Thursday 31 December

I’m starting this blog on an auspicious day. The end of one year should not necessarily be a harbinger of anything. To think that the change of a digit makes any difference is crass stupidity but it is often the occasion to hope that things will get better. For many people there is little hope.

UK readers will have heard that President Trump denounced the paltry financial support offered to all Americans. To be fair $600 is paltry if you are desperate and it is very little if you are not. Earlier in the year the same administration gave $1200 to all its citizens (and resident aliens like myself). That was in the early stage of Covid-19 but now months have passed and such payments are completely inadequate. I feel for those who are directly affected by the financial pressures they never expected a year ago. I remember my mum feeling awkward about accepting winter heating payments when she had money. I feel the same and it such a shame that despite all our technology and algo-rhythms we cannot achieve something more means-tested and fair.

President Trump has had his moment and President-Elect Biden is in the wings. Trump has not been seen much at all! Biden is an old and experienced statesman but at least he is a statesman. With half the country voting for both candidates it is difficult to see that the future will be peaceful particularly since President Trump seems to be in denial of the electoral outcome. Will Biden deliver? I don’t know, but the promise of a return to Paris Climate Accord, to the WHO, to serious concern about Covid-19 and to dialogue in general are, at least, reasons to be hopeful.

UK readers will appreciate the seriousness of the pandemic as they have spent the last few days in lock-down. To be fair an unexpected ‘new variant’ strain of the virus was detected in London and the South East. We have highly developed detection systems in UK to thank for this discovery but already this variant has been detected elsewhere. I do hope that no one in Europe stoops to the blame culture that has been so much the pattern of the last four years here. I recognize that the possible origins of the virus were in China and that there were some unusual local cover-ups for which one young journalist is now serving 4 years in a Chinese prison for publicizing but the blame culture does not make anything better. I have always been of the opinion that when God created, God did not destroy Chaos. Cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes and viruses are all examples of Chaos breaking through what God saw to be very good. I remember someone in Scotland writing that cancer had been found in the bones of dinosaurs!

Two of my friends through the Iona Community have died this year. Both were only 62, the same age as myself. The Community celebrated both lives with joy, honesty and tears. I was able to pray simultaneously with friends gathered in Glasgow for one of these lives, Graham. I had managed to get the texts send to me and with another Iona friend who was visiting Florida with family we gathered at 6am to join with the prayer for Graham Maule, singer, liturgist, wordsmith, architect, social drinker and what they in Glasgow would call ‘ a big man’. Peter was Leader of the Iona Community for much of the period I have been in USA. Before I left I spent a weekend with New Members in which a shopping trip attracted me to a banana protector. I will never forget the astonishment on Peter’s face when I showed him my purchase.

I am glad to have survived 2020. I suspect that increasingly future years will be full of similar griefs.

How has the virus affected you? For me, I have continued going into work. I was offered the chance to work from home but felt that for my employer to unexpectedly open an office in my home was a massive invasion. I can be perfectly safe in my office so that is where I continued. The detail of my job has changed. There is no choir to rehearse or delight in but in its place there are several Cantors whose ministries have become so important. Until Pentecost we had only live-stream Masses but since then we have opened up the church. My usual regime of 6 Masses over a weekend was reduced to four and I welcomed this imposition. Although attendance is rising we are still able to keep people safe. You have to remember that in Florida’s climate we can always open up the sides of the church to let air in and people experience the liturgy from outside. But there are still families and individuals and choir members I miss. There was one young woman who got married two years ago and I hadn’t seen her since the pandemic broke. The mind comes up with all sorts of explanations (and of course, the obligation to celebrate Mass is still lifted) but when I saw here a month ago the reason was clear. She was heavily pregnant and gave birth on 22 December. This is a sign of hope, and I need to encounter this.

I have been ‘lucky’.

I can still visit a local Irish Bar. It is an outside bar which we are told reduces the risk of transmission and I keep to a small cohort of people with whom I relate. We need to do this. It’s not just the alcohol we consume but we need the interested company of our friends.

I can still do the job I enjoy and it pays the mortgage. OK, we didn’t get a pay rise because the church collections dropped but this is far better than the experience of many. Financially I took a hit on Airbnb which was becoming something of a second business. I also lost income from the fact that I could not teach organ to my scholarship students at Jesuit High School but in the big picture I was doing OK. Of course this was probably not the best year to decide to refinance and reduce the term of my mortgage but there you go. Who has a crystal ball?

Where the virus hit me most was in my ability to travel and more particularly to return to UK for what has become an annual visit to see brothers and more importantly my mum. She has not been so well this year and this makes the enforced separation more painful. I am lucky that I have great brothers who ensure that important decisions are well-made. I speak with mum regularly and she is still ‘mum’.

I know we all hate Zoom meetings but this and other platforms have enabled us to connect. I can skype-phone my mum easily. She doesn’t need top go to the computer anymore. WhatsApp has been great with the rest of my family particularly because we know that mum will not use it! we need to remain connected. That is why I fear the worst with the current generation of students. Whether you are are in university or school at whatever level the importance of social interaction cannot be underestimated. Of course children can be awful to each other and this can provoke young minds to feel inadequate and depressed and even to end their lives but the day to day interaction with your peers is really important. We humans spend a long time in a close -knit family and then we gradually introduce others so that they come to realize that these new encounters can be safe. The birth of virtual schooling may prove that there is more to learning in school than we ever realized.

So what of the time since my last blog?

I got pulled over by the Police for running a red light. Moments earlier I had realized that I had left my office keys, diabetic medications and wallet in the office and was anxious to get there before they closed. I agreed with the female officer that I wondered if I had run the light. She asked me for my licence, which I could not produce because it was in my wallet at work. When I told her where I worked she returned to her car and ran my plates against my name. She returned stating that the offence would have cost me $240 and 3 points but that today was my lucky day. She gave me a ticket for non-disclosure of the license and days later I went to the Court and showed my license and was freed on payment of $10. Phew! I think the english accent might have had something to do with it!

I was delighted to be invited to play in the opening recital of the new organ at local Christ the King Church. I played Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster which I thought would be a good tribute to my origins and organ builders in general. there were 9 organists from the Dioceses who played but they did me the especial honour of asking me to close the recital.

For the last few months I have been composing a psalm for each forthcoming Sunday. I’ve been in the business since I was 13 so 49 years later i have a few ideas of my own! It’s been a great project for the creative person in me. I don’t ask that anyone publish them but you never know, someone might like them when I’m gone. I shared one of them with a n English composer-friend and he advised me to leave it in my bottom drawer. I understood the advice but the parish (and more to the point the Pastor) loved it!

I love kayaking but it’s been cold here. By that I mean that there has been reason to wear a sweat-shirt for the last two weeks. This is unusual. But I am pleased to report that warm weather has returned. Kayaking again seems possible. Today we reached 83F but don’t ask me what that is in Centigrade. America uses Fahrenheit and Europe does not but UK used to. I wonder if that will change?

A few hours ago UK left the European Community. I voted to remain because I felt that this was for the Common Good. I suppose I feel that at last it has been done and I admire the negotiators on both side for delivering something when this seemed unlikely. Time will tell what the detail delivers. I am pleasantly surprised by the more conciliatory language from both camps over this and I am certainly not depressed that Nigel Farage (whose name I continue to pronounce in the same way as ‘garage’ ) has not appeared on the Queen’s New Years Honours List. Such is royal wisdom!

I do wonder about Scotland that was told that appeals for independence could not be countenanced until Brexit was completed. That time has arrived so watch this space, friends.

I leave 2020 in good health albeit dented by neck pain. In 2012 in UK a car crashed into me while on a bike. Later in USA I was ‘rear-ended’ twice and this exacerbated my injuries which seem to be severe in terms of herniated disks. Recently this has become a real problem. I went to a friendly chiropractic but it did not relieve things for long. 2021 will be the year I explore solutions to this.

2021 will also bring me a new niece via Richard and Camille. Their wedding was every bit worth the journey home a few years ago and I’m hoping that as soon as I am able (two quarantines providing) I will be able to meet the latest member in what is the great family Jakob!

Happy New Year and peace and love to all!

Friday 4 December

Winter in Florida is a fleeting thing. For about a week now I have had my cashmere coat out of the wardrobe where it generally hangs neglected until I return to England or join fellow composers for the Liturgical Composers Forum in St Louis in January/February.

This year has been remarkable in that earlier this week I awoke to a temperature of 73F and three days later it was 38F! The cold becomes a talking point and then this topic disappears from the agenda although I do note that a further cold front is due next week. This is unusual.

President Trump is less on my mind at this time. His successor has been acknowledged in a veiled manner but the transition has begun, albeit delayed. It seems clear that Climate Change and the Paris Accord, Health and the WHO are both back on the agenda. Numbers infected by Covid-19 continue to rise to an alarming extent and the President-Elect has today given notice that he will be calling for 100 days of mask wearing from Day 1 of his Presidency and Dr Fauci has been retained. At this stage these signals are positive (though not to so many whose voting did not elect a President).

I spent Thanksgiving with 5 friends. We ate well, drank well and played an assortment of games. Dominoes and Left-right-center were the predictable favourites. Unfortunately the celebrations ended early as drink prompted anger in one player and departure in us.

I awoke the following morning feeling fine and so decided to go kayaking. I entered the garage and to my horror the side door was open. Worse than that the gates were wide open and the kayak and trailer were gone! I discovered that the buggers had even removed all the kayak accessories from the shelves. I returned inside the house and was about to call the police when, looking outside I saw my car on the road with the kayak and trailer already attached! Clearly the Thanksgiving drinks affected my memory as well as the mood of one of my friends!

My lodger, Maurice, confirmed a few days ago that the apartment he was holding out for had become available early. Therefore he is set to leave my place on Monday. He has been so quiet that I will barely miss him! I am hoping to begin hosting with a new agency in the near future.

After 3 years being contracted to ADT security services I have decided to change my alarm system. At $65 per month it is just too expensive. Another provider will give a similar service for only $24. It’s a no-brainer, I hope.

Due to Covid this year’s Christmas Children’s Play before the 4pm Christmas Vigil Mass has been abandoned. I have seized the opportunity to put something different in its place and have chosen MICHAEL MOUSE published by the Iona Community. This should be an amusing and thought-provoking alternative to the script we have used for the last many years. There will be 6 more mature children playing the parts of animals, a narrator and two adults providing the voices of the animals. I’m hoping to download animal noises from the internet as holding auditions for adults who can perform animals sounds might be too challenging!

The inaugural organ recital at the neighboring Catholic Church went well and was attended by many despite the safe-distancing required. I played Louis Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster as the finale of the Recital.

I continue to compose a psalm setting each week and next week will put to paper a less ‘meek and mild’ version of the Magnificat psalm.

Some of you will remember that I’ve suffered a few whiplash incidents in my time. The worst was when I was still in Sheffield and free-wheeling downhill on my new cycle when a driver cut across me blinded by the sun. This induced considerable trauma to my neck and much physiotherapy followed. in my early days in USA I was twice stationary at lights when a car hit me in the rear. This must have aggravated what was already diagnosed a severe pinching of the nerves. I have not had any treatment for four years and now am suffering considerable pain. The good news is that I can visit a doctor (from the parish) who will give treatments over three visits and this will either ease things or force me to look for alternatives.

Getting old is not for softies!

Wednesday 18 November

I remember, when I used to holiday in Goa, India, being amused by the locals who in the morning would seen dressed in coats, scarfs and woolen hats. Clearly they were feeling the cold when we tourists were in beach attire! Now I understand what they felt. The temperatures during the day now are in the 80sF but in the morning the temps are closer to 60F and in the evening 70F. I have clearly become accustomed to the Florida weather and now feel the cold at 70F! So today for the first time I went to my local bar, O’Briens Irish Bar, wrapped in my cashmere coat. The only other time I have worn it in USA has been when I have joined composer colleagues in St Louis, Missouri in what is a very cold January/February. Of course I also have worn it when I travel to UK! Friends who found my attire amusing at first became a little jealous when the sun set.

The political temperature has mellowed somewhat. POTUS Donald Trump will offer no indication that he is beaten. He even sacked someone who dared to speak the truth that the election was not rigged. On the other side the Hoe Biden is seemingly impeded by potus Donald Trump’s refusal to begin the transition process despite the failure of his legal cases and clear indications that recounts will not introduce significant change to the election result. On the good side the acrimony between friends who happen to be on different sides of the political spectrum is waning and the streets are no longer populated with Republican protesters in denial.

Every day we awake to better news about the vaccine but this is accompanied by the news that potus Donald Trump has still not acceded and opened the dialogue which will enable his successor to be briefed on national security and covid-19 plans.

I see that UK is in total lock-down. I wish they would contemplate something like that here. Cases are rising exponentially across USA and in Florida today several mayors requested that the Governor De Santis take stronger action across the State which remains the 3rd in the awful league of coronavirus cases. I doubt he will break ranks while potus Donald Trump is around!

People are steadily returning to church at St Lawrence and weekly collections are somewhat depressed at 25k. In California I hear that the churches are enduring much more severe restrictions and many are asking their Pastors to resist the restrictions.

At St Lawrence we continue with cantors and me providing the music and this is being well-received. I am continuing to compose a fresh lyric setting of the psalm for each week and this creative surge is good for me. This weekend I will be one of nine diocesan musicians who will together play the inaugural recital of a newly extended and rebuilt organ in the neighboring parish of Christ the King. The local Spirit FM radio station will record it for later transmission. The organ building work is not complete yet but there is so much that is and it is a wonderful amalgam of pipes and digital sounds. It is a rare occasion when organists get to hear each other play so this recital will be that rare occasion. I will be playing Louis Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster and they have done me the honour of placing me last in the programme! I can remember playing this piece at St George’s College, Weybridge when I was a late teenager. I then also played it in Paris in my 20s but only revisited again last year for a recital on the new organ at Jesuit High School Tampa. I thank God for muscle memory! The rigorous teaching of Stephen Hicks demanded that I used the same fingering all the time and I am so grateful for that.

For the last 2 weeks I have hosted a fellow drinking friend until his new rental property becomes available at the start of January. He is so quiet that it has been an easy task.

Not so quiet have been recent evenings. Last Saturday a young guy appeared in the park just over my backyard fence. The area with all the children’s play equipment is well lit so this guy must have felt it was a bit like Broadway. So from 10pm until after midnight he was singing at the top of his voice and dancing songs from the shows. Eventually I managed to get to sleep. When he started up again at 6am I had had enough and called the Police. He was moved on but not arrested for the disturbance. Police are understandably reluctant to put folk in cells in this time of Covid. he wa back the following evening but was more subdued in volume!

The leaves are still falling on my pool but each day to a lesser extent, thankfully. I will deal with that tomorrow or Friday which have become my weekend. I will then work Saturday and Sunday and then be off for 5 days with Thanksgiving on the Thursday. I’m going to spend that day with friends from the bar whose company I enjoyed so much at the same event last year. I have been advised not to bring my posh plates or my margarita machine. It seems that Thanksgiving dinners are not as formal as some of our celebrations in UK.

I will enjoy the rest!

Wednesday 4 November

It’s the afternoon of the night before. Last night saw the declarations from the US Elections begin to trickle in. There has been a long history of uncertainty even the following morning as to what the final result might be and this election was no different. What has been different is the standing President has been posturing about election fraud and even declared himself the winner. For both statements he had no evidence. The truth is that all elections are not over until every vote is counted and even then in the case of a dispute or legal challenge the decision may change. It does seem that the successful candidate will not win by a ‘landslide’ (as many Trump supporters have said) but by a narrow margin. Biden manages to maintain at least a certain decorum, the opposite of the sitting President who trashing about with threats of going directly to the Supreme Court shows that he does not even understand legal process.

I’ll be happy when the whole thing is over. It has cost millions of dollars and so much time which surely might have been better spent on alleviating the pressure on ordinary folk and businesses caused by Covid-19 and this administration’s woeful mismanagement of it. How is it that in the UK we manage elections so much more speedily?

Last Wednesday I paid my 3-monthly visit to the doctor and informed him that, as I had only just learned, President Trump would be holding a rally in Tampa the following day. I suggested to him that he would doubtless be busy in the near future! He advised me that with this type of infection there are usually four spikes and we are on only on the second!

Covid cases are on the rise again throughout USA (as in Europe) and Florida is no exception. One of my colleagues asked me what had happened in Tampa that the numbers had risen so drastically yesterday. I replied that Trump held a rally here only last Thursday! Yet these political rallies, and there have been about five with Trump in the each of the last few days, have all the characteristics of ‘super-spreader’ events according to Dr Fauci. From the very top there seems to be acceptance that masks are unnecessary. Folk with this opinion would not even be allowed entry to a supermarket without one so how do the same people feel it is OK to act irresponsibly at a rally?

Later in the evening after Trump’s visit to Tampa I visited my local, O’Briens Irish Pub. The car lot was unusually packed with large trucks each sporting large flags and placards displaying the owner’s Republican affiliation. Inside the bar (which is really an outside tiki bar) red shirts and MAGA hats and loud conversation were the order of the day. It was just a little intimidating as visitors set the tone for the habitual drinkers. It appeared that the rally organizers were among this gathering. Indeed when I saw the newsreel of Trump at the rally I recognized 3 of his local ‘henchmen’ among those gathered in O’Brien’s. People who would have shared time together most days were almost in rival camps. It was awful. At least I was grateful that one of the organizers asked me first if I wished to be in a group photo opportunity he was creating.

Walmart have cleared all their guns from the shelves. They clearly are expecting unrest and indeed this may follow. If the President has already started trumping about electoral fraud before the counting is over and without any evidence then confidence in the system (which saw him elected last time) will have been threatened.

MAGA (make America great again) might be a laudible aim, except that it may already have been ‘great’. Rifkin was never may favourite politician but even he this morning said that the world needs America to be great again and that their willful absence from Climate talks, World Health Organisation and many other fora upsets the balance of power in the world. Standing apart from dialogue with China does nothing but increase the power of China.

Let’s change the subject if not the location! I was in O’Briens a couple of days ago whenit became clear that one of the customers considered that when the English and Spanish arrived on the shores of America they found no one there. Pushed on this she really thought that the invaders were the only folk around. Another advised that the American indians were there long before. And I added that the Irish American indians were also there seeking to defend the shores by throwing potatoes at the ‘immigrants’ and layering cabbage leaves on the beach to impede their progress (because there was a lack of banana skins). She lapped this up too!

Bert is 77 years of age, rides a Harley and, dressed in leathers with long grey hair and a ‘cowboy hat’, looks every bit the Hell’s Angel. He was a fighter pilot in Vietnam and later flew passenger jets all over the world. He’s a great guy and while he was away up north over the summer he let another friend live for free in his house. Now he’s back that friend is staying with me. I was happy to help him out. I was not happy when I discovered last night that he had been helping himself to half of a cooked pork loin I was saving for a decent meal after a long day at work! Grrrr!

I’m really pleased to be keeping up with my decision to compose a psalm setting a week. It’s beginning to form a substantial corpus of music set to the new psalm texts. I’m also pleased to be invited to play for the inaugural recital of a newly extended hybrid (digital and pipes) organ in the neighboring parish. Already the largest pipe organ in the diocese it now has a new console to accommodate 4 manuals and an additional forty stops. I went to try it out yesterday and it certainly packs a punch! I’ll play Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster. Thank God for muscle memory! The resident musician has invited nine diocesan organists to take part and they’ve put me last on the programme!

The liturgical composer David Haas still commands much negative attention. A 28-page document details his modus operandi and statements from victims which make his description as a serial sexual abuse perpetrator very credible. The local bishop must have thought so too as on Friday he released a statement which effectively banned him and his music from the diocese.

I’m loving the changes to my working week. I now work Saturday through Wednesday which gives me 2 consecutive days of effective weekend. So here I am on Wednesday afternoon back home typing up this blog. Tomorrow I will probably go kayaking and Friday will potter around the house until the early evening when I have a wedding to play for .

The weather has suddenly changed. At night the temps drop to around 60F but during the day they climb to mid 80s. The clocks have just gone back so our mornings are brighter earlier and evenings darker sooner. My AC stopped last week and so I called out the installer, a parishioner. He sent out a technician within the hour who fixed the issue. We Brits really need additional tuition in the use of AC systems. We don’t need them back home so filters and leaks are just another challenge.

Stay safe and, if you are an American reading this, stay peaceful until the dust settles on the Election and truth emerges anew.

Sunday 10 October

It has rained much of today or at least when I wasn’t in church! I was awoken by the rain at 2am, drove through it at 7am and left work in it at 1.30pm and has rained several times since then. So now it’s past 6pm and I thought I’d update my blog.

The big news was the announcement by brother Richard and wife Camille that they have a baby due in April. I’m hoping that Coronavirus may have reduced its grip on the world and that I might be able to visit near the birth. It might be a forlorn hope as UK looks certain to announce increased restrictions tomorrow and there are spikes all over the world. In Florida, or at least in Hillsborough County, it is still a very present threat. Two weeks ago I was showing symptoms and went to get tested. I must applaud the fact that this was most efficient. The test was administered exactly at the time I had booked and the result arrived 26 hours later! It was negative. Phew. The previous week I had had a ‘flu shot and may have had an adverse reaction to this. I worked from home much of the following week.

I continue to get used to my new Nissan Rogue. It has an intelligence greater than mine and the downloadable manual runs to 600 pages or is available at a cost of over $200! I have now got to grips with the cruise control which I find very useful … it even slows the car down if i get too close to the car in front! However I need to learn how to diasble its ‘intelligence’. On Friday I decided to go kayaking which meant towing a trailer. All was fine until it came to moment when I attempted to reverse the trailer into a slot close to the water. The system applied the brakes … the reverse gear camera saw a kayak behind the car and presumable did not want me to hit it! I manged to manhandle the trailer to the required position and refix the trailer to my car much to the amusement of the locals!

I’ve managed to keep up with the composing of a psalm setting each week. Publishers are not interested in psalms, it would appear, but this has not dampened my zeal. Today’s psalm was Psalm 23, one of the most popular psalms (The Lord is my shepherd) and my Cantors at St Lawrence really worked hard to deliver it.

There is a closed group of composers I belong to. In fact they have been my greatest inspiration since arriving in USA. One of our number is the liturgical composer David Haas on whose activities a report has been produced by IntoAccount which in its 22 pages absolutely cites him as a sexual predator active for over 41 years with at least 44 victims coming forward to date. This has been devastating news for us but the group as acted most appropriately and in fact has explored this whole situation with survivor-centered sensitivity. One of the staggering statements from a statistical point of view was that it was likely that in our number there would be the perpetrator, the aware and the survivor. The use of his music in our churches today constitutes a continued assault on the survivor whether we know their presence in our communities or not. In future months the truth of David Haas will spread more widely and rather than ask for the legal system to deal with it (unlikely) we will have to center our actions on the survivor’s perspective and the great many survivors who do not even know who David Haas is , but who will feel more pain if we do nothing. In y own church I have decided not to use his music at all, and thereby not to grant him further income from royalties.

On September 24 I was invited to speak to the Tampa City Council in defense (from a biblical stance) of the expansion of Goodwill Industries hidden service as a provider of accommodation for ex-prisoners who having served their time need somewhere to settle so that they don’t return to earlier ways. An added delight was that the Council Chairperson recognized me from church and wanted to publicly acclaim what I do. Another also praised the Christian witness in my address. I am more delighted that the council approved the expansion!

After months of campaigning we are finally approaching the final run-up to the election. Of course in Uk we’d get this all done in 6 weeks or so but here in USA there is enough money floating around (and corporations wanting more power) that they can make it last a year. The Presidential debate was a lamentable farse, and then the nation paused while POTUS endured his personal coronavirus (with doctors in both the White House and the local Hospital on hand to provide the full gamut of care and obfuscation). The debate between the Vice-Presidents showed the power of Harris in asserting order when she wished to speak in the debate. In my own friendship group people whisper their criticisms of the present incumbent behind hands hiding lips. So much for the freedom of speech, eh? Division is the new normal, soon to be replaced, I pray.

How long will it be before the mask is lifted to reveal the irresponsibility of the maskless? And what about care of our poor, jobless, elderly and those waiting longer for life-changing operations?

We endured a cool snap in Tampa at the end of September but after a few days of temperatures which dropped to 78F in the late evening I am pleased to say it was short-lived.

Leaves continue to fall into my pool which provides me (and my pool cleaning machine) something close to exercise. I may not overdo this!

Sunday 20 September

Today marks 6 years since I left UK for a new life in Tampa, Florida USA. A few days ago was the third anniversary of me ‘buying’ a house here (8 September) and of hurricane Irma sending a tree limb into my roof (10 September).

A wise woman told me many years ago that we should ‘grow where we are planted’. I remain wholly British but now capable of misspelling words much to the approval of the local tribe. I heard a few days ago that Americans hold their freedom very dear. I’m sure we all do, and some in the world don’t even have a sense of it! Whatever our freedoms are they must be tempered by common sense. However, as one of my Airbnb guests said, having destroyed a sunlounger by placing her voluminous, body directly onto the bands without adding the cushions, “common sense? …. It ain’t that common”.

So my neighbor in conversation with me recently was quite happy to spend time in close conversation, even occasionally fisting my arm in that strangely masculine way of showing bonhommie, before informing me that his family had been tested positive for Covid! I didn’t subsequently become infected so I’m presuming it must have been more than 14 days ago.

A drinking friend was with me at a party one Saturday night and left to join more of my friends at another party. She had to sleep over because she was drunk but the following afternoon was back getting very drunk in the Irish bar I frequent, swearing rather too loudly at a TV screen on which occasionally appeared Tom Brady, the latest, outrageously expensive purchase of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Friends, seeing her leaving, stopped her from heading to her car for quite a long drive home. She needed to visit the toilet but instead diverted to her car. With much relief I learned the next day that she had arrived home safely realizing how dumb she had been. Common sense ain’t that common.

A few days ago, I had a Frontier internet/cable engineer visit the house to get me back online. In the 5 hours of his work here he changed every unit that had not been changed for a while but was still scratching his head. In the last 10 minutes he discovered a cable was twisted and having replaced this minor item finally got the job done. Common sense ain’t that common.

Amid all this lack of common sense we have an election for one of the most powerful positions in the world. People here are so entrenched in their voting habits that it would seem that nothing will shift their allegiance to varying degrees of incompetence. Yesterday I spoke with a man who shared with me that this was not his habit, that his vote would be cast on how one party or the other might affect his own socioeconomic condition. There was nothing about the common good in his thinking … just ‘what’s in it for me’.

You can imagine my delight when a catholic media group, Faith in Public Life, offered a rallying call that expressed that the Church is not into single issue politics, that pro-life concerns, however valid, are not the sole concern of the Catholic Church. It bluntly described Trump as ‘a threat to Catholic values’ a contrary position to that Trump was seeking by aligning himself with pro-life.

https://drive.google.com/file//1gJKsColm70tLGhGAQQ35_1292sPCTbLx/view

www.faithinpubliclife.org/

Readers outside USA will want to know about the weather. This is the hurricane season here which lasts until November but we’re now in the middle of it. There are a few storms brewing but so far we have been lucky in Tampa. Earlier this week a hurricane changed course in the Bay and hit the northern parts of Florida bringing torrential rain bands to Tampa. At this time of year you expect regular daily downpours at 4pm then the temperatures are at their highest but these have been more erratic of late.

Musically, I have tried to discipline myself to composing a psalm setting each week. Without thinking this had led me to write in different styles to my norm. I still doubt that anything will ever get published as publishing psalms can be an expensive business. Today’s psalm had a smoky blues bar feel which went down well with my smoky blues congregation! We also did Michael Joncas’ ‘Shelter me’ for the first time. There were several people struggling to hold back the tears. It’s a wonderful setting of a text that is just the perfect prayer for these times of Covid19.

In 2016 I bought a brand new 2015 Nissan Rogue. Months later they updated the model in everyway imaginable and I regretted not waiting a little longer ever since. Two weeks ago I visited a dealer and managed to achieve a trade in price that was twice the value first offered me and went ahead with the purchase of an almost new 2019 Nissan Rogue SV. It was first registered in June 2020 and returned to the dealer 2 months later with 5k on the clock. Among the many gadgets is an intelligent driving assistant which I have now switched off. Quite unexpectedly it will take over the steering or the brakes whenever it feels under threat. There is so much I have yet to learn about this car which might be delivered by reading the 580-page manual! That is not going to happen easily!

 I had two great conversations this week with good friends. One was with Helen as a result of her posting on facebook. You would have to know that after over 50 years on this planet this was her first post. You would also have enjoyed the expression of surprise on her face when I FaceTimed her. When she had recovered her composure,  I took her on a brief tour of my place here and she kindly commented on the state of the kitchen. I had earlier begun tidying up the ground floor but had not got beyond the guest lounge. So later that evening I bombarded her facebook site with a sequence of photos of those areas I’d managed to clean. It was days before photos of the kitchen followed!

The second conversation was with Peter, a friend from the Iona Community. He had recently received a cancer diagnosis and when the consultant rang somewhat sooner than expected to relay the bad news he commented on how well Peter was taking it and wished all his patients had a similarly relaxed attitude. What Peter did not tell the consultant was that he had been enjoying several pieces of flapjack laced with narcotic substances!

Today is the last day of summer and the leaves have already started falling into my pool. The next few months will be spent getting the leaves out again! What a joy!

Monday 10 August

On this day in 1968 (or thereabouts) my parents moved house from Long Walk in New Malden to 12 Neville Road in Norbiton. Local snobs preferred to describe the area as Kingston-upon-Thames but there you go. As my grandfather used to say “There’s nowt so strange as folk!”

I have a few memories of this first house. I can recall hiding under the table when it became clear that a burglar was walking down the gap between our house and the neighbour’s. I can recall that we had an air-raid shelter in the backgarden and a rockery on which we brothers tried to imitate the Beatles. Ours was the only house which was owned. all the others were rented from the Council.

So my parents decided to move and after some deliberation the rest of us children followed.

Neville Road remained the family seat for many years. I remember the seismic ripples when a coloured family moved in next door. Wonderful aromas of what we were later to identify as curry pervaded the atmosphere. It was a new world. When decades later we moved again we ended up selling the house to Muslims. One neighbour enquiring about some strange-looking people who had visited the house looking to purchase was aghast when she learned that they were Muslims!

So today it’s just turned 4pm and the thunder and accompanying lightning and rain have arrived as they usually do during August in Florida. It’s been a wonderful day in which I have weeded both front and back gardens.

On Saturday evening at the 4pm Vigil Mass no sooner had the bells tolled 4pm than the heavens opened with an almighty lightning storm which persisted throughout the entire Mass unabated. The ferocity was astounding but the timing was normal.

Yesterday at church after the first morning Mass I discovered a small package left on the piano. Wrapped in tissue paper was a Covid mask with musical decorations. Later, after the midday Mass one of the choir came up and presented me with 2 t-shirts, a bowl of ceviche and a hand-written recipe for the same. There are so many lovely people here. They make up for the comments from another guy before the 10am Mass. During that Mass I heard in the prayers that his mother had died and privately forgave him!

During last week I finished working on an arrangement of ‘Silent Night’ for voice, SATB Choir, two solo instruments and piano (with organ in the background!). Any folk who might remember me from St Marie’s Cathedral might also recall the piano arrangement I improvised each Christmas for this carol. It must have been noteworthy as last Christmas one of those cathedral parishioners visited Tampa and wrote to me especially wanting me to play Silent Night at the midnight Mass. So now, 7 months later, I completed the arrangement and sent it to a respected musician for his critical observations. I’m hoping there won’t be too many changes as there is only so much of Silent Night that you can endure in balmy August.

My friend John Bell is enjoying his usual few weeks visit to Amsterdam where he covers for the priest in the English Reformed Church there. In return he has to walk the dog twice a day. This is not a preferred experience for John so you can imagine his delight when he learned that this year his hosts were taking the dog with them. To ease his remorse I sent him a picture of the most scary dog I could find. In reply John registered his fright at both pictures, the other being my headshot on the signature line of the message. Bloody cheek!

We have a new Communications Director at St Lawrence and she has enabled me to access my parts of the website so I’m busying myself with updating stuff since another member of staff, thankfully now employed elsewhere, used to be such a control freak that seeking to update the website was like asking for a massive payrise!

Airbnb has restarted in part. there have been a few cancellations due to Covid and quarantine restrictions but a group arrives tomorrow for 3 nights. The house is looking quite tidy as a result!

It’s now past 5pm and the rain has stopped so maybe this calls for a quick dip in the pool and a trip down the road to what my father used to euphemistically call the ‘Post Office’!

Wednesday 22 July

I want to start this blog with a good news story. We need this with all the bad news threatening us.

Mary Daniels of Jacksonville, Florida was heartbroken when her husband’s Alzheimer’s disease meant that she could no longer care for him in the way she wished. She found a place for him in a care home/memory centre but once Covid-19 kicked in a few weeks later she could no longer have direct access to him. She made a few visits separated by glass but the experience was clearly so upsetting for both of them that she vowed not to put him through this.

A few months later she asked the center if they had any employment vacancies. After a while she got a call inviting her to take a part-time position as dishwasher for a couple of days a week. Mary admits that she did not agree to this for any financial reason – she was paid a minimum wage – but the real reward was being able to see her husband for a couple of hours after work. Her husband seemed more at peace when he knew that she was in the building even though he would have to wait a few hours to see her.

Mary now runs a support group to enable access via employment to people in a similar position.

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Here in Florida things have taken a turn for the worse. Last week the daily toll of infections was 11,000! It is good that there are not so many deaths but that may change. I am beginning to hear people report that only now they are learning of a friend or neighbour getting the virus and even knowing someone who has died from it.

Masks are mandatory in all buildings. Last week I told a parishioner, whom I found praying in the church, to put her mask on. She asked me if I was Irish. When I enquired what that had to do with anything she said that sr Briege McKenna had informed her that an eminent Irish scientist had declared that wearing masks was dangerous. Somewhat mystified I asked her which country we were in and asserted that it was the law of this land to wear a mask in Tampa. Only when I added that the bishop had instructed the wearing of masks did she seem to agree. I understand that her family are pharmacists!

Since midday it’s been raining here. The temperature is still in the mid 90sF but it is a bit miserable. It’s my day off so to kill time while I wait to watch Chelsea play Liverpool I’m typing this blog and half-watching West Ham draw with Manchester United who got trounced by Chelsea last weekend.

My airbnb has started up again but I’ve had so many cancellations. you might be excused for thinking that these are because of Covid but in reality it is more often because people don’t read the listing and expect to have the house to themselves! I have a cancellation policy in place which often means that the guests don’t get much of a refund. People are so stupid!

I was delighted that Her Majesty the Queen took time out from knighting Captain Tom to grant me a new passport. Apparently they are made in Poland and appear black though they are really navy blue (apparently).

Last week I finally got down to revisiting a setting of psalm 27 (The Lord is my light) I’d aired at the composers forum meeting in January. It was well received there although someone mentioned a melodic similarity to Christopher Walker’s setting. Having conferred with CW I now have changed the melody to avoid legal issues. One of the OCP staff advised me to consider setting the same psalm for an Easter week with a different response. I was amazed to discover that the text fitted well to the response I had created for ‘The Lord is my light’. There is a new translation of the psalms and canticles which looks as though it will be the standard text in the new Lectionary when that arrives in approx 5 years.

Earlier this month I was expecting to speak to the City Council on the behalf of Goodwill, a national charity store. Behind and adjoining my local store is a residential center for folk who are re-entering society having served their time. Goodwill are hoping to be able to accommodate more clients in the same building than the present code allows. My presentation was biblically inspired and presented a different stance to other presentations. In the event the meeting has been postponed due to Covid-19. Did the Council only just realise that we are in a pandemic???

Monday 8 June

This blog might appropriately be titled ‘thrown under the bus’.

as I write USA is in turmoil. The number of deaths from coronavirus has passed 100, 000 and even in the relatively small country of Great Britain the incidence of coronavirus and death is very high. There is a lot of finger-pointing but now is not the time for this.

USA is also in turmoil over the murder of George Floyd. I watched on TV today as senators struggled to ‘take the knee’ for the almost nine minutes that the police officer knelt on George’s neck. There seems to be a will to look at reform of the American Police forces and this is indeed good. Movies have focussed on the corruption that can exist in the Police but you really can’t throw all of them under the bus because there are some and even many perhaps who are good people. I am certainly not denying institutional racism but nor do I agree with tarring everyone with the same brush.

There have been protests about George’s death in many American cities including my own. Protest has travelled across the world like the pandemic which so many protesters seemed to temporarily ignore. I agree with protest: the psalms are full of it and the prophetic witness to which we are encouraged by our baptism may also encompass protest. Violence and looting are something else. These are wrong. There may be those who point to opportunism and poverty being the factors but violence and looting are wrong and it would be equally wrong to thrown under the bus all protesters.

I recall the reaction of the media when the news broke of sexual abuse of minors by catholic priests. I recall priests removing their collars in fear of being assaulted. It would be and was wrong to throw under the bus all catholic priests when there are many good priests who share nothing with the evil minority.

I was thrown under the bus this last weekend. I received a request from ‘Alina’ to accommodate 3 guests via Airbnb. It was the first request in months as I’m sure you will understand. It was a last minute booking and the guests would arrive after midnight so I went to bed having given them the entry codes. At 3am on Saturday morning I was awoken by noise in the house. I donned a dressing gown and went to meet my guests. On the way I passed the bathroom, the door of which was wide open, and noticed a woman tying her shoelaces. I continued downstairs to where the noise was emanating and in the lounge was surprised to find it full of at least six persons. They showed an equal unease and a couple went upstairs to where they said ‘Alina’ was. I followed them soon after and in that short time they had concocted a complete fabrication that I had been ogling the woman in the bathroom whom they said was in the shower.

Ironically this week I finished reading a book entitled ‘Truth – A brief history of total bullshit’ by Tom Phillips. To those who believe that falsehood and fake news originated with the current US administration it seeks to show that falsehood and lies have been around for centuries.

There was no truth in the allegation but I was pleased that they all decided they would not stay. When they left I could hear them telephoning Airbnb and then the Police. So I rang Airbnb to lodge a report and the agent mentioned that a report had already be given by Alina and she dropped the phone on me. I then rang the Police for my first time in USA because I felt unsafe in my own house particularly because the ‘guests’ had my entry and alarm codes.

Four of the guests were still in one car when the Police arrived. Two cars had already left. The Police woman was very understanding but it was my word against Alina and she did not want to be the judge. I was very relieved that I was not arrested on the basis of whatever report had been given by them!

Later that morning I had to work but kept a keen eye on my phone app for the alarm system which also allows me to see if the front door is opened while I am away. Fortunately there was no issue.

I received a message from Airbnb that they had cancelled the booking and any payments to me and mentioned that an investigation was proceeding and that i could lose my membership of Airbnb. It felt as though I was being thrown under the bus. I could understand that if a serious or even mild allegation had been made then they had to take it seriously. How do you prove innocence when it was my word against the dishonesty of the guests?

I spent a long time on the phone with the ‘investigator’ on Sunday evening and nothing much had changed to ease my mind at all. So this morning I contacted Airbnb and again denied the allegations that I had heard them making as they phoned Airbnb outside my house. Furthermore I asserted that I was willing to make a statement to that effect under oath. A few hours later I received a note indicating that if I confirmed that I had read the safety rules they had sent me that no further action would be taken. It did not sound as though I was exonerated and I was still concerned about what Alina might write when she was asked for a review. If it was to be as false as the verbal allegations then I would not be happy since as they say, ‘mud sticks’.

It was with some trepidation that, having written my honest and full review of hosting Alina including a warning to potential hosts, I awaited her review of me. Fortunately her review written before mine amounted to a single word – ‘Honestly’ and accompanied it with a tight-lipped meme! I was relieved and replied “I don’t think Alina know the meaning of the word”.

I am fortunate that over the weekend I was able to seek the company of good friends and a game of dominoes over a few drinks.

There were other much more positive moments during the last week. On Tuesday I received a request from one of my Iona friends, Alison Adam, to provide a tidied up version of the scrawled manuscript of a new chant by John Bell. Moments later the pristine version was with Alison and John in UK.

Then came a further request to record the accompaniment with me singing the melody. The first attempt had too much of me and not enough accompaniment so a second attempt followed on Wednesday. It was to be used in a virtual gathering of the Iona Community and its supporters as we bade farewell to Christine and Kathy the Leaders and welcomed Ruth and Caro as new Leader and transition executive. We also welcomed New Members. I’d have to say that despite moments of clunkiness it was very emotional and typically direct in its focus. It was good also to receive plaudits from dear friends who were communally part of the experience.

Back home in England my mother is a cause of much concern but I am really pleased that I have brothers who live quite close and have been able to step in to the breach when necessary. I would love to have made a reurn visit but this looks problematic even if I can find a plane to take me: I would have to be quarantined for 2 weeks in UK before visiting mum and then on my return would likely be quarantined again. I am pleased that there are positive signs and that because of a recent ‘walkabout’ mum’s condition is being taken more seriously by the medical and social professions.

The other high point of the week was receiving a letter from Donald Trump. The letter accompanied a cheque for $1200 which all Americans and legal residents aliens have received as a hardship payment in times of Coronavirus (which by the way, one of my brothers insists on calling ‘Miley Cyrus’).

I have experienced some hardship but I still have a job which pays well when many have lost even low-paying employment. Strangely my main income loss can be put down to the temporary cessation in Airbnb hosting! But I have also lost out due to there being no funerals or weddings at St Lawrence and I have been unable to maintain my regular organ lessons for scholarship students at Jesuit High School. I really can’t complain as the temporary closure of bars and restaurants has reduced some expenditure.

We’ve had a few storms here but are expecting many more. I should have been on vacation last week for a few days in Key West in the south of Florida. Covid19 put a stop to that as nothing would have been open even if I had been able to get there. I was due to travel with another Iona friend, Dawn Young from Texas. Unfortunately she found a suspicious growth on her nose which had to be removed so she wouldn’t have been able to travel in any case. Spare a prayer for her and many others who are sick but prevented from getting the support of friends due to the virus restrictions.

Tomorrow is another day … and there are very few buses in Florida!

Monday 20 April

What an ominous day on which to begin my first blog in over a month. A severe storm is due this afternoon, the alligator mating season starts and the stay-at-home order in still in place across Florida.

Also continuing now for 6 weeks is the presence of builders in my backyard extending my pool patio area by 650 sq ft. Unfortunately the norm is that they work 2 hours and call it a day. The fact that I will reduce their payment by $200 per day after Tuesday may spur them on a bit but they didn’t show yesterday!

I am luckier than many since I can be almost in isolation at work in my office and at home. The organ O purchased last year for home practice has really come into its own as I have been able to schedule a different piece for each live-stream Sunday Mass. Sometimes I have to re-order things eg yesterday when I awoke to realize I could not play the chosen piece to my satisfaction and selected an alternative which in fact was more suitable for the readings!

Today is eerie. It is quite dark and the wind is up at 10am. A severe storm is expected after midday. This will keep everyone inside, I’m sure, but the air will clear and become drier than it has in recent days. Every cloud really does have a silver lining.

This week will be the last that our deacon/chief of staff works at St Lawrence as he enters retirement. There will be mixed emotions, I’m sure but life at work will definitely be different. The shock of the week was that the bishop is moving one of our priests who had been here only 10 months. Priests know that this can happen and they buy into it but the people really don’t embrace change so easily. Fortunately in his place we will be getting a priest who has been ordained for 6 years and who comes to us from his post as chaplain at a local university.

My work life continues much as it has always been. I work the same number of hours preparing the music for live-stream and sending out resources to our wonderful couple of cantors who have delivered some wonderful moments. It is much easier now that Holy Week is over so the powers that be have decided to live-stream a Mass for the school community on Wednesday mornings. Unfortunately the school has requested that this fits into their virtual timetable with only a 30-minute slot for Mass with music. The experience will be definitely different from that we normally offer!

You might imagine that the Covid19 restrictions would mean that my house is really tidy but that’s not the case at all. It’s not terrible but it’s unlike a show-house!

Financially I’m sure we are all taking a hit. I am fortunate that my salary is still being paid but the cushion of income from Airbnb, organ lessons at Jesuit and weddings and funerals make for leaner times. And all of this at the same time when I decided to re-finance the house to a shorter term and increased mortgage payments! On the good side there are less places open to spend money. I am however pleased to recount that even though my beloved Goodwill Stores have been closed for weeks I managed to find a great bargain last week. My mother always says that nothing is a bargain unless you really need it. Well I have been looking around for a petrol fuelled fire-pit for almost 2 months. Last week I saw a really hi-end example in a private online sale. The list price for this item is $2100 but they were selling it at less than half price. I expressed interest in knowing when they might drop the price from $900. They dropped it to $700 and I got it for $500 and they even delivered it! The granite was 48in diameter and too wide for my SUV but his BMW SUV was wider!

For the last 6 weeks my builders have been promising two actions which today they have completed. Neither were the normal tasks for builders. They removed 6 very spiky red pineapple plants from the backyard and also applied bondo to a broken pool step. Earlier in the week I’d filled it with expanding filler and had to drop the pool level almost 2ft to achieve this. Like gaffer tape, Bondo is a builder’s friend. It is easy to work with and hardens very quickly. Unfortunately due to a manufacturer error the first batch I’d bought had no hardener in the tube. This caused laughter at the store when I returned it but at least that task is now done and will have hardened before the storm arrives.

This isolation is tough for people. Yesterday we received a phone call that parishioners were planning to invade the live-stream Mass and demand communion. It must be a strange thing for a priest to refuse communion to anyone but in the event it never happened.

I hear that the naturally-tactile French are really missing the opportunity to kiss each other on both cheeks. Such intimacy would never be tolerated in UK. In USA gone are the ‘high fives’ and the hugging being replaced by a nod or an elbow bump.

On Friday the authorities opened a beach in Jacksonville way to the north of the state of Florida. Within hours it was groaning with sunbathers for whom the safe distance between bodies seemed to be a thing of the past. Daft, isn’t it?

Here in Trumpton POTUS still reminds of us of how daft the human race can be with his daily press conferences which offer cynics plenty of scope for ridicule. Fortunately not all state governors obey his every whim and apply more common sense. I recall one of Airbnb guests declaring the common sense “ain’t that common”. How correct she was!

Well it’s 11.15am and the workers seem to be packing up after what has been a comparatively lengthy time at work. The rain has started to fall and so have their tools.

It looks like the storm is imminent as there is an eerie calm right now when all the media are emitting warnings. I’m going to finish this blog before the lightning prevents me from using the computer!