Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Maro beach suprise

We went to the mercadillo after breakfast this morning and bought loads of ripe fruit, more than was really sensible. It's difficult to resist impulse buying when ready to eat fruit is so cheap strawberries, cherries, plums, mangoes. We ended up separating out  over-ripe strawberries and plums, and stewing them together into a delicious tasting mix which will do us a few meals. We also bought two different kinds of olives, unpackaged - one kind stuffed with garlic cloves, the other a gigantic variety, very flavoursome.

It was another hot day, so it was quite an effort to get going after lunch and a siesta, but we did drive to Maro and then went to the beach, after parking the car half a mile above on the approach road, so that Clare could have a swim. It's a lovely secluded place with its own chirunguito beach bar, but it's very popular and there were scores of cars lining the side of the approach road, and I noticed, very few of them had foreign registration plates. School holidays have already started here, and beaches all over the place have lots of Spanish children with their parents. Foreign family holiday-makers are already here but the numbers have yet to build up and make every Costa del Sol beach amazingly crowded.

Maro beach hosts a sea canoe hire business, which allows visitors to explore the rocky coastline, with due care and attention. I was amazed at one point during our stay to see a man riding what looked like a bicycle over the waters, in and among the canoes, with a ski to steer by in front and some kind of propulsion and flotation unit completely submerged behind him, no supporting pontoons on each side. Both speedy and impressive. A one off racing adaptation, or what I wonder?

Monday, 29 June 2015

Wedding ring discovery

Yesterday, Sunday morning, Clare had a lie in and then a swim, while I went to Almuñecár for the first of today's Eucharist in honour of Saints Peter and Paul, and those being ordained this weekend. She walked to San Miguel for the midday Eucharist, meeting members of the congregation beforehand, and after the service in Bar Cuñeo. We were both quite tired and had a long siesta after lunch before another swim for Clare, and then an evening stroll.

This morning, I left Clare to go swimming in the pool, as I had a wedding preparation meeting with the Norwegian couple I've been corresponding with over several months. I've been learning some key phrases in Norwegian to use in their ceremony, which they've appreciated. They both speak very good English, and spoke of how much they value the poetic richness of English as a complement to the concise, direct nature of their mother tongue - a fascinating insight into the reason why so many Scandinavian language speakers speak such good English.

I learned something new from the couple about a difference in custom regarding the wearing of wedding rings. In Norway, and maybe also in other Scandinavian countries, the engagement ring is worn on the third finger of the right hand until marriage, when it is switched to the left hand to make room for the wedding ring. The rubrics in the Anglican liturgy refer to the wedding ring being placed on the third finger of the left hand, where the engagement ring also lives. This isn't a problem however, as  adapatation to local custom and practice is a discipline required in the pastoral practice of good liturgy.

After lunch and siesta, we walked towards town in search of a Chinese shop where we could get a cutlery container for the sink draining board, and then went down to Playa Caribeo, to walk along the shore, now much more populated with hoidaymakers than previous weeks, to reach Burriana beach, where we stopped for a beer and quite generous tapas, in one of the beach restaurants that specialise in seafood. A pleasan prelude to supper outdoors in the cool of the evening, listening to blackbirds and starlings in the trees nearby singing their evening praises to the creator of all.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Ordination weekend

After a nice leisurely breakfast outside, I completed my Sunday sermon. I had a text message from Phil to say that his priesting ordination was proceeding as planned - a great relief to me as his former tutor. I am sad that I couldn't be there to share in the laying on of hands. It was something I had to sacrifice in order to make the necessary time to be in ministry here, and I know he'd understand this. His passion for missionary prirethood is one I fully understand, even though his view of ministry is as consistently conservative as mine is radical. Both of us are fed by the orthodox sacramentalism of the Catholic church, and I'm convinced that the dialogue between tradition and innovation is essential to future health and vitality.

Jobs done, I headed off to town for a lunchtime wedding blessing at San Salvador Church. There was a congregation of about seventy, and among the junior bridesmaids were the couple's three daughters. Two were old enough to sit either side of their parents on their ceremonial 'thrones', and they behaved perfectly. The youngest was in the arms of a senior bridesmaid. Three musical interventions were made by a professional wedding singer, Amanda Rose, who also provided low key ambient music at other points in the service.

Two friends gave readings. One a poem, the other from Colossians. Both readers were given a round of applause. Not the first time it's happened this tour of duty. I couldn't help myself commenting, hopefully without sounding sarcastic, how nice that St Paul's gracious words on loving behaviour were appreciated, as he didn't always get such a good reception. It's become commonplace for applause, if not a cheer to be raised when a couple are pronounced husband and wife, and this occasion was no exception. It a way, it has a different kind of significance from the case where bride and groom are young, just leaving home. 

Here's a couple, well settled, with a young family, their life together may have started in a provisional sort of way, but experience has led them to a place where life long commitment under vows before God has come to make sense. They're at a stage in life where they can afford to splash out on a big stylish celebration, and they are re-telling the story about themselves in a way that will influence their children in the long run.

After the final blessing, parents, bridesmaids and groomsmen posed for photos with them before they led everyone out. It was their choice to do this, encouraged perhaps by the wedding organisers. There was nothing to do except wait until I was free to re-arrange the furniture and lock the sacristy as requested. As a guest officiant, I have to put up with things like this, which to my mind undermine the dignity of the conclusion. But at least people behaved in an orderly manner and weren't rowdy. As ever, the Plaza outside was full of interested on-lookers, many of whom applauded the bride as she arrived. What happened when they left however, I didn't see, as all were occupied with taking photos out on the Balcon, as ever.

I got back to Church house a little later than expected, having stopped on my way at a greengrocers to buy a pot of basil and some patatillos neuvos. Clare had cooked luch, having spent an age finding out where everything was kept in a kitchen she'd not organised, poor soul. I know that feeling too, from occupying different houses on locum duties.

After a siesta, we walked back into town, so Clare could buy a replacement chain for a pendant, and the go for another swim at Playa Calahonda, at the end of a fiercely hot afternoon. It was gone eight by the time we got back and nine when we sat down to supper. Thankfully, by this time it was starting to cool down. No need for fans or air conditioning yet!

Before the wedding, Judith faithfully turned up to give me support. She told me that Archdeacon Geoff, former Chaplain here, was in Madrid for the day to take part in three ordinations to the Diaconate. From San Salvador's church noticeboard, we learned that Don Miguel was also being priested this same morning in Malaga Cathedral to serve as Nerja's third parish priest. He's the one I met last Sunday, as we overlapped at the end of the service, while he was waiting to conduct a baptism. I'd thought he was a locum, as I'd not seen him before, but it turns out that he was then a Deacon, already placed in the parish and on duty. He's a mature odinand. I'll be interested to learn more about him. His first Mass in San Miguel is next Sunday.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Clare arrives

Yesterday morning was given over to shopping, cleaning and getting everything ready for Clare's arrival. I had intended to leave early for the airport, go into Malaga and visit El Corte Ingles to browse their excellent consumer technology department, but several emails arived, either to do with weddings or intelligence reports to process for the RadioNet DISC system. I determined to get as much work as I could out of the way to maximise me free time over the next couple of days, so the sun was setting by the time I started driving west down the A7 direct to the airport.

I got there an hour early, parked in St Julien nearby, and enjoyed a leisurely catch-up call with Ashley until it was time to enter and park the car to meet the incoming flight. I reached the arrivals gate just as the display board changed to indicate the Cardiff 'plane had landed. Twenty five minutes later we were re-united, and by midnight, heading east back up the A7 to Nerja. All neat and smooth, in bed by two, tired and very happy to have company at last.

After breakfast, a walk down to Caribeo beach so that Clare could buy and new sun-hat in a nearby shop, and then have a swim before lunch. After siesta, another swim, this time in the urbanizacion's pool. I don't recall from previous visits there being a ramp into the water, but there certainly is now It's a consolation to Clare, keen to spare herself from having to use a ladder to climb out of the pool and place her nicely mending shoulder under un-necessary strain. It means that she can go for a swim whenever she wants without needing me to accompany her. It's the first time since her operation that she's been given permission to swim, so she's arrived here at the perfect time.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

St John the Baptist's day

After my late night walk, I slept remarkably well, and arrived for the midweek Eucharist punctually. To my delight and surprise, John and Carol Le Page from St Andrew's Chaplaincy, Costa del Sol East were there, having driven up from Benalmadena for a day trip, with the aim of joining us and a brief reunion. They were always present for the midweek Eucharist in Fuengirola, and John is a part of the ministry team working so hard to keep everything running normally during the interregnum. It made  the service extra special for me, in fact it made my day.

Most of the shops in Nerja were closed as today is a public holiday, especially desirable if you've spent the night on the beach waiting for the dawn. Panaderias and small grocery stores were open for business as usual as they often are on a Sunday when all else is closed. For this I was grateful, having almost run out of fruit.
After lunch I went through the photos I took last night. Half of them were useless and the rest were a mixed bag, giving a fair impression of the atmosphere, but lacking in sharpness of focus and detail. It's not surprising, giving the low light levels, far better than what was possible with an entry level camera in today's market, as I was reminded when I was asked by a fellow reveller to take a photo of them in front of the bonfire. 

The little purse camera struggled to adjust itself to the environment even though it was set to snap a night time scene. It refused to work first time and only on second try did I get a result. Getting good low light photos without flash requires far more expensive and up to date hardware than I can afford. It's still worth the effort of trying to squeeze the best from a mid range two year old camera like the Sony HX50. There can still be occasional surprises among the results.For what they're worth, my last night photos are here

La noche de San Juan

I missed the mercadillo altogether this morning, having resolved to stock up with fresh fruit and veg immediately before Clare arrives, but again there was wedding work to be done. Then, I walked into town to a wedding blessing preparation meeting for a Saturday service in the usual meeting place and there was more to do on return to Church house. I meant to go out again for an afternoon stroll, but it was rather hot. Later in the evening, I remembered that tonight is la noche de san Juan, the vigil of a major summer fiesta, with a big event down of Burriana beach. Would would have been content to go to bed, but curiosity got me out of the house and walking the mile or so down to the shore.

This night Nerjenos camp out (with official permission) on the beach,  light bonfires, cook barbecue meals and general have a good time, with a midnight immersive dip in the sea for the brave, to bring good fortune for the coming year, and an early rise to watch the dawn. There were hundreds of people camping out, a dozen small fires and even more barbecue stoves. On the promenade a huge bar and fast food stall had been set up, also a stage with live, happy party music. All the restuarants seemed to be full, and there were thousands of people of every nationality and of all ages, out having a festive night out, jigging around to the music, chatting, cuddling, being happy together. I didn't hear an angry word, or see any kind of social disorder, loutish behaviour or drunkeness. Individuals and families here seem capable of having a good time together without becoming a threat to each other. It's great.

There were few police around, keeping traffic in order, their preoccupation. The Guardia Civil had a squad of a dozen supervising the cordon around a huge bonfire mounted by an effigy, right on the sea shore. Just inside the safety fence fireworks were mounted on poles, and in ground batteries. I can't quite imagine a crowd in U.K. being allowed to get that close to the action, but when it came at midnight, the display was on a decent local community scale, rather than the pretentious industrial conspicuous consumption scale prevailing for public displays in urban settings - just right for the occasion.

The bonfire provided a grand blaze, lighting up the sea, so you could better glimpse excited teenagers and family groups dunking themelves and emerging triumpant to dry their hair in front of the fire. I was so taken with photography I was caught by a fast wave and got my feet wet and sandy. The cool was delicious, and made me laugh out loud. My Sony HX50 camera worked overtime, processing low light pictures, and after eighty or so, the battery was exhausted, so I headed for Church house and bed just after one. Sorting out the photos can wait for another day.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Data migration

Another quiet Monday, lots of sleep, recovering from another eventful weekend, writing emails, with enough free time to spend on transferring the content of a contact detail file to the Chaplain's work email account, so it can display on the Xperia smartphone. Getting the data from text file to a format  which could then be imported wasn't impossible, but working out how to do it, would have been a trial and error process which might result in a hard to read data display. Doing the job line by line meant that corrections could be made, and duplicates avoided. A couple of hours worth of relaxed effort, but with a measure of job satisfaction, that my successors will get more value out of using the parish phone from day one.

Doing this was an uneasy reminder of the need to migrate the CBS record system to a new database, as there's no certainty that the forcoming Windows 10 upgrade will play nicely with the vintage MS Works database, which I've used for every information project for the past twenty years. It's one of those stand alone programs, with quite specific if limited uses, that's easy to learn and use, but its files, unlike those of the heavier MS Access aren't straightforwardly compatible with other databases. You can export data in a format that will easily integrated into another system, but are left with the task of building from scratch a display format that's at least equal to the one in Works which you've just left behind. 

This is one of those complex 'attention to detail' tasks I've been putting off for the past three years, but it's becoming increasingly necessary to tackle the job, due to the need to make this data usefully readable to a web as well as desktop application. There's much new learning needed for this, or else data migration could prove to be an expensive task.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Spring ends, Summer comes

The longest day, traditional beginning of Summer, warm enough for the fans to be running during the Almuñecár Eucharist, making enough background noise to encroach on the peace and quiet normally enjoyed at this relatively early morning celebration. A holiday making couple joined us. The husband said he'd been in Llandaff Cathedral Parish Choir when he was a boy. A lovely little link with home. At San Miguel later, we had Canadian, French and Norwegian visitors in the congregation. 

There was a Catholic locum priest in the sacristy when I arrived, from Antequera. We chatted briefly before our service began. He hung around discreetly while we worshipped. After half an hour of socialising at the Eucharist, I returned to the church to collect my new hat, forgotten, but still there on the sacrsity table. The priest was busy with a pre-lunch baptism service. I wondered what time he'd get to eat today.

When I got back to Church house I was incredibly tired, not so much physically but drained more in mind that body. I slumped in a chair for ages before getting a snack, and it was evening before I got around to cooking a proper meal. One intense day on top of another it seems saps me of more energy than I'm used to. At seventy, I've already learned to adjust my pace in everything I do, but it seems my reserves of energy fall short of expectation. Another lesson about ageing to be learned.

Last night, I watched the Cardiff Singer of the World Song contest, a marvellous experience. Tonight it's the grand final, with a terrific orchestra and huge enthusiastic support from audiences. To think this was all happening the other side of Working Street from St John's, all the time I was Vicar there, and I never found time to watch, or get audience tickets, my attention being focussed elsewhere. It's a superb celebration of musicianship. The emerging generation of young singers is every bit as marvellous as those who thrilled us before.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Village wedding

Most of the morning was spent carefully preparing for this afternoon's wedding in Frigiliana, making sure I could pronounce correctly the handful of Spanish biblical quotes I'd added into the text. After an early lunch, I drove to the village and arrived at San Antonio Church an hour early. The choir were already rehearsing, getting used to the fine acoustics of the building, just right for the mostly baroque music to be sung. The groom's spritely 99+ year old abuela was among the first guests to escape from the fierce heat of the afternoon sun into the cool calm of the church. I was pleased to welcome her in Spanish, and made an effort to include a few Spanish prayers in the liturgy for her sake. Afterwards, she asked me what Order I belonged to. I think she understood when I said I was a pastor anglican.

Everything for the service went according to plan, well just. The youngest of the couple's children was rather clingy, and definitely a Daddy's boy. Quite naturally, with their parents enthroned in front of the assembly, the children wanted to be with them and so they were for the first part of the service. When it was necessary for the couple to make their vows, abuelo came forward, collected the toddler, who broke into disgruntled tears and had to be taken out. Smiles all around. A wedding for the couple, but in every sense a celebration of the family they have made, loved by all.

After the service, the guests went off ahead of the couple to the reception. In the square outside the church, a suitably decorated horse and carriage awaited the couple driven by smartly dressed caballeros in traditional garb, to take them to join their guests. I slipped away, quite drained of energy by leading the celebration, relieved to return from romance to domestic solitude. I think everyone who was involved made the effort to make this the special occasion it was intended to be. 

I hope it makes a difference to the couple, and inspires them to continue the path they have set out on. Sad to say, I'm unlikley to know the outcome, not because I'm that old, but because celebrations like this, in which so much gets invested, seem no more than ephemeral pastoral encounters, like so many funerals of strangers I've done over the years. It's very much a product of living in a transient mobile society, where the old traditional continuity of relationships in community life hardly exist any more.

All of this raises one question for me - are church communities and their ministers speaking to the condition of people in this changing new world in a way that is faithful to the Gospel? On this I think I could really value a quiet chat with the admirable Pope Francis, who has his finger on the pulse in a most impressive way, to ask him what he'd do if he was still out there on the pastoral front line.

Friday, 19 June 2015

People on the move

I had a meeting yesterday morning with a couple whose wedding I shall be blessing on Saturday at the church in nearby Frigiliana. Bride and groom live in Britain, but the bride's English parents live in the village. The groom's family are Mallorcan and they'll be coming from there. It's another reminder of the movement and settlement of people made possible by the existence of European Union. This is valuable, not only at the political and economic level, but at the personal, domestic and social level, in the exchange of tradition and custom, and the shared pleasures this brings.

Just as we get used to the new kind of normality that ease of international mobility gives, the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and economic migrants from third world countries, makes huge demands on resources, and seems uncontrollable, driven as it is, by need, or fear of violence. It's generating new anxieties, xenophobia and racism, and is a real challenge to all E.U. countries to deal with in a just and humane way, that curbs the threat of increased criminality, either among migrants or among those wishing to exploit their plight. 

Despite being resource rich, African and Middle Eastern countries are still plagued by problems arising from the seemingly unbridgeable gulf between powerful rich minorities and the majority poor. Injustice breeds violence, but the impact of climate change places everyone under additional pressure as environmental impairment reduces the possibility of countries being able to sustain their growing populations. 

African street traders have been a common feature of Mediterranean coastal life for more than the past decade, people in a position to take risky initiatives, work hard and patiently, driven more by opportunity than need. Today's population influx fleeing conflict is much more of a mixture of educated people and poor peasants, all of whom may have good things to contribute once settled provided there is a will to make it happen. In the long term, Europe will be enriched by accepting them. It may help re-create relationships with Third World countries following the eventual demise of economic as well as political colonialism

It's so good that Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change pulls no punches, respects the science, challenges the dominance of modern consumerist culture and calls environmental damage 'a sin' - yes indeed - if the church's understanding of sin as anything which causes suffering is truly understood. He will come in for fierce criticism from those with vested interests in denying the seriousness of the environmental crisis we are facing. Church leaders internationally are applauding his bold stance. But will the captains of industry and their political supporters listen.

Today was pretty hot. I had a pile of work to do, which kept me in most of the time. For the second day running, I went out for a stroll after sunset, and got a few more photos of the thin sliver of a moon and a couple of bright planets before they followed the sun below the horizon. This is just one of several
  You can find more photos here

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Protest, political change and redevelopment in Nerja

After a night of less sleep than I felt I needed, a brisk walk to the Church shop put me right for the time being. There were only five of us for the Eucharist as several regulars are away. After coffee and a chat, I went to the nearby health food shops in search of things Clare had asked me to look for to save her carrying extra weight, then headed back to the house on my ususal route. 

In the avenida de Pescia near the Iranzo supermarket is a large school in its own grounds the C.E.I.P. Narixa (this was its arabic place name in the days of  Al-Andaluz). It's a primary school with an international dimension, with English as a second language.  On my way down around nine the road crossing is controlled by a Guardia Civil officer to ensure the safety of parents and children at rush hour. The cop's whistle is still much used. It's going to be quieter when term ands and routine traffic duties change.

Normally I walk up the sunny side of the street, but today took the shady side, where the school is. The hundred metres or so of its external walls were covered with handwritten messages in Spanish on sheets of paper, some large, some small, some in a child's hand, all protesting about a  budget cut to staffing imposed by the Generalitat of Andalusia. This concerned the loss of a monitor, which I looked up later and found to be a coach or instructor. Later I returned with my camera, re-read the posters, and gathered the protest is concerned with learning support staff to help students with disabilities or learning difficulties.
Some of the posters quoted the Bill of Human Rights on Education and children. I was pleased at how much I could read and understand. Considering the number of contributions to the writing on the wall, it represents a substantial well organised local protest. How civilised! No graffiti, no vandalism, no mess on the pavement.
I looked on-line, but found no local news report on this in English so far. But I did discover there was a change of power in Nerja's town council last weekend. Rosa Arabal of the PSOE has forged a working coalition with all the other minority parties to act as Alcalde (Mayor). The PP Mayor of 20 years standing, José Alberto Armijo was just a couple of votes short of retaining office. So, there are echoes in Nerja of the shift away from centre-right government nationally.

Also in local news I saw publication of the plans to redevelop the Playa de Calahonda, and re-instate footpath access to neighbouring beaches, destroyed by cliff erosion. The Papagayo beach restaurant, which has been looking tatty for ages, and closed for a couple of years, is now to be demolished. A new chirunguito will be built at the base of the cliff, with a terrace and sunbed area in front, enlarging and enhancing the beach. There have been protests about the changes, doubtless relating to the beach becoming a building site for a while, but would work start mid-high season anyway? 

The end result will certainly benefit more sun-seekers in due course, and do good business for the town, which will in future own the beach hospitality business. It's all part of the continued drive to improve the quality of the holiday offer the town makes. In the past couple of weeks the pavement area next to the ALSA bus stop booking office has been cordoned off and some large angled metal pillars installed along its length. These aren't new lamp posts, but supports for a canopy to shelter travellers waiting for  buses that stop there. It's not a full bus station, but from now on, the added street furnishings will proclaim elequently that this is the place to wait. 

Talking of which, I wonder what Cardiff's city centre will get by way of a new bus station in the outcome of the redevelopment of  Central Square?

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Me and my hat

I like my straw sombrero, but it's not that comfortable, and it has a life of its own on a breezy day. So, I walked into town this morning on a mission to buy a nice cool white cotton sun hat I'd seen in a shop outside the main retail thoroughfares at a half of the price of similar products elsewhere. Best of all, it was pure cotton, rather than cotton-polyester. I spotted it Friday evening, but didn't bother to buy then, just took note and decided to return.

Yesterday afternoon, I walked past, but the shop didn't re-open at the hour scheduled. I waited for a while, just in case, but nobody came. In the mean time, a man came up from the beach carrying a guitar, sat on a nearby doorstep and began practicing some flamenco riffs. I don't think he was busking, but sitting in the sun enjoying himself in the best way a guitarista can. It took the edge off my purchasing disapointment. 

Anyway, the shop was open when I arrived, and I found a hat that was actually large enough not to need squeezing on to my head. Once I done some food shopping, I had to carry the new hat, fitted on the crown of my straw sombrero to get it home. I must have looked an idiot, but frankly I didn't care. 

Later in the day, after answering another wedding query with a long email, I took a longer walk in the sun with the newly purchased hat. It's perfect cooling headgear - not stylish but very functional under these bright sunny skies. I'm hopeless at shopping, except for food and tech' bargains, but now and then, something goes right, and there's no indecision left.

Talking of straw, there's a man around town who weaves esparto grass into baskets and other things. He works outdoors at different sites in and around the town centre. I saw him first four years ago in the Plaza San Salvador, and took this photo.
Today, he was in a shady corner just outside the square - understandably, given that the pruned trees in the square haven't grown enough to provide much shade so far. 
Later, I saw him in the shade again, further away from the centre, in the barrio where the Parador Hotel is located, this time weaving bottle covers. A beautiful everyday craft practised the same today as it has been for thousands of years around the world. He doesn't have a banner, nor does he hand out business cards. He just does something he loves. Next time I seem him I must try and chat him. Sad really that I have need to buy things he makes, as I'd have no use for them here. Getting them back to Cardiff as a locum souvenir would be too much of a problem. What fascinates me is his story. I wonder what he'd make of that, in my broken Spanish?

Monday, 15 June 2015

Early start on next Sunday

Monday mornings, I seem to wake later, or at least get up more slowly, when there's nothing in the diary. After a leisurely start however, if I'm not distracted, I get curious about next Sunday's readings, and what there'll be to preach about. From this a train of thoughts develops and a draft text to ponder on and tinker with for the rest of the week. I have immediate access to my internet archive of twelve years worth of sermons. Retrievable less quickly, another eight years of sermons are digitally stored. I reckon I've gone through the three year lectionary a total of six times, since I introduced it in Geneva, ahead of the publication of the Book of Common Worship.

Trinitytide in Year B of the lectionary using the thread of continuous rather than theme related readings is a sequence I haven't done before, or so I discovered, looking back into my archive. The decision to use this thread was taken before I came, and it offers an opportunity to write something fresh each week, rather than hunt the archive and decide if material from previous years can be used as a starting point and adapted to a different audience and setting. This involves just as much thought as writing from scratch, but isn't so stimulating. The lectionary is not an easy resource to get used to, as it's quite complex, offering many possible options for Sundays in any year. This particular set of Trinitytide readings is one I've not worked on before, hence the added pleasure in engaging with scripture afresh for the Ministry of the Word.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Sunday encounters

A cool and cloudy day, considering we're only a week away from the longest day. Even on sunny days this past week or so, there's been a pleasant cooling breeze off the sea when you're outdoors, though the sun really does warm up the houses and they stay like that until late evening. But so far. not warm enough to justify using air conditioning. The car is another matter, and I'm thankful that it has air conditioning, as otherwise journeys from morning until evening would be uncomfortable.

I noticed more traffic on the Autovia during my run up to Almuñecár for the first Eucharist of the day. Now that schools are out in many European countries, it's not surprising that families are now making their ways to the coast for the summer. More traffic in Nerja on the return trip, although I was very lucky to get a parking place just around the corner from the church as soon as I arrived.

As we were singing the 'Alleluia' to welcome the Gospel, a small child about two years old, stood in the open doorway with her grandmother behind her. The child was joining in the Alleluia, with help from grandma. When I announced the Gospel, I saw grandma gently take the child's hand and help her to trace the sign of the cross on her forehead, mouth and chest. How many grandparents have helped a grandchild learn to pray and participate in worship like that down the ages? I wondered. How many will do the same in the future? A moment to treasure.

Among visitors to San Miguel was a folk dance acquaintance of our friend Gail from Worcestershire, who'd been recommended seek out the Nerja Anglican service and say Hello. Also there was a young man, out for a weekend with friends, who found us. As an RAF IT specialist and an active Christian, he said how he enjoyed 'Church hopping' when away from his home base, and found the experience of worshipping in different places and ways an encouragement to his own faith. I enjoyed a spell of techie talk with him over a beer in Bar Cuñaos after the Eucharist. It's not often I get the chance to chat with someone who's worked in Helman Province on providing essential IT network services to all the 'boots on the ground'. It's wonderful, the variety of people you meet on locum duty.

After lunch and a dozy start to the afternoon, I found that 'Happy Feet' was playing on ITV2, a film I've heard mentioned, but never seen, although it's nine years since it first came out, so I watched it, with great pleasure. It's a well intended narrative, with messages about the impact on wildlife of pollution and over-fishing polar seas, but quirky in requiring a penguin survivor to wash up on a foreign shore thousands of miles from home, and end up in a zoo, from whence its ticket home is earned by tap dancing for a human audience.

A tap dancing penguin is an amusing enough device to drive a fantasy musical plot in the best Disney tradition, but the idea that such a bizarre media storming phenomenon generates a research project supplying the penguin hero with a ticket back to Antartica is less worthy of suspension of disbelief. Real science is always way ahead of media attentiveness. To imply science merely follows popular acclaim borders on insult. Like it or not, front line fundamental scientific research, driven by testable theory and data, insight and intuition, still carries the banner of real prophetic witness for this era. All other big opinions struggle to catch up.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Viñuela revisited

Yesterday was another day of answering couples' wedding blessing queries. It's a bit like being a tutor on a correspondence course, you have to think long and hard to ensure there's clarity in the response. Also there was an email from Cardiff Area Dean Fr Bob Capper, asking me about August availability for locum duties at St German's, which means, sadly, Fr Dean may still be off sick. I had already offered Fr Mark my free slots for Canton Benefice, but conscious that he might not need me for all of them, I asked Fr Bob to liaise with him about free slots. So it looks as if I won't be short of ministry duties on my return.

Coming back from an evening stroll around town, I was surprised to hear the strains of Hare Krishna chanting coming from a small building which I think is a changing room for local tennis courts. I've not come across devotees singing on the streets of the town so far, but may have simply missed them. It's all part of the rich cultural diversity that's part of life on the Costa del Sol, as in any large city.

Apart from a morning walk to the supermarket, I spent the day indoors again, writing emails, but as there was nothing worth watching on telly, I decided to walk to Burriana beach in the dark, and then continued into town via the Playa Caribeo steps. Wanting to stretch myself a little, I jogged all the way up. It left me a little breathless, but recovery was quick. It's getting a lot easier to run since I lost about five kilos. The Balcon was fairly quiet for ten thirty at night, but there was a classical guitarist out busking, playing lovely romantic music, which I think was by an 18th or 19th Spanish composer. Perfect for a late Spring evening.
I had a drink at the Balcon Hotel with some people I knew who hailed me as I was passing, and then strolled home, tireder than I expected. I'm less used to being out and about late these days.

This afternoon, I drove along the coast road to Torre del Mar again, and further beyond for several kilometres to explore. West of the town, on a high promontory, partly cut away in quarried cliffs is a typical iconic Osbourne Bull wayside hoarding, and I wanted to take some photos.
Then I drove back to Torre del Mar, and headed inland, past Velez Malaga to Viñuela, which I'd passed through on a bereavement visit when I was here a couple of years ago. It's a spectacularly beautiful mountainous region and there's a lake named after the town, providing water for local agriculture and the coastal region. It's a big olive growing area.
Up to the right of the lake is the old slow road through the mountains to get to Granada, via the Puerto del Suspiro del Moro - the Pass of the Moor's last sigh - where the defeated rulers paused to look back at the city they'd lost to the army of los reconquistadores. This journey is a must for us, at least one way, when we make our third visit to the old capital of Al Andalus in a few weeks time. It's twice as long as the Autovia journey apparently, but you can stop and rejoice in the scenery.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

In remembrance

I drove to La Garnatilla in good time this morning to conduct a memorial service for a long standing English inhabitant of the village. It's something was I asked to do and prepared for a month ago, but this was the first time to meet all the family and friends, not just the widow. There were twenty of us in the simple, beautifully kept little 17th century cruciform church, dedicated to St Cecilia. The parish priest came to join us. His three main churches are down in Motril Puerto, plus this one. I was glad of an opportunity to converse with him in Spanish. As all the Catholic liturgy books were available in the sacristy beforehand, I was able to find a Spanish prayer for someone who'd died after a long illness, and I used it at the beginning of the service.

Afterwards, the gathering drove down to the coast road and along to neighbouring Salobrenia for a memorial lunch together, in a favourite restaurant right on the beach, full of happy memories, as guests of the departed. The closest family members slipped away together during the pre-lunch drinks to visit a cherished cove, and consign the cremated remains to the sea, in a specially designed urn made of salt, enabling it to dissolve and disperse the ashes in a measured way over a space of time. Such a nice dignified idea. Scattering ashes on the sea on this day would in any case have been out of the question

The food was very good and plentiful, and the meal was long and leisurely. We were all seated at a long table outside, but under shelter, and there was a lovely cooling wind. Salobrenia's old town is a spectacular sight being a hill town on a promotory in the coastal plain. 
It's somewhere to look forward to re-visiting and exploring fully with Clare when she comes, two weeks today.
Afterwards, I returned to Nerja along the N340 coast road all the way. It's the first time I've had an opportunity to do this, and it made the three quarters of an hour journey most enjoyable. I was struck by how quiet the old road is between La Herradura and Maro nowadays. It's only a couple of decades since this was one of Spain's key trunk roads.


Wednesday, 10 June 2015


Another Wednesday Eucharist at the Church shop, with coffee and conversation to follow, then back for lunch. Then there was an enquiry to deal with from a couple who've booked a wedding blessing, which involved careful explanation of what the conventional Church service offers. It's not unusual for couples to have little experience or understanding of Anglican liturgical custom and practise. If they did, after all, it's more than likley they'd want to get married in their Parish Church at home. Writing a simple account of what we do and why we do it can take ages, but I don't mind, as it's now pretty hot in the afternoons, and better to stay out of the direct sun. I've already got an embarrasing tan, and bothered about over exposure.

As this explanation is for a couple to be blessed by my successor, I sent him a copy, and received an appreciative response, plus a request for a briefing about the ins and outs of locum ministry here. That set me thinking. A useful domestic guide for new house is available to look through when you first arrive, but there's no pastoral hand-over file, something I've come across and helped write in other situations, so in writing to my successor, I'll be starting to assemble a body of information that'll make it easy for others to settle into the role. I have an advantage as this is my fourth stay in Nerja. It will be a good thing to leave behind for others to add to.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Fruit in due season

A quiet domestic couple of days, mostly around the house, cleaning and washing, hunting down an original Spanish translation of Kahlil Gibran's poem of Marriage from 'The Prophet' to use at a  wedding, reluctant to proceed with the machine translation Google so kindly provides. Also adjusting to increasing heat and humidity, albeit from time to time we still get cooling breezes, strangely and  inconsistently changeable. Sometimes the sky is cloudy, and other times it's bright and clear. Nearby sierras go from being sharp and vivid to being wreathed enchantingly in mist. Photography cannot do it true justice.

This morning the weekly Mercadillo next to the urbanizacion. I meant to go early then go out for the day, but I slept late, then had an idea for next Sunday's sermon, which got written down after breakfast, so it was nearly lunchtime by the time I went out to see what was on offer. I bought a kilo of cooking tomatoes and one of unripe nectarines. The old lady who runs a clothes stall, with a sideline in fruit and veg was there again, shouting out her wares in an irresistible way,

She had ripe mangoes on offer. I fancied a couple, but she refused to sell me just two. Like it or not, I ended up with a bag of five very soft ripe fruit, and she accepted all my spare dineros, about €1.50 for them, about right compared with other stalls, I think. She's such a character, and I get to try out my Spanish on her. She ignores what I say, not because she doesn't understand me, but because she wants to get rid of all the fruit she's brought with her, ripe and ready to eat. It's always chancey, but great fun and worth the risk.

The kitchen filled with the heavely aroma of five huge soft ripe mangos. What to do with them? After nearly two months, I have a collection of clean spare glass jars. So, I cut up four of the mangos and fed them into two of the largest I had. to store in the fridge. When I walked out to the town, late in the afternoon, I bought a miniature of kirsch and another of Spanish brandy to add to the jars with the aim of preserving the mangos for a while. The kirsch seemed to go best with the wonderful flavour of fresh ripe fruit. I ate half the fifth mango for supper. The rest went to top up the jars, once the kirsch was added. That's a treat to look forward to. 

Then for supper, I cooked some not very ripe plums in orange juice with cinnamon and ginger, another nice summer fruity treat, and there are nectarins to cook tomorrow if they show no signs of ripening soon. So many possibilities given the abundance of good quality low cost fruit at this time of year. And it's such fun to experiment.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Corpus Christi Sunday

The usual Sunday morning routine of services at Almuñecár and then Nerja. At the end of the second service in San Miguel we were aware of unusual activity outside. Tables were carried into the street from the church's side rooms, several people were out with brooms, sweeping the street and the plaza in front of the church, and a muslin canopy was erected above an area where the two tables had been placed, next to the wall of a building. It wasn't clear at the time what was the purpose of this. It was only later in the afternoon, when I returned to the church to witness the Corpus Christi procession that it became clear what was the purpose of this. 

A temporary altar shrine had been created, to be the first stop for prayer on the processional route. The air was scented with mint, cut from gardens or fields, spread on the ground and trodden under foot. The Mass in church was half way through. I watched from the threshold of the church. Inside it was packed, and a guitar led choir was singing a Mass setting with a Latin American flavour. All the children admitted to Communion for the first time this year were present in their uniforms or dresses. They participated enthusiastically. Outside, the local band, mostly youngsters assembled in readiness, and the Guardia Civil's procession team waited in the background.

Rather than one of the two parish priests carry the Sacrament, it was mounted on a trona, carried high by a dozen people. The procession wound its way through the streets and eventually out of the barrio across into the central area of town and down to San Salvador, with several prayer and rest stops on the way, some in streets where there were other altar stations, and in those streets balconies were also hung with beautiful table cloths or counterpanes in decoration, to honour the Lord's passing by.

The last two stations were outside the clergy house of San Salvador and then one in the plaza outside the church. The children carried baskets of rose petals, and these were sparingly scattered along the route, until we got to the clergy house, where the red carpet, covered with sprigs of mind was further embellished with a generous dose of red petals, a lovely sight in the evening light.

Finally the Parish Priest retrieved the monstrance from the trona, and give Benediction to the five hundred strong gathering and took the sacrament into church under a processional canopy. I slipped in behind them to join in adoration as the Sacrament was being returned home to the tabernacle. The sacristan from San Miguel, to whom I'd spoken earlier in the day, enquiring about the start time, saw me and came over to greet me, with a look that said 'How did you enjoy it?' Estamos in el cielo, I responded. I found it very moving, such a relaxed cordial family yet devout occasion, involving people of all ages. There were people with walking frames as well as those in push chairs following in the processions, and people socialised as much as they prayed.

Such processions are less than commonplace in modern Britain in our era, despite efforts to revive the custom in some places. Really, the reformation robbed public life of this kind of religious and social ritual, with such power to bond people together in peace and love. We do very well with all kinds of carnival processions instead these days, but it's not really the same. It may mean a great party, but it's only a party. Making a sacred space out in the streets means so much more for the good of a society. You can follow the procession in photographs here.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Another wedding and a reflection on marrying abroad

I didn't venture far yesterday, except to buy a printer cartridge from a shop on the way into town. I was expecting to meet with the wedding couple again in the evening to complete unfinished business from yesterday to enable us to get started properly, but the call came too late to act upon, and again we had to re-schedule for the day of the wedding - too close for comfort in the event of irregularities in my book. 

Anyway I walked to the Balcon for a ten o'clock rendezvous and all was quickly resolved. I then went to the church shop and hung around there and Rosie's bar for an hour or so. I bought a cool loose fitting tee shirt in the shop to exchange for my clerical shirt until it was time for the wedding, then went for a walk, then sat in El Salvador for a while, then sat in the shade near the sea for a while, passing the time until it was time to change back and go on duty.

There were a hundred and fifty guests for the wedding, with an unusual predominance of younger couples with children under ten, contemporaries, if not relations of the couple. So, by all accounts there were fifteen bridesmaids, mostly under ten, plus several page boys, who were especially good at  looking after the younger little girls, and four groomsmen. It was a mammoth feat of organisation, causing headaches for the wedding arrangers, but quite apart from the splendour of the occasion, it was a congenial and orderly family occasion with few tears and wails. Word had got out about the promise of a spectacle, and several church people turned up discreetly to watch, and I hope admire.

There was a twenty strong local community choir, which sang beautifully a classic repertoire of choral music, almost a dozen pieces, apparently chosen by the groom, plus three popular hymns. Mine was the only mishap as I skipped one choir piece, distracted momentarily, but the conductor was quick witted in concealing my error.

The best moment was when the six month old daughter of the couple was brought up to the altar to be included in the nuptial blessing. After the group family cuddle, the child gave me a huge beaming grin as I blessed them. "The Lord make his face to shine upon you ..." comes to mind. Yes, that open look of radiant love from the infant was like looking into the face of God. Exhausted though I was at the intensity of it all, this made my day. 

For many hard working people with cash to spare, sinking a large amount of money into arranging a wedding and reception in a place far from one's home base is an interesting phenomenon, facilitated by budget airlines, tour packages and professional wedding organisers. The wedding package is yet another commodity for well-off consumers that wouldn't have existed thirty years ago. A much older generation brought up in real austerity, often married on a shoe-string budget puzzles over this. What's the point and purpose, when the money (or credit) could be put to better use? Needless to say, I've been reflecting on this, and trying to evaluate the phenomenon.

First, it has little to do with traditional institutional religion. Yet, people alienated from the church and the demands they perceive it makes upon them and their behaviour, still find significance in making solemn vows before the presence of an Authority infinitely higher than the State. 

Secondly, far more couples want their families and friends to be with them, than want to elope and plight their troth in semi-privacy. The making of a bonding journey as family and friends, with all the costly demands this may entail, to celebrate a marital commitment, is a reflection of the value still placed on family life and dedication. Perhaps those taking it seriously are prepared to invest more, in  reaction against the perceived threat from all the forces that devalue traditional marriage and family life. It's not a political campaign, but a popular consumer response.

Thirdly, venues that conjure with the imagination - beaches, castles, terraces with grand vistas etc. - appeal more than many traditional sacred spaces which no longer inspire with higher thoughts the way they were intended to. God in the beauty of the ordinary wins over against God in sacred space. It's a symptom of priestood no longer able to commend what it exists to serve. The church senses that despite the questionable morality of conspicuous consumption involved in foreign weddings, there is an underlying affirmation of what matters most, the lasting bonds of affection we need inorder to survive in this mobile often impersonal world. Perhaps if we can let that teach us about what people really need and value, we can breathe new life into the same old social rituals on our doorsteps.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

An unusually eventful day.

Eucharist at the Church shop with the faithful few this morning, then a wedding preparation meeting scheduled with a couple at noon, but they didn't turn up. Eventually I found their contact number and learned that it had accidentlly got booked in their diary for tomorrow noon, despite emails confirming today's date and time. The perils of digital diaries I'm afraid. We re-scheduled for this evening, and I confirmed by text message, reminding them to bring the wedding certificate with them for inspection. Crisis. They'd forgotten to bring it, despite reminders. I simply cannot proceed without seeing it. 

This also happened in Marbella last summer, and was resolved by someone in Newcastle sending photos of the certificate, once it had been retrieved from the couple's home. Fortunately, thee couple were able to arrange this quite quickly, and said the certificate would be on its way here with another of their 150 guests arriving tomorrow afternoon. Crisis ended, preparation meeting re-booked for this evening.

After lunch, Bill, Jo, Judith and I met the couple and their children for the wedding blessing at San Miguel. A lovely family they were too. Three daughters, two with boy friends, and two sons, except that the one son coudn't come because his girl friend was expecting a baby and couldn't fly. Rather than be left out, he joined in the service by means of his sister's smartphone - Face-time or Skype I'm not sure which, but we could hear him joining in and he was able to see them all and the church too. Well, we've seen it on the phone ads, and in reality, with a good phone and 4G roaming deal, it truly enhanced the occasion for an obviously loving and close knit family. It was a very happy half hour we spent together, and it offset the irritation of everything going haywire with the other couple.

After their service, I helped get things ready for the Mothers Union Cheese and Wine fund raising social evening downstairs in the catchechism room at San Miguel. Then, as they started I went off to meet the couple. By this time the photo of the wedding certificate had arrived, meaning that I could proceed with good reason, on the assumption that all would be in order by this time tomorrow. Then, back to San Miguel for the last hour of the social evening. I was quite tired by the time I finally got back to church house.

How nice that the vice consul from Malaga came and joined in. I asked about the new U.K. consular call centre for half of the world, now in its third year of operation. It employs forty odd people, and is adjudged to be working successfully, by the criteria set for it. What's not to like? I still think there's nothing to beat having consuls dealing with expatriate and visitor affairs working within local territory. But nowadays more and more admin is done by remote service providors. I should know. I've been working remotely from the CBS office at home and abroad since 2012.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Market day and Rio stroll

I went to the mercadillo to shop for veggies this morning, and for the amazingly small sum of €4.60 bought 4 avocados, 3 bananas, 3 nectarines, 4 large garlic heads, a half kilo box of cherry tomatoes, and 600 grams of French beans. The only disaster was the 60 cents worth of avocados which weren't up to scratch, as they'd not ripened properly, insufficiently watered.

Then, I walked down the rio Chillar to the sea, keeping an eye out for interesting birds. Yet again I saw a flock of goldfinches, but they rise and fly so quickly that snapping them is impossible when you're out strolling. I caught a swallow dipping over a river ford a few times, terrible small in the vast expanse, but so noticeable from their fast and gracious movement.
Further down the river, beneath the old town bridge, a got several good photos of a bird I couldn't identify, with a call that suggested to me that it could be a straying shore bird.
When I checked the RSPB website, the best match was the little ringed plover, a wading bird that isn't confined to the shore at all.

There was a tow truck on the beach, extricating a car that had driven quite a way on to the sand and was stuck up to its axels, heaven knows why.
At the moment, there's little or no water running over the surface as the rio Chillar approaches the sea. Possibly, at wetter times of year, the saturated sand is firm enough to prevent a car from sinking right it. If the driver was familiar with this, an expensive error of judgement had been made.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Happy family meeting

Having spent yesterday morning preparing a brief order of service to show, I walked into town at lunchtime to meet a couple from South East London. They've asked to renew their wedding vows at San Miguel on Wednesday. They've been married for twenty three and half years, and they'd planned to do this for their twentieth anniversary but a couple of family bereavements led to them postponing to a better time. 

Rather than delay any longer they decided that now is the opportunity to take, so they've brought four of their five children, and a couple of boyfriends to celebrate. So, it will be a small gathering to plan in a large church, but I have ideas how this can be nicely done.

They told me how they'd been led to buy and renovate a holiday cottage in a rural Bulgarian village long before the country joined the E.C. - for the price of a small car - they said. Over the years since then, they've visited several times a year, learned the language and become welcome visitors in a simple community whose way of life has hardly changed in centuries. Going off-grid regularly has provided them with a needed respite from the demands of metropolitan living, and no doubt has helped bond them together as a family.