, but the first of them reappear on the Costa del Sol mid-March. They were very distinctive and caught me by surprise so I didn't get a photo. Nearer the back garden gate, I snapped this character, a lonely warbler?
As Winter gives way to Spring an increasing number of birds will return here or pass through on their way north. It promises to be an interesting time.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Spelling test

A quiet lazy day today, with a brief afternoon trip to the office in Los Boliches to get on-line, and pick up a loaf of bread. When I returned, Peter announced that he'd installed a new dual band Netgear router and a range extender. He'd ordered the new router from Amazon last week, and to his amazement it arrived in two days, despite a warning it could take five. Installation was only a problem because of the difficulty obtaining the necessary broadband access codes to configure the device. 

His service providor's antiquated router wasn't an uncommon make, but its default user name and password to allow access to the innards of the device had been changed presumably to stop unauthorised people fiddling about. He had to ring a help-line in order to hear a robotic voice reading out the pass code, each letter punctuated by the Spanish word minúscula, meaning 'lower case'. It was quite a challenge, but success came after much attentive listening, followed by trial and error. I was also impressed he'd managed the robotic menu in Spanish, let alone the spelling test.

This arrangement works perfectly and the signal is good all over the house. So I now have the luxury of sitting indoors and looking out over the garden at the Wisteria flourishing on top of the pergola, while I prepare the next Lent course session and start remote planning for Holy Week. Now I can catch up on the Archers on-line. Such a treat!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Under the weather

Saturday gave me a chance to edit and upload photos, update my blog and get my Sunday sermon printed off, not to mention fruit and veg shopping for the weekend. In the evening I watched several episodes of M*A*S*H* on satellite TV. I must have seen the whole series at last twice when they first came out in the seventies. I laughed out loud all the way through yet again, amazed at how well the medic' hilarious witty sit-com repartee has survived the test of time, and how many profound and serious issues regarding war are sensitively treated, even with black humour.

This morning I drove up to Alhaurin to celebrate the Eucharist direct from La Cala on the back road. Not only is almond blosson out now, but also mimosa and, I'm told, olive blossom. My lungs have been pretty congested this past few weeks as a result my reaction to various things in the air, but I recall from previous occasions that mimosa gives me a hay fever type reaction in addition, so my chest felt pretty tight by the time I arrived. Fortunatley this had little effect on my speaking voice and I was able to function properly in taking the service. 

After a half hour in the open air drinking coffee with members of the congregation after the service, I headed back for the office in Los Boliches to Skype Clare before returning to La Cala for lunch. For a change I took the route through the outskirts of Mijas pueblo to enjoy the view. I was glad to get back and lie low doing very little for the rest of the day. This is perhaps the only down-side of being on the Costa del Sol. Over a period of time, no doubt, the body adjusts to the variations in environment and atmosphere over and above the weather. It's just as well I don't have a cope with a full work schedule and can take my time about things.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Via Crucis in Los Boliches

This morning, I drove into Los Boliches for the first of my Lent Course sessions to the sound of the Fauré Requiem on RNE Classico. The keen east wind was whipping the bright blue sea into a host of foam topped waves breaking on the shore, a beautiful sight. It seemed just right as a backdrop to the music. There were only half a dozen of us present, perhaps more next week, as in the afternoon people would be turning out for the annual Womens' World Day of Prayer, and few were willing to come twice in a day.

The afternoon service, devised by Christians in Egypt was attended by over forty people, and beautifully presented. Lay Reader Caroline preached an excellent and insightful sermon for the occasion, and yet again, there was tea and cake to follow.

I stayed on after the service to take part in the parish Stations of the Cross, walking through the streets of the barrio, to and from the church, with team of local cofridia members carrying the statue of Jesús cautivo -  Jesus bound - to which their confraternity is dedicated.
I believe this image depicts Jesus standing before Pilate for judgement - the subject of the first Station of the Via Crucis. It truly was an all-age-service, both from the perspective of the crowd of a couple of hundred followers, and those leading the procession.
There were junior and middle school children as servers and thurifers - girls and boys, teenagers carring the fourteen placards bearing images of the Stations, the singing of popular hymns while we walked, led by the older women with confident voices. (Did they sing flamenco as well, I wondered.).
Eighteen men, mostly young, in black suits carryied the trona on which Jesús cautivo stood, laity men and women taking turns to introduce a Station and lead prayers. Only very occasionally did the priest do anything more than preside. In fact the whole thing was organised in a manner that meant it could be carried out if there was no priest. That's a real tribute to the nature of community in Catholic Spain today. It's all possible because, however secular some aspects of Spanish life are today, this kind of social solidarity, deeply rooted in Christian faith, is still valued. It was a very moving expression of parochial solidarity and co-operation. I took lots of photos and could still join in prayers familiar to me in English. 
Although I was tired, cold and hungry at the end of a long day, I stayed right to the end, absorbed by an experience that is so much part of the normality of life here, not at all a cultural feature for tourists, many of whom were watching from bar or restaurant as we passed them by. My new Sony HX50 on Auto settings did well to capture a few pictures I'm quite pleased with. With more experience of working with the camera's various layers of settings, I should be able to improve the quality of images, and maybe reduce motion blur. Hopefully there will be more opportunities of this kind in weeks to come. You can see the rest of my efforts here

Thursday, 6 March 2014

A new start

Yesterday afternoon I was invited to celebrate a house Eucharist for a church member who was moving back in to her sea front home in La Cala, after an absence of several months during which the place was re-decorated and improved. She had been attacked beaten and robbed in her own home by someone who had followed her. 

It's not an everyday occurrence in this part of the world, where the crime rate is low compared with other regions of Spain, so the shock of the event impacted on the wider community. There were ten of us present, plus two dogs. We concluded with tea and cake on the terrace, and a positive sense that this was a new beginning, drawing a line under a deeply disturbing incident.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Pope's Ash Wednesday

Linda came with me to St Andrew´s for the Ash Wednesday Eucharist. Nineteen people were present. After the service I socialised for an hour, then worked on Lent material in the office until it was time to go back for lunch.

While looking for something to watch and fall asleep in front of on TV, I found a channel relaying the Pope's Ash Wednesday Mass at Sta Sabina with a large number of the College of Cardinals present. The church is the earliest intact example of the Roman basilia form as it developed out of the domestic forum lay out. It's the mother house of the Dominican Order of Friars Preacher, so the black and white of their garb was in keen contrast to that of the red and white worn by the Cardinals against the pale grey marble of the building.

The service was sung using all the traditional material for Ash Wednesday with the odd motet that sounded more contemporary. I hadn't at all intended to watch, but the atmosphere held my attention, very unfussy, and contemplative, with a homily from the Pope of classic simplicity and depth. I don't watch any of the God TV channels, and there are so many - evangelical, muslim, sikh, hindu - they´re all talk shows, or else forms of worship that resemble highly polished pop concerts. Watching something live from a real church is about as much as I can cope with, and that, not too often. Sorry guys, it's wasted on me.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Shrove Tuesday

This morning I walked East along the Paseo Maritime from La Cala looking for birds to photograph. The path is squeezed in between the busy noisy N340 and the beach, so it´s not the most congenial of strolls. But I did see a flock of what looked like oystercatchers feeding among the seaweed on the rocks along the water line, but when I checked later I learned they were sanderlings. There was only one cormorant out on patrol, none roosting on the rocks as is usual on this stretch - I see them from the car going to Fuengirola. The best photos I get were of a fishing boat at work just off the beach. The birds were rather too well disguised against a seaweed background.
Apart from this, plus a visit to the supermarket, I didn´t venture any further today. I got my sermon done and polished up my Lent course material for this week. Linda cooked a grand selection of savoury and sweet pancakes for supper, a real treat. Then it was early bed to be fresh for an early start tomorrow.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Sunday variety

An uncomfortable half hour drive from La Cala to Benalmadena for the first service of the day, as it always takes me several hours to get un-stiffened and pain free, but once I was on my feet leading worship I was fine. Then, back to Los Boliches for the second Eucharist. There was quite a wind blowing, and it moaned noisily during the service. I chatted with people over a drink for a good while afterwards, and before going back to La Cala for lunch, I skyped Clare.

I was very pleased with the second portion of what I'd cooked and eaten yesterday, as the flavour seemed to have improved overnight. It was a stew of chick peas and chorizo with onions, carrots and parsnips and the transforming magic of half a lemon and lots of garlic, spiced up with some pimenton, turmeric and ground coriander. It went well with some blanched Swiss Chard leaves, and an inexpensive bottle of Rioja.

I had supper with Peter and Linda, followed by a session looking at Peter's astronomy and avian photos. He has a telescope which he hooks up to his Canon DSLR. He explained how he takes twenty second videos of an object, then runs a program which gives him each frame separately as a TIFF file, then another program which processes these into a single image, thereby reducing the signal to noise ratio and producing a clearer image. I was particularly taken with his photos of Jupiter and features on the moon's surface.

Just as I was about to go to bed I had a call from Ashley who told me that on a radio servicing visit to one of our more prominant and troublesome client establishments he had been verbally aggressed and bullied by the proprietor in front of several of his own staff members, who were left bewildered by his menacing outburst. His own hired hands are unlikley to testify against him and that makes this encounter entirely deniable. What to do? Well, next time a service visit is needed, Ashley can ask for a police escort, on the grounds that he fears this man's aggression. The only thing is, will the police deal with such a request seriously? Sad to say, their record is far from consistent.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

St David's Day absentee

Today, I had a morning meeting at a pasteleria in La Cala village. I didn´t know exactly where the shop was, but googled the name and that produced an address and location. When I arrived there, I was quite annoyed to find myself in a cul de sac without shops. I could only conclude that the retaill outlet had a separate business address in a private dwelling. My host rang me and we arranged to meet outside the church, and then we walked to the shop, which was much further from the centre of the village than I'd expected. The village, in fact, was twice as big as I'd understood it to be.

La Cala has developed westwards lately along the line of the beach. On the east side the beach ends in a rocky outcrop, one of several along the shore, defining a number of sandy coves. Each trip I make into Fuengirola on the N340 I see colonies of Cormorants roosting on the rocks. One of these days I´ll walk in that direction and take some photos. Just behind the beach in the old village centre is a Moorish watch tower brick built, twenty metres high. None of the surrounding building look particularly old. With the exception of two ten storey hotels in the newer section, the buildings are low-rise, somewhat in contrast to other sections of this coastline. The village is hemmed in by the highway, so most of the residential expansion has been up the sides of the valley that runs inland and up towards Mijas. La Cala means 'cove'. It's one of the several points of access from the sea to the old village of Mijas nearly a thousand feet above.

In the afternoon I went up to Alhaurin to join in the children's Mustard Seed Club pre-Lenten activity session in the cemetery chapel, all around the theme of Christ's temptations. Once more it was beautifully organised. There were fourteen children and about twenty adults present all told. I got to accompany the singing of Frere Jacques with Lenten words on my guitar, and we ended up by eating pancakes. These had been purchased in a big freezer pack from Mercadona, and thawed conveniently for use on the day, rather than a pancake making production line being set up. There's no kitchen at the cemetery chapel, only a toilet, A kitchen would be too much to ask.

I had to call into the church office on my way back as I hadn't yet had an opportunity to print a copy of my sermon. When I arrived I found I didn't have my office keys, so I had to call Jim and ask him to come over and let me in, which he did graciously. I enjoyed the outing to Alhaurin, but I haven't yet found a way to drive with comfortable ease while my back mends, so I was quite tired on my return, too tired to contemplate attending the St David's Day evening concert in the Fuengirola Salon de Varietes, and pleased I'd found time to prepare supper in advance before going out.