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!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Promenade sculptures

For the midweek BCP Communion this morning I anticipated tomorrow's celebration of Holy Cross Day, thinking of Ty Mawr Convent and of Amanda whose birthday it is. The American lady with a delightful small daughter were the only congregation. She told me afterwards she had five other children, ranging down from eighteen to four years old. The little one came and asked me confidently if she could help me after the service so I said yes. Not only did she put the candles out with the snuffer, but took everything from the credence table into the vestry for me, comfortable with simple sacristy duties as such a tender age! This is a side of 'godly play' you don't often see.

While in church I checked out the portable sound system to see if it could play CDs. It was a Hi-fi stack from the days when double cassette decks were all the rage. It worked fine, but there was no CD player, although there was a stereo port in the back of it through which CD audio could be passed to the system. I'd been told there was a CD player as part of the church's public address system, but I couldn't find the key for it to check. With the funeral tomorrow and no certainty of being able to find out and practice using this, I decided the best option would be to go and buy an adaptor that would enable me to connect the system to a smartphone via a headphone jack. At least, this would make it possible to stream digitised music.

I walked to the Metro Center in Montreux, bought the correct adaptor and some much needed new rechargeable batteries for the church's wireless microphone, then walk on to the small marina at Clarens which also contains lake swimming bath facilities, a lovely walk of 4km from Territet. The continuous lakeside path from Montreux to Vevey has flower bedecked lakeside walls, and through Montreux commune, there are dozens of sculptures along the lakeside, some conventional and some weird. I now have photos over five dozen of them. It's a remarkable gallery of contemporary public art works. You can find my photo album here.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Pastoralia in French

A lady rang the door bell at ten, arriving for the meeting an hour early, and looking very puzzled not to find the notaire already present. She checked and realised she'd made a mistake, but insisted in not coming in until he arrived. At eleven Madame Morel, with a Madame O'Shea reappeared with Monsieur Giringhelli the notaire, to make funeral arrangements. Throughout the hour long session, only French was spoken, although all three spoke English, Madame O'Shea is Irish and had lived and worked in Switzerland for over forty years. Many of the residents of Nova Vita care home are English speakers so they often need to, but this occasion was an opportunity for me to find out if my French is as adequate for pastoral work as it once was. The last hour long French conversation I had was five years ago in Vinaros, when I was door-stepped by two francophone Jehovah's Witness missionaries in Spain!

As a result of the discussion, I started work on an Anglican funeral service in French, reasoning that the people who had accompanied the man over the past five years of his life were going to miss him more than remote relatives in Britain who were not in a position to attend the service, and if any of his former colleagues turned up for the service, they'd know the languages of Switzerland. He had worked as an engineer for Swiss company CIBA his entire career, in Basle and then in the Chablias, likewise his wife, who died twelve years ago.

Thankfully, many of the essentials of funeral liturgy in French are now downloadable from the web site of the diocese in Europe, and there's any number of on-line bible translations to draw from. The main challenge was to assemble the essentials of a biography I'd picked up from our conversation into a eulogy, and then get Google Translate to render it in French. It's 95% accurate, but still needs a native speaker to scrutinise it. Thankfully my pastor friend Valdo lives just up the valley in Aigle, and we'd already been in touch about meeting up, so I was able to send him the finished eulogy for checking. Getting all this material into shape took the rest of the day, but I was pleased to find that I could do all this as satisfactorily in French as I regularly do in English. As Clare says - like riding a bike, you never forget how to speak another, you just need confidence to have a go.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Catch up with a colleague

Unusually this morning I had an eight thirty phone call from the notaire who contacted me Friday last to say that his client died yesterday. Later on a funeral director from Aigle phoned to arrange a date and time. We then exchanged email addresses, so that he could send me the formal death notice required by the man's commune. I found that I slipped into a telephone conversation in French with ease, which was encouraging. The notaire had spoken to me in excellent English, so there wasn't an opportunity at that stage. We'll have a meeting here tomorrow with two of the staff of the Montreux Care home where he lived for the past five years.

Today's highlight for me was a visit from Adele Kelham, former Chaplain in Lausanne, now retired but continuing to serve as Archdeacon of Switzerland. She came for a St John's Church Council meeting in the evening but arrived early for a catch-up session from her home in Morat, in the Canton of Berne. It was a pleasure to have someone else to cook supper for, and most of the preparation I did beforehand, so we had a good two hours of conversation. It's ten years since we last met at Julia's ordination. I had to consult my pre-retirement blog 'West of the Centre' to check. So much has happened in the years since then.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Unusual among today's church visitors

We were two dozen at today's Eucharist, including three children with their refugee mother. There were three foreign residential students form the College just up the ave de Chillon from the church, two Chinese women and a young man from Mexico, with perfect American English as well as Spanish. Given the massive earthquake in his home country yesterday, I asked he had any concerns about family and friends, but he said that all were well and most were unaffected. 

There was also a couple who used to be members of St John's congregation having lived in Geneva for work and spent their early retirement years living in the Valais Alps. Like many others, the cost of health insurance made staying here prohibitive in the end. so they returned to the U.K., but still visit occasionally. Thus the congregation, although not very large always includes a wider circle of people who long standing associations with the church, plus passing tourists wanting to join in Sunday worship..

Fifteen minutes before we started, just as choir practice was coming to an end, we were visited by an unusual small group of people. Some were in Victorian costume. A local tourism organisation organises walking visits to places of historic interest from la belle epoque around Montreux, with guides dressed in period costume. Sissi, the Austro-Hungarian  Empress frequented the Grand Hotel des Alpes near the church, and her visits are remembered by a statue in the churchyard garden. I discovered later that on this day in 1898 she was assassinated in Geneva, good enough reason for a brief visit to this locality, even if it was for a historical talk rather than to pray for her soul.

Perhaps because of the stimulus of yesterday's amazing mountain journey, I woke up early this morning and couldn't doze off again. After the service and lunch I had a siesta to catch up, but still lacked energy to go out and enjoy the afternoon. In fact, I didn't go out for the rest of the day, but passed the time writing, browsing web articles and chatting to Clare on-line. I go with the flow, but sometimes the flow is sluggish.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

A trip over the Roeschtigraben

I started today slower than was necessary to get the 09.43 train from Montreux to Gstaad, as I had planned, arriving at Montreux gare ticket office minutes after it left. Fortunately, trains on the MOB line (Montreux Oberland Bernois) run to Zweizimmen every hour during the day. I kill time I went for a walk through streets to the station north side, in the Vevey direction. I found two imposing churches, one belonging to a German speaking Reformed Church community, the other to L'eglise neo-Apostolique, a minority church community, curiously enough with British origins. Several decades before the Great 1904 Revival, a charismatic movement emerged in Presbyterian churches, leading to a break-away high church sect called the Catholic Apostolic Church, called the Irvingites after its first influential Scottish Presbyterian teacher mid 19th century. It drew people seeking for spiritual renewal from across established denominations. 

Deeply influenced by the Oxford Movement, Eastern Orthodoxy and the Great Advent Awakening, it restored hierarchical ministerial leadership, full liturgical praxis and piety, to its congregations after the manner of the Scottish Book of Common Prayer. Its wealthy followers built a succession of fine neo-gothic churches in major British cities, which flourished until the mid 20th century, then declined to vanishing point, with only the buildings as a legacy to be passed on to other homeless Christian groups. The London University Chaplaincy is based around one such church building, and Bristol's Russian Church was given by the foundation's trustees in the mid sixties when I was a student there, witnessing the transformation of its use from an eccentric version of Western Rite to that of an Eastern Orthodox Church. As a young man, both were fascinating to me.

The teaching of Edward Irving and his associates was far reaching, influencing nascent evangelical revivalist groups in the USA and Holland and Germany, as well as high church British eccentrics. This gave rise to the New Apostolic Church among those who see themselves as part of the Pentecostal movement. Montreux, like Geneva, has had a Russian Orthodox Church building for a century, if not longer, built by wealthy emigrés. Recent decades of migration have seen the arrival of Middle Eastern, African, Asian and Latin American Christians to Switzerland. Older established churches often offer hospitality to worship groups which are nowadays unable to afford to build for themselves. In my lifetime, as support for western churches decline, they find a sense of purpose in a new relationship to diverse global Christian communities.

On my walk I also discovered the famous Montreux Palace Hotel, which has a garden overlooking the lake, containing sculptures of legendary twentieth century jazz musicians who had performed there, plus a statue of novelist Vladimir Nabakov, who lived there from 1960 until he died in 1977. A concert auditorium opposite is names after jazz trumpeter Miles Davies, who performed eleven times at the world renowned Montreux Jazz Festival. What an amazing celebrity corner of the world this is!

Anyway, I caught the 10.44 train and ascended to the Berner Oberland in mist and rain. It climbs up 700m snaking aorund the north flank of the mountain behind Montreux, over or should I say through the Col de Jaman (1500m) in a succession of tunnels before descending to the valley below. The river Sarine runs through the first part of this valley, before it turns and descends to Fribourg. This represents the linguistic fault line between French and German speaking Switzerland, and this is witnessed in the change of place names. After the town of Rougement (which we first visited in the 1980s on a motor caravan holiday) comes Saanen and then Gstaad. Hence the river is nicknamed the roeschtigraben, (literally roeschti ditch) after the famed Swiss German cheese and potato dish.

It was wet all day in Montreux, and although no rain was forecasted up there, it rained nevertheless, although the cloud base was higher and afforded an atmospheric landscape view. Photography was far from easy, and there were several fellow travellers as disappointed as I was, despite having an old style train carriage with pull down windows, making it possible to take some pictures without soaking one's neighbours.

I met and chatted with a young couple from Bombay on their first outing to Europe, on their way to Zweizimmen, the next stop beyond Gstaad. As we parted company, they insisted on taking a selfie with me in it outside the train on the platform. I waited for the train to pull out and snapped them as their carriage went past. Disappointingly my photo was just out of focus.

Gstaad was cold and damp. It's not an ancient village but has grown up in modern times as a winter sports resort, but it has been built using attractive traditional regional designs in wood and stone. There's quite a lot of variety in the scale and purpose of buildings, and fantastic use of colourful floral decorations on balconies and window stills. Everywhere looks good, but despite the great care and attention taken to get things right, to my mind it lacks a certain character, hard to describe, which belongs to towns and villages that have evolved over centuries. I wandered around for an hour and a half, then caught a train back to Montreux, rather than get cold and damp myself. The photos I took are here.

In the evening the fifth and last of the present Inspector Montalbano series, a disturbing tale of fatal violent abuse of a prostitute involving Balkan and Sicilian mafias, which resonates with criminal activity involving trafficking and sexual exploitation of women across Europe today. Novelist Andrea Camilleri's writing has kept a finger on the pulse of the dark side of European life for over half a century, and never fights shy of addressing painfully difficult issues, though never without humour and pathos, despite tragedies recounted. He's now in his nineties and still going strong.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Viber calling and more funicular finding

This morning, just after breakfast I had a surprise video call on Viber from Rachel in Arizona, just returned from a gig up-country and winding down before bed. It was good to catch up with her and talk dad to daughter for a good long while. By sheer co-incidence, at the end of the afternoon I had another Video video call, this time from my sister June and daughter Kath, who was visiting her auntie during a London trip. She helped her out by adjusting her Galaxy Tab display setting to big font size, and completed the registration of Viber, which I'd installed for her on my visit last month, but failed to complete at the time. Hopefully this'll pave the way for video calls to my sister as well as the children, if she can remember how it works and use the app as intended.

Cousin Dianne sent me an email to confirm that she and husband Ian are going to be in Champex Lac, up above the Val de Bagnes for the annual local desalpage on my last weekend here. I'm going to make my third trip up there to join them for this ancient rural custom, only this time changing trains at Sembrancher to reach Orsieres, where they'll pick me up. Great to have an opportunity to see and photograph another part of the trois vallées, plus the bonus of this special mountain fête. In spring, animals are taken to higher pastures to graze, and in autumn when they are returned to the shelter of lower lying fields and barns. 

These events are celebrated in a traditional way. Beasts are decked with ribbons, flowers and bells, walked from farms through the village and then taken uphill on the most convenient track, a journey which may take all day, and provide an excuse to picnic en route. In the autumn, festivities take place back in the village. Nowadays, with larger herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, the majority of animals may be transported by vehicle, with a select number decorated and walked up or down by road. I remember seeing flocks of sheep and goats herded down country roads from higher pastures inland on the Côte d'Azur one autumn fifteen years ago. I remember seeing a farmer in the Pays de Gex returning to his farm from high pastures with just a few cows, festively dressed. No audience, no welcoming party, not for the tourists, just something he and his forebears had always done.

I also had a phone call from a notary in Aigle, managing the affairs of an elderly Brit living in Bex, but now in hospital and close to the end of his life. He wanted to know if, when the time came, it would be possible for him to arrange the man's funeral in St John's, as his few closest relatives lived in Britain, and may not be so easy to contact to arrange things anyway. I reassured him that it would be possible, and we then exchanged contact details by email. It's not unusual for elderly single expats or those married but childless to end their lives alone in old age, known maybe to just a few neighbours, having outlived colleagues, friends and siblings. It's very sad, and one can only hope that living one's final years in a place of great beauty offers them the consolations of nature, when family friendships have already run their course.

After finding the old funicular railway yesterday afternoon, my mind was exercised by not having identified its point of departure, so I retraced yesterday's route until I found the first place where I'd seen the railway line, near the escalier de Collonges. Here, the line ran into a cutting, then went into what looked like a tunnel, except there was no sign of the line emerging lower down the hill. On closer inspection I concluded this dark space, enclosed by a security gate, was all that remained of the funicular line terminus. It was next to and beneath a large imposing old house in classic Vaudois style, which had been renovated with its lower boundary and approach road remodelled by generous application of concrete. It was impossible to tell if the house had been part of Collonge funicular station. To the left of the steps, I found a blocked of passageway shrouded with bushes, perhaps leading down the where the departure platform once would have been. If my surmise is correct, it wouldn't be impossible to restore this line for services, but it would, doubtless, be expensive.

And to finish the day, a Viber call with my best beloved Clare in Cardiff.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

An un-planned walk and surprise discovery

A quiet uneventful morning, reading and writing, waiting to hear of Clare's arrival back in Cardiff. Indeed, she was home by lunchtime after a hassle free journey. That's the same flight I'll be taking in three weeks from now, except that I'll need a seven o'clock start from Territet to be sure that I am dropping off my case the advised two hours before time. I could leave it later, as Geneva airport is familiar, and works efficiently, but it's good to make the effort to have more schedule slack, just in case there are unexpected delays. Who needs the extra stress?

After lunch I took my HX300 camera for a walk, heading first for the neighbourhood bottle bank up behind the Hotel des Alpes with a few empties to deposit. A tourism pedestre notice caught my eye, which led to me climbing dozens of flights of steps in between hillside mansions, crossing the road up to Caux, then climbing upwards through woodland on a footpath which eventually took me to a place in the road close to the Toveyre station on the railway line which ascends from Montreux to Naye.

From here, I followed a side road which took me further up into the wooded valley down which the Torrent de Veraye tumbles through the village of Veytaux, adjacent to Territet. The road ends at a farm with several large buildings and what looks like an accommodation block, perhaps a hostel or former hotel? I don't know. 

In the open pastures below the farm there were sheep, wearing bells that had a silvery tone to them, and several long horned goats in a paddock of their own. Above the farm, more forest, and a steep ascent to col between jagged rock peaks. The distant noise of traffic on the motorway, three hundred metres below this seemingly remote rural domain was a persistent reminder of how close it was to the developed urban coastal strip. Looking up the mountain, the only reminder of the juxtaposition was the necklace of high tension electricity cables strung high up across the valley, with a family of buzzards patrolling the airspace. 

The views across the lake into Haute-Savoie were well worth the climb, but the most surprising aspect of this unanticipated afternoon hike was the discovery that the footpath I climbed was in close proximity to the track of a disused funicular railway. In several places close to bridges, access was barred by large security gates, but the track and its cable guiding equipment were still in place. Maintenance of the track bed and sides was still being done, as there was no jungle of vegetation concealing the railway. I found signs of where train stops were made, and when I reached the end of the line, found the boarded up station house, landing platform and car haulage equipment were still intact, if rusty. 

A folorn notice was still in place announcing the next train in German, French, Italian and English, and advertising Gaulois cigarettes, perhaps dating back to the early sixties, but nothing to say the name of the station. At one of the lower stops there'd been a panel with the name of the funicular line on it, but it had weathered and was illegibile. So, at this point, the line was an intriguing mystery, and smartphone mapping was no help, as it tends always to be up to date. I couldn't access Google Earth on the phone I was carrying, so enquiry had to wait until I returned.

It wasn't long before I discovered an interesting enthusiasts' web-page, describing the history of the Territet to Mont-Fleuri funicualar, and found visual evidence of the existence of the line on Google Earth, which didn't exist on Google Maps as it would add nothing functional to the map's purpose. Mont-Fleuri was the site of a grand Victorian hotel, and  the line was opened in 1910 to serve its clientele, as much as local inhabitants. When the hotel closed in 1987, it became a prestigious girls' boarding school, and half the passengers using the funicular were students. 
The line had to close abruptly in November 1992 due to imminent failure of its traction cable. Talks about restoring the line to use have continued intermittently ever since. The cost of the project and who takes responsibility for payment is the problem. Nowadays roads have been improved and there are more cars around than ever. The need to restore the service may not seem as great, except that it would help reduce congestion on roads that aren't easy to drive, especially in winter. This would reduce pollution. An electrically powered funicular is far more eco-friendly, and can carry more people quickly uphill than a fleet of cars. The fact that the infrastructure has not been dismantled or neglected greatly gives cause for cautious optimism. We'll see.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

A peep at Mexico city

There were just two of us and a tranquil golden retriever for the Wednesday BCP Communion this morning. Former choirmaster Jeff generally comes on a Wednesday when he's here. We took the opportunity to look at Psalmody for Sunday next, and later to choose hymns over the phone, so that all is prepared for present choirmaster Peter when he returns this Sunday.

Afterwards, I decided it was time to check out the car, which I haven't needed to use since the brake fading episode descending from Villars the Sunday before last. As I've never lifted the bonnet on a Subaru car before I wasn't sure if I'd be able to make head or tail of it. Thankfully, everything is helpfully labelled and the engine was clean. There was no sign of fluid leakage, and the reservoir level was what it was meant to be. I started it and did some quick stops to satisfy myself it could be relied on. I had intended to go out for a drive later on but became absorbed in other tasks and ended up walking into Montreux along the lake to buy some fruit instead.

I took my HX300 camera with me and photographed a few birds. Few of the shots were satisfactory however, but I also took pictures of the complete succession of lakeside contemporary sculptures in the section adjacent to the covered Marketplace. A very mixed bunch indeed, not entirely to my liking, but of interest nevertheless.

In the evening I watched an interesting documentary in the Megacities series on BBC2, on Mexico City, population 22 million and still evolving. Key items were domestic housing, public transport, water supplies and sewage disposal, one of the largest systems in the world is under construction.

The city has expanded over decades with self-build housing, much of it unregulated and illegal. Former shanty town dwellings have consolidated into proper houses and grown their own services to some extent. Fresh water is one of the most expensive household items costing as much as twenty percent of income, a nightmare for poor people. The place isn't short of rain, but until lately rain water collection hasn't been organised. Now, a scheme helps householders make reservoirs under their houses, collecting and filtering rainwater to use, transforming lives and budgets.

The city covers nearly 1,500 sqkm, so many have to travel long distances to work. As it expanded, low cost minibus transport los peseros grew up spontaneously and organised itself into routes without regulation. There's even a smartphone app for information. There are larger buses, taxis, a metro and a cable car, all contributing to keeping people and the economy moving. It's a remarkable testimony to third world individual and public enterprise, coping with rapid growth imaginatively.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Geneva reunion (2)

After an unhurried morning, we set out by car with Yvette to visit and have lunch with Alec and Ann-Marie still living close to the French border at the edge of Meyrin. Long ago I memorised the route to their place on back roads. Little has changed in their immediate area, but we missed the crucial turning and got a little lost. One significant change was unexpected. Memorised instruction from decades ago were to turn left on to Chemin Vert by the large white corner house. Since our last visit five years ago, it's been painted bright yellow, making this look like a different place, as most domestic dwellings hereabouts are white or grey.

Also invited to lunch were our friend Gill and another Yvette (Morris), plus the current Holy Trinity Chaplain Alex Gordon and his wife Geraldine. Alex and I have spoken on the phone, but it was good to enjoy their company. Inevitably we reminisced about people we'd known in times past. After all, it'll be 25 years this December since we went to live and work in Geneva. It occurred to me that so many of the remarkable people who were part of church and community life all those years ago, Alex may never have heard of, since he's only been there three years. It was an amazing adventure in ministry for me, not so much because of the place, but due to those who were the Body of Christ there, with great breadth of vision and high ideas, and memories reaching back to World War Two, and the start of the international organisations that make Geneva what it is today. I could only be a keen spectator on the scene, but a grateful and privileged one.

After a long and delicious lunch with a double helping of two of Ann-Marie's legendary desserts, we parted company. Traffic congestion being what it is, there was no question of Yvette dropping me off at Cornavin station. She drove back to Chambesy station on the back roads, to take the shuttle train to Cornavin to connect with the Inter City to Brig. This stopped at Lausanne, then went on to Montreux, the journey taking just one hour. I left Clare standing on Chambesy station chatting with the two Yvettes as they waited for the outbound shuttle to take one of them back to Pont Ceard. I was sad that Clare had to return home early to resume work with a kindergarten class, but the time we had together was enjoyable and precious.

Now there are domestic tasks to continue with, and Sunday sermon preparation, plus a few visits of my own to plan in coming weeks.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Geneva reunion (1)

After lunch we took the stopping Train Regional to Lausanne, then the non-stop Intercity to Geneva. The latter part of the trip takes just over half an hour now that the third railway track is operational for most of the route. We'd been invited to stay with our friend Yvette in Chambesy, and this meant catching the Train Regional which shuttles between Geneve Cornavin and Coppet at the east end of Geneva Canton, back toward Lausanne. Chambesy station is currently a building site. It's  being remodelled to create along the station length an additional section of rail track, to enable trains on a single line to pass each other. Once done, four shuttle trains an hour will run on the single line.

Hopefully, this will help attract more commuters away from car use. Geneva has a wonderful public transport network, and one of the worst imaginable road traffic congestion problems, as the city has borders with France on either side of the lake, and the only way to pass from one side to the other, and not go the long way round using the motorway bypass, is through the town centre, using the Pont du Mont Blanc, near to Holy Trinity Anglican Church. Debate has gone on since the 1980s about driving a road tunnel under the lake, or possibly building another bridge. Progress has been made on every other possible transport improvement, but not this. 

Recently, agreement has been reached to investigate bridge building possibilities, though how this could be funded remains to be seen, as the cost would run into billions of Swiss Francs. Figuring out how to get a return on the investment is not going to be easy. Swiss railway networks are subsidised, and trains are well used, but revenue is not rising. Fares have risen to compensate, but this tends to drive travellers back into car usage. Not a good idea. Modern economies rely entirely on efficient transport infrastructure. Rarely is this really profitable. Infrastructure running costs are a big social investment, a burden on tax like the NHS, and tax is how we invest collectively in having things work as well as everyone wants to work. But how we resent this!

Yvette met us at the station and drove us to her house. It's all so familiar, it doesn't seem like five years since we were last here and staying with her. In the evening, our friend Manel came over to join us for dinner, full of excitement about a guided tour of her native Sri Lanka she's organised for a church group visit, leaving this week. Doing detailed background research for this trip has been an absorbing and interesting experience for her. She discovered that a Chaplain of Holy Trinity Geneva in the 1930s, W S Senior, had previously ministered in Sri Lanka. This led her to research his biography with great interest. I learned that Holy Trinity Archive material is now being assembled to deposit in Geneva's Cantonal archive. It's another interesting process of discovery, but well worthwhile, given that the origins of the chaplaincy as a Church of England entity reach back into the late eighteenth century. 

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Sunday lunch in Church

There were just twenty of us celebrating the Eucharist at St John's this morning. Seasonal regulars and visitors diminish in number, now the weather turns more autumnal. After the service there was a pot luck lunch in the church's north aisle social area, and another opportunity to sit and chat with congregation members. The north aisle has a neatly arranged kitchen and servery, an array of library shelves where a vast number of second hand books are available for exchanging., and a long adaptable space for tables and chairs. It's a great use of space that will no longer be occupied by the overflowing congregations of Britons who frequented the Montreux Riviera in former times.

Later Clare and I walked along the lake as far as Villeneuve, rather than to Chillon where she has enjoyed swimming off the small beach by the Chateau. Having to pack for her return journey meant that she needed to keep her swimming costume dry, we we walked for longer instead.

In the evening we listened to a BBC proms concert featuring Schoenberg's 'Gurrelieder' a song cycle with opulent orchestral backing in the late Romantic style on the Tristan and Isolde theme. This was something of a surprise, as I was only aware of his later innovative work using the 12 tone scale. It reminded me of Wagner's extravagant use of all kinds of instrument in his major works.

We go to Geneva tomorrow, to see friends. I'll come back for the Wednesday morning service and Clare stays until she flies home on Thursday. Church House will feel vast and empty in her absence.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Wedding in the clouds

Back on the train to Le Chable for the wedding this morning. The Saturday timetable for the Car Postal differs from the weekday, and I was faced with a long wait to make the ascent to Verbier, in the rain with little or no public shelter available at the building site of a station. So I bought a ticket for the téléfériqueCHF13 allez retour, rather than trust my return to a sub standard bus service, and reach Church House hours later than I needed to.

I was met by the wedding arranger outside the téléférique arrival area and taken up to Le Hameau in good time to meet the couple who were hired to play and sing for the wedding, and arrange points for their contribution during the service. Sadly, it was even more overcast than yesterday and it was raining intermittently, although the cloud began to life after the ceremony. There were sixteen family and friends, four of whom were children under two, including the bride and groom's own child Chester. It was an advantage that the chapel was only a third full, as it allowed parents minding their offspring to move around.

As guests arrived they were given a glass of champagne at the door. With the weather there was no question of hanging around long outdoors, so people sat in the chapel to drink and chat relaxedly until the bride arrived. In such an intimate space, everyone was very attentive during the service, and only once for a short while did Chester come into the sanctuary and climb on to his dad's knee. I had been exercised by the thought of what I could say in my wedding homily, and woke up at six thirty this morning to write down what was going through my head. I was pleased with the result, and just hope that it made sense to the audience. I may have gone on too long.

We finished just before three, and as the guests made ready to be ferried to the reception, I was given a lift back to the téléférique with enough time to have a late lunch of coffee and a pain aux raisins before riding down to Le Chable for the 16.11 train, both pleased and relieved that it had all worked without a hitch or an embarrassing moment for me, leaving the couple and their family with a memorable experience to treasure.

In the evening Clare and I were taken to a supper party in the village of Jongny on the mountainside above Vevey, hosted by Caroline, St John's sacristan, a long standing member of the congregation, for church members. It was an evening of splendid food and conversation, with white wine from the fields around the house being served - a Chardonnay. I'm not keen on Chardonnays I have tasted from elsewhere, but this one was drier, not quite so rich, reflecting the character of the stony soil, an unexpected and agreeable difference. Caroline is the daughter of novelist Graham Greene, who died in the nearby village of Corsier and is buried there. She inherited many of his memorabilia, and from her mother, a collector of doll's houses with a museum dedicated to them, a magnificent century old family doll's house, containing even older artifacts. It's in the hallway, and unfailingly attracts visitor curiosity.

It was such a comfort to enjoy the convivial hospitality of a family home after a day of confusing frustrating experiences in empty places largely managed by user friendly robotic devices which are still operating on the presumption that you know more than you do, at first use. We travelled back to Territet with Walter, who runs the Youth Hostel, just off the lakeside promenade on the south side of the port, tucked behind and beneath the railway line. It must be a noisy place, but is undoubtedly a popular destination for budget travellers to this area. Walter's a Swiss German, fluent in several languages, and St John's has been his spiritual home during his twenty years working here. During his previous twenty years, he worked in places all over Asia, so he's a well travelled man, typical of many people of different nationalities and faith backgrounds who find St John's and make it part of their life of discipleship.

We arrived at Church House just in time for this week's episode of 'Inspector Montalbano' on BBC Four. Whilst the story, about the death of a loan shark contained a few comic moments and exchanges of dialogue, the mood was a little different from usual. The tale wasn't about the victims of monetary injustice, but about the victims of a loan shark who was a sexual predator on young women, with an incestuous relationship with his daughter which drove his wife to suicide. His son decides to kill him to avoid dis-inheritance in favour of his father's latest paramour. The daughter decides to kill him out of jealousy. She succeeds with poison, but her brother turns up shortly after and doesn't realise he's dead, and shoots him.

It was an unusually dark story, reflecting the exposure of such dysfunctional family goings-on over recent years. What was impressive to me was the considerate treatment Montalbano showed as the investigating officer. Luca Zingaretti is a fine actor, and the acting of a succession of abused women which he had to interview was remarkably, well observed, a cut above the more stylised portrayal of wronged women of episodes made twenty years ago. Yet again, more food for thought on a Saturday night.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Verbier wedding preparation

Another train journey this morning, to the Val de Bagnes for a wedding preparation session in the ski resort of Verbier, meeting Gary and Nicola, the bride and groom, for the first time, following a long series of email exchanges over the past three months, which has certainly reduced the number of explanations needed to be made about the whole event. We planned to meet at the Telepherique station in Verbier, and continue in a nearby restaurant.

My carefully timed journey nearly came to grief. I crossed the road to Territet gare with half an hour to spare before the Train Regional took me to Montreux gare for the InterRegio to Martigny. Yet again, I was unable to make sense of the information presented by the automatic ticket machine, which presented me with four Verbier destinations and connection details. I didn't know which to choose. Also the touch screen search mechanism seemed not to be functioning adequately to give what I needed when I returned to the beginning and repeated my search. Perhaps the network was busy, but I didn't know what to do, and panicked. 

Rather than travel one stop without a ticket and have a repeat performance by another machine at Montreux gare, I decided I still had enough time to make the fifteen minute walk to the booking office there, and gamble on there not being much of a queue. I reached there with ten minutes to spare before the Martigny train arrived, queued for five minutes and made it on to the platform a few minnutes before it appeared. The marked destination was Verbier, with none of the local options offered by the machine At Martigny, it's a two minute walk through the underpass to branch line platform 50 beyond the main station building where the Train Regional to Le Chable was waiting. 

An hour and ten minutes after leaving Montreux I stepped off the train in Le Chable on to a wooden temporary platform. The station area is a building site at the moment, with a huge trench excavated beside the railway line, I imagine, to house a car park for those who drive up the Val de Bagnes and then take the téléférique to Verbier. There was a yellow Car Postal waiting for passengers in the car park, and as it was conveniently there, I got on it, rather than waste time finding out how to access the téléférique. The fare is included in the ticket.

The bus climbs up from 850m to 1,530m over 7km from Le Chable to Verbier on a very good alpine road. The journey is fifteen minutes, twice as long as the téléférique, when the roads are empty of visitors. I can see it taking much longer in the ski season when people drive up laden with ski equipment and passengers. I fooled myself into believing the bus station would be in much the same location as the téléférique. No such luck. First, I had to ask directions, then walk uphill half a kilometre to reach our meeting place. I hardly recognised the town, as I was last here in the summer of 1999, on a week's study leave to prepare for the trip I was about to make to Mongolia. It's changed a lot. So it was like being a first time visitor, unfamiliar with the town layout and how things work.

Gary found me at the téléférique and took me to a nearby restaurant he'd mentioned. I'd not been able to find it for myself as it was in among several shops and its signage didn't stand out enough to make it recognisable from a distance. I discovered it was the couple's first Verbier visit also, so they were unfamiliar with the town plan, and thus unable to give clear directions for finding it. Anyway after introductions, I gave them a full briefing on the wedding service procedure, and then we drove a kilometre uphill to the ski village of Le Hameau at the foot of a nursery ski slope, which is a section of a golf course most of the year.

We had difficulty finding the chapel, and Gary called the local wedding arranger who came to join us. It took her a while to find the place. I got the impression this wasn't a venue she'd used before, and hadn't visited it, only seen it on the internet, like the bride and groom. It was in a courtyard with modern chalets of wood and stone in the style of Valais houses with a restaurant, all around the courtyard. The entire complex was deserted, possibly having few or no permanent residents, but could be accessed most easily by driving into an underground car park. Summer holidaymakers had already gone, so the place won't see many people coming to stay until autumn half term, or until December, when the nursery slopes are once more snow clad.

At one end of the courtyard stand La Chapelle du Hameau built in wood and stone, matching the chalets. It's of the same age as is surroundings, also in traditional alpine style re-imagined, with some lovely stained glass panels, a full sized glass window overlooking a small enclosed rock garden, with the sculpted image of the Crucified One strikingly suspended in mid-air, over an altar table made from a granite boulder. It's designated as an Ecumenical chapel, dedicated to Our Lady, represented by a life sized image on a wooden panel on the north wall of the sanctuary, said to date from the 13th century, brought from elsewhere. Its pews hold up to fifty people.

A stone embedded in the church's threshold is engraved with a mason's mark and dated 1903, suggesting there was a previous chapel sited here, as the present one, like the housing complex, dates from 1990. A lovely place for a wedding, though the shuttered buildings and the absence of local occupants made it feel somewhat folorn, under low cloud and spitting rain. But, a far better place to be than a thousand meters further up the mountainside in the outdoor venue originally planned.

With the day's preparations completed, I was driven back to the téléférique, where I discovered the hard way that my train ticket didn't extend to a cable car ride as well. SBB/CFF rail travel booking app and timetable gives timings which include this way of getting to the top, when there is no bus, but doesn't mention that you have to pay extra. I went up in the left to the departure platform only to find an automated access gate which scans bar coded tickets. Mine had no bar code, so I returned to the entrance area and found ticket machines which again offered me all kinds of travel options in the Quatre Vallées region ski lifts, none of which made sense. There was no single button to press for an aller simple to Le Chable.

In frustration, I stomped down the main street to the station Car Postal only to find I'd just missed the bus on which my train ticket was valid, leaving me 55 minutes to wait, so I stomped back up the hill to find a booking office open with a real human being to pay nine francs to ride the cable car back to the Le Chable station, in good time to catch the 16.11 train to Martigny, and soon life went back to being normal, smooth and predictable.