Sunday, 31 August 2014

In the swim

A late Sunday start, as my only service today was up at Alhaurin. Again we used the old back road up to Mijas, and along the mountain contour. Although it's slower and a less easy drive, it doesn't take any longer to get there. There were twenty of us for the Eucharist, and half stayed for coffee at a different bar in Alhuarin because the nearest one normally used is closed for annual holidays at present.

We returned for a late lunch and siesta, and I ventured into the swimming pool for once, as it was so humid. Now that the end of school holidays is upon us, the coast should get less busy. We've been wondering how long the urbanizacion swimming pool will stay open, before it closes until next spring, but so far, no notice has gone up, and the water filtration system gets turned on for several hours a day. Being outdoors and swimming in the sun for twenty minutes left me feeling slightly singed. I'm not used to exposing my body to that intensity of heat and light. Clare is better adapted to it, as she likes to swim every day, and bask in the shade while she reads a book on her Kindle. Let's hope it stays open until she's due to return to work back in Cardiff.

To my annoyance, I've discovered that I failed to bring my Sony Alpha 55 battery charger with me. Either I must buy a replacement, or send the camera home with Clare. It's not as if it's my only camera. I do have two others with me. I packed it in the hope of learning better how to get the most out of it. It's a great piece of kit, but still fails to win the place in my affection reserved for less prestigious but equally capable cameras that normally travel with me.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Virgen de la Peña, Mijas

When we woke up this morning, we discovered that the skies were more than overcast. A layer of fog had rolled in off the sea, engulfing the foreshore and land behind including our urbanzacion, forty metres above sea level. This unusual phenomenon I remember from my stay at Nerja this time last year. We had no idea how long it would last, but decided we'd head inland, uphill for a change, so we took the road up to Mijas Pueblo, and very soon found ourselves above the cloud.

We wandered around the village, with Clare doing what she loves doing most on holiday, buying birthday and Christmas gifts for friends and relatives and then enjoying a tapas lunch in a bar near the parish church. A group of men were out and about, getting the trona de la Virgen de la Peña out of storage from the specially constructed annexe at the east end of the church where occasional equipment is stored, and preparing it for the upcoming period of processional activities. 

Today is the day the church commemorates the beheading of St John the Baptist, quite topical in view of recent terrorist outrages in the Middle East. This day is the beginning of a none day vigil of prayer, a novena, in honour of the birth of the Virgin Mary on 8th September. There will be celebrations and processions with the image of the town's patronesss, our Lady of the Rocks/Peaks (in Italian, la Madonna della Rocca, as I recall from Sicily in December 2012). The village has a sanctuary in a hillside cave, dedicated to our Lady of the Rocks on a promontory overlooking the sea plain.

After lunch, Clare wanted to do some more shopping. I set off on foot to climb up through the back streets, across the by-pass road, and up a rough mountain track to find the Ermita del Calvario that sits on the hillside overlooking the town. Walking the way of the Cross starts in a steep back street, near a casa cofradia where lay people devoted to organising devotions along the Way of the Cross assemble. The rough uphill path is marked by simple numbered cairns. The way is scented by the aromatic pines which grow there, an aroma reminiscent of liturgical incense, and there's a white washed chapel at the end of the journey, floodlit and visible for miles at night, with a stone forecourt where devotees can gather in prayer, looking out over their village and the valley below.  

It's like the Via Crucis in Taormina, with its superb view from on high, but is also a contrast, with its steps, street lighting and set of modern metallic sculptures symbolising the Stations of the Cross, constructed along the line of an ancient footpath up to a Saracen fortress. These high places may not be the easiest places to make a home or a living, but they remain places of inspiration, part of popular devotion, valued meeting places for the community when it isn't earning a living. Always well worth the climb.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Signal improvement

Up to Coin this morning for the fortnightly midweek Eucharist in the Spanish Evangelical Church building. I took the slower route, avoiding town traffic to get out of Fuengirola, which took me up behind the house on the old steep road around the top of Mijas pueblo, with its spectacular views over the sea. I was impressed how colourful the landscape still is further inland, despite the summer heat. No sign yet of any autumnal colours, many shades of green don't look quite as jaded as greens can at the end of a hot British summer. I was delighted to find a congregation of ten, double what was the regular number when I was here last. I told them all about St Augustine, whose feast day we were celebrating. We chatted over coffee in the nearby restaurant afterwards, before heading home for lunch. 

After siesta, we made another visit to El Corte Ingles to buy a wi-fi signal booster. With the arrival of internet TV, providing British TV channels, the router and Minix box were relocated for convenience across the lounge. This changed the distribution of the wireless signal upstairs, so that it's now weak and erratic in the chaplain's study. There's a certain amount of re-enforced concrete in the framework of the house and its upper floors, so positioning of the signal source influences reception. In the study web pages load very slowly and the signal sometimes drops. Stand in the office doorway where the signal is better, and the computer jumps into life. The basic TP-link signal booster didn't take long to set up, and has delivered a considerable improvement at half the price of a couple of powerline network adaptors.

It's Kath's birthday today and we chatted with her briefly on Skype before she went off to celebrate with Kath, Anto and Lucy her co-worker - all were chirpy and excited about the forthcoming dance performance tour they've been preparing for. A lot of hard work, but also a great adventure full of fun for them.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Open air nuptials

The temperature has stayed in the high twenties by day and the low twenties at night, and it's taking a while to get acclimatised, so we've not been very active this past few days, apart from writing next Sunday's sermon early. On Wednesday I celebrated the mid-week BCP Holy Communion service at St Andrew's for half a dozen people. The coffee morning social for church regulars afterwards hasn't happened in recent weeks as many regulars and volunteers are away.

Late afternoon Linda and I drove to Marbella for a wedding blessing preparation session with a couple whose ceremony will take place next month in the garden of a large hotel close to the promenade and sea shore. It's surrounded by high hedges, has several swimming pools and plenty of space to entertain a hundred and eighty guests outside. They'd thought through the arrangements in detail, so inserting the service into the event posed no problems. Hopefully it won't be quite as hot by then. I'm told there'll also be a wedding blessing on a beach some time soon as well, but the details and venue have yet to be finalised. 

I did a wedding blessing on the roof top of a restaurant above Nerja a couple of years ago and that worked out fine, but figuring out how to make an intimate open air service work well in the absence of a shelter or enclosure to serve as a gathering point promises to be something of a challenge.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

St Bartholemew celebrated

My first assignment on St Bartholemew's Day was to celebrate the Eucharist at Calahonda. I wondered if I'd remember which N-340 exit to take, but in the event it wasn't a problem. There were two dozen of us, including three children who are currently being prepared for their First Communion. There are several more children being prepared up at Alhaurin as well, and there'll be a special celebration up there on Holy Cross Day. It's a tribute to the enterprise of lay people in the chaplaincy. The initiative has developed during this first year without having a chaplain to guide pastoral affairs.

I drove back to Los Boliches in good time but couldn't find anywhere to park in the gated area reserved for church use. Too many holiday-making families bringing more than one vehicle and taking two spaces per key access instead of one. It'll quieten down in a week or so when the school holidays end and people return to Madrid and other big cities inland. But, for the moment, it's a nuisance. I was about to drive up and away from the main streets to try and park on the road to the Vicarage, when Linda the church secretary spotted me hunting, as she was crossing the road. As luck would have it, a car parked close by made ready to leave, so Linda minded the space until I could make a turn at the roundabout and claim it. It was a stroke of real good fortune as I then only had a hundred yards to walk to the church entrance, and wasn't late at all.

The St Andrew's congregation was half its usual size, as many members have yet to return from visiting family in Britain, as is customary in the summer months, when temperatures are highest and hardest to cope with. We stayed in the shade after a lunch of tortilla and salad, until it cooled enough to walk down to the beach and along the promenade to our favourite beach bar in Torreblanca, to drink a beer and watch the sky turn colour. On the way back we bought our first postcards of the season, ten of them, each costing a fifth of the price of the postage stamp that will send them to Britain. Sea front restaurants, shops and supermarkets here stay open very long hours here during peak periods, then shut completely in the the quieter winter months.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Getting hooked up

We had a slow, quiet Saturday, soaking up the heat. Clare is enjoying swimming in the communal pool behind the house, and it's doing her shoulder injury a power of good. Eating outdoors in the shade is a must whenever possible, although we've both noticed how much more noisier the environment is that it seemed when we were here first at Easter. Then it occurred to me that there's bound to be a much higher volume of motorway traffic this weekend and next, with holidaymakers coming and going. It's not a mighty roar we hear, it's more like the sound of mountain river, some distance away. The highway runs past our housing estate about two hundred metres away down a deep steep embankment which filters out much of the noise. Only occasionally can one identify the sound of a heavy vehicle or the high pitched whine of a motorbike. 

Reflecting on the notion that the N340/A7 must be one of the busiest highways in southern Europe at this time of year gave me an idea for tomorrow's sermon - about St Bartholemew and other apostles going out along the trade routes of the ancient world to evangelise in far flung places.

We took our first late afternoon stroll along a beach that was still crowded, even though most of it was now in shadow. The sun masked by the high rise buildings only lit up the water's edge. Several generations of a family relaxing, reading, talking, playing games, playing with their mobile phones. This month is when Madrid empties, and takes up residence on the sea shore. The Brits, Germans and Scandinavians who spend much of the colder part of the year hereabouts tend to go home to enjoy a traditional summer up North, come rain or come shine.

In the evening I finally made an effort to get to grips with finding BBC4 to watch the 'Inspector Montalbano' series repeat. Since we were last here, a 'Minix' branded internet TV box has been installed. It's very small and has a small, minimalist remote control device, which had to be learned first. The system is driven by a fairly familiar Android based user interface. The broadband speed is good enough to avoid latency, but Minix itself works rather slowly when it comes to acquiring a selected TV channel, so if you press a wrong button it can take an age to figure out what's gone wrong. Several reboots were required in the course of getting the hang of it, but in the end it delivered on time as promised. 

Friday, 22 August 2014

In flight inconvenience

We arrived in good time for our plane to Malaga, and it departed on time. I was so relaxed, I dozed off once we were airborne. When I woke up, the refreshments trolley was on the move, and I needed to go to the toilet. We were sitting quite near the front, so I figured it wouldn't be long before the trolley had passed my seat, but the indicator light stubbornly stayed on 'occupied'. I asked the trolley steward if it going to be opened at all, and was told the toilet was out of order. True or not, the only person to go in and out of the loo was a bearded pilot, wielding a pass key. I got up to join the queue for the pair of toilets at the tail end, but the gangway was blocked by a second trolley, and the stewards seemed to be oblivious of the fact that there were several others like myself, looking uncomfortable and fidgeting, children and old people alike. 

An hour later the gangway finally cleared. Another passenger equally desperate appealed to the trolley steward to abandon a second round of refreshment orders to let people pass. It was an embarrassment for some passengers to ask, and an error on the part of the stewarding staff to give food and drink sales a higher priority than passenger comfort. I was awake long enough to follow pre flight announcements, and there was nothing said either in English or Spanish to warn passengers of the inconvenience, so that some might think ahead of trolley service. It was an unpleasant experience, and it's the first time that I've had cause for complaint about anything on a Vueling flight, whose staff are generally charming and considerate. What went wrong? Something amiss in training new staff perhaps?

The flight was early arriving. We were picked up by bus and ferried to the terminal, but the gate staff hadn't arrived, so we lost the ten minutes gained. But it was comfortably warm, and ten thirty at night so there was no point in getting grumpy. As soon as I was able, I tweeted about our on-board experience. Within the hour I received a tweeted reply directing me to the Vueling complaints website to make a report. It will be interesting to see how long it will take to respond.

Churchwarden Bill was there to meet us and take us to Fuengirola and 'Casa de la Esperanza', the Costa del Sol East chaplaincy house. How good it was to arrive at a now familiar place and relax with a cool beer and a chat before tackling one last thing before bed.

Another internet router had been installed since we were last here with a different 20 digit alphanumeric wi-fi password. I just couldn't get it right trying to connect my phone. There was no automatic set up button on this one! I switched to my Chromebook, entered the password monster correctly from a proper keyboard first go, taking care to cut and paste my effort to an email, to send myself, if successful. Then I could copy and paste it from the email to the phones and laptop I'd brought with me to cover every communications need while I'm away. It was quarter past one before I could finally relax into bed in the heat of the night ...

We woke early, breakfasted, and then went out food shopping. As I arrived home, fully laden, the front gate and doors were wide open, much to my surprise, as we'd locked up carefully. Churchwarden Linda and Peter her husband had arrived to stock the fridge ahead of our arrival, not realising that we'd come in on a late night Thursday flight, they'd mistaken the day. It was great to see them again, sit down and get an instant update over another cool beer. My, it's hot, 28C if not more, and humid, although there are breezes from the sea from time to time. Acclimatisation is going to take a little while, but it's good to be back again. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Traveller's tales

Only a few days now before we set out for Spain, and another spell of locum duty in Fuengirola for me, so it's been a busy few days in the office, with lots to achieve and preparation to make to make remote working easy and effective. Preparations for the NATO summit continue, and the high steel fence down the middle of the road in front of the Castle, and the temporary armoured barriers across the entrance to Queen Street and across St John's Street impose an unpleasant atmosphere which has everyone talking about this imposition from outside.

Tuesday morning I had a parting acupuncture treatment, before making my way out to Gabalfa Vicarage where Area Dean Bob Capper and his wife Roz offered retired clergy a very pleasant and sociable lunch as a thankyou for all the locum duty help given during the year. It was good to catch up with old friend and mentor David Lee, whom I haven't seen for a couple of years.

Wednesday morning I celebrated the midweek Eucharist in St Catherine's, reflecting on the life of St Bernard of Clairvaux, and then walked very briskly to the far end of Canton for an Ignatian meditation group and lunch. We heard stories over lunch about the founding and development of a South Wales branch of the British Emmaus community, which originated in France from the work among the homeless poor of the celebrated Abbé Pierre, who only died seven years ago at 95, and was active in ministry right into old age. A great inspiration to all of us in retirement.

This morning I celebrated the midweek Eucharist at St John's. We remembered the Diocese of Freetown Sierra Leone in our intercessions, very timely in view of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa at the moment. Over a cup of tea afterwards, the only man in the congregation, one of the regulars, thanked me for this mention. "I was there at the end of the War, when I was just twenty." he said, and then proceeded to tell us of how he'd enlisted with the Royal Army service Corps, and sailed in a troop ship, a converted captured German merchantman, sleeping in hammocks, getting seasick on the way. It was, to his mind a chaotic insanitary place. He came home early, having caught TB. "Better than Ebola." he said  with a wry grin, pleased to have survived to eighty nine.

And now, off to the airport.

Monday, 18 August 2014


I came home from visiting my sister, with a collection of boxes containing five hundred photographic slides taken during various holidays in the late seventies and early eighties. She was an early adopter when it comes to taking package holidays abroad, and also a keen photographer with an eye for a well composed shot. Ages ago I'd promised to digitize them for her, so she could view them on her computer. Finally she extracted them from storage in the top of a wardrobe, and bundled them up for me to carry. They include photos of trips to the Côte d'Azur, Sicily, Amalfi, Crete and Corfu. Most of the places I hadn't visited and was curious to see what she'd made of them. Also interesting was the portrayal of a world that has changed so much much due to the impact of tourism over the past forty years since.

Apart from Sunday morning, when I went to the Cathedral Sung Eucharist, having no ministerial duties to perform, I spent Friday evening, most of Saturday and parts of Sunday scanning and uploading photos to her Picasa website. I greatly enjoyed seeing the results of my labours. June was delighted to have so many memories revived from half a lifetime ago. A nice eightieth birthday present in advance?

I had my blood test at The Spire BUPA clinic in Pentwyn this afternoon. No fuss, and it didn't involve a lengthy wait. I would rather have paid that money to my local G.P. surgery to achieve the same end, using the same laboratory. If health costs are spiralling out of control, to what extent is this really an outcome of bloated inefficient management structures and battles between people defending their own little piece of turf?

Friday, 15 August 2014

Steeling ourselves for NATO

Yesterday morning early I took the Megabus coach to London to see my sister June. The journey was only three hours as the coach got in fifteen minutes early. It was somewhat different on the way back. The coach left twenty minutes late, and made up some time getting as far as Newport, but all the M4 section around Newport was closed off, as preparations are in full swing for the forthcoming NATO conference based at the Celtic Manor hotel, and other venues in Cardiff. The coach was then more than half an hour late arriving and the last bus had gone, so I had to walk home. A long day.

A temporary 'ring of steel' is being constructed around the Celtic Manor domain, also around Bute Park in Cardiff. It's a security fence, meant to thwart terrorist guided missile attacks, or something. Such a huge and expensive show of force to impress hundreds of visiting dignitaries from all the partner countries imposes unwelcome restrictions on two of Wales' key cities and the Principality's major economic artery. The disruption to normal life in both cities is causing a great deal of resentment. What are tourists to Cardiff going to make of the barriers down the middle of the road outside the Castle. What unintended message do they convey about the perceived trustworthiness of the general population in the eyes of those in power?

Will this generate more anti-military protest than usual, one wonders? This is a time when NATO's strength and potential for action is vital to resist the ambitions of aggressors whose ways are foreign to liberal capitalist democracy - whether Putinesque or Islamist dictatorships. Alienating the good will of ordinary citizens is not a good idea politically speaking.

Actually it's not a security fence at at all, but an insecurity fence.

I had a funeral at St John's Canton this afternoon. A congregation of over two hundred gathered, many wearing rugby shirts, to say goodbye to a man in his early fifties whose death was unexpected. Afterwards, a brief visit to the office, before a visit to St Luke's Canton to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption with a small prayerful group of half a dozen. Couldn't help thinking this fiesta is the one with which summer holidays end in Europe, and families start making their ways home to get ready for the resumption of school.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Needling affair

A casual conversation recently set me wondering about my blood group. Last time I visited the doctors, I asked about getting a test done. Having had jaundice in the summer of my 'O' Level year, I understood that I would never be able to give blood as my father had done all his adult life. He was an unusual, sought after blood type, so I wondered if I inherited this from him, but not being a blood donor and never needing major surgery, my blood type is still an unknown. As I've been spending more time abroad, it occurred to me it might be a reasonable thing to find out, just in case, and avoid complications in the event of misfortune. I was told I'd have to pay, but I didn't mind that. The surgery was willing to invoice me.

Monday morning I called in the surgery and had blood taken. During the afternoon I had an urgent message from Clare to call the surgery. The Practice Manager informed me that the sample had been rejected, no reason given. I booked another appointment for Wednesday morning. Then on Tuesday morning, I had another acupuncture session. These are doing me lots of good. I feel as if I am really picking up again after debilitating months of persistent coughing. This time, lots of needles.

Wednesday morning before going to St Catherine's to celebrate the midweek Mass, I returned to the surgery for a second blood sample to be taken. I was told that the first sample had been rejected due to an issue with the paperwork. Llandough hospital required that the sample label be handwritten, not typed for reasons nobody was about to share with my G.P. surgery or me. Once more, before the day was out, I had another call from the surgery to say the second sample had been rejected. 

No explanation was provided, except that I should go to the Blood Bank and offer to be a donor if I wanted to get tested. This, despite the fact that the samples supplied carried my date of birth - I am three years too old to be a first time blood donor, and the reason I was asking to be tested was because I hadn't ever been a donor. So straight away, I rang the BUPA clinic in Pentwyn to arrange a blood test for Monday next. I'll pay, but they will be bothered to honour my request.

No wonder the N.H.S. is about to collapse when different departments of a Local Health Board don't apply commonly agreed administrative criteria to the ways they manage their affairs, and more seriously when people responsible can't be bothered to communicate with each other in a decently informative manner. The attitude displayed by those managing the blood testing service at Llandough led to me taking up half an hour's worth of practice nursing and admin time altogether, with no outcome. I'm as annoyed on behalf of our hardworking local G.P. surgery team as I am for myself with a pair of fang-like red marks on my left arm, and nothing to show for it.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Elusive supermoon shots

A rainy Sunday, so I drove to St Catherine's to open up the church and celebrate the eight o'clock Eucharist, to avoid getting soaked. The weather had cleared up sufficiently to permit me to return on foot to celebrate and preach at ten thirty. I returned home and cooked lunch while Clare made her usual trip to Riverside Market for some cheeses. We didn't need vegetables this week as we still had enough left form last week, augmented by midweek and Sunday purchases from St Catherine's church garden. Intermittent rain the rest of the day gave us little incentive to go out anywhere. Around midnight I took my camera out into the garden to take pictures of the so called 'supermoon', the brightest full moon of the year, so they say. The sky was laced with cloud, I got some interesting shots at different settings, but none of them proved satisfactory enough to keep. Night photography, despite the capabilities of my present arsenal of equipment, is something I must learn to do better to get results worth keeping.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A day at the Eisteddfod

Yesterday, Clare and I were both looking forward to joining the coach organised by Menter Iaeth Caerdydd for the journey to the Welsh National Eisteddfod, this year located in a park beside the Millennium Coast Path between Llanelli and Burry Port. We were so keen we turned up an hour early at the Mochyn Du pub near Sofia Gardens to catch the coast. Both of us had forgotten things at home, so we jumped on a bus and went back home for the spare hour, and then returned at the correct departure time.

We arrived at lunchtime and wandered around the 'Maes', and I went off site to explore the area with my camera in addition. The coastal path runs alongside the railway line linking Swansea to Fishguard just inside the sea defences. At this point, you look out and across to the north shore of the Gower Peninsula across the golden sands of the Loughour/Llwchwr Estuary. This has got to be one of Wales' best journeys, whether by rail, by bike or simply walking, different at every stage in the tidal cycle. We must return and explore properly another time.
 I met a few people I knew wandering around the 'Maes', watched the Cornish bagpipe band perform on the open air stage and generally loitered, enjoying the atmposphere. Clare spent most of her time in the 'Pabell Binc', the large lurid coloured circus tent that serves as a well equipped competition arena seating 2,500 people. 
 At four, she texted me to come quickly and take the seat she'd acquired for me to watch the Chairing of the Bard ceremony. I've seen it on TV, and as a teenager took part in an English language version of the ceremony held annually in Pengam Grammar School. 

The national Chairing ceremony is a well staged and impressively theatrical event, that lends itself well to being televised, but the atmosphere of you're there in the flesh is an exhilarating experience of what it means to be Welsh. 
The sense of good will and respectful order that honours creatively gifted people is something to rejoice in. The revealing of the Bard whose poem earns the most prestigious of chairs in Welsh society is nicely theatrical and a genuine surprise to all but the few judges. I was so glad finally to have witnessed it at first hand. Here's Bard Ceri Wyn Jones being applauded out of the Pabell Binc.
We had supper in the main restaurant on the 'Maes', resplendent with home grown food and home made recipes. Dudley Newbery, Wales' own Welsh language celebrity TV chef, known by all by his first name only, was the guest of honour for the evening - but, in typical Welsh fashion he wasn't presiding at a top table or giving a speech, but there with his crew serving up food to the hungry masses coming out of the 'Pabell Binc' after the Chairing ceremony. We had the fish dish, which I'm sure I've seen him preparing in one of his TV shows. His Welsh language equivalent of the TV series Masterchef is worth a watch whenever it appears. You don't have to be able to understand what's said. The cuisine and the relationships between participants all speak of themselves and have quite a different feel to their counterparts in English or other languages.

After supper, we spent the last couple of hours of our visit watching first the clog dance and then the choral competition finals in the 'Pabell Binc'. 
 By this time most of the scores of pavilions had closed for the night. The remaining hive of activity was the rock concert down at the other end of the site on 'Maes B', the home of Welsh popular culture (as opposed to traditional culture). By the time we walked to our coach in the moonlight just before ten, the distant strains of 'Mae hen wlad fy nhadau', the Welsh National Anthem could be heard in the distance. Not for the first time today.
 More photos here.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Anniversary Call

Today's feast of the Transfiguration is also our 48th wedding anniversary, and I was pleased to be able to celebrate the midweek Eucharist at St Catherine's. We went to Stefano's restaurant in Wyndham Cresecent last night to celebrate in anticipation, as they were holding one of their evenings of music to dine by. 

Two extravert young  female opera singers charmed their audience, flirting with the older guys. Several young male solo guitarists sang their own or other people's pop songs. Their thin voices were all but lost in the hubbub of conversation, and they didn't seem to have enough energy to flirt with anyone. My ears still work well for my age, but I'm finding increasingly that eating out in a noisy place is just short of painful. As ever at Stefanos', the food was excellent, but the noise was tiring.

We had nothing extra planned for today, and simply pursued our usual routines. In the evening we had a Skype call with Rachel, just returned from a week holidaying in the Canadian Rockies with old friends. A few days ago she sent us photos of a place they'd been hiking high up, called Welsh Lakes. Wonderful alpine forests and deep blue lakes. She said it reminded her of North Wales slate quarrying areas, although the ubiquitous broken flat slabs of rock debris are sandstone, much older than slate, and the mountains much higher than Snowdonia.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Farewell sofas and national commemorations

I watched part of this morning's service from Glasgow Cathedral for the start of the national day of commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. A sombre occasion, made even more sombre by the realities of current conflicts in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Southern Sudan, Libya and Ukraine.

At  lunchtime, a local house clearance firm called Second Hand UK sent a furniture van around to collect a couple of sofas that have adorned the lounge in the succession of homes we've made since we first bought them fourteen years ago in Geneva. The accompanying armchair was disposed of when we downsized for retirement. 

Now at last, with a new pair of sofas on order from Scotts of Stow, not quite so large, and anatomically more of a match for our need to support ageing bodies, we're moving from stylish Italo-Suisse leather to traditional British upright fabric design, a decent height, comfortable with a straight back. They'll arrive in early  September. How often I have snoozed on the larger of the two sofas, up until yesterday, after lunch. No more lounging in the lounge now. The new arrivals are just a little shorter, but they'll make the room feel a bit more spacious.

Clare and I sat and watched together the second commemorative service of the day, the Wales national vigil broadcast from Llandaff Cathedral. Preparations for this have been going on over the past couple of years. I had to pass over the opportunity to be involved in it, on behalf of the Royal British Legion, as at that time I'd just accepted to do my first long locum in Costa Azahar. It was good to see how well the planning efforts worked out, and how broad a representation of people in public life and service was achieved. 

Archbishop Barry preached very well, and bi-lingually. In fact the whole service embraced both our national languages, incorporating a Welsh poem 'Rhyfel' (War) by wartime poet Hedd Wyn. He was killed in action before he knew that he'd been awarded the national Eisteddfod chair for another much longer poem. The service also included an appeal to world leaders for reconciliation and peace-making  from two members of Urdd Gobaith Cymru, the Welsh young people's organisation which champions cultural life and creativity in a remarkable and enthusiastic way.

In response to the Royal British Legion's national call for 'Lights out' as it got dark, from 10-11.00pm, recalling UK Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey's remark on this evening when war was declared a century ago tonight, that the lights were going out all over Europe, we sat and watched with just a candle in the front room window. I peeped out in the street near the end. We appeared to be the only household doing this. I guess many people are just too busy to look back and wonder how it all went wrong, and why we seem to have learned so little from the conflicts of the twentieth century.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

New cheese discovery

Three services to take in the Parish this morning. First, the eight o'clock and then the nine fifteen at St John's, followed by a dash up to St Catherine's for the ten thirty. It was good to find I could still do three in a row without feeling exhausted afterwards. We then went to the Riverside Farmers Market got get our week's veggies and came home with a another variety of cheese from our regular Caerphilly cheese maker, called Celtic Promise. This version uses the same basic product, but steeps it in white wine as part of the maturing process. It acquires a semi-soft creamy texture, and distinctive flavour, reminiscent of some Franco-Suisse Jura cheeses we discovered  when we lived there. What a treat!

After a late lunch and lazy afternoon, we walked our usual circuit around Bute Park before settling down to watch the opening Gymanfa Ganu of the National Eisteddfod, being held this year in Llanelli. We'll be visiting on Friday. I spotted Fr John Webber singing away in the gymanfa congregation. He too is doing locum duties here in Canton Benefice while the clergy are on holiday. Bishop Wyn of St David's gave the blessing at the end, in his characterstically concise manner. It was good to see him, albeit briefly. We were in St Mike's at the same time, forty five years ago.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Family funeral

Kath and Rhiannon arrived yesterday afternoon, so that we could all travel together across to Bleadon Hill outside Weston super Mare for brother-in-law Geoff's funeral in the lovely 14th century Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul. Owain joined us in the evening and we went out to supper together at Cibo's in Pontcanna Street.

We arrived at noon, to give us time for a brief home visit Pauline, Julian and Kay and family, then lunched in the excellent Queen's Arms village pub close to the church. By one thirty people were arriving, gathering in the churchyard and chatting.
Just a few minutes before two, the Virger led me, and I led the funeral cortège inside for the service, to the strains of a recorded violin concerto, Paganini, I think. Geoff was a natural musician - violin, piano, clarinet, saxophones, flute, a lifelong lover of all kinds of music. Julian, assisted by the family had written a eulogy, and asked Pam, a  friend of his, with a theatre background to deliver it. It gave me an opportunity to sit and reflect, and be a mourner as well as an officiant. For this, I was grateful. It was beautifully done, and brought warmth to a sad occasion.

Geoff left church swinging to the sound of 'Four Brothers', a virtuoso jazz saxophone quartet number, made world famous by Woody Herman's Herd band in 1947-8, just at the time when he was doing his National Service with the Welsh Guards in Palestine and then Egypt, before he came home and married my big sister after he was de-mobilised. 

As the band played there was a heavy cloudburst, and the six bearers (he was a big man) marched steadfastly out into the storm, leaving the rest of us stranded inside. It stopped after a quarter of an hour, and the convoy headed out across Weston through the holiday traffic to Worle crematorium. There Geoff was carried in to a choral rendering of 'The Red Flag', something he mentioned that he'd appreciate at his funeral. I was never aware that his political leanings were so radical, and wondered if it was more an expression of his Marx Brothers inspired sense of humour.

We returned to Weston for tea at a small hotel with all the other mourners before we set off for home. The traffic queues on the M5 in both directions and the fifteen minute queue at the Severn Cross toll both reminded us that we were driving on a summer holiday Friday evening. We were home by eight, grateful for the thought of a less intense tomorrow.