Sunday, 31 December 2017

Christmastide Sunday at St John's Montreux

Naturally an unlockable key box was cause for concern before this morning's Eucharist, however we lacked for nothing, or so I thought, until I had problems getting the church radio mic to work, even after two changes of battery - a pair of dead ones had been put back in the box of fresh ones, and while was a spell after I left when nobody was living in Church House to keep an eye on charging re-chargeables, the ordinary consumable kind were being used, and don't last nearly a long as those designed for the job. But during an interregnum church leaders and members have to improvise work-arounds when things don't run routinely smooth. They have my admiration!

The other unexpected this morning, apart from me having trouble navigating my way around the complexities of the Common Worship equivalent of a altar Missal, was the absence from the crib of baby Jesus. Where could He be? The church hadn't been open all week, so it was unlikely He'd been taken by a visitor. Who had moved him, we may never know. And to where?

Caroline the sacristan afterwards said that during the Intercessions she'd asked St Anthony for help. Moments later, at the Peace, Jane, who was assistant eucharistic minister for the day, walked over to greet Caroline, and spotted the Christ-child nestling between the arm and the cushion on the Vicar's stall. I sat there earlier without noticing. You could say, my attention was on higher things.

At Communion the choir were going to sing 'Lully Lullay', but choirmaster Peter had a momentary lapse of memory and launched un-stoppably into 'Torches' instead. Having learned the latter for the Carol Service a couple of weeks back, the choir followed from memory, while furtively searching the Christmas folders in front of them for the music. The quick witted organist realised there was an error, and improvised a transposition of the accompaniment from memory, working his way out of the key for 'Lullay Lullay' to that of 'Torches', with a few interesting mistakes en route.

Torches by Philippe Joubert is a piece I learned off by heart at 17, singing in Pengam school choir. The jerky start grabbed my attention, and listening to the odd harmony had me wondering if Joubert had written another harmonised version of the song. It is, in any case, fully of dissonance, slightly reminscent of medieval part songs, but very 20th century. The choir successfully rescued a disaster sprung on them, thanks to musicianship and a strong sense of cameraderie in their service of the church's liturgy. A delight, in spite of itself.

Later, after lunch I walked into Montreux along the lakeside promenade, which was very busy with people from far and wide taking an afternoon walk in the sunshine, voices chatting away in many different languages. At select sites along the lakeside there were fresh sculptures of characters and animals from some Disney movie, I think. These were large wire framed models clad in branches of fir trees, woven together, most imaginatively and skilfully executed. Over the course of the weeks, the greens will die back into russet at different rates, a transformation that will continue to make them worth looking at.

In the area along the lakeside between the Casino and Montreux's boat ferry station, centering on the classic Vaudois covered Market Hall, there's a huge prestigious Christmas market annually. This had ceased and only the bare structures remain for taking down after the New Year Holiday. These are remarkable in themselves, large custom built two storey wooden chalets serving as restuarants or retail stores, in fresh pine. It must have been quite a sight, when they were occupied and trading. On my return walk, I could hear the sound of an alpenhorn drifting across the lake, coming from Veytaux, the neighbouring commune beyond Territet. What more could I ask on New Year's Eve?

On this trip, I have brought my Sony Alpha 68 DSLR camera with me, plus lenses. The extra weight travelling will be worthwhile. It's fast to focus and easy to handle, a pleasure to use, and it produces lovely photos. Even so, it'll take me a while to master, and get the most out of. It's only failing is the lack of a built in levelling display, which both my other cheaper Sony cameras have. It's an odd omission, and calls for a different kind of concentration when framing a shot. All part of the fun, I guess.

This evening, I've been editing and uploading photos, (you can find them here) plus sending email greetings to various people, before walking out to see the New Year in. Thankfully it isn't raining now, but a week of rain is being predicted. Such a shame for Clare and Ann's visit. But now comes the turning of the year, and I couldn't be in a more delightful place. So blessed

Saturday, 30 December 2017

A very wet Saturday

It rained heavily, most of the night and for much of the day. I occupied myself during the morning with sacristy chores, left un-done since Christmas Day, as key regulars who look after things were away. It was only reasonable to get things straight before they returned for this Sunday's service. 

I'd just started braving myself up to walk to the shops in Montreux when Joy popped into church on an errand and knocked on the door in search of a spare sacristy key. The secure key box in church housing everything needed for access, would not open. The battery operated code number pad had stopped functioning, presumably its battery died without warning in the default 'locked' position. 

Somewhere a physical key for releasing the bolt mechanism was concealed, but nobody approached so far knew were. But, there was a spare sacristy key, which enabled me earlier to enter and do all that was required, except for putting the Communion vessels in the church safe. Getting a specialist locksmith to attend a non-emergency over the holidays, until there was a priest next door to let him into church was unlikely. That's a job for next week. It's possible to manage for the moment.

When she heard that I was about to go food shopping, Joy offered to drive me, as she was headed to the Coop hypermarket the other side of Villeneuve where she could get a piece of wood cut to size for a DIY project at home. Her errand took only moments, so she guided me around the vast retail floor to pick up all I needed, in just ten minutes. Alone it would have taken me an hour! The only thing that defeated me was buying wine. There was such a huge variety of local and foreign wines on offer at such a range of prices, it would have taken me an hour to decide, limiting myself to the inexpensive end of the market. There must have been thirty metres of four tier shelving given to wine. Why so much? The answer is in the location.

The hypermarket is in a retail park adjacent to an autoroute junction, uniquely situated for passing trade. France is 20km away, on the south side of the lake, also 70km to the north, and the way across France to the UK. It's also 100km to Italy through the Mont Blanc tunnel, so it's an ideal place to stop off and stock up after an alpine holiday, before the long drive home. I imagine it'll be very busy after the New Year bank holiday, and the roads everywhere will be congested daily until schools return. Considering the weather conditions, the road network copes well with such high demand, if there's no accidents, then chaos ensues, and the coast roads are as congested as the autoroute. I am none to sorry not to have a car this time around, and obliged to use the regional train if not buses.

Anyway, mission accomplished, I was soon back in Church House cooking lunch, and afterwards finishing a sermon for tomorrow. Only after it began to get dark did I remember that I still needed to go out and buy some wine. It meant walking into Montreux in the rain, but so be it. I arrived in the town centre at five, just as the supermarkets closed down until after the New Year. So, I had to walk further, along the rue de la Gare, and investigate a succession of 'open all hours' convenience stores run by non-Swiss entrepreneurs. Yes, they have them here, run by Arabs, Asians, Portuguese, tightly packed retail spaces offering most things you could need, from eight 'til late. So, I got wetter but returned with a modest supply that'll last me until midweek.

Exceptionally, sometimes big retail stores open in the evenings, but Sunday closing is still the norm and nobody seems to be in much of a hurry to change it. Evidently the Swiss economy is doing well with things the way they are. Bravo, I say, even if it's occasionally inconvenient for some.

On BBC Four this evening, the first double episode of the sixth series of the French crimmie 'Engrenages', entitled Spiral in English was broadcasted. So superior to the last French offering, in which Audrey Fleurot, one of the key actors in Spiral also appeared. The story lines are complex and require attention, but they are woven together with precision. The way in which characters from previous series are re-introduced with allusions to their back stories is understated and well crafted, as good as crime move drama series can get. Yet, a newcomer can start here and now, knowing little and quickly engage. 

Or, am I fooling myself? The relationship between police and judiciary, and the governance of the two is so very different from the British legal system. We tend to be more aware of how the American system works differently from ours, and the French is different again. To be honest, this took me several sets of episodes of Spiral watching to get to grips with. Unlike many crimmies, the interplay between police, judiciary and politicians is as much a part of the drama as following the police investigative procedures and forensic trail. A welcome return to Saturday night viewing, one of the few things that's not boring that I bother with on telly these days.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Return to Switzerland

After a leisurely day of packing yesterday, I woke up to heavy rain. This ruled out walking to the Coach station, so I called for a taxi. The company advised leaving much earlier than usual just in case there was traffic congestion on Cathedral Road, which is usually the case on a normal working day, but being Christmas holiday week, it turned out to be more like a Sunday morning, so I arrived with three quarters of an hour to wait instead of fifteen minutes. Very little was done to prepare bus shelters for waiting passengers when the temporary coach station was established two years ago, so those in place are open to the elements. At least, the early rain had almost stopped and there was no wind, but I was glad to be wearing my old padded ski jacket.

The coach to Bristol Airport got me there dead on time, a ninety minute journey, same as the train and local bus combination, but cheaper and more relaxing despite cramped coach seats, rather like airline ones. I arrived five minutes before the auto-check in system for the Geneva flight was due to start, but was able to check in at a proper desk with a real counter clerk instead. For once, it too me twenty minutes to clear security, though not because queues were long or slow, rather, it was due to me being selected for a random scrupulous check, which entailed emptying my rucksack of all my digital devices including cameras, and everything being put through the scanner. I didn't mind, as there was no rush with two hours to the boarding flight call.

Altogether, I spent over three and a half hours waiting in the departure lounge, as our flight arrival was delayed. The pilot later explained this was their third round trip of four to Geneva for the day. The first two had been flights from Edinburgh, where the airport was still recovering from previous days of snow induced chaos. It could have been much worse. I was relived to get away as planned. I had to wait ages to retrieve my luggage at the other end, as it was in the last of four loads fetched in from the aircraft. There must have been two or possibly three flights arriving in close proximity, as half a dozen if not more of the passport booths in an arrival hall used by budget airlines were busy dealing with a huge crowd, and at a fair turn of speed, given the vital thoroughness of the process. 

By seven I was at the airport train station, buying an abonnement demi-tarif and ticket to Montreux. I had tried to buy on-line last night, but the payment system wasn't working. Never mind, I got a properly printed abonnement in a ticket wallet, which beats a crumpled print-out any time. I didn't have long to wait for a Montreux train, there are two or three every hour. I sat in a carriage which had another passenger from the Bristol flight, and we started chatting, after she'd noticed my cross and asked the reason for wearing it. She told me she attended neighbouring All Saints Vevey Anglican church. In fact, we'd both been at the same community luncheon back in September, when she was still on crutches following a hip operation. Such a small world!

Jane met me at Montreux gare and took me to St John's Church house. By half past nine I was installed and inspecting a fridge generously stocked with enough essentials to get me through the weekend and two days of public holiday that follow here. It was raining, just as it was in Cardiff this morning, only heavier. So pleased to be back again.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Winter journeys

Thankfully, only a few inches of snow settled during the night, and the temperature stayed the right side of freezing to stop everything turning to ice, and traffic was running freely, except that the road running past Kenilworth Castle was made impassible for a while by water over-flowing a low lying section of main road still known as 'The Ford', causing congestion elsewhere. Our route out of town, when we left at noon was not at all busy. 

It neither rained now snowed, while we travelled, despite being overcast. By the time we reached the M50, we drove out from beneath the pall of cloud into bright sunshine and blue skies. The weather system producing traffic chaos didn't extent Westwards into Wales, so we were most fortunate to have a trouble free drive, all the way.

I'm glad to have a day in hand to organise myself properly for travelling to Switzerland, as I have an early start on Friday morning, catching the coach to Bristol Airport at nine. No sooner than I've unpacked from our Christmas trip, it's time to get ready for the next. A bigger suitcase than usual is needed for the extra wollens. Montruex Church Warden Jane phoned me this evening and said that there'll be no church car, as it was more than it was worth to bring it up to the Swiss equivalent of our MOT. I'll buy a month's abonnement demi-tarif fare card instead, and share the cost with the chaplaincy. It works for nearly all public transport, as I found last time.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Nearly a White Christmas

There were about seventy people for the Midnight Mass I celebrated at St Catherine's last night. I was in bed by one thirty, and up again, breakfasting by eight thirty and on my way to Kenilworth by ten, to join the family Christmas celebrations. I enjoyed listening to Christmas music on Radio Three and Classic FM, depending upon signal reception during the journey, and arrived with plenty of time to spare before our annual festive banquet occupied us for the rest of the afternoon. 

In addition to Kath, Anto, and Rhiannon and Clare, Owain and Anto's sister Viv were with us, as on previous occasions. Owain treated himself to a room in the nearby Holiday Inn, rather than camp out on an airbed, and he didn't leave until quite late. Rhiannon organised a quiz and a bingo session for evening entertainment, after a lengthy time spent organising the opening of presents. We missed the Queen's Speech, though I listened to the night's podcast of The Archers quietly on my own in the bedroom. The telly stayed off, as we found plenty to do, and talk about. It was a most enjoyable day in good company.

By the time we surfaced on Boxing Day, Owain arrived in time to join us for breakfast. Again, we ate and drank and talked, and went out for a walk after lunch, across Balsall Common, as far as Warwick University, a five mile round trip. During the night there had been heavy rain and our choice of  route was determined by the fact that it had a proper metalled footpath so it wasn't just a muddy track. The sun shone, the sky was blue, and crisp fresh air did us a power of good. By the time we settled down to supper, it started to rain and by bed-time, it had started to snow. The radio is full of weather news and snow chaos. I wonder he this will affect our journey home tomorrow?

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Christmas Eve reunions

I walked into town this morning for the Eucharist at St John's City Parish Church, blessed with a very diverse congregation of adults and children of over seventy people. It was lovely to see many familiar faces, still going strong after the seven years since I retired, some even more active now than they were then, as their own faith has developed. 

It was an enjoyable relaxed, yet quite traditional celebration, story telling the entire Nativity, from the Annunciation to the Massacre of the Innocents using scriptural texts of both Luke and Matthew, and a verse rendering. It's something I've not thought of in the context of a Parish Eucharist before, but it certainnly worked, and mad me think how I might do the same if I find myself with a free hand in organising liturgy on the Sunday closest to Christmas Eve. Afterwards I chatted with a Pakistani Christian woman whose asylum request had been granted. When we talked last year, she was still waiting. Now she was relaxed and joyous. I thought of Hamid, whom I baptized in St German's the other side of Christmas two years ago, deported back to Rawlpindi eighteen months later, finding reconciliation with his Muslim family an impossible struggle at this point in time.

He now lives a good distance across the city from a church. Will he be able to join others in worship there? Possibly not, just isolated and vulnerable in a hard traditional social setting where he no longer feels at home, but is rather, at risk now, thanks to the ill-informed decisions of Her Majesty's Government and judiciary who are less well informed about traditional orthodox Christian belief and practice than should be the case.

I returned from church, refreshed and consoled by meeting and greeting with so many old friends to whom I had already sent cards and emails. No need to explain to anyone what I've been doing since we last met! After lunch, I started packing, both for my journey to Kenilworth tomorrow morning, and separately for my Swiss locum duty travel next Friday. It takes the pressure off me, when I get back home with only 24 hours to spare before heading out again. Perhaps I am taking on too much, not giving myself enough time to recover these days. I certainly seem to take longer to prepare and recover from being away.

It's a consequence, I guess, of getting old, needing to have everything in order and well prepared to avoid the demands of spontaneous organisation, which I think I was quite good at when I was younger, unless I've frogtten how chaotic I really was. Or perhaps my standards are now higher. Once, I could pack a bag successfully and leave the country with an evening of effort. Now I need a day, if not longer. It is all this digital connectivity, taking up so much extra time, to keep life flowing evenly, without dislocation?

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Quiet preparation time

Our new front door will be fitted in mid January while I'm away. The existing one dates from the middle sixties, and at that time, when the first telephone line was run into the property, a hole for the cable was drilled through the wooden door frame to accommodate the GPO line. The little junction box on the frame, although painted red, is still engraved with an original GPO brand marking. It should have been upgraded twice since then, despite new lines and new services being run into the house, but it wasn't - on the 'It ain't broke, no need to try and fix it' principle. If the door installers, however expert in taking out the old door frame, made a mistake, it could damage the incoming line, and leave the house without phone and broadband, something of a worry for Clare. So I asked Ashley if he could help sort out this problem beforehand, as he has a great deal of experience in this field.

He came yesterday evening with all his professional grade tools and we spent several hours together re-routing the cable outside the frame. It was quite a simple task, but difficult to achieve. There were layers of paint to be chipped away to free the line undamaged from its staples, somewhat stronger staples than their modern equivalent, but he was successful, and all still works fine.

I realised as we were sitting drinking tea and eating mince pies at midnight, that it was the first time in the nine years we've known each other, that he'd been in our house. For most of the time over those years we have been too busy to socialise outside the office. At the moment business is slowing down, not just because of the festive season, but because we await further developments which will have a critical impact on where we go from here.

This morning, I walked to the bus station with Clare, where she took the coach to Coventry on her way to Kenilworth for the first time. Usually, she goes by train, but the threat of irregular trains over the holiday weekend was enough to prompt an alternative journey. The trip went smoothly and cost significantly less. I had a few last minute shopping errands to perform, but went to the shops in Canton instead of going into town for a change. I was in any case due to go in later and meet Ashley, but in the end we did what we needed to by email instead. This left me with a free evening, with nothing worth watching on telly, so I settled for a few hours quiet solitude instead. I need to pause and ponder these days before the celebrations begins. I'm so thankful to have a free Advent Four Sunday morning tomorrow, to go to Mass and be on the receiving end before celebrating the Midnight Vigil Mass.


Thursday, 21 December 2017

Pane-ful surprise

The past few days have sped by, occupied with office and shopping visits plus another visit on Tuesday from Clive Powell of double glazing specialists Secura Windows, who upgraded our house eleven years ago. New house insurance terms and conditions are insisting on higher specification front door security. The only way it can be achieved is installing a new door. The trade catalogue presents a bewildering array of styles, furnishing and glazing. Settling on an overall choice wasn't too difficult, as ever the devil is in the detail, getting a glazing design we think we can live with. It took a couple of days until we were both satisfied. Clive is very patient.

I made a phone call during his visit from the middle room, and turning around to face the window as I talked, noticed a jagged diagonal crack from top to bottom of the inner double glazed panel opposite. Such a strange co-incidence! Both Clare and I recalled hearing a sharp cracking sound, like a stone or a bird beak on a window, shortly before Clive arrived, but neither of us thought to investigate at the time, thinking it came from outside, from a neighbour's house. Clive said he'd come across this before in cold weather, though not very often. We were at least able to order a replacement there and then, knowing that he'd have the original information in his filing system from eleven years ago when the job was done.

Thursday morning a visit to the GP surgery for a blood pressure check, leading to an increase in dosage of the supplementary medication I was given last week, as it seems to have had no impact at all. The pharmacist said that getting a suitably effective dosage was still a matter of trial and error as every individual responds in different ways. Different physical constitution, metabolism, diet, environment, all play their part. It's amusing really.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Christmas racing towards us

After a late lazy family breakfast, we drove back home to Cardiff yesterday morning. The roads were remarkably clear, although the city centre was very busy with shoppers when we went out later in the afternoon. In the evening, I finished off my Sunday sermon, and watched the list three episodes of 'Witnesses - A Frozen Death' on BBC Four, one on iPlayer catch up, the other two live. To my mind, it was disappointing, and the ending fragmentary, incoherent, implausible and unresolved. I hope it doesn't mean that there'll be a Series Two set of episodes.. Oh dear! I just discovered from IMDB it was Series Two, with Series One having been aired on Channel Four. I missed that. Would it be any better, or worse? I wonder.

I celebrated and preached at St John's Canton this morning, then set about creating my annual digital Christmas card to email with our family newsletter. This will be emailed to old friends in Costa Rica, Italy, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, and Tasmania as well as the UK. Our little sample of the global village. I found an icon of the Nativity to use that was traditional but which had splendidly vibrant colours, and added a lovely quote from St John Chrysostom to it.
He became flesh. He did not become God. He was God.  
Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, 
a manger would this day receive.  
He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, 
may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother.
The Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, 
that the Magi may more easily see Him. 
Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; 
and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.
Later in the afternoon Clare and I went to St Catherine's for the Parish Carols by Candlelight Service and Nativity Play. It was very nicely done with dozens of kids taking part. This is only the third Sunday of Advent, and next Sunday is Christmas Eve. December is accelerating past me, and already I'm having to think about getting ready to fly to Switzerland four days after Christmas, for my next locum duty assignment there.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Friends and family re-connecting

Sometimes, especially in winter it seems, several days slip quietly by when it's an effort to remember what I've busied myself with if I've had no appointments in my diary or duties to perform and don't find time to write this blog, I have investigate whether I've taken photos, worked on any documents, or ask Clare if she can remember what either of us did.

I quite forgot that having talked to Rachel about publicity for herself as a performing musician, I then spent all of Tuesday using Blogger to build her a site to host some of her gig videos. Some of these we have on home devices, others are on the internet and have to be tracked down and linked up. It's several years since I built a new website using Blogger, so a good deal of time was spent re-learning its edit functions, before I had something to show her. The next problem is obtaining a response from her as she's so fully occupied scraping a living, and without a decent home internet connection, that it takes ages for her to get around to viewing and commenting. No quick results around here, but a day well spent anyway.

Last weekend I noticed that Delbert Field an old friend from Geneva Days, I haven't seen for more than a decade started following me on Twitter. I sent him a Direct Message, and on Wednesday got a response. He and his artist wife Araceli now live in Sta Fe, Colombia, where both are involved with the local episcopal church, Ara is creating a mosaic to decorate the sanctuary of their church there.

Delbert worked for the International Organisation for Migration, and was involved in moving people out of danger zones and later resettling them during the Bosnian war. He made it possible for me to accompany him on a visit to Sarajevo in November 1996 when IOM was establishing a new office there, about six months after the siege was lifted and SFOR was enabling the return of the civilian rule of law. I digitized the photos I took there many years ago. One day I must get around to re-reading and transcribing the journal I wrote of that memorable week in my life.

Thursday afternoon I made a brief visit to the CBS RadioNet office, but there's still no development in response to our request for an enquiry into questionable business initiative of For Cardiff. In the evening we went to Jacquie and Russell's house for their annual soirée of readings stories and songs around around their Christmas tree, a very pleasant occasion with two dozen other guests present.

Friday we drove up to the Yorkshire village of Northowram outside Halifax to attend the Memorial Service for Clare's cousin John's wife Dorothy, who died last month. It was held in St Matthew's Parish church where John had been Vicar, after they returned from a spell as missionaries in Zambia. She was eighty three and had lived a full an active life, despite being disabled by a stroke in her early seventies, singing with a big local choral society, involved with the work of the Mothers Union Overseas, and campaigning to retain rural Post Offices during a time of widespread closures. Their four children and offspring told her life story and they also sang together in the service, and two of them contributed also with organ accompaniment. The ladies of the Parish laid on refreshments to follow, and people, relatives, friends, parishioners, lingered for a long time after the service chatting and remniscing.

Rather than drive home four hours in the dark, we drove to Kenilworth to stay the night with Kath Anto and Rhiannon. Although it's less than half the complete distance, the journey still took us three hours in Friday rush hour traffic, and we were somewhat bemused by the way Google kept offering us alternative routes for the fastest journey time to avoid congestion hot spots. It changed each time a bottleneck cleared or developed. We just stuck to the M1/M42 route back to the West Midlands, once we left the Leed conurbation, where the impact of congestion was worst. Kath had a meal ready for us when we arrived, and we enjoyed a delightful family supper at the end of a long travel day in less than ideal conditions.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Modern Morality Tale

I finally had the GP appointment this morning which Clare booked me in for while I was away. It was needed for my six monthly medication review, and to discuss a couple of minor issues that may merit attention. I came away with a trial prescription for additional blood pressure medication. I've been on the same meds for the best part of ten years, and getting older, losing weight, diet change etc, doesn't always lead to desired improvement. The pharmacist who dealt with me was also interested in talking with me about my experience with the medication. I think it might be part of a piece of research work being undertaken. I can expect to receive letters about arranging specialist appointments some time soon.

When I visited the surgery last week with a prescription request, the reeptionist drew attention to an application form for patients in the practice to fill in, and request access to the practice's new on-line appoinment booking system. Recently I've been receiving tex message reminders of GP appointments to add to the email reminders from my dentists. As I abandoned the use of a paper diary a few years after retirement, I rely completely on Google Calendar and its notifications, delivered to every digital device I have. I vainly like to think it means I am more punctual, less likely to miss appointments and be in the wrong place, now that I tend to me more forgetful anyway. It does, however, depend on me remembering to switch on a phone or a tablet when I get, and on that score, I have put myself to shame a few times recently.

This evening we attended a play being put on this week in St John's Canton. It featured a mix of professional working with amateur actors who have been homeless. It was based on Charles Dickens' second Christmas story 'The Chimes' a project with the backing of the Chapter Arts Centre. The nave had been arranged with tiered seating facing inwards, and the cast used the south aisle and chancel as off stage areas. 

There were many songs as well as dialogue in the style of musical theatre, plus an excellent hi-fi sound and video projection system, well used to provide the mise en scène. It was a fine piece of work, given a punchy contemporary feel by the use sound bytes from May and Thatcher, in addition to verbal quotes about poverty, homelessness and the benefit system from current political discourse, This highlighted an uncanny similarity between Dickensian and contemporary talk of the poor and of poverty. 

I left, feeling aggrieved to think that the mindset of the rich problematising the poor has changed so much less that it could have. Really, it's the rich, refusing to share wealth and power which are the problem. As this was a largely secular take on past and present, it also occurred to me how much worse it would have been without the prophetic ministry of Christian and Jewish teachers, preachers and philanthropists. And how much harder it now is with a huge proportion of citizens losing their religion. At least this is compensated for, to a significant extent, by everyday Islamic philanthropy and good will towards the poor, exercised by by those who have little, as well as those who have much.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

St German's Advent Welcome to Bishop June

For the second week in a row, I celebrated and preached for a said Eucharist at St Catherine's, only this time it was at eight o'clock, and there were ten of us. I met Dylan, the third ordinand to be placed here for part time on-the-job training with St Padarn's Institute, which replaced St Michael's College Llandaff as the Church in Wales' ordination training centre last year. As a native Welsh speaker from near Llangollen, he spent the first half of his first year at Eglwys Dewi Sant, and is now getting quite a different, more common experience of settled urban Parish life in a benefice of Canton.

It started snowing during breakfast, but the temperature wasn't yet low enough for to cause problems on the roads, so rather than leave early and take the bus / no bus risk to get there on time, I drove over to St German's to join the congregation and Fr Phelim in welcoming our new diocesan Bishop June Osborne, presiding and preaching for the fisrt time. I was pleased to have an opportunity to meet her at last, and to see how happy people were on this historic occasion. She preached an encouraging and thoughtful sermon about prophets as solitary people standing apart from crowd in order to deliver the message of God. The future, under her fresh and different style of leadership will be interesting, not just to observe from the sidelines, but also to participate in. 

In our briefest of conversations, I raised with her the matter of the role of retired clerics in the life and work of the Diocese, and she said that she was aware of the extent of this, and intends to look afresh at what potential contribution might be made by the ranks of used aged volunteers. Given that many of us are fitter and active for much longer in life, but happy to have the freedom of a pensioner's life, there may be more we can do, as part of our Christian stewardship of time and talents, and be seen as part of the bigger strategic plan. Well, we'll see.

Later in the afternoon, I headed from home to the Stenier School in Llandaff North, for the school Community Choir's third pre Christmas concert. Despite the weather the audience was bigger, and the choir did very well indeed, singing a variety of material in Latin, Welsh and Old Engish. They were more confident, more cohesive, and thus clearer in delivery. My first carol singing opportuniy of the year, when in times past I'd have gone through half a dozen Carol services by now, and for this reason it was that much more a fresh enjoyable experience.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Dodgy Business

Thurssday morning, I didn't get ready early enough to be able to walk to the dentists for the second day in a row, and took the car, leaving myself half an hour to drive there. Just getting out of our street and on to the main road took half an hour. I began to think it wasn't a good idea, but the rest of the two mile trip took me fifteen minutes. It can take double this amount of time if there's a sudden hold up. The repair didn't take long, and I was home again just after ten. Clare had an appointment half an hour after mine. She used public transport and returned half an hour after me, lucky to find the traffic free flowing despite the rain and cold.

In the afternoon, I visited the CBS RadioNet office, where I found Ashley and Julie much disturbed by announcement from the 'For Cardiff' Business Imprevement District launching a competing radio network to ours. As if they haven't got anything better to do, trying to re-invent and reproduce as high a quality system for lower cost The process by which this decision was reached is alarming because of the lack of professional integrity shown by key players in two separate boardroom dramas, but I shall say no more. We have asked the City Council formally for an enquiry, and await a response.

Russel and Jacquie came to lunch yesterday, and we enjoyed a couple of hours good conversation.  Owain has gone to Geneva for a long weekend, and sent photos of himself and school friend Ludo enjoying a fondue in a hostelry on the snow clad Col de Sainte Cergue. It's twenty five years this months since we first took him up there, as a family newly arrived in Geneva. That was when I met the challenge and delight of ski de fond for the first time. I wonder if I'll get to do this during my new year sojourn in Montreux?

Today, with my sermon finished and printed off, I went for a pre-lunch walk around Thompsons Park and took some photos with my new DSLR, to help me get a fuller idea of its capabilities, especially in winter light. Later I went into town to buy Christmas cards, but felt disinclined to keep up the momentum, printing off labels and stuffing envelopes. Thinking abut an early morning Sunday start, I only watched the first of the two episodes of French crimmie -  'Witnesses - Frozen' on BBC Four. It's failing to sustain my attention with its suggesions of esoteric witchery. When you stop caring about the lead characters, it's time to go to bed. There's always catch-up in the week, maybe.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Winter watching

The week slips by quickly, or so it seems when daylight hours are this short. At least it provides an excuse for some catch-up telly.  At last, time to catch up on the Channel Four Walter Presents Scandi-crime series 'Dicte - Crime Reporter', series two. Its key characters are interesting and flawed people, working on harrowingly difficult cases, and trying to make personal relationships and family life work in mid-life and mid-career. It contains some funny true to life scenes of conflict in relationships. It reflects how much a professionally successful person owes to the understanding and support of family and friends. It can be comic in an un-contrived way, without being a comedy show. It's what I regard as excellent drama, like Inspector Montalbano.

Monday afternoon I had a session with Kay our osteomyologist, for a treatment on my back and also for a helpful conversation about managing the consequences of old injuries revealing themselves in ageing musculature, as these have un-noticed creeping effect on the alignment of bones, if they aren't checked and worked on regularly. Staying fit to function normally, let alone for athletic pursuits at this time of life takes time, just like getting up in the morning seems to take longer than ever.

Anyway, it was helpful and constructive, and encourages me to carry on using the special shaped neck pillow Clare gave me to try out over the weekend. Much of the problem I've had with disturbed sleep over these past few months has concerned getting and keeping neck and shoulders comfortable and relaxed during sleep. To awake from a couple of nights sleep almost free of stiffness and pain is a like a gift from heaven, not that it makes that much difference to getting started and active.

Tuesday, a week later than last year, I drafted our annual Christmas newsletter, and gave it to Clare to error check. It required two attempts to get rid of the flaws found, and there'll be another look at it with fresh eyes tomorrow, just to be sure.

This morning, I walked to Llandaff North for my dental check-up, in just thirty five minutes. Apart from needing the exercise, traffic congestion on routes through Llandaff make it difficult to predict a journey time. It can be ten minutes to cover two miles, or it can be half an hour. Traffic conditions can change unexpectedly.

It is bothersome that with the housing developments taking place to the West and North of Cardiff, no road improvements are planned, or even seem practicable through such a densely populated suburban area. Expanded rail services on the Taff Vale line will help to improve things, but there's still a missing link in the network from Llandaff North, which would facilitate a circular 'Metro' style rail route around the city, with connections from it to the suburbs. Infrastructure which our Victorian forebears created was sadly mutilated post-war, and will cost a lot to restore.

The dental visit was brief, and I caught a bus back home. Last summer's filling has cracked and needs replacement. Fortunately it's under a year's guarantee. So all I have to do is arrive by 9.20am, and that's a challenge either by car or on foot at that time of day.

In the evening I wrote a sermon for Sunday, then found the Channel Five TV catch-up app and was able to watch another episode of 'Bull', the first of which I saw last night. This is a courtroom drama series featuring Michael Weatherly, who until last year played one of the key regular characters in Five USA's NCIS. In this, his own series he plays a an expert psychologist who acts as a behavioural consultant to lawyers, helping them to plan their argument strategy to appeal to juries, on the basis of profiling jurors. Apparently, it has some basis in American legal praxis, but whether it's that hi-tech in the real world, I wonder. Weatherly certainly looks bullish, bulky, not as slick and stylish as his alter ego Tony Di Nozzo. This is the second series, apparently. Is he still growing into the part? The plot lines were a little too compressed and clever-clever for dramatic impact, leaving this viewer puzzled, and just a little underwhelmed.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Another Advent begins

Well, the real countdown to Christmas is now under way. To mark the changeover to the new year and its Markan lectionary, I resumed using the book version of the Breviary (as opposed to the on-line app) in daily prayer, Clare has prepared an Advent table wreath, so that every meal can have a little candle light to  bless it.

We went to St Catherine's this morning, where I celebrated and preached at the main Eucharist, with no music or hymns, as the choir and organised had excused themselves with the evening's Advent Carol service to prepare for. I would have liked us to sing a few things unaccompanied, but didn't want to disrupt the sides-persons, who were already distributing service booklets and notice sheets without hymn books. There were thirty adults and fifteen children present, so maybe I could have interrupted the routine, but on by first Sunday back in several months, I wasn't sure this was such a good idea. Why not just let things be different for a change eh, Keith?

Clare went off afterwards to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama afterwards for a midday concert. I went home and cooked lunch, for her to return to. Editing and up-loading photos took up most of the afternoon, then we returned to St Catherine's for the Advent Carol service. The choir did very well, and I was acutely aware of the difference it made, this being a Parish choir, with a strong sense of connection to what they were singing. I was glad to have nothing do do but sit with Clare in the congregation, and enjoy the occasion.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Saturday Outings

A trip with the new camera to Dyffryn House and Gardens this morning. It's as much a pleasure to hold as the Alpha 55, quicker to focus, and offers photos to play with which are 50% larger. I used my 18-55 kit lens around the house and gardens, and switched to the 18-280mm telephoto lens at the end of lunch in the cafe, to snap birds feeling at the table outside the window. This was where I was most hoping the upgrade would be worth it. I wasn't disappointed. An excellent longish lens and high-res photo size will produce better results than the HX300 with three times the magnification and 20% smaller file size, as it can focus and shoot faster. Learning how to get the best of this combination is going to be a photographic adventure for me.

The Gardens are mostly tidied up for winter, and bulb planting has been done With such a variety of trees, even without leaves they add colour to the landscape. Some are budding earlier than usual and winter flowering specials are already about their business. The vegetable garden is an array of vivid rows of green and purple Brassica varieties, with a dash of orange. An amusing sculpture trail with pieces themed on the song 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' is laid out, for children of all ages to discover with the map provided. Such a delightful way to sustain visitor interest in a quieter part of the year.

In the evening, we went to a concert performance of Fauré's Requiem, which was meant to be at Eglwys Dewi Sant, but had to be switched to nearby City URC due to a church heating breakdown. The choir had evidently rehearsed hard, but the last minute switch of venue can't have helped. It was accompanied by piano and organ. For acoustic balance, the organ could have done with being more in the background, not so much loudness but choice of stops used. The choir lacked the emotional energy to make the performance sparkle. I couldn't help wondering how many choristers, mostly of a certain age, were familiar with the meaning of the text, and where it fits in Christian devotion, and in Fauré's case, theological discussion, as he had a slightly unorthodox take on its finer meaning. 

Ours was the liberalising post war generation when the influence of established Christianity and religion in general on society became noticeable, and this affected education and religious literacy. Controversy over the critical interpretation of scripture simply led to more ordinary people being deterred from taking seriously or receiving its inheritance of biblical and liturgical information. Ignorance, like a disease has spread down the generations since, and affects attitudes to many things including classical music. People of any kind of informed committed religious faith are perhaps no more than ten percent of the UK population these days. There's an awful lot of muddled religious belief out there, as well as agnosticism and ideological atheism. The muddled that worry me most.

When we returned from the concert, I watched the French crimmie 'Witnesses - Frozen' on BBC Four, have seen last weeks episode on iPlayer, earlier in the week. I had a most annoying time trying and failing to convince the telly that I was an already registered iPlayer user. Perhaps it would  have helped to get the password right, still on a piece pf paper on my desk, and not in my password book. But, it still let me watch, so really what's the point?

The French spoken is mostly with a Pas-de-Calais, if not Wallonian accent, nice and clear to follow, not quite making the subtitles redundant, but rather making them less than vital to keep up with the dialogue. I'm not convinced about the practical plausibility of the plot, about a serial killer with ritual magic and child sacrifice overtones. Too many lingering shots of women staring aimlessly. I've not returned to watch the second series of the previous Spanish crimmie, as it had become so implausible as to be annoying. So much for entertaining Spanish conversation listening practice.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Part exchange

Yesterday afternoon, I went for catch up session in the CBS RadioNet office. Ashley took charge of my faulty electrical equipment and ran some tests with his expert equipment to establish whether it was the laptop charger or a socket board that caused the current to leak to earth and trip the mains switch, on by first day home. The charger seems to be fine, but the mains connector lead was faulty. I noticed the transformer getting warmer than usual, using it with a plug adaptor in Spain. Perhaps this alone caused the UK plug to flex and crack where the lead exits. Anyway it's a bin job. Luckily I have others . Next time I take the laptop abroad, I must be sure to find a continental lead to take with me instead. I'm sure I have several unused stored away.

I changed my Euros into sterling then visited Cardiff Camera Centre to check out if they had sold the discounted Sony Alpha 68 on offer lately and they hadn't. Its imaging technology is five years younger than my Alpha 55. The assistant asked if I was interested in part exchange and gave me an interesting quote. 

I banked the sterling this morning, and later returned to the shop, with the original telephoto lens which I hardlyever used, and another vintage Minolta telephoto lens which I never take out with me as it is heavy enough to need a tripod. Instead of paying £425 for the camera body, I paid £285, and got a spare battery added in for free. Only when I got home did I realise I had forgotten my dental appointment, for the simple reason that I'd not switched a phone on, and walked out of the house without one. It's unusual for me not to switch on and check out the news when I get up, then I get my diary notifications. Strange. I rang penitentially, half an hour late, and re-booked for next week.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Mission with relish at St German's

With no immediate duty assignments, I was free to visit St German's this morning and join in the Wednesday 'Class Mass', celebrated by Fr Phelim. It was lovely to be reunited with him and regular Wednesday worshippers for the first time since August. Next week he's taking twenty eight of them on a Parish trip to Rome, where he trained, and still has many friends. I imagine his personal guided tour will be great fun.

Instead of driving, I took the sixty-one bus, whose route has been extended across the city centre and into Splott while I'm away, which meant I was able to go as far as Tredegarville school and then walk the last 350 metres. The bus stops in the centre on Custom House Street, opposite to where the T9 airport shuttle leaves. Very convenient indeed, on both counts.

St German's Hall Day centre was as busy as ever, a new dishwasher had just been delivered, as the original one died. It's seen plenty of use, that's for sure. Back in the summer, there was a proposition to make use of the hall for a winter night shelter for the homeless next year, with typical enthusiasm the plan's been fast forwarded a year and £1,500 worth funding has been obtained for bedding and other necessities, starting just before Christmas. Cardiff Foodbank is pitching in with supplies. I'm so glad to see everyone so happily about their business, in mission as well as worship. If I wasn't fully committed to go Montreux, I know where I'd be spending time over New Year and January.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Return to base

Monday morning, with departure tasks completed, ready to go, I had a farewell visit from Pam and Alwyn, and with them a tech' team to connect house cabling to a roof dish antenna. Had I requested, this could have been done when I arrived, but I've been content to live without telly here for the past couple of months as I did last year, and during my spells in Malaga. It started with that December I spent in Sicily four years ago, when I realised how much of a time waster telly can be. Choosing to watch programmes via the internet when possible means I'm much more selective and economical with time than I used to be. There's work to be done refitting the apartment kitchen before the new Chaplain arrives in February, and there's another locum between now and then. I wish the Warden well, in getting this done in good time.

I said my Goodbyes at midday and drove to the Antas industrial estate adjacent to the A7 autovia, to meet with Tony and Janice for the trip to the town of El Altet near Alicante Airport, to stay at the Hostal Pensimar on the outskirts, which accommodated me overnight for my early flight home in November last year. I drove all the way there and enjoyed doing so. It's the longest drive I've done in Spain in recent years, 230km, just under two and half hours. I checked in to find my room was the same one I occupied last year, which was vaguely comforting. I told the desk clerk I'd stayed on November 14th last year, and he confirmed in a second that it was in their computer record.

Before parting company, we had a drink and a tapa at a nearby bar, then with a couple of hours of daylight left, due to an earlier arrival than last year, I went for an exploratory walk around town. I could see no evidence that was anything other than a late twentieth century development, established to serve airport workers and associated industries, built on a rectangular grid plan on the east side of the airport, closest to the sea coast, about 5km distant. The parish church had almost no distinguishing features, resembling a warehouse or a basic municipal community centre. I think it may have been built with  multiple uses in mind. It was closed, and  the exterior didn't look nearly as bright as in the web photos Its title written over an east facing facade is 'Temple de Sta Maria del Mar rather than Iglesia. I wonder why? 

On the way back to the hotel, I bought some food to supplement what I had brought with me, for a picnic lunch and supper in my room. Having no interest in going out again at night, I ready to sleep and was in bed by ten. I was up, and breakfasting an hour before the alarm went off, and took a taxi to the airport at a quarter to eight. The airport was still quiet and there were no queues to check in or to clear security, so I had a full two hours to wait in the departure hall.

The boarding process was chaotic. Another flight for Amsterdam was called, due to leave shortly after ours at the gate opposite. Passengers for both were trying to queues at the same time, with the Cardiff flight queue forming ahead of Amsterdam flight, snaking right across the gate used by the latter. There was nothing to partition the queues, no signs forestall confusion, and the Amsterdam ground staff turned up too late to avert ensuing chaos.
Adding to the chaos was the gate digital display panel, advising of the separation of Priority (rows 1-15) from Other passengers. A dozen mobility impaired passengers were queuing there. Some foot passengers occupying rows 1-15 were unsure whether or not 'Priority' meant them too, and didn't hold back. Mobility impaired passengers board first, wherever seated. Foot passengers occupying rows 1-15 sensibly with Vueling board last, but only if an intelligible announcement is made first.

Leaving it to staff inspecting boarding passes at the gate to separate and retain foot passengers for rows 1-15 is time consuming enough, even more so if an explanation is required. It's confusing and distressing if no explanation is offered, given a majority of passengers on this route are elderly occasional flyers. A clear large sized static boarding information panel at the point where passenger queue separation is required, giving the boarding order is all that would be required to eliminate herding chaos and anxiety. Once we were boarded, however, calm and order reigned and the flight was uneventful. I dozed fitfully, waking up just in time to see the Ebro Delta slipping away below, its huge rice paddies no longer a patchwork of greens and gold, but dark grey, hard to recognise in contrast. Memories of happy sojourns down there with the Costa Azahar Chaplaincy.

I was home by five to two, welcomed by Clare with a hot meal. After unpacking my case later, we found the the mains electricity switch had tripped. Nothing we tried could restore it, even with diagnostic help on the phone from our dear Greek electrician who rewired the house eight years ago. Eventually he came around, and methodically went through every appliance in the place narrowing it down to a multi socket board in my study. The most recent thing plugged in there was my laptop charger which normally lives there. Once removed, all was well. Whether it's a dying charger or one faulty socket, I don't know, but we were most relieved he saved the day for us. Funny, the charger was working fine in Spain until Sunday. If it's a problematic socket, has it killed the charger? That's for another day. Another long night's sleep now needed to recover from travel, and the traumas of homecoming, on this occasion.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Farewell Sunday

I woke up before dawn this morning, and made an effort to get out of the house and visit the charco bridge to catch the Egrets leaving for the day. Half of the hundred or so birds had already left for the day, and my efforts to catch groups of  them on the wing weren't very successful. The HX300 works well in bright light, but in low light, it takes several fast frames at different light settings, then blends them to produce a composite shot. The processing takes a couple of seconds, ruling out quick repeat shots, needed when aiming at birds on the move, so fleeting opportunities are missed. It's a good camera for normal purposes. I got a few good shots of the early rising sun, for example, but it's under-powered for exceptional conditions. I wondered if my DSLR would perform any better, but didn't bring it with me, so I'll never know.

After breakfast, I took my last trip along the coast road to celebrate the Eucharist at the Ermita San Pascual de Baylon. There was a congregation of sixty, with couples I recognised from last year lately arrived to stay for the winter, attending for the first time since their return. As others return to the UK to spend Christmas, or visit family beforehand, others come out for winter sun. It was bright but cooler, like a British spring morning without the chill wind, and I enjoyed the 'hail and farewell' of the occasion, feeling satisfied that I'd given them of my best, and been appreciated.

Early rising left me quite tired, however, so rather than join the people gathering for a coffee at the Koi ice cream parlour cum restaurant in town, I headed back to the apartment to cook lunch take a siesta, pack my case, tidy up and clean the apartment. As sunset approached I made my final visit to the charco bridge in time to watch the Egrets return and settle for the night. It's a marvellous sight, but one which really calls for a more powerful camera to get the best shots. The past two months of daily bird-watching have been very special experience and opportunity for me.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Thinking about home

Another disturbed night, concluding with late rising, and missing the walk to the bridge to watch the Egrets depart. Late morning, Churchwarden Pam and  her husband Alwyn called in and took me out for a coffee and chat. Then it was time to cook and eat before finishing and printing off my final sermon for tomorrow, then writing the end-of-stay report requested by the diocese. I was mildly annoyed that it was dark by the time I finished, and had not yet been out for a walk. I settled for walking as far as the bridge and back. 

It was pitch dark over the charco water No moon was visible. It had been cloudy all day, quite a rarity here. The overspill from street lighting illuminated only a small area below the bridge. The Coots were still out and about and I had a few glimpses of warblers dashing out of the reeds momentarily on their strange erratic flight patterns. Are their eyes keen enough to hunt insects in semi-darkness? There were bats there too, with distinctive flight patterns and movements of their own. Quite intriguing was the unidentifiable small bird which moved from one bank to another at high speed in a horizontal straight line, strangely purposeful compared with the others. Many of the inhabitants roost in the shelter of cane and reeds during the hours of darkness, but not all it seems. There's so much I don't know.

After supper, I listened to an interesting programme on BBC Radio Four with international writers reflecting on the many meanings of the concept of 'home' in their own experience and in the works of other people. It certainly stimulated me to think about what 'home' means to me. I've ministered in ten different settings and with Clare made a home in fifteen different places during my working life. Learning to be at home and flourish wherever we found ourselves had been characteristic of our life together. For seven years in retirement Meadow Street has been home to us us, but locum duties have taken me temporarily to seven new places, where I've had to make myself at home for one to three months. All this, since leaving my birthplace and living in three other places in my student years. 

Home is wherever Clare is, to return to, rather than any remembered or ideal place. When I think about it, I struggle to identify any one environment where I could envisage spending the rest of my days. If anyone asks me where 'home' is, I say 'Wales', or 'Cardiff' but nothing more specific than that. I trained and was ordained in Cardiff, and a journey lasting fifty years started there. If I don't ever feel entirely settled in Cardiff, it's because we set out from from there, not imagining it would be a return journey. It became a default place to return to, however. Neither of us have any current family memories or associations in the city, nor in Wales for that matter, except for family funerals at Thornhill Crem, mostly decades ago. We love Wales, but rarely think of moving elsewhere in the Principality to settle. As Clare says, I've been restless all our married life. I'm not sure I know the reason why. Will I ever really settle anywhere?

Friday, 24 November 2017

Egrets' return

I planned to get up before dawn and go up to the bridge to watch the Egrets fly away for the day, but woke up in the middle of the night, couldn't get back to sleep for a while and then overslept. By the time I got there at ten, there wasn't a single Egret on the charco. Then, I walked up the track on the north side, to see how the remodelling of the river bed was progressing.

The heavy bulldozer and excavator have cleared another couple of hundred meters stretch of cane grove from the river bed, and sculpted earth banks five metres high on the south side. Work is now starting on rebuilding collapsed areas of the north bank. How much further cane clearance will go toward the open water of the charco, I won't be here to see. The change is unlikely to show up on Google Earth any time soon.

Following my afternoon walk along the beach and back to get supplies from Mercadona, I returned to the charco bridge, as the sun was disappearing behind the sierras. There were already sixty Egrets settling in for the night in the usual places. I stood there until dusk, and watched another forty odd fly in. Some were on their own, others flew as couple, still others were in nuclear family groups of three to six birds, and then there were a couple of larger groups, ten to twenty in number.
I wonder if this flying pattern reflects the genetic and social relationships? Or is it shaped by their dining habits in distant fields where they forage during the day? Or, is it just random, or a hitherto undiscovered relational pattern?

The more time I spend routinely watching birds, the more I learn, the more I realise I don't know.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Lessons from Turre, Alfaix and El PInar

I woke up well before dawn this morning, got up and completed my daily routine early. Rather than languish, I determined to get out into the countryside and take advantage of morning light rather than afternoon light for a change. I drove to the village of Turre via Mojácar Pueblo, inland on the south side of the coastal plain flanked on three sides by jagged sierras I cannot yet identify, and intersected by rivers, chiefly rio Aguas and rio Antas, running down into Mojácar and Vera Playas, respectively.

The area around Turre has been settled for the past three thousand years, though the present village dates from the sixteenth century re-settlement of people after the reconquista. The village rises up the hillside from the plain, with a Mudejár style parish church from that era on a promontory at the heart of the old village. 
Since Mojácar became a holiday destination, and benefited from the influx of expat settlers, Turre is a neighbouring rural village that has grown significantly with the building of new urbanizaciónes in response to demand. 

At 3,300 inhabitants, there are 50% more people living here now than twenty years ago. The number has dropped by several hundred due to the impact of recession on expats. It's hard to imagine how Turre looked when Mojácar was being regenerated in the 60's and 70's. Turre's main street is composed of unremarkable functional modern buildings, easy to drive through and forget. The main and tree shaded Plaza de la Constitución and church are on the uphill side. The choice and shape of the large evergreen trees in the Plaza, is the same as those outside Málaga's bullring on the Paseo de Reding, offering cool shade all year round.
From Turre, I drove further west inland, on the road to Los Galliardos and uphill to Bedar. In between these small towns, the road crosses a handsome mid 20th century brick bridge over the rio Antas, which flows down a valley through a gorge to reach the plain.
Up above the valley from here a few kilometres away is the self styled Pueblito de Alfaix, a modern urbanización, in the traditional style of an Andalucian pueblo . There may have been an old hamlet there of this name, but if so it wasn't that evident, as modern houses in their own grounds were what could be seen when driving through. The camino rural twice crossed over a wide cutting in the landscape, the trackbed of the AVE high speed line from Almeria to Murcia. It remains incomplete as funding for the tracks and other infrastructure ran out during the recession, as it has done in other places along the Corridor Mediterraneo. It's a sad outcome from near sighted economic planning.

After my brief diversion through Alfaix, I drove past Los Galliardos up to Bedar, where I spent an afternoon last year. Bedar is a post-industrial regenerated village which has seen an expansion of its housing stock on surrounding hillsides. On the way there is a signpost for El Pinar, a place I had heard mention of, but not visited last year. I took this road, which wound upwards through a narrow valley into a large modern urbanización, spread across its upper slopes and hilltops, offering great views of the coastal plain and sierras from on high. 
Sections of the development, I noticed, were incomplete, roads and basic services installed in otherwise virgin land, the structural framework of houses yet to be built. Either demand dried up, or investment funds, but the aesthetic impact on the environment would not be something the neighbours invested in when they purchased.

As I walked around, looking for a vantage point from which to take photos, I was greeted twice by men of my own age, in English. It seemed to me like an extensive expat colony, built in a beautiful exclusive area from scratch. Few social amenities, if any. A life entirely dependent on visits by car to nearby towns. A cooler climate, and as I said, great views, but only as long as someone remains independent, healthy and mobile. It's one way of 'living the dream', I guess.

This little excursion was valuable in helping me to join the dots in terms of local geography. I talk of the coastal plain. It's not all flat in between the enclosing sierras. There are sizeable crinkles in this level landscape, due to its underlying of volcanic activity. Now at least I know where the rio Aguas emerges and descends into the plain, ending up, just a few hundred metres from where I stay. In addition its a lesson in housing economics Spanish style. Given the UK Chancellor's latest budget drive to build 300 thousand homes a year, it made me wonder how aware his team is of what can go wrong.

As the sun was setting, I walked up to the rio Aguas bridge to check out the evening bird life and for the first time in my stay instead of the usual half dozen Egrets, there were about a hundred of them roosting in the cane groves along the banks of the charco nearest the beach. Ninety per cent roost on the north side and ten percent on the south just as they did last year from October onwards, I recall. It's curious, and I wonder what the reason is for this occupational pattern. Is it something to do with the specific habitat of the kinds of fish, invertebrates and insects they feed on, I wonder?

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Birding app discovery

My home-bound travel arrangements are all now fixed. Tony is ferrying my to the Hostal Pensimar in El Altet on Monday afternoon, a short taxi ride from Alicante Airport, and an 08.30 check-in. It gives a cheap, clean, quiet, bed for the night, with shops and restaurants a few minutes walk away for an evening meal. All I need, before facing up to the British cold and damp.

Before lunch yesterday, I visited the bridge over the charco, and saw that there a few more egrets were roosting along the banks. From a family of three over the past months, the number has grown to ten. The pair of Dabs and their growing chick were out together, and I narrowly missed getting a photo of all three in the same place at the same time. They move quickly and are so busy diving for food, even the chick and more so as it develops. No wonder the little nuclear family is hard to snap. 

The visiting cormorant with a white front is still there, but on its own. If it was a breeding female, it would normally be with other females. I believe it's too well developed and too large for a juvenile that can also have a white front. So what is it? 

Among the countless warblers and handful of white wagtails seen daily darting in an out of the cane forest along the banks, I got a good photo a bird directly below me, paused on a patch of reed. I took it for a white wagtail, until I looked at the resulting photo. Another puzzle, as the colouring is not the same, and the tail longer and broader, with a black stripe near the tip. Again, what is it? 

I hunted for help with identification online, and found the excellent Ornithopaedia Europe Android app. It's a huge database of over a thousand bird species which can be searched by country, and presumed bird name in over thirty languages, with photos and bird-song samples. I remember this time last year meeting a Spanish visitor on the bridge and attempting to chat with him in Spanish, trying to identify a bird across the language barrier. He had this app on his iPhone, and I didn't bother to check if there was an Android equivalent. How foolish of me. It's free to download as well. Such a public spirited offering of high quality data, and no intrusive advertising either.

Anyway, the Spanish app selection showed me the possibility that the mystery Cormorant could be the White Breasted variant. When breeding is done, Cormorants tend to want their own space, like Herons, not like little Egrets which often hang out together and travel in family groups. Mallard couples are often seen together, and with their chicks. Multitudes of Coots inhabit the same space, and seem to spend a lot of time noisily aggressing each other. So many behavioural differences, just like humans.

The other discovery from the app was that my other distinctive mystery bird is a grey wagtail. Glad to have that sorted. I can see this piece of software is going to come in very handy in future.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Brief excursion to Águilas

Apart from shopping cooking and house-keeeping I seemed to have spent all my spare time Monday and today writing and editing documents for CBS as it faces a political challenge from opportunists who think they have better ideas about running a long term sustainable communications system, but have little experience at doing so. Defending the enterprise has to be done, but it is such a waste of time. It's typical of what happens today when everyone does what is right in their own eyes, and believes in their own untried expertise. 

Today's world is being swamped by so called 'disruptive ideas and technologies promoted as game changers. These come and go, proving themselves by virtue of their usability and robustness, but competitiveness and the contention that often surrounds innovation can drain creative energy and effort, just as when the world faces colossal unsolved problems requiring maximum collaboration. Pollution, climate change, food water, shelter and employment for more than seven billion people can only be coped with successfully by collective action, pooling resources and ideas for common solutions.

Anyway, this afternoon a made an effort to get out to go and visit somewhere I'd not been before. I drove north 40km along the coast road beyond Palomares and Villaricos across the border to Murcia Province, and the ancient fishing port town of Águilas, which was trading its salted fish around the Mediterranean in Roman times. Now, it's mainly a holiday resort, with its coastal plain given over to horticulture, in a neat colourful patchwork of well managed fields. The coastal road network is of high quality, as it needs to be, to take huge amounts of vegetables for local consumption or export shipping at container ports, notably Almeria.

On the A7107 coast road from Vera Playa to Águilas through sierra foothills, are remnants of the area's industrial past. Villages along the route preserve the tall brick chimneys of ore smelters, as a monument to another age. The rounded hills are devoid of trees, covered with bushes, few palms, as surfaces drain rapidly. The scars of two centuries of industrial exploitation of the environment seem to have been repaired or healed quite well.

In the 18th and 19th centuries Águilas port was one of Spain's busiest with exportation of minerals and esparto. Its development with other places in the north of Almeria Province, was encouraged by British entrepreneurs. The town is five times the population of Mojácar, with many fine beaches either side of it, on what's called the Costa Calida. The town itself is mainly modern and built up with narrow streets and slow traffic controlled by sets of lights at every junction and pedestrian crossing. The air must get very polluted in the holiday season when the population expands many times over. 

There was probably far more of interest about the town than my first impressions gave me. I didn't stop long, driving just as far as the port. It's dominated by a high rocky promontory on which stands an 18th coastal watch tower in a fortified enclosure, the Castillo de San Juan de las Águilas. An earlier 16th century watch tower was destroyed by Berber pirates active along the coast at that time, and the enclosure seems to have been added when it was re-built. I took a few photos there, then mindful of the approach of darkness, headed back into the setting sun, using the by-pass road to escape the reverse journey through town.

I should have made an effort to get out earlier in the day. Time just seems to slip away from me.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Last visit to Llanos del Peral

There were thirty people for the Eucharist at Llanos this morning, with Margie preaching an excellent sermon to an attentive audience. She ended with a simple prayer, and the congregation replied Amen with a single voice. That's how I was certain they were listening carefully. She doesn't have big voice but she does have a clear voice, and is able to measure her pace of delivery in tune with a resonance of the building's acoustic, so nobody would have to strain to hear her. Her unpacking of the parable of the talents was thorough and thoughtful. She admits to being enthusiastic over studying scripture and having an opportunity to convey this in preaching. The interregnum gave her an opportunity to do this more often and gain experience. It's been good for her and for other members of the ministry team in this far flung Chaplaincy.

Given the widespread shortage of Anglican clergy to fill vacancies and the length of time taken to fill them, the problem is also capable of being at the same time an opportunity to develop lay ministries. The challenge then for any incoming cleric is to enable this to flourish, and not to be an inhibitor of emerging vocations to new areas of ministry. The trouble is that whether clergy like preaching or not, they feel they ought to preach more often than not, as this is one of the key apostolic duties of every cleric, whether they are good at it or not. 

Perhaps it would be good for every church encouraging lay ministry to consider with its pastor how often each ministry team member should be assigned to preach, so that a spectrum of different interpretative voices and witnesses to discipleship can be heard by the whole community over time. The priest isn't just there to teach, but to make sure the whole church learns and teaches through all its ministers. Discerning together and organising a whole church education programme, taking into account the particular gifts of each contributor is quite a task. It cannot and should not be done solely by the cleric in charge, even if this is the dominant expectation on the part of church leaders. Doing this well so that church members are enthusiastic and motivated to learn can involve self-effacement for a cleric. Not preaching so often could be a more effective way of ensuring delivery of the 'Ministry of the Word' by affording fresh opportunities to others. And I say this as one who loves preaching and works hard at it.

As a locum priest, wherever, I go people make an effort to thank me for preaching, more so that for celebrating. Some say how much they appreciate having a succession of locum clergy to listen to during an interregnum. Evidently, variety is perceived as beneficial, and as such can be incorporated into the ministry of the long term resident priest also, if all involved give the matter adequate thought, and show willing to change traditional expectations. Now that I'm retired all I can do is plug the gaps, as requested. I'm no longer in a position to implement ideas I muse about here. Could I have done more of this forty years ago, I wonder?

On my return journey, I stopped outside Garrucha at one of the few convenience stores I know to be open on a Sunday, to buy the bottle of red wine I'd forgotten to get yesterday. A bottle of Romanian Pinot Noir caught my eye, one of several wines of Romanian origin in the shop. It's unusual to see foreign wine imports, with some French and Italian exceptions in bigger supermarkets. I wondered if the store has Romanian owners with links to a home wine exporter.

Spain has employed Romanian agricultural workers since well before the country joined the EU ten years ago. Some work in trucking and hospitality businesses, so why not food retail too? There are said to be a million Romanians in Spain, a third more than the number of British expats. Its Orthodox church has twenty parishes and a Cathedral in Madrid, almost the same number as the Archdeaconry of Gibraltar, though there are over seventy Anglican places of worship embraced by its Chaplaincies. Funny how noticing a wine label in a shop set me off on this little excursion of curiosity.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Robots never smile

Apart from domestic tasks, a walk and a little writing, I didn't do much else today. No sermon to prepare, as Margie one of the Chaplaincy's trainee Readers is preaching. I wasn't inclined to go far as I was expecting a visitor. Following a brief reconnaissance inspection yesterday, David, one of the Mojácar congregation members, a retired engineer, came around to remount the fallen wall radiator. 

The original brackets, being ancient and not really that fit for purpose were unavailable in the local ferreteria, but he'd purchased a couple of heavy duty masonry screws with ends that could be tightened with a spanner, plus a small length of stainless steel tubing and some washers. The screws were a perfect fit for the existing holes, but he needed the tube to fashion a couple of spacers of the right length to position the radiator away from the wall, to ensure air-flow. He measured, and then cut the tube into equal lengths using his hacksaw, without benefit of a tape measure. His experienced eye and metalwork skill made light of the job. 

All I had to do was to hold steady one end of the three inch tube with a pair a pliers while he held the other end and cut with the saw. An engineering apprentice in his teens, he'd worked forty nine years before retirement in the same West Bromwich small business, specialising in making different kinds of springs to order for the motor industry. It was wonderful to watch him wield a hacksaw with such steadiness and accuracy at close quarters. The finished wall mountings fitted perfectly. At the end, David smiled with a craftsman's sense of pleasure at job he was pleased with, which he knew his old apprentice master would approve

Much is being written about industrial systems involving robots and artificial intelligence replacing human labour entirely in coming decades, as has been happening throughout my lifetime. There are many difficult and dangerous taks which new technologies and devides are welcome to, but robots never smile. Only a human being making something with ingenuity, skill and natural effort, has that experience of true joy in creativity. Even if machines can, maybe will continue to be devised to take on the majority of industrial work, there will always be a place for people to learn engineering skills, to use basic tools and make things from scratch, just for pleasure.