Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Red light St Andrew's day

I had one of those 'red light' starts to the day, it was red traffic lights all the way there and almost all the way back. I was crossing town as usual on a Wednesday morning to reach St German's for the St Andrew's Day 'Class Mass' the last of the series of this term with Tredegarville school children. Next Tuesday, the whole school will be in church for their service lessons and carols, and the midweek Mass will be a more staid and muted affair in the Lady chapel.

After the service, before heading for the dentists in Llandaff North for a check up. I headed back home to Pontcanna to collect a spare 'phone battery, as mine was nearly dead and I was going to be out for the afternoon. The traffic through Llandaff itself was slow, more red lights, and I made it by the skin of my teeth, only to discover that my appointment is tomorrow at the same time. 

Then I headed for Newport, a little earlier than expected to visit Martin for a lovely afternoon of catch-up, after my time away. I meet a couple of young Iranian asylum seekers he's befriended lately, meeting them through Karim, the Farsi speaking Afghan live-in support worker who helps Martin and Chris to look after Andrew and Robert, their foster sons. It's is the most hospitable of homes I have ever had the pleasure to know, open to women and men of all ages, all abilities, and nations, needy and privileged alike. A wonderful practical domestic expression of the highest human and Christian ideals. I come away feeling inspired, uplifted, and glad they are such long standing friends.

While I was there, I introduced Martin to Google Blogger, and showed him how to start an account of his own. As an experienced priest and journalist, he wants to write some reflections on the news and mass media and how present things, as observed from a Christian perspective. It's several years since I last introduced anyone to the use of Blogger. Its user interface has changed, and my ability to use it has changed a little, though not much. I've not done anything to develop my blogs or enhance the sites I use, being too busy with content, so it took me a while to tune myself in to the essential procedures. This wasn't made any easier by working on a Macbook, something I haven't tried for years. It's irritatingly different for a Windows and Linux/Android/Chrome user in in-grained habits, but we got to first base in the end. I look forward to when he starts writing and publishing. I'm sure it won't be dull!

I left just at sunset, and after a cloudless day all over South Wales the entire western half of the horizon was fringed with colour, grading from russet to orange and yellow merging into pale clear blue, an exquisite sight. Such a pity I was in no position to stop and gaze in the evening rush hour traffic. At least on this home run, there were fewer red lights.
      

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Walk in the dark

Another quiet uneventful morning, and with nothing better to do I stewed some vegetables with butter beans and a Welsh made chorizo sausage, ready for supper. Then when Clare returned from her study group, she cooked a deliciously tasty soup, using a delicata squash from last week's organic veg box, plus one red onion. The squash resembles a small marrow but it has a special flavour of its own. This was the first time we'd come across it, and hopefully, not the last. 

Mid-afternoon, I walked into town just for exercise, in defiance of the chilly weather that makes me want to hibernate. The sun was low in the sky and all the Christmas lights were already on, giving me an opportunity to take a photo tour of the city centre to record them. It'll be interesting to compare these with previous batches of photos taken in the streets at this time of year, to see how things have changed.

I walked back along the Taff Trail, on the west bank, as the Bute Park side shuts before sunset. As it's unlit this was less than easy with a steady flow of bicycling commuters in both directions leaving me feeling a little vulnerable in the dark. Thankfully most cyclists these days go for bright LED lights, on their helmets or on handlebars, making it easier to spot pedestrians, though not all. I wasn't forced off the path at any stage, but obliged to walk right on the edge, just in case. I could have walked on well lit pavements by two different routes, but slow moving rush hour road traffic pollution makes for another kind of hazard to be avoided. Traffic congestion seems to have got much worse over the past couple of years. Much as I like giving where we do in Pontcanna, I honestly wish we lived a little way out in the country, but we're unlikely to move again, now we're so settled.
     

Monday, 28 November 2016

Chance encounter

After a lazy uneventful morning, in which the only unusual thing I did was paying our domestic water rate bill on-line, I made an effort to get out of the house to enjoy blue sky and afternoon sunshine and hunt for wildlife with my camera along the east bank of the Taff. As I approached Blackweir bridge, I was hailed by a neighbour, who was walking along with a friend, who greeted me as if he too had recognised me. But I doubt if he would have done had he not been told who I was. We'd not seen each other for fifty three years. 

Roger Hacker was a classmate in Pengam Grammar school, a sixth form Chemistry student as I was. After A levels I went off to study in Bristol Uni, and he'd taken a job selling ice cream for a year, while he waited to go to Aberystwyth Uni. We'd never seen each other since the results were announced. He'd emigrated to Canada, spent his career there in teaching, then eventually moved to Australia to teach, and that's where his he and his family now live, although he also retains his links with Wales through a family house in the Gower. What an amazing coincidence to have just bumped into them like that, when I'd wandered down to the river across the playing fields for a change, rather than by the usual path. 

Life is full of surprises, I mused to myself as I walked on. There was a Cormorant keeping watch on top of the pillar from which Blackweir bridge is suspended. It's not a nesting place, but is a safe place to roost and enjoy the sun. Sometimes two birds are up there. Beneath the east bank below the weir a heron surveyed the swirling waters hopefully. I got within ten metres of it before being seen, but wasn't quick enough to get a photo as it spread its magnificent slate grey wings and fled downstream.

In places there are still bright yellow leaves attached to trees, even some that are still pale green, all looking luminescent in the low afternoon sun. Squirrels are very active in the woods, both at ground level and jumping between trees or bushes as they forage for food to store for winter. I spotted one of the Jays that inhabit both banks of the stretch of river by the SWALEC stadium, but in the only photo I obtained the bird's head was perfectly obscured by a leaf not yet fallen. The photos are never as good as I hope they'll be, but it's fun to try.

I walked for over two hours in a chilly breeze, so I walked to the Tesco superstore and then to Staples to browse for bargains and get warm again before heading for home, by crossing the Taff in order to walk down the long tree lined avenue bisecting Llandaff Fields from north to south. The sun was just reaching the horizon by this time, and there were snatches of birdsong, blackbirds and tits plus others I didn't recognise. Sometimes huge flocks of starlings occupy these trees whistling and chattering among themselves. Other times, you hear a solitary thrush or several blackbirds announcing themselves to each other in song at this time of day. Maybe it was too cold, or I was a little early, but although birds were making noises, it was hardly a delighful song-fest this evening.

How fortunate we are to have such a large stretch of well managed parkland with wild areas plus a fine clean river running through it, as a defining feature of the city centre environment. The main shopping streets were decorated for the festive season early this month. One notable addition is a group of four wire metal sculptures of reindeer, painted gold and covered with lights. Quite tasteful really, in stark contrast to the alternative to a traditional Christmas tree, a plastic conical structure said to be 40 feet high, whose gold coloured surface is meant to represent a host of golden baubles. Spectacularly tacky, and meeting with general disapproval from people on social media. It's on hire for £10k per year for three years, according to the Western Mail. What an embarrassing disaster, when seasonal decorations are, for the most part, pleasing to the eye.
      

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Christian New Year refreshment

I was glad of extra sleep time and not having early start today. By ten fifteen I was on my way to St German's for the Sunday Mass, with all my favourite Advent hymns being sung. I love the simplicity of this season inside church. It's such a refreshing contrast to the kitsch and craziness of city life during the pre-Christmas rush, not to mention Black Friday weekend consumer frenzy. There was a positive and cheery mood among worshippers too. A new liturgical year, a fresh start, albeit on familiar pathways through the celebration of the mystery of faith, is most welcome in this dark and dreary season.

I got back earlier than usual for lunch, as the church hall was occupied by a social event and there was no after church coffee and chat as usual. In the evening Clare and I went to the Advent celebration of readings and carols by candlelight at St Catherine's. There were seventy people present, with twenty of them singing in the choir.  Several Advent anthems were sung whose musical settings I hadn't heard before which was refreshing. Dominic, one of the St Padarn's Institute students on permanent placement in the parish during his training gave a thoughtful address on Advent waiting, confident and enjoying the moment. 

Mulled wine and mice pies were served in the church hall afterwards. I chatted with Dominic who said he'd preached several times before, but this had been the first occasion to preach from a proper pulpit - six feet above contradicition - as the saying goes. A reminder to me of how pulpits have gone out of use in many churches in favour of lectern or legilium at floor level in the nave. In times past when churches were full all year round, and there was no public address system, the pulpit was the best vantage point for addressing the entire assembly and being heard. With smaller congregations, a more intimate kind of engagement is necessary most of the time, and the pulpit seems too formal a place to stand. Adaptation to circumstances and surroundings is vital for preaching the word, 'in season and out of season'.

We got home in good time to settle down and enjoy another episode of 'Y Gwyll' (Hinterland) on S4C. Watching the full Welsh edition with subtitles is proving helpful to my comprehension of informal everyday Welsh conversation. Because of regional differences in accent and use of dialect words it's far from easy to start with, but over the years I've learned a fair amount of vocabulary I've rarely had an opportunity to make use of socially. Spending so much time in Spain hearing conversation and trying to understand what's being said may have sharpened my listening concentration somewhat. There does seem to be some benefit in working at acquiring different languages, despite the potential for confusion.

Perhaps because it's set in a part of Wales with which I'm familiar, with stories that reflect the impact of rural poverty and decline on families and personal relationships, there's a freshness about the series. Last night's Swedish crime thriller 'Modus' seemed more formulaic, ticking the thematic boxes for another hit TV movie and by the looks of it so far, targeting yet again a far right religious extremist sect as the source of tribulation - well, we'll see as it unfolds. Does this reflect this a collective anxiety in Scandinavian society these days, I wonder?

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Colourful dance performance in Warwick

We were out and about bright and early this morning, driving to Warwick University Arts Centre to see the latest Wriggledance Theatre production entitled 'The Colour of Me', which has been devised and co-produced by our Kath and her colleague Lucy, with all the music making, sound effects, both live and recorded from Anto. They are now a third of the way through a tour which takes them to venues all over England, and this has been our first opportunity to see it. When they toured with their first production, a couple of years ago, we didn't get to see it until the very last show, so it was good to be able to share their early pleasure and excitement, with their new creation.

We were blessed with fine weather to travel in both directions. To avoid delays from threatened road works on the Worcester bypass, and ensure arriving in good time, we took a different route from the M50 junction near Strensham, going south three miles to the A46 to Stratford via Evesham instead of north to the A422 turning to Stratford outside Worcester, as we've habitually done for the past fifteen years. It's a quicker road and slightly shorter and easier to drive. The A422 is definitely 'the pretty way' passing as it does through the landscape of 'The Archers' mis-en-scene, but it's a slow slow road in any weather. At a fairly relaxed pace, we arrived in the same time as our usual route takes us to Kenilworth. Amazing, it's taken so many years for me to try an alternative route.

Warwick Arts centre was very crowded, due to a weekend of family arts events taking over the entire building. The multi story car almost full, so it was just as well we got there early enough to spend time hunting for a parking space on every one of the six parking levels. Old fashioned parking space sizes, the abundance of oversized modern saloons and SUVs in this part of the world made it extra difficult. I found a space one floor down from the top, big enough for an ancient Golf to manoeuvre into, not  big enough for a more modern vehicle. Interesting that moans about the size of car parking spaces has been in the national news this week, with excuses from manufacturers, but no serious debate about what can be done either to re-size spaces, make larger car parks, or take steps to reduce the number of vehicles congesting and polluting our environment.

'The Colour of me' is a beautifully crafted hour long exploration of primary colours and the near universal association they have with human emotions, through dance and music. It's both simple and profound, as accessible to parents as it is to young children, the target audience. It makes use of state of the art stage lighting technology to create a stage for an interactive event. I was impressed to see so many under fives relaxed, absorbed and involved in the performance. There was little of the restlessness one might normally associate with a group of children in this age group, being asked to sit of their own free will and watch a performance.

The words 'enchanting' and 'magical' will arise when people think about describing this performance, but what's so wonderful is that this doesn't dominate. It's just a means to create a playful environment that relates to children's real experience. With minor linguistic tweaks it could be taken to any country on earth and appeal to children and their parents. Needless to say, we're immensely proud that our Kath and Anto are part of the core creative team which has made this innovative production possible.

After a quick lunch with Kath and Anto in between performances, we set out for Cardiff again, and reached home as the sun was setting, giving us a complete evening to relax, cook a meal and watch the latest Scandi crime drama on BBC Four before turning in, tired but happy, after a wonderful trip.
   

Friday, 25 November 2016

Bay bird walk

It was both a relief and a pleasure to wake up at first light and find that the sky was clear of cloud for the first time in many days. After breakfast and a couple of hours of writing, I headed out on foot to walk the length of the Taff Trail down to the Bay Wetland, and take photos. When I checked my photo archive I was surprised to find that it's five years since I last did the walk in full.

After a week's rain, the colours of fallen leaves were not so vivid, and there were fewer birds around. However, the sunny verge next to the footpath along the edge of Grangetown, south of the city centre was occupied by hundreds of Pigeons and a couple of dozen Swans, taking respite from a keen wind. In the wetland reserve,
In Hamadryad Park, I spotted a solitary Grey Heron, statuesque in a bed of crumpled reed and grass.
A family of Cormorants occupied a small island in the wetland enclosure on the west side of the St David's hotel.
Hundreds of Gulls were roosting, then rising like clouds into the air, as if taking exercise, then settling again.
Apart from a few Coots and a few more Swans, this was all I saw or heard. Winter is here indeed, but I'm so thankful for a couple of hours walking in the sunshine, even if I did catch buses to get back home, not least to take refuge from the wind.

When spring comes and birds are on the move again, I must make the effort to visit here regularly, not least for the exercise. Two hours walking left me feeling quite tired, but that's what happens these days if I don't maintain a daily regime of walking for an hour or so. 'Use it or lose it' takes on more meaning with advancing years.
     

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Change of rings

After days of rain, we woke up to a cold and dry, if overcast day. After breakfast we headed into town to buy a few Christmas presents. The most important aspect of our expedition however took us to one of Cardiff's long standing jewellers, Jonathan David, on St Mary Street. Last Friday I took my wedding ring there to see if it would be possible to repair it, after my misfortune during my Malaga chaplaincy locum, when it had to be cut off my finger, painfully swollen by a wasp sting. I received a message to say that repair on a fifty year old ring worn thin wouldn't be strong enough to last. So Clare decided to buy me a new one, and at the same time to have hers stretched a size and repolished, as her knuckle is not as small as it was when I first slipped it on her finger.

Instead of the original 22 carat gold, which was fairly standard when we were young, we opted for 9 carat, which has the merit of being less expensive, just four times what we'd have paid for ours in the first place, instead of ten times. Once the transactions were completed, we went to the Zest Cafe in the House of Frazer for lunch, while both rings were re-sized to fit our fingers satisfactorily. My broken ring could be sold for scrap now, and I'd probably get the amount it originally cost, given current gold prices, but, I can't bear to part with it. It's such an important witness to the story of my entire adult life, though what I'll actually do with it now, I don't yet know. We both now wear shiny rings, one old and one new. A source of great delight. We must get mine blessed, soon.

After the jewellers, we went our separate ways on different errands, I called at Stavros Constantinou's, my favourite joke telling barber, for a haircut and a chat before returning home, always an enjoyable experience.

With several gifts, plus packs of cards bought at St John's charity card shop, still going strong, after at least fifteen years, it's now time to write an accompanying annual round robin Christmas letter. Already it's that time of year; 2016 seems to have fled by, with a record five spells abroad in different places this year. That must be a personal best.
   

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

A foodie celebration

This morning, at the midweek 'class Mass' with children from Tredegarville School, I decided to talk about 'Stir Up' Sunday and preparing for Christmas. I didn't have enough to time to prepare visual aids, so I borrowed a pudding from the food stocks of Marisa, who manages the old peoples' day centre in St German's Church Hall on my way into church. She said she had thirty of them, in preparation for the series of Christmas dinners the day centre will be laying on over the next few weeks, for as many as a hundred people at a time. Just amazing!

It's impossible to remember the last time I addressed a group of children on the 'Stir Up' theme, so it's just as well I have nothing to recall to compare with what I did today. But I did have fun, asking the kids to think about the ingredients that make so tasty a pudding. Marisa's pudding was pre-packed in a plastic bowl suitable for boiling rather than in tinfoil (as we now do at home) or a traditional cloth bag. But, it was a suitably mysterious object around which to let the imagination weave a narrative.

Christmas pudding would be foreign to perhaps half of my audience, whose family origins were in Asia or Africa, although similar rich festive delicacies are made from dried fruit, nuts and rich fats all over the world. Finding out about the common elements would require a morning in a classroom or an after school session with families, rather than ten minutes in the middle of a service. It's great when families whose origins are far from our shores are given an opportunity to share their foods with the wider community. I know it happens in schools on special occasions. I remember this happening during my ministry in St Paul's Bristol, in Geneva, and recently during my month with the church in Malaga.

Talking about food we love to share in a faith context is something I greatly enjoy. It's wonderful to see churches all over the place rediscovering the value of food sharing and food culture as part of mission and evangelism through hospitality, communal meals and food banks, as well as festive celebrations. The mass industrialisation of food preparation and consumption during the 20th century made the task of feeding people daily less demanding of time and energy. All too often however, social and cultural dimensions of food were neglected, forgotten, divorced from relationships, contributing to the spiritual ailments of our time - chief among them, loneliness, identity loss, and (surprise surprise) eating disorders. 

Part of the Church's recovery of confidence in the Gospel message it proclaims is reconnecting with its food culture, something our ancient spiritual mother, Judaism, never lost. There's no better way to enjoy the 'abundant life' which Jesus came to share with the world.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Tintern in the rain

Another glum wet day and for us a journey east to the Wye Valley to rendezvous with Mike and Gail in Tintern. Not long after we set out, we had a text message saying there could be traffic delays for them on the M5 out of Worcester, but despite continuous rain and slow traffic to start with, we all arrived at eleven in car park 'The Anchor Inn', opposite Tintern Abbey. It was too wet to do anything but hang out in the pub, where we sat and talked drank coffee and ate lunch until gone two. 
The rain stopped as we finished, so we walked up to the bridge, crossed the Wye, and walked along the woodland track along the valley on the English side for an hour. The river was swollen, fast flowing with brownish red water chasing the receding tide. 
The Severn estuary reaches right up the valley as far as Bigsweir, five miles north of Tintern, creating a rich complex ecosystem for a huge variety of flora and fauna. The tide rises and falls by eight metres, so by this evening, the river level may be worryingly high for those living nearby. 

As we reached our cars it started to rain again, though not as fiercely as earlier. We parted company to give us time to reach home before dark, and the onset of evening peak traffic. It was so good to get out, defy the miserable weather and enjoy the company of friends. Whatever the weather, Tintern and the Wye Valley is such a beautiful area, and when we lived in Chepstow when the children were growing up, it was one of those places I'd have been happy to settle in retirement, if only housing hadn't been so unaffordable, then as now.

Clare went to her choir rehearsal after tea. I didn't feel like going out in the rain again to resume Tai Chi classes, and spent the evening doing very little, mostly wondering what to do next in life. Time for another change, I think.
    

Monday, 21 November 2016

Tech disruption, deluge disruption

I woke up with a nose bleed in the night, and fortunately it didn't last long, but as a result I slept uneasily, hoping to avoid a repeat performance. There was a repeat, however, as I was drinking coffee at the end of breakfast, and incautiously blew my nose, having forgotten about the night incident. It was a heavier bleed and took longer to quench. Most disconcerting.

Despite today's torrential rain, Owain decided to come over from Bristol to see us on his day off. After his phone call, I took Clare by car into town for her swimming session, then drove out to Staples on Western Avenue to get a spare flash drive and SD card. The one I took with me on my Spanish trips this year is already full with backups of the photos I took there, and I still hadn't replaced with spare card I carry in my wallet as  'insurance' against forgetting to replace one extracted from a camera and accidentally left inserted in a computer when leaving the house on a photo expedition. It's something I have done three times, if not more this year. Distraction? Forgetfulness? Ageing? Who knows. It's taken me long enough to remember to buy one. 

I got two Toshiba branded 16gb flash devices for a tenner. Two 4gb devices for the same price would have been reasonable to pay two years ago. The same flash drive in Spain cost just under €5. Here, also on special offer, £2.99. How quickly the consumer technology market is disrupted by innovation, demand and pricing changes! Perhaps you wouldn't notice this if you only changed computers every 4-5 years, but now phones set the pace, with the expectation of changing devices in 18-24 months as battery life diminishes. 

There's now an array of sub-£200 windows laptops, using flash memory rather than mechanical hard drives, due to increased capacity, faster silicon memory chips flooding the market, at a lower cost than cheap mass manufactured mechanical hard drives. Will more people acquire the habit of exchanging these every couple of years? Especially as hard wired battery death approaches? The consumer PC market has shrunk much of late. People aren't buying, even when they can afford to. Phones and tablets can be effective replacements, but I believe there's more to this reluctance.

Apart from price, average consumers have limited needs, invest time and energy learning to use their PC well, why change it if it's not broken? New operating systems and software upgrades demand extra time to set up and re-learn, getting in the way of quick and easy habitual usage. This is confusing annoying and a deterrent to upgrading. Cloud storage makes data access equally possible on different devices. It doesn't do the same for software use learned a decade or longer ago, still serviceable. I believe tech innovators are in denial about this where mass markets are concerned. The business world showed significant reluctance to move up from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Quite apart from the cost of upgrading, there's a cost of improving the skill-set of the work force with ever costly training. Speed, capacity, security, a reproducible user interface experience are all to be welcomed and invested in, but innovation in the sphere of usability has a bigger impact and requires investment which may not be seen as worthwhile if it disrupts business workflow. When will tech innovators learn? 

I left the store and headed out into the traffic, which was unusually slow moving, and no wonder, as the turning that would take me back in the direction of Cardiff Central Station was partly flooded. It's that time when drains need clearing frequently of falling leaves, and if they get washed off the pavements before they can be collected, they soon cover and block roadside drains when rainfall is this heavy. All the way back into town the gutters were awash, making it hard for motorists and for pedestrians even harder to get about. I was most thankful our venerable Golf didn't react badly to the excess of water.

Owain texted me his arrival time but it was impossible to reach the Taff Embankment where we were to meet before him. I was only a few minutes late, as traffic flow improved a little. Sensibly Owain had an umbrella with him, and was standing patiently where I could see him and collect him. Clare wasn't far behind us returning by bus from her swim. It was good to spend the afternoon together. Owain's been learning how to use Google Analytics in the course of his web content management work, and looking after his own media music and culture blog as well. He showed me me how this worked, which gave me a insight into what kind of information about us and our browsing habits is collected from each and every web page visited.

Unfortunately he couldn't stay for supper as he had things to do back in Bristol in the evening. Later on the news I heard that Bristol Temple Mead railway station had been closed temporarily, as there was passenger overcrowding, caused by delays on services where lines had been flooded in the South West. He texted to say that his train had been subjected to a long delay in getting into the station, as a result of unaffected services having to wait outside the station. A story no doubt repeated in many other places around the country. No doubt, some will grumble about apparent national unpreparedness for the impact of 'extreme weather events', but regardless of present ability to predict and warn about coming severe weather, nobody can precisely determine how it is going to affect specific places and what the knock-on consequences will be. Emergency planners work to cover every kind of scenario, but in the end expecting the unexpected is as much an art as a predictive science.
  

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Sunday reunions

I was up before the alarm went off this morning, set to ensure I'd get to St Catherine's in good time to celebrate the eight o' clock. There were eight of us present, Clare included. I was was joined at the altar by Sam, one of two students on parish placement in Canton for two years of his training in the new St Padarn's Institute, which amalgamates existing ministry training centres of the Church in Wales in a comprehensive organisation aiming to meet the needs of a variety of students with different background experience and ages. He's just started ministry after two formative years as a member of a community under a Benedictine inspired rule living the Parish of Abergavenny, one positive innovation to occur in the Welsh church in recent years.

One the way back afterwards we bought breakfast croissants in the Coop, which I notice has gone through another re-branding re-imaging exercise since I've been away. I wonder what that cost them I why it was thought necessary to revert to something nearer to what used to be the recognisable brand identity?

We ate together in a leisurely way afterwards, before I had to set off to celebrate the St German's Solemn Mass. It was a delight to be welcomed back and step back into a familiar pattern of ritual and worship with a congregation I know well. I love the sense of praying with the people there. So often as a locum priest still getting to know the ways of different congregations, I feel like I'm taking a service for them and it's not quite the same. It's the difference between dancing with a familiar partner and having to learn to dance with someone new. No matter how skilled you may be at adapting, that special sense of spiritual intimacy only grows with familiarity.

Afterwards, I left immediately, to drive straight out of town to the Country House Hotel, Thornhill, to join a lunch party arranged by the Friends of St John's. It was a lovely occasion, re-united with many old friends from my time as Vicar of Cardiff's City Parish Church. Earlier this week I was looking at photos of church outings and glimpsed people who would no longer be at the lunch as they've died over the years since. All those people with whom I shared those amazing years in my final incumbency, I still feel close to, living and departed.

We left for home just after four. The sun was low in the sky and although Cardiff was in shadow and about to be illuminated by street lights, the Severn Estuary was still aglow and silvery with sunshine. It is such a special place to see the entirety of the Cardiff's coastal plain. After supper, we watched the fourth episode of 'Y Gwyll' on S4C. Another finely crafted piece of film drama, it didn't disappoint.
    

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Autumnal city

After a constructive start to the day, with tomorrow's sermon completed and printed by mid-morning. Then we walked briskly into the city centre alongside the Taff, through Bute Park. It was bright and chilly and a feast for the eyes wherever you looked. I spotted a Cormorant flying up and down the river hunting for a meal. Near the SWALEC stadium, a Jay walked through the grass grass verge. It seemed quite unconcerned by our proximity. The footpath was momentarily quiet, so there was nothing to startle it. We stopped and observed it quietly for a little while. For once, I wasn't carrying a camera, and regretted it, though I think Clare was relieved at not have to stop and wait for me to catch her up. 

The majority of the leaves have turned yellow rather than red or brown this autumn. The rain and wind of recent days, has laid a gorgeous carpet of colours over the grass, while leaves still clinging to trees light up the blue sky with flecks of gold. I will need to do this walk again with a camera on Monday to try and capture the scene, before the leaf gathering machines move in. Weather permitting. The centre was busy, more crowded that usual, pending the start of the Wales v Japan Rugby international match. We wandered the shops for an hour or so, then went to the House of Frazer's Cafe Zest for a drink and a sandwich before walking home again.

I noticed there was a new Australian crime drama series to watch on BBC Four called 'Deep Waters', which started last week with a double episode, so I watched those on iPlayer, while awaiting episodes three and four to be shown.  Set on and around Bondi beach, it was about the investigation of a series of hate crimes against gay men, reaching back from present murders to cold cases of thirty years ago. It was fairly straightforward with few twists and turns no background police 'n politics intrigue. A decent effort, but for me, it lacked sparkle, the dialogue seemed flat and uninspired. But it could simply be that Australian culture and English speech feels more foreign to me than anything European regardless of the language differences.
      

Friday, 18 November 2016

Redevelopment progress in Central Square

Yesterday was a cold and rainy day, enough to sap motivation to go for my usual walk, so I just stayed in and pottered about. An email notification of pending water rates bill from Dwr Cymru prompted me to go on-line and register to get access to our account on-line. It wasn't quite as straightforward as it might have been, and I had to ring the help line to check about the entering the name of our account into a database field which seemed reluctant to accept what I entered from the account holder's name line of the bill address. Once sorted, I was able to download a pdf of the bill to examine.

When I mentioned to Clare that I'd done this, she complained, saying that she'd rather receive a paper copy, and then pay on line, something she's used to doing, perhaps even more than me. I returned to the Dwr Cymru website and discovered that in signing up for web access to the account (aka eBilling), I had lost the possibility of paper billing. Oh dear! So then I proceeded to de-register from using the online account, and when asked to explain why as part of this routine, stated I needed both and, not an either/or option..

This morning, by co-incidence, the water rates bill arrived in the post. It was already on its way when I was registering and de-registering yesterday. Hopefully this won't have disrupted the paper billing sequence in future. When you only get two water rate bills a year, it's easy to forget when they are due. I may get an email reminder, but Clare doesn't. If I was away when it was due, it might not get paid if she wasn't aware it was due.

Later in the morning I walked into town, with the aim of returning some surplus equipment to the office, and to take some photos of the Central Square Redevelopment construction site. It's seven weeks since I last did so. Work had just been started on demolishing the four storey row of shops and offices flanking Central Square on the east side. Now, all but a fraction the southern corner of the row has been cleared, exposing the car park behind, itself due for demolition, some time soon.

Amazingly, two tall concrete lift towers have sprung out of the ground, the excavated car park has been enclosed at ground level, and in separate areas of the site, two large skeletal steel structures have been erected. Very impressive indeed. I circumnavigated the site and took twice as many photos as usual, but can't make up for seven weeks of absence. Just as well that I don't have any travel plans for next year, and won't make any until Clare and I can plan to travel again together.

I had a wander around the shops for a while, looking for possible Black Friday sale bargains, but saw nothing that really tempted me at all. I'd quite like a smaller Windows laptop with a hi-res screen, as the work one I have is really too heavy and bulky to take in a rucksack. Most of those on offer are not the right size, and the screens are just not what I need for photo editing, and the ones worth considering are twice the price I am prepared to pay. If Toshiba can so a hi-res Chromebook for under £300, why can so few Windows PC manufacturers do the same for under £400. My other complaint about the new generation of portables is that so many of them have the battery hard wired and sealed in the case, and thus the device dies when the battery does. It's the same with phones too. Built in redundancy - it's the curse of consumerism and on the environment.

Having completed a tour of most of the shops I wanted to visit, I began to feel bored with shopping and headed for home, whereupon it started to rain and get colder, so instead of walking for another half an hour to get home, I waited for a 61 bus. During the journey, the heavens opened, sending forth a torrent of hail as well as water. It had just about stopped by the time I got off the bus, but everywhere was briefly covered with a white slushy blanket. By the time it got dark, the temperature had dropped just enough to cover the cars with frost. Winter is certainly on its way.
   

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Business as usual, and a catch-up treat

Back to St German's this morning to celebrate the 'Class Mass' with two dozen children and teachers from Tredegarville School in addition to the regular congregation of ten. I told them the story of St Martin of Tour, and had them singing songs that I'd used with them before. It was such a pleasure to be back with them again after time away.

I couldn't stop and chat for too long afterwards, as I needed to go home and pick up Clare to drive to Marion's house in Barry for the monthly Ignatian prayer group. Then I had to leave early before lunch and table talk finished, to drive to the School of Optometry in Cathays to collect another pair of reading glasses and consult with the optician about the problem of an experience I call 'dappled vision' that comes and goes, in certain lighting conditions. 

It's probably some kind of eye strain. It's become far less frequent since I started wearing proper specs with a special anti-glare reflective coating, but I felt it was worth checking out. Thankfully, there's been no change in my eyes since my first test. I've been given a list of possible medical conditions to discuss with my GP, but I'll wait to see if there's further recurrence. I've had occasional migraine auras in certain qualities of bright light for 25 years and it's bright light, from a computer screen or outdoors which triggers the bouts of 'dappled vision', so it could be a related low level effect - eyes struggling to cope, due to ageing with lenses clouding, not enough to obscure vision, but just enough to play tricks with the light at certain angles. Like a slightly dirty car windscreen. 

After a quick visit to Lidl's next door to the School of Optometry, I headed for home and cooked supper for us. Then at last, an opportunity to catch up on a high regarded Welsh crime drama series 'Gwyll' or 'Hinterland' in English. I noticed Series 3 was going to launch in October, but S4C's catch up stream wasn't accessible in Spain. I started watching on my tablet, and was surprised to discover it was entirely in Welsh. 

I watched Series 1 and 2 on BBC4 in a bilingual version with subtitles. This portrays lead character DCI Matthias as an English only speaker, with his colleague Mared (her of the famous signature red anorak with the furry collar) as the bi-lingual detective. He's clearly a Welshman, but not being a Welsh speaker suggests he's an outsider to the region, and one learns early on that he has been working with the Met in London. So, the Welsh only version portrays him as less of an outsider. Interesting! I shall watch again on BBC4 when it comes out, curious as to whether this entails straightforward dubbing of sound, or actual re-shooting of scenes. The photography is outstandingly good, as is the acting.

The great blessing of S4C catch up is that it skips the advertising, saving 10-15 minutes of boredom, so we binge watched three episodes in three hours fifteen, the length of one big movie. Well, a bit longer, as I wondered if I was getting the whole plot right with my understanding of spoken Welsh being a lot poorer than my Spanish, plus I couldn't switch on the subtitles, so I switched on telly with our YouView didgy box, felt my way to the correct programme location, switched on the subtitles, and pressed Go. 

Clare came and joined me this time. I gave her my plot summary, surprised to have confirmation from the replay of opening minutes that I had correctly understood what I'd heard and seen. Amazing! Mind you, isetting the murder scene in a chapel helped, as much of my latent Welsh vocabulary relates to church and religion. I can well understand how this crime series has gained audiences world-wide. It's up there with the very best of the euro-crimmies, many of which use several languages, as in real life.
  

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Flight diverted, communications disaster

When I went out for a breath of fresh air before going to bed early, the sky was crystal clear and the Supermoon high in the sky. Not such an interesting photo to be taken, but in any case I took one, framed by the Hostal Pensimar sign. It took a while to find the best position in which the camera's auto settings wouldn't be totally confused by the street lights. It's not wonderful, but better than nothing as a memento of my overnight stay. 

I slept until five, and the noises of plumbing working told me other travellers were on the move, so I got up, ate breakfast, then switched off my alarm and packed. My taxi arrived on time, and five minutes, later I entered the departure hall of Alicante-Elche (or if you prefer Valenciano, Alacant-Elx). El Altet is situated just south east of the runway end. It must be noisy in high season, but so convenient.

The airport was still relatively quiet, a quarter of an hour later I was in the departure lounge with an hour and a half to wait before boarding, with a cafe solo grande and my remaining travel sandwiches with nothing more to do than watch the sky lighten and the sun to rise.

We flew north along the coast through clear skies, and I caught a glimpse of the Ebro delta, which was less than easy to recognise as the angle of the early sun didn't illuminate the watery surfaces of the many salinas, and rice fields, after harvesting are endlessly brown, intersected at odd angles by roads and water conduits. Happy memories nevertheless. There was fresh snow on the eastern Pyrenees giving the mountains dramatic definition in the early light. On the north side, we entered cloud, obscuring the ground below and partly the sky above, even at a high cruising altitude. The next glimpse of land we had was through the clouds as we circled Bridgend waiting for clearance to land.

The pilot had warned us half way that diversion to Birmingham International might be necessary unless there was a break in the weather around Rhoose, clouds and rain down to the ground apparently. In the end, we flew north east to Warwickshire, where at least cloud was a few hundred metres above the runway, and landed safely. We were bussed into the terminal, and collected luggage. In the meanwhile I'd received an email from Vueling to stay the 'plane had been diverted to another airport and to visit the enquiry desk to find out about repatriation to Cardiff. The email identified the flight, but not the airport arrived at. It didn't identify by name which information desk one was to seek, out of many, nor where passengers might be expected to wait for transport.

The outcome of this was bewilderment for 150+ passengers, who stood with their luggage outside the main entrance blocking the entrance for others arriving and departing. By now it was midday. A few passengers who knew an insider in the airline business 'phoned a friend' to find out what had happened and what would happen next. No airport official appeared to manage the crowd and tell us where to gather and stay. I heard there had been a tannoy announcement about buses coming for us, but didn't hear anything myself, and there was no information displayed on any digital screen I was aware of. 

Then it started to rain lightly, driving some people back into the entrance lobby, and others across the road to bus shelters. Thankfully the first of three coaches turned up just after one o'clock. A resourceful passenger hearing the name of the bus company had called them and got confirmation they'd set out and their ETA. Nothing from airport management. 

While we were boarding, a man and a woman wearing hi-viz jackets bearing the Swissport logo put in an appearance to ensure everyone found a place on a bus. What happened to the two disabled travellers who may not have been able to get up into a coach, I never found out. Swissport is the company that manages all kinds of passengers services for airlines in both Cardiff and Birmingham, maybe other airports, I don't know. My previous experience of them at work has been very positive, so it's hard to know what happened to break the necessary information from from the airlines and airports in question to passengers on the receiving end. 

Technologies are clearly in place which are up to the job, if an email came to my phone as soon as I got off the 'plane. It simply didn't contain enough precise and relevant information to be helpful. And in the end that's down to people managing the system not thinking hard enough about how to deploy their latest comms toys. The transport logistics people were clearly on the ball, for buses to arrive just three hours after the flight had been diverted. I believe they were from a Welsh company and assume that outbound passengers stranded in Cardiff were taken to Birmingham to catch their flight, but maybe by a separate fleet of buses, given that loading passengers would have added another hour to the delay. 

We arrived back at Cardiff International just after five, a two and a half hour trip. Our driver was not so familiar with the airport trip, and missed a turning at one roundabout and needed redirection by vigilant passengers upfront, but it was all very good humoured. I was seated in front of an older couple and overheard snatches of conversation and comments during the journey which took me right back into childhood, as the accent, intonation and turns of phrase used were specific to the district of the Valleys in which I was brought up. I could have been on a bus outing sixty years ago instead of today.

I arrived home at six, glad to have been able to alert Clare about the change of circumstances which meant I couldn't take her to an appointment, or drive her to choir practice, so she was able ot make other arrangements. She wasn't home, but that gave me time to unpack completely and tidy my things away beforehand, and enjoy the welcome home lunch she'd prepared and kept for me, six hours ago.

It wasn't quite the homecoming I'd expected, and as the delays were fairly inconsequential in our case, there was little to worry about, but lots to reflect on. All the best resources were in place, but their use thwarted by the breakdown of the information flow. Human error, perhaps one missed phone call, a key person out of the office, an element of a contingency plan not discussed, and crisis management of any complex situation can unravel. All those bewildered passengers standing around with baggage in the entrance area unsupervised, like sheep without a shepherd, could have been a scenario for an accident, a security incident, or for an opportunist criminal to do their worst. I hope my recourse to Twitter with complaint and comment about this affair will contribute to a review of contingency planning on the part of all those involved in the chain of communication.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Leaving Mojacar.

I thought yesterday was busy,but today was busier still. I stayed up late writing and got up late. Then this morning, there was my case to pack, the bed linen and towels to consign to the laundry basket, travel food to put in a bag, rubbish to take to the bin, the kitchen to clean.

There was more writing to do as well, as a handover report for the next locum, and this took me a lot longer than expected. I felt it was important to ensure the wi-fi password was embedded in the report, as I'd been unable to find it, as can be the case, on these assignments, found scribbled on a post-it note on the desk, or in the vicinity of the router. So far in Spain, with rare exception, I needed to look for the wi-fi password on the device itself. It's written in such small print that a magnifying glass is needed. So I take a photo of the identifying label on the underside of the router, and blow it up to read from when identifying each device I log on.

One virtue of BT and TalkTalk wireless internet is that they provide this info in larger print, on a card and with the 'howto' information. Some routers used in Spain have an extra button to push to broadcast the password briefly so wireless devices can pick it up, as in the UK, but not all. Such 'magic' solutions are not good news in the realm of good security, as you don't know what suspicious person or system is sniffing for access. So why Spanish internet service providers seem to relish making it difficult, I don't know, as it's of no benefit to the user.

Anyway, the morning sped by, and my last cooked lunch was rather a rush. I got out of the house on time, then went back because I worried about having left the balcony door unlocked (it wasn't), then I headed for Pam and Alwyn's house outside Vera for the journey to Alicante airport, and was only five minutes late by my timetable, or twenty five minutes early as they were expecting me at two and were still having lunch. It meant that I could enjoy a cup of coffee before we headed north in good weather. The journey passes through some spectacularly beautiful terrain. I didn't take photos for once, as the cameras were packed away in the boot. All I had to do was relax and let myself be driven, and in good company. How lovely.

Booking dot com led to an inexpensive room for one at Hostal Pensimar in El Altet, a well appointed and modern stopover place for the airport. I bade farewell to Pam and Alwyn just after four, happy to know they would be back in Vera before dark. Now with tomorrow's taxi booked for six thirty, all I have to do is relax some more, sleep and wait until the check-in counter makes its sleepy start.

No rising Supermoon for me tonight. On the way here we drove into cloudy weather, and it rained for a while on the airport approach motorway. Early bed for me I think.
        

Sunday, 13 November 2016

A memorable Remembrance Sunday

I made sure to get to the Ermita de San Pascual early this morning, our Remembrance Sunday Eucharist was to start fifteen minutes early, so that the two minutes silence could be observed at exactly eleven o'clock. Thankfully, the readings and hymns chosen ensured this would be possible. A I parked the car a few hundred metres away from church to make room for others to park, the sound of bagpipes reached me on the still morning air. Nothing better to send a shiver down the spine and awaken the senses.

This is most likely the last time the local resident piper David will play, as he's of an age that requires him to return to family in Britain, after caring for his wife until her recent death. A familiar and much loved figure in local expat life, he's been here for ages, since they retired, playing for Burns nights, funerals and Veterans' events - a real labour of love and honour.

There were nearly a hundred people in church for the service, and sixty four communicants, about the usual number. I broke my own rule and preached longer than usual, but didn't seem to lose people. I had several appreciative, as opposed to irritating comments afterwards.

Then I went with other church members to a special lunch at 'Sensations' restuarant, which is next to the Bella Vista where I dined last week with Archdeanon Geoff, Pam and Alwyn. The service was slow. Clearly the kitchen was understaffed, and we waited an hour between courses. It was nearly four when I got back, and had to reciver my eving sermon, print it off, and get out of the house and on my way to Aljambra for Evensong by five.

Thankfully, I arrived in good time, officiated at Evensong preached for the last time to the congregation there, and reached home just after eight. Then, there was an evening meal to prepare, making enough to cover tomorrow's lunch also. Little time to pack before bed time, and so busy, I forgot to call Clare. It was a busy day but a fulfilling day. I've enjoyed good will and kindness here during my stay. I hope it won't be too long before another permanent chaplain can be welcomed. But, if the opportunity arose I'd love to return for another locum spell, and bring Clare with me. There's so much more I'd like to learn and discover about this extraordinary region.

   

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Rivers and the sea

I didn't do much today, though I didn't have much to do, apart from an afternoon walk to the far end of Garrucha Puerto for exercise, and on to Vera Playa. Vera is 10km from here, but I guess the area the Municipality covers stretches down to the sea because the course of the rio Antas touches the town. Come to think of it, a few centuries back a river like this would have been navigable, making up-river trading possible for small coastal trading boats. Only when there's a massive sudden sudden deluge of rain nowadays is there any water above ground in rivers of this kind. Perhaps if I'd walked a few more kilometres I would have come to the river mouth, and who knows maybe discovered a pool of surface water near the beach, like the rio Aguas.

Over the weeks of my stay here I have been obsessing over a suitable word in Spanish that describes the rio Aguas coastal wetland. River water locked in by a sandbar, seeping away to the sea beneath the surface. I wouldn't use the word 'pool' in English, as it translates as piscina, swimming pool. No good. David kindly loaned me for a quick speed read 'Flamingos in the Desert', a book by Kevin Borman, local naturalist, and explorer of trails throughout Almeria Province. A few samples of his narration and I was hooked by his sympathetic style of descriptive writing, with lovingly described detail of the landscape, its history and stories about people and the byways of the region.

Inevitably, I had to select passages, with just an evening's reading before returning the book to him. So naturally I looked for Borman's account of the area I have been exploring during my time here, and in particular his account of following the rio Aguas from source to shore. I learned that as he had passed along the north side of the arroyo, from below Mijas Pueblo within the last few years, he'd been taken with the sight of a flock of serin rising from the bushes along the road. He mentions this once in just the same location where I'd been surprised by the sudden flight of a large flock of very small birds which I didn't recognise. Birds, like humans, are very territorial creatures, so I reckon the flock I saw was most likely another generation of the flock he reported. One more sighting identified!

The Spanish word Borman uses for this sand bar enclosed body of water is 'charco', which translates as 'pond' in English, although it's bigger than what one would usually describe as a pond and smaller than what one would call a lake. He mentions several other similar river outlets along the coast in the vicinity of Carboneras, as all rich in flora and fauna as the one I have come to know the past six weeks.

Word play is such fun in English. Across languages, one might never grow old again. It's nearly fifty years since I last tried to read Joyce's 'Finnegan's Wake'. Perhaps it's time I tried again, during the coming cold and overcast winter months in Cardiff, when it's almost painful to look at the sky.
   

Friday, 11 November 2016

Armistice Day on Parade, then underground

I drove to Aljambra again this morning earlier to preach at an Armistice Day service with the Royal British Legion Albox branch, one of several in the region, indicative of the strength of the population of expatriates, and Armed Service veterans among them. There were forty present, but I was told this was half the number attending just two years ago, and that was a disappointment to the church team that had turned out to welcome them. There are all sorts of possible reasons for the change. Sickness, infirmity, holiday absence, or return to the UK among them, the branch itself has been less active until recently. One thing is certain, military veterans wherever they are stay loyal to their annual remembrance-tide commitment, and that is most honourable.

After the service, I was invited to lunch at John and Ann's house, together with Duncan and Jean, the other side of the Almanzora Valley from Albox, in a hamlet not far from the village that gives its name to the river and valley. Their house has to be reached by driving on a rough track across the dry river bed where the Arroyo Albánchez joins the rio Almanzora. The house stands above the arroyo itself, which is covered with almond and citrous trees. It's a deeply rural area where shepherds still walk their flocks or sheep or goats out to pasture on the steep slopes above the valley floor. 

It also has history of mining, like the villages in the Sierra Bédar, though not on a huge industrial scale. The ruins of the building from which the work was managed can still be glimpsed at the base of a ravine, near the valley road, but the iron-rich hillside above present no obvious sign of industry. There are dry stone terraces, and these have supported orchards. Some may be very ancient, local hearsay reckons they go back to Roman times. Some of those terraces are where mine working entrances can be found, not they are not visible from down below. 

We had a splendid lunch, preceded by a drink on the patio in full sunshine. Too hot to eat outdoors on November 11th! This is a steep sided valley, running south to north, so the sun rises late and sets early. Temperatures change dramatically once the house goes into shade. It was a peasant farmer's house, with door arches wide enough for a pannier laden donkey to be brought indoors with produce for unloading. The outside door wasn't hung on hinges but pivoted around a pole. A narrower entrance was called for during renovation. Using the ornate wrought iron attachments from the old one, John made a substantial door to fit the new space. The quality of the ironwork which he restored has him wondering about their origin, as they seem seem rather sophisticated for such an originally humble dwelling.

After a brief post-prandial pause we drove up the mountain road to spot where it was possible to park and then scramble down the upper reaches of the ravine from where several jagged rocky apertures about a metre and a half across could be seen on the slope opposite. We reached a terrace which had an entrance tunnel to the workings, driven through the hard iron bearing rock. It was obstructed by a heap of stones a metre high, possibly from a collapsed section of terrace above. There was enough clearance for us to climb over and into the entrance tunnel without difficulty. 

After about fifteen metres, the tunnel opened out into a cavern. It wasn't dark at all, but illuminated by sunlight, pouring in from the holes in the roof above and to the side. On closer inspection these other holes glimpsed from the outside showed signs of being man made, or a widening of natural fissures. In parts of the cavern, columns of stone had been left in place as roof supports, and there were signs that other tunnels had been started, following seams of minerals wherever they went. There was a great mound of rubble below these tunnels, suggesting a work in progress had been abandoned.

We found remains of boreholes in a few rocky surfaces made by the drills of shot-firers, as the teams of explosives experts were called when I was a boy. I can remember seeing holes like this in large slabs of coal delivered to our house, and in shale rocks on the spoil heap where I used to play and hunt for carboniferous fossils. This was the only visible evidence of 19th-20th century mining as there were no remnants of equipment or fixations anchoring equipment into the rock. The cavern, like the external terrace, was so lacking in evidence of recent industry, that we could have been standing in mine workings a thousand or two thousand years ago, as basic mining technique used was the same. 

Only the ruined building at the bottom of the ravine spoke of the existence of mining in this area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, right into the civil war era. I wondered if this was a modest kind of cottage industry, using traditional techniques in an area deemed unfit or too expensive for expansion or modernisation. There's so much to learn.

Rather than go straight back to the house, we drove on over the top of the mountain and down into the next valley and paid a brief visit to the small valley town of Cantoria. The Moors had established a fortress and a hill village on a high rocky promontory to the south west of the town, and after the Moors' sixteenth century insurrection both were demolished and the sites left bare, A new town was built on the valley floor next to the rio Almanzora. It's one of a few towns of this period laid out in a classical grid pattern, such as the Romans used, and Napoleon revived later.

We re-traced our steps from here back to the house, following the rather rough track of the railway line which ran through this region to the coast, which closed in the early sixties. Quite apart from offering an interesting perspective of the valley and a few tantalising glimpses of birds I couldn't recognise, John took us back this way, to show the approximately 10km detour which must be taken from home to Albox when there's there a mighty deluge of rainwater that fills all the dry river beds to overflowing, and makes them impassible. It only happens sporadically, and who knows what will happen in future as extreme weather events get harder to predict, and likewise their impact.

I was most annoyed with myself, to have left both cameras behind, with so many sight to photograph, but Ann came to the rescue with a Sony point 'n shoot, of the same kind that I used to document the city centre redevelopment work when I was at St John's. The card slot on neither of my computers will take a Sony Memory Stick, but the connecting cables were still available. I was able to take fifty photos, transfer them to my computer, edit and upload them to the web for sharing with great ease. I was most disconcerted when I started getting notifications that people were viewing them, but I couldn't get them to display on any device. 

After a while the penny dropped. I hunted down the array of albums stored, and found them hidden at the bottom, filed in date order. The camera's operating system was still at its default date setting, 1st Jan 2008. I sorted that out, and then went through the uploaded photos altering the metadata file for each to show the proper date and time. Picasa wouldn't let me do this on originals, but Google Photos editor makes this easy and convenient. Normally I don't have a good word to say about this Picasaweb usurper, but this is one undeniable positive. All that now needs to be done is to find a simple app which will do the same on the originals on the PC. But not tonight.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Into the domain of the Marques de los Velez

I drove to Aljambra to celebrate the Eucharist this morning for a congregation of fourteen. At the end we sang 'Happy Birthday' to Jean, who had turned 90 since she was last in church. I'm told that in her day she was a professional singer. She still sings with enthusiasm, but finds it hard to join in fully as she's become extremely deaf. Aware of this, I gave her the print out of my sermon text to take home with her at the end. An unlikely gift, but it drew a lovely smile from her.

Afterwards went on a rather special journey north, climbing up the western flank of the Almanzora valley on the A399, over a pass through the sierras to Oria at 1,025m, then across high rolling plains to Chirivel, then on the faster A92N eastward down a wide valley flanked by the Sierras de Maria to the north, and the Sierras de las Estancias to the south, to reach the hamlet of Los Gatos where David and Cath have made their home since retirement, about 10km from the historic town of Velez Rubio in a house they have named 'Casa Cymru'. Wonderful.

The Marques de Velez was an important and powerful figure in this region, and the name Velez crops up all over Andalusia, perhaps because the name identified a military clan that had played a key role in the reconquista. The first Marques took over the town subsequently known as Velez Blanco a few kilometres to the north of Velez Rubio. There he had constructed an imposing castle on the site of the 10th-11th century Moorish citadel, in the 16th century. 

Velez Rubio lower down the mountain side expanded in the 17th century, and acquired an imposing church in late Renaissance style, said to be the largest in Almeria Province. It's certainly a testimony to the power and wealth of the Velez dynasty, which had control of large amounts of territory seized from the Moors. The family maintained vast stretches of forest in the sierras for hunting, and much of the forest is still there, looked after under the authority of the Parque Natural de Maria de los Velez.

After an excellent lunch, David and Cath took me on a two hour tour around just one possible route in the Parque Natural. There are several more awe inspiring journeys to be made through the sierras of this region, each very different from the other, such is the variety of terrain. The climax of our trip was a stop as the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza, just opposite the visitor centre that has been established for a botanical garden which reaches up the flanks of the Sierra Maria. 

The chapel will hold 150 people, and apart from its sanctuary altarpiece, it is a simple building, breathing serenity. Out in the front courtyard is a small enclosed garden, in the centre of which is a sundial that has a cross inclined at an appropriate angle to serve as a sundial. There are marble plaques flanking it, with text that points of the sacramental quality of the passage of time. As it was coming up to five, the visitor centre and the botanical garden was already closed, but the views with the setting sun lighting the landscape were a great compensation.

We made a brief stop in Velez Rubio on the way back to Casa Cymru to take a look at the church of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnacion. We were fortunate in that it was open. When we went inside we found that a Holy Hour of sacramental adoration was drawing to its close, a beautiful coincidence at the end of an awe inspiring beautiful ride through glorious landscapes, towns and villages. Photos I took (here) can only convey a partial impression of the beauty of this area.

It was dark when we got back, and soon I had to be on the road again, heading down the A92N to the intersection with the A7 at Puerto Lumbreras, for the last stretch of the journey back to Mojacar. It's just an hour's journey to the coast where I'm staying, but it's such a different world.
    
  


Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Election aftermath

Last night was probably the coldest I've experienced in Spain this year, although I don't suppose the temperature dropped below twelve degrees. I work up several times, and couldn't resist a quick check on the American Presidential election commentary, and as proceedings developed it was harder to get back to sleep. I ended up hunting for another blanket as I wasn't conserving heat, after reaching for a phone or tablet on which I could listen to BBC news. By dawn, it was clear that there was going to be a major upset, not predicted by the polls, unexpected, as with the Brexit vote. 

The only early indication of Trump's victory came from a tech' blog commentator on Wired.com, pointing out that traffic analysts had noticed Twitter and other social media platforms were getting a disproportionately high volume of Trump favoured input, reflecting the same trend observed during the campaign. Trump seemed to be constantly in the news spotlight for his outrageous remarks, as social media would be the first place reporters would look for material to write about. 

Social media distributes and promotes information and disinformation, facilitating discussion outside the range of news media intelligence trawls and it happens much faster than news media can deliver. Trump's media strategists and activists contributed to his victory, and got people out to vote who had abstained or never voted before. Perhaps something similar was happening in the Brexit campaign, that wasn't adequately taken into account by those who thought they were going to win, and even took by surprise those who weren't sure they'd win. Only those who are really marketing savvy would notice the trend, from their own experience of commercial brand promotion.

So, America has been sold Trump, as it might have been sold soap, or a Carribean time-share. Across the world his victory has evoked nervous reactions. Everyone is wondering how much of his blustering rhetoric he meant, and which outrageous statements if any, he will translate into policies affecting the lives of billions, and potentially the fate of the planet and humankind, if he disregards the latest climate change treaties, or is willing to use nuclear weapons as more than a deterrent threat. 

From Trump's victory speech, he has adopted a more dignified conciliatory posture, appealing for all parties to unify around his presidential leadership for patriotic motives. Obama and Hilary Clinton also made suitably dignified and patriotic noises of support for the presidency. A time honoured ritual, yet the exceptional toxicity of the campaign, undermined confidence in both main candidates. 

It's clear Trump won't have high popularity ratings as President, but no matter what he achieves, will he be trusted or respected? The media onslaught has exposed all the ills and weaknesses of the American political system. The ensuing loss of innocence cannot be ignored or hidden. In America, as in the UK, we are entering uncertain times. Navigating through whatever happens next when the collective moral compass has been trashed and tossed aside, is a real cause for concern.

I emerged from the house mid-morning and went for a walk, to get away from the radio and internet. A broken night's sleep made me feel like I had a hangover, despite several alcohol free days. It's hard to take it all in, hard to know how to pray about these affairs. Living with change and interpreting change from a faith perspective, is what I've been doing for most of my ministry. At my time of life that's about all I can do. Brexit, this election and all that accompanied both, however, represent what gets called 'disruption' these days, an unexpected and radical shift in the process of change itself. It challenges and shakes up our thinking in a way that is bewildering. Where do we go from here? 

After lunch I had a call from Alwyn asking if I could contact Mojacar's parish priest Fr Manuel and check he has the date for this year's bi-lingual ecumenical service of lessons and carols in his diary. I checked what I thought was the right thing to say with Google Translate, and called him. I was so pleased that he understood me and that I understood his affirmative response. Daily language drills using the DuoLingo Android app help greatly to anchor vocabulary and sentence formation in my memory, but what I most need is full time exposure to life in a Spanish speaking family and community. Having to speak French most days in Geneva did wonders for learning achievement. I need the same opportunity here in Spain!

In an effort to shut the news out of my head for a little longer, I went out for another walk at tea time, but only as far as the rio Aguas, and then circumnavigated the inland lagoon (if that's what this stretch of inland watercourse is rightly called) on the beach side. I got some photos of the first of the Egrets returning to roost, and several of warblers, though figuring out which kind of warbler, is another matter. I think there are several in this stretch of wetland. A very satisfying sort of distraction, before the sun slipped away behind Mojacar Pueblo and the Sierra Cabrera through an array of tinted dark clouds.
         

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Travel planning as America votes

I noticed how much colder it felt this morning, due to the wind, when I drove to Lidl's for the rest of the week's shopping. After that I didn't have much incentive to go out, and stayed indoors, reading news articles and preparing the fourth sermon of those I'll preach in days to come. This time next week I'll be home again, in Cardiff. After discussion with Pam and Alwyn yesterday, I'll be taken to Alicante airport during the day on Monday, and stay overnight in a Hostal at El Altet. It's a short taxi ride from there to check in at six thirty, and that's far preferable than having to get out of the house and on the road by four, to be sure of getting there on time. 

I'm grateful for this. It would be awful to miss the flight, as the frequency of direct Vueling links to Cardiff drops off just at this time of year, and quite apart from the extra cost, I might have to take a train to Barcelona to get another one. I don't know why I'm so pessimistic about things. Travel by road, rail and air is so much more predictable these days than it was when I started regular flying back in the early nineties. But, I still get 'what if?' travel nerves well before I set out. Once I'm on the move, I forget and stop worrying.

I've been following coverage of the US elections during the day, wondering if I will stay up and listen, or just check the news whenever I wake up in the night. There'll be a life feed on the BBC News website, Twitter and many others, no doubt. The one that interests me is on wired.com one of the more substantial tech' blogs, which is narrating events using material from an analysis of social media exchanges, millions of them in this next 24 hours, relating to the politics of the hour. To see how this compares and contrasts with statistical presentations based on opinion polls and exit polls will be instructive. It's the first time, I believe, that it's ever been done.
    

Monday, 7 November 2016

Early preparation

A clear bright and windy day with a touch of autumnal chill about it. I woke up thinking about the week ahead, my last and perhaps busiest here, with two Remembrance Sunday services, one on Thursday and another on Friday for Armistice Day. For each occasion the readings are different, there are four different sermons to prepare, so after breakfast I put my thinking cap on, and started work. 

After I stopped for lunch, there was an afternoon play on BBC Radio Four about a man who suffered from agoraphobia, dramatised with the afflicted man speaking in the first person, about his efforts to overcome his fears and live a normal life, not confined to living at working at home. It was very well conceived and allowed the listener to enter into his experience and feel his distress, and it helped me to think about something from a pastoral perspective that I'd never considered before. Now that is truly powerful radio theatre, so well able to make use of initimacy with the listener.

By bed-time I had drafts of three sermons, feeling pleased I'd made the effort, and got into the flow of creative work. Daily exercise consisted of nothing more than a walk to Mercadona and back to get a few items to tide me over until I can take the car out tomorrow and shop for the rest of my time here. 

The sunset sky was remarkable. A cirro-cumulus cloud formation would usually be called a 'mackerel sky' but as it was orangey pink during most of the walk there, it would be best described as a 'salmon sky', wonderful to behold. Sadly, I hadn't bothered to carry a camera. It was still windy, and I regretted not taking the extra chill factor into account and putting on an extra layer.

The United States goes to the poll tomorrow to elect a new President. The campaign has released so much poisonous resentment and hatred, just as the Brexit affair has in Britain. Farage is promising to rally a 100,000 followers outside the building where the Supreme Court will review the  Law Lords' judgement. Is this an attempt to influence an objective reasoned examination of a decision based on agreed established fact? Or is it an attempt to intimidate the judiciary under the same alibi of free speech used by the tabloid press to justify its hate speech and (in my opinion) contempt of court. It has the same dynamic as the politics of a Nazi era, and the British government has lurched to far to the right in its crowd pleasing efforts to maintain its hold on power, that its effort to defend constitutional rule are too little and too late. The tail of the politically extreme right is starting to wag the Conservative dog. Worrying.
       

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Celebrating the great cloud of witnesses

I was up again at dawn doing Chi Gung exercises on the terrace before breakfast. The clouds were hues of orange and yellow, as if a poor weather day might follow, but a wind then sprang up and dispersed them, leaving us with a beautiful clear mild sunny day. This made the sea look an eyecatching vivid deep blue I noticed, driving to church later.

The Mojacar congregation was down to forty this morning. Some regulars are away on holiday, other seasonal residents have gone and will return after New Year, others will come in the next few weeks to avoid the winter. We kept All Saints and All Souls together this Sunday, and are keeping Remembrance Sunday next week. Incense was scheduled for use this morning, an occasional rather than regular feature of worship here. The small thurible had short chains, something I'm not used to after using the St German's full size one regularly for the past few years. I could have done with a practise beforehand.

There was a long list of names of the departed to read out, taken from the chaplaincy's Book of Remembrance, containing over eighty names of people associated with its life from the beginning over fifteen years ago. As there can be as many as sixty funerals a year of non-church members conducted by chaplaincy ministers, I was most relieved that the Book didn't also contain their names as well or we'd have been in church a lot longer.

Late afternoon, I walked again to the top of the hill above the Club Marina golf course, with my Sony HX300 camera, hoping to get even better Hoopoe photos now I know where to find them. I was a little later than on Friday, and only caught sight of a pair flying out of a bunker and away to another feeding ground out of sight. Even the couple of hares I spotted were 250 metres away on the other side of the course - at least I think they are hares. They look too big to be rabbits, but I've only seen them standing to attention so far, moving very little, certainly not running.

I spent the evening working on preaching material for the coming week in which I have two services with a Remembrance day theme to preach at. The trouble is I have too many ideas to weave together in a concise way, and can't yet work out what to use for which occasion.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Bedar Pueblo visit

When I first learned about the remnants of local mining and ore exporting industry on the edge of Garrucha. I promised myself to make the journey inland to Bedar, whose mines were linked by rail to the descagador on the shore outside Garrucha. Finally, this afternoon I got around to making the trip. From Los Galliardos, at the edge of the coastal plain near the A7 autovia, the road winds steadily up a green valley into the Sierra de Bedar. The village stands at over 400m with immense views of the entire plain, and Mojacar Pueblo perched a mere 150m up in the Sierra Cabrera above the sea. 
This is a mineral rich area, and on the floor of the valley approaching the village are remnants of its 19th industrial history, and a loading terminal where the tramway to Garrucha probably started.
There is a walking trail from there to different mine sites in hillsides above. Lead, silver and iron ore were extracted here then, but it seems likely that the Moors would have first established themselves in this locality because of this. So far, however, I've not come across any references to when they arrived. What is reported however is their use of natural materials to make thick insulating walls for their houses, a necessity in winter.

I carried on driving up the road beyond the village, that goes to the even higher village of Lubrin over the other side of a mountain pass. It's a breathtaking switchback of a climb. I'd hate to have to drive it in really wintry weather. But, on this bright, warm and breezy autumn afternoon conditions were well nigh perfect for getting photos of the plain beyond Bedar from above.
I drove up the mountain until I could find a safe place on the winding road to turn and then descended to the village and parked the car by the main road on the edge of the village and walked around the streets, to try and get a measure of the place.

Bedar isn't easy to spot from the plain below. It was established in a relatively secluded position, and seems to not to have had defensive fortifications. The streets are winding, steep and narrow, and the 17th century Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza and San Gregorio Nanzianzen nestles among streets in the higher reaches of the village. It was shut, as ever in siesta time.
There's also a Capilla de Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza that looks to be of fairly modern construction on the edge of the village above the main road in its own tree line plaza. It has a tall plain east window, to shed light on two large stained glass panels suspended inside the sanctuary on either side of the altar, flanking the statue of the Virgin. The window has long curtains, maybe to limit the amount of afternoon sunlight entering the sanctuary, but maybe so that the image of the Virgin can be turned around on special occasions for viewing by those standing out in the plaza. Just a thought. The entrance is a wrought iron gate, behind which is a substantial glass door, allowing visitors to look in.
Walking past a bar, I only heard English spoken, indicative of Bedar's popularity as a place for British people to settle. The mines closed in the early sixties leading to population decline due to emigration, so the influx of expatriates helped revive the fortunes of this village. as also happened with Mojacar Pueblo. Much of the site in the valley below from where ore would have been transported out to the coast has been cleared of industrial detritus, and landscaped. It's difficult to imagine what it might have looked like at the turn of the twentieth century when this was a much busier place than it is now.

I read an article earlier in the week about two French geology students who were researching local mining history here last year, and had re-discovered tunnels thought to be an underground section of the cable drawn tram railroad carrying ore to the coast, as an improvement on the overhead cable and bucket system commonly used. The latter I remember well, as it was used for building mountains of useless mined coal shale from deep underground and ruining the landscape when I was growing up in the Valleys. As spoil tips grew and changed shape, pylons could be abandoned or moved to deliver spoil to ruin new sites, a cheap and mobile option. The railroad to the coast was point to point, worth investing more in developing. It's amazing that new mining technologies can extract marketable minerals in situ and leave the spoil underground where it belongs. My Dad and Grandpa would be amazed, and very glad to see this.

As I'd set out rather late after lunch, my visit was not a lengthy one, as I wanted to pick up some more cerveza sin alcohol on my way and be back before dark. There's a good deal I didn't see in Bedar, and as it's not very far away, I think I'll make another visit before I leave.