Thursday, 30 June 2016

On the move again

Slowly during the morning, as it was humid, I finished packing, cleaning up, taking out the rubbish, re-making the bed, making sure I left church house the way I found it. Then lunch and a final look around conscious that there's not much likelihood of returning here for the foreseeable future. Then I walked to the bus station tugging the case behind me, wearing a rucksack, damp with sweat, no escape from this kind of heat.

The entire bus waiting area, a hundred metres long, shielded by a stylish canopy, was crowded with travellers. I wondered how long I'd have to wait, but the ticket clerk said I's be on the next but to arrive in fifteen minutes. Two buses arrived, both for Malaga, and I headed for the front one, as it had arrived empty, unlike the other one. That turned out to be a good decision. Instead of taking an hour an forty minutes, stopping several times on the way, mind stopped once at Torre del Mar and then again at the estacion de buses in Malaga, to let passengers off. In one hour hive minute.

My reservation email from offered directions to reach Hotel Don Paco, and as I followed the snail trail on the little map, it gave jerky updates of my position. The hotel was a lot nearer than I'd imagined. The corner of the building is in direct sight of the railway station main entrance, about 200 metres away, or 300, if you use the crossings safely. Perfect for my morning getaway! I checked in to a twin bedded room with bathroom, air-con and wi-fi, in the quiet back corner of the building's first floor, which has only a window to an internal stairwell, attractively tiled in Andalusian style with tiling icons of Jesus Cautivo and Nuestra Senora de Anguista on one wall. Simple, clean, quiet, inexpensive at €59 for a city centre room. Very pleasing indeed.

I visited a nearby local supermarket to buy a box of cherries, a bottle of water and some cerveza sin alcohol. It's just right in this heat. Bread, cheese and chorizo I brought with me for the journey, although the cheese was awful, the slices congealing together. Not a sensible purchase, unless you make it up into sandwiches first - which I hadn't done. I decided not to go out again after I'd eaten, but to relax quietly and catch up on unfolding events back in Britain. 

I'm not surprised that Boris Johnston decided not to present his candidacy for Prime Minister. Some people, it seems were visibly shocked. They evidently hadn't been listening to his critics, nor noticed the tide of public resentment against him for the quality of the Brexit campaign. I wasn't at all surprised. With Cameron still at the helm, he could have buzzed around the political process like the gadfly he is, making things worse under the guise of being 'helpful', but with the success of his campaign triggering such instability and uncertainty, and everyone looking at Boris, he may indeed have been wondering - What have I done? 

As the days go on, legal experts are starting to say that brexit may be unattainable by legal means because there are so many constitutional ramifications under treaty legislation. The idea of triggering a quick secession from the EU was ill informed, a politician's undertaking with no substance. In a correctly followed process, it could take decades, because of the complexity of international relationships and governance, and thus it might be quite unworkable in practise. In the end the referendum remains advisory, and Parliament is the only legal body that is charged with deciding and planning what to do on the basis of the advice. 

Space travel and organ transplantation are a complex enough procedures, and it's taken decades of research and development to make them routine. There's no precedent for a mutually beneficial divorce between nations.  

And so to bed.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Travel nerves

Up early, time to start tidying, extracting my things from all over the house, and packing them, also washing as much bed linen and clothes of my own. Then a walk down to the churhc shop for my
last Eucharistic celebration in Nerja, in honour of the apostles Peter and Paul. There were just half a dozen of us. Then coffee and farewells, followed by food shopping for the journey and cooking enough for today and tomorrow's lunch.

I've decided to travel into Malaga and stay in a hotel near the station overnight, if I can find one at a suitable price, or get a very early taxi in the morning to get me there quicker than the coach and allow me more of a margin for the unexpected, which I'm less in favour of. Playing safe is essential as there is only one suitable train itinerary a day to take me all the way to Costa Azahar with little effort. All I have to do is be punctual on Friday morning, and check in around 08.20.

Before I know it, Judith had arrived to take me to my last wedding blessing in Frigiliana. With lots on my mind at this stage, I was a little distracted, but in the end with a huge effort at concentration all ended well. It was sweltering hot, however, and everyone struggled a bit, especially stepping out of the cooling shade and fans in church into the direct heat of the afternoon sun shining down on the balcony entrance to San Antonio church.

Once back home, I consulted, for the first time that I remember, and installed the app on both phone and tablet. I found a reasonably priced room at Hotel Paco, a short walk from the station, with air conditioning and wi-fi, at a reasonable price. What's not to like? Now I can pick and choose an afternoon coach tomorrow and check in at tea time.

It's very hot tonight, and I'm still wondering if I've covered all the things I needed to, before I pack everything away. At lunchtime, I'd packed my alb away, and then needed to unpack it again an hour later when I realised I still needed it for the wedding blessing. Put it down to travel nerves.

Oh yes, I forgot to say that the outcome of Spain's general election on Sunday revealed little or no change in the deadlock between the centre right Partido Popular, and the coalition of others bidding for power. Nobody seems to be talking about it. I haven't heard what the turnout was either. And we may think the UK has troubles!

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Genie unleashed, attacking the vulnerable, same old story

I spent part of the morning watching the European Parliament debate on the UK referendum result. I was impressed by the warmth of goodwill expressed towards Britain despite the brexit vote. Nigel Farrage behaved with disgraceful contempt and discourtesy towards other MEPs and the Assembly, and he was booed. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker didn't hold back, openly calling him a lair, just for the record. It is disturbing to think Farrage was elected to the European Parliament, that he has attended and taken his MEP's financial entitlement for such a long time.

Today's news has also raised concern over the disturbing increase in the number of hate crimes against immigrants, people of other faiths and ethnic minorities in recent months. A certain section of disaffected people are scapegoating others on the basis of appearance. Inflammatory rhetoric during the referendum debate seems to have contrived to embolden people to voice resentment by verbal and physical attacks on others. 

It's like a re-run of the seventies and eighties all over again, and I worry that there'll be outbreaks of racially driven civil disorder, unless politicians get a grip on themselves and focus attention on this issue as a major post referendum priority. Now that everyone has tasted a little fear and uncertainty at the outcome of such a divisive decision, it's going to be a lot harder to restore calm and social harmony. Without calm and social harmony, there is no basis for any new policy effort or economic initiative, as these things rely on a bedrock of stability - not just in prosperous areas, but all over the country. I hope that those entering into political leadership contests in coming weeks are aware of the dire need to address this promptly. It's what national survival depends upon.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Malaga outing, and the man on the bus

I took the coach into Malaga this morning to go and book by train for Friday. I could have booked on the internet, but with euros to spare, it was a good excuse for an outing to the city. The return fare was €8.18. Bus travel in Spain is cheap and pretty punctual. The main bus station is opposite Maria Zambrano station, and the booking hall a short walk a way. I was pleased with myself for being able to buy my ticket entirely in Spanish.

Not far from the station is the barrio Mercado del Carmen, and I found my way there for a visit to the wonderful market bar, which does an impressive range of fresh cooked fish tapas. There were cockles on the counter, alive and moving. That's how fresh they were. I chose a racion of baby merluza to have with a glass of Alhambra beer, and they were cooked while I drank. So fresh, hot and crispy with the lightest of coatings of olive oil and flour. This alone was worth the journey.

I walked around for an hour or so, along the road next to the harbour, as far as the Alameda, then did a brief inspection of El Corte Ingles technology department, always a favourite, then return to the station to take the metro out to the airport, to see if I could change my flight bookings face to face, rather than struggle with finding out how to on-line. Again I was successful doing it all in Spanish. All I have to do now is acquire a new boarding pass on line. I hope it's worked!

I had to queue for ages to change my open ticket to catch the five o'clock coach back to Nerja. At one of the two places at the counter a young woman was arguing loudly and aggressively with the booking clerk. So much so I wondered when the long arm of the law would turn up. The coach on which I was booked was destined for Almeria, another 250km from Malaga, and it had come from Algeceiras, down west beyond Gibraltar.

I sat next to a man of my age destined for Almuñécar. He asked if I was German, and when I said British he laughed and chanted "Shall I stay or shall I go?", saying how crazy he thought the brexit vote had been, dividing the country like that. I could only agree and say that 48% of us didn't vote Leave. Well, if the man on the bus thinks that, what are the politicians and bankers of Europe thinking? I would like Mr Cameron to have been in my set instead of peddling ridiculous optimism in front of a divided House of Commons consuming itself with in-fighting.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

End of a locum chapter

My last visit to Almuñécar this morning, and the last service there until September, as the regular schedule is suspended due to the demands on chapel time from Catholic holidaymakers as visitors arrive in their tens of thousands, and parking becomes even more impossible. There were the usual dozen faithful worshippers there, and afterwards some appreciative farewells over a cup of coffee. The same at San Miguel too.

In the afternoon, I led a family celebration in El Salvador church for a couple who'd been civilly married 32 years ago and wanted to give thanks for the many blessings they'd received. It was a relaxed informal occasions, with the entire assembly gathering around the couple in a circle while they renewed their vows. After their photo-opportunity on the Balcon, there was a gathering for pre-supper drinks on a rooftop terrace nearby, with fabulous views - but I hadn't taken a camera with me. Never mind. It was just enjoyable to chat with friendly people having a happy time.

Judith and I were invited to join them all for supper at Number 34, but we were both pretty tired after a busy Sunday. As churchwarden, Judith had been with me at all three services. Both of us just wanted to head for our respective abodes and relax. This has been my 22nd Sunday of duties here, and from September the new Chaplain will be in post. Nice to think that I've worked myself out of a job, as a missionary pastor should.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Repercussions observed

Apart from preparing a sermon for tomorrow, and a brief grocery shopping visit to Mercadona, I spent much of today reading articles and comment in Britain about the repercussions of the referendum decision. Nothing like this has happened in my lifetime, and I get the impression that some who voted to leave the EU are already having second thoughts and regretting their action. The obsession with winning has overruled a proper evaluation of consequences based on the facts. Over the weekend, I imagine some politicians will be looking at whether there's any way back, while EU leaders are saying brisky, "OK, let's get on the process of negotiating UK severance as soon as possible." 

One news commentator remarked that the notion of taking a few months leisure to consider the best way forward for the UK was to forget that there are two parties in this divorce. A slight majority of UK voters has taken a self-centred option. How now should parliamentarians respond in giving a lead? They could legally refuse to endorse the referendum result, and even order another referendum. But how much courage will the have in the face of what has been a damaging divisive process from start to finish?

In the early evening, I finally made myself go out for a walk down to Playa Burriana, scrambling along the rocky foreshore to Playa Caribbayo, then climbing the steps and heading for the Parador to get some photographs I'd not taken when we dined there the other night. Then I took the footpath that goes past the hotel and back down to Burriana, then turning back up another steep street and heading back to the main road through the urbanizacion Andalusia. Walking this route in either direction offers good and varied exercise.

I paused outside a bar showing the Wales v Northern Ireland Euro cup football match on the return leg, just as the final tense minutes of the game were being played, and watched the climax, surrounded by Irish fans. Nobody was cheering by this stage. Nerja has many Irish visitors and has several Irish themes bars, but so far I haven't found a Welsh bar to speak of. I'm not sure exactly what that says about my compatriates when they're away from home.

Having had my fill of news and comment during the day, there wasn't a lot I was interested in watching on telly after supper, except a more recent episode of NCIS, which I think I've seen before. There aren't many episodes I haven't seen now. It's such a pity that apart from radio, free UK streaming services don't work on devices not bought or registered here.

Friday, 24 June 2016

What has Britain done?

I only stayed down on the beach for half an hour, last night, long enough for the firework display and lighting of the grand midsummer bonfire on the beach and for taking photos. There were many hundreds of people again this year, with their own family fires, barbecues and booze. Dozens went into the sea at midnight for luck. I saw some young lads jumping over the fire, another ancient custom. I thought I heard Irish accents, but also lots of young Scandinavian voices as well. This night is a big favourite in Scandinavia as well, whether or not it's as dry and warm as it is here.

I was back at the house again by quarter to one, feeling well exercised by the late night three mile brisk walk. It left me feeling far to tired to keep vigil by the telly, and after the first few results and ensuing chatter, I crawled into bed.

I was up by seven and switched on the telly, even before making coffee. News of the brexit victory came as a shock. I knew it would be a close call, around 52% to 48%, but to be the opposite way around to what I'd hoped and prayed for was hard to take in, like a sudden death in the family. Like Jo Cox's death. As predicted, the pound had already slumped in world exchange markets by the time I got up. The politicians put on their brave reputation saving faces, and talked lamely about making an effort to unite the country to implement the will of the people's referendum. The damage is done, however, and could be irrevocable.

I believe Britain will pay with even more social division, and who knows? Maybe unrest too, given the anger and disappointment, on one side for losing and on the other for the rising tide of ill will generated by winning with opponents struggling to accept graciously. For the first time in my life, I feel deeply ashamed of being Welsh, given the scale of the Principality's brexit vote. Cardiff alone voted to remain. The outcome is being interpreted as the nation's way of punishing its politicians for years of austerity and being so London-centric that regions, both industrial and post-industrial, feel neglected, their most urgent priorities by-passed or delayed.

Cameron was rightly quick to fall on his sword, having pandered to the brexit pressure groups with too much naive trust and optimism that Remain support would prevail. He campaigned more honourably than his opponents, but his failure was strategic, in that he didn't kick the idea of this referendum into touch in the first place, leave to the next government to cool out, rather than make it a lethal manifesto promise. Corbyn now faces challenges to his leadership for his lack-lustre performance in support of Remain. He looks old and tired. Labour needs, but didn't seem to have any inspirational leaders to unite left-wing support into effective opposition, able to expose disinformation and media manipulation relied on by brexiters to give them victory.

The alternatives to Cameron are grim and more right wing than he is. All over Europe the right wing parties will heed this result and motivate them to lobby for their own exit referendum where they are. Today, I am very pessimistic about the future. Even if European governance is in some respects not that fit for purpose, it is far superior to the way European nations behaved before the World Wars of the 20th century. The only way to get anything more fit for purpose is to maintain a reasoned critique, and sustain dialogue with the aim of reform. For Britain to have no say in affairs which are bound to have continued impact on it, simply because we're a major EU trading partner, is a colossal act of national self-harm.

A few days ago worry was expressed on the news about prisoners indefinitely detained self-harming in despair at their situation. The potentially damaging nature of the brexit vote is a cry of despair from those who feel dispossessed, disempowered by the current economic and political status quo. It reaches back decades, through all those years when London's development as a hub of economic globalisation has been like a black hole, sucking the life out of the rest of the country. 

I had a late morning meeting with a couple wanting to celebrate 32 years of marriage with a renewal of wedding vows, surrounded by family and friends this Sunday afternoon. They too had voted Remain by post before leaving for Spain, and were just as shocked and distressed as me. I arrived late, somewhat in a daze, and thankfully missed an interview session with a local report for a Costa del Sol English newspaper. I couldn't have coped with that. But now, I've said what I need to, and can carry on wondering. Where do we go from here?

Normally on this day, I remember with affection and prayer the two parish churches I served that were dedicated to St John the Baptist. Today, I find it hard to pray at all.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Noche de San Juan on the move

Voting day in the UK's EU referendum, but not a concern for us as we voted postally before we left. We've heard of people here having problems with getting their postal votes mailed back to the UK, because some Spanish post office workers do not recognise or know about the international Freepost convention and signage, as it's in English and French, not in their official postal language. I don't know how true or widespread this is, but its a complication no voter wants.

I had a meeting at the Balcon Hotel with a couple whose wedding I'm due to bless next Wednesday in Frigiliana. Then, after lunch I drove Clare to Malaga airport for her flight back to Cardiff. There were huge queues at the baggage check-in. Not just because of summer holidaymakers, however. There are several Vueling outbound flights within an hour or so of each other, notably one to Amsterdam. The conjunction happens when these two cohorts of passengers are boarding early morning flights as well, as I recall from previous experience.

I left Clare in the queue and went over to the RENFE station to find out if I could purchase a new Tarjeta Dorada train discount card there. No luck. Purchase of this kind are only possible at Maria Zambrano Station in the city, or Torremolinos, or Fuengirola. Knowing how easily I could achieve this in Fuengirola, I went back to check-in, said goodbye to Clare and drove west, to a town that is still familiar and fresh in my memory, from having spent the best part of eight months there the year before last. Mission accomplished I tried to book at ticket for my long distance journey in eight days time. Not possible except at the main station, or on-line. Ah well, another trip into Malaga, this time by bus in coming days I think.

Rather than go straight back home, I drove on to La Cala de Mijas, and visited Peter and Linda in their lovely Casa Madreselva house. Linda was in the pool, doing her physio exercises, following last years joint replacement op. It was great to meet up with them again and catch up. It's a year since I was last there for their joint 145th birthday celebration.

I got home in time for the start of the referendum count, but then at half past eleven headed down to Burriana beach for the Noche de San Juan festivities, there being nothing to glue me to the telly until the results began to flow. It'll be a long night for all the pundits and politicos.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Parador pleasure and euro concern

There were seven of us for the midweek Eucharist in the church shop this morning. On the walk back, I visited the car hire office and paid the balance outstanding on the month's rental, then we went to the Parador and booked a table for this evening's last super before Clare returns to Wales.

Nerja's Parador is an interesting modern building dating from 1968, perched on the clifftop above Playa Burriana with a balcony enclosing a grassy terraced garden and swimming pool overlooking the sea, and a lift down to sea level. The building has a spacious sheltered patio for open air dining overlooking the sea. In contrast to the imaginative re-purposing of ancient castellos and palacios, this has an air of cool spacious sixties modernity - what was trendy in our youth, has by now passed the test of time. It's been renovated, no doubt, but not demolished and rebuilt. As a building, it's already a historic landmark statement about the development of the Costa del Sol as a global tourism destination.

A video slide show on display in the lobby shows photos of the hotel and of Nerja down the years. The hillsides around the hotel and Playa Burriana in the seventies were bare and empty of housing. The location was possibly chosen because it was just outside of town in a landscape that at least gave an illusion of remoteness. Now it's surrounded on all sides, apart from the sea, by the hotels and housing areas which have sprung up since those days. Holidaymakers must now go much further afield if they hunger for remoteness.

After a post-lunch siesta, I spent a fruitful hour writing a response to an enquiry about a possible RadioNet development while Clare had a swim. Then it was time to walk down to the Parador for our meal. The menu proved to be an interesting one. Clare had something called 'Butterfish' which we'd not come across before. I had stewed kid goat in a sauce of almond and saffron with sardinas for a starter, and a glass of sweet muscat instead of pudding, and just one glass of a very fragrant DOC Toro red wine with the meal. Eating while the sun was setting was pure delight, even if it did begin to get a little chilly towards the end, with the light wind off the sea. As we walked home, the residual heat from walls soon warmed us up, and the house when we arrived was that much warmer again. A lovely conclusion to Clare's sixteen days of holiday.

What's mostly on my mind tonight is tomorrow's EU referendum outcome. This last few days I've been revisiting my Facebook account, and am surprised and not a little impressed to discover that almost all those 'friended' over the years are pro-Remain. Probably the majority are Christian, and that may explain a lot. I was touched by the way public buildings in many EU major cities are being floodlit with images of the British Flag, as an act of support for the #Remain campaign. It's another expression of the sense of inter-dependence that many Brits now feel about the EU, warts and all. To want to reject the relationship built up over the past half century, just because of the difficulties it presents on all sides is an expression of contempt, not only for the colossal achievement of peace through partnership over the past seven decades, but also for those relationships we will continue to rely upon whatever the outcome of tomorrow's vote.

I will feel so ashamed to be British is the brexiters succeed, and genuinely concerned for the kind of future such a selfish vote will engender.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Equinox Day

We both slept long and woke late, tired after yesterday's trip to Granada. As ever, Clare swam before lunch, while I did some writing. Then in the afternoon we walked into town, and visited Playa el Salon, to the west of the Balcon de Europa, one which Clare hadn't seen before. The sea was very boisterous, due to the incoming wind, which has been taking the edge off the intense heat of these bright sunny afternoons for the past week. 

In the evening, across the little square in front of our residence, a group of young adults were in midsummer party mood. They sang along loudly in tight harmony to a succession of Spanish pop records for about half an hour while we were eating, perhaps they were rehearsing for something, I don't know, but they made a delightful happy sound while we were having supper. Then at nine, the music and outdoor chatter stopped and we were left with only evening birdsong for company. 

I got the date wrong for that once in a lifetime conjunction of full moon and sun in the sky at Summer Equinox that won't re-occur for 72 years according a news article I read. As the longest day is 21st June, I assumed this phenomenon would occur in the evening of the 21st, when it was the evening of the 20th. So the moment had already past when I walked to the crest of the hill overlooking the sea, to look for a photo of the 'Strawberry Moon', now one day into its waning cycle. At this latitude, 2,000km south of the UK, the timing of sunrise and sunset is also different, so more homework would have been beneficial, and I missed moonrise. By now, with the sun below the Sierra Almijara to the west, the moon wasn't pink, but still an interesting hue, here faithfully captured by my Sony HX300.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Albayzin revisited

We left just after nine this morning and drove to Granada in perfect conditions, and by half past ten we were parked under a shady tree in the area about the entrance to the Alhambra Palace. Already the public address system was telling people queuing that tickets for the day were sold out, and that only bookings for subsequent days could be taken. It must be one of Spain's most popular tourism venues, and justifiably so.

Instead of descending to the city along the busy main pathway, we took a path which descended around the opposite side of the entire domain. This took us down to a bridge across the Rio Darra directly opposite the main access road to the Albayzin barrio, which was where most wanted to spend time. We stayed there in 2004 for Anto and I to attend a flamenco guitar course, and again in 2005 for my 60th birthday. It's a very special place for family family memories, as Kath and Anto came with Rhiannon when she was only six months old, and then again when she was a toddler.

We found it difficult to recall exactly which houses we'd stayed in on either visit, but not the places where we ate and drank. We had a second breakfast in the Plaza Larga, and a little later, when it opened, to Bar Miguel, where Anto and I had hung out to drink beer and eat sardinas when classes were over. It has been run by Miguel Ferrer since 1967. When I was here last year, it was closed for building renovation. The interior is still in the same style, but looks spruce and smart. A decade ago it seemed to be a bar mainly para los hombres, but Andalucia, like many other european countries has evolved in a more socially egalitarian spirit. The non-smokng ban has made a great difference too, making all food and drink a much more enjoyable experience.

Then we strolled the streets, pausing for a long while at one of the 12th century gateways into the barrio to listen to a young viola player, who was working her way through the first of Bach's 'cello suites. It may not be the right instrument, but playing the smaller instrument makes for a very lively nimble rendering, filling the street either side of the gateway with sweet sounds. The street on the outer side is called 'Callejon de Sta Cecilia' St Cecilia's Steps - the patron saint of music. I know much of the 'cello suites by heart after many years of listening, and was moved to tears of delight by this unexpected moment.

The gateway has lately endured a blitz of unprepossessing graffiti, rescued from utter annoyance by the presence of these words: 'Preguntate sobre tus miedos' - Question your fears. An interesting form of Wayside Pulpit this is. 

Our next stop was the Mirador de St Nicolas, a bread terrace overlooking the city below, with a wonderful view of the Alhambra and the entire valley in which the city of Granada is set. Three flamenco guitarristas and a singer were busking there, with great vigour, that people listening or passing by were jigging along to the catchy rhythm. We visited Granada's main mosque, built with funding from the United Arab Emirates, opened in 2003. In front of the buildings is a beautiful Andalusian style courtyard garden. There's no minaret, but the Mujedar building style is one that's used in common by buildings in Spain, so it fits in naturally and discreetly.

The sixteenth century church is currently undergoing restoration, and over the past century or so has suffered unusually from misfortune - fires and lightening strikes. The south porch opening on to the mirador has been adapted into a visitor centre and gift shop. Only the church tower is open for visitors to climb and get an exceptional 360 degree view of the barrio and the city. Funds from the entrance charge go towards the enormous cost of restoration work. It's a very enterprising venture on the part of the Amigos de San Nicolas, to ensure their landmark site church, closed for the past five years, has a future life.

We had a light lunch at Kiki's restaurant near the mirador before walking slowly in the afternoon heat back down through the barrio, and going uphill the other side to the car park, this time using the main access route to the Alhambra, shaded with trees and blessed with the sound of running water. Half a dozen local police officers were out and about, shooing away gitanas, also out and about offering sprigs of rosemary to tourists as a pretext to beg from them. It's how life is on the fringes of a World Heritage site is, in this part of the world.

Having practised taking photos from the car window on the way up, Clare took lots more on the return journey, of the string of reservoir lakes to the east of the Pass of the Moor's Sigh. She has a good level steady hand, and as result the edited pictures give a good idea of the spectacular scenery and amazing highway engineeering, which perches the road on viaducts and bridges over lakes one can see from high in the air on the final run in to Malaga aiport.

After a delightful day, I cooked a seafood paella, while Clare went swimming, and in the cool of the evening we ate out on the terrace, with much contentment.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Sunday surprises

On the last leg of the journey to church in Almuñécar this morning, I encountered a large group of cyclists, probably a club, out for an early ride before the roads got busy. Fortunately I was able to overtake them before reaching the narrow exit from the N340 which I need to take to descent to the Fishermen's Chapel which hosts our service. There we so many of them, however, that their presence of the highways gave rise to a certain nervousness at nine in the morning.

There were a dozen of us for the service, among them a retired URC minister who had at one time worked in north Cardiff, so we had several former colleagues in common. She now lives with her husband near Orgiva in the Sierra Alpujarra, in what sounds like a very interesting environment for spiritual and cross cultural encounter, with followers Sufism, Subud and a Buddhist monastery in their locality - a very energetic region of Spain, with a history of being a place of pilgrimage for New-Agers and Hippies as well.

There were two dozen for the Eucharist at Nerja later in the morning, and eight of us met for an after service drink afterwards. I did some writing after lunch, and then we walked up into the neighbouring Capistrano urbanización to get some exercise. Few shops if any were open during the day for us to buy some porridge oats for breakfast, since we forgot to get some yesterday, but the main village store next to the communal pool was opened and stocked just what we needed. Next weekend the Mercadona moves to Sunday opening during July and August for the sake of visitors. In the meanwhile, finding any shop open this evening was a welcome surprise.

We arrived back at the house just in time for the Archers on internet radio, then ate the curry I had prepared earlier, fielding calls from Kath and Rachel while we ate. Well, it is Fathers' day out there somewhere, I believe.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

More open air musical delight

It's been cooler than usual for mid June, this past few days, and this has made sleeping at night a lot pleasanter. There can be a cooling breeze on occasions during the day also, which makes walking around more congenial as well. After breakfast, we headed out to re-fuel the car and visit Lidl's to do our weekend shopping, before it got too busy or hotter. Then I walked into San Salvador Church for today's wedding blessing at noon. I met the new parish priest Fr Jose-Maria, and had a brief conversation with him over arrangements for the ceremony. He was very helpful. His accent wasn't as strong as his predecessor, so it was easier for me to understand him. A minor morale boosting achievement.

The couple had been together several years and had two small children. Fifteen of their closest family members were there to support them. They'd married civilly in the UK last month, and had been planning a wedding blessing here for a long time, being regular visitors, with an eye on moving here to live and work once the children are through primary school. It was good to see that they'd thought carefully through doing things this way, and didn't want to pretend that they were doing it exactly the way it would be done in the UK. Such a conscious decision on their part made this a refreshing change for me.

After the ceremony, I waited in the square for Clare to arrive for another tapas lunch at Biznaga. A man was busking, singing his own interesting variations of many Beatles and Elton John standards, while accompanying himself with exceptional skill on an electric guitar. No backing track, or drum machine, or reverb pedal, just sheer polished musical artistry, pleasure to listen to, as a sat sipping a beer and eating olives. Clare wanted to eat inside, so grudgingly I moved tables, to place where I couldn't hear nearly so well against the background of meals being served, but it was good while it lasted. Sadly, I never found out who he was. There's such a lot of amazing talent out there, and out here some marvellous open air performance spaces for enjoying music.

In the evening, the only thing worth watching was the last double episode of French crimmie 'La Disparucion' on BBC Four. I guessed the final plot twist beforehand. As so often happens in real life, perpetrator and victim knew each other and were member of the same family. A fight turns into a tragic fate, covered up by lies and deception, leading to more avoidable deaths. 'Oh what a crooked web we weave, if first we practice to deceive.' 

Friday, 17 June 2016

Quiet time

I was musing over my Sunday sermon this morning, and suddenly realised that I was cutting it a bit fine to arrive in town for a wedding blessing preparation, given that usually I walk. I set out briskly, and was almost out of the urbanizacion, when I realised I'd forgotten to pick up necessary to take with me, so I had to return, and by this time collect the car keys also in order to drive in, and park beneath the Plaza de'Espagna. The traffic was slow and the car park almost full, but after driving around for a few minutes, I found a space, and made it to the Balcon Hotel just a few minutes late. It probably took me about the same time as it would have taken if I'd persevered with walking briskly, and I was no less flustered and hot when I arrived, despite the car's air conditioning. Never mind, it was a good meeting, and I was home in good time for lunch and another go at the sermon, and printing off the weekly notices.

In the evening I watched this week's episode of Danish drama 'Dicte - crime reporter' on Channel 4 with its interesting mixture of sleuthing and domestic drama, this week involving a bereaved mother stealing another mother's child. To my annoyance I can't catch up on episodes of other things I've missed since I've been away due to digital rights issues relating to on line media players. There's not much of interest to watch live at the moment, and for the moment I've net felt inclined to watch any Spanish telly, although it would help progress my language learning. So life has been rather quiet for the most part lately. It's probably what we need.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Referendum rhetoric risk revealed

I walked to the Thanatorio for today's funeral in good time, and was welcomed by the staff. Having prepared some specific functional Spanish phrases for the occasion, I was as keen to use them as the manager was to practice his English. We had a sympathetic exchange, which relaxed me and got us off to a good start.

The CD player provided worked, but wasn't all that powerful once the forty odd congregation were packed into the place. It also didn't prove to be easily controllable, and had to be abandoned for the first hymn. The unaccompanied singing I led was better than the bereaved husband had feared. When it came to Abide with me, the CD accompaniment at a good measured Anglican pace lagged behind the enthusiasm of the congregation, and it wasn't audible enough. Half of them were Spanish, having a good go at singing, with goodwill for a much loved departed friend.
Another time I will rely on by ability to lead unaccompanied singing rather than on flaky technology not really fit for purpose. It's not good to perform with children, dogs and devices not your own. You never know how it'll turn out.

We've had more gusty winds this last couple of days, which make the building howl. It's not that hot wind we had on Monday, however. It has a pleasant cooling effect that makes sleeping much easier at night. Before Franco re-branded this coastline the Costa del Sol, it was called the Costal del Viento, though that's not something one is aware of most of the time.

The murder of Jo Cox MP on a street in her own constituency came as an awful shock, just as we were getting ready to go out for an evening meal at one of Nerja's special restaurants, simply known as Number 34. We came here last year on an evening when a guitarist was playing classical and flamenco music. This time we were entertained by an excellent guitar duo playing romantic Latino music as well as flamenco. The food was superb also. We dined early and while we were these the place filled with young families, parents with babes in arms and toddlers, which was additionally charming.

I must confess, however, that my mind was much disturbed by thoughts of what happened earlier, and what consequences there might be, apart from a brief moratorium in referendum campaigning. So much poisonous fear and anger has been whipped up by referendum rhetoric on both sides. Just the kind of thing to provoke outrageous actions on the part of fools and madmen. There's a thought provoking article on the Spectator blog commenting on two outrageous events of this miserable day.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

A day of preparations

Yesterday evening Judith called me with a funeral booking for this Thursday morning for a woman who'd died this morning. As usual, the time is short between death and funeral. I was fortunate to make contact with the bereaved husband straightaway, and visited his later in the evening, in their home just above La Torre de Capistrano restaurant, about fifteen minutes of a stiff climb uphill from the chaplain's residence. Being a cool evening the brisk walk there and back an hour later was welcome exercise, after moving slowly in the intense daytime heat. Not that I am complaining about the heat! I feel so much better for continuous warmth and blue skies. My eyes seem to work better and physical activity is not nearly so much hard work getting going as it is back in Wales.

I haven't timed walking down to the church shop to celebrate the midweek Eucharist, as I did again this morning, but it still takes me 20-25 minutes, and I arrive so much fresher in mind than if I had to drive in and find a parking place. There isn't a regular frequent bus route into town to tempt me to hop on and cut down journey times here as in Cardiff. The feel-good benefits are tangible.

There were seven of us for the Eucharist. After coffee at Rosi's, I had a meeting at the Balcon Hotel with Damian and Clodagh, here for a wedding blessing with their families from Galway and Sligo, West of Ireland. He's a sheep farmer, and horse breeder. She's been caring for her mother through two years of cancer treatment, now declared successful. This is an added element to their celebration. Her father died some years ago, and I was touched by ways they wanted to include him and other departed relatives in their fiesta. It's a wholesome ancient attitude to life, which Protestantism and Rationalism failed to destroy, a sense of continuity between this world and the next that's part of Celtic spirituality. We Celts are original European migrants, from the Indus basin all the way to the extreme fringes of continental Europe. In this present era of mobility, a wedding far from home is not so unexpected. Many of those whose weddings are blessed here are Irish.

After lunch at home, I prepared a bi-lingual funeral service leaflet with hymns in for tomorrow. Then, it took me ages to acquire accompaniment for two hymns from the Web. It's not something I do often, and the Windows software on the office Win 7 laptop was unhelpful or invisible to me. Amazingly my trusty Chromebook got me what I needed, and enabled me to edit the files in a web app called 'Twisted Wave'. It's simple, but impressive in what it delivered - a couple of files I could burn to CD to play on the Thanatorio CD player. But there were no spare discs to be found in the office, so I popped down to town to a small digital accessory retailer, selling burnable CD-Rs and printer inks. I place I've used before, with the same young woman in charge I recall from last year. For 60 cents, she sold me two CD-Rs. One to use, and another just in case... Much nicer than trawling supermarket shelves for a 'mini' pack of 25, I may not need. 

After burning the audio CD successfully, found a portable CD player in the office cupboard and tested what I'd made. It worked and sounded fine, but it all depends on what equipment the municipal Thanatorium has. I remember a disaster of this kind in Fuengirola Thanatorium where the state of the art sound system was dead, and in need of repair, and the little portable CD player offered was hardly audible in a huge chapel. At least the Nerja chapel is a quarter of the size, so fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Where your treasure is ..

This morning I visited Ian and Mary who live up in Frigiliana. Ian broke his upper left arm while visiting the Frauenkirche in Dresden a few weeks ago while on holiday, and is for the time being at least somewhat limited in what he can do. Like me, Ian has been writing a retirement blog for the past eight years. His blog is called 'Living the dream - Retirement in Frigiliana', an excellent read about anything and everything that comes his way, social, political, cultural, religious. 

His Spanish is pretty fluent and some of his blog postings are written in Spanish for the sake of local readers, as many people in the village are aware of the interest he takes in life there. He's a Catholic convert from Anglicanism, and remains very open and ecumenically spirited. When we met last year in the church shop one day, we had a good conversation, so I was looking forward to a lively pastoral visit, and certainly had one. 

Their hillside terraced house is a three storey dwelling with spectacular views of this marvellous pueblo blanco. We sat on a shady balcony drinking coffee and we chatted for two hours. A couple from Cardiff arrived at the house the same time I did, inspecting with a view to purchase. Having seen in the lives of others what old age and infirmity can be like for expatriates with family members far away, they are planning for their future long term back in Britain, the sensible option, and as Ian said: "Our hearts will still remain here." While they remain active, longish holiday spells in Spain will still be possible. The dream is still there to be lived, but in a more measured way.

I don't know why, but this prompted me to recall a conversation from our time in Geneva between expatriate International Civil Servants discussing pensions. Apparently at some stage when their appointment ceased to be temporary, they are given the choice of currency in which their pension will eventually be paid. At retirement, many return home, though some with residence rights, stay in Switzerland or France voisine, or choose a different country altogether. So, what are the criteria for choosing your currency of pension remuneration, given it may be linked to the kind of pension fund that holds your money? Swiss Franc? Dollar? Sterling? Yen? Which suits you best? 

It may boil down to which currency you have long term confidence in, or how well your currency does in foreign exchange, if you decide to move around. Or perhaps where your loyalties lie, where you call 'home', even if you don't spend all your time there. What you can afford on a reduced fixed income, or what you wish to afford is also a consideration, as well as the cost of living, which can differ so greatly. Strong currencies go far in third world homelands, but less so in Europe and parts of Asia where the cost of living is high. 

It's a complex decision most of us never need to think about. When we left Switzerland, my small mandatory 'pension pot' in Swiss Francs was turned into Sterling and added to savings, for the sake of simple management, rather than have small sums in foreign currency arriving and regularly losing a portion of its value, adding complexity to the filling in of tax forms. Only rich people can afford account fees and taxes to keep funds in Switzerland and live elsewhere. There's no going back for us except for holidays, and these get less and less frequent, as years pass. Great times, like those I now enjoy in retirement serving expatriate communities in Spain or anywhere else I'm asked to go. 

But nothing lasts forever. To everything its due season. For everything, thanksgiving.

Monday, 13 June 2016

San Antonio heat surge

Monday morning we drove to Lidl's on the outskirts for a big grocery shop. It's usually quite busy, but this morning, the car park was almost full, store was crowded and there were long queues at the checkout, like on a bank holiday weekend Friday. 

It occurred to me that residents of nearby Frigiliana may have added greatly to the numbers of shoppers, as today is the last and greatest day of the four day fiesta parroquial of San Antonio de Padova - his feast day in fact. All the shops there would take the day off to enjoy the festivities. Newly arrived holidaymakers would indeed wonder what was going on, if it was their first visit. Word has it that a loud open air disco on the terrace of the 17th century sugar cane factory didn't finish until six in the morning. People sure know how to have a good time here. 

My goodness, what a hot day. It got up to 37C mid afternoon, keeping us indoors, then just as we were expecting it to cool down early evening a strong gusty wind picked up, an unusually hot wind, making the house uncomfortably hot until late. No chance of comfortable sleep tonight. 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Costa sunny Sunday

I haven't had any early Sunday service starts since I was here this month last year. It was pleasant nevertheless to climb into the car in the cool bright morning, to leave for Almuñécar at a quarter to nine. Outside the urbanización, the Sunday flea market was just getting started. Another car was stopped in front of the closed barrier, unable to get it to raise. It's been erratic lately, I've noticed. 

Mild panic set in at the thought of being too late to contact Judith and ask her to pass by and rescue, or turning up far too late to be of any use. My wireless key didn't work either, so I got out of the car, went up and touched the barrier tentatively, without applying any force. Immediately it started to lift. The two of us scrambled for our cars, in case it came down again on impulse and escaped the cordon, only to find that at the far end of the entry road a van was parked and blocking escape on to the exit roundabout, already busy with traders and visitors. Before we could start honking our annoyance, the driver appeared and made room for us to leave. On returning, in the afternoon, the barrier was still vertical, evidently in need of servicing.

There were a dozen regulars in the Almuñécar congregation and two dozen later on at the Eucharist in San Miguel, back in Nerja. Visitor numbers fluctuate, but long term regulars tend to flee extreme summer heat, making visits back home. Debate about the EU referendum continues here unabated, with the same mix of views as back in Britain. Some people have lost their right to vote as they are long term residents here without UK domicile, but others have postal votes arriving or already sent. People of all convictions are uncertain about the consequences of the referendum outcome, like it or not, this will affect economic conditions and few will benefit.

After the Nerja service, we had a drink and a chat with a handful of people in a different café just beside , but below the main thoroughfare at the entrance to the barrio. The previous watering hole closed permanently last year. The new place is a little further away and less easy to pop into before heading for home for lunch. I'd only been able to park at the far end of the barrio before church, so we had a five minute walk, before driving against the beach traffic back to the house. Lunch, siesta, idleness, an evening stroll around the perimeter of the urbanización, some photos uploaded, family phone and Skype conversations, and Sunday slipped away less tensely than it began.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Remote troubleshooting

Temperatures are slowly rising and it's not as cool now as when we first arrived, so our day began without haste, with sermon preparation and Sunday bulletin printing occupying the morning for me, and a swim for Clare. Then we walked down to the barrio above El Caribeo Playa for lunch at the popular Joanny's bar, followed by a siesta back at the chaplaincy house. I fell asleep in an armchair and stayed there for two hours, utterly relaxed.

Kath has been sending me messages of concern about the little laptop I gave to Rhiannon, which is no longer working properly. It reboots on its own not long after reaching the desktop, apps behave erratically. This led to me writing her several diagnostic emails, to see if my ever capable daughter could sort it out. If it's a hardware malfunction, there's little chance, but working out what's really wrong is a task that takes time and effort. I realised, corresponding with her, how difficult it is to write a clear structured email methodically covering all the essential issues. Heaven help those who do helpline work professionally, I thought.

The highlight of the evening was once more 'La Disparucion' on BBC Four. While it is a murder mystery centred on the hidden life of a dead teenager it's also a keenly observed portrayal of family life in modern France - not to dissimilar from anywhere else in Europe or beyond. Even Molina, the investigating detective with a broken marriage behind him has a stroppy, sometimes forth right 13 year old daughter, who prefers his company to that of his ex-wife, so he clearly feels the impact of the death of a 17 year old personally, and drives the case forward at the point where others want to give up. It's impressive stuff, and I'm looking forward to next week's finale. I can't afford to miss it, as digital rights management issues around iPlayer prevent us from watching it here on catch-up.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Frigiliana's Patronal Weekend

We had the best possible reason for leaving the chaplaincy house early and taking ourselves out for the day. A preferred candidate for appointment as Chaplain was to come and see the house before making the final commitment. So, we drove up to nearby Frigiliana, with a view to having lunch at 'La Bodeguilla', where we ate and enjoyed excellent cooking a couple of times when we were last here, a year ago. 

The meal was a long slow lazy afternoon pleasure, punctuated by the odd sound of explosions from the hillside above and a single burst of fireworks from a finca below us on the hillside. These were, presumably part of technical rehearsals for the village patronal festival of San Antonio, about which our waitress informed us. The saint's day is Monday 13th, so why not have a fun fair and an open air concert and a disco or two, to liven up the early summer night air?

Frigiliana has lots of small shops with a variety of interesting craft works, pottery, linen, jewellery. There are also a variety of small to medium sized restaurants tucked away behind the streets, each with its own terrace and view across the verdant valley and enclosing mountains. Some of the older streets are very steep, and merciful not accessible to traffic apart from two wheelers. The winding narrow main thoroughfare still carries traffic. Vans and larger SUVs in particular make pedestrian passage difficult and on times risky. Nobody seems to want to park up and convey their goods or passengers over the last half mile by other means. Such a pity, because this is damaging for quality of life for locals as well as visitors. Why better equals bigger in the modern automotive design portfolio seems to go unquestioned, when it comes to environmental and social impact.

We browsed the shops before lunch, and again after lunch. I took but a few photos only. I already have hundreds of the streets to enjoy from previous visits.

Back in Nerja, fences in public spaces are being mounted with chip-board panels to take posters to host forthcoming municipal elections. It seems that each year we've been here in June there's some sort of election campaign going on. I wait with interest to see which round of elections are due to take place this time around. Back in Blighty, dialogue of the deaf over the EC referendum continues almost to the point of overshadowing the European Cup competition, which starts this weekend. My vote has been cast in the former. The latter fails to grab my interest, except to observe that somewhere or another rival football fans are fighting each other again.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Fruit from heaven

A cool night, but a slightly hotter day today, though still reasonably comfortable for walking into town for beer and tapas at the Biznaga bar restaurant on the Plaza El Salvador. As we arrived the sweet and gentle sounds of Latin Jazz pervaded the square. A soprano saxophonist, accompanied by an electric bassist and guitarist, and a latinoamericano percussionist were playing - just right, not too loud, perfect for a summer afternoon's delight. The group was surrounded by a circle of fifth or sixth grade school students and their teachers, evidently on an outing together. When the band stopped playing, not only did the kids applaud but gave an enthusiastic rendering of their team school or classroom cheer, complete with clapping hands and stamping feet. Sheer joy! And the musicians smiled with pleasure and applauded in return.

The Biznaga tapas menu never fails to delight, with its freshness and variety. Outside tables are usually crowded, so we sit inside where it's cool and quiet, to drink, eat and watch the comings and goings of the staff and clientele. Afterwards, Clare was on a mission to find a decent pair of cheap beach shoes, and after an hour of wandering from shop to shop, she was successful, and we could head for home and a siesta. Not that I had one, as Rachel rang on Viber, so we chatted for a good while instead.

Since we've arrived, several large lemons have fallen from next door's tree into our yard or on the outside path. These tend to burst, given their size, but if rescued quickly, they can be put to good use, cooked into jam. Three big fruit were enough to fill a pressure cooker, and by the end of the day we were blessed with a pound and a half of perfect lemon marmalade. Strange to say, there were no jars of jam here when we arrived, just pickles and chutneys, and providentially marmalade didn't even make the list of essential purchases. Now we have enough to see us through the next few weeks, better than any shop could deliver.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Adjusting lifestyle

We appreciated the fact that it's still considerably cooler here at night time, and enjoyed a good long sleep, followed by breakfast on the terrace, just as the sun appeared over the roof of a neighbouring house an hour after dawn. Judith picked us up and drove us to the Church Shop for the celebration of the midweek Eucharist. Six of us were present. After a cup of coffee at Rosie's bar next door, we went shopping for a pair of pyjamas, as that was one thing I'd forgotten to pack. So now I have an ensemble consisting of a lightweight blue sweatshirt and red knee length shorts. Not exactly my kind of slumberware, but they'll do.

After the service, I went to the car rental depot in town to pay for this month's hire. The chaplaincy car was a write off earlier in the year, when a third party drove into the side of it, giving the locum priest minor injuries, and upsetting the routine pastoral life. Thankfully, another retired priest was in the vicinity on holiday and was able to give support until normality was resumed. I now have to get used to driving a small Nissan town car, although my use of will be limited, since walking as much as possible is the fitness priority while we're here. There aren't so many convenient buses to take us about town, as in Cardiff, so time saving excuses are removed from our more relaxed schedule.

We were saddened to discover that 'Modus Vivendi' the pioneering organic food shop that had opened this time last year in the street near the bus station was about to close, as part of mutating into an organic veggie box delivery service. The idealism of the young entrepreneurs who started this venture is indeed admirable, but it seems that trying again is part of their philosophy, so we wish them luck. So, we had to visit a greengrocers and a fish shop in a nearby street to provision ourselves before the long walk home.

Clare had a swim before lunch, and after a siesta, we walked down to Burriana beach for her to have another swim in the sea, then a drink before the long hill climb back to Urbanzacion Almihara. The entrance road is closed at the moment as Nerja's water company has excavated trenches to change underground pipework. Cars are diverted from the housing estate through the empty ground used for the town's Mercdillo, Tuesdays and Sundays, and motorbike driving instruction and testing several afternoons a week.

For supper we are a favourite of ours, swordfish - it's called Pez espada here, not Emperador, as it is in Alicante province. When we're out shopping on foot, it's convenient to buy this frozen, so that it survives the heat. But we can get it fresh as well, if we're conveniently out with the car and a freezer bag. It's wonderful to have so much fresh fruit too - figs, plums, cherries in abundance at this time of year, peaches. The challenge is not to buy too much at a time, so that nothing goes off before we're ready to eat. Those natural processes seem to speed up in this congenial climate.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Returning to Nerja

Having packed Sunday, there were only a few final errands to perform today, not even a trip to the office. I woke up thinking about an image that has persisted with me since our visit to Durnstein, of the chapel in the churchyard, containing the collected bones of soldiers who perished at a battle in meadows near the village in 1805. In the porch of the chapel was a large crucifix, and behind the pierced right hand of Christ was a birds' nest haphazardly constructed of twigs. I wanted to write about it then, but decided to mull over it for a while. Today the impulse was there, so I set to work, as I had time to spare, and ended up with a poem, which I've posted here.

Going to bed early is never easy for us but I made it by eleven thirty, and we were up again by five. I cooked garlic mushrooms on toast, plus boiled eggs for Clare, to fortify us for the journey, and our taxi arrived at six. As we got to the end of Llanfair Road, I realised to my horrow that I'd left my Blackberry behind, so we had to double back and collect before proceeding to Custom House Street to pick up the twenty past six airport bus. We checked in early, the flight was on time and our cases were among the first off the baggage conveyer at Malaga airport. Ten minutes later we were greeted by Judith, parking in the short stay departure area, and soon on our way to Nerja. I worked out that this begins my twentieth week of locum duty here over the past five years.

We're both familiar with the house and the town, and that made settling in quite enjoyable. A walk to the Super Sol for food shopping after lunching on food left by the locum who departed early this morning. Then supper, then a twilight walk to see the crescent moon setting. I remember having fun taking photos of this when we were here three years ago, and this time didn't bother to take a camera out with me, preferring just to savour the moment, before turning in early, tired but happy to be here again.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Fond farewell

After this morning's Solemn Mass at St German's, I took part in the parish lunch at the hall next door. A delicious meal and a lovely occasion on which to take my leave of the congregation, where I have been helping out for the past nine months continuously. I have greatly enjoyed getting to know them and working with them to get through a time of uncertainty to the point of being ready to face the coming interregnum with confidence. A mix of clerics will be supporting them in future, as my ministry takes me elsewhere until December. I was very touched by their kind words of appreciation and generosity towards me, especially when I feel I have received so much. Just being able to lead worship and give pastoral support, without the management responsibilities and worries which fall to any incumbent cleric has been a lovely experience.

When I got home, I had a couple of hours with Owain before he left for Bristol, and then got my suitcase down from the top of the wardrobe and started packing clothes, and collecting the bits and pieces of equipment I'll need while I'm away. This time I won't take a Windows laptop, as both chaplaincies have equipment I can use. But I will take the Chromebook as this, with a smartphone, is what I now find I use most. As it's summer, it'll be easier to travel light in every respect. And, I'm now a day ahead of myself, for a change.

This evening we watched the third and final Kenneth Branagh interpretation of 'Wallander', the one which features the end of the detective's career as he struggles against early onset Alzhemer's in the face of a case that threatens his nearest and dearest. The storyline was somewhat abridged in comparison with the original Swedish version, whose portrayal of the impact of the disease on the man was, to my mind, more detailed and vivid. Branagh gave his all to the part, but the outcome disappointed.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Action shots

A visit to St Mary's Bute Street this morning to celebrate Mass for half a dozen people, my final interregnum duty there. Fr Dean Atkins is to be licensed as priest in charge there the day after we leave for Nerja. I met him on my way out afterwards, and was able to deliver my good wishes in person, having remembered him during the service. Fr Barry Thomas was in the congregation at Mass. He was the chaplain who preceded me in Monaco, and despite him settling in Llandaff diocese in the time since I retired, the only time we've met before was on one of my visits to North Wales with USPG thirty years ago, when he was an Archdeacon in the diocese of Bangor. He has done locum duty in the diocese in Europe since retirement, in Switzerland, where I worked. Funny how we tend to notice co-incidences in connections between people from disparate backgrounds, or similar backgrounds in utterly different situations. But, less evident are those coincident connections which don't materialise, even when mutual acquaintances feel certain they should.

In the afternoon, I took my DSLR for a walk down to Blackweir bridge, photographing groups of people playing baseball on the way, and then photographing youngsters jumping off the bridge into the Taff, to find out what my camera could do. Two middle aged men were sitting drinking beer from cans on a nearby bench and watching. They got up and began walking to the bridge arguing arguing animatedly. The next thing I knew, one of them stripped off his tee shirt, pushed through the group of kids thinking about their next exploit, and somersaulted down into the water. I was too far away to follow the exchange with the kids, but after a few minutes climbing out of the water, he was ready for another. This time he executed a half decent back somersault into the water, thereby claiming bragging rights over the bemused adolescents. The kids stayed in a gaggle on the bridge, few of them jumped again after this.

For the first time this year, I saw a cormorant on a rock in the river below the weir, spreading its wings in display and shaking itself, although I couldn't see another one anywhere around. I got some worthwhile pictures. The bird shots were best. Others at full length lens extension were not as good as I'd like. I played around with burst shots and obtained a few interesting sequences, but they weren't that sharp, and suffered slightly from motion blur. It was overcast, and bright sunlight on the scene might have improved matters a little. I'd like to try a repeat of this exercise with my new HX300, with triple the length of zoom and greater pixel density to work with. Its processing power is also greater, so a comparison of similar long range motion shots would be helpful, to know how best to optimse the camera set-up. For the most part I use cameras on auto, and maybe could do better if I worked out how best to adjust for specific and quite exacting conditions. As ever with me it's a matter of learning by doing.

Owain came over in the evening, and the three of us went out for a meal at Stefanos Restaurant in Wyndham Crescent. Clare heard that it's closing and up for sale, and wanted one last outing there. I had to rush home afterwards, not to miss the start of the second pair of episodes of the French crime drama on BBC Four 'La Disparucion'. This keenly observes an extended family thrown into crisis by a daughter going missing and each finding their own secrets exposed. So nice to have something in French and easy to follow.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Traffic woes

After a morning of preparing a sermon for Sunday, I took the bus into town and walked over to St German's for the wedding blessing. There was a long traffic queue on Cathedral Road. Vehicles were moving so slowly, I began to wonder if I'd left enough time for me trip. I could have walked past the next couple of bus stops in the time it took for the bus to travel. The reason? Not road works, but a scaffolding lorry double parked on a road with vehicles parked either side, creating a choke point for traffic in both directions on a busy afternoon. I don't think it had broken down. There was a side street no more than fifty metres from where the lorry had stopped, where it could have stopped if there was a load to deliver. 

It's not the first time this week it's happened on one of the city's main traffic arteries this week, so it poses the question whether anyone with responsibility for traffic, parking enforcement and planning is consulted beforehand about disruptions of this kind. They're not uncommon, as a great number of urban properties are now the target of investment by renovation. I know only too well how much work goes on to prepare for major events involving traffic disruption as the team works in the same office space as CBS. In our side street 3-4 parking spaces have been occupied by skips or dumps of builder's materials continuously for the past year or so. The parking demand just from residents, let alone workmen and visitors far exceeds supply. Cardiff benefits from all the enterprise but is harmed by anarchy tolerated, or regarded with indifference.

Hundred strong gathering for the wedding was mainly of local people who didn't have to get across town. It was an informal happy family affair, a thanksgiving for a couple that has stuck together for better for worse. A young family member sang an unaccompanied solo while the couple and their entourage gathered at the altar. Unfortunately their recording technology failed to work with the church's public address system, but just because it seemed to fit, I included in my brief address a solo rendering of Frank Sinatra's song 'All the way', and said why its message was relevant to this celebration. It's nice to have the confidence and freedom to do this in my old age, and know that I may be excused for eccentricity rather than deviance from conventional stereotypes.

After the blessing, I walked back to the office in town, and worked on updating Libre Office on three of the desktop machines. Each new version seems to get slightly quicker, and retaining that familiar consistent user interface is a boon. I have the highest regard for this international voluntary work of co-operation in creating excellent digital software. I also arranged Ian's June paycheck, as the details had just come in by email, to leave one less thing for Julie to do when she gets back after her holiday next week. Then I went home to cook supper, and watched the first episode of a new Danish crime series called 'Dicte - crime reporter, about a fearless often unscrupulous investigative reporter with an annoying knack of getting there ahead of the local police. As well as the main plot line there are also sub themes about women's issues, divorce, family estrangement, and it's set in Aarhus, for a change.

Pleased to see that Archbishop Barry and his predecessor Rowan Williams are among the religious leaders speaking up in defence of EU institutions as instruments of peace and social justice ahead of the referendum. But does anyone listen to religious leaders any more?

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Coronation day remembered - just

It was very pleasant to walk in the sunshine down to St John's Canton this morning to celebrate the Eucharist with nine regular attenders this morning. It was only after the service it occurred to me that today is the 63rd anniversary of the Queen's coronation. I was annoyed with myself for not remembering to mention this in the prayers during the service. I was eight at the time, listening on the radio, and some of our lessons at school explained what it was all about. We didn't have a telly to watch it on, but went to Ystrad Mynach cinema a few weeks later to watch a film of the ceremony. The music and imagery still evoke a defining moment of my childhood, that captured hearts and minds with the romantic notion that we were now new Elizabethans.

After lunch I was driven to Thornhill for a burial service in the Wenallt Chapel, the larger of the two, and the only one available for that time slot. It can hold four times the number that actually attended. By the time I'd processed in with the family the congregation had settled in the back five rows. As charmingly as I could, I appealed to them to bridge the gap and take seats just behind the family. To my surprise, every one moved forward without a hint of awkwardness. Talk about 'ask and it shall be given'.

The service included a warm tribute to the deceased woman from a nephew, including some of his childhood recollections. He spoke of the deceased as being a strong woman, holding her own in an extended family where men unusually outnumbered the women. A song was played as a slideshow of selected digital photos of the couple's sixty plus year life together was displayed on the screens that are now a feature of chapel furnishings. It was a fitting prelude to the prayers and act of commendation concluding the service. We had to drive to the grave as it was some distance away from the chapel in a new cemetery section. I think a few mourners got lost on the way there. 

The sun shone, and there was no wind, making it fairly easy to get the frail nonogenarian widower to the graveside for the committal in an unhurried way, supported with strength and gentleness by their two sons, one on each arm. Unselfconsciously, perhaps unaware he was speaking aloud, the old man made quiet appreciative, affectionate comments during the service and at the interment. It was most moving, and I felt privileged to be there and share this with the family.

On the return journey, my chauffeur dropped me off in the city centre, so I could visit the office and complete a couple of necessary tasks, as Julie is on leave this week. I was home for supper just in time for The Archers, an an evening of telly, viewed on my Nexus tablet, using one of a variety of different Android apps to cover the different channels that interest me. Increasingly I find this a more convenient thing to do, as it lets me move around the house and do other things meanwhile. 

Listening to the programme is generally more essential and convenient for following the story than constantly watching a screen in a corner. Like an enhanced form of radio. One time this doesn't work is when subtitle reading is essential to grasp the dialogue. The other time is when the noise of the kettle boiling drowns out the sound, even when wearing earphones!

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Surprise news

This morning I celebrated the midweek Mass at St German's. No school class was present this week as it's their half term holiday. Afterwards, I met with Annemarie and Marcus to take them through their paces for a service of blessing on their civil marriage which I prepared last night. They have been together ten years, growing a family, holding together through thick and thin, and feel they have a lot to thank God for. That'll be on Friday afternoon. I've heard from Judith in Nerja that I have another four wedding blessings to perform in the coming weeks. It remains to be seen if any of these couples will have their three children walking them to the altar!

This afternoon I had a phone call from the Europe diocesan office about possible locum duty next year in Malaga, vacant again surprisingly soon. That's quite an exciting prospect, which could mean spending a few months living in the heart of that busting sea-port city with a fantastic cultural life. I relish the thought of being there for Lent and for Semana Santa, after the wonderful experience of visiting there from Fuengirola in 2014. Malaga chaplaincy is the oldest in Spain, with its English cemetery dating back to 1831. There's a lot of fascinating history to look forward to discovering there about the past two centuries of expatriate life in Southern Spain.  

Later in the day, I went into the office for a couple of hours to meet Ashley and sort out some documentation for him to work on. There's still a lot of tidying up to be done after the great switch-over, but I won't be able to do much more before leaving for Nerja. The clock seems to have speeded up lately. On the way home, on the 61 bus, I was taken by the sight of a young couple with their two daughters, both under five getting on the bus. The elder of the children was carefully carrying a small plastic tank with a handle, filled with water and containing several goldfish. She sat tightly next to her dad, who was also coping with the younger more fidgety child on his knee. I could see smiles on the faces of other passengers too. A lovely moment.