Wednesday 19 October

We’re definitely back in the wedding season now. Immediately after the last blog and with the summer humidity and heat receding I found my self with three weddings (and a Vigil Mass) on one Saturday.

This is not too unusual in itself except I started at 9 by setting up the sound for visiting musicians who did everything apart from the processionals. This first wedding in the Syrian Orthodox Rite for a South Indian couple and their 300 guests who apart from 10 mins of homily stood for for the entire 2 hrs and 15 mins. It was a Rite full of symbolism and constant chanting. The second at 2:30pm was uneventful and mostly Hispanic although the presiding deacon spoke none and couldn’t even get the pronunciation of the couple’s names right! Then I had to cantor and play the vigil mass. The final wedding at 7:30pm was a quickie! A drink before bed was a welcome friend.

Days later Hurricane Ian arrived on the scene and the predictable emptying of supermarket shelves soon followed. I still had my bottles of water left over from the last event 3 years before. Friends had advised me not to drink it for fear of plastics in the water … I, who am made of stronger stuff and normally am quite content with tap water, stuck to my guns and made do with what I had. Turning to my hurricane kit I discovered that my trusty radio, not used since Irma in 2017 had given up the ghost. I had enough wine in the house to sink a battleship so I felt prepared. We had already been given permission to stay away from work. Weddings were cancelled or postponed and a GOD’S GOOD EARTH liturgy I had been working on was also cancelled.

The course of Ian was set to arrive directly over Tampa so there was much anxiety in the air. Fortunately for us Ian hit land much further south near Fort Myers but we still got some scary high winds and rain. I never lost power so I was able to see the devastation further south. My local bar was closed for one day (which rarely happens!) and after this it was business as usual. We still have tree debris out on the road awaiting collection and some folk are complaining that 3 weeks later this remains uncollected. How unreasonable is that when they must know that all the equipment has been diverted further south to deal with massive challenges. A friends mother was uncontactable after Ian so they went down to look for her. She had no power, no phone and her fridge freezer was full of stuff which needed to be discarded and there was little infrastructure around her to support life. So they brought her up from Fort Myers to Tampa. She desperately wanted to return but reason prevailed. This kind of story was heard so often over the following days.

Back at work after the hurricane break I kicked off with another wedding and the ‘normal’ weekend stuff. The following week included St Francis Feast Day with the ‘Transitus’ being celebrated on the vigil and a Feast Day Mass the following day, marking the end of the Season of Creation. Later that week at the Franciscan Center in Tampa I teamed up with ex-diocesan collegue and now Center Director, Brian Lemoi to deliver GOD’S GOOD EARTH as part of their celebrations. After the liturgy we blessed a new spirituality room and blessed the animals. Some of the City’s police horses ventured out for a blessing. I was happy to be sat with Sean who had been my predecessor at Sacred Heart. Mayor Jane Castor spoke beautifully about the contribution of the Center to the City and particularly of its RESTORE program which saved so many traumatized first responders.

Yesterday my brother Richard sent a video of his 2 year old helping my mum to put on her slippers. He was a bit puzzled by my mum’s confusion but it was a joy to see the willingness to help so apparent at such an early age.

My house in Sheffield is still not sold but I’m told it is progressing. Soon I will be having to pay interest on ‘interest free deals’ which I never expected to have to pay as I was hoping for a quicker settlement to the house.

This coming weekend I will have a liturgy committee meeting, three weddings and a Vigil Mass all on one Saturday. For one of the weddings the couple had booked two string players and a Cantor from the contemporary evening Mass. They had asked me to do some string arrangements but when it came to payment for this extra work they were not so agreeable! They won’t be getting the arrangements! Most couples are genuinely grateful for the service we provide at Sacred Heart but then there are always others who make may demands at the last minute and try to ‘nickel and dime’ you yet at the same time spend a fortune on the rest of the day. Grrr!

After an evening zoom meeting with my composers forum friends a couple of days ago I was surprised to find a small gathering chatting away in one of the rooms downstairs. I joined the conversation which was wide. One topic was about how to take a different path with the Open Doors outreach to the LGBT+ community. We are the only catholic parish in the diocese which welcomes such folk. I suggested that they be invited to provide a liturgy for consideration of Ukraine for instance. Something which would not focus on their sexuality but which enabled folk to thank them for the contribution to parish life. We’ll see how that develops.

This morning I awoke at 7am to greet my cleaner. It was 55F. Now this is chilly for Florida. So rather than go outside to install a security camera I decided to type this blog instead. I may even return to bed once the cleaner has gone!


Wednesday 21 September

My last blog ended with me expressing my delight that my brother Chris would be visiting me in January for a few days. You can only imagine how I felt when my brother Pete inquired of me whether it would be OK for both of them to visit! Well, knock me over with a feather!

Of course the last two weeks have been dominated by change in UK. First of all I heard that Liz Truss had been elected (by the Tory membership) as Prime Minister and was seen greeting the Queen soon after Boris Johnson had tendered to her his resignation. The Press had spotted blue marking on the Queen’s hand and were expressing concern. Two days later the Queen was dead. I recall waking at 7.20am on Thursday 8 September to hear news that the Queen’s doctors had made a statement that they were concerned about her health. Some members of the Royal family had already spent a few days with her in Balmoral and others were rushing to her bedside. Hours later came the sombre statement that the Queen had died. Even from this distance I felt a mood swing as BBC seemed to cover nothing but the arrangements leading up to the funeral on 19 September. The nation’s heart and perhaps that of the entire world was captured by her passing. Here folk approached me saying “Sorry for your loss”, something that no one would have said in UK because there the whole nation felt the loss. Yes it was an unexpected blessing that the Queen died in Scotland because this meant that that nation’s people could be so much a part of the first events expressing grief. As the week went on there were scenes of genuine public support as the coffin passed from Balmoral to Edinburgh where it lay in state and was visited by many. Then the coffin was flown down to London and passed to Westminster Hall where 4 days of lying in state continued.

My mother is being cared for by my brother Richard and his family. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the family had discovered that wheelchair users and the infirm could obtain special access to Westminster Hall without having to join the queue. So later that day I received a photo of my mum saying her farewells to the Queen.

Thousands of people filed past the coffin during those 4 days, some having had to spend about 20 hours in the queue. Thousands more lined the streets as the coffin was slow marched to the funeral at Westminster Abbey. I reckon the royal family will have walked 5 miles that day, from Buckingham Palace to the Abbey and back and then later along the Mile at Windsor. I admire their stamina!

At the end of August I took a mini vacation to Clearwater, a beach town which attracts so many tourists but which I had avoided for fear of encountering the ‘Brit abroad’. I stayed at the Holiday Inn close to the Sand Key end of the beach. I could see why folk were attracted there: the beach had wonderful white sand but all along their were cabins spoiling the view. Instead I chose to go kayaking off Dunedin Causeway during the day, returning by night to enjoy a meal in the hotel. The sunsets were spectacular with all manner of craft venturing onto the water to enjoy them. One of the barmen from O’Brien’s lives in Dunedin so he let me park my kayak in a parking space at his condo which saved me the hotel cost of an extra parking space – $80 for 3 nights!

My garden at the house is still becoming overgrown. On July 11 I took my strimmer to a company the warranty had recommended for a repair. It has now been 9 weeks and they still have not returned it. I borrowed one from a neighbor which has made the garden look less of a wilderness and have spent my days off weeding on all fours. Stupid me did not think I needed to wear gloves and the next day I woke to find an outbreak of sores on my hands. It is still managing temperatures in the 90s so there is a limit to how long one can endure weeding. It is easier in the early morning.

My UK House sale is still awaiting completion. My tenant is buying the house but his solicitor is very slow. I am not in any particular rush as the rent is still coming in but the annual due date for insurance is looming and I may have to pay out for a few days cover.

I am also still awaiting settlement of my insurance claim for loss during the floods of November 2019. I had been unable to visit the house to assess damage until May 2022. I had been informed that Zurich insurance had engaged a restoration company who had removed several items from the property. They had apparently made an inventory of all that they had removed but Zurich was unable to find this! I am hoping that they will offer an amount that I cannot refuse to prevent me taking them to court for negligence/theft.

The other saga involves the grand piano I bought in March. On delivery I noticed some damage on the lid. The delivery men took photos and promised to inform the dealer. 2 months later I discovered that they had not informed the dealer. Embarrassed he arranged for the collection of the lid and the repair. I had been seeking status reports as the repair was taking an inordinate amount of time. I mentioned this last week to the dealer who was surprised and made his own enquiries. Moments later I learned from him that they seemed to have mislaid the lid! He gave me a free tuning but how dod you lose a lid which takes at least two men to carry?

At work I have been leading the celebration of the Season of Creation. At the end of this month I will lead GOD’S GOOD EARTH, a liturgy compiled by John Bell and friends from the Iona Community. Every weekend Mass has included music and prayer related to this season. It has been difficult to navigate the path between care for creation and climate change which here is something of a political hot potato. I continue to compose a psalm a week but am delighted that as we approach the start of Year A there would seem to be so many psalms which I have already set to music.

Petrol prices have fallen considerably over the last few weeks but food prices continue to rise. The pound is weak against the dollar so it would not be a good time to convert the proceeds from the house sale (when that ever happens!). Energy prices rises have surprised so many people. I am fortunate in having invested in solar panels here (and in UK) so my energy costs have been constant and not subjected to increase. It will be a different picture in UK and Europe where the effect of the Russian grip on energy is tightening significantly.

I lament that Putin’s special military operation continues still. Ukrainian forces have started to fight back recently, retaking lost towns and regions. But the wounded beast is always dangerous and this morning I learned that Russians are being drafted again. There have been protests and those that can have purchased flights from Russia but these are dangerous times and the threat of nuclear war is being heard from the Kremlin.

Wishing to end this blog on a more positive note I am now the proud owner of a doorbell. There have been so many reports of strangers approaching front doors or checking out houses that I decided now was the time to invest in a camera door bell. I have entered the modern age at last!

10 August 2022

My last blog ended with not being sure whether I could travel to UK because of last minute heart surgery. In the event all went as planned. I arrived early at the Pepin Institute where I was immediately wired up to all manner of monitors while I watched inane TV until 1:30pm the time of my operation. The surgeon I was expecting got transferred to deal with an emergency so I was dealt with by another surgeon. This was good because he was versed in modern techniques and was able to access the heart via my wrist rather than groin. The expected recovery time would be short and I would be able to travel whereas the other surgeon though senior could only enter via the groin and this would have meant changing my travel plans. I was awake for the op having being slightly numbed and did not feel a thing. Apparently they enter an artery via the wrist and send a probe to the heart. They confirmed that the RCA was completely blocked but also found that the collateral vessel which had been created over the years was working well and that the blood pressure either side of the blockage was sufficient to serve the heart with adequate blood.

Back in my room I had to wait for hours while being monitored. When they did eventually remove the tubing from my wrist I started bleeding again and thus was delayed another few hours before being released home by taxi. In fact the driver took me to O’Briens to celebrate! I had the next day off to recover and then flew to UK on the Wednesday. I was collected at the airport by my youngest brother Richard and their son, Daniel. In fact Daniel saw me before my brother! Richard and his wife Camille are looking after our mum who is living with Alzheimer’s.

The reason for my trip was two-fold: visiting mum and my house in Sheffield prior to selling to the tenant.

Mum was clearly not well but it was great to spend serious time with her and to experience at first hand the excellent care she is receiving from both professionals and family. I was blessed to be visited by brother Pete and Gill while I was there on my first visit. Mum and I did a few trips out which I will remember even if mum will not. When I first got to Richard’s house in Woking I realised I had not packed my US driving licence. I contacted my lodger who was able to send it over to UK. in the event I had packed my UK driving licence so the car hire could proceed.

I was in Sheffield for about 10 days and during that time I stayed with Kieron, a friend and fellow musician. Each day I visited the house to check which items I needed to dispose of and which I needed to send back to USA. In the event my tenant made life very easy for me. In addition to agreeing on the sale price he also made me an offer I could not refuse for the contents. He still got a bargain out of this but I had less to worry about. I was able to offload a few things to friends and family. I was also able to sell the organ to Wyvern Organs!

My birthday fell during my stay in Sheffield and as luck would have it my brother Chris and his wife Sue would be up north the previous day and my twin had agreed to drive down from Durham so the four of us booked into a Sicilian restaurant for a celebration meal. Andy and I exchanged cards and (of course) even managed to buy each other the same card!

Andy followed me back home and took away a car load of music history books and other equipment.

It was good to be back in Sheffield, to be able to visit old haunts and meet up with friends. Thanks to neighbours Inderjit and Kathy, Andrew and Ruth. I also managed to visit Helen and Gary, Ali and Pippa.

I returned to Woking for a few more days with mum before flying back to UK. I was happy to have seen all my brothers during my time there. Unfortunately somewhere along the route I had damaged the hire car and had to pay extra for the repair.

It was the start of June when I returned to work. I would spend the last week of June in Louisville at the Pastoral Musicians Convention. Normally I am not much impressed by the content of the convention but this time both content and time spent with friends were excellent. The Convention lasted 5 days Monday to Friday. My very early morning flight from Tampa was delayed because the crew’s shuttle from the hotel arrived late! This meant that I lost my connection at Baltimore and had to wait 14 hours for the onward flight. I went out of airside to complain and seek compensation. In addition to a paltry $40 food voucher I got a further $600 travel voucher … result! Time passed and I left Baltimore at 11:30pm reaching the hotel at 1:30am! Fortunately my return flight was direct and uneventful.

I had only been back in Tampa a few days when one of the friends I spent time with on the last night of the Convention rang me to say that she had tested positive for Covid. Moments later so had I. This meant I had 5 days isolation in the sun … not a bad result. Day 1 was 4 July, a national holiday, and Days 3 and 4 were normal days off. I was still testing positive by the weekend but went in to work masked. It was a week later that I finally tested negative and was able to join friends in the bar.

Over the summer months of July and August carried on working at the church but also managed to prepare my ‘New Wine’ Mass for publication. This should have been a simple process of merging created files into one publication but technology created a few challenges and it took longer than expected. I returned to teaching 3 students at Jesuit High School where I was contracted to serve during the summer break. For the last month all my lawn mowers and strimmers have been at the repairers so the grass has grown considerable in the back yard. The weather has been glorious and I have been able to enjoy days off there. I also managed a few kayak trips but experienced problems which led to me taking the kayak in for repair too.

Two weeks ago I took on a cleaner via an agency. The first visit dealt with the downstairs and as I type the second visit is focussing on the upstairs. From the sound of things she is giving the ensuite a major clean.

My greatest news has been that my brother Chris will visit me in Tampa in January. I can’t wait for this and plan to spend as much time with him as possible. More of that in a future blog.

Sunday 8 May

I haven’t typed a blog since the middle of January. To be honest at about that time I became aware of things going on in my body. One Wednesday I awoke to find by hair soaking wet. This was very unusual and thinking I might have Covid I tested myself but this was negative so I thought nothing of it. The following Saturday I was at work on the computer in my office when I noticed an extreme tightness in my chest. After a while it disappeared and I carried on with my day but determined to consult the doctor. On the Monday the doc assured me that the two events were cardiac-related symptoms. Weeks later, at the organ, my arms and hands went numb. One of the choir had spotted a retired cardiologist in the congregation and he took me aside and stayed with me. I returned home leaving a couple of Masses without organ support.

Then began a multitude of tests, or so it seemed. Blood work, EKGs, and stress tests all of which were inconclusive. Finally I was referred for an angiogram. The results were delivered to the cardiologist’s PA the following day but remained on her desk for more than two weeks. The PA was absent from work because of her child’s illness but nobody had thought to check her mail or computer. So last Wednesday I visited the cardiologist for a planned appointment. The nurse mentioned that my blood pressure was a little high. I replied that I’d been waiting for over an hour so what did she expect? The cardiologist revealed that the angiogram report had been found and had shown a significant chronic blockage to my right coronary artery. The cardiologist was embarrassed and admitted complete responsibility for not informing me sooner but was anxious to sort treatment soon. I had expected to fly to UK the following Wednesday so things became even more urgent. The next day the phones were buzzing and an appointment was made at the Pepin Heart Institute for a pre-op on Friday with the op being set for 1:30pm tomorrow Monday. I still do not know whether to postpone the trip to UK or not. That will all depend on the method chosen by the surgeon. If he chooses to catheterize via the groin then I won’t be able to lift much for 2 weeks and, since part of my purpose for the trip was to clear my house in Sheffield, that would be a problem!

Tampa is one of the world leaders for heart surgery and Pepin Institute is among the best that Tampa can offer. As I type I face the prospect of no alcohol for 24 hours and no food or drink after midnight.

It is good to be able to report all this now because an earlier blog would either have omitted something that was really on my mind or would have been pointless. It seems much better to report what you do know than what you do not.

Of course my activity has not just centred on my health. I’ve continued with the compositional discipline of setting one Sunday psalm per week. I’m now so far through the list of Sunday psalms that some weeks I’m able to adapt an earlier setting of the same psalm with different verses deployed. Today’s psalm was a first. Psalm 100 has the response ‘We are his people, the sheep of his flock’ so I chose to set the text to phrases from Bach’s ‘Sheep may safely graze’. Bach is probably rolling in his grave but it did seem to go down well.

I bought a grand piano! Ive been checking out showrooms in the area and finally settled on Dave’s Pianos in Tampa and surrounding area. I paid three visits to different sites where he had pianos stored. On the third he had prepared a blind tasting of some piano. He had removed or disguised name plates so that I could not be swayed in my selection. No 1 turned out to be a 70k Kawai grand the action of which was exquisite. But I was really surprised that what I placed second was a Chinese piano whereas I had been most interested in Yamaha grands! The Chinese nation buy loads of pianos but are embarrassed by the quality of their own manufacturers. Pearl River bought the advice and expertise of a major european technician/builder who trained the workforce to produce great quality pianos on a mass scale. They now build instruments for Steinway! My 6’1″ instrument came in at $17k and now occupies the space previous occupied by a dining table.

I have also been developing relations with the Music Department of the University of South Florida. Two cellists have given recitals in recent weeks and we also had a visit from the A Capella Group from Duke University who were fabulous.

An anonymous donor from the church offered to provide for a new hymnbook for the church. That was quite a process. I’m hoping the books will arrive sometime in June/July.

Easter was fantastic. The choir which always works hard, increased its commitment and with an extra ‘boot camp’ rehearsal (finishing with pizza!) we managed to provide for a great Triduum. I was exhausted after this so a week later I decided to take a trip to Destin in the Florida Panhandle. I had taken up one of those timeshare type promotions for 3 nights and 4 days. It would be a 6-7 hour drive and I hadn’t driven that far for ages so I left after midnight and took a high speed drive along the interstate. A little after Tallahassee I pulled over for some shut-eye. I awoke 70 minutes later and continued on towards Fort Walton Beach near Destin. The receptionist at The Wyndham Hotel invited me to take up my room 8 hours earlier than check-in so I was delighted. The view from my room was amazing with unbroken view of the Bay to the horizon. I walked the beach for a while and pretty soon it was deserted. There had been signs indicating the presence of a military base and entry to the dunes area was prohibited for the protection of natural species. I spent the first two days on the beach and it was just perfect. The 2 police officers approached me and issued a ticket for ‘trespassing on military property’. They said I was only permitted to be by the waters edge. As you might expect I challenged that there were no signs indicating such a request but this fell on deaf ears. I would have to pay a fine of $55 with an admin charge of $30. One officer mentioned that I would have to wait 30 days for the this ticket to get onto police computers. And I questioned that I was getting such terrible admin for $30 dollars. They laughed but I still got ticketed.

The following day I had to visit a ‘Wyndham vacation presentation’. For the first time, I felt that my circumstances made what they were offering quite attractive and I signed up. I’m sure that some friends will despair at this but the package works for me.

Since I arrived at Sacred Heart a year ago (May 1 2021) I have not used any of my vacation allowance and was able to bank some national holidays because I was working on those days. So this year I am in the enviable state of having 15 days from 2021 to spend in UK and also retain the allocation of a further 15 days for 2022. I’m thinking of trying out some of the islands off the south coast of America.

I still let rooms in my house to travelling medical professionals. This has worked well but one guy turned out to be a complete fraud and left owing $800. Oh, the stories he had to tell! I learned not to be so trusting.

As I finish this blog I am faced with not knowing whether to pack bags fro UK or not. By this time tomorrow, after the operation, I’ll have all the answers, I’m sure.

Thursday 13 January 2022

It’s Thursday the 13th and I’ve just completed my UK tax return which came to the princely sum of 28 pounds sterling!

I’m still Covid-free but several of my UK family and my Sacred Heart Choir here in Tampa have gone down with it. This new strain does seem to be very contagious. Recently 1.3 million new cases were recorded over one day in USA!

Since I last wrote we have re-started the Parish Choir for the first time since Covid broke. I had delayed the re-start simply because I needed to be convinced that it might be safe to do so. Since Christmas the new strain has caused me some doubt but I am convinced that the choir members are being prudent and staying away when they suspect anything and getting tested before their return. The return of the Choir has made a great impact so far and we all get on well together!

Christmas was busy for all church musicians this year particularly because Christmas fell on a Saturday and was followed by a ‘normal’ Sunday. For me I had 12 Masses scheduled over three days but was fortunate to find cover musicians for 2 Masses on Christmas Day. Christmas Eve was more difficult as I had offered to provide an alternative to the Christmas Pageant using only 6 children and some adult voices to produced ‘Michael Mouse’ which I found in a publication of the Iona Community. It all went very well and there was good participation from the congregation in both the singing of carols and whenever the text demanded a reaction. Unfortunately the child who was to play the cat was ill but there was no shortage of costumed cats and other animals in the church! I won’t be doing this again as there are other staff who have stronger links to working with children in the parish and my workload at this time needs to be reduced.

We were all surprised to hear that Fr Stephen, our Pastor, will be leaving after only 18 months to take up a position in St Bonaventure University in New York. Fr Stephen is a gentle, unassuming priest and we will miss his unique biblical insights and sense of joy. In his place will be a priest who is already on the staff and an experienced Pastor.

It was great to welcome one of my Iona friends (and his cousin) to Florida in December. They spent 2 weeks in Orlando during which time I visited them for a couple of days before Ross came and stayed with me for 3 nights before flying back to Glasgow. My memory of what we did is slightly addled by the alcohol consumed but I do remember greeting them with a bourbon tasting event in my backyard. Then we ventured into Ybor City by taxi and I really cannot recall much of that at all! The following day Ross’ cousin left to explore Miami so we passed the day in kayaking in the sun. While they were in USA the UK government changed the restrictions on travel which meant that they had to obtain a negative PCR test a day before flying. I spent the morning dealing with this and then left Ross at my house as I went off to work until late. I returned home to discover that he had spent the afternoon tidying my backyard!

Meanwhile back in the UK my youngest brother Richard, His wife Camille and their new son Daniel were boarding a flight to her homeland Brazil. Richard would spend 2 weeks there over Christmas and Camille would return with Daniel 2 weeks after that. Richard and his family provide the care for my mum so an elaborate plan of substitute care was devised between brothers and professional carers. Christmas must have been a great success for them and now mum is happily back in Woking with Richard.

My solar panels both in UK and Florida are doing their stuff despite quite different weather experiences. Here in Florida the sun is not so high in the sky right now but still I manage to generate enough electricity to ensure that my monthly bill comes to $15 which is in fact the admin charge from the electric company! My finance payments remain constant whereas the cost of electricity has recently risen by almost 20% and such rises do not affect me anymore!

At the end of the year I had not used any of my vacation time (10 days since May) and had also accrued extra days for national holidays on which I had worked. This all means that I shall be able to return to UK for about 3 weeks when it is sensible to do so. During this time I will of course visit my mum whom I have not been able to visit since October 2019. In November 2019 a cataclysmic flood hit Sheffield and 3ft of water filled my basement. There is an insurance claim outstanding from this until I can assess the damage to property stored in that basement. I’ll also be looking to clear the house before hopefully selling to my tenants. Some items I will send to Florida but much will need to be either auctioned or sold off. It will be a busy time!

I continue with my project of composing a psalm a week and am now more than half way into the 3 year cycle. We still await word from the US Bishops as to what the psalm responses might be but hopefully that will just be a tweaking exercise.

I’ve started doing Airbnb again and tomorrow I welcome guests who will stay for a week. Airbnb gives greater financial return but more cleaning. Furnished Finder set up for the medical profession to find accommodation for travel nurses provides guests who stay longer but then again you might find that you don’t get on. I’ve lucky most of the time but I’ve had my moments!

2022 has started with my amazing frozen Margarita machine being called into action again! It remains to be seen whether Boris will still be Prime Minister, whether Prince Andrew will remain as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and whether Joe Biden will be a functioning President of USA. Quite a year ahead!

Thursday 18 November

It’s been over 2 months since I last blogged. Apologies, readers!

During the last 2 months I’ve experienced numbness in my legs and went to the doc about this. On one occasion my legs gave way under me! He advised that the cause could be a brain tumour! Thanks, doc. The x-rays came back inconclusive so I MRIs to brain and spine. I was relieved to learn that my brain was Ok (for a person of my age?!) but that there was a tissue build up on my spine which was pressurizing nerves. I started physiotherapy and for the last week have had no recurrence. Phew!

At about the same time a crown came off a molar tooth. There was so little of the tooth left that extraction was the only avenue. The dentist spent an hour trying to achieve extraction and in the end had to cut it into pieces to get it out. My upper lip was stiff for days!

The weather has been pretty changeable and sunny days have been few. There are times when it has been really cold. I now think I have acclimatised (americans can only acclimate) to Florida. I now feel cold when the temperate plummet below 70F! At the start of November the storms disappeared and cooler temps and reduced humidity became the order of the day. At night I now sleep with two blankets over me.

Work continues to both enthrall me and challenge me. I rarely enjoy what I might call a light week. I continue to compose a new psalm setting each week and the Cantors continue to lead the music in church. In fact they are now a choir of their own for weddings. One couple asked for 8 singers and there are increasingly frequent requests for 3 singers. We sang for the wedding of Pete Alonso a baseball star of the New York Mets. This was the best dressed congregation I have ever experienced. Last weekend I had 4 weddings and this coming weekend I have three. My church really is the wedding capital.

Long before I left St Lawrence Church I had agreed to play for the wedding of one of the cantors there. She asked to go out to the Sinfonia from Cantata 29 of Bach arranged by Dupre. It was harder work learning this than I had anticipated but felt good to have mastered it. I had intended to include it as my offering to a diocesan organ recital but had to withdraw as there was another event in my church at the same time.

In October, a week after the feast of St Francis, the Franciscans took the staff out for a luncheon at an Italian in nearby Ybor City. It was wonderful.

Towards the end of September a stranger came up to me after I’d finished the organ piece. He was enquiring about the psalm. Fortunately he loved it and it was one of mine. He is an Englishman from Surrey who works as a heart surgeon in North America but also set up a charity in Tampa from where he occasionally flies to perform operations for the poor of South America.

Last Tuesday I held the first rehearsal of the choir post Covid. We spent quite a lot of the time learning about each other and then learned some pieces for Advent which we will rehearse again next week prior to the start of Advent.

I start a Children’s Choir on Saturday. we’ll have 2 rehearsals before the start of Advent. They will support the singing of the assembly rather than merely delight their parents, I hope.

My solar panels continue to deliver reduced bills. We had a power cut over a week ago and since then I have not been able to monitor the panels on my cell phone but am assured they are working. A few days ago I received a cheque for $4800 from the installer as a thank you! In the process of installation I had to have a large laurel oak removed from the front garden. It was dying and had already shed a few branches so I didn’t feel bad about that and have since replaced it with a crepe myrtle.

The next home improvement will be a water filtration system for the whole house. I’ve gone with a local family run company that have established a fine reputation over the 35 years.

Last Sunday I drove to Tarpon Springs where a friend and music colleague was directing an hour of Funeral Music. The event was held to remember those members of the music ministry who had died. There was a long list of names and the title read something like ‘We remember those members who have passed into God’s glory today’. I knew what was intended but I turned to a lady behind me and asked what she thought of that. She replied that she wouldn’t join that choir since there were too many daily deaths!

An additional reason for going to Tarpon Springs was the appearance of Fr Michael Joncas who had created a skillful commentary around the music. Afterwards we all went for an Italian meal. There I learned from Michael that he too is composing psalm settings weekly. He has lost 75lbs weight since the last time I saw him. Remarkable, eh!

My house got plagued by cockroaches and I tried to keep them as bay myself but in the end had to call in the pest people. Fortunately my house is now pest free apart from a few that venture in and take the bait.

Instances of Covid seems to be falling in Florida which was once the third worst state in USA. Now it is at the bottom of the table. I even got my booster jab done. I read that there is a new variant in Europe which really disturbs me as I am anxious to return to England to visit my mum (and brothers) and also proceed with the sale of my Sheffield house. Mum has now moved into a larger rental property with brother Richard and his wife and child. It’s only been a month but they are all doing well and mum appears to have settled in.

I have managed to save all of my vacation this year (10 days, I think) and have, so far, saved an additional 6 days from what are effectively national holidays. Some friends from Scotland will be visiting Orlando in a couple of weeks and I hope to take some time out to visit them.

Wednesday 8 September

The good news is that my twin brother Andy’s gall bladder operation was indeed successful as was also his legal pursuit of a rogue builder responsible for some inept work on his house. Over here illness is the name of the game the cough which for me began during July still lingers and is probably the result of allergies to the pollen etc in the air. I am taking a double-dose of tablets (recommended in UK and by my doctor here but not medically recommended in USA. This seems to be keeping things at bay. I got tested for Covid and was much relieved to receive a negative result.

I did a funeral recently for a guy whose relationship lasted 51 years. Only yesterday I learned that he had contracted Covid. The new Pastor at my old job has also suffered the same and the schools are full of it. It doesn’t look as though it is going anywhere fast and last weekend which was a long Labor Day weekend will probably see a spike in cases, say the experts. This also means that there will not be an immediate return of choirs to our churches which is frustrating.

Several of my Cantors have suffered from Covid despite being double-vaccinated and there is growing use of the booster.

My car spent a while at the garage during August. I had to get a tow as it wouldn’t start from my driveway. The battery was flat (dead in USA) and there were several other electrical faults. It took a while out of my day each occasion I visited but at least the car is still under warranty.

At work things are heating up as we get closer to the wedding season. Sacred Heart is the wedding capital of Tampa and beyond and each wedding requires a planning meeting with the couple. I hold these meetings at the North Campus where I have two rooms/offices. You will have to imagine my frustration when after all the planning I meet the visiting priest who minutes before the celebration advises me that he refuses to use the current Rite of Marriage preferring to use an obsolete form. When the Pope decrees that there can be only one form of Mass why do some priests feel that they can play fast and loose with the Rite of Marriage. So much for obedience!

During the last month the North Campus site of Sacred Heart has been much improved. Gradually the site is becoming more usable. The 9-acre site now has a metal/brick perimeter fence with code-operated gates. A few days ago the wifi was installed and pretty soon I am hoping they will deal with the water issues. The site used to be a school which was closed ten years ago. There are three substantial buildings: the School on two floors (where I have an office and a rehearsal room), the Convent House (infested with termites) and the auditorium. It is still early days but the school is being widely used and next week the auditorium will be used for a lecture on the Turin Shroud. I am considering moving my Allen Computer Organ from the house to the office. I am currently learning the Dupre arrangement of Bach’s Sinfonia for Cantata 27. It has been requested for a wedding and is causing me much consternation at the moment!

My solar panels are now generating but since we are in the stormy season the production varies from day to day. I am interested to see my next electric bill.

My composing continues apace. I am still managing to complete a psalm setting per week. The liturgical Composers Forum met virtually to review members’ music. I submitted a setting of Psalm 23 but due to the mysteries of Dropbox it never got through. We had used the setting at church recently and although many were delighted by the melody etc a few said that it was rather long. I contacted fellow composer Chris Walker who declared that he liked the piece and suggested an amendment to the refrain and the excision of interludes. This reduced the piece by almost 90 seconds!

August saw very high temperatures rising to almost 100F. This heat and humidity then causes the daily storms to dump torrents of rain on the state. I haven’t been able to take the kayak out much as the storms make this a bit dangerous. It is difficult to imagine how folk coped without air conditioning a few decades ago. I had a taste of that experience when my AC shut down upstairs. Of course this occurred during the holiday weekend and there was little chance of getting anyone out to service it. The wait prompted me to contact the guy who had updated my thermostats and he immediately diagnosed the problem. Water had gathered in the overflow pipe and triggered a sensor which shut down the system. Yesterday I bought a wet/dry vacuum and today I drained the pipe of water and the system rebooted straightaway. The cost of the vac was half of the cost of a service visit!

Wednesday 4 August

6 weeks since the last blog and what have I been up to? At the end of the last blog I was despairing about the poor contact from the solar power company. In the end, fed up with constantly being put off I asked to speak to a senior manager and things started to happen. He admitted that things had not gone as they should and sought to take over control of my account. He also promised to pay the first two installments on the loan and within 48 hours had things back on track. Unfortunately the past stage is ion the hands of the energy company and this will take 30 days which means I should be operational any day now.

June marks the start of the hurricane season and as well as high temperatures Tampa also got a return to storms. So far only one sizeable storm Elsa has threatened and to be honest although it passed right over Tampa on 6 July we were very lucky and escaped with only severe winds during the night when everyone was asleep. Over the last month there have been the usual thunderstorms and great periods of sunshine. Today there was such a deluge that my yard was significantly under water and local roads were flooded.

On 7 July Tampa Bay Lightning succeeded in winning the Stanley Cup for the second time in consecutive years. This is a rare and great achievement and the city is bragging about being ‘Champa Tampa’! I had been taking an orchestra of percussion along to O’Briens for the televised matches and frankly I am pleased it is over.

The magnificent organ at Sacred Heart has been giving me some grief. On 3 Sundays in July it has given up the ghost. The room in which the blower is situated is sealed by a thick door (to dull the noise) but it also keeps the temperature in its own bubble and it can get very hot in there. Since the occasions of the fault have all been between 12pm and 1pm on Sundays the motor will have been working for at least 5 hours and although there is AC cooling the loft it has no effect on the blower room. My theory is that it is temperature related and that free-standing AC might be required and also a replacement motor which would be quieter and more efficient. The jury is still out and every Sunday I will wonder when the organ will pack up.

We are also experiencing problems with the microphone system. Fortunately some mics still work but the mics located in the music area do not function. This is an even greater pity since I have discovered some good microphones, hidden for a while.

In the middle of July I was visited for 8 days by and old school friend. Aidan Rossiter was 2 years below me at St George’s College, Weybridge and very much part of the music scene there. Now he is a Josephite priest currently posted to California where he serves as Pastor at the Josephite Church and also is Vicar General for the entire global Josephite Order. Aidan was recovering from an operation and needed a rest so although I was working that is all he needed, a rest by the pool. We got out for some good meals and to visit the Dali Museum, the new Pier at St Petersburg and Ybor City in Tampa. I became quite ill during his visit and this contributed to a lack of energy but Aidan was very understanding.

Sometime around 24 July a dear friend from Sheffield, Peter, was found dead in his house. Peter had lived with many challenges not least of which was his mental state which kept him from working. It did not keep him from drinking and whenever we met up as a group of friends he was always the first to produce whiskey. He was so generous with this and his time and, despite the voices that tormented his mind, he was a really compassionate soul. After the death of his mother he inherited the house and was able to live with greater security than he had previously. The only voice he will hear now is that of God and God is love.

I suppose I’m getting to that age when people I know will die. I was sad to hear from Aidan Rossiter only a few days ago that another Josephite, Fr Adrian Cadwallader, has died. I remember him as something of an aloof character who came into his own when he invested funds on the horses … or is that just a myth? Again the peace of life in God will be more than respite from the paranoia which plagued him in recent years.

During the last week of July I attended the Annual Convention of the National Pastoral Musicians. This year it was held at the Marriott Hotel in New Orleans. With Covid being still a threat and with an alarming increase in spike of the Delta variant it was never going to be like usual Conventions. Indeed many of the sessions were virtual or live-streamed. Hilights included a presentation by Simply Liturgical Music, a talk by Sr Helen Prejean and another Plenary with John Baldovin sj. Happily I met up with many friends from the Composers Forum and the social time was good. I enjoyed some spectacular cuisine and if you are visiting NOLA you must try Irene’s and Evangeline’s, two restaurants almost opposite each other on the same street. I was still ill during the Convention but since it was possible to log in to the online presentations I chose to do this rather than pass on the germs.

On my return to Tampa I had my house to myself for the first time in a while. Angie, a travelling respiratory, had left on the Wednesday having found somewhere closer to her place of work.

Over the weekend my coughing became worse and so I was persuaded by friends to get a covid test. I did this at midday on Tuesday and hope to get the results sometime tomorrow or may be Friday. I’m expecting a negative result as my temperature has been normal despite runny nose, coughing etc symptoms. I took Tuesday off work accordingly and am now self-isolating. This is pretty boring so I wrote some string parts for my Psalm 128 this afternoon for the quartet which will share a wedding with me on Saturday.

My twin brother Andy had his gall bladder removed today. I had mine done 30 years ago and although they tried keyhole surgery at first they discovered that the organ had moved and had to cut me open before the anesthetic became ineffective. Andy was more fortunate and was out the same day. He’ll soon be back to swinging that bassoon or saxophone around North East England!


Wednesday 23 June

Since I last posted 2 weeks ago not much has happened. In fact during the last week my lodger has been away at her daughter’s wedding and calm has returned to the Jakob Residence.

Two of my brothers completed their charity walk of the three peaks (Yorkshire) in aid of Alzheimer’s Research. My mum is living with this disease and is on our minds a great deal at this time. They managed this achievement in under 12 hours.

The weather has been strangely cloudy and the summer rains which began on cue at the start of June have been unpredictable. The garden and weeds have responded accordingly prompting me to get weeding today. At one point a storm blew through with a massive wind which came out of nowhere. Now that I have come in to type this blog it is really sunny. Did I mention that the weather was unpredictable?

Work continues to be enriching and my contributions well received. I am particularly pleased that two excellent singers have joined our Cantors. The latest even has a music degree!

I enjoyed being able to join Iona Community friends at the opening of the Abbey’s new guest facilities. Only 2 days ago I had more activity with Community members. I had not spoken with Jenie for a while and out of the blue and just as I was going to bed she messaged me. She had sold her house in Chesterfield and moved to fresh pastures in N Wales with great views towards the bay. Of course the move coincided with the summer solstice which she has always enjoyed. Later the same day I was prompted to call another IC member, Peter. Previous attempts had been unsuccessful so I was delighted to catch him. He was visiting the Orkney Islands and staying with another member, one of the most gentle men I ever met. Unfortunately the connection was not good so I missed the chance to speak at length. He rang later and we had a good, if typically off-beam, conversation.

Last Thursday I had electricians visit to finish the installation of the solar panels. This involved switching off the power so the energy company were also onsite. Unexpectedly they also changed out the electric meter to one which reverses whenever I generate electricity. When they left I expected everything to be working but I am not sure this is the case. The promised call back ‘within 24 hours’ from the solar company has not yet materialized after 48 hours which is annoying.

Last season Tampa took most of the sporting championships and this season also looks as though this might continue. the only American sport I understand is Ice Hockey and the local team Tampa Bay Lightning (Go Bolts!) is doing well again in the Stanley Cup. Two nights ago they beat the Islanders in the fifth game of 7. After tense earlier matches the score of 8-0 was not expected. Tonight I will watch the next game. Whenever the Lightning score the local bartender dances about shaking a rattle. For the last game I added 2 triangles and tonight will add 4 hand drums to the orchestra!

Thursday 10 June 2021

My previous blog was 19 February and you might have thought that I died or decided never to write another blog.

To be honest I can’t recall much as far back as February which will spare you hours of reading. I do recall the events of 3 March. This was the day of The Gathering, fund-raising event for the school. My involvement was with a few singers from the school and Teresa Tompkins, solo singer doing my arrangement of The Gathering. I played salon music for 30 mins as folk gathered and then we did the theme song of the same name. That work done Teresa, the percussionist and I sat down for dinner. The event was part in person and part virtual and in many ways was a first in St Lawrence.

On 4 March I had my dryer repaired with a new thermostat. I would not normally have noted this except for the fact that only yesterday I had to get the same repair done again. I suspect that the vent line has not been cleaned and that the lint in it had built up and shut down the system. Now I learn that the length of my vent was so long that it probably is not up to code.

Around this time I was becoming disheartened at St Lawrence so on 19 March I visited a parish in St Petersburg which was advertising a post. They were very welcoming and even gave me a couple of insights as to why I should leave St Lawrence. They also mentioned that I was a serious contender for the post and would invite me to the second interview. Little did I know what would transpire the following day.

On Saturday 20 March I was in work as usual and looked at the jobs vacancy list. There was a part-time job going at Sacred Heart, one of the oldest churches in Florida with a magnificent pipe organ. I sent my CV with a cover message which basically asked when they might imagine making the post full time which it had been or several decades. 40 minutes later there was a phone call from a Fr Ron who had read my resume and declared it ‘quite impressive’. To a Brit this would have translated as ‘OK’ but to an American it meant ‘very impressive’. They wanted to invite me to interview the following Monday. I was told to prepare 2 organ pieces and to sing one piece at the piano. I booked an hour to rehearse and I suspect that Fr Ron was listening because as I left he invited me to play 4 organ pieces. On Monday I arrived for the interview and after formal questions we moved to the church where I ended up playing 5 organ pieces and singing two of my recently composed psalms. By the afternoon I had a new job!

The previous few months I had been getting stressed and my blood pressure had become worryingly raised. This new job changed all that. But the following week was Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week and I had to keep things quiet until I’d signed the contract at the new place. I had already declared my acceptance of the job to my boss at St Lawrence but would not deliver resignation until the contract was completed. On Easter Sunday I was allowed to speak at all the Masses, the following Sunday would be my last.

My last day at STL was 14 April and as I left I was able to make amends with a member of staff with whom I had developed poor relations. In fact this behavior was more the result of my health, stress etc. The following day I got up super early and drove 2 hours down to Englewood where I would holiday for a week. I had visited this town in January and had enjoyed my time there. Unfortunately the weather turned during the last two days so I returned early to Tampa. I still did not have to start work at Sacred Heart until 1 May. I can’t recall when exactly but on one of these vacation days I returned to St Lawrence for a staff lunch. My boss was so pathetic that all he could say with regards to my departure was ‘thanks for your service’.

The weather in the last week of April was wonderful so I did so much kayaking and pool time that when I arrived at Sacred Heart for the first day I looked very well! The first weekend I started to sort my office and bring some of my resources. I had agreed to shadow the outgoing Sean Fitzsimmons-Brown but got called to cover a wedding at Jesuit so in the end I only shadowed all the Masses on Sunday. I met the Cantors for the regular rehearsal on the following Tuesday. They are a delightful bunch. From the start I had decided to keep to the ordinary Mass settings but change the psalm settings, and alleluia. They really responded well to the choices.

I had decided to have Wednesday and Thursday as my days off. It is so great to have consecutive days off! I continued to bring more stuff into the office and by the second week they gave me another office in what they call the North Campus 6 minutes drive from the church. In fact it is a 9 acre site with several grand buildings representing what was until ten years ago Sacred Heart Academy. There I have a large rehearsal room and another large room with double doors onto a massive balcony. I can imagine that this might have been from where the headteacher (nun) would have addressed the assembled pupils for morning assembly! Over the last month I have moved a few things in and now have this office as my recording studio (so that I can send the cantors any unfamiliar music) but I also have brought in a sofa and an armchair as I intend to hold face-to-face meetings there with to-be-weds. The office in the church is too small to fit all my equipment so this works well. When they set up wifi there it will be even better.

With the re-opening of Florida from Covid restrictions my Airbnb business has also grown. One of my guests was a pole dancer by night so this allowed for a significant filling in of a gap in my education. She stayed for two days at first but has returned several times since by private arrangement.. Between one of her visits I had a group of four persons. They spent a weekend and were no trouble. It was only when I went to change the sheets for the return of the dancer that I discovered they had broken the bed! The dancer was quite happy with the other spare room but I needed to sort the broken bed. I got a good deal on a much better bed and sold the ‘old’ mattress to a friend at the bar. From the beginning of June and hopefully for 3 months my guest has been a mature lady who is a travelling respiratory specialist. She is great fun when we meet but since she works nights at the hospital we might pass like ships in the night.

Feeling that I would be in greater financial security I decided to explore solar panels further. Its a tedious task to have several salesmen come to your house and go through their pitch but in the end I went with Sunpro. whose salesman visited on April 26. I was fortunate that I got the installation brought forward due to a cancellation and installation was on May 19. The electricians came across an issue which meant the=at they would have to apply to TECO the energy company to switch off the power. TECO tend to drag their feet so the continuation of the installation will not be until Thursday June 17. Following that there will be an inspection from the county and then a further request to TECO to visit and install a reversible meter. When I am generating power myself the meter reverses.

One of the things that impressed me about Sunpro was that they took a wider view than others. So in addition to the panels the project has widened to include the removal of the large laurel oak in my front yard ($3600), the installation of a hybrid water heater ($1600 +$600 plumbing) , the refurbishment of my electric panel with new breakers ($500).

The tree removal was a major operation. This particular oak tree has a limited life of about 50 years and branches had already started falling so there was little problem getting a permit. I had to call back the tree company as they had left several roots protruding above the earth. The boss doubted that the roots could have been there as ‘his stump grinder would not have left it like that’. An unbelievable conversation followed in which he accused me of covering these roots somehow so that they were unseen. In the end a further $300 saw to it that the roots would be removed and a good job was done.

The other thing which prompted me to opt for Sunpro was the energy assessment. A professional came to the house and sealed the air conditioning ducts where this was necessary. He also professionally draught -proofed the external doors and replaced all my light bulbs with LEDs.

So what do I pay for this solar project? The cost of the loan is $170 per month which is less than my average electric bill and covers the cost of panel installation and all the other peripheral expenses from water heater to tree removal. The real expectation is that the only amount I will pay to TECO is the admin charge of $15 per month. With all these changes to my energy efficiency I am hoping that I will in effect have no real electric cost at all and that I will achieve a rebate each year. I may yet invest in a variable speed pool pump. These are more energy efficient and besides the Governor in Florida has passed a bill requiring variable speed pumps in the near future. I expect that there will be some financial inducement to do this quickly so i am holding off on this one right now.

TECO electric bills are expected to rise 18% very soon … ironically to pay for their own solar promotions. The cost of electricity will not be a consideration for me going forward and should I need to sell the house at some time in the future the new owner will take up the loan payments and the cheap electricity! It really does look like a win win! Besides it is good for the planet!

I had also experienced problems with my dryer in recent months and discovered that the same unit had burned out as before. The second engineer asked when was the last time I had the vent duct cleaned. Clearly lint can build up and raise the temperature so significantly that the thermostat burns out. So I got my friendly plumber/electrician round to re-site the dryer to an outside wall and provide a new electrical connection for it. You should have seen the circuitous route it was travelling before!

I was delighted to be able to witness via zoom the blessing in Iona Abbey of the newly updated residential buildings. It was great to see the place again and to see so much good work completed.

Weather-wise it is glorious. No sooner had June started than I heard the first rumbles of thunder. Towards the end of the day around 7pm the deluge starts and ensures that whatever the temperature during the day you never have to refill your pool. Later in the season I expect the rains to come at around 4pm but this could be the new normal. Who knows?