Friday, 30 September 2016

Unrestful days

A few precious days at home to savour, though not without a visit to the CBS office late yesterday, as this is a time of year when our business taxes are due. Getting the details correct is vital, and for me nerve wracking, as any error will only make hassles for others to sort out later.

Already today I am packing and re-organising my luggage to make sure I have everything I need. On my next trip I will need to take my own PC, as a printer is supplied there but not a computer. I'd rather use my own, as long as I don't have printer problems as a result. If only I could just take my Chromebook I'd be fine, but getting documents printed out from a Chromebook is an uncertain process, whatever is claimed by Google. Just take a Windows PC, no matter how much extra maintenance they demand, and at least getting a (fairly modern) printer attached is less of a problem. 

Given the uncertainties about printing, today I have completed and printed off a Harvest Sunday sermon text - blind - given that I have no idea of the kind of audience or context I'll face. At least I have a start point to work from. Also among my tasks to get done while home was making a CD of all files relating to St John's City Parish Church guidebook, produced under my editorial hand in 2009. Sarah the current Vicar wants to do another print run, or ideally a route to producing a revised edition. 

Thankfully, I have an archive of all the material, editable or finalised pages, relating to the production version, 180mb of 'stuff', which I'm now able to pass on to her and her team to work on. It wasn't hard to find the relevant file folder, as I'd left it in a place where it couldn't easily get wiped.

Despite much hunting around town, I was unable to find a new battery for my Blackberry Q10. How soon this basic commodity passes from being a regular item to a specilialized variety to be hunted for on the internet. Upgrading to a new phone could be less hassle, regardless that the phone I use is more than fit for purpose; i.e. it suits me and my work pattern just fine. But all the time we are being pressured to adopt new devices we neither need or want, in ordeer to keep the system going. Surely, there is something wrong here?

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Tredegar House visited

Last night I went to bed early and slept a full nine hours, and woke up at first light. No lie-in for me as, at Clare's insistence, I needed to visit the GP surgery early to secure an appointment for today, rather than wait for one tomorrow booked weeks ago. The reaction I had to that wasp sting extended beyond a swollen hand to a body rash, uncomfortable and sometimes painful. I was fairly sure it was an allergic reaction to the sting, but she wanted to be sure it wasn't something worse.

Ashley texted to tell me about the double murder of a young couple on their way to work in Queen Street at six this morning. While I was waiting for my appointment in the surgery, I overheard someone saying that the culprit might have been a homeless person. I was thankful that the police very early on announced an arrest and went out of their way to state publicly, and with firmness that this was not a homeless person and not an act of terror or a random killing. 

Apparently, there's been a recent upsurge of new homeless people and new beggars on city centre streets. Despite the valiant efforts made by the city's social work homelessness team, and legions of volunteers, the problem persists. The willingness of gossips to suspect the worst of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people around reflects the fear, suspicion and resentment attached to their persistent presence. It's a shameful reflection on prevalent uncaring social attitudes. 

By half past ten, I was telling my story to the doctor, who confirmed that it was nothing worse than I'd expected, and prescribed me some anti-histamine tablets to help send the slowly diminishing rash on its way a little quicker. She also concluded my current hypertension review, scheduled for tomorrow and gave me this year's anti 'flu jab, all in fifteen minutes, which means I don't need to return for tomorrow's appointment. I then bought some croissants and a pain au raisin at the Co-op store nearby, and headed back home for Clare's birthday breakfast.

Later, we drove to Newport to visit its National Trust masterpiece, Tredegar House. We spent several hours exploring the remarkable stately home, once the house of Welsh landed gentry, the Morgan family. It buildings date from the late fifteenth to eighteenth century, and it's surrounded by beautiful gardens and well kept estate lands. Being landowners, the Morgans became wealthy during the industrial era because all goods transported through their properties were subject to charges, but times changed and family fortunes declined. Before being bought by Newport Council and handed to the National Trust for conservation and management, it had a spell as a Convent secondary school, as the family had become Catholic in the nineteenth century.

It was a damp overcast day, during which it never quite rained properly. There were far more visitors for such a dull weekday than we'd expected. The car park was full, although some of the occupants may well have been commuters leaving their cars conveniently within walking distance of their work places in a nearby business park. Those with a National Trust car sticker don't have to Pay 'n Display like the rest, fortunately. We had very pleasant lunch in the restaurant created in the old estate brew house, in between looking at the house and wandering around the gardens. Work was just beginning on erecting scaffolding around the main house for work on renewing the roof which leaks badly. Some of the rooms had token displays only, rather than being entirely closed, and the guides freely talked about the project to make the place fully watertight again, and looking forward to re-opening after winter closure for the work to be completed.

Clare first visited Tredegar House for the National Eisteddfod a decade or so ago. My first visit was for a Visit Wales tourism promotional event, not long after starting at St John's about thirteen years ago. I was surprised at how much about the property and its lands I had forgotten, or not taken in at the time. It's one of those places I'm sure we'll be visiting again once the roof is fixed and all is back to normal. Having had this outing and lunch, Clare didn't want to go out for a birthday supper, so I cooked supper instead, and followed it up by giving her a long relaxing foot massage to finish the day.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Homeward bound

Monday was devoted to cleaning the apartment and packing, but I did manage my usual evening paseo before supper, then going to bed by nine. This was the only way to take the edge off a four thirty start from Rincon by taxi to get to the airport check-in by five. I didn't sleep well, and in the end, got up just after three, and pottered about until it was time to leave. At four exactly. Rosella gave me an alarm call - just in case. She'd been up watching the Clinton-Trump debate on TV. The  taxista she engaged to collect me was punctual, and amazingly cheerful for such an early hour. We chatted in Spanish throughout the twenty five minute ride, and I felt immensely pleased with myself for being able to function at all at this hour of the morning, and make myself understood, without possibility of falling back into English.

He dropped me off outside the main entrance. The Vueling check-in had just opened, and already a hundred or so people were queuing in one long straggly line impeding the travellers hunting for their respective desk. Within minutes, the cordoning system for compressing a queue into smaller area had been opened and was full to capacity. By that time, the queue was starting to move surprisingly fast. No fewer than seven Vueling desks were now open, and availability displayed on a screen which issued a distinctive odd sound every time a new desk number was called. It's the system I'd seen in use at Barcelona El Prat, when checking in for my return journey back at the end of July. Impressive.

A ten minute wait, twenty seconds dropping off my case, then the walk to the security clearance zone, hardly any waiting, despite scores of people being processed. Within twenty five minutes of being dropped off, I was in the departure shopping area, with an hour to wait before boarding. With hardly any shops open to browse in should I be so inclined, which I'm not. I preferred a leisurely stroll to the gate area where I was pretty certain our flight was docked. By the time I reached passport checkout, the gate had been confirmed, then there was only half an hour to wait before boarding, and enough time to sit and eat the picnic breakfast I brought with me.

We were bussed out to the aircraft. Passengers in the narrower seats at the rear were boarded first, but there were delays boarding the front group, perhaps because we were out on the tarmac, not docked. So we were twenty minutes late setting out. Despite the discomfort, I'd already dozed off before we started taxiing, and dozed for much of the flight. When the sun rose, just after eight, the terrain was obscured by intermittent cloud which grew thicker as we flew north. Only as we flew below a hundred metres into Rhoose from the West did land become visible again, so there wasn't much to stay awake for.

The benefit of such an early flight was arriving home just after ten, and having the whole day ahead of me to read mail, update computers, unpack, and catch up with Clare. In the afternoon I accompanied her to an appointment with her eye consultant at the UHW  Opthalmology department for an expert briefing before her next operation, three days after I return to Spain for my next tour of duty. It's unfortunate that we knew nothing of this prospect when my arrangements were made. Thankfully Owain is able to come over and support her

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Singing in Velez and a reflection on the BCP

It was my last assignment of this tour of duty this morning, so I was out of the house and on my way by nine thirty for a celebration of the Eucharist at Velez Malaga, with a congregation of two dozen. I didn't have trouble with the route to my destination this time, although I did have to drive three times around the one way system in the side streets before I found a parking spot reasonably near. Some find it easier to use a parking area on the opposite side of the main dual carriageway into the town centre, and if you've come from the other side of the centre, this probably makes better sense anyway.

Rebecca and Jean were there, fresh from their pilgrimage, wearing their souvenir Camino de San Juan de Compostela teeshirts, showing specially stamped documents certifying completion of their 125km walk. And they had stories to tell. They looked calm and contented, pleased not to have sore feet at the end of their eight days of walking.

The congregation sang several rousing hymns with enthusiasm, even breaking into harmony several times. The last one 'To God be the Glory' was enjoyed so much there was applause when it was over. Then an impromptu verse of 'Thine be the Glory' was sung for a reprise. So relaxed and natural, it was a real delight to share, a nice memory to take away with me.

This was followed by coffee, a beer and a chat with several church members in the neighbouring bar. One Brit, who'd lived in Germany as well as Spain was lamenting the Brexit vote, as a rejection of all that's been worked for since the end of World War II, also the withdrawal of the franchise from non-resident passport holders with no UK address over the past fifteen years - hundreds of thousands of citizens whose votes could have made a difference to the referendum outcome.

We discussed the Book of Common Prayer a subject of affectionate regard for many brought up on it, even if they concede the need for more contemporary language, and accept this is nowadays the norm. When working with seminarians, I made a point of explaining why it is such a seminal social, cultural and spiritual document, to be taken seriously by all, whether or not they ever use it.

It's a text for a society with Christian roots, respecting the need for a stable orderly framework for hearing scripture systematically and celebrating the sacraments of the universal church. It describes what's most needed for spiritual development. Its theology is a hybrid of traditional and reformed teaching not to everyone's liking, but its life gives witness to an understanding that interpretation of scripture and debate about the meaning of the sacraments isn't closed.

Elizabeth I imposed the use of the BCP by law. Not a good idea, by our standards, but its use survived political upheavals and remained accepted by the majority of British citizens by Act of Parliament. In practice it was adapted and tinkered with, according to local custom and interpretation, but continued nevertheless to be used. Given its political origins as an accepted core text, its survival, and popular affection, is unique.

New insight into the BCP has emerged for me from being with the Malaga Chaplaincy, reading about its origins. The English Cemetery in Malaga was the fruit of decades of diplomatic activity by British Consul William Mark (1824-36). He wasn't ordained, but as a Crown official, took authority to read the Burial Office over protestant citizens who died hereabouts. His pastoral concern for the dead and bereaved led him to a campaign to acquire rights to burial land for non-catholics. He succeeded in 1831. Only in 1846 did the newly appointed first Bishop of Gibraltar come to Malaga to consecrate the cemetery. During that fifteen years, Mark read Sunday Matins and Evensong with Homily for a congregation at the Consulate. No Chaplain was appointed until 1850.

For a quarter of a century Anglican pastoral life here relied entirely on lay ministry, not authorised by the Church Established, but by the Crown and by means of the BCP, with which British citizens could identify, around which they would gather. It's the vehicle of Anglican compromise that matters here more than translatable content. As Anglicans, we seek a form of service to identify with, even if it call for an effort. No matter who bothers to offer a service to start with. Is it recognisable, part of our experience? This makes Prayer Book liturgy, in all its incarnations and translations, a church gathering resource, with or without a minister in charge. All that's needed is someone with pastoral heart and sense of mission to get things started, willing to do what the BCP and its modern interpretations allow.

Having started the train of thought expressed here, I returned to Rincon. Perhaps due to the weekend fiesta, streets and car parks were unusually full for a Sunday. I was relieved to find the last free space in my usual parking area.

Tuna steaks for lunch today, cooked with black olives, cherry tomatoes, loads of garlic and lemon. A small treat to mark my final Sunday duty. Now I have to set my mind to cleaning and tidying up, and packing my bags. I have a 4.30am start on Tuesday morning. Best to be well prepared a day ahead for such an early lift off.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Rincon relaxes

A quiet domestic sort of day today, not venturing far until early evening, when I went out for my daily paseo along the promenade. It was much busier than expected. On the beach outside the Tourist Office, a fiesta stage had been erected, and a band was setting up and doing sound tests. Backing to the Tourist Office opposite, another temporary structure house three comidas with bar, selling local specialities. Banners announced this event as the Fiesta de Boqueron Victoriana. 

It's a celebration of the anchovies harvested offshore around here and served in every eating place, cooked according to local recipes. The eponymous Boqueron Victoriana, I found when served in a restaurant menu, was crisply fried fish in a light breadcrumb coating. My preference is for boquereones pickled in and vinegar rather than cooked. The salted variety are OK as a garnish on a pizza occasionally, but are otherwise rather strong tasting.

I walked around for a while and took some photographs, before returning to the apartment. There were fireworks some time after midnight - I didn't check when, as I was in bed by then - and soon after the distant thump of amplified music gave way to silence.

The bulk of summer tourists have now departed, though not entirely, as the local surface car parks are as full as ever. I imagine this fiesta is more oriented towards local inhabitants than extranjeros. Some chirungitos on the beach have already closed and packed their tables away as demand dips. It was a pleasure to see many young families out with their children, gathering for the fiesta, socialising with friends over a beer on a warm evening. Maybe, after months of incessant hard work, this is a welcome time to relax and take a break, and enjoy being part of the host community. 

Friday, 23 September 2016

Malaga on foot III

I took the bus to Malaga today, fully intent on taking a ride on the Cercania 2 metro line, to Alora, up the Guadalhorce valley past Cartama.  As I waited at the nearest stop, first a MAPFRE branded maintenance van parked on the zig zag yellow lined exclusion zone for all but buses. No sooner than this went away an armoured cash in transit van occupied the same space, and two security personnel took several bags of money, into the Santander premises twenty metres away. It remained until five minutes after the bus arrived.

The bus had to park at an angle in the remainder of the space, and this was fine for the two dozen passengers getting on, except one. A woman with crutches and a small mobility scooter, of a size that could be taken on the bus if it had not been parked away from the kerb. The driver was patient and understanding. She honked the horn and only after several minutes more did the cash men emerge and depart, so that the bus could reposition itself for the lady to get on. Nobody on board seemed bothered by the delay. Kindness prevails thankfully.

Incidents like this can be an everyday occurrence wherever wheel chairs and mobility scooters are used. Urban bus stops are planned with access for disabled people in mind. It simply isn't fair that gun toting civilians with bags of cash, in armoured vans are not required to think twice before obstructing a stop. There is no reason why everyday secure route planning for deliveries shouldn't take this into account, rather than disrupt other people's travel, and make it difficult for a disabled traveller to be accommodated without causing needless embarrassment. No cash truck should ever be allowed to presume the privileges that all would naturally accord to an emergency services vehicle. But money influences how everyone behaves one way or another.

I went from the last bus stop in town to Maria Zambrano station, checked the Cercania timetable and realised I had forty minutes to wait. I walked over to the Larios shopping centre. It's huge and on three storeys with every posh designer brand imaginable selling their wares. I saw a demonstrator at a stall carefully flying a toy sized drone quadrocopter, making an effort to do so safely at a junction of the thoroughfare. Concentration immobilised her face in a stare. Her movements, such as they were, made her look robotic, drained of natural liveliness. Why are we doing these things to ourselves? I wondered.

The shopping centre is so big that I became disoriented and exited on the opposite side of the building. Then I had lost sight of the railway station, and by the time I had discovered where I was, there was not enough time to catch the train. Ah well, another couple of hours on foot in Malaga finding new places would do instead.

I walked back to the old town's Atarazanas market, busy with stall holders and others chatting animatedly, eating and drinking after the majority had ceased trading for the day. A marvellous buzz of conviviality around the bars and eateries open. I settled for a tuna and tomato empanadilla from a stall I've bought from before. Delicious.

From there, I wove me way through a collection of narrow streets with shops at the base of five storey buildings in a rich mix of decorative styles. I discovered a Parish Church dedicated to St John Baptist dating from the 1487 reconquista of Malaga, but rebuilt after the 17th century earthquake. It has a tall brick tower, and it's such a surprise to round a street corner and see a few hundred yards away down a winding narrow street this tall edifice illuminated by the afternoon sun.

A curious feature of this church is to be seen on the west wall of the church adjacent to the porch. Five differently coloured hemispheres, each about the size of a cannon ball arranged in a cruciform pattern. No single explanation for this has gained currency, but the symbol is found in Aztec and in far Eastern cultures. There's an interesting article about it here.

A few blocks away, I found another large brick built church in a narrow street. A walk around the block revealed this to be part of a large school complex behind the shops and apartments, a religious community foundation no doubt at least once upon a time, but how old it's hard to tell. Neither church was open during siesta. The Cathedral can be visited 10.00 till 20.00 (€5.00) and a nearby church is open for perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Others open for morning and evening Masses for the most part. A really good church crawl would rely on being out and about early or late, rather than during the day. Maybe another time.

Another good city walkabout, then back on the bus to Rincon by five, to purchase some frozen fish to see me through the weekend and my last few evening meals before heading back home to Cardiff.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Another St Matthew's day remembered

This morning, drove into Malaga to celebrate the midweek Eucharist in honour of St Matthew the Apostle, thankful that the traffic was light. I opened the church and got everything ready, welcomed a couple of Spanish visitors as best I could in Spanish, and then waited for a congregation to arrive. just as I was due to start, Rosella came and saved me from disappointment, bless her.

This day is the 46th anniversary of the first time I presided at a celebration of the Eucharist at the Parish Communion in St Andrew's Penyrheol Caerphilly, where I served my first curacy. It's hard to recall that first occasion well. I think my father came along, not sure about my mother. Neither of them were really well at the time and within a couple of years, both would be dead. It was a normal parochial service, rather than a solemn celebration with all attention on cheering on a new priest. That was what I wanted, simply to take my place in the ranks of those who serve God's people as priests to their communities.

For me, beginning priestly ministry at a Parish Eucharist was 'special' enough as an expression of priesthood. Being given the trust of people, inside and outside the church, to help them find a voice for themselves in God's presence, in an era when others were  rejecting the church and distrusting its ministers, was a humbling privilege and responsibility. It still is. The older I get, the more I appreciate the privilege granted, in a world where the faith I represent occupies such an uncertain place in the guidance of humankind.

I went for another two hour walk this afternoon, eastwards this time, to Playa del Rubio, the far side of Benagalbón from Rincon. Conservation measures are in place on this stretch of beach to protect the unique plant life that grows at the point where the sand gives way to the footpath. Some sections are fenced off, and contain indigenous flowers and grasses. 

Notably along this beach, I saw half a dozen swallows and heard a flock of starlings whistling and chattering in a large tree. There are houses with gardens all along this stretch. More greenery means more insects for food, and additional bird species. I've seen fewer swallows and starlings in Rincon, as it's more built up along the shoreline the habitats are less varied. Gulls, sparrows, pigeons and parakeets, are the most frequently visible species, plus the pair of blackbirds in the garden below, this apartment.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Getting there

Today is the anniversary of my ordination to the Diaconate forty seven years ago. It remains for me a key day in my life, receiving authority from the Church to proclaim God's Word and preach the Gospel. I'm still at it, and still look forward to the challenge scripture presents each week, to relate what's said in the readings to what's happening around us in the world. For me it's still a pleasure and privilege for which I am most grateful to God, and to the Church for putting up with me for so long.

The weather was warm, but pleasant enough for walking, so as well as going out to get some batteries, I walked the main street and the promenade before lunch. Again, after siesta, I went out for a much longer walk along the coast path, the full length of La Cala del Moral, and on to La Araña, the next and much smaller bay hosting the cement works. That's roughly half the distance to Málaga.

The N340a main road runs through La Cala del Moral about 200 metres inland. There are houses, some with gardens, down to the beach promenade, which runs roughly where the old railway line used to be. It's a good hundred metres from the promenade to the shore, and close to the promenade are some grassy areas palm trees and an asortment of beach restaurants. It's less built up and more spacious than Rincon, and that's more congenial.

La Araña, the next cove is such a contrast. Here the four lane highway cuts the heart of the original coastal village, from top to bottom. There are houses right on the beach, then the rest of the village is across this busy noisy road. The entire place is dominated by the cement factory, looming in the background. It's now owned and worked by a Chinese company. The village looks tired and drab, perhaps because of pollution from traffic and from the cement works. There were just a few people on the beach, but now it's no longer peak holiday season, and thee are more congenial places nearby for recreation. It felt like rather a sad place ruined by industry and not benefiting from it.

I'd been walking for nearly two hours by the time I got back, and really felt the benefit of a longer walk than usual - in all, eight kilometres.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Sunrise at the beach

Having woken at first light, I was too restless to doze for another hour, so I went out and walked eastwards along the beach towards Benalgobion. The sky was rich with red orange and yellow clouds,  precursor to an overcast day, but most spectacular as it changed.

The beach is oriented east southeast, so the sun emerging on the horizon at eight wasn't visible, but to be glimpsed through trees half an hour later. Already there were scores of walkers and joggers out enjoying the cool still fresh morning air.

Sand on the foreshore, up as far as the parasols and sun loungers, had been flattened by a plough similar to those used for making snow pistes. I guess it's a good way of trawling for rubbish, especially broken glass and cans, as well as giving a fresh impression to holidaymakers, although numbers are now starting to dwindle as high season finishes.

Offshore, half a dozen small fishing boats were out, either laying their pots or casting their nets or hauling them in. It was hard to tell in low light a hundred metres away. It was still too early for gulls and pigeons to be active when I set out, but on my way back, the starlings, sparrows, blackbirds and even noisy flocks of parakeets were on the move. There wee few signs of life in the restaurants or shops too. Most tend to open after nine, except the panaderos.

It was a delightful way to start the day.

After breakfast I looked at the photos taken earlier and edited them ready for upload when I next go to St George's, but not today. I have often started thinking about next Sunday's sermon on a Monday, and the discovery of a Common Worship app called Sunday Worship, which delivers just next Sunday's Anglican readings and collects is proving to be an asset, as you don't have to mess around with lectionaries, the necessary text is right there for you to ponder on. So, yet again this week, I'd made an early first draft before lunch.

The preliminary to this was searching for a stand alone Chromebook app which would enable me to do word processing and save files in a useable format without ever needing to be on line. Google Docs apps work well, albeit in a rather convoluted way with different file formats, offline as well as online, with the rigmarole of syncing between the two governed always by connection speed and reliability. But often I want to write and save a text to a flash drive not to the device or the web. This process is not straightforward enough, and I have lost material accidentally in doing so. An app that sits on the device and does offline only what you ask of it is desirable. But how to find the right one?

I wasted an hour trying apps called Writer and Ain't with no satisfaction and in the end resorted to performing the simple task of sermon writing on the office Windows 7 laptop. It's got a nag to update to Windows 10, but now it's too late. The connection speed is too low even to enable it to do Toshiba system updates, apart from pop up reminders. 'Everybody ought to have fast enough internet to run our software' is hardly a realistic design requirement. Consequently, there's a gulf between marketing expectation and mundane reality. Such foolishness.

I wondered what using just my beloved Chromebook for a month might be like, aware there might be risks of poor connectivity. Now I wish I'd brought the spare MS Surface RT along as well. Despite its many software limits, this works better offline. Even better would be a small portable with Linux Mint installed. That would cover my travel needs for offline work. Maybe I can find a second hand machine for a reasonable price, and convert it for another tour of duty.

Lunch, siesta, evening walk under an overcast sky, quite cool really. A surfing class going on down the end of the beach near Nuestra Señora del Carmen. Children youngsters and adults all wearing Malaga Bahia matching sweatshirts, out jogging, dozens of them, spread out over a kilometer of the paseo maritimo, with men on bikes at either end of the group shepherding them. Old people chatting with friends, strolling at a leisurely pace or sitting together in bars or on benches. Fewer visitors now, more space for locals to socialise, and enjoy the coming of autumn.

I have taken an old pair of dark blue 'cargo' shorts acquired a few years ago in Vinaros and now looking very tired, and soaked them in bleach overnight. The result is a rather interesting shade of red. Certainly a revival of fortunes for them. It's better than throwing them away. They are taking a long time to dry in this weather. I look forward to wearing them in their new guise.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Sunday morning and a rude awakening

I slept quite well despite waking several times with discomfort from my swollen finger. After my usual breakfast at eight thirty my heart rate and blood pressure, which I've been monitoring for my GP back home, shot up, plus my nose began to stream profusely. A kind of shock reaction? Unusual for me, so I rang church warden Rosella to tell her what was happening, then headed down the main street to the Urgencias (A&E) of the local medical centre.

The duty receptionist took my details from my EHIC card, and then took me to see a nurse to explain by problem, and then to a doctor. It was quite a challenge this time explaining in Spanish, but both has a little English for cross checking purposes. I was given a shot of cortizone to tackle the swelling, or whatever, and then they proposed to remove the ring. My knuckle was far too swollen for the traditional ring removal technique, using a strong piece of thread wounds around the finger and the ring. Glad they tried however, as now I know how it's do-able. They cut off the ring with an ingenious purpose made device, and it was such a relief!

Within minutes after profuse expressions of gratitude on my part, I was on my way, then shortly after, was picked up by Rosella and taken to St George's, with enough time to prepare for worship. My vital signs seemed to have normalised, and I found I had my usual level of energy and enthusiasm for worship, except for the runny nose, which persisted for another four hours. I still have no idea what caused that reaction. But, to have survived without disrupting everyone else's Sunday was everything to me.

Doreen popped in after the service with her son, in between other errands, and we had a brief chat. Thee was time for me to upload Fridays batch of photos before Rosella drove me home.

My ring finger doesn't hurt, although It's still swollen. It feels as if I am still wearing a ring. A phantom sensation? The broken ring is in my wallet to await repair, where I would have put it in the first place, had I known how long it would take for the impact of the sting to reveal itself.

Ah well, we live and learn. Unless we die of ignorance first.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Down time

I woke up in the middle of this night in discomfort. My hand had belatedly swollen, and because of my foolish impatient move, the ring is now painfully trapped on my third finger. I tried ice cubes in water, in the morning to reduce the inflammation, but with no success. After lunch I visited a nearby Farmacia and bought some cortizone cream, which reduces the irritation but not the swelling so far. I was pleased to have been able to speak correctly and clearly to the Pharmacist to explain what I wanted, and made myself understood without hesitation. One small morale booster! He told me the cream is not effective if you go out in direct sunlight, so I'm obliged to stay indoors and languish all day.

I've been going around the house with my arm in the air, as much as I can this past few hours to relieve the discomfort a little. I want to avoid having the ring cut off if possible. I still have circulation, thankfully. This could take days to sort itself out. Serves me right.

Tomorrow's sermon is written. I have yesterday's photos to look at, and I can work on them one handed, but yesterday's journey left me wanting to doze off much of the time. I'm not very patient with myself, and make a bad patient at the best of time, but somehow the day slips by, without me getting around to that siesta I thought I wanted.


Friday, 16 September 2016

Journey into the Andalusian interior

I arranged to visit Doreen, the Chaplaincy Curate this morning, and take a tour of the area she's lived in for the past thirteen years, just two o them, since she was ordained. We arranged to meet at the village of Salinas. Google maps confidently showed me this was just to the north of the conurbation of Málaga quite close to the autovia in the commuter town of Puerto de la Torre. I was under the impression that my destination was much further away, and set out harbouring an uncertain feeling. I arrived in good time, but could find no signage to Salinas anywhere. Mystified, I phoned Doreen who confirmed my worst fear. She didn't even know where I was!

Salinas is a common enough place name, referring to the salt industry that's part of its history. Our rendezvous has Salinas Granada as an address although it's actually in Málaga province. The village is in an area where Granada Cordoba and Malaga provincial boundaries intersect. It's like Mulhouse outside Basel, where France, Germany and Switzerland have shared borders, and an airport. It's known as the 'Dreieck' - the three corners. This meant I had another three quarters of an hour's drive, once I had Doreen's instructions.

Fortunately, I was only five minutes drive away from the junction for the Granada autovia. The correct Salinas was easy to find and I arrived but an hour late. We had a coffee and a village bar and then went to see the Ermita, where Anglican services are held. It can accommodate fifty people, and there's an adjacent suite of rooms for social use. This one is I believe dedicated to San Isidro Laborador, patron saint of landless peasants.

It's an early 20th century building in traditional style. It has a suite of church rooms attached to the chapel's south side, originally this housed the first village school, but now, social events. It's the same pattern as many mission churches built in South Wales in the early years of the coal mining boom, to meet the pastoral needs of families migrating to the valleys from rural areas. A useful sort of building to have in a newly developing area.

From another village several kilometres away Doreen drove us and talked about people and villages, the locals and the expat settlers she knew. We did a big circuit of half the Embalse de Iznagar a 35km flooded valley providing both water and hydroelectric power. But four years of drought have dropped the water level by 50-60 metres, exposing a barren shore line, drowned farmhouses and even a handsome brick built road bridge down in the valley below the modern one. There's a huge shallow sloping area of exposed land called 'La Playa', and treated as a beach when waters are low. It's great birdwatching terrain, although in the heat of the day there was little to see and snap.

The hill town of Iznagar with its prominent church and castillo is perched impressively on a high promontory overlooking both halves of the lake. Apparently many Brits have settled there. We went to the hamlet of La Parilla where Doreen lives and had a beer and tapas lunch on a table in the narrow street. Doreen comes here often at lunchtime and meets her neighbours and friends as they pass by.

We visited the local Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Socorro, which last week celebrated its 300th anniversary. The local kids are now bussed out to their classes, but the church has an annexe once used as a school and a couple of back rooms kitted out with beds. For travellers? 'Hospedia' over the door suggests a lodging place provided by the faithful for visitors, maybe itinerant labourers. The hamlet is too small to have its own inn. Impressive to see this remnant of another age, in this once poor region, I suspect, not so long ago.

This is solidly an olive growing region. Andalusia is one of the world's major olive oil producers. There was evidence of many new trees being planted. Spain is benefiting from the drop in production due to war in the Middle East and a nasty olive tree plague hitting Italian and Greek crops. Spain is said now to export to other olive oil producers who then re-badge and sell on as their own produce, provided it is stored in the host country for long enough. Thus a measure of unexpected new prosperity comes to a region that has previously lagged behind more industrialised places.

While stopping for refreshments we saw a spotted flycatcher, and a long tailed tit. Also a spotless starling. At one point we get a great view of a honey buzzard patrolling the thermals above us on the mountainside. But that was all. No hoopoes or bee eaters, or kites or other more exotic locals like the blue rock thrush and azure magpie, but never mind, we has a great day of conversation, which was most enjoyable.

The only misfortune was a wasp sting on my ring finger. I took off the ring and sucked out the venom, then transferred ring to the little finger of the other hand. I found this most uncomfortable and eventually transferred it back, as my finger hadn't swollen.

When I returned there were three documents to send out for the BCRP board meeting for reading before Monday. This normally give minute task took five hours or trial and error due to network congestion. A pretty rotten way to end an amazing beautiful day discovering inland Spain.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Old road to Velez

I drove into town this morning, somewhat nervously, as I was uncertain about the last part of the route to St George's Cemetery, and the thought of this made me nervous about getting into heavy traffic and losing my way. I was fortunate as traffic was light, and I had no trouble finding the street along which to travel for the last few kilometres of the journey. Much easier than anticipated! 

I arrived an hour ahead of time, and that gave me plenty of time to take advantage of the office internet connection, and even deal with work issues before the Holy Cross Day Eucharist. There were three of us for the service, although a few visitors wandered in as we were starting. Did they understand what was happening? I couldn't help wondering.

The parking area around the SuperSol in Rincon was busy with an outdoor mercadillo all morning. So, anticipating parking problems, I decided to explore the coast road, the old road to Velez Malaga, before returning to the apartment, and give time to those leaving the market to get away with ease. 

I drove through Benalgabon and Benajarafe as far as ValleNiza. This was the point I'd reached from the other direction when I drove down beyond Velez from Nerja a while back. So now I can say that I've followed the old coast road in stages from Nerja to Malaga.

On the N340a outside Niza is a fine old fortified mansion which has been modernised, to accommodate a restaurant and a hotel school - the Castillo del Marques. Sadly, the building gave the impression that it had closed down earlier this year, although there was no information to state what was happening.

By the time I got back to Rincon. stallholders were leaving and I had no problem parking.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Viento y lluvia

I was once told that before Franco rebranded the Andalusia holiday beaches as the Costa del Sol, this maritime region was known as the Costa del viento, the windy coast. Today was such a day, with a 24kph wind coming in from the sea, driving big banks of cloud inland. Doors and windows rattled throughout the building, but the through breeze was refreshing.

I had some shopping to do, first thing, but then settled down, wrote a draft of my next Sunday sermon, and then tackled some office work. It was around four when I went to the beach. It was all but deserted, also the outdoor restaurants. The playa guardia platforms were flying red flags, and a couple of them patrolled the water's edge to dissuade the young and foolhardy from playing among the huge breaking waves. There were a few crazy folk swimming off shore facing off the breakers, plus a couple of windsurfers off Benagalbón playa. They were going at breakneck speed, where they were beyond reproach or rescue from the playa guardia.

The sand on these beaches is very fine, and blows up into a dust cloud, while the coarser grains whip one's ankles mercilessly. To avoid both saharan plagues, I went down to the shore line, to that point where the biggest waves have made the sand wet and firm so that it doesn't fly. There's sea spray but that's infinitely more preferable than dust.

There were small groups of pigeons grounded along the shoreline, their heads pointing into the wind, their tenure no doubt aided by their natural streamlining. They seemed un-bothered by the buffeting. It was an exhilarating paseo for a change. Just after I reached the apartment it began to rain fitfully bringing a new thread of sound into the apartment soundscape, as raindrops hit aluminium roofing over back yards in the street of houses below. And there's a little more birdsong than is usual around here at this time of year. I spotted two blackbirds on a neighbouring lawn, out enjoying the rain, foraging. 

At home, so much rain makes me shun the outdoors. I hate getting wet. Here, it's refreshing and drying off is rarely much trouble, except when its very humid.

The rain stopped an hour before sunset and the cloud began to clear, and this made for a spectacular sunset sky, full of oranges and yellow tinges to cloudy shades of grey. What a treat for onlookers. I saw people in the street taking photos with their phones, but not me, for once.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Malaga on foot II

I took the bus into Málaga at the end of the morning to visit the church and use the fast broadband to upload photos of last Thursday's fiesta, and rummage through some online files to retrieve old information to work on. The cenetery fates were locked and the gatehouse closed, as the place is not open to visitors on Mondays, but I had the chaplain's keys and could let myself into the cemetery and the church, to work undisturbed by tourists.

Jobs done, I set out to go to a part of the Old Town where I hadn't been before, following the valley road down below the ridge on which the Gibralfaro fortress sits, above the Alcazaba Palace. I bought myself picnic lunch of turkey rolls and sat to eat them in a park opposite a small church, which later I visited.

This church is the first station in the Way of the Cross Via Calvario, as it's called here. There's a Cofradia de Monte Calvario that takes care of Via Crucis ceremonies, and this is one of its places. Next to the church, a devotional souvenir shop and next to that, a bar/restaurant. The church was open, and loud processional music was being played within. In front of the altar a large image of Our Lady of Sorrows, visited by devout passers by popping to pray. In a niche on the south wall, close by stood Jesús Cautivo, though not getting the same attention as his mother, I noticed. There was a crucifix too, somewhat smaller, tucked in behind, at the side of the high altar. The altar was illuminated by two dozen pairs of candles in tall candlesticks. All part of the festivities for Mary's birthday last week perhaps?

I thought I'd follow the way of the cross but couldn't find stations Two and three in the next street. I came instead to the Sanctuario Real de Neustra Señora de la Victoria, a huge magnificent church set in the lower reaches of the hillside with a open plaza climbing up to the entrance, perfect for spectacular liturgical theatre events. Behind the church, and actually joined to it, a large modern hospital complex. The church's ministry of healing expressed today in glass and concrete.

Further up the hill behind the hospital, I found station four of the Via Crucis, the Camino de Monte Calvario, and followed the path to the summit along the side of a valley filled with fragrant pine and eucalyptus trees. At the top, magnificent views over the city, a fine large 17th century Calvary chapel and behind it a large modern building without signage. It may be a day centre, a retreat house, an old people's home. Hard to tell. Our tourist signs still in place declare that there is or once was a Capuchin Sisters convent up here. But what now?

I came down the hill and found a network of small back streets in among apartment blacks, possibly quite old from the irregular street plan. Some of the houses looked run down. Some were being renovated and facades given a lick of paint. Remarkable was the amount of high quality street art on most workable surfaces. Not the ubiquitous comic strip pop art style graffiti, but portraits of heads and faces, with lovely gazing eyes. Some creative people are taking a lively interest in this barrio. I wonder if it attracts tourists?

I emerged from this zone of old streets close to one of Málaga's recommended tourist venues, the stylish modern Mercado Merced and the Teatro Cervantes adjacent to it, a national institution. It's Málaga's version of London Covent Garden. Half the market is given over to the usual range of fresh foods. The other half comprises an open plan area of small bar/restaurant outlets selling speciality gourmet foods and drinks to eat or take away. Madrid has one, so Owain tells me, and I've visited another in Cordoba.

La Merced is I believe the colloquial name for the barrio dedicated to Nuestra Señora de la Mercedes - definitely not a sponsorship deal with a German car giant - the English is Our Lady of Mercies. There's a barrio in Ronda with a similar dedication as I recall.

From here it was just a fifteen minute walk through shopping streets with many restaurants spilling on to street, and along Calle Molina Larios to reach the ferris wheel and a bus back to Rincon. Calle Molina Larios has shed its summer sun canopy since I was here ten days ago I noticed.

Such an interesting variety of places to see in just a few hours of an afternoon walk about town.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Disorientation and that jury verdict

I made an early start for the ten thirty service at Vélez Málaga this morning, still uncertain about the quickest route up to the A7 autovia, which I haven't yet memorised. As I climbed uphill, having taken the wrong turning, the low fuel warning light came on, so I had to double back and find the nearest filling station I could remember seeing. That's the moment my mind went blank. This shows the tendency I have only to recall things on a need to know basis. I'm still building my mental map of this stretch of urban area and how it all hangs together with so many steep hills and ravines packed with houses and apartments. Signage isn't really as good as it could be, or well placed.

I refuelled in La Cala de Morales and then returned to Rincon to climb the hill to the exit by the correct road, and this time memorise! I had looked at the map of Vélez Málaga and checked my turnings to get into the part of town where the Antigua Capilla de San Jose is located. At the first roundabout I stupidly took the bypass road by mistake but found a road that would intersect with the avenue I wanted. With a little precise help from Blackberry mapping, I identified the street and parked, but at the wrong end to find the Capilla. I couldn't figure out which way the house numbers went, then, just as I was starting to feel lost I had a call from one of the church members wondering where I was. Still twenty minutes in hand however, but I was so grateful for that call.

The chapel was at the far end of the street, and is set into the corner of a building, conveniently opposite a small bar. it has no features to distinguish it from a distance. Within minutes I was reunited with the search and welcome party, wondering as much as I was what had gone wrong, and finally getting my bearings and relating what I could see to the directions given for finding it.

I've yet to learn the history of the building, but it has a formal church entrance door and noticeboard at a junction of the street and an alley, and it's long and narrow inside. Anglicans have used the building for fourteen years, and it seems not to be used for Catholic services. It's well cared for by its congregation, and a good space to accommodate fifty people. We were twenty one. Two members I first met in Nerja five years ago. I was asked to bless and dedicate some book holders for the backs of pews, two boxes, a cross and a hymn board, all nicely made and very useful. 

At the end of the service I also blessed two women, Rebecca and Jean, about to set out on pilgrimage to Compostela, the last 125km stage on the route from northern Portugal. They'll be back by the next time I take a service here, my last before going home for Clare's birthday.

Half the congregation went across the alley to the bar afterwards and occupied most of the interior space for half an hour or so. Then I headed back to Rincon, carefully noting the route and its landmarks, especially from the autovia to the car park outside SuperSol. I won't get caught again, like I was this morning.

The highlight of the evening was Helen's long awaited trial verdict on 'The Archers', an hour's edition taking us behind the scenes in the jury room debate about the evidence for three quarters of the episode, and with a star studded cast of actors debating passionately the issues in the case. It was reminiscent of the classic movie 'Twelve Angry Men', in which the opinion about guilt also turns around completely during the discourse. 

In this week's episodes we were not fed all the contributory evidence, nor did the jury discuss things which hand't been heard about during the week. In a sense this gives an impression rather than a partial picture of everything that informed the debate. It was a decent imaginative effort in portraying the complexity of jurors' opinions in relation to some but not all the evidence. Helen has now been acquitted, but there is still the divorce to come and the custody battle over the children. It's not over 'til it's over, as they say these days. 

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Fuengirola Funeral

It was cool, clear and bright when I set out on the road to Fuengirola at nine thirty this morning, and that made for an enjoyable journey. I felt that I should arrive with plenty of time to spare, preferably ahead of the bereaved family. I was sitting outside the crematorium café drinking an Americano when they arrived, in the same place where I sat to meet and greet them on Thursday last. There were just five of them at such short notice flying out from Britain for the funeral. I had plenty of time to brief them before their Costa friends started arriving.

About twenty minutes before time, with the chapel prepared, the funeral attendants came to complete the necessary formalities. Here, the chief mourner has to sign official documents to authorise cremation, unlike in Britain, where this is done by the funeral director on behalf of the family. I was able to help as an intermediary by explaining what was being asked and found I had confidence in speaking Spanish in this context which I didn't have when I last did a funeral here two years ago. The church attendant remarked on my effort. I think he may have been glad not to have to struggle with his limited English.

Forty mourners were present, mostly older generation expats, many of them British Legion members. I led the coffin into chapel from a rear corridor to an enclosure before the altar, where floral tributes were laid. The family didn't want to sing hymns, so they selected four songs from 'the soundtrack of life together' to suit what they needed to say about the deceased. Her son and her eldest granddaughter gave moving tributes and I bound their contribution together with scripture readings and prayers. After the committal the congregation took their leave, and once the chapel was empty, the attendants came in and moved the coffin to an enclosed lift platform on the opposite side of the chapel. The same basic C of E funeral ritual but adapted to this context. Familar texts in an unfamiliar place.

I wondered if I might see anyone I knew in the congregation, as many were from La Cala or Calahonda, but I didn't. So as they began to disperse to go to the reception, I took my leave of the family, having given them of my best as a passing stranger in sad circumstances. Such is the nature of some aspects of Christian ministry today, where there's no chance of follow through, or bond pastorally with people, given that transience in relationships is a feature of life in a such mobile society.

I phoned Bill Oliver, former church warden and congregation member in the St Andrew's chaplaincy, then went to meet him at the Oasis Beach Club, El Faro, for a drink and catch-up chat. It's two years since we last met. He then invited me to his house nearby, where he cooked lunch, while we continued to catch each other up on our lives. His kids are now away at University in the USA. No more school runs for him! It was good to spend time with him again, and it was gone five by the time I got back to Rincon.

Being ready and prepared for the service at Velez Malaga tomorrow, I thought about watching Spanish TV for the exercise, then I found that RNE Clasico was relaying the BBC Last Night of the Proms radio broadcast. It's a comfortably warm evening, with a cool breeze, and I can enjoy the Spanish voice in between performances. What a treat!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Flamenco de noche

Another hot sunny day today, and a busy day at the office back in Cardiff, with the arrival of news confirming the next stage in our developing work. There were things for me to do here as well, a sermon to write, a document to prepare for the board meeting.  Where work is concerned, I'm still hindered by the limitations imposed on roaming network connection by Orange ES, despite promises made by BT back home. My workaround solutions don't always succeed, being very much depended on local phone network traffic.

Also, for reasons I don't understand , a Blackberry update a while back killed my Skype app, and when I needed it lately, it wasn't there. After a web search, I found the free app on Amazon web store, which I'd never used before. When I downloaded it, I got a message to say it was already installed, and was able to log into my account and use it, although with on Skype icon. I returned to AWS and was offered a Skype update and this restored the necessary icon. It's taken me ages to get around to doing this, but it's invaluable for staying in touch with home.

Something I am grateful for and that's the internet radio site and app '', which works on Andriod and Blackberry. Is there a Windows app? I've not got around to checking yet. It sometimes stutters if the Blackberry network attachment is busy, but gets there eventually. It's been invaluable for following the twists and turns of Helen's trial on the Archers this week. And I understand there's an hour long edition in with the jury this Sunday night. Can it be true? It's certainly been attracting a lot of attention recently.

It was late when I finally took my daily paseo, walking along the coast path as far as Benagalbón. This stretch of beach has fewer hotels, fewer beach restaurants or chirungitos and many more private houses. At the point when I turned around to walk back, there was a restaurant with bar, hosting a flamenco guitarist and singer, and they were in the midst of a performance. I had to resist the impulse to enter an spend an hour or so listening, as I knew I needed sleep before an early start to get to Fuengirola to take the funeral.

There were few street lights in this locality, so the half moon shone  brightly and was reflected in the sea. The beach was shrouded in darkness, save for the tell-tale blue lights atop fishing rods along the shore. Some stars were visible, and on the horizon were the lights of a cruise liner, probably sailing up the coast from Málaga to Valencia overnight. The singer's powerful voice in lamentful nocturnal mood was audible for two hundred metres, as I walked away. Flamenco singing truly is the original european blues music. It was a delightful moment after a busy day of brain work. No fear of insomnia after a 5km walk before bed.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Rincon Fiesta

This morning I drove to Fuengirola to meet the husband and son, both called Mike, of a woman whose funeral I'll be officiating at on Saturday. Apart from finding my way up to a suitable motorway junction uphill a few kilometres from Rincon, the journey was easy, as I remembered its various stages from the time I've spent ministering in Chaplaincies along the Costa del Sol over the past five years. 

We met at the crematorium where the funeral will take place, which enabled me to show them where the service is scheduled to take place. This is their first experience of a family funeral, and they needed help to understand how a public service would unfold. I left them to choose music. They weren't familiar with hymn singing, like many others these days. They needed permission to select music to evoke memories - the soundtrack of their lives - was how I described it to them. I think they understood. 

Last time I took a service here, the crem sound system was broken, and last minute efforts to improvise with a portable CD player weren't outstanding. There was no member of staff around to enquire about the current status of their sound system, and frankly you can't trust funeral directors to possess certain knowledge of the many locations they work in. The tendency they have is to leave it to families to sort out for themselves, rather than help them, as would happen in Britain. Conscious of the risk that the same thing could happen again with playing music, I advised them to make their own arrangements for reproducing whatever music they decided they'd like to use. If I had the equipment, I'd help, but I don't.

Rather than dropping in on friends in the area, I drove straight back to Rincon and had lunch, and a siesta. The Golf estate version is a nice car to drive, more luxurious than ours at home, and a bit longer, so it did take me a little while to get used to on the open road. Driving on crowded urban motorways is more demanding than the routes I am used to driving in Spain - Nerja - Almunecar, Vinaros - Alcosebre or L'Ampolla. I am conscious of the need for adjustment, and indeed, it's more tiring now that it would have been ten years ago, so more caution, less speed is necessary. A consequence of ageing, no doubt.

In the evening, there was a big festive Mass at the Parish Church of Nuestra Senora de la Victoria, from which the commune derives its full title - Rincon de la Victoria. I walked to church at the other end of town, for Mass. The church was full, about 200 people I guess. It was a Sung Mass. I guess it might be called a Flamenco Mass, as the texts of the Ordinary were sung by a guitar playing duo in tight harmony while the congregation listened. It was a powerful and evocative sound, quite unexpected.

During the Eucharist, a band could he heard tuning up outside. After the service they processed into the square outside the church from the main street, and waited outside for the procession of dignitaries of the town's cofradia to emerge from the church, with a team of thirty men carrying Our Lady's image on a trona. It was wonderful to see how many children and young people took part in the procession. Every now and then a woman with a loud and penetrating voice would act as cheerleader, shouting out: 'Que viva Nuestra Senora de la Victoria!' To which the reply is 'Que viva!' Or 'Que viva, la patrona de nuestra paroquia!', then shouts of Guapa! Guapa! Guapa! (comely!) with rounds of applause.

From the church square, the procession moved a few hundred metres up the main road, then turned left, heading towards the beach. It passed through a crowded car park and out the other side into a street parallel to the main road, through the oldest area of housing in Rincon, the remnants of its its original fishing village. At a guess, a couple of hundred people were involved in the procession in their various roles. Hundreds more watched, locals and visitors like me, taking photographs. 

All the usual evening sea front activities continued as usual - games one the beach, cyclists, joggers on the old rail path, folk dining in the many restaurants. A witness to living faith expressed in the midst of everyday life, and a marvellous expression of local community in a place that usually seems much more anonymous because local life is overshadowed by the demands and presence of visitors.

As darkness arrived, so did my realisation that I was hungry, so I missed the last hour of the procession walked back to the apartment and had supper. I found the evening quite inspirational, and impressed that a busy town can involve so many parishioners in a diverse and demanding activity on a weeknight. It's hard to imagine British communities working together in such numbers, to the glory of God.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

A car and a new sofa to use

I  caught a crowded163 bus into Malaga this morning at 9.15. It took ten minutes longer than usual due to rush hour traffic. It's fifteen minutes walk from the port bus stop to the English Cemetery, when I was due to celebrate the midweek Eucharist at eleven, but I needed first to visit a nearby bank and cash an open 'Al Portador' cheque, received from the church for locum fees. The rest is paid in Sterling. This was , I have enough euros to see me through my stay. For each there's a receipt record for use when I next make a tax return.

There were five of us for the Eucharist, including Doreen the NSM Curate, and a lady visiting from Sevilla. After the service I was handed over the chaplaincy car, a VW Golf Mark II estate just a couple of years younger than mine at home, in good repair, just serviced and tested. Splendid. This will permit me to drive to Fuengirola tomorrow to prepare a funeral with a family for Saturday.

I've also arranged a visit to Salinas for next week, where Doreen takes a service once or twice a month. I'm keen to see the area where she lives and works, a new part of the world to discover. We'll spend part of the day looking out for birds in their mountain habitats. Doreen is an expert who runs birdwatching tours in Andalusia. I'm not sure what kind of photo opportunities will occur, but ready or not to take pictures there's a lot to learn.

I stayed in the church office writing for over an hour after our meeting ended on the promise that I'd lock up, since I'd arrived first and unlocked before the service. When I drove to the cemetery gate, the lodge was shut and the gates seemed locked. Unfortunately, I didn't register the cemetery opening hours and wondered if the office was shut for siesta time or for the day. I knocked the door hard enough to set off an alarm, and couldn't decide whether to laugh or feel nervous about a possible unfolding arrest scenario. With the church door key, however, there was a functioning padlock key and so I was able to open the gates and drive out, though not before calling Rosella to report my mishap. Just in case.

It's six weeks since I last drove a car in Spain, and that wasn't in a big city, so I was a little nervous setting out. Having familiarised myself with this part of town by walking around on this and previous occasions, remembering the way to the coast road was no trouble and in half an hour I was parking the Golf up behind the SuperSol supermarket, five minutes walk from the apartment, since there were spaces in the parking area opposite due to demand from holiday makers. I'm told it'll get easier from next week onwards.

After depositing my work bags, and having a late lunch, I returned to Super Sol to top up my essential food supplies for the week. Not long afterwards Rosella and Tomas and a colleague arrived with a new sofa for the lounge. The existing one, a sofa bed, replaces an old single bed in one of the unused bedrooms. The new sofa is not quite so large and gives a little more sense of space to the main living room. And now, supper.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Boquerones Victoriana

Another hot day today, but a very pleasant reason to venture out, in the form of an invitation to join Sue and Robin, two Malaga congregation regulars to meet for coffee in a pleasant place next to the town hall square, and then to walk up the hill to their house, about half a kilometre away. Robin's parents lived in Rincon until they died, having arrived here when it was no more than a small fishing village with dirt roads and a derelict railway line, not long closed. 

The property Robin and Sue inherited has been added to, and used by their children and grandchildren as a holiday home ever since. Altogether they've been coming here for forty years. Outside the holiday periods, they divide their time between Rincon and Henley, and are active at church in both places. There are few houses in the valley where theirs is located, though the land is scheduled for development long term. Meanwhile, it has trees and other vegetation and a variety of birds. The terrace gives a great view, making a good wildlife observation platform.

We walked down to the beach, and had lunch at a restaurant there together. I enjoyed fried anchovies  -boquerones victoriana with a salad, and learned that Rincon is famed for its anchovies, as Vinaros is famous for its king prawns. I also learned that coastal waters inshore locally have become tainted with some kind of algae that makes fish caught near the beach inedible. This serves to explain why I saw several fish jumping out of the water close to the beach the other night. There's a higher concentration of uncaught fish near the shore than might otherwise be the case.

I also learned that the cement factory the other side of La Cala del Moral, a rather ugly industrial landmark on this beautiful coastline, is now owned and run by a Chinese company, employing Chinese workers, 200 of them, who live on-site, and exports its entire output to China where there is a cement shortage, due to the accelerated development of the country. That's how nations of Europe first went into business in other parts of the world. Colonialism in reverse. 

In the evening, after another Archers episode, which will no doubt long be remembered for its dramatic conclusion when Helen discloses martial rape to the court, along with all the rest of the emotional abuse she's been denying so long, much to the annoyance of listeners, eager for a faster paced story. The Archers has always had an Agricultural Story Editor on its creative team. I wonder if nowadays they have a Legal Story Consultant as well. No doubt highly paid.

Ashley and I spent an hour and a half working on a response to documents presented for the next Board meeting to consider. No early night for me tonight, and not because it's too hot to sleep.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Lying low in the shade

Today, the temperature climbed into the thirties, but fortunately the humidity was lower, making life more bearable than it has been over the past week. I lay low in the apartment for much of the day, except for a brief outing to obtain essential supplies, and an evening paseo when it was cooler. Fortunately there was lots for me to do, preparing and sending out the documents for the BCRP Board meeting in a fortnight's time, exchanging messages with family. 

Finally I got around to installing WhatsApp on my Backberry, to enable me to download a video file my niece Nicky and nephew Julian both sent me, of the speech I mate at our Golden Wedding celebration. And, there's another to come of Kath and Rachel singing their tribute song too, when I can freely download the files. This is almost impossible using the apartment wi-fi due to size restrictions, so I have to wait until I'm in the office to update many larger files.

The trial of Helen on the Archers is a tense affair, stressful to listen to, I find, slow yet compelling. I have so far resisted the temptation to find out what the commentariat has to say about the proceedings, or follow the the debate threads on Twitter. Partly because of internet restrictions, but al least that's some time I'll not be wasting on-line.

Seaside shrine

Another hot day today, but not humid, so the weather was bearable. In the morning, I prepared and sent out the documents for the next BCRP Board meeting. It took me more time than usual as accessing what I needed in our on-line file system took longer than usual. Fortunately the documents needed were also attached to findable emails, so I had a work around solution when needed.

I went out food shopping before lunch and went through recent photos and stored them off-camera ready for uploading on my next office visit. Just as was nodding off for a siesta a phone call came in about officiating at a funeral this Saturday, in Fuengirola Crematorium. I was happy to agree to this, as it's familiar territory from two years ago. As it's a September Saturday, I imagine the Costa del Sol Chaplains are busy with wedding blessings. There are few of these in Malaga. Funerals, sure, but also Christenings of African infants from a constituency for which Christian tradition and custom is still alive. It makes a refreshing change.

Before supper I walked the promenade westwards as far as the first tunnel, to investigate an area under the cliff at the end of the footpath, covered by a canopy, visible from afar. What I discovered was a shrine set into the rock, with a long line of benches set against the rock decorated in blue and white tessera and facing out to the sea shore. At the entry to the domain was a linear fountain, below a rock garden above which was the legend: Nuestra Señora del Carmen. This area is dedicated to those who have lost their lives at sea.

There was a notice in front of the shrine asking people not deposit votive candles there. Instead, people brought fresh flowers, and there were lots of them, tidily arranged. I watched an old man praying from his mobility buggy, a young girl in a swimming costume bringing a single glower, and a young man bringing a bunch of white carnations.
That canopy, partly sailcloth, partly netting is to protect visitors from rock fragments falling from crumbly cliff faces above.

I returned via the main street, but curiosity distracted me up a side road which led up a steep hill to Rincon's cemetery, with its maze of burial walls, mostly full, each niche decorated with fading artificial flowers. Only for All Souls and maybe Easter do these tend to get replaced by cut flowers. I noticed a new almost empty wall of burial niches, half the size of others, probably destined for cremated remains, now that this has become more widespread in the past half century.

As I was about to leave, Clare skyped me, and we talked while I strolled home, right up to the time of the Archers, and the attempted murder trial of Helen née Archer. Compelling listening this!

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Sunday at St Georges and a great life remembered

I was collected at ten by Rosella for the drive to St George's, so we arrived in good time for the eleven o'clock start. The church was already open and people were busy with their preparatory tasks. All I had to do was prepare the altar for the Eucharist.

The congregation is diverse, with a third of the regular worshippers coming from West Africa. There were visitors from Britain, Germany, Venezuela, and Spain, to add to the permanent Brits and Africans, and a happy welcoming atmosphere.

The Eucharist was nicely sung, with good participation all round. Afterwards, not only were there refreshments on the terrace, but also a cooked lunch of rice peas and sweet-corn with chicken. It's a custom among the Nigerian ladies of the congregation to offer this on the first Sunday of the month. It was a delightful surprise.

I took advantage of the church office fibre broadband to upload the eighty photos I've taken since Wednesday last, before being dropped off at the ferris wheel bus stop to get a ride home. Buses to Rincon are every half hour on Sundays instead of every twenty minutes, but I only had ten minutes to wait.

This afternoon I learned of the death of Bishop David Jenkins aged 91. He was a well known inspirational teacher of theology when I was a seminarian, and in my early ministry. He was a brilliant apologist for traditional Christian orthodox doctrine, rooted in biblical thought, and classical philosophy. His great strength was to translate and interpret these in the light of modern thought. I heard him talk at student conferences, and he also gave the Bampton Lectures on Christianity and Marxism, when I was a student chaplain in Birmingham.

His critique of Marxism and materialism was very exacting, as he insisted that it was necessary also to learn from them. He was radical in politics, supporting the Durham miners' strike, when he was Bishop of Durham, to the annoyance of Mrs Thatcher. The press and even the BBC worked to discredit him as a mere controversialist, in order to stir up conservative fundamentalist ire against him - this was when the religious right really started to benefit from the 'oxygen of publicity'.

The media manipulators made him a figure of fun, perhaps because they were afraid to take seriously his deep quest for truth and integrity for modern people to live by. Or else they didn't understand him or the importance of his work and way of thinking.

I was grateful for receiving a traditionally orthodox Anglican spiritual nurture in my home parish, in university, and on my ecumenical travels and encounters in sixties Greece. All this enabled me to be open and to  explore liberal and radical thinking, distrustful of the different demands of evangelical fundamentalist conservatism.

The work of David Jenkins that gave me confidence in the integrity and value of thought that went into orthodox Christian belief, from its origins in the New Testament right through to our own times. A great life, well lived.

The day was hotter than yesterday, but much pleasanter as it was less humid. After supper I walked along the seafront, listened to sounds of pop flamenco fusion emanating from a beach bar, and then did some Chi Gung on the water's edge, with the new moon fast sinking beneath the horizon. Now and then, silvered fish leapt out of the water in the dark. A relaxing way to conclude the Lord's Day.

It's eleven years to the day since I first started blogging about ministry, at that time, under the title 'Edge of the Centre', which continued until I retired and started this one. It was the day Brother Roger of Taize's murder was headline news. Like Bishop David Jenkins, his line and ministry was an inspiration to me from early days.

What a lot of thoughts and words have flowed from me into cyberspace since then!


Saturday, 3 September 2016

Malaga centre on foot - again

There was nothing to impede a visit to Malaga today, so I caught the 160 bus at a stop nearby on the main street for the half hour journey along the coast road. I was impressed by how quickly the bus filled with passengers, also on the return trip, mid afternoon. The round trip cost €2.14, so it's no wonder buses are well used throughout the coastal urban area.

The bus stops opposite the giant ferris wheel by the port, that offers tourists a view of the city from on high. It goes on from there to the bus station, next to estación Maria Zambrano for rail travel, which is very convenient for getting out of town. The ferris wheel stop gives quick access to the Alameda Principal, the old town and the prestigious retail street, Molina Lario. 
Along this street, crowded with Saturday shoppers as well as tourists, there were several living statue performers, imaginatively presented and well kitted out of their role. Some has an element of eye catching gravity defying illusion about them, but the one that caught my eye was a man dressed as a miner, totally black, wielding a pickaxe, standing on what looked like a mound of coal. The contrast with the bright sunlit colours of the shops behind him was vivid. As I passed, a lady said to her companion in a distinctive Welsh Valleys accent, "Coal is for good luck, see."

I had no specific aim in wandering about, other than photographing things old and new that caught my eye. I also wanted to see how well I could remember the town layout and navigate my way around, although it is only ten weeks since I was last here. My curiosity about the city's cofradias is as strong as ever, and whichever way I went, there were new cofradia buildings to take in. I crossed the river and went to El Corte Ingles to look around. There's a stylish gourmet restaurant and expensive delicatessen on the top floor, with great cityscape views from its rooftop terrace. Always worth a visit, if only to look.
At the river end of the Alameda one of the twin bridges across the river - it's a wide dual carriageway beyond, is being demolished. Construction site notices all over the area either side of the river announce the coming of new metro lines, so I can only assume the loss of a bridge has something to do with this. 
Even so, with views from one side of the remaining bridge obscured by heras fencing and opaque reinforced plastic to shield pedestrians from work below, the length of the bridge on the opposite side was richly decorated with baskets of flowers. Such a nice malagueño touch of cheer.

I returned to the old town, by way of the Atarazana covered market, alive with colour, almost every stall open for trade, people standing at the several bars drinking and eating freshly cooked tapas, buzzing with conviviality. I wanted a spinach and cheese empañada, but could see none on display n any of the pastelerias, perhaps a little too late in the day. Never mind, next time. Then I walked over to the Cathedral and around its exterior, and on to Alcazaba. By this time, having walked two and a half hours in the heat, I thought it was time to find the return stop for a 160 bus. There was one waiting to leave from just outside the ferris wheel, and after half an hour's air conditioned ride, I was back in Rincon, eating a late lunch.

Then, after a brief supermarket visit for water and beer, supper and a slow paseo before bed. Now I feel I've properly arrived.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Costa cave art

I waited in again for the gas bottle deliveryman to come, and he arrived eventually at one thirty, too late for me to spend a full day in Málaga, but not a day wasted. A number of CBS admin issues needed to be dealt with, and with telephone calls, that absorbed the time between breakfast and lunch.

As soon as I could, I started walking out of town, westward, on the coast road to La Cala del Moral. At a crossroads on top of the ridge dividing Rincon from La Cala del Moral, I noticed a tourism sign saying 'Cuevas del Tresor'. Intrigued, I followed the signs uphill for about a kilometer though a densely packed area of suburban housing, with the addition of several half finished structures of large hotels or apartment blocks filling odd spaces in this steep rocky terrain.

Just short of the hilltop there was a levelled area for car parking, in feont of a modern building, hosting both a local radio station and Las Cuevas del Tresor. But still no clue as to what the building was for.
At the far end of the car park is an open space in the hillside overlooking the cove of El Moral below. Here, interpretation panels said that the hillside was a conservation area devised to include only such native species as could have been found here 5000 years ago, and supplying plants from which paint used in cave paintings  could be made. Then the penny dropped, thanks to the panels. Here one can get to see cave art in situ, just like in the Ermita de Ulldecona, which I visited back at the end of July. Such a surprising discovery, right at the heart of a contemporary concrete hillside settlement.

The cave visitor centre was closed, its first evening tour would have meant waiting three quarters of an hour, so I walked on, since I was out for exercise. I saw a large flock of goldfinches roosting on a fence of wire netting, and get a few photos of three that didn't fly off. Later, walking ba k along the coast path to Rincon, I was also rewarded with a few shots of parakeets for the first time. Thousands of these birds live in trees along the southern costas, but more often heard than seen. I was delighted with the pictures I took.

On the way back, I learned from a poster that the days leading up to the Feast Of Our Lady's Nativity on the eighth will include prayers and processions to mark a patronal fiesta. An interesting prospect for the coming week.