Friday, 20 October 2017

Community in grief

Yesterday evening during the bereavement visit, the family agreed to let me lead the unaccompanied singing of 'Abide with me' during Mother's funeral service, rather than have a recording of the hymn played to listen to. It was going to be an awful lot of logistic fuss to obtain and distribute hymn books just for this, so I printed off the text, three to an A4 sheet, enough for three dozen people or more, if  they shared. I got all the necessary preparations done before bed, except for cutting the sheets. In fact, I only remembered just before it was time to go, and the job took me longer than anticipated. Even so, I arrived at Arboleas Thanatorium at one o'clock, exactly an hour before, and had all the time I could need to prepare before the mourners started arriving.

There were 12-15 family members present, including a babe in arms. I was amazed at the number of local friends and neighbours who turned out. The chapel was full, standing room only, and there were several people outside in the entrance hall as well. There were roughly three people for each hymn sheet, quite unexpected. Altogether, there were over a hundred people present. The couple are clearly well known and well loved by the expatriate community. 'Abide with me' went fine, and the recorded version was played at the end of the service while people were leaving. I cued it in a little earlier than I needed to, and as a result I had to pray the blessing over the music, which fortunately was at a low volume, and it worked quite well, though it's not something I'd normally think of doing..

Afterwards, Father and eldest son accompanied the hearse to the crematorium, while the rest of the congregation adjourned to the bar/restaurant of the nearby sports centre, colloquially known as the Pool Bar, because of its piscina. When I first heard it described thus I started looking out for some establishment on a street with pool tables, but thankfully, one of the people to whom I gave a lift had been there, and explained. Almost all of the congregation went there, socialized and offered their condolences to the family. I stayed until father and son returned, paid my respects and took my leave of them. Many of those remaining, I imagine, would be there until supper time. The good thing which expat retired communities have, is plenty of time for each other, and this was one of those days when time together would be healing.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Searching for words and remembering lives lost

This morning I attended a local Royal British Legion fund raising coffee morning, held at a charming small restaurant with a huge shady tree on its street side patio, often sheltering scores of chattering starlings when I pass by. It's fifteen minutes walk from the apartment along the beach road, when I go out shopping on foot. 'El Burladero Berria' is its name. I was surprised when the name checked out in  the dictionary as 'brothel'. It took me days to realise I'd miss-spelled the word as 'burdelero', when it was first told to me. It even went into my Google Calender incorrectly. 'Burladera' is Spanish for a mocking bird. 'Burladero' is what the enclosure serving as a bull fighter's ringside refuge is called, quite an uncommon noun, which had digital dictionaries struggling. So really, to name a restaurant after a place of respite in a hurly-burly, is quite appropriate, so long as you get the spelling right!

There were three dozen at the gathering, chatting drinking coffee, consuming pastries and chocolate biscuits. The Chairman opened with the Act of Remembrance, and closed with the Kohima Prayer, and we were treated to a raffle and a quiz run by Mick, the standard bearer who serves at Mojácar church. I was quite surprised to learn at the end of it that ours was the winning table. I bought a pin badge, commemorating the centenary of the battle of Paschendaele in which my Great Uncle Will was lost without trace. 

It's only recently that war documentaries have revealed the work of tunnelers digging behind enemy lines and laying huge deadly landmines on the Western Front. Will was a young cavalryman, who left the army in 1901, married and became a miner in Bedwas Colliery. He was over forty when the call came to re-enlist. For most of the century it was thought he disappeared on patrol, perhaps drowning in the mud. In his youth he'd been a Colour Sergeant, but in 1916, he was only a Corporal. It seems he was recruited because he was an experienced miner, though the circumstances of his demise are not revealed in his brief military record. It's a story still to be told.

In the afternoon, I drove to Arboleas to make a bereavement visit, co-incidentally to a military family of Ulster origins. Father, and two of three sons served in the Armed Forces, but it was Mother who died suddenly and unexpectedly. The youngest  son coming from Northern Ireland hadn't yet arrived, due to difficulties in obtaining a flight in half term week, plus gale force winds currently lashing the west of the U.K. The eldest son came from Vienna where he works, cutting short his holiday in Greece. The middle son working in Saudi Arabia who came the furthest, was first there, thanks to his employers ensuring he left within a few hours of hearing the sad news. For all their geographical dispersion, a close knit family. The couple had known each other since the year I was born, and had been married four months short of sixty years. I left them after an hour together, with a lovely story to tell at tomorrow's funeral of life together well lived.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

St Luke honoured nevertheless

It's St Luke's Day, and I confess my sadness at not having an opportunity to celebrate this fiesta at Mass with a worshipping community. We know more about the kind of man he was from his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, than from any biography that might be constructed about him. I'd like to think that the attention his writings give to people, and what they had to endure in life, has had lasting influence on how pastoral care is  understood among Christians.

The morning's overcast weather turned briefly to thunder and rain by lunchtime. After rain, a fresh outbreak of birdsong from the trees in this neighborhood. The distinct voice of the blackbird among the hosts of starlings and doves. Once the skies began to clear, I walked out across the charco road bridge, then up and around the periphery of the Marina del Torre Golf course, where last year I spotted hoopoes and took several photos. No such luck this time. 

Rain threatened, which brought me back downhill quite fast. I hung around the area for three quarters of an hour, waiting to inspect the small array of shops servicing golf course apartments to reopen after siesta, listening meanwhile on my Blackberry to St Luke's Day Evensong, broadcasted on BBC Radio Three. It was strangely soothing at the end of a dull uneventful afternoon.

The shops, in the basement of an apartment block were half shoe and clothing outlets, most of the remaining space was taken by a Chinese dry goods store. I love the Greek term 'pantopoleion' which describes such comprehensive retailing. The corner nearest the street was a mini-market whose stocks reflected current lack of demand from holiday visitors. Few people I imagine, apart from staff live in this area out of season. Interesting to see, nevertheless. 

The economy in leisure resorts is by nature, cyclical. Only those who are good at long term planning will profit from investing in property and infrastructure here. There's always money to be made around the staging of big one-off leisure events, like festivals and tournaments, but those investing time and energy in those activities are not so likely to be there long term. 

It's interesting to compare different kinds of economic enterprise, with the diversity of inter-relationships between species in the natural world. Inter-dependency, balance and resilience under external and internal pressure enable all kinds of species to flourish. Disasters happen when any part of any dynamic system fails to take into account its connection to the whole. 

It's what see now in relation to brexit, and in America's relationship to everything which isn't of America, as defined by the Trump presidency. The world is in the process of re-learning essential lessons at the moment. The harsh way, unfortunately.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Caring for the watercourse

After a good long sleep, Monday began with a walk to Mercadona to shop for groceries. Then came a call about a funeral on Friday, another bereavement in the hamlet of Los Corrascos outside Arboleas, in the early 1990s urbanizacion I was called on to visit about a funeral last week. My tea time bird watching walk was interrupted by a call from Ashley. We spent a long time on the phone which led to me drafting a statement for publication about recent BCRP changes for emailing by Julie to the CBS user base not long before I went to bed. 

Today it's been mainly cloudy and cool, good walking weather. First I went to the nature reserve and saw an egret for the first time this year. Curiously, it was roosting in a waterside reed bed a couple of metres away from the one grey heron I've now seen a couple of times.

I continued walking up the north side track along the bank of rio Aguas. Where the river bed bends at the top of the valley, a large tracked vehicle with a mowing arm was attacking the tall thick forest of reeds and cane that has taken over the surface of the river bed where water runs underground. Last time I walked up here, I noticed that extensive clearance of the watercourse had recently taken place. 

Further up towards the pueblo, the dry river bed seems free of this kind of vegetation. Gravel bedding whether natural or artificial, I don't know, seems only to permit a scattering of small bushes there. It may be that subterranean water runs under bedrock or at least too deep for reed and cane to flourish in that section. It makes sense to clear the watercourse, as dense vegetation would impede the immense if occasional flow of storm water and cause a low lying area to floor. Prevention is better than cure. The marine wetland area will suffer damage any time there's a huge amount of storm water but as I've seen, following last winter's coastal floods, the ecosystem is indeed resilient.

I climbed up to the top of Mojácar Pueblo, right to the mirador on the site of the mediaeval castillo. The imposing 1970s hotel El Moresco dominating the north face of the hill on which the town stands has been 'closed for repairs' for the past seven years, its glass front entrance doors and walls have graffiti on them now. An early victim of recession, refurbishment fund-raising or investment beyond reach, it's slowly turning into an eyesore, in contrast to the rest of the pueblo, which looks well kept and prosperous.

When I was here mid November last, I arrived to find that the huge north facing mirador terrace had been closed and was being excavated. I believe the condition of the car parks underneath the terrace was the reason for this unexpected activity, at the end of the autumn holiday season. Sure enough, the terrace had been restored, and its neighboring restaurants were open for business. It looked, however, as if the car park restoration is still a work in progress. More parking nightmares for locals, sadly.

The walk back down to the apartment took another hour despite taking a shortcut on tracks away from the main road to Mojácar Playa, and I made it before twilight. A walk of about 10km in all. I'll sleep well tonight.

Finally, I got around to remembering to look back at blog entries made during my stay here last year, in an effort to recover the forgotten local Spanish word used to describe the nature reserve's water enclosure. It's charco which translates as 'puddle' rather than pool or pond, perhaps because by nature it may grow or shrink according to weather conditions, so its boundaries may be somewhat fluid. A nice little linguistic curiosity.

Sunday, 15 October 2017


Yesterday was uneventful, just getting ready for Sunday and walking out, late in the afternoon, along the coast road in search of a pharmacy open for business. All three I identified were closed, as one may imagine on this Spanish bank holiday weekend, but none displayed information about any local 24 hour pharmacy which might be open. Ah well, nothing open. But, there must be a way of finding out where there is one.

This morning I drove to Llanos del Peral to celebrate the Eucharist. I had no trouble finding my way there, but was surprised I didn't recall the 5km journey from the main road up to the village in much detail until I drove it. I've noticed that I rely on visual memory and knowing where the sun is to take me places I've been before. I recall specific landscape features and navigate point to point between them. I was clear instructions to reach a coffee morning venue, except they didn't specify the starting point or general direction. Fine for locals who know where's where, but disconcerting for a stranger like me. No such thing as a stupid question however.

We were forty worshippers, in a chapel that holds fifty, with a positive receptive atmosphere in which to preach. Outside the chapel is a patio where umbrellas, chairs and tables are arranged for after-service fellowship. At this time of year the midday temperature is a pleasant 25C, so it's a pleasure to sit around and chat for a while before heading back to Mojácar.

Early evening, I walked along  the Camino del Palmeral, the back road leading to Mojácar Pueblo. I didn't have time to walk  all the way up there before dark, so turned back at the filling station towards Mojácar Playa, making a 6km circuit before the sun set. The last couple of kilometres I walked along the deserted beach for a change, enjoying the sound of waves crashing on the shore and gravel crunching under my feet as the sun set. A good conclusion to my second Sunday here, rounded off with an early bed-time.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Happy prospects

Alwyn and Pam dropped by this morning and took me out for coffee and a catch up chat. They were on holiday in Egypt just before I arrived, but when they returned to the UK, were caught out by the collapse of Monarch Airlines, and had to wait several days until they could get a flight back home to Alicante where their car awaited them. Both are looking happy and relaxed, and not just because they had a lovely holiday with the family over there, but also because the search for a new Chaplain has been fruitful, someone has agreed they want to come and minister here. Just knowing that much lifts a great burden from their shoulders. People will speculate and gossip, but it'll be a while before the name is announced here and elsewhere synchronously, but never mind. Most of the wait for a new priest is over. I'm happy for them, and happy to be out of another locum job, in effect.

I walked back from town via the Consum supermarket, after chatting with Alwyn and Pam, and bought a few sampler packets of dried meats to try. After a siesta, I walked inland along the north side of the rio Aguas and back along the south side, crossing at the point where there's a track over the river course, but it runs several metres underground. I got several photos of birds in a flock of white wagtails that comes down to the river as the sun sets to catch their supper. When the sunilight is at a certain angle, it may make insects easier to see. Their aerobatic flight path is bizarre, a succession of zig-zags in tight formation, not nearly as gracious as that of swifts, but more difficult to sustain, as they don't glide much. After a short series of aerial manouvers, wagtails set down on a branch or a reed to recover, before taking off again. I observed and photographed a few last year. This year there are many more of them.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Columbus Day

Apart from a walk up to the bridge over the rio Aguas to check out the evening wildlife, I stayed in, all day Tuesday and Wednesday, sleeping, eating and drinking Thyme Tea, to alleviate the symptoms of the cold. And it worked. By the time I woke up today, my head was clearer than it has been for a week and my chest was less sore. I wasn't concerned that another 45 minute drive up the Almanzora Valley to Aljambra would make me feel worse, and set off for the Midweek Communion service in the capilla with confidence. It was made a little easier by the lack of traffic on the roads, as today is Columbus Day, a Spanish Bank Holiday.

During my two days of down-time, I wrote both a Thursday and a Sunday sermon using Trinity 18 Mass readings, but focusing on the Related for one and Continuous for the other. There are times when both are interesting enough to be worth exploring separately, which you can't do in one sermon. I continue to enjoy working on Jewish scriptural texts in a way I didn't when I was younger, when I would happily have done away with Old Testament readings on grounds that they lacked relevance to today. As I get older, many more of the Psalms seem to connect with how I experience what is going on in the modern world, and difficult though Old Testament stories and prophecies can be until their context is exposed, I can find contemporary relevance in them more easily than ever. Here's hoping my audiences agree!

After the service, David and Kath took me for lunch at 'Bistro Bonita' in in the country village of Oria on the plain north west of Albox. All shops close, and most restaurants are fully booked with families enjoying time out together. The restaurant is owned and run by an ex-submariner British chef, with his sister, since his wife died. It's a favourite eating place with expats as his menu is wonderfully unpretentious British 'home cooking', delivered with the highest quality fresh ingredients, and loving application of olive oil and garlic where necessary. The Aljambra congregation can raise forty for the annual Christmas dinner here, and it's packed to the doors. Salad, spatchcock chicken, apple and plum crumble with custard. It was most enjoyable, and the conversation over lunch was also a pleasure.

The journey on minor roads of the main highway took us past a huge industrial plant, whose purpose seemed to be the conversion of locally quarried gypsum into plasterboard panels. Trees and plants in fields for a kilometer downwind from the factory were coated greyish white with stone dust. It would be impossible for people to live in that zone. I wondered about the health of the wildlife too.

Much of the region's gypsum is exported from Garrucha Port in bulk carriers, for use in similar manufacturing plants in other Mediterranean countries where I imagine labour is cheaper. Last weekend I observed one bulk carrier loading on my way through Garrucha, and three anchored off shore. That's twice as many ships as I saw queuing to load up this time last year. Also I noticed a tower crane in action lately on the unfinished apartment buildings on the tall escarpment overlooking the rio Aguas. Small symptoms of an economy beginning to pick up? I hope so.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Worship travels

I woke up yesterday morning conscious that a chest cold was developing. Whether it's a late development of the bug that laid Clare low last week, or a bug picked up on the journey here is anyone's guess. The roads were almost empty as I drove the twenty minute journey to the Capilla de San Pascual de Baylon to celebrate the Eucharist there were over sixty of us present. I was glad the Chaplaincy's resident retired Church Army Captain Edwin Bates was there to assist on my first Sunday back here since this time last year. 

After stopping off for a drink with half a dozen fellow worshippers on the way back to the apartment, it was half past two by the time I was cooking lunch. Then I had an hour to prepare another sermon for Evensong, before setting off on the forty five minute journey to the Almanzora Valley to Aljambra, where there were fifteen of us for the service. Instead of going out for supper with members of the congregation at a favourite Chinese restaurant, I decided to head back to Mojacar and bed, as the effects of the developing cold became more apparent.

Sure enough I woke up with a miserable cough, and though it took me a while to get going, I knew I would be able to cope with another drive up the Almanzora Valley to Arboleas Thanatorium for the funeral at midday, this time a forty minute journey. There were about thirty mourners there, many of them from the neighbourhood where all had bought homes and settled in retirement back in the early nineties. Afterwards, the hearse drove the coffin to a crematorium on a separate site elsewhere. Mourners stood outside, and gave a round of applause as it went past them.

On the way back, I stopped at a hardware superstore in Los Galliardos and bought a small saucepan, one of the few essentials lacking in the apartment kitchen. Then, the week's main grocery shopping at Lidl's in Garrucha, before returning to the apartment to lie low for the rest of the afternoon. I did go out later in the evening, in search of something to take for my cold, and decided to try thyme tea, a herbal remedy much used in France apparently. It has a distinctive taste and a wonderful aroma. I hope it makes a difference, or I'll have to move on to something stronger. At least the 4km walk in the dark warm evening air (21C), didn't make me feel worse. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Natural engineering

After breakfast, a walk around the nature reserve to discover how the sand bar, denuded of vegetation at its southernmost end had been re-forged along the line of least resistance for the flood waters, giving an interesting shape to the lake's sea shore boundary. The lake waters still teem with fish. There's an abundance of coots, a few mallards. a heron, grasshoppers,and butterflies. I heard and saw briefly on the ground a single warbler. A puddle in a mud patch under the road bridge played host to scores of small brown frogs. The only notable absence, which I observed last night was the colony of egrets. Winter flood waters may have wrecked the habitats of some species, though nature is resilient, so maybe the egrets will return some time.

At the end of the afternoon, I drove to Arboleas for the bereavement visit, meeting the wife and son of the man who died. They had been able to nurse him themselves at home right to the end, which is a real blessing for an old man. Co-incidentally, I officiated this time last year at the funeral of another man who'd lived in a nearby street of this urbanizacion. When the place was built in the early nineties, most of those who settled there were retired British or other European expats, content to live out the rest of their days far from their native soil. Whether this generation will be replaced by other retirees in the present political and economic climate remains to be seen. I don't suppose I'll end my life somewhere abroad. Much as I appreciate the climate and landscape of places I visit, I have yet to find a place where I feel I could settle permanantly. Where we live in Pontcanna is far from being my ideal location. It's a compromise, we can live with, and probably die with.

No internet connection all day today. The device is working, and displays a green light, but doesn;t deliver, and this time I know not why. I investigated the router firmware, but this didn't shed any light on the matter. Can it have exceeded its monthly data cap already in 36 hours? I'm not such a heavy user, no video only a few hours of radio streaming and some VOIP calls, unless yesterday's call from Geoff, lasting over an hour wiped the monthly allowance. There's no way of finding out however. The router isn't as smart as a smartphone.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Settling in

I promised myself a early walk to the nearby nature reserve lake, but no sooner than I'd got up, I had a phone call from John at Collyfer, one of the region's Funeral Directors, about a funeral in Arboleas Thanatorium next Monday. This will involve a bereavement visit to an outlying village a couple of kilometres from Arboleas, itself a forty minute drive from Mojacar. I tried ringing later on but only got the family's answering machine.

Then, after breakfast I had an hour long catch-up Skype chat with Archdeacon Geoff, filling me in on various items of news, and sounding me out for ideas about a fresh approach to a couple of outstanding issues. That's the benefit of having known each other for twenty five years, since we first worked together.

I decided to go shopping for fruit and veg before making lunch, but it was beyond lunchtime when I got around to walking rather than driving to Mercadona, for the exercise. By the time's I'd cooked, it was nearly tea time, but it didn't matter, as I have no routine established at the moment. Somehow, the evening slipped by as well. 

By the time 'The Archers' was over, it was already dark, and I took off for the beach to take photos of the Harvest full moon rising about the waters, albeit half an hour late. Then I walked up to the road bridge over the nature reserve. In the moonlight could see that it has now a different shape than it had last year. Torrential winter rain breached and carried away the reeds and bushes that colonised the shore line sand bar, but I couldn't see in the dark whether or not the breach led to open water. I'll find that out tomorrow.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Mojácar bound

I was pleased not to have to get up extra early for my Alicante bound flight this morning, and said goodbye to Clare at ten to nine. I was less pleased when no 61 bus appeared after twenty minutes waiting. I that time normally three should have appeared. Feeling desperate and furious at Cardiff Bus, I strode down to a bus stop on Cowbridge Road, and caught an X1 bus to the bottom of St Mary Street, after a two minute wait. As I boarded, three 61 buses came past on to Cowbridge Road within minutes of each other, one a double decker. What on earth is going on? What excuse can there be for this kind of unpredictability when buses now use digital scheduling mechanisms that synchornise with bus stop heads up displays?

Thankfully, a T9 Airport shuttle bus pulled in a minute after my arrival at the Custom House Street stop, the one after I had intended to catch. Just as I arrived at Vueling bag drop, the desks opened to receive luggage from a queue of about forty people, and I began to calm down and relax. Forty give minutes later, I sat and waited in the departure lounge for my flight to be called and drank a coffee. The flight left on time and arrived early. By half past four, I was being waved at by Tony and Janice who'd kindly come to collect me. My original plan had been to take a coach and be picked up, late evening, from Huercal Overa bus station, an hour from Mojacar, but anxiety about whether my back would cope with such a journey, when healing nicely after a treatment by Kay on Monday, led me to ask if I could be picked up.

Just after seven, we reached Mojácar. I deposited my bags in the Chaplaincy apartment, and was then taken out to supper at the Mediterraneo beach Restaurant at the other end of town. It was a very pleasant experience with a full view of the sea with an almost full moon, through the dining room window. Then, back to the apartment to unpack and get on line. It was easier said than done unfortunately, as the router was not functionng properly. 

It's a Huwawei 4G hub, designed to link to a carrier signal from a local cellphone mast, and deliver fast-ish broadband to any number of home devices. I discovered that it wasn;t working since it had hit its data cap. Interestingly enough, it has a second 4G PAYG sim for top-up purposes, arranged in a rather convoluted way by phone to the account managment call centre. I may be wrong, but having read the instructions provided about this, the device had the drained PAYG SIM card in it. I found the other SIM, inserted it and immediately had broadband wifi, since the previous months data cap had been replaced by the October allowance. The system had been idle over the week since the previous locum Chaplain left. 

The concept makes sense, but it would be more effective if it was possible to augment the data allowance via a mobile phone. Perhaps you can, but nobody has bothered yet, as there's a different habitual way of getting things to work. It's just a bit disconcerting when arriving in a new place and having to troubleshoot before phoning home and going to bed. Ah well, never mind. It's good to be here again in a familiar place.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Getting ready to travel again

There's been a lot to do this past couple of days, as well as pack my bags ready for my next tour of locum duty in Mojácar. I started yesterday with a hypertension review at the GP surgery, then with a haircut from Stavros my favourite joke telling hairdresser. After lunch, I visited our Osteomyologist Kay, for a back treatment. It was necessary, despite a fair reduction in discomfort these past few days. It's the unseen impact a fall can inflict on bone structure you have to consider, without the necessary corrective measures it can leave you vulnerable, and less flexible than is desirable. I then walked into town to do some banking, and made a visit to the CBS RadioNet office for a catch up session with Ashley and Julie, as CBS set about recruiting a new business crime reduction manager. Needless to say, I was late home for supper.

Today I had another visit to the School of Optometry to collect my new driving glasses, delivered in record time, since my appointment last Friday. It's a pleasure to go there as the team are so pleasant to deal with and superbly organised. Dealing with eyesight issues is a delicate and sensitive affair requiring a great deal of close contact with clients, and much reassurance. This certainly is a centre of excellence Cardiff can be proud of.

It's surprising how many small things escape attention when packing to go away for any length of time. I locked and strapped up my case three times during the evening, as I kept on thinking of things I needed to take with me. This time around I have to take a Windows laptop with me, as there isn't a machine available in the Chaplain's residence. I never go anywhere without my Chromebook, but I'm reluctant to rely on its wireless only network printing routine, it case I have problems with it. Apart from annoying issues with legacy printer drivers, devices running Windows 10 generally hook up to a printer easily and quickly. I took a Windows laptop last year, and will take it again this time around. For the sake of keeping my cabin bag weight down, however, I decided not to take my DSLR camera kit, which is a pity.

I bought a small light Acer Windows 10 device last year, to take with me on occasions like this, but had to give it to Kath to take with her to the USA, as Rhiannon's laptop was not fit for purpose when she brought it to me at the weekend. It's running fine now after a Windows re-install, so Clare can return it for Rhiannon to use when she goes up to Kenilworth to Kath's for the start of their Arizona trip next week. Altogether my case and hand baggage weigh twenty kilos, well within the allowance, and as much as I want to manage, while my back gently recovers for yesterday's vital therapy.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Microsoft mess

Ann and I went to St Catherine's for the Sunday Eucharist today, Clare stayed in bed. Rhiannon and Kath left for Kenilworth just after we left for church. Fr HUw Rhydderch, retired Rector of Dinas Powis took the service, speaking about Harvest and about St Francis' celebration of creation. I think this is the first Sunday this year when I haven't had a service to take. It was a welcome break.

When they arrived last night, I was presented with the laptop I gave to Rhiannon last year to repair. It's suffering from incredible slowness and a tendency to shut down on the job every 15 minutes. The key issue is to establish if this is a hardware or software fault, and the Windows 10 software plays hard to get. There's no doubt the machine has been abused in practice, put into sleep mode, or hibernating due to lack of battery power, either/both occurring while Windows 10 updates the security library, or does a system update. It was 94 days since the device had last successfully installed its anti-virus database, and the list of failed system updates reached back beyond that. 

With so many stop-starts, no wonder the system is always catching up and failing to complete, especially if power settings, arbitrarily tweaked, force it to shut down again mid-stream, even when it's on mains power or has a full battery. This represents a strategic failure in design, refusing to take into account real world use by teenage girls, let alone busy mobile using executives. What a contrast to Google's Chromebook speedy and seamless way of working, regardless of its limitations on file transfer and printer connectivity.

Microsoft has the de facto standard user interface with Windows. It makes everything harder to use for everyday non-technical users than Android, Apple Mac, Chrome or Android user interfaces, and its technical weaknesses make it easier to not use properly day to day, causing system failures, not to mention outright abuse of systemic weaknesses by malware. 

A computer should be as simple and as safe to operate for everyday communications purposes as a phone, a fridge or a washing machine. We're now entering the era of 'smart' domestic devices, and by nature of their computer operating systems, Windows or otherwise, the contain similar vulnerabilities. How amazing our willingness to put up with all these fundamental weaknesses in an effort to keep up with consumer fashion! When will we ever learn?

Kath had intended to borrow Rhiannon's small laptop for travel to USA with Clare to see Rachel in two weeks time. As it's currently not fit for purposes, she asked if I could lend her a small laptop instead. I readily agreed, although I'd intended to take my small Acer with me to Spain next week. It was, however, more of a problem to set up a user area on this machine for Kath to work with, than I had imagined, as Microsoft steadfastly refused to co-operate and implement a suitable file system on the machine with which to sync her existing OneDrive file system. I had to let Kath take the device home with her, and figure out how to complete the process, in order to get it to work, as it should, to her benefit.

There'd be far fewer problems using Linux, but proprietary software is hard to use on a Linux base apart from the amazing wonderful Libre Office, which can match anything MS Office produces. 

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Birthday take-away

Unfortunately, Clare has been doing battle with a horrible cold this past few days, and was brave to have made it to the opera last night. It's amazing how, year after year, she succumbs to illness on or around her birthday, for no apparent reason. Today, out of sheer self preservation, she spent much of the day in bed. She has much to do next week, accompanying Ann to the inquest into Eddie's death last year, and wants to be fit to travel to East Anglia for this. 

So, until Kath and Rhiannon arrived at tea time, we had a rather quiet day. When they arrived, we decided to get a take-away meal from 'The Italian Way' restaurant on Cowbridge Road East, we'd booked at table in, to spare Clare having to go out, and this was quite a success, apart from the amount of disposable packaging to be dealt with afterwards. It's one good reason to shun ready meals, and cook from fresh, no matter how much effort it takes.

Ann and I watched the penultimate set of episodes of Black Lake, on BBC Four which continues to un-impress. The acting of people in roles confronted by disturbingly traumatic experiences leaves much to be desired. I don't think it's a matter of culturally different responses to tragedy, but rather a failure of the movie producers to understand and reflect real human reactions to situations they cannot control. There may well be an interplay between the use of Danish, Swedish and Norwegian languages rather lost in subtitles, but many feelings can be conveyed by facial expressions and body language, which in this series are absent. The plot is flaky enough already without stretching credibility further. 

I keep watching, if only to observe how stupid the producers believe their audience is. It's waste of time really, but at the moment I have time to spare. It's odd, when the movie production values disturb you more than the intended horrific narrative. Like Mel Gibson's 'Passion of Christ'.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Michaelmas Outing

There was something rather satisfying about having Owain with us all day, working remotely on his office laptop, for the usual prescribed hours. He's part of the internal communications team for a big government agency, with a website with tens of thousands of reference documents and hundreds of web pages. I was allowed a brief overview of his work-space, set up to manage collaboratively dozens of concurrent writing and editing tasks, and still using a securely locked down version Windows 7 Professional! Although he complains that the work can be quite dull, it certainly makes good use of his experience as a digital artisan.

While Clare and Ann went to town for a swim in the health club pool, I drove to the School of Optometry for a my biennial eye checkup, a couple of months early, as my sight in the left eye has deteriorated noticeably over the past year, while the right eye hasn't changed. As a result I ordered a new pair of driving specs. These may not arrive until after I leave for Spain next Wednesday, so I'll take my old pair with me, as they can be used for now. I'll get left lens replaced when I return.

When Owain had finished his work day, he headed back to Bristol, as he has a gig to prepare for, and the three of us drove to the Millennium Centre for the WNO's production of Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky. I don't think I've seen it before. Russian opera doesn't appeal to me that much, but the music was truly beautiful, even if I couldn't understand a word of the libretto. There wasn't a weak performance on the part of any of the cast of singers. The singing and dancing of the WNO chorus was, as ever outstanding. The set construction meant the choreography of the two ballroom scenes was unusually tricky. It combined the required accuracy of movement in a difficult with a balance of formality and informality of movement, so that the ensemble didn't appear rigidly drilled. All this while singing in Russian too! 

This night out was a birthday treat for both Ann and Clare, me too. I was apprehensive beforehand about my creaky back giving me trouble, as it'll be Monday before I visit Kay, our osteomyologist for a treatment, but I found a comfortable sitting posture on my seat, so all was well right through.

Thursday, 28 September 2017


I woke up at 05.20 with nearly seven hours reasonable sleep behind me, and was relieved to find I could move reasonably well, as long I moved carefully. After breakfast and a final inspection of the house, I locked the house and walked to Montreux gare for the 07.24 train with twenty minutes to spare. As this train stops only at Lausanne and Genece Cornavin before the airport, it's one of the fastest of the day, an hour and ten minutes. It's crowded with commuters, students, teachers and business workers, as well as heavily laden travellers destined for the airport. I had to walk through a couple of carriages to find an empty luggage rack, let alone a seat. 

Having found both, I went to sit down, and was greeted by a smiling friendly face - Bethany-Ann, who'd been in church with her five year old daughter yesterday for the midweek Communion service, such a delightful surprise. She teaches English in both Lausanne and Geneva's Webster Universities, travelling this route by train to work several times a week. So instead of gazing at the sunrise over the lake and dozing, I enjoyed an hour's good conversation all the way to Geneva. 

Bethany-Ann's father is a retired American Lutheran pastor in Philadelphia. She teaches students from around the world, many from Arab countries. She said how filled with hope her Saudi students are at the rise of a young Crown Prince able to give them a voice through his progressive thinking and actions. Her younger sister is an academic who began as a French graduate to learn Arabic and now researches and writes on Islamic culture. Bethany-Ann is married to a Kosovan Muslim who was a refugee at the time of the Yugoslavian war and made his home in Switzerland. Such is the everyday diversity of a significant proportion of the inhabitants of Switzerland. It made for a happy conclusion to my stay.

The airport was busy. Twenty minutes to drop off my suitcase, but only ten minutes to go through security. The flight landed at Bristol ten minutes early, and I was soon on a bus for Temple Meads station. My twenty minute wait for a train turned into a half an hour wait, as the train was delayed due to 'cows on the line', which makes a change from 'leaves on the line' I suppose. Clare met me with the car at Cardiff Central, to save me lugging my case to the nearest bus stop. Home by two.

As ever, there were Windows PCs to be updated and made fit for purpose, before attempting any work on them. Sister in Law Ann arrived for the weekend at four, and Owain at six, then we walked together to 'La Cuina', the Catalan restaurant at the bottom of King's Road, for the first of Clare's birthday meals, a superb gourmet affair with an excellent bottle of Catalan wine from Vallibona de les Monjes, due north of Tarragona. Unfortunately, it rained on us as we walked home, not that it dampened our spirits after a splendid night out.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Final day in Territet

I woke up early this morning, and when I got out of bed found I had difficulty straightening up due to a sharp pain in the vertebrae at waist level. I'd slept awkwardly and not realised it. It's been with me all day, and I had to be unusually careful and deliberate in moving during the celebration of the 1662 BCP midweek Holy Communion service. Today we were five adults, one small child, and two dogs. We mused about the possibility of having a special column for dog attendees in the church register of services. After this, we said our farewells, and I took my alb into the house to pack in my suitcase. Then I set about writing and sending an end-of-stay report to Archdeacon Adele and Jean in the diocesan office. Another assignment comes to an end, so enjoyable because of reunions with old Geneva friends. Leaving for my plane early tomorrow morning isn't going to be easy with this creaky back of mine.

I've had to be careful through the day, with packing, cleaning, tidying and shopping, though it's not so bad when I'm walking. I walked into town to shop to buy some domestic items to replace those we'd used, then later walked to Chateau de Chillon, as the sun was heading towards the horizon. The colours of autumn are gently revealing themselves, as apart from the occasional day of rain, there have been no spells of chill wind or frost to accelerate the process. Most of the snow on the alpine peaks has receded to higher levels. There's no sign of the lakeside grape harvest starting any time soon. The high sided trailers and tankers going along the main road towards Villeneuve are destined for vineyards much further up the Rhone Valley, I think.

Now, with the bins emptied and everything in the kitchen tidied away in its proper place, it's time to get to bed, early enough that it won't matter if I have a restless night.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Legacy questions

I had a pile of washing to do this morning, and although rain threatened, it remained warm and dry, so I was able to leave clothes drying on the narrow upstairs terrace between church and house, just in the shelter of the house eaves, where they'd escape all but torrential rain. Very convenient.

After lunch I was again collected and taken to Monica's house for afternoon coffee and home made cake and a free ranging discussion about church, spirituality and bible. It was meant to be focused on St John's first epistle, which I'd commended the congregation to read and re-read in my sermon on Sunday, but we did no more than touch upon it from time to time. 

Similar questions are being asked here as in so many places in Britain as well as the diocese in Europe, about how a small and vulnerable minority of worshippers can maintain their faith and witness when support for historic patterns of church life seems to be in terminal decline? What works to generate success in some places doesn't work in every place, and so many people want to be carried by the familiar routines of church life rather than making the effort to respond positively, faithfully. Sometimes it's hard for an older generation to consider what their spiritual legacy should be, let alone prepare to hand it on to rising generations.

It was already dark when I went out for my daily paseo. This time, I walked as far as the Montreux ship landing station, which is well lit all the way. Being a mild evening, many people, mainly youngsters out walking and a few were sitting on seats at the low platforms used by swimmers the water's edge, chatting quietly. This is such a safe and civilised environment. It's extremely rare to witness unruly, rowdy or bizarre behaviour in public, and not that often, except at big events, that you see police patrolling. I wonder what it must be like in peak holiday seasons?

Another lakeside lunch

Andrea and Yvette come by train from Geneva to visit me today, and take me out to lunch. When they got off the train in Territet, they went into the open church to look for me, not realising for a while that Church House is next door, so it was nearly half past twelve then the doorbell rang. Like Dianne and Ian yesterday, they were amazed and delighted by the place.

We went down to the Port to eat, but being a Monday, 'Le Contretemps', like many other restaurants and bars was closed. Territet Tennis Club's bar and restaurant a hundred and fifty metres away was however open, and we were able to eat out on the terrace in the sun with a view of the lake behind tennis courts, to a soundtrack of practice games being played. The proprietor seemed to be single handed, waiting on tables and preparing meals, so service was slow,  but it hardly mattered as had so much to talk about. How marvellous to have been able to catch up with so many old friends during our time here. 

After eating and spending even more time catching up on news about mutual acquaintances, we walked along the lakeside to Montreux gare, where we parted company. Passing the covered market hall, much of the area was cordoned off for the removal of all the equipment installed for the weekend's festival of acrobatics - quite a logistic exercise, creating an outdoor gymnasium.

Being at the station, meant I could visit the ticket office and buy a one way full price fare this time, CHF36 for my horribly early return journey to Geneva Airport on Thursday. No more hassles with uncooperative ticket automats! After walking back home, I started thinking for the first time about gathering my belongings to start packing my case. Over the course of six weeks, stuff gets spread all over the house. As I get older, I am becoming more like Clare, who habitually starts packing several days before departure. We're not so good at last minute rush there days.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Final Sunday in Montreux

My last locum Sunday here today, and it was such a joy to welcome my cousin Dianne and husband Ian, who had driven down from Champex Lac to join us for the Eucharist. We had intended to meet up yesterday to see the desalpage des vaches in the Val d'Herens, above Orsieres. They had timed a week's holiday to coincide with this special autumnal alpine festival. I'd have had to arrive at 08.45 at Orsieres station to be driven up to where the event was to start at 10.00. 

After three hours travel on Friday, I thought it better to lie low yesterday and keep some energy in reserve for today, so they decided to drive down and worship with us instead. Dianne and I have known each other for over sixty years, having been raised in the same mining village in the years of our youth. Both of them have remarkable careers in journalism behind them and we share a love of Switzerland and alpine life. These days I still have considerable energy, but fewer reserves to draw upon. All part of getting old.

As with other visitors while I've been here, they marvelled at the typical traditional Vaudois nature of Church House, with its all wood upper storey after the service. They couldn't be persuaded to stop for lunch as they had others to meet after an hour long return journey, but we did spend an hour together drinking coffee and talking before parting company. Then I had to get my affairs in order for another journey up to Villars to celebrate Holy Communion again for a dozen appreciative faithful in Aiglon Chapel.

With the roads being clearer, and no diversions this time, the drive up to Villars and back via Ollon, the shorter route, was easy and enjoyable, although descending a steep road with hairpin bends at twilight required careful attention, especially after the nightmare with fading brakes on the slower steeper descent via Bex, last time round. I sensed my slower speed was an annoyance to some other motorists, who overtook as safe opportunities presented. It was only in the home stretch I realised the supplementary read fog lights were on unnecessarily, and I was mortified. 

Driving an old Subaru Impreza, apart from my aforementioned scary experience, has been quite a pleasure. It handles with the reliable precision of a sports car, reassuring when precision driving is essential to avoid trouble. It's as good as my VW Golf back home, albeit with lighter steering. Even so, it would have been far nicer to have been able to timetable and carry out a train journey to Aigle connecting with the narrow gauge mountain railway to get to Villars and back. Evening trains, like buses, are few and far between.

When I chatted with our English organist at the service, he told me that he was an entomologist with an expert interest in alpine butterflies. He worked with a Swiss expert, surveying or you could say auditing a immense variety of habitats and their species across Switzerland. It was amazing, he at this time when rare species are disappearing throughout the world, that there are remote places in alpine meadows where site specific species survive, so long as habitats remain undisturbed by anything foreign to their local ecosystem. 

For this reason, he declined to offer his services as a tour guide to butterfly watchers, preferring to keep these locations secret, as camera toting enthusiasts were capable of losing awareness of their environment altogether, end up trampling the habitat the creatures rely on to survive. This reminded me of the news cameraman in Latin America, who filmed himself being murdered by a soldier at a public demonstration. Also of wedding guests toting video-cams attempting to interpose themselves between priest and couple during the solemn vows. It's so easy behind a lens to lose awareness of the impact of your presence on your surroundings. The acquisition of the image becomes everything and this is, in a way, akin to idolatry - note to self, beware!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Acrobatic Montreux

Delighted this morning to receive a call from our friend Andrea from our Geneva days, whom we have visited several times in Scarborough, where she now lives. She is here, staying for a week with mutual friend Yvette, and they are coming to Territet to meet me and have lunch on Monday, which is just marvellous news.

I finished the intercessions of Sermon for tomorrow, then walked into town for some shopping late afternoon. When I arrived, I immediately regretted not having brought a camera, as the covered Market Hall was hosting a community festival of acrobatics, the Montreux Acro d'Acro as it's called with an outdoor trampoline, various kinds of bar apparatus for balancing and swinging from, and a large acrobatic floor stage, hosting not only ordinary gymnastic routines but also used for what I'd call BMX bikes. Two young men performed on these while I was passing by, extraordinary balletic as well as athletic routines of strength, speed, flexibility and balance. I've never seen anything like it, close up. Most impressive.

In the evening, I watched the second pair of episodes of BBC Four's latest Scandi-noir melodrama, having almost lost patience with the story after the first pair of episodes last week. It's set in the frozen wastes of northern Sweden in the haunts of the Sami. Beguiling photography, but so far it's unclear as to whether this is a psychological or a supernatural crime thriller. It puts a certain strain on the story's credibility, while not reaching out to invite one to suspend disbelief. Not the same plot standard as previous Scandi-noir thrillers. Psychological thrillers which play out well within the bounds of ordinary reality can be far more scary than supernaturalistic melodrama, in which the monster most likely to be revealed is figure more of childish fantasy than natural life. Why suspend disbelief when things happening in the real world can challenge beliefs we have about ourselves.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Visit to Bienne long overdue

I walked into Montreux gare to get the 10.45 train prescribed by my discount ticket. At Lausanne I changed for another inter-city express to take me in an easterly direction to Bienne, also known as Biel, as the roeschtigraben seems to run through this town, so French and German conversations can be overheard on the streets. You're never sure whether neighbourhood passers by are going to greet you with bonjour or groetzi as polite social custom requires. It keeps you on your toes. Laura met me in the station car park. We were both incredulous that our last meeting was in 2010, the summer I retired.

First stop was a big Migros supermarket to buy fish, fruit and veg to cook with, then to Laura's amazing modern wooden house whose exterior is entirely glazed in armoured dark glass. It has a modern kitchen too, with powerful induction hobs to cook with - a good as gas. She invested in photo voltaic solar panels early this year, a wise long term economy in a place which gets more than average sunshine.

Despite the unfamiliarity of the kitchen, cooking the paella went well. I felt especially blessed to be able to cook with olive oil, which Laura was recently given by a Florentine cousin - pressed from his own Umbrian olive trees. I was pleased with the end result, and thankfully, so was Laura. She'd bought a Catalan Tierra Alta Garnacha red wine, which we drank with the meal, and afterward some ice cream with figs her cousin had also preserved. Memorable flavours all round.

After lunch and washing up, we went for an hour's walk in the communal forest to the east of her housing estate. It's mostly deciduous woodland flanked by cornfields currently being harvested. At the turning point of our walk, the snow capped peaks of the Berner Oberland were visible across the fields, some seventy kilometres to the south.

There was much to catch up on. News of our children, and the story of how Laura has come through the nightmare experience of losing her husband Daniel when he was away walking high mountain paths in Corsica. His body still hasn't been found. He was an experienced mountain man, careful and fully aware of the risks.The only other person I ever met who shared this experience was Peggy in my last Parish, whose fiancé, a naval captain, disappeared in Cairo towards the end of the war, and was never found. It's hard to imagine what it means to live with a person's unfinished life story.  Laura never ceases to be a positive person, and says that having many friends, and an active, varied musical life have sustained her this past three years. "Despite what happens, you just have to get on with life in the end" she said. Or go under, I thought to myself. Such admirable courage.

I left on the 16.45 train to Lausanne. It was very crowded, but I found a seat, and dozed off half way along Lake Neuchatel, waking up only when arrival at Lausanne was announced. The connecting train once more was conveniently just a 30m walk from one platform to another, and I was back in Montreux, walking home by 18.15 after a very easy discount journey. 

The rest of the evening I spent helping Ashley with crisis management resulting from a breakdown of relationships over strategic policy in the BCRP Board of Management. It's what happens when busy people don't take sufficient time to develop a full understanding of what 'partnership' requires of them, or try to lead on the assumption that everyone must agree with them. Everybody does it. Brexit negotiations show this happening day by day.


Thursday, 21 September 2017

Autumn equinox - already

Well that was an uncomfortable night, though not too painful thankfully. Now I am limping slightly, wearing shorts for the first time during my stay here, to avoid chafing the knee wound. It's many decades since I last had scabs on my knees. Bones and muscles don't seem to have been knocked out of alignment, thankfully, but localised kneecap swelling makes going up and down stairs awkward. I found some Voltarol Clare left behind, and rubbed that into the swelling, and over the course of the day, and with additional rest, the swelling diminished.

Earlier in the week when I discussed with Laura my trip to Bienne to see her, she suggested a way I could get a half price discount on an off peak fare, even though my abonnement demi-tarif expired last Saturday, by booking a ticket through the CFF website, branded as a billet degriffé. You have to register for the ticket with your name and date of birth, and it's not transferable. It's certainly worth the effort, if you have a flexible travel timetable, that's for sure.

Laura was church administrator at Holy Trinity Geneva during my time there, always able to find a good price, and the church benefited from them. She hasn't lost her touch in the twenty five years we've known each other. She travels a great deal as a professional musician and music teacher, and makes the best of internet commerce, something that wasn't available back then. To spare me using a UK bank card and having to pay currency conversion charges, she bought the ticket for me, and proposed reimbursement in the form of a paella lunch shopped for and cooked by me at her place.

This afternoon I ventured into town to see if I could obtain any of the Spanish spices I prefer to use, and assess how well I could walk. Thankfully, I had no joint pain, a great relief. But I did feel a little self-conscious about being out and about in shorts, as nobody else was. There were various paprikas on sale, all unknown and untried by me, but I couldn't find imported pimenton anywhere, only ground coriander, which I also needed. I also found a pack of chorizo sausages, quite a rarity here, and bought them to cook with, as they'll add an element of Spanish flavour to what is destined to be a seafood paella. Geneva shops, with a bigger Spanish population is more likely to stock what I need. There's a Portuguese shop opposite the station, with spices and sauces from back home, but not from the other side of the Iberian Peninsula.

After bouts of rain in the past week, the snow capping mountain peaks across the lake is thicker and lower than previously. Although it's pleasantly warm at the lakeside by day, the zero degree line up on high is creeping lower down, as autumn reveals itself. Many still green trees now have flecks of brown and gold in their foliage, though few have turned colour entirely. I learned recently that those responsible for tree maintenance, planting and planning have paid close attention to the diversity of deciduous and coniferous trees planted, and their positioning in the landscape, in order to enhance the array of autumn colours. We notice such stunningly beautiful displays, but don't realise the thought given to lending nature a hand.

This evening I was delighted to see on Facebook several photographs posted by Fr Phelim of Bishop June's visit to the foodbank in St Saviour's Splott, where she also celebrated St Matthew's Day. Adamsdown and Splott areas have been inner city urban mission frontiers for more than a century, so it's a positive affirmation of the 'Church for others' mindset which makes both St Saviour's and St German's marvellous parishes to minister in.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Preaching anniversary

Monday, after such an simulating Sunday, I wasn't so much tired, but had no desire to go out or do anything. So I stayed in all day, and spent my time writing and uploading photos, with breaks for meals and no lakeside walk. Sometimes I seem to need lots of time to just digest everything I've experienced.

Tuesday was the 47th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. No opportunity to celebrate this with others. That's often been the case over the years, as I was ordained on an autumn Ember Saturday before Michaelmass, and it's seldom been the case that I've been in a place where a daily Mass is the norm, But never mind, I was taken by to Monica's house for an afternoon Bible discussion group with six others, looking at the theme of last Sunday's readings on reconciliation, and that was enjoyable.

After lunch, I walked into town to do some food shopping, and in the evening, walked in the dark along the lakeside to Chillon. By the small marina near the railway station, I startled a large bird which took flight into the darkness, squawking its annoyance as it left, a heron, I think.

Today is the 48th anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate, and for me this has always been an important day to remember, as it's the day when my public ministry began. 'Take thou authority to read the Gospel in the church and to preach the same ...' said Archbishop Glyn Simon, handing me a copy of the New Testament, as is customary. It was and still is a task and a role which carries with it a measure of apprehension, as a task entrusted to me by the church. In the early days, I was nervous about standing up and speaking to a congregation. It was reflected in dreams about starting to take a service and being unable to capture the attention of people chatting among themselves as I spoke. Now and then I still have them, although I'm quite at ease in front of any congregation nowadays.

At the midweek BCP 1662 Communion service I had a congregation of three adults and a five year old brought by her mum. She helped me this time by lighting the candles as well as putting them out. We used the St Matthew's Day readings for tomorrow, as these were the readings used on the first Sunday after my deaconing, when I preached on the text 'We proclaim not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for his sake.' This is a salutary reminder to anyone who preaches. There's nothing wrong with anecdotes in a sermon that draw on personal experience, but preaching isn't an opportunity to draw attention to oneself and one's opinions, but to point to Christ. It's always a challenge. 

Before being ordained priest, a person has to serve a pastoral apprenticeship with an experienced cleric as a colleague. Spending time in the diaconate assisting in the ministration of sacraments and preaching but not celebrating, is a salutary reminder that the first calling of every priest is to proclaim the Gospel and gather a community around God's Word to celebrate the mysteries of the Lord's Supper. Without the former, the latter cannot happen. How often that has been ignored over centuries past, in which reading and preaching from scripture has been regarded as secondary to offering Mass. 

Are we getting this right today I wonder, distracted by clever opinions posing questions about the attention span of contemporary smartphone toting people? Politicians the world over are still fond of making lengthy speeches, but preaching isn't a type of religious oratory, even though a preacher may use oratorial rhetoric. It's a heartfelt communication between people who are together paying attention to God's Word and what it means for us in present experience. 

There's no reason why it shouldn't be a two way conversation when preacher and audience know and trust each others, as long as it ends naturally in prayerful silence. Time taken depends on how much time is available and how much people want to be included in this conversation. It's important not to benchmark our expectations by what psychologists or spin doctors say, but be guided by what the community needs to give attention to. I'm still learning this, fifty years after I started ordination training in September 1977 at St Michael's College Llandaff. Soon after I started there, I was called upon to officiate and preach at Sunday Evensongs in Parishes around the rural fringe of Cardiff. I reckon I've preached over three thousand sermons since then, and am still not bored with it. That's what I call job satisfaction.

Again in the late evening, I went for a walk before bed in the dark along the lakeside again. Near the small marina near the railway station,  there's a sharp bend in the footpath, occasioned by a large protruding rocky outcrop. This section is unlit and quite dark. I exercised caution in not walking too close to the low port wall to avoid tripping and falling in among the boats. Instead, I walked into the rocky promontory and fell on to it, hurting my knee and left hand.

It was so annoying, but nothing was broken and I walked, more than limped back to Church House before it began to stiffen with bruising. Both knee and hand were bleeding, and I couldn't find a first aid kit but was able to clean the wounds and apply a little calendula cream, before going to bed. I can't believe I'd forgotten that bend in the footpath, as I nearly tripped there before in broad daylight. Sheer stupidity.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Happy Sunday reunion

There were thirty of us at the St John's Eucharist this morning including retired former Chaplain Arthur Siddall, Adele's predecessor as Archdeacon. He came for a week's walking in the mountains with a group of friends who also accompanied him to church. I was told to expect no organist, as the usual one is not available, but we did have an organist, one who's new to Montreux, from Portugal. I think it was his first experience at sight reading English hymns, but he acquitted himself well.

All church mail comes to the Chaplain's mailbox, on the wall outside the front door. I collected two letters in the Saturday delivery and assigned them to the relevant in-tray at the back of the church. To the delight of everyone, one turned out to be confirmation of payment of a grant towards survey fees for the organ restoration project. The other was a formal commitment to awarding a grant of CHF200,000 from the Loterie Suisse Romande for the organ restoration. It's an excellent Victorian instrument, worth preserving. The church has a third of the funds it needs to achieve their  goal of CHF750,000. It's worth the effort, as there are still many excellent organists around keen to perform on church organs. Fortunately this is well understood in Switzerland. 

There are many people in churches today who prefer electronic organs if not altogether different musical accompaniments to the liturgy. It's all to easy to regard classical wind organs as obstacles to progress in putting on services using more popular and contemporary music. There's no reason why other instruments can't be used, separately from, or together with the organ, though sadly fewer churches seem willing to make an effort to develop their music resources for the liturgy.

I spent many years in different ministries doing just this, leading singing unaccompanied, or with guitar getting people to relax and enjoy singing. I've always been happy to sing a Mass in traditional style, and to sing with a liturgical choir, something I've enjoyed doing here. I value the richness of traditional forms, both musically and textually, and prefer them to popular choruses and hymnody, though in the end, all that counts in any setting, is to enable people to enter more deeply into prayer and worship. The last century has seen remarkable developments in modern choral liturgical music, with a remarkable capacity to evoke transcendence. Much of it is hard to apply in a parish context, but hopefully it will be influential on the worship ethos in the long term. So much of the canon of contemporary worship songs are fine for generating a sense of fellowship, but far less adequate for lifting heart and mind into the sacred space of the Beyond.

When the congregation had departed, the church wardens showed me around the church boiler room where an oil fired plant delivers heat separately to both church and house. As it's becoming cooler at night now, it's good to know how the system works in case adjustments are needed to keep the house comfortably warm. I heard that a plan is underway to provide a communal heating system for public buildings and local residents in Territet. A wood fired industrial plant, will, I believe, circulate hot water for central heating throughout the commune. It's not going to result in money savings, but rather emissions savings, as hundreds of less than efficient individual heating units are taken out of service. It's similar to the arrangement in Baulmes where my friend Valdo was Pastor until he retired a couple of years ago.

Taking of Valdo, after church I drove out to Aigle for a reunion with him and his wife Ann-Lise, in their new apartment with a view of the town's vineyards. It was such a delight to see them again after five years, during which so much has happened, not only retirement, but also the arrival of grandchildren. Their new place is just perfect for the two of them, and they love their new location, surrounded by mountains and vineyard slopes.

They have given up their car, and now enjoy total travel freedom with a CFF abonnement generale, giving them the liberty of travel on trains, buses and lake ferries across Switzerland with only a few exceptions. Aigle has a main line station with frequent main line express and local services. There are also two mountain railways, both of which run, like trams from the station through different streets out into the country, either side of the valley behind the town. One ascends to Les Diablerets and the other to Leysin. It's a train lovers paradise.

We conversed excitedly in French throughout the delicious lunch Ann-Lise prepared, and savoured a bottle of Valeyres Pino-Gamay rouge, from the vignoble of a parishoner back in Baulmes. A real treasure of a wine. Then Valdo took me out to see the old town centre, and we went to the Chateau, set in the midst of vineyards full of grapes nearly ready for harvesting. The vendange will be early this year because of the extra heat of the summer. One winery already has its large grape harvesting buckets out of storage, and parked them outside the property, ready for the weeks of intense work which lie ahead. I'd love to be here and witness that, but alas it's unlikely.

Valdo pointed out how the clos du vignoble (vineyard fields) on the valley floor are surrounded by stone walls, which is rather unusual. It may signify ancient patterns of terroir ownership, but may serve a practical purpose. To call these fields a clos, implies linguistically an enclosure, after all. In many agricultural places hedges and walls have been done away with in the interests of efficiency of operation, and this has not always been beneficial to the environment. Machine harvesting may be quite undesirable in this area, because the quality and variety of the grapes requires a human eye and hand above all.

The Chateau was erected in the 13th-14th century under the Dukes of Haute Savoie. The warlords of the Canton of Berne annexed the area and brought it into the expanding Swiss Confederation in the fifteenth century, the first francophone area to join. It was rebuilt and became a regional seat of government, in the Canton of Berne before being passed on for other use, and eventually made part of the Canton of Vaud. A programme of restoration after neglect led to the place being turned into a Musée du Vin

It's well stocked with local wine making artifacts to exhibit, and displays engagingly a narrative of the winemaking process, with an introduction to oenological science, tasting and the immense range of labelling artwork involved in marketing the variety of finished products over the past century. This alone was a fascinating treat which alone would reward hours of detailed study, as it says a lot about a culture which is highly aware of the value of its offer to a changing world.

It was a memorable couple of hours and despite the dull weather I harvested some lovely photos of the place and its surroundings. You can find the pictures here.

We returned to the apartment for a cup of tea, and then I left for Territet accompanied by warnings of traffic delays due to an autoroute accident. The ordinary road was unaffected by this however, and I was soon passing the Chateau de Chillon and joining there a slow moving queue of cars entering or passing through Montreux, so the last kilometre took ten minutes, as it normally does in the evening at weekends, with people returning home from the mountains. What a lovely day!

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Ascent to Caux by train

Today my month's abonnement demi-tarif expires. That's how long I've been here already, time has flown by. The weather was wet, but I was determined to take one last half price excursion, on the MOB railway line linking Montreux with Rochers de Naye. Hoping it would clear up, I waited until after lunch, when there was a break in the weather, then walked into Montreux gare to buy my ticket from the ticket office. As I approached the station, I found that I had left my abonnement demi-tarif at Church House, and you must have this and the correct ticket, or risk getting fined. Much annoyed with myself, I walked back to get it. And it started to rain. 

Rather than walk back to the station again, I decided to risk using the ticket machine at the funicular station behind Church House. This time I paid the correct fare for a journey up to Caux, rather than going all the way up to Rochers de Naye, because of the rotten weather, but the ticket it issued was another of those two hour time expiry jobs, as Caux is the outer limit of the local travel network zone. Printed on it was half the price I'd paid. I ascended to Glion on the funicular, and as I had ten minutes to wait for the connection with the train from Montreux, I decided to complain at the ticket office there. The ticket clerk was very dismissive of what I said, insisting the machine was always correct, refusing to accept that I had paid twice the sum I did for a proper point to point ticket. I was so upset, my French began to fail. The train arrived and I got on, thinking all I'd be able to do was ride up to Caux, then return on the down-train which crosses there with the up-train minutes later.

Thankfully, when we reached Caux, I had the presence of mind to check with one of the station staff about the time expiry terms and conditions, for the ticket doesn't state whether a journey must be ended in the two hour time frame or started. Still upset, I asked him in English and had a gracious response.  All you have to do is leave before the expiry time. It doesn't matter how long the journey takes. It wouldn't take much in any language to make that clear with a few words on the ticket.

So I had an hour before the next train, to look around and take photos. For the first twenty minutes it contined to rain, but then cleared up. I found my way to the former Anglican chapel of St Michael and photographes all its remarkable collection of stained glass windows on biblical themes. It's a tricky task because of back-lighting, and I'd have been happier to have my DSLR camera, but in any case I was pleased to have a second chance to take them, having forgotten my camera the first visit.

I returned on the twenty to six train, which was crowded with visitors returning from Rochers de Naye. Whether it was shrouded in mist and cloud or not I don't know. I remember that it was thus when we went up there to get a glimpse of the Alps and the whole of Lac Leman from 1,600m. One day maybe, I'll return to the top on a brighter day, with a proper ticket.

After a damp day of distressing minor misfortunes, there was a delightful surprise as the journey was nearing its end. In the front carriage a bearded craggy looking guy sat nursing a rather battered Sousaphone. I smiled, said 'Superb' and passed on up the carriage. Once the train emerged from the 180 degree tunnel which heralds the approach to the station, a Dixieland band struck up in the other carriage, playing 'When the Saints go Marching in', until we entered the station. I could only think the band had been playing a mountain top gig and were on their way home.

What a marvellous moment. It cheered me up and left me chuckling to myself as I walked back to Territet in the drizzle.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Luncheon outing

I received an email from former British honorary consul Sandra Darra, long retired but still very active as a member of All Saints Vevey congregation. She was inviting me to attend a community lunch she organises occasionally for British expats in the church hall. I decided to go to Lausanne today, and thought it would be a good idea to break my journey and enjoy eating in company for the second day in a row.

Yet again, I had trouble with the slow touch screen ticket machine at Territet station, and instead of receiving an open return day ticket, was issued a two hour time expired ticket on the local transport network. Both are the same price. This stopped me from going to Lausanne and having enough time for a good look around to refresh my memory of the place. I should just have bought a single ticket, but the thought of needing to use another of these wretched machines deterred me in the first place. So I paid more than I needed to for a trip to Vevey, and felt cheated by the misleading machine.

Anyway, I arrived in Vevey with enough time to look around and take photos before walking to the church, and joining nearly fifty people for a three course lunch. I met chaplain Clive Atkinson for the first time. He's been ministering her for fifteen years, a long spell in one place by diocesan standards. It means his five year contract has been renewed three times, and no wonder, as Vevey is a place with lots of opportunity for expat ministry, and he has excelled at building worshipping community. 

The group of diners was mostly older residents, several had come from Basel, other from Lausanne and Montreux. The food was good and the conversation interesting. It was after four by the time I made my way back to the train station, three hours after my inappropriate ticket expired.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Funeral in the rain

I opened the church ready for this morning's funeral, then received a call from my friend Valdo, with few corrections to the eulogy I'd written, and practiced reading it until the ladies from Residence Nova Vita arrived. Madame Morel brought an old Macbook with her, to display photos on during her personal tribute. Forewarned of this I was able to provide a couple of extension cables joined, to power the transformer, as there was no socket near enough to the place where she would have to stand. Fortuitously, it had a CD drive, which meant it could be used to play some recorded piano music. We tried it out and it worked fine.

When we went into church to set up the equipment, three quarters of an hour beforehand, we find that the Pompes Funebres attendants had already arrived and installed the coffin in the usual place, without announcing their presence. As the service was to be held in the choir with the coffin in the midst, I asked if this could be done, and they were most obliging. I was a little surprised that there were only two men in attendance. Usually there are three or four on a funeral back in Cardiff.

Attempts to link the Macbook to the portable amplification system to give a more substantial sound were however disastrous. The audio-out socket on the MacBook was not compatible with the standard 3.5mm audio jack. Another reason never to buy Apple products, no matter how good they may be. They enslave you to the consumption of their ever more expensive tech' ecosystem. It would have been easy to slip into the house and fetch an office Windows device to use for playing music, knowing that its audio output would be compatible with the audio cable and sound system, but Madame Morel insisted on sticking with her Mac, rather than juggling with different devices. Neither of us expected when it came to playing music at the start of the service that the MacBook would refuse to play tracks it already showed it could play. After a few minutes embarrassed fiddling we gave up, and did without.

I did the service and eulogy in French, apprehensive that my reading pronunciation would be intelligible, and even managed a few unrehearsed introductory comments in French. There were native French speakers and English speaking ex-pats in the congregation of dozen, so I recited Psalm 23 in English, plus the Kontakion for the Dead from the hymn book in addition. It seemed to be well received.

After the service, the reception took the form of a light lunch at the Hotel Bristol a few hundred metres up the road from the church. We all sat around a long table for a stylish finger buffet and wine. I was seated close to the three care home workers who attended, plus a Nova Vita resident who'd been a friend of the deceased, and was herself in her nineties. She was most engaging and interesting to converse with, having been born in an English colonial household in Malaya between the wars. She's a fluent speaker of French and German, and attributed this to having learned Malay as well as English in the home as a child. Before they met in Switzerland, her husband had been a prisoner of war in Italy. He was a career military man and they moved house twenty times during their life together. Returning to Switzerland towards the end of her life due to her daughter living here. An amazing lunch companion.

It rained all morning, and then I had to drive myself to Bex after lunch for the interment. In the town the signage to the cemetery seemed adequate, and I drove to within 500m of it on the edge of town, but was unable to recognise it, as there were no further sign posts, and although it's a straight road it's much further away from the town, with its walls surrounded by tall laurel hedges and nothing to indicate where the entrance is. I had to double back and solicit the help of a friendly local resident, just leaving home in his car, to find it. He took the trouble to escort me there, using a short cut only a local would have known about. Perhaps he was aware of how difficult it could be for a stranger to identify the place. How kind! 

It just kept raining throughout the interment, and I was glad that I'd slipped my order of service into a plastic wallet before leaving the house. Two cemetery workers joined the funeral attendants to lower the coffin into the grave, and apart from myself and the notaire, the three Care Home staff were present. 

Then we drove to a restaurant in the town centre for a final cup of tea before parting company, benefiting from a free parking day in the nearby parking place, as today is one of Switzerland's special jours de congé, Jeune Fédéral. A jeune is a fast, and there was a time when state churches called upon the population to pray and fast for the well being of the nation. Although Swiss church attendance is as dire as in any other secularised Western European country, Protestants more so than Catholics, special services are still held with this intention. The occasion is marked by messages from public figures in churches and state, reflecting on moral and social issues, and encouraging citizens to work together for the common good - a bit like the Queen's Christmas speech.  

One last thing about a demanding but fascinating day. Madame Morel and her colleague turned up at the cemetery in a large decorated high-top van, belonging and promoting her husband's business. He designs and builds kinetic sculptures. Over lunch she talked about their holiday Scotland before which he had to deliver one of his works to the MAD museum in Stratford on Avon. We had a very funny moment when she spoke of towing a trailer containing their motorbike and a sculpture of her husband. How strange, I thought, and quizzed her, which was when she explained he was a kinetic artist, of international repute, only slowly realising that she meant to say made by her husband. That says something about my limited knowledge of the nuances of French!