Saturday, 30 April 2016

Easter comes again

At the end of the morning I took the bus into town and walked to St Mary's Bute Street in good time to celebrate Mass. For the Greek Orthodox congregation of St Nicholas church across the road from St Mary's, today is Holy Saturday, so there were more cars than usual parked in the vicinity and the church was open. As I'd arrived early, I went over to St Nicholas' and slipped into the crowded narthex of the church. The nave was already packed and the morning vigil liturgy of the Word in progress. 

I recognised the Gospel being read as I arrived, was the passage assigned from the last chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel, which at some time during college days I had examined in its original Greek text. Indeed, the passage was then repeated in English, confirming that I was correct. Even after nearly fifty years, phrases and words from a time when I took a great interest in the Orthodox church and its spirituality, still sparkle in the memory. I wish I'd had sufficient reason to master Greek properly and use it, but life had other plans for me.

After ten minutes I slipped out and went across to St Mary's. There were half a dozen of us for Mass, and at the end, since it was midday, we sang the Regina Caeli, our Eastertide nearing its conclusion as the Eastern church begins. This year the different Easter dates are about as far apart as they can get. The move to set a fixed date adopted by all Christians world wide does nothing to inspire me. It seems like a way of trying to iron out the wrinkles in history for the sake of convenience. There are different dates and different calendars in use because the church has evolved differently in different contexts each with its own story to tell. Will all the world churches agree to a decision to walk in lock-step on this matter? Or will there be a new era of dissent, with different groups following the traditional western or eastern calendar dates, seeing no point or purpose in the change?

On the way back after Mass, I had to walk to Cowbridge Road east to catch a bus, as Westgate Street was closing for an afternoon of rugby matches in the stadium. After lunch we did our usual circuit along the Taff and back, marvelling at the surge of spring growth, listening to the birds, taking photos, walking briskly, as the weather is still pretty cold. It might as well still be March when we were celebrating our Easter, almost as early as possible.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Getting the record straight

At the St German's midweek Eucharist yesterday morning, I told the children about St Mark and how he collected stories from St Peter and others about their time with Jesus and made them into the first of the Gospels to be written. Mark probably grew up speaking Aramaic, and learning to read and write in Hebrew and Greek, I told them, and how fortunate they were to be learning Welsh as well as English in school, and for many of them to be hearing other languages spoken at home - some will learn basic Arabic to read the Qu'ran outside school hours, as well. Whether they find it a chore or not, this is a special thing about good education, that we can learn to communicate and say good things to people in their different languages. I'd so like children to appreciate the diverse environment they are part of, and learn from.

I went into the office in the afternoon and worked on an equipment inventory database format to record our newest acquisition of handsets prior to issue. It's important to get as much as possible of the recording done ahead of time, to keep track of the complex exchange and upgrade process step by step.

Thursday afternoon I started the laborious task of entering data. Just doing the first few entries reveals the limitations in design, and calls for discussion and modifications to the framework. Even before the number of data entries grows, the framework itself has to grow, as we understand more clearly our own need to record different kinds of information to help the project to progress. 

It wouldn't be all that difficult to scan this information from bar-codes on each piece of equipment, and I did some tentative experimenting with this some months ago. It's even possible to scan data into a spreadsheet of sorts, but the challenge is to configure the data received so it can easily be imported into our database. Sure you can buy scanning equipment and software packages that will do this, and deliver an inventory database, but you still have to take time learn how to use the kit, and take the risk that the database is in a proprietary format that isn't all that flexible about exporting data, or else you pay extra to do so. We simply don't have to time to invest on this, nor are we running on the volume or turnover of equipment or have numbers of staff that would make this seem a sensible worthwhile option. So the old fashioned slow steady plod of manual data acquisition will continue, so long as we are not going to be overwhelmed by the task.

Clare and I both completed our postal ballot sheets for the Welsh Assembly and Police Crime Commissioner elections, taking place next week. While we're in Spain in June there's the EU referendum. I hope the postal ballot papers arrive before we leave. For this election they were issued two weeks ahead of the date, and if this happens again they may arrive after we leave. Clare will return in time to vote, but I'll still be in Spain and unable to use mine. Such a shame if this happens, as to my mind it's one of the most important voting issues of my lifetime.

I watched the final episode of 'Line of Duty' tonight, tense and demanding watching to the end, with a fairly satisfactory conclusion in which right and justice prevail, but only after much suffering and struggle. Almost everyone involved seems at some time or another to have compromised their own integrity or told lies to cover their tracks, but in the end the truth comes out, and the courageous prevail.

There was ome impressive acting from the leading characters in the Police anti-corruption squad which gave it all a very convincing and realistic feel. To think that a twenty minute interrogation scene in one room, crammed with references to investigative detail could be so dramatically gripping, is a credit both the writers and actors. For this to be shown in the same week that the inquest into the Hillsborough Stadium tragedy revealed police corruption in the fabrication of a cover-up, blaming fans for non-existent misbehaviour, is perhaps co-incidental, but most remarkable in the way that dramatic art can sometimes reflect authentically the unhappy realities of life.


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Changing habits

A quiet uneventful start to the week, with a few hours in the office on Monday, but not on today. When I don't have anything much to do, I idle the evenings away watching missed programmes on TV catch up. Increasingly, I use the Nexus tablet, which is the slickest and most convenient portable device after the Chromebook. I have two Windows 10 machines, for work and personal purposes, but find I'm using these less and less. 

Only when I need to work using specific software employed by our office system, is it worth retreating to the workstation in my study upstairs. More often than not, I can examine and retrieve files from MS OneDrive for sending, on one of the Google devices or even my Blackberry wherever I am in the house. I was delighted, when I was in Spain to be able to access our business banking site, retrieve and file a statement on OneDrive from the Blackberry, so good is the connectivity it provides.

This evening I went to the Chi Gung class, but didn't stay for Tai Chi, as I didn't feel that I had the right level of energy and concentration for two sessions - something to do with lack of sleep. I can get by on six hours but function so much better with eight or nine hours. I suspect I spend too much time on line, reading, writing or editing photos. Too much time spent in the head can disconnect you from the body. In Spain I five or six miles a day, but here a couple of miles is more normal and that's not nearly enough to keep me rooted in my body. It's something I'm more aware of the need for as I get older, but I'm not really doing enough to change my habitual lifestyle, so I only have myself to blame.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Photographic motivation

Back to St German's to celebrate the Sunday Mass yesterday morning, then home for a solitary lunch, finishing off the other half of what I prepared for last night's supper, with some pasta. Clare arrived home at tea-time from her visit to Auntie Daphne in Exeter, and we had supper together, something different. No matter how restrained I am in preparing and cooking ingredients for a sauce or ratatouille for a meal, I find it impossible to cook enough for one, apart from omelettes or stuff on toast. Maybe I have less of an appetite than I used to, but basic food cooked seems always to stretch to two portions, or enough for two meals when I'm on my own. Funnily enough, I'm happy to eat the same meal twice in a row, fine when I'm on my own. Clare doesn't enjoy the same meal twice in a row, so any excess prepared has to be potted up and retained in fridge or freezer. All part of life's rich pattern, I guess.

After lunch and a siesta, I spent an hour or so editing and uploading photos from our stay in Sta Pola, three batches in all, one exclusively from my visits to the salinas, one from the Tabarca visit and one from the town and port itself. 

Birdie photos from the Sta Pola salinas are here

The next big photo adventure will be our Danube cruise, starting and ending in Budapest, travelling to Bratislava, Durnstein, Salzberg and Vienna - an orgy of historic townscapes and countryside viewed from the river, with all its commercial traffic, and shoreline interest. I won't know which way to point my camera. Which camera to take for the best results is now lurking in my mind.

Truth to tell I am getting fussier and fussier, thinking about picture quality and detail. I take many photos at mid to maximum telephoto range, and despite having a steady hand, getting satisfactory shots is a bit hit or miss, so the question of how to get the best quality is now bugging me. I wish I could borrow a selection of cameras to try out, and see what best suits me. After all, given the fidelity and accuracy of modern digital cameras, also the level of photographic discipline and skill, the character and quality of pictures taken relates to the person taking them, and the observation and insight they want to convey. 

I want something of everything when I take photos, to convey the context, whether aesthetically or socially or historically, sometimes to notice the detail in a scene and what that has to tell. I admit that photographing people is something I'm nervous about. It's not that I don't enjoy the results when I get a good shot, but I fear invading people's privacy, distorting their livers with my camera. I'm not into the social contract dimension which portrait photography involves, and if I ever get a good portrait it's more by luck than anything else. What drives me to take pictures is the sheer beauty of the world we live in, whether natural or built environment. It's capturing a little suggestion of the work of art which is creation itself that gives me joy.


Saturday, 23 April 2016

Quiet weekend

Writing a Sunday sermon, editing and uploading photos, and updating this blog took up most of a sunny day, until late afternoon when I drove Clare to rendezvous with Caroline at Magor services west of Newport on the M4 for their visit to Auntie Daphne. Caroline having flown in from Durban at lunch time had driven down from Birmingham airport, and arrived a minute or so after we'd parked. We laughed at the perfectness of the timing, then drank a coffee and chatted for a while, before going our separate ways.

I returned to enjoy a quiet evening, watching a high octane 'Spooks' re-run, all about a flying visit from US President Bush to London, and the security hassles surrounding that. Co-incidentally, US President Obama is in town this weekend, being forthright about the consequence of the UK not leaving the EU, much to the annoyance of the Brexit lobby. With so many international figures speaking against Brexit, its campaigners are increasingly sounding as if their arguments are being lamed by a body of opinon that says the known risk from staying in the EU is more tolerable that the unknown potential risk of leaving. As if the world needs any more uncertainty in these still wobbly economic times.

'Spooks' was followed by the start of series two of 'Hinterland', which was like a slow motion movie after the frenetic pace of the former. Welsh 'film noir' it's being called. Yeah, OK, but it wasn't the much hoped for third series showing, but a re-run of series two on the national network. BBC Wales showed series two earlier this year. It was good to watch first time around, but seemed even slower this time, and didn't hold my attention nearly as much. Roll on series three. Soon.

Friday, 22 April 2016

The personal touch

We took Ann to her train this morning. She's off to see friends for the weekend before returning to Kirton. Clare's niece and god-daughter Caroline flies in from South Africa tomorrow, and we will rendezvous with her at Magor service station on the M4, so that Clare and drive with her down to Exeter to visit Auntie Daphne in hospital still recovering from her recent stroke. So this means I'll have an unexpected solitary night to myself.

This afternoon I went to the office again for a couple of hours, braving the security cordon and the crowds of parents with small children in the lobby, invading the Disney Word exhibition to reach the relative calm of the top floor. It's been great to see the difference made by Ian, our Business Crime Reduction Manager since he started work four months ago. The fact that he has a long experience of working in the city as a policeman and security consultant means that he's well known, respected and influential. Quietly, he's improved our working relationship with licensed premises users in a way we've found difficult to sustain, and that counts for a lot.

We struggled on without a public relations or marketing officer to help make known what RadioNet and the BCRP is all about, and endured some setbacks in the process. Having someone who is known and knows people is much more of an asset when it comes to good public security, as so much is built on personal trust. Funding the post has been well worth all the effort we've put into it. Ashley and I met up for convenience again at the Louie today, to continue what we started yesterday. He told me that the Uber taxi service is set to start in Cardiff today. I realised that I don't know much about it. Normally my pensioners' free bus pass is all I need.

This evening I started work on inspecting and editing my latest batch of 350 photos taken in Sta Pola. Some of the bird pictures will need weeding out of the collection as they are not as good as I'd hoped for, many being taken at the full extent of telescopic range for both cameras. Using a tripod as many bird watching photographers do would lead to some improvement, but carrying even a small lightweight one, such as I have, is an unwelcome encumbrance to mobility. Still it's nice to look at them and remember a warmer place to be than Cardiff.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Home and back to business

Elvis arrived cheerfully bang on quarter to nine to pick us up. He played a CD of a Portuguese fado singer to us on the journey, and when we said how much we'd enjoyed it, he gave us a copy. It had his personal contact details written on it, so that next time we visit, we can arrange for  him to collect us at the airport. There are four or five buses a day between Sta Pola and the airport, only 12km away, but the taxi service is organised and efficient. A great number of holidaymakers arriving will head to Beindorm to the north of Alicante or Torrevieja to the south, so it's good to know that Sta Pola based taxista can be there to meet you in peak periods.

The passage through security to our two hour wait in the departure lounge was smooth and hassle free, as was the flight home which arrived 15 minutes early. This must have thrown the baggage handlers, as our luggage arrived on the Malaga flight arrival belt, due in possibly just before ours, causing some confusion. A few eagle eyed people spotted their distinctive cases appearing on the neighbouring belt and that got the waiting crowd moving smartly, once they realised. Another hour, and we were home having lunch. 

I went into the office for the rest of the afternoon, and marked the resumption of business as usual by paying our first quarter's VAT bill. Motorpoint Arena is hosting a Disney World event this week. I don't really know that this entails, except that it involves lots of Disney merchandising stalls in and around the arena, as well as street traders touting their wares outside. Here and there in the crowd you could see mums with small girls in fairy princess outfits. I've never seen so many magic wands and fancy helium balloon on sale anywhere. Horrendous kitch and tat.

Ashley and I met up for tea at the Louie Restaurant, as he was busy, out and about doing a crucial inventory of radios in use, and was too busy to come in to the office. We're spending more time at the moment going over plans and preparation for a vital system upgrade with potential for the network's future, and we need to review each time we get new information, to ensure all can happen seamlessly, so that users aren't faced with anything unexpected. If a thing's worth doing, it must be done well.

After supper we watched another hard hitting episode of 'Line of Duty', followed by the two final episodes of 'Follow the Money' on catch up. I think there are just enough untied loose ends of story line in the plot to suggest 'Follow the Money II' might be screening in the coming year. An interesting insight into the ephemera of high finance and investment, and none of it too far from the truth, I suspect.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Salt Museum

This morning we phoned for a taxi to take us to St Pola's Museo de la Sal, on the outskirts of town on the section of N332 road which crosses the salinas on the way south to Torrevieja. We thought we'd go one way by taxi and walk back into the port for one last fish lunch at Bar del Curro afterwards. Our driver was a friendly cheery man named Elvis, and we decided to ask if we could book him for the return airport journey tomorrow. So much easier face to face than over the phone. We saw him write us into his diary, and feel sure he won't let us down.

The salt museum has its own saline ponds, albeit a little low in water this visit, and its fair share of the commonest marine wildfowl, flamingos, stilts, avocets, terns and gulls, with a good mile's walk around the perimeter. The buildings was evidently one of the places to which salt was transported for processing after extraction from the dried salinas, as some of the machinery used in the process for crushing salt and filling containers is still in place. 

There's an excellent guided display on large photo panels, to explain the importance of salt in human history, and in relation to the ecology of marine wetlands. It's a must visit place, no least because, just across the main road outside the perimeter, the much greater expanse of the salinas extends inland and south across the coastal plain. I have enjoyed the journey south through the salinas when I've driven here in the past, and wished for more easy places to stop and look, take photos and absorb the atmosphere in this place of few trees, many birds, and a landscape in which earth seems to mirror the heavens. 

Out there you get the occasional glimpse of an osprey or a falcon, and it feels so remote and so different. Salt is certainly still extracted her, although not on the scale it was over millennia when many were employed in hard manual labour, day after day in the heat of the sun, seemingly glaring at you from every direction.

Clare and Ann walked back into town after our visit, and I took an extra half hour to visit the salinas closest to the road junction, with access just behind a Chinese restaurant car park, and look for some more birds to snap, but there wasn't too much activity middle of the day. Sunrise or early evening are much better, if not always convenient.

The Bar del Curro never disappoints situated as it is, right on the edge of the beach by a row of fish market retail stalls. Clare ate bream, Ann ate swordfish, and I had a docen de sardinas, pure and simple, washed down with a beer. There are always local people from around the port meeting there to socialise, as well as visitors like ourselves. The atmosphere is welcoming and the buzz of chatter, the comings and goings, are all full of warmth and good humour.

We walked back and started packing and tidying up. I cooked all the leftover veggies I could manage to use into a sauce to which I added fine noodles for a change. Not quite so many noodles next time, I reckon, but we all cleared our plates as the sun was setting, and then went back to getting ready to leave, early in the morning. We've been blessed with mainly warm and dry weather. Cardiff will feel very cold in comparison, tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Overview of Sta Pola

A cloudy cool and windy day today, windy enough to empty beaches of all but wind surfers - just as well for them as there's some kind of race competition being staged here along the shore this week.

After lunch I did a circuit of the town's outskirts up behind our apartment, going first to the Camino de la Cruz and Ermita de Nuesta Senora overlooking Sta Pola. This would have been the edge of town when a new housing area was constructed here in the sixties to accommodate town dwellers whose homes had been crowded inside the walls of the Castello. Part of its restoration by the municipality was the creation of the magnificent open public space that now serves the social needs of the every expanding population of locals and visitors.

The barrio displaced to the top of the hill is now itself enveloped by more modern housing developments to a depth of a quarter of a mile bounded by a recently constructed link road steering traffic through outer suburbs to the N332 south across the salinas from the
 town. The original modern houses are basic simple cottages, low cost social housing in their time.

The modern houses and gated apartment blocks reflect the growing wealth of the coastal region as a result of tourism over the past four decades. It can't all be holiday homes up there however, as there are several large schools serving the area, but inhabitants must go down the hill to do their shopping. Even local corner stores are in short supply in this district, unlike the streets on the coastal plain below, which are altogether more convival places than can be lived in without needing a car.

Interesting to get an overview of the place, and to wonder how it will develop over the next half century. Empty housing plots down below are gradually being filled in with apartment blocks of six to ten storeys. Will they one day go higher, as in so many other urbanised coastal villages and towns, given over the the modern industries of leisure?

Monday, 18 April 2016

Another avian photo opportunity

Ann was really suffering with her bad back again today, so we went hunting and found a physiotherapist who works from a place above a bank in Glorietta square. While we were having coffee in the square beforehand seated opposite the bank, I couldn't help notice that on one side of the bank entrance door sat a middle aged woman selling national lottery tickets, and on the other side sat an elderly lady with a begging bowl.

Two local policemen passed by, and said nothing to either. In Britain, begging directly outside a bank would lead to complaints and the beggar if not the ticket seller would be moved on. It strikes me that society is more tolerant towards the visibly poor in Spain, than we are in Britain. Admittedly the noisy and disruptive alcoholic rough sleepers are given as wide a berth here as back home, but there is more respect for those who at least make an effort to behave in a dignified manner.

While Ann had her treatment after lunch, I walked over to the salinas and spent another enjoyable hour taking photographs of flamingos, herons, stints, avocets and just one elusive snipe, of which I managed to get one good picture before it fled out of range. Pleased with my results, but uploading will have to wait until I get home because of the inconvenience of having to visit a bar nearby to get a free, for the price of a beer internet connection.

We walked to the Varadero Restaurant for supper as the sun was setting. The streets were very quiet except for a handful of joggers. We were the only people dining in this 200 seater palace of wonderful food, so crowded whenever we dined  there before.

The food was nouvelle cuisine Spanish style and we really needed to have ordered a rice dish to precede the fish, which was served with only decorative portions of vegetables. A feast for the eyes! We compensated with an extra portion of dessert - Eddie's portion - we decided, as we chatted fondly about him. Yes, a delicious meal, but fairly light. Just fine for supper, though not quite what we expected. A great Valencian rosado wine as well, with an aroma of roses. Quite a special night of remembrance.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

First Communions in Sta Pola

We didn't get up early enough to get ourselves to the ten o'clock Mass at the main Parish Church of Our Lady of the Rosary this morning. In fact, we were unsure of the time and arrived just as communion was being distributed. Ann's back had been playing her up, so she stayed behind. Clare decided to return with some nice pastries to cheer her up and we enjoyed a cup of coffee together standing up in a crowded pasteleria before parting company.

 I decided to stay in town and wait for the midday Mass. It was one of the series of Paschaltide First Communion Sundays, so I knew it would be a 'Family Service' in every sense. I went to the Castello to wait, and found this was the gathering point for families with childred being presented for first Communion and the catechists organising the event. It was already visibly a multi generational event with abuelos minding the little ones, while the abuelas were involved with organising and drilling the candidates.

There were a dozen girls in white dresses and a dozen boys in sailor suits, a immaculately turned out. Two by two, shepherded by abuelas and photographed or videod every step of the way, they processed from the Capilla de Nuestra Senora de Loreto in the north east corner wall of the castillo, out to the main west gate to the church, two hundred yards away in a side street off the main square.

The church was packed, and the Parish priest, still the man I recall from previous visits, a good five years older than I, conducted the service with extensive explanation at every stage, perhaps conscious of how few people present, all dressed up to the nines, we're regular attenders. I was delighted to find how much of what he said I can now follow. The work I have done with Duolingo is reaping rewards now.

I arrived home just as Ann and Clare were venturing down to the beach, so I prepared salad for lunch, including a tapa of mussles (admittedly canned) in a spicy sauce on a bed of rice,a little fovourite of mine. Then later I also cooked supper supper, this time a risotto with seta mushrooms, onions, french beans and pickled anchovies - a great pleasure when the ingredients are so readily available at the Mercadona just a few flights of steps below our AirBnB apartment.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Varadero Sta Pola

I accompanied Clare and Ann to the Varadero beach this morning, so they could swim, while I minded the clothes and valuables. Afterwards, we went to the Varadero Restaurant, a family favourite, from previous occasions, and booked a table for an evening meal on Monday in memory of Eddie and Ann's wedding anniversary. It's the sort of place he would have loved, with all its nautical artifacts, relating to local boat-yard history. Varadero is the name given to a place where boat repairs and maintenance are done. In times past the beach of the same name was called 'La Playa des Ingenieros' after the boat-yard mechanics whose homes were clustered nearby. Eddie would have loved that thought too.

There was also a family of four Swifts whizzing around on the restaurant car park, and descending on a small puddle to drink from it, if not bathe excitedly. I got one photo of this before they vanished, and wuld have loved to wait around for more chances, but I had to catch up with the others. On the walk back for lunch, I also saw and snapped a family of Sanderlings running up and down the water's edge feeding, also some Dunlin and several black winged Stilts. A surprise conclusion to a dull outing.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Finding the salinas

Mist had rolled in from the sea when we woke up this morning, giving the day a chilly start. We walked into town this morning, and visited the Palmeria - a park blessed with many very tall palm trees, and the well preserved remnants of walls and mosaic pavements of a Roman villa. There was a trading port hereabouts five centuries before Christ due to the Phoenicians, and the Romans took over and developed what others began.

We had a splendid tapas lunch at La Senia restaurant next to the park, then while Clare and Ann headed for home, I walked on, along the shore of Gran Playa as far as the start of the nature reserve, where salt works with huge storage heaps of salt dominate an otherwise flat landscape. Their shape reminded me of coal slag heaps of my childhood, despite the total colour contrast. I had walked this way, trying to piece together my patchy memory of the area geography from previous visits. I wanted to locate the Salt Museum in relation to the nature reserve and the salinas ponds, and realised that the points of access to the best birdwatching area were easier to reach than I remembered.

I ended the afternoon in a birdwatchers hide in between two salt ponds, watching flamingos grazing and several terns swooping and diving aerobatically to snatch tiny prey from the water. I took photos but wished I'd carried my DSLR with me to have a camera with a viewfinder to look through on zoom settings. Point and shoot with a screen can be difficult when focusing on birds in flight.

Altogether it was a long walk there and back, the best part of eight miles, but very rewarding, given the birds I saw. It's such a treat to see flamingos in such great numbers.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Tabarca trip

I woke up and got started early, Clare and Ann rose and breakfasted later, then we made our way to the port to take a ferry boat across to Tabarca Island. It's a 'must do' excursion for any Sta Pola holiday.

The ferry arrived at the modern jetty in a bay at the narrowest stretch of the island just after midday. The ancient point of arrival is on the foreshore beneath the town walls near the 17th century church of St Peter and St Paul. The mediaeval walls give access through three gates, one of which, dedicated to Archangel Michael, is above the mediaeval landing area on the island's north side.

Since our first visit from Geneva in 2000, I have observed the slow progress of restoring this the largest and most prominent building in the town, if not the whole island. It follows the Spanish tradition of fortifying church buildings - iconic in defence of the faith, I guess. The church job seems complete, although access to it wasn't possible.

The parish rooms and clergy quarters attached to the church east end are still a roofless ruin. But, a place with potential as a hospitality centre, much needed today. I hope something happens to complete the picture even if it takes another decade to find the funding. This is indeed a special place to visit for whatever reason. Like the foreshore of Sta Pola bay it was probably first colonised by the Pheonicians, then the Romans. It was conquered by the Moors, then reconquered for the Spanish monarchs and again conquered by the Kingdom of Morocco for a generation in the 18th century, before being liberated yet again.

It was too early to eat, so we walked the length and breadth of the island before settling for lunch at the Gloria restaurant on the south side of the island. After lunch, we spent another hour walking around discovering different places, then took a boat back to Sta Pola at five so that Ann and Clare could swim from the beach next to the port. 

We were fortunate to have such a beautiful day for our island excursion.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Settling in

Breakfast on the terrace in the sun to start the day, then a leisurely walk to the Castello and down to the port for a drink at la Cuna bar restaurant, still an excellent place on the edge of the beach to eat the freshest of fish. While Ann was busying herself writing post cards, I went to explore the nearby retail fish market, branded as I'd not run by the Cofradia de Pescadores, which has its own small chapel on the street next to the market entrance. The complex is not large, but it does have its own adjacent restaurant by the other entrance - food for soul and body - worth exploring some time.  We stayed there so long we ended up staying for lunch and then returning for a siesta.

Later I walked into town again to see if I could find the Casa de Cultura, which houses a library with free wi-fi, plus this week only, an exhibition of artifacts relating to The Spanish Civil War. I was able to do my daily Duolingo drill, just for the sake of continuity. Following the history exhibition was a more substantial challenge however, as is reading the edition of 'El Pais' which I bought this morning.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016


It was a pleasure not to rush breakfast and leave by taxi to the city centre to catch the airport bus for a late morning check-in for our afternoon Vueling flight to Alicante. Taxi is obligatory from Alicante airport to Sta Pola as all buses go via the city, not direct. We arrived at seven, did the necessary food shopping, and then listened to The Archers.

A lovely evening with the promise of more blue skies and warm weather to come. I cooked supper while Ann and Clare went to the beach. Anything rather than walk a mile to a restaurant and wait half an hour to be served - not so enjoyable when you're tired and hungry from travelling.

We ate outside on the terrace, as the sun was setting. It's such a relief after such a long overcast winter. Then I went out for a late night walk to the port, to smell the sea and the presence of the town's still lively fishing industry. Happy to be here again.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Birthday weekend

Saturday, sister in law Ann arrived to spend the weekend with us before our holiday in Spain together. Owain joined us for supper and we all watched 'Follow the Money'. He stayed overnight for Sunday lunch as well. Three of us went to the Parish Eucharist at St Catherine's Sunday morning, but Owain, no longer a churchgoer, went for a long walk instead. It's the first time I've been in the congregation since the Sunday before Christmas, and that was enjoyable. There were fewer people than usual in the congregation, perhaps because there was an afternoon 'Messy Church' event. Fewer poeple are willing to turn out twice on a Sunday nowadays. After lunch, Clare went to her study group in Bristol, and Ann and I walked the usual circuit along the Taff, making the most of the afternoon sunshine. 

Today, as well as being my birthday has been a day for travel preparation - case packing, buying some extra Euros, going into the office to sign a few cheques, arranging roaming on the Blackberry. Packing a bag never takes me long, but I always need to double check documents, battery chargers, leads and adaptors, to ensure communications channels I rely on so much for 'normal' living are easy to access away from home. Our AirBnB host kindly provided us with the SSID and password of the nearest public wifi at the bar by the Mercadona over the road from where we'll stay in Sta Pola, and that helps.

No big family party this year, as we'll be doing that for our Golden Wedding in August, but I did cook supper for Clare and Ann, preferable to going to a restaurant and waiting ages to be served a meal when we all have travel on our minds. There were calls, cards and messages from the children, and email greetings from Switzerland, Spain and Costa Rica. For me, happily low key. The years seem to pass quicker than ever. I'm so grateful for good health, and lots of interesting and different things going on in my life. What more could I ask for?

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Verification vexation

As expected, St Paul's Grangetown was three quarters full for Tuesday morning's funeral. A family member give a delightful eulogy, much of which consisted of hilarious extracts from her Gran's letters, written to her during the three years she was away at University. These were an affectionate narrative of observations about everyday life and and remarks about family members which had people smiling if not laughing aloud with recognition. What a remarkable way to bring the memory of a person alive. The rest of the day I spent working at home on CBS affairs.

Wednesday morning, I celebrated the midweek Mass at St German's and chatted with people in the church hall afterwards, then again spent the rest of the day working at home on CBS affairs, and didn't even go out for some exercise to take advantage of slightly better weather. How dull and inert I can be on times.

We heard yesterday that Clare's godmother Auntie Daphne had been admitted to hospital with a stroke. She's in her eighties, and it's serious, albeit early days. It's going to be imossible to get to see her before we go away. I wonder if we will see her or even be able to talk to her again on the phone.

This morning, another funeral at St Paul's Grangetown, my last assignment before we go away. There was a cold wind blowing into a cold church when the doors were opened. It was cold at the graveside in Thornhill cemetery afterwards, and I wish I'd bothered to put a long sleeved pullover on under my jacket. These days, even if it's bright and sunny there can still be a wintry chill in the air, so it's easy to get caught out by changeable weather. Clare is already in the throes of packing to go to Spain next week, wondering how changeable the weather will be there, but already it's 8-10 degrees warmer than here, and that makes clouds and rain a bit more bearable.

After lunch I went into the office and did the necessary banking preparation on-line to pay Ian's salary while I'm away. I also went to the branch which handles our business bank accounts to present the signature change mandate, only to have the correct documents rejected again, on the grounds that two of the signatories are not HSBC customers. The fact that I countersigned all of the identity and address documents presented to verify them was unacceptable to the bank. The individuals need to present themselves with the appropriate papers in person at one of their branches, to someone assigned to process identity documents, who is most likely not to know them personally

I have been countersigning to verify passport photographs, and pension fund identity documents for people I know personally for the past forty years, and this is considered acceptable confirmation to Her Majesty's Government. I can still legally solemnise a marriage at which I have officiated, and commit a dead body to the ground with a word of legal authority that requires a legal exhumation order to undo. Banks however, play by their own rules, nationally and internationally, and they have taken us all hostage, by making the world over-dependent on their services and infrastructure, which despite their security regimes contain criminal activity of all kind. They get away with it because of the impersonal nature of data abstracted from social context. De-valuing the authority of personal knowledge and trust based on real relationships will ultimately do the world no good, and leave many people craving for the real security of knowing and being known.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Appreciating the past

This morning I was asked to visit a shop in the town centre which was closing down, and collect its radio handset equipment. It's a rare change for me to do something for CBS that's isn't back office, but nevertheless interesting. Businesses, great and small have their life cycles. Some die, some get taken over and keep running, some close for a while and then return when trading conditions improve. For the most part, I see this reflected in the history of records we keep, but a visit to the shop floor, meeting the workers in good times or bad, puts faces to the statistics of trading. Thankfully, despite recession and economic uncertainty, numbers of our radio subscribers have gradually grown over seven years.  

In another era, when there were more working clerics, I would have relished the opportunity to visit people in the retail sector and take and interest in their lives as a chaplain to retailers, but this never came my way, even when I was Vicar of the city centre Parish church, because there was always so much else to do.

There's a lot more mission that could be done by voluntary ministers fully embedded in the everyday world of work, the 'worker priest' ideal that was being explored half a century ago when I was training for ministry, was attracted to, but never followed up. There's a certain element of that kind of freedom for me to engage outside the institutional church setting now I'm retired, but it's not the same as actually earning a living, with all the challenges and these days uncertainties of the secular work environment which this entails.

When I reflect, I realise how privileged and protected some aspects of my working were. Nonetheless, I learned a lot, acquired unexpected skills and experiences which University and Theological College didn't prepare me for, and grew to have a confidence I certainly didn't have when I started out. The older me is willing to tackle things the younger me would have shied away from, but there's no way to turn back the clock, only to do was well as I can now, in appreciation of what it once was like, and of all those whose trust, patience and encouragement got me this far.

I've had some calls lately about my availability for services, and funerals for next week, when the Diocesan clergy school will take most of the active work force away to Oxford, throwing a great deal back on to the ranks of the retired. Clergy schools were in my experience a great opportunity for bonding with colleagues through worship and discussion, even if the input from contributors wasn't everybody's cup of tea, so I'd be pleased to support this mass absence, except that next week, we'll be in Sta Pola, out of reach when it comes to plugging the gaps.

Another bereavement visit this evening, for Thursday's funeral. It'll be third in a row for me to officiate at in St Paul's Grangetown, covering for Fr David. By co-incidence, it'll be the second this week of an elderly woman who worked in Freeman's, later Gallagher's cigar factory in Grangetown, having been born into a large family and growing up in the community there during the war. I expect there'll be another big local attendance for this one too, marking the passing of an extraordinary era in the history of the city.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Glasses crisis

A visit to St Mary's Bute Street late this morning to celebrate the Eucharist. I left my reading glasses behind, and to my horror found that the print in almost every text I had to read from was too small to be useful. I was quite unprepared for this. My memory is quite reliable, but I still need to be able to see the service book for visual cues, not to mention reading scripture. Thankfully, churchwarden Iris loaned me hers, and they were just the right magnification.

It's silly, I often go out carrying two pairs, but the only ones I store normally in the car are driving glasses, but not even these were in their usual place because I'd taken them indoors to try using them for watching telly, to see if it made for sharper viewing. Well, not much. But I forgot to return them to where they belong. As soon as I got back home, I found a spare pair of reading glasses and a pouch to keep them in, and stowed them in the glove compartment for future emergencies. No more panics!

After lunch, I spent some time writing, and then went for a stroll around Thompson's Park with my camera. The huge tree which blew down a month ago still lies where it fell. Nothing has been done to take away the branches, nor to repair the path damaged by the upheaval of tree roots, nor re-instate the bench that was on the path. The tree is stable where it lies, and has begun to sprout leaves but there's a large hollow where up-ended roots tore at the tarmac, into which a mischievous child could easily slip. I could hear two kinds of tits and a robin advertising themselves, and got a couple of indifferent photos of one of the pair of Great Tits I saw. Then there was another bird with a distinctively different song, of which I got a better photo, at the limits of my telephoto lens, and I think it's a Goldfinch.
I cooked an an early supper, so that I could drive to Penarth for a bereavement visit in preparation for a funeral on Tuesday. It was so pleasant to be out on a sunlit evening for a change. The extra hour makes all the difference. When I got back I had a funeral order of service to prepare, and a sermon to finalize, both of which were sandwiched around two hours watching 'Follow the money', which is still compelling viewing. Slowly I am picking out recognizable Danish words that are like German or English equivalents, at least, according to the subtitles. It provides an extra level of interest to the entertainment.

Solemn Mass at St German's again this morning. Next weekend Ann is coming, so I'll just go to church with her and Clare. It'll be my first Sunday off since just before Christmas. Then, the Sunday after we'll all be in Sta Pola together. Clare and I haven't been there for four and a half years. Looking forward to a sunny holiday (hopefully), it's nine months since I was last in Spain, and I've missed it so much.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Tribute to the Linux collective

It's a long while since I last had a good rant about the virtues of Linux. Windows has meanwhile seen many improvements in its development, but can still often be frustrating to use in comparison.

All that computer tinkering yesterday got me to bed later than I needed, so I slept late this morning, and eventually returned to the task of getting the Acer to work again by installing Linux Mint properly. It's  half to three quarters of an hour from boot to a fully working system. Better than Windows. You're then advised to update, but can do so at your leisure. Update runs for half an hour, bringing the latest version of the operating system and software. It does so without preventing you from carrying on with work, and usually without asking you to reboot. Utterly brilliant if you're busy. 

All you need available for productive working is there. If you have additional software needs it's easy to top up with your favourites to complete the job. All made possible by the core design of Linux at the outset. It's one of the greatest collaborative social enterprises of our era. Fortunes are made by companies offering Linux software services, yet it's available for free within a global community of volunteers and professionals, for anyone to adopt - especially when Windows dies on them. It's still hard to find Linux driven computers readily available in the consumer marketplace.

I discovered Linux working in Geneva twenty years ago, learned to use it and become intrigued by it on hardware that wasn't really powerful enough to do it justice. I have watched it evolve and diversify into an ecosystem of related products that can get the best out of all kinds of equipment, especially in the scientific community. Now it's being introduced to systems running on the international space station. In some regions it's used to run whole departments of government and for the trading engines of the economy. 

MS Windows and Apple Mac have had their hold on consumer markets for decades, but the innovation of Android on smartphones and tablets has changed habits of digital consumption radically irreversibly. The Android operating system is derived from Linux. It has not only risen to meet expectations, but also helped shape expectations of what is possible to do with a powerful pocket computer. Admittedly this vision of the possible was generated by Apple with its iPhone and apps, and the challenge taken on by Android, but Apple operating systems developed, from origins in the BSD operating system with many of the same characteristics and philosophy as Linux.

These days, I don't do much more than enjoy using Linux, where once I enjoyed tinkering, learning how to use its own command scripts. It was always hard work, paying attention to that kind of detail, and nowadays easily configurable user interfaces remove the need to tinker unless desperate. The modest amount that has stuck in my brain, however, makes life easier when it comes to diagnosing and troubleshooting problems. 

Before I consigned the broken Windows 7 to Microsoft Hell, I figured out that essential files were missing, deleted either from the boot partition which performed essential start up functions, including linkage to a main partition where most Windows 7 software is installed. This killed access to the recovery partition, making impossible a factory re-set or an independent re-install. There was nothing to suggest hard disk damage by a surge. Files had been irretrievably deleted without which not even a minimal operating system could fire up and facilitate a repair. Whether by accident or sabotage, this shouldn't be possible, but it happens. The world of work is less efficient, less secure as long as vulnerabilities due to poor design remain.

Sure, over the years I may have wasted a lot of time trying to learn things for which I may well be temperamentally and intellectually unsuited, perhaps a bit like my shoddy efforts to learn how to sight read music or speak other languages fluently over the years. Yet, I do feel enriched by these minor efforts to understand what changes are going on in our era and how they work.

For what it's worth, such a waste of time has been lots of fun in a perverse sort of way. I remember when I first got an early version of SUSE Linux to boot to the command line, during our Swiss sojourn, seeing a message displayed when reaching the command line saying something like:

' You are now running Linux. Have lots of fun ! '

Thanks to all those who have contributed to making it so.