Friday, 31 July 2015

Edging out browser choice

In the office again this afternoon, evaluating the new Microsoft Edge web browser, and setting up the new Acer desktop computer for Ashley, who's been too busy even to take it out of the box. As soon as the registration and initialization procedure was completed, the machine flagged up that it was immediately ready to upgrade to Windows 10, so I let it run, even though  had to leave before it was completed.

Edge presents itself with a minimal interface, a like Chrome in the early days. Changing the default  search engine from Bing to Google involves drilling down into the advanced settings menu. It's not wholly explicit. It doesn't list options, just gives you few greyed out empty menu options. You need to call up a Google homepage tab, then go into the settings menu before it displays a menu option that reflects the tab you've opened. Only then can your default setting be changed.

Come to think of it, the browser choice menu doesn't appear, giving you the option from the outset to choose between Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari. Does this mean that Edge as the default browser will be imposed until another round of litigation takes place? The enforcement of browser choice took place when  Internet Explorer was presenting so many security problems that an argument for choice was reasonable and in everyone's best interests. Edge hadn't been born at that time, intends to provide the security Internet Explorer at once failed to do. So, part of the argument justifying browser choice no longer exists, unless advocates for software freedom once more take Microsoft to law, an expensive process, with less certainty of winning. Time will tell, I guess.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Windows 10 comes to CBS

Today has been spent in the CBS office again, working on a job description to drive recruitment for the appointment of a Business Crime Reduction Manager for the city centre. The job will take on many of the Partnership functions we've been carrying and developing over the past six years. It's been quite a revelation to review all the minor activities generated by our work, making up the total picture, like camera pixels

First thing, my office PC, being the newest, fastest and most capable of taking advantage of the faster office broadband link, announced it was ready for the Windows 10 upgrade. True to the Microsoft promise, the upgrade took an hour, and left every program I installed working properly. Just as well, as I needed to be able to put it to use immediately. It'll take a few days to read the reviews and try out all the new features, however.

Ashley and I had a first meeting this morning with the new Brains area manager, who has been invited to be a BCRP Board member. Another element of much needed progress in developing the public face of the organisation is now in place. On the the way back to the office, we bought a new Acer 23" desktop PC for Ashley in John Lewis', to replace his six year old Vista laptop. In the business realm, the value of equipment like this decreases to virtually nothing, even though it works adequately. Everything else works well enough with new cloud based services, but older kit can struggle a bit for lack of processing power, or a not fast enough network hardware on board

I say 'works well enough', as Windows 10 re-synchronises the whole of our OneDrive file system as if it had never happened before, and it proved annoyingly slow. Working files saved, so others could access them, took an hour or so to show up and be accessible from another machine's file menu. Curiously however, OneDrive accessed from a browser found the files immediately. With millions of computers re-syncing with their Cloud drives on any given day after upgrading, it seems to me we can expect a period when file access from the desktop filesystem is less than efficient.

Still, that's number one machine updated. I wonder how long I will have to wait before Windows 10 is ready to install on any of my home machines?

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

A bussy day

With both parish clergy on holiday, I was drafted in to celebrate two Eucharists this morning, one at St Luke's for ten people followed by another at St Catherine's for half a dozen. Clare again needed the car for an appointment, so I was obliged to walk between churches with hardly enough time to arrive punctually. Thankfully, an 11 bus came along as I came close to a stop, saving me five minutes, and it deposited me at a stop close to the 61 bus route. I got lucky a second time as another bus turned up as I was approaching a second stop. This brief journey saved me a few minutes more and got me to the church with ten minutes to spare.

After the second service, I walked over to Cathedral Road and took another bus into town to visit the National Express ticket office to book a coach seat to visit my sister June in London tomorrow. Here my luck ran out. There was only room on the much too early 5.30am coach. Every coach thereafter until 2.30pm was full, as it's such a busy time of year. I'd left it too late, and had to abandon my plan for the time being. Sure I could have booked on the internet when I first thought of it, but I hate the National Express website, which always tries my patience. As I'm in town so often, it's no problem to pop into the office and get a real ticket. Things are changing however.

On August 1st, the coach station closes for the redevelopment of Central Square and is relocating in Sophia Gardens, half the distance from home for me. There will doubtless be chaos for a while, as many buses, especially to the east side of town will have their terminuses relocated. A new service has been recently introduced linking the far west and far east of the city directly, and passing through the centre, though not run by Cardiff Bus but by another company NAT. The new service started in May this year, and is already proving popular, according to a bus driver I talked to. This must make a big difference to those who'd otherwise have to travel into the central area, wait and change buses.

The coming months of demolition and reconstruction of part of the city centre will be an opportunity for me to add to my photographic record of the redevelopment phase of 2006-2009. Already in the three months while I was away in Spain, the new office block to the west of Central Square grew from a four storey skeleton to a nine storey building, and the Admiral building, just behind the Saint David Shopping Centre finally opened and is now occupied by a couple of thousand staff. Interesting times indeed.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Partnership progress

After a brief catch up session with our chairman, the Cardiff Business Crime Reduction Partnership Board met again yesterday afternoon, with me resuming the secretarial role. We had a full turn out of members and got a pleasing amount of business done. This in turn generates follow up work for me, but I don't mind. Getting the Board up and running has been a long term project of mine, fraught with difficulties due to the legacy of the initial efforts before my time to set up an effective organisation. It was a long process of learning by trial and error, due to differences in expectation and officer changes by participating partners, but that turns into worthwhile experience once things are working properly.

This morning,  before going to her study group, Clare took me to Splott to celebrate the Eucharist for a dozen worshippers at St Saviours. I arrived early and found the church hall open and cheerfully busy with preparations for a food bank distribution after the service . It was a quietly impressive and encouraging sight. I was fortunate to get a bus from the stop opposite the church, soon after taking my leave, which took me conveniently all the way back to Canton and then home to write up the record of yesterday's meeting.
It's a couple of years since I last took minutes. I was relieved to find that my short term recall isn't yet deteriorating with age. By the end of the afternoon, I'd sent the draft to the Chairman, and received in return a framework job description to adapt. Hopefully a speedy agreement on this will enable the recruitment of a Business Crime Reduction Manager by the end of summer. This will mark a huge leap forward in the Partnership development process.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Weather for ducks

Enough of a break in the rain yesterday to enable us to walk from Cardiff Bay across the Barrage to Penarth, and watch the cormorants fishing successfully in the weir - to slick and quick for me to get a photo of them with catch in mouth. A keen eyed child could spot a bird gobbling a fish faster than I could focus on it. This was my best shot.
This morning I awoke early and it was raining heavily. I got soaked walking to and from St Catherine's where I celebrated the 8.00am Eucharist for just one one person, undeterred by by the downpour. The rain had stopped by the time I walked back to church to celebrate the 10.30 Eucharist, at which I preached about natural abundance as a feature of the biblical world view, in the context of the story of the feeding of the multitude, today's Gospel. 

The congregation was much diminished by the holiday season, yet there were still several families with small children children present. I was delighted to learn that the Parish Messy Church sessions are bringing in dozens of children with their parents, and even more delighted to hear that members of Calvary Baptist Church on Cowbridge road are sharing in the venture as well.

It so happened that the first-fruits of the Church garden's green beans were on offer for a donation over coffee afterwards, so we had these for lunch along with broad beans from last week's veggie box. Such a pleasure! 

After lunch, rain notwithstanding, we drove over to Bristol to see Amanda, glad to find her in good spirits, and to chat with James, after the challenge of the first year of his computer studies course, justifably pleased with his results. On the return trip, the sun broke through the clouds and warmed the car as we crossed the Severn estuary, but the consolation was short lived. More rain to dampen the week ahead I'm afraid.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Trials of re-installation

Overcast and 15C here in Cardiff today, such a contrast to Nerja at 30C. Instead of being bathed in sweat, torrential rain, and the need to wear a thick cardigan to keep warm. Summer has indeed got lost here, as one news presenter put it. Still, plenty to do indoors, with several computers to revive with huge numbers of updates, and a mound of mail to get through after three months of absence.  Still, no bills. One new bank card, and a special discount for prompt renewal of my coach card, and lots of financial statements to file. ready for tax return time.

Late afternoon I went into the CBS office and checked the computers for updates and caught up with Ashley. Last week, CBS and all its working systems moved yet again, our seventh relocation in six years, always following in the footsteps of City Centre management. In fact we're back where we were two years ago in a slightly enlarged space. Our monitoring systems have evolved somewhat in that time, as our RadioNet operations have grown in sophistication.

I was quite amazed, given the complexity and difficulty of packing and moving so much equipment, that the system was running without problems. Apart from a MS Surface proprietory charger, nothing had gone missing, and even that turned up later in the evening in a bag of unsorted items. MS Office had given up the ghost on the main admin machine while I was away, but Libre Office was also installed and had sufficed as a fall back remedy. 

Attempts to repair MS Office from the original 15 year old disks failed, not because they were damaged or incompatible, they worked fine.  Un-installation prior to a full re-install was needed. Attempting to do this gave another error message, demanding the presence of another MS product (in our case MS Works) to be installed as a precondition of installing Office. MS Word was installed however, but was being ignored - probably caused by a deleted registry entry. This means finding the original MS Works disk at home, and doing a repair or re-install with it before MS Office will re-install. 

I was not pleased with myself, when a search for the installation disk at home revealed an empty disc box. Now, where to start the long search? At home or in the office. If I can't find it, the hassles will multiply. The company can afford to purchase an all new Office suite, but none of us who'd be using it can afford the time to learn an annoying new user interface. Or, in the case of Publisher, have backward file compatibility issues. Libre Office works well for most things, but is just a bit slower, and not as flexible for Publisher type document creation. We simply need to continue admin functions along the lines they have developed, as using a learned system, even if quirky, is more efficient and less error prone than a load of new software that may not think about the user, the way the user needs to be thought of. So, I'd better be able to find that disk - soon !

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Return to Wales

Yesterday morning celebrated the Eucharist for the last time in the Church shop honouring St Mary Magdalen with half a dozen faithful workers. Then it was simply a matter of going back to the house for a day of tidying, cleaning, gathering in and packing my goods and chattels for the journey home. Being so extremely humid, it wasn't an occasion to venture much beyond the rubbish and re-cycling bins. Not since a visit to Jamaica in the 1980's have I experienced such a combination of humidity and high temperature. Some Spanish people are saying it's not been so bad in their lifetime. It's hard to get a good night's sleep, so again I was up an hour before sunrise, dripping with perspiration from hardly any effort at all.

My last duty before leaving Nerja was to meet a couple whose wedding blessing is being performed on Sunday by the incoming locum priest, as he won't arrive in time to brief them before the service. It meant that I had to brief them according to his emailed instructions. Within the confines of liturgical formality priests may indeed vary in the manner they are accustomed to perform the ritual. This is probably the first time I've had to rehearse and explain a service to a couple on behalf of someone else, and I was unusually nervous about it. It worked out fine, as both had been married before and didn't need the kind of explanations that first-timers, often nervous, ask for.

I returned for an early lunch and completed packing, but had trouble figuring how the strap binding together a rather full and heavy soft case was meant to work. I wrestled with it and continued to drip sweat, not yet dressed for the journey when the doorbell rang adding to my panic. It was Judith who'd come to collect me for the airport run. Only when I'd been safely deposited inside Terminal Three at Malaga AGP, half an hour earlier in case of congestion, was I able to sit down and deal with the strap. There was indeed a half an hour queue at check-in, but I passed quickly through security afterwards, with lots of time to spare, and could at last relax.

I sat next to an interesting and sociable man from the Valleys about my age on the 'plane, who'd been a miner and then an underground fire and rescue officer for half his life, until the pits closed. He and his wife often holidayed in Nerja and were very fond of the place, getting to know many of the locals over the years, despite language differences. We talked quite a lot about mining, something I haven't done for years, and was glad to do. His life after pit closures took him eventually to working with students in a hall of residence for Glamorgan University, making friends with people from all over the world. The flight passed very quickly, and soon we were crossing the Severn Estuary, following the Jurassic coastline into cool and cloudy Rhoose Airport

My case was third to arrive on the baggage conveyor, and this meant I was on the next shuttle bus into town without delay. I walked home from the bus station, tugging my case, as that was preferable to a wait of half an hour to catch any one of several buses going Pontcanna or Canton way. I didn't mind at all, as the ambient temperature was bearable, despite the lack of blue skies.

Clare's gardening efforts this year have produced a lovely colourful summer display
Our little apple tree with its two kinds of fruit has an amazing crop of red and green apples, thanks to our local urban bee population.
While I've been away, the small garden birds have rediscovered our modest votive offering of seed. Despite the promise of more cloud and rain, it's good to be home.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Granada revisited

After another humid night's sleep I woke up at first light and resolved to go out for the day. By 8.30, I was on my way to revisit Granada, enjoying the spectacular views which the Autovia gives as it rises through the Alpujarras, skirting huge reservoirs on long tall viaducts. Nowhere to stop and take photos unfortunately. Next time I must make sure to take a passenger or have someone else drive.

The Autovia goes over the 860m pass known as the Puerto del Suspiro del Moro before descending to the plain where most of the modern city lies. It's said to be the last place on the east-west highway from which the Alhambra Palace on the hillside above the plain, can be seen. The Moor's sigh was that of Boabdil, the last muslim ruler of the city as he went into exile after the city was conquered by a Christian army. It was none too easy in the morning haze to identify anything in the distance eight miles away.

I followed the bypass road which took me straight to the Alhambra Palace, aware that I'd find parking there, or at the large public cementario close by, but I missed the turning first time and ended up on a tour of the city centre, before finding my way to a tree shaded space inside the permiter of the Palace tourism area. From there I walked right down into the old quarter and up the other side into the Albayzin, where we stayed ten years ago when Anto and I came out for a flamenco guitar course. Here are the photos from that occasion, back in September 2004.

Despite recently reviewing the photos I took at that time, only as I walked around did my memory seem to re-activate and associate with the environment. The mini market where we used to buy food during our stay seems to have closed. It was too early in the day for many of the restaurants to have even laid out their tables. Miguel's bar was closed too, but I found the Bar de las Quatros Esquinas open near the top entrance to the barrio, serving breakfast and morning coffee to local clientele. It's a district still remarkably free of garish advertising. There are still a number of tumbledown properties being renovated, as ever in a quarter of old buildings, but they are different ones. It all feels well cared for. If there is prosperity behind the walls facing the streets, it's not for display.

Right down the bottom end of the barrio, I discovered an open gateway to the garden and ducal Palacio de los Cordova in it, which I don't recall being open a decade ago. It may have been under renovation at the time. It was handed over to the city for development as a city archive centre back in the late seventies. It was lovely to discover such a fine place. I look back at my old photos and realise how much we did see, but there's still so much more to see, as the city is so rich in historic buildings as well as those of the Alhambra Palace. Photos from my birthday visit in 2005 are here.

From the Albayzin, I made my way down into that part of the city centre containing the Cathedral, which feels so closely wedged into the surrounding streets. It's an immense building, but in a way it fails to be imposing as it might be because there are few places from where you can get a perspective on its grandeur, much like Malaga, Valencia and Tortosa Cathedrals, visited in recent years. Attached to one end of the Cathedral is a grand Capilla Real (Chapel Royal) dating from just after the reconquista, 1505.  It's the last resting place of Fredinand and Isabella and several others, honoured by the Pope with the Catholic Monarchs in tribute to the achievement ending moorish rule in Spain. Later Spanish monarchs were interred at the El Escorial monastery near Madrid.

The Cathedral, in Spanish renaissance style, rather than Gothic, was established soon after, on the site of the city's main mosque, and took a century and a half to build. Unlike others, it wasn't a site that was once a church being reclaimed from Islam. Like others, this site was at the heart of the ancient 'central business district' as we'd call it today. Clearing a much larger site to give the new buildings a decent aspect would have been an imposition not worth risking for the conquering monarchs.

It's interesting to observe, since my last visit, that many of the streets in this now fashionable stylish old trading area have sun canopies suspended from their sixth storey roofs. It's not something I recall from a decade ago. The persistence of higher than average temperatures inland call for some measure of this kind from a public health perspective, with so many visitors all day every day, who are not always as sensible about going out in the heat of the day, and don't take a siesta. Neverthless the light brown canvas awnings providing shade detract from the aesthetics of the built environment. It will be interesting to see in the long term what innovations emerge to provide a pleasing solution. 

Malaga has opted for avenues of well managed trees, over and above the traditional ones in places where people walk or ride their horses. In Granada, the hillside on which the Alhambra Palace sits is covered with trees shading visitors as they walk to and from the town. The hill has a good supply of water and both trees and ground vegetation get a good soaking during the day. This may be too costly a solution in times of water scarcity, however. Learning to live in cities with consequences of global warming is of of the great challenges facing the next generation. Perhaps we'll start building downwards into the cool earth, and cover our public spaces and buildings with huge photo-voltaic translucent powering them - Hobbit cities.

By one o'clock, I'd been walking non stop for three hours and the temperature was rising. Rather than exhaust myself, I headed back to Nerja and a late lunch, already thinking about a further visit with Clare and another sojourn in the Albayzin, fondly remembered. Photos from today's visit are here.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Working the Word

Today, my last Sunday Eucharist to the accompaniment of air cooling fans, at least for the time being. Again, despite my best efforts with the microphone, there were still complaints I couldn't be heard. This is the worst kind of frustration for a preacher. You start wondering if it's worth the effort you put into it, especially when the audibility of the lessons is also in doubt. In this climate listening to the Word requires willingness to endure a certain degree of discomfort to get fifteen minutes of quiet, but there's a certain nervousness about imposing this on visitors who may feel deterred by discomfort - well they may feel deterred equually if they can't hear. 

Suddenly my memory erupts with the title of Berton & Harrison's book from my youthful days in ministry 'The Comfortable Pew'. How does any congregation today survive the visit of the 'Mystery Shopper' churchgoer, willing to sweat a little to hear what the Spirit says to the Churches, and is then disappointed by being unable to hear or make sense of what the church proclaims. There are limits to what a locum priest can insist on when others, better versed in local affairs than he, are entrusted with holding things together. 

One thing a locum can do, apart from celebrate the sacraments, is to offer interpretation of scripture in the liturgy of the day. If for any reason a congregation over which I had pastoral charge (which as a 'hired hand' I don't), couldn't hear properly, and there was no other opportunity to improve audibility, I'd make time to print off the Sunday readings and a summary of my address and key intercession points to give to people to read and take away. More expensive textual consumerism, the cynic might say. Agreed. The liturgical norm is now the takeway leaflet! It's not a perfect solution but one that respects the purpose of the gathering.

I was happier with the Alternative Service Book of 1980 despite its limitations, because it was faithful to the strategic design concept of a single Book of Common Prayer complementing the Bible from 1549 onwards. I've been an experimenter and innovator in liturgical praxis for the past half century, but I still wish we could recognise and stay faithful to the gift renaissance and reformation worship practitioners gave us. Just because we have all the core texts and variations accessible on line, and can replace the book with the tablet for reading scripture or prayers, doesn't detract from the central idea of having a text in your hand that doesn't need a web connection or a re-charging.

Recently IKEA, God bless them, promoted their annual product catalogue with a satire of an iPad advertisment. All it needs now is for some smart seminarian to come up with a promotional ad. for Common Worship - the book - as a radically innovative an alternative to Visual Liturgy on-line. 

Honestly I don't hate digital media or on line liturgical archives. I use them like any other slave to time saving corner cutting. The truth is, I think the quality of my prayer life is suffering from months of using the CofE Daily Office and/or iBreviary online, and not having the much more sensual experience of a book I've carried about for decades in my hand. 

There are no fingerprints to wipe from the surface of a book as there are from a screen. A book ages with touch, and absorbs memories of many forgotten moments in its blemishes and annotations. It's far more alive, and I'm much more connected with it physically than with a user interface I can read easily on most devices, even in the dark, so  long as there's power, so long as there's bandwidth. 

Such strange bewildering times we live in.

After the morning's service, I was taken to La Herradura beach for long lunch at the Chambao de Vicente restaurant. It was a lovely relaxed experience with lots of interesting conversation, ending with tea in the house of my hosts and a return to Church House with the setting sun in our faces.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Plastic bag tribute

Apart from a brief excursion get replenish food stocks, I spent Friday home alone, avoiding the heat, mostly working at DISC intranet updates. Often a spate of new information comes in after a monthly Radio Users Group and it's in everyone's interests to sort and post it quickly, and right now having work to do is a good distraction. After three weeks of Clare being here with me it's not so easy to revert to solitude. I'm starting to look forward to next Thursday's home flight.

This afternoon, I ventured out in the heat to replenish the stock of cerveza sin alcool which is one thing Spain does well in several varieties and at reasonable prices. There's nothing like a refreshing beer in this hot 'n humid atmosphere, preferably without alcoholic side effects. Many standard soft fizzy drinks seem to be a cocktail of artificial ingredients plus an overdose of sugar or sweetener, ruining the taste buds and who knows what else.

I took with me some empty jars and wine bottles to take to the bottle bank which I pass on my way to the supermarket, still using the same plastic bag that I brought from home with spare shoes in it, a bag acquired in Woodbridge Suffolk last summer, at a splendidly up-market Adnams brewery shop.  I've used it at least every other day for bottle carrying and/or shopping over the past three months. As I was packing my purchases at the Mercadona checkout, the handle parted irreparably from the bag. 
I thought it was worthy of this photo tribute after over fifty heavy goods deployments here in Spain, in between being rolled up and consigned to a spare pocket. Also dozens more uses over the previous nine months back home in Wales."100% Biodegradable ... and of course reusable." it says on the bottom. There's nothing to say where it was made, or by whom. I'd love them to know how much this travelling companion has been appreciated as a sustainable consumer item.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Parting pasta

After a lazy start and long breakfast, it was almost midday by the time we paid the bill and quit the Parador. Clare dind't need to check in until three, so we decided to make our way to the sea side at Guadalmar. It was too hot to walk into the Guadalhorce river estuary nature reserve, so we went to a beach chirunguito for a drink and some shade to pass the time. After Clare had organised her baggage for travel and dealt with a blood blister on her toe, we drove out through the urbanizacion, and I saw an Italian restaurant, the Pizzeria Frascati, where we might get a decent lunch not at airport prices. 

We had an hour to spare, but Clare was doubtful they could feed us without putting us under time pressure. There wen't many people eating, I thought it worth the risk. For once I was right. In half an hour, we'd had drinks, and eaten one salad and a plate of spaghetti between us. A half portion was just enough, and we walked up to the Vueling bag check in right on time - a mix of luck and judgement!

By the time I arrived back at Church House, Clare was texting me to say she was about to board her flight. Needless to say the place feels empty and quiet without her, just as hot as ever, and a load of washing to catch up on.

A poster I saw in Guadalmar reminded me that today is the feast of Nuestra Señora, Virgen del Carmen, the fieshmen's fiesta. Here they are, taking our Lady for a sea dip.
I'd hoped to seek out a local celebration and join in, but as they tend to start a little too late after the journey, I didn't feel like going out again. Maybe another time.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Luxurious respite

For the first time since I've been here, I drove the car into town and parked a some distance from the Church shop, so that after celebrating the midweek Eucharist, Clare and I could leave without delay for Malaga. We'd booked in to the Gibralfaro Parador hotel for the night, to give us a romantic 24 hour break before Clare flight back to Cardiff. It's situated a hundred metres above the city plain, just beneath the old military outpost, form where you can see in every direction for miles. The view from the Parador's terraces and rooms across the city is also spectacular, or would be in this occasion if it weren't for the dreadful heat haze. At least it's that much cooler on high, and the roar of the city is muted a little, if not suppressed behind triple glazed windows. Here's the view through the haze, with the daily ferry to the Spanish enclave of Mellila on the Moroccan coast, down there in port.
We had a light lunch in the bar, then caught the 35 bus down to the Ajuntamiento, to make our way to the modern entrance to the Alcazaba Palace, through a tunnel and a lift up to the top level of rooms and gardens. It's a delightful place for a hot afternoon, with its fountains and runnng water. Not nearly as spectacular as the Alhambra in Granada, but with many treasures to glimpse in a smaller area, and not nearly as crowded. 
It's my second visit, and I was pleased that Clare liked it as much as I did. We had to wait ages for a 35 bus to take us back up the hill. We could have taken the steep footpath up through the hillside gardens, but waiting in the shady gardens adjacent to the waterfront seemed like a better idea.

Clare then had a swim in the roof-top pool, while I attempted to take photos of big gray and black backed gulls cruising the thermals all around us, but without much success as the sun got in the way of the best shots. We dined on the outdoor terrace of the Parador restaurant, using the Spanish menu and as much Spanish as we could, and the waitress joined in with good humour. It slightly backfired however as I ended up with a beef steak instead of the pork steak I was hoping for, but the roasted green peppers which went with it made it tolerable, along with a very nice red Rioja. Down below at city street level, we could see there was a horse riding in the ring of the town's Plaza de Toros. Music and applause drifted up on the evening breeze, and a succession of diners edged their ways past our table to get the best place to take a photo. I'd not taken my camera along to dinner, wanting to be free to savour the romance of the moment and the company.

The Parador experience is consistently good, and the settings most varied. Staff work very hard, but seem to enjoy what they do. One thing surprised me however, the hotel wifi was unsecured, and no registration was required. It was certainly convenient, but what of the risk of hacking or unsavoury abuse of the system? All I can conclude is that any device logging on is going to be traceable. The bookng system will in any case have the registered email address of service purchacer, and maybe it's all that's needed in the event of mischief. Maybe there's been a change of policy. I recall needing a wi-fi password when we stayed in Ronda Parador last year.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Cold soup and Carmelites

Yesterday, it was cloudy though still pretty humid. We walked into town to visit Modus Vivendi for some organic veg, and had some of their delicious gaspacho soup, both to try, and take away. Then, another trip to Frigiliana hoping it would be a little cooler a few hundred metres above the coast, for another excellent lunch at La Bodeguilla. We both tried a local sopa de ajo blanco - a cold soup made with ground almonds and garlic - utterly delicious. I didn't realise that cold soups could be so easy to make given the right recipe and a decent blender.

Today, I took Clare to Velez Malaga by car to introduce her to a town I have begun to appreciate, and was pleased that her impression was as favourable as mine. First we drove up to the Fortaleza, and then into town, to park near the bus station before talking into the old town to see some of its sights. I was especially pleased that the key 16th century St John the Baptist Church, re-built on the site of the former mosque, was open when we got there. It's a church much associated with local Semana Santa observances and their cofradias, some of the key figures carried in procession are on display in side aisle chapels. I was most interested to see what had happened to the bay of the south east aisle, which is distinguished on the outside by remnants of the mihrab of the old mosque.
The shallow apse bears no trace of original decoration. It's simply a renaissance altar with the risen Christ at the centre, aformidable statement in its own right. Unusually, the risen Lord is flanked by two female saints, both Teresas. On the right is the nineteenth century Carmelite Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus - known as 'Little Flower'. On the left is Caremlite reformer and Saint Teresa of Avila, born 1515 in the same century this church was re-built. Both were mystics, both were Carmelite nuns, hugely influential for their spiritual teaching and witness to Christ. 

Velez Malaga had an established Discalced Carmelite convent from the seventeenth century, plus a convent of Poor Clares and a Franciscan Friary, amongst others. All are now cultural centres visted by tourists or used by artists - shrines to human creativity and only occasionally worship sanctuaries, as in so many other parts of modern Europe.

We found a restaurant on the Plaza de Andalusia where we could lunch outdoors under a canopy of plane trees with a noisy population of parakeets in the leafy canopy above us. We had another chance to try local recipes - on this occasion a green salad which included raisins, walnuts, a soft goat/cow cheese, dressed with caña de miel - the distinctive light  sugar cane molasses, once a key product of local agrarian industry. A memorable flavour. It gave us strength for another circuit of historic streets to visit the old consistorio and realise this time how it's linked to the modern building next door which houses the Centre for Exile Studies, and its documentary archive, all funded by the Fundacion Maria Zambrano, as an enthusiastic volunteer guide proudly recounted. At last I'm getting confidence to engage in conversations beyond the call of domestic shopping.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Noise in the heat

We walked down to San Miguel for the only Eucharist of today. The level of humidy is quite high at the moment, so all forms of exertion are less than comfortable. There are many cooling fans in the church, but the noise they emit in such a resonant building reduces the audibility of the service quite a lot, and in the absence of an induction loop, this hits the hearing impaired badly. I'm thankful that a good half of the entire service is in the form of familiar set texts and hymns. The scripture readings, intercessions and sermon get lost in background noise, despite the care people take to speak right into the microphone.

We received a message from Fr Vincenzo, the new parish priest in church of Almuñecár, apologising for the timetabling mishap which has led to us having united services at San Miguel in July as well as August. It's comforting to have received a good will message. Lapses of communication do happen in a time of changeover, and are coped with.

We stopped and chatted to visitors in the bar after the service for a long while and it was quite late when we eventually sat down to lunch. As it began to cool down in the early evening, we went down to Burriana beach so Clare could enjoy a swim in the sea, followed by a drink and a tapa again at El Moreno, watching the beach slowly empty as the sun began to set.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Barbershop visit

Today was thankfully cloudier and a little cooler. We decided to return to Frigiliana for yet another wander around the streets and their interesting small shops. It was sheer serendipidy that our progress in a narrow street was halted by the passage of several cars, obliging us to stop and take refuge for a moment, next to a barber's shop, La Pelu de Fran. On an impulse, with encouragement from Clare, happy to go gift hunting on her own, I decided it was time for a nine euro haircut. After all it's the best part of eleven weeks since our dear friend Chris gave me luxury treatement at the Coleg Glan Hafren School of Coiffure, and now I'm having mane control issues.

I must emphasise what a risk this move across the threshold of a barber's shop entails for me, without sufficient vocabulary to ensure a happy outcome to the process. OK, the barber has enough English speaking clients to navigate through the morass of desires and vanities in a tongue of which he is not the master, but I needed an opportunity to speak Spanish in the 'real life' context. Well, that's the general idea. It was an enjoyable experience, with a large housewife and a small boy in the queue behind me and others popping their heads around the door and chatting. 

The barbers? A social centre in village life, place to catch up on the news, find out about people you know. I came away with a nice close crop, as short as I had it ten years ago, which pleases me. In this brief experience I recalled visiting a Palestinian barber in East Jerusalem during my sabatical stay in the Holy City. His English was even better, and I got my ear and nose hairs brought under control into the bargain. There's a whole world of intimacy and trust issues surrounding barbers' shops the world over, and lessons to be learned from them about the things that make for peace.

before having lunch another time at La Bodeguilla restaurant - such a good experience. Clare had a swordfish steak again for for main course and I opted for their chorizo, but we both started with sopa de ajo blanco - a cold milky looking soup with the silky flavour of garlic, and the grainy feel of ground almonds, garnished with sweet raisins - a typically local dish, like everything on their menu, and a culinary revelation! I so enjoy eating here, as the all female staff really seem to enjoy sharing with customers the food they prepare.

After lunch we made our way back to Church House by way of Lidl's for some food shopping, and then a late siesta and a leisurely evening supper on the terrace, listening to the birds ending their day with conversations in our neighbouring pine tree.


Thursday, 9 July 2015

Surviving humidity

Clare came into town and joined us for the midweek Eucharist at the Church shop yesterday morning. It was so hot and humid that apart from some minimal necesssary food shopping we had no alternative apart from heading back to Church house, and finding our way to the swimming pool to cool down. I find these high humidity days very taxing. It's so unlike anything I'm used to that I can't decide whether I'm, feeling well or not - most confusing.

Today was spent getting ready for an afternoon wedding blessing at the Maro's parish church, which is dedicated to Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas, our Lady of Wonders. It's a lovely building, dating in present form from the sixteenth century, but architecturally resembling an earlier simple gothic style not uncommon in English churches. I still don't know quite how I managed to prepare a sermon and then leave it behind, but that's what happened. I was able to improvise easily but this made it more difficult to connect with the order of service, so I missed out a hymn accidentally, but managed to include it at the end, actually in a more suitable place for binding the service together. 

If something happens unexepectedly like this, I end up flying by the seat of my pants to make sure it ends up the way it's meant to be. I always feel bad about this, but my eye has to stay fixed on making sure that the whole service pivots around the making of vows and prayers of blessing, whatever the expectations imposed on the celebration during its planning. I'd rather everything went according to plan as I feel safer about this, but rarely is an event involving so many uncertainites error free. On this occasion, musicians, two guitarists engaged to play music for the entrance and exit arrived just a few minutes before the bride appeared with her father and bridesmaids in a horse drawn carriage. 

They hardly had time to tune up before the entry, but they coped well, and responded to my ad lib request to play some music to reflect by, after the nuptial benediction and before the intercessions. Getting celebrations of this nature to work so everyone feels blessed is nothing short of an art. Youngsters from a local Spanish dance school performed for guests on the terrace opposite the church after the ceremony, while they sipped Cava. The group had to adapt and create a performance space in the open air where they could hear their musical accompaniment delivered from a laptop. Not easy, but it's marvellous how we rise to the challenge of a special occasion. For visitors from the UK, several dozens of them, this was a special complement to a service held in a most memorable setting.

I didn't stay around for long afterwards. Leading the celebration in such heat left me exhausted and in need of rest and sustenance. Later in the evening, when it had cooled down somewhat, we went down to El Moreno beach restaurant on the Playa Burriana promenade for a seafood supper. Coincidentally, while we ate, three Spanish dancers performed in the restaurant for the benefit of diners. I wonder how they all cope with the heat?

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Salobrenia re-visited in detail

Another fiercely hot day. We thought about driving to Granada but couldn't face the prospect of it being even hotter inland. So, we drove along the A7 Autovia to Salobrenia to take a look at the old hill town, surmounted by a tenth century moorish castillo. It wasn't easy to find a place to park as it's a busy holiday resort, but eventually we found a place as shops were shutting for lunch. We climbed the hill and discovered the pleasant Plaza del Ajuntamiento with a modern bronze water fountain outside the restaurant La Botica where we ate a delicious lunch in a shady place with a cool breeze to make a hot day most bearable.
Afterwards I climbed up to the castillo, which was closed, being currently under restoration. The streets around and leading up to it, however, have been given a make-over. The inhabited area below the walls contains narrow streets and small houses, some of which may well be quite ancient. It's called las faldas de el castillo, the skirts of the castle. 
The views from the edge of the cliff on which the castle is located, across the sea plain are spectacular. The last cane sugar refinery in Europe, the Azucarera de Guadalfeo, was in operation down there in nearby La Caleta de Salobrenia until 2006. It's hard to imagine how industrialised this area once was, until you glimpse brick built factory chimney stacks, preserved as artifacts, or the core of a defunct steam engine painted and polished, oddly disconnected from its history, like an organ specimen in a laboratory jar, nowadays nothing more than an exhibit on a traffic roundabout,
Local historians trace the occupation of this hill as far back as six thousand years. There's record of a church community in Salobrenia in the early fourth century, and if there was an ancient building set on a promontory below the castillo, it was replaced by a mosque in the eleventh century, to serve the village around the castillo. It reverted to being a church after 1495, and after another century was rebuilt in typical Andalusian mudejar style. The sixteenth century building is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary.
Most of the lower reaches of a hill were in agricultural use until the mid twentieth century. Now the pueblo blanco covers its entirety with low rise apartments, houses and shops, with a road that winds up into the casco antico and many steep flights of steps giving that impression it's all much older than it really is.
Areas of the sea plain close to the beaches are also now occupied with holiday residences and recreational facilities, a tribute to the developments of the past quarter century. But, the view from above shows clearly this is still as much a horticultural region as it is a holiday destination.

As during my previous brief visit here, we returned home along the N340 coast road - slow but very pleasant with some remarkable views. The temperature was nearly 40 degrees C, and the car was quite uncomfortable until I discovered how to switch on the air conditioning correctly. To start with, we thought it was malfunctioning, but thankfully not so. Just not used to such luxury back at home.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Remembrance of taste past

This morning, I had a preparation session at the Balcon Hotel for a wedding this coming Thursday. Clare came and joined me afterwards and we did some shopping, including another visit to the new 'Modus Vivendi' eco-shop. This time, we bought some excellent rye bread, delicious olives, sourced from the Tarragona area, and a bottle of high quality grape juice, pressed from Graciano grapes I've never heard of, from the vicinity of Toledo - not a grape concentrate, but such a rich intense juice, it keeps imparting flavour diluted with ten times its volume of water, if not more. Delicious!

I also bought a bottle of white bio wine sourced from Montilla-Moriles near Cadiz using Verdejo grapes. The first taste took me back to Greece forty years ago, and the sun soaked flavour of white wine used in retsina - I didn't then appreciate retsina, it's an acquired taste, but plain white was usually on offer as well, and that pure simple flavour so reminds me of when I first learned to enjoy drinking wine, in the days when Greek wine was a variable feast. At least wine in those days was fairly preservative free, meant to be drunk young and fresh. It could, however, be inconsistent in a way that's not true of wine retailed nowadays. 

I suspect the quality of this Spanish Verdejo is always consistent. The experience of modern western organic wine-making behind it, captures an ancient taste for the modern palate with little chemical intevention. The same region produces the Amontillado fortified wines of similar character. I'm less enthusiastic about drinks whose quality is best appreciated in small sips, that make me hot 'n dizzy if gulped. To each their own taste.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Planning mishap

Last Thursday, we learned through a third party with local ecumenism at heart, that the Almuñecár Catholic parish council had take a decision to re-arrange service times to meet increased holiday season demand by an hour earlier start at the Fishermen's chapel Anglicans use, without considering the impact, or consulting us. The arrangement was made while the new parish priest was on holiday. But there's no guarantee that if he'd been there to question the change, he'd have remembered an arrangement that's been in place for the past twenty years, simply because he's new and not yet fully familiar with parish commitments. 

Así es la vida! Committees, like individuals, suffer from amnesia when there is no reason to recall the full facts on the ground. For a number of years there have been no Almuñecár services in August, but this year, it's July and August, with just a few days warning to allow us to avoid an embarrassing encounter at our usual time of meeting for worship. There wasn't enough time to do anything else. In due course, suitably dignified representations will be exchanged between church hierarchies to review and restore the status quo, but in the meanwhile, all that's possible is contacting Almuñecár church members to let them know what's happened and re-direct them to the noon service at Nerja. 

This is what happens when there's little or no social contact between the indigenous church and the linguistic religious minority groups that benefit from local parish hospitality. There are perhaps many points of contact between expats and their Spanish neighbours, but few of a religious nature, along which concerns of this nature might naturally flow. If it wasn't for the kind efforts of one Catholic expat of good will towards non-Catholic compatriates, there might have been a very awkward start to this Sunday's round of services.

My mind rolled back on similar situations thirty years ago, when a couple of the churches in the Saint Paul's Area Team Minstry in Bristol, which I led at that time, hosted black pentecostal congregations, either for occasional or regular services. They were appreciative, trustworthy, and left everything the way they found it - what more could one ask? But, every now and then, there'd be a special occasion when we'd need to use a church at a time when the other congregation would be booked in, and we'd forget ... There was plenty of mutual good-will, and we'd survive the awkward moment, but yet again there was little natural social contact between our congregations, and amnesia took over. Things like this will happen from now until the Second Coming because Church is a community of communities, still learning the real demands of that unity which Christ came to reveal.

So, this morning, no early trip to Almuñecár for a Eucharist. I enjoyed being able to walk to church after a relaxed late start, to find many of the Almuñecár regulars had arrived for the service. It was an occasion to commission several new Assistant Ministers of the Eucharist - entirely suitable that this should be done at an united chaplaincy service, by accident if not design.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Eco-tienda and Norwegian nuptials

We made an effort to walk into town this morning despite the heat, to find a new Eco-store called 'Modus Vivendi' just in the process of opening, according to a publicity flyer we picked up. It's close to the bus station, whose make-over is almost complete. The sun shade canopies are now in place, but work on pavement tiling still has to be done. Perhaps it's deemed to hot to work.

We chatted with the young couple Ian and Nieves whose eco-project the store showcases. They are still in the process of stocking the store, having only taken it over a couple of weeks ago, and their website is still a work in progress They not only offer food and wine, but also a source of seeds, plants, gardening equipment and information for people taking an interest in growing food on their own fincas. There's also a social space for people to meet and learn about environmental issues and organic horticulture. A very imaginative concept. 

We stocked up on veggies, wished them well, and plodded home in the heat, stopping on our way to buy some fresh fish for lunch - some small merluza plus a couple of oreos a smaller fish with big eyes, which the fishmonger threw in, for us to try, after I asked their name. One minute in the frying pan. Delicious snack while cooking a paella to host the merluza. It seemed we had a lot of fish to eat, but together with the amount of veg and rice, it was just right for two people.

Later in the afternoon I walked back into town for the wedding blessing in El Salvador of the couple from Alesund in Norway. I've been corresponding with them for several months determined to learn a few suitable liturgical phrases to say in Norwegian as part of the service.The couple had a year old toddler, looked after by one of the bridesmaids, except that he toddled around and joined mum and dad every now and then. He couldn't be separated from them during the vows, but they managed very deftly by one holding him while the other took the hand and spoke the words, then swapping the boy for the reverse process. The rings were a little more of a challenge, so he was briefly collected for a circuit of the side aisle, then returned for the nuptial blessing. All done without embarrassment, with natural dignity.

The couple wanted musical accompaniment from a string trio, and it worked very well. Despite the fact that a couple of the pieces of music were new to them, the three young women players delivered well. The big surprise however was the bride. In between scripture readings she sang an a capella song to her husband, whose words she'd written, with a traditional tune. The melody was hauntingly beautiful. Her pure clear voice filled the resonant acoustic space of the church perfectly. It was quite impossible not to be moved. Afterwards, I asked if she'd been trained or sang in a choir, and she said not at all. She said she only sang in the shower. Without rehearsal, she'd tackled a demanding melody, with some long sustained notes, in perfect pitch throughout, and thought nothing of it. That was my day's reward for making the effort with those Norwegian phrases. More literary than colloquial sounding, if I understood the feedback aright which I received after.

After the intensity of quite a simple, but different ethos of service from ones I've conducted lately, I was quite drained. Clare same down to meet me half way, and we stopped for a drink at a bar on the return trip. Another one of those days when the heat makes me feel my age.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Overcast, overheated

The sky's been overcast but the temperatures remain high. The humidity is quite debiliating, and for the first time we're needing to use the ceiling fans in the house to keep cool at night. We did make an effort to go out for lunch again today, travelling to Torrox Pueblo, which Clare hadn't visited before. Although it's several hundred metres up above the sea, it was equally hot and humid up there, so we took refuge in a relatively cool bar on the main square for a meal that included fried aubergines slices dressed with molasses and salt, plus albondigas, a meat ball speciality.

We walked the streets for an hour afterwards, finding some remnants of its ancient buildings threaded among nineteenth and twentieth century streets. This mediaeval arab trading town expanded greatly as a result of its large suger refinery in the nineteenth century, and then again due to tourism and the influx of German and English expatriate residents in the later twentieth. Torrox proclaims itself to have the best climate in Spain, but on a day like this, you have to wonder.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Town of three faiths

It was Owain's 37th birthday yesterday. He's taking a week's holiday in Berlin, a place he's become rather fond of in recent years. He sent us a selfie to say he's there, having a good time exploring the city by bike, as his AirBnB apartment has the bonus availability of free bike use during his stay. How splendid. It's a very bike frendly city.

I walked to the Church shop to celebrate the midweek Eucharist, and Clare joined me while I was having a coffee next door at Rosi's bar afterwards. Then we went down to nearby Playa Torrecilla so she could swim, before doing some shopping and returning for lunch.  After siesta, I took her by car to the top of San Juan Capistrano, and showed her where I'd been hunting for hoopoe photos without success so far. It was too hot for any serious walking, but at least Clare now has an idea of a place that I usually walk to when I have the time.

This morning we drove up to Frigiliana to have a look around, and ended up having lunch there in la Bodeguilla restaurant near San Antonio Parish church (where I took a wedding two weeks ago) which specialises in local food and recipes. What a treat! I think we'll be returning there to explore more of the menu before Clare returns home.

Frigiliana is a lovely hill town of Moorish origin. In the mediaeval heart of the village, history panels fashioned from glazed tiles adorn the walls with narratives about its arab history and the impact of the reconquista on a town that became a temporary refuge for those fleeing Christian armies determined to dominate a region in which Jews, Christians and Muslims had learned to live together in peace and harmony under Moorish rule, but that was destroyed thanks to the reconquista. Frigiliana today brands itself for visitors as the town of three faiths, although I can't say I noticed either a living mosque or synagogue among today's public buildings, only churches.

Pope Francis recently spoke of Sarajevo as 'the Jerusalem of the West', a city where Jews, Christians and Mulims have centuries of history living alongside each other peacefully. And yet, this visionary asset of cultural diversity and mutual regard, in so many places has become the focal point of power struggles that not even secular democratic governance can contain. Places where conciliation and compromise are an accepted way of life for the common good remain vulnerable to people reluctant to trust that anything good can happen when they are not in control. What is it that we need to learn to contain the control freaks of this world, and allow others to build trust and make a life together on their own terms?