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!

Advertisement

Tuesday 17 March

Happy St Patrick’s Day … well happy if you’ve found a bar that’s open or if you’re drinking right now. But for millions of the human race this day will have been another harrowing day in the shadow of the Coronavirus which, I understand, is called Miley Cyrus in the UK. That would be amusing if this whole thing were something to laugh about but it’s deadly serious.

I’ve just come from conversations with my brothers in UK who are expressing due concern about mum. Drastic measures seem to be called for in the hope that she will maintain herself during these months when self-isolation is so necessary. And I’m here in Florida where we are beginning to share in the fallout from this pandemic.

After being told for days that the authorities have everything under control the President did a poorly disguised volte face and declared a state of emergency. For a couple of weeks the churches have relied on preventative measures but have still hosted gatherings for Mass etc. I had hoped that our bishop might stop Masses happening after a meeting yesterday but it appears more days must pass before this is announced, if  indeed it will be. I can however see some sense in each of the Florida Dioceses conferring and agreeing on a joint statement so that they may be in line with Florida State pronouncements. Last night it was announced that local bars and restaurants would close early at 10pm. Today the State Governor announced that restaurants would close earlier than that and that bars would cease business at 5pm. I see the sense in this but I also see the hardship this will bring. Workers in bars are paid a pittance but gain a decent amount from tips which makes the job worthwhile for most. The tips will dry up and the hours will be drastically reduced and what can they live on?

This pandemic will affect everyone economically, I’m afraid to say. So since we are all experiencing the Common Bad you might have thought that considering the Common Good might have been an attractive option … but no! Supermarkets shelves are empty of essentials (milk, eggs, meat, water, energy drinks (!), and toilet paper). Hoarding is not a possibility for the poor. Folk who have grown accustomed to living from paycheck to paycheck now have to suffer the indignity and anxiety of where their next loo roll is coming from!

The globalisation of our world seems to predict that we all want to hoard the same items. When a hurricane threatens here it is the same items that disappear from shelves even though the actual location of the emergency is more contained than anything this Covid-19 can embrace. I’ve just read that small local grocers in UK operate more fairly than the larger concerns with strict limits on multiple purchases. The vendor knows the purchaser and the purchaser knows this. In the best cases there is a sense of community and a responsibility that goes with membership of community. The mindless hoarding is self-centred and therefore unhuman. In essence human beings are relational but you’d have a hard job proving that to a visiting Martian!

Myself I’m in one of those ‘at risk’ groups owing to my diabetes. I’ve already had to advise my pastor that this condition made me uncomfortable attending Mass albeit as an employed Director of Music. The impact of this decision is unlikely to be relevant as pretty soon we may hear that in Florida as in other States the Bishops will be forced into the position of withdrawing public Mass. This may mean that we’d have to live-stream one Sunday Mass in English and another in Spanish (again, as in other States). Now I could cope with that as I’d imagine only the celebrant, possibly a reader, me singing at the organ/piano and a camera man being present and thus there being a reduced risk.

My youngest brother has just returned from France. It was no holiday. His daughter Alice had been working in a ski-resort in the French Alps. With no planes flying in Europe there were no skiers and no business. So my brother had to drive to this furthest point in France, collect his daughter and drive back. He tells me that whilst the effect of the virus was clear on the way down it was harrowingly empty on the return journey. Everything is closed. These are worrying times indeed and we must be serious about them. Some of our politicians may be laughable in their response but increasingly a more considered approach is being maintained.

So all of this falls at a time when I am considering my own mortality. The recent deaths of Graham Maule and Peter MacDonald, both friends through the Iona Community and both living only 61 years has prompted this introspection. The redeeming grace that both their funerals shared was such joy.

So as I ‘self-isolate’ between office and home my joy is increased by the fact that I have a job, am well paid and am in generally good health (apart from a collapse in November, falling from a barstool in January and damaging both knee caps and a constant cold for the past 3 weeks). Even then I am still joyful despite realising that I have lived here long enough now to get ‘allergies’. Feeling bunged up? It will be allergies that is the cause! I never had ‘allergies’ in the UK so this is all a bit of a mystery … (joyful mystery?).

I’ve cancelled all my Airbnb guests and although I enjoyed the varied company it’s good to have my own space again. I’m even expanding the patio to accommodate all the bargain patio furniture I’ve acquired. And the days are gloriously sunny right now so the space will get some use, I’m sure.

Friday 14 February

It’s a dull day today so here I am blogging.

The most significant moments of the last few weeks were spent in St Louis, Missouri during the last week of January. The weekend before that was spent doing the usual stuff in church and then on Monday I drove to the airport for the two hour direct flight to St Louis. A few days earlier I had come across some drinks vouchers sent to me by Southwest Airlines so I am afraid to admit that by 9am I had consumed three gin and tonics! I needed the drink as i had to occupy the middle seat and before I was even sat down the guy to my left said “Do not put your arm on the arm rest!”. Later in the flight he complained “your arm is inside my rib cage!” The guy to my right turned to me and said “your right arm is just perfect”. At the airport I had to wait about 90 minutes before there was any sign of the team that arranges the shuttles to the Mercy Center.

At the center I went to bed waking later for lunch. During the intensive next few days we listened to the publishers, to other composers, reviewed unpublished material from each of us, celebrated liturgies and prepared for a concert. I was pleased with the reception given to my setting of Psalm 27. It was in a gospel style and Chris Walker and others could not believe it when it was revealed that an Englishman was the composer! An even greater reception was given to the Morning Prayer I had devised using material from the Iona Community. The whole time together was a great opportunity to meet up with folk who have become friends.

After the sell-out concert on the final night a few of stayed and continued drinking the free wine until the wee hours. I left at about 3am when the only other person drinking was the octogenarian John Foley of St Louis Jesuits fame!

I returned to Tampa tired but fulfilled. Another weekend of Masses greeted me and it was the Feast of the Presentation although sadly at St Lawrence we did not do the processions required by the Church and strangely celebrated the St Blaise blessing of throats a day early!

My lodger had left my house three months earlier than I had expected. Fortunately when I reactivated my Airbnb site there was a flurry of interest which continues as I type.

The money from Airbnb will come in handy as I decided to refinance my mortgage and to reduce the term from 30 to 15 years. The payments will be high but it will be worthwhile in the long run.The refinance was done in record time …8 days!

On Wednesday I was taken out to lunch by Scott Geist who was visiting Tampa on work. I had last met him when I did a two week stint as musician in residence at St John’s Episcopal Church, Ellicott City. That invitation was the result of spending two weeks as relief musician in Iona when St John’s brought their massive youth group to Iona. The encounter was magic and I made several good friends. Indeed when I was looking for work in USA after the St Marie’s Cathedral Posluzny debacle they offered me a job with very attractive terms. Unfortunately they had not solved issues with the resident musician so I declined and came to Tampa instead. We dined in some style at the Oak on Ola in the Armature Works. The exquisite steaks were accompanied with a couple of G & T’s. We retired to sit and chat by the bar and the manager joined us and allowed us to sample some very distinctive gins which were so smooth that you could drink them without a mixer!

Yesterday Thursday 13 February I received news that the cellars of my house in Sheffield were once again underwater. The restoration company appointed by the insurance were successful in drying out the cellars but heavy rain had once more exacerbated the problem and there was 5 inches of standing water. I phoned the company to complain about their lack of communication and they promised to ring me again today and they rang at 6am this morning when I wasn’t too receptive. They haven’t rung me back so this is a disappointment.

 

 

Monday 20 January

My friend Ross arrived from Scotland on Thursday 2 January. I greeted him with a bottle of bubbly, the odd frozen margarita and some food by the firepit. The following day Ross was tired from the journey so after I’d returned from a funeral we hung out in the backyard and after several beers we drifted into a bourbon whisky tasting session. Ross joined me for the Saturday Vigil Mass and then we returned for a light meal of whatever was in the fridge. While I did the usual heavy schedule of Sunday Masses Ross lingered a while before heading for Orlando for a bit of shopping and to collect members of his family who would spend the night in Miami before heading for Key West . I had expressed an interest in joining them as I had never been to KW and having found suitable accommodation for only $45 a night I was set on a New Year trip.

I spent Monday 6 January preparing for the next day’s travel and tidying up the house prior to the arrival of a long-term lodger, Eamonn. He is a distance runner with an expectation to represent Canada in the Tokyo Olympics. He drove all the way down from Ontario to Tampa in 2 days and arrived at 2am on 7 January. I had fallen asleep in the chair so I was able to give him some brief introduction to the house.

At 7am I was picked up by an uber and taken to Tampa Airport where I boarded the smallest plane I’d ever used to Key West. The views from the window were amazing. A little over an hour later I was in Key West  itself.

The accommodation was NYAH (Not Your Average Hotel). The view from the street was unassuming but once through the door and the lobby the place opened up to reveal 3 pools, a hot jacuzzi pool and several blocks holding 35 rooms. This was a travellers delight of a place with each room offering two bunks and one shower/toilet. Yes it was basic but it was all I needed as I had no intention of spending any length of time in the room apart from sleeping. I passed the initial hours on the roof-top deck until my room was ready for occupation. Then having settled I went out for the first of several drinks. Ross and his family had agreed to meet me later on and we met at a very lively bar called the Green Parrot. 5 rounds later we moved on to sample at other bars before returning for a late night drink of a rather special Jack Daniels I had asked Ross to bring with him in his car. The lack of sleep caught up with me and I had to be guided home.

The next day Tuesday I decided to venture to another key Geiger Key. As the guide described it was very quiet and I saw only 3 people all day hut it cost quite a bit in Uber charges. The next day I was determined to return but this time by bus. The cost of the bus journey was just $1 and I was able to hitch a lift the three miles towards the sea.

I can’t recall much of what I did over the time in Key West for reasons that will not need to be stated! But the high point was an unusual one. Ross and I have a mutual friend in Graham Maule who was half of the most creative partnership with John Bell over almost 40 years. A month or so before he had been diagnosed with bone and lung cancer and on 29 december he had died. Ross and I wanted to spend time in prayer for Graham at the same time as the funeral in Glasgow’s St Mary’s Cathedral. The previous evening we had walked to the Catholic Basilica and met a very helpful man there who turned out to be a Catholic priest from New York. He was interested in our reasons for being there and offered to say a prayer for Graham too. So at 6am on Friday 10 January we met outside the catholic Basilica of Mary Star of the Sea and having been sent by email the Order of Service , we sang and spoke the same words used in Glasgow adding our own distant tears to those of the over 400 folk gathered there.

After almost an hour we finished our prayer and walked to the Southernmost Point. It was very windy and the waves wre engulfing the pier but we managed to take a photo. A little further from there we tried to get breakfast but nothing was open. We did bump into a couple who had just got engaged and who asked me to take a photo. Ross had to work during the day so I returned to NYAH for breakfast and chilled by the pool. Later that evening I met up with Ross and the family at the Blue Heaven restaurant. The music was great and as we arrived a table very close to the band became vacant. It was clear from the menu that this was going to be my best meal so I ordered a starter which featured brie mixed with cream and various salad bits. The main course was fish washed down with a fine bottle of Malbec. I had become very impressed y the trumpeter so I went over to thank him. He turned out to be Kenny Fradley of Kid Creole and the Coconuts. After the meal I ventured on with Ross for more drinks. This was probably unwise as I ended up falling off a barstool onto a hard marble floor, damaging my knee caps in the process.

The following day I spent by the pool as my knees were paining me and even at the evening Mass at the Basilica I found I could not kneel! I met up with Ross’s family again and we met at The Hair of the Dog where Kenny Fradley had assembled a wonderful group of young musicians who would play there every Saturday for the foreseeable future. I got chatting with a delightful woman who knew the young lead singer better as an actress which accounted for her command of gesture and facial expression. In the same way as when one visits an art gallery sometimes one has to leave before you’ve completed the tour … the artistry is so great … and we left to tour some other drinking holes and ate a simple meal near the marina where we had bought some fine rum earlier in the week. Ross left with me the ordinary Jack Daniels bottle and I finished this with fellow travellers around the jacuzzi pool back at the hotel.

The following day I spent around the pool until it was time to leave for the airport. In the bar there I bought a few double mojitos and had some amazing conversations. The flight was on time and I arrived back at Tampa having slept most of the flight.  Later that evening I ventured out to my local and thence to bed.

On Tuesday 14 January I was back at work. It was not the easiest first day back and was followed by teaching my organ students at Jesuit but that was fine. I slept deeply and was better the next day but my knees were still troubling me. On Thursday 16 Jan I went to see the doc after work and she ordered an xray.

On Friday it was my day off so I completed my UK tax returns and paid the 14 pound payment! Later that evening I stopped at the Cornerstone for a couple of drinks and thence to the Local with Dennis for another 3 drinks. Then I got a message from Collette to join her father at a small gathering there. It was delightful and I was driven back to my home at the end of the evening.

Saturday was another work day and I managed to do more work on the liturgy for the Composers Forum (LCF). They had asked me to produce an Iona Morning Prayer.

The weekend liturgies all went well. this was surprising since I had chosen to use John Bell’s ‘ Broken Body’ as a post-communion song. I had introduced it with a spoken explanation of the pain which Christians must feel when/if they acknowledge that although Christ wanted us all to be one we are in fact a broken body. I only had one person come to me and question this choice but I expect there may be a few more who will harbour such thoughts. this reminds me so much of Walter Brueggemann’s theory that American Christians are a therapeutic society in which the prophet who sows uncomfortable thoughts is not entirely welcome.

Today, Monday, the temperatures have dropped considerably but it was still pleasant in the afternoon having spent the morning ironing a pile of washed clothes that I had tried to ignore for days. In the evening I returned to my local bar, quaffed a few vodka with water and returned to finish the fine bottle of red I had started the previous evening.

I now feel ready for the week ahead and sleep beckons.

 

Wednesday 1 January

My last blog ended with a reference to news that Graham Maule had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. This blog begins with news of Graham’s death on Sunday 29 December.

I first met Graham Maule at the LAST NIGHT OUT events of the Wild Good Resource Group of the Iona Community but never really began to know him until we shared a room in Iona Abbey during a Music & Worship week in 1998 in which Marty Haugen and I were the guest musicians. It was days before Graham ventured out of his room. His colleague John commented that he didn’t travel well!

I recall one evening when we drank, talked and laughed into the night … in fact there were several such evenings in his Edinburgh apartment too. This evening was during the annual Greenbelt Festival, a tented gathering of some 30k Christians. That night after a late evening worship session we retired to my tent which was always the largest and relaxed in the way we always did. Clearly we must have disturbed the sleep of nearby campers as one child approached with a request from her father to be quiet. That request came from a Cabinet Minister of the Scottish Government! When the sun rose the following morning Graham was found comatose half in – half out of his tent. It was difficult to see whether he had made it to the toilet or not. Later that morning I bumped into the esteemed Minister and apologized on Graham’s behalf but it seemed that he knew Graham and graciously understood. Still later that day I was taken to task by the leader of our group who had assumed that it was I who had caused the uproar and been the source of some pithy expletives to the child.

Many stories will be told of Graham both before and long after his funeral. His time with cancer was mercifully short and so most will have more positive memories of Graham than those of his colleagues, friends and family who cared for him. We will also have the recordings of his tenor singing voice. Most at ease in Scottish folksong he laid down some beautiful tracks with the WGRG and friends of their purpose.

As I type, and for the last few days his death has made my heart heavy. Barely a week will pass without my use of music with which he will have had some part in the creative process.

Tomorrow Ross, a mutual friend of Graham’s, will join me in Tampa having travelled from Glasgow prior to joining his family on a trip to Key West Florida. It will be good to light a candle for Graham at the same time as the funeral.

Christmas celebrations at St Lawrence went well. It could easily have gone pear-shaped as so many of the choir were either unavailable or ill. At the penultimate rehearsal before Christmas one singer fell badly in the car park and another became ill while she was there. In addition several sopranos would not be available. In the event I managed to entice singers from other musical groups in the parish to join us for the midnight Mass and it all went super-smoothly. At the start of every Mass I usually introduce some of the music to the people. It was a great surprise to see Val, a friend from Sheffield Cathedral days in the congregation with her son, Simon. After Mass she came up to me with tears in her eyes … my arrangement of Silent Night has that effect on folk!

The Pastor had kindly enabled me to hire another musician to cover me so that I could rest between the 4pm Vigil Mass and the Midnight and then again to lie in while the 7.30am Mass proceeded. I was then back the following morning for the three remaining Masses. I went home briefly and then joined Val with her family for a Christmas meal.

On what we Brits call ‘Boxing Day’ and the following day I relaxed and general pottered about the house. I needed to prepare for a spate of Airbnb guests. I declined one who wanted to spend almost a week from Christmas Eve and I even declined a neighbor who wanted to lodge his mother at my house! The booking on 27 December was for 4 persons who turned out to be a couple and their two mature daughters. Apart from the opening introductions I only ever saw the father who had a penchant for fine wines and rums. They were ideal guests.

On Monday 30 December I went kayaking and had the wind in my sails until the cable on my mirage drive (Hobie owners will understand) snapped and I was left at the mercy of the wind. Since it was blowing me in the direction I wished to travel it was no problem. However when I decided to return I had to abort use of the sail and paddle instead.

On New Years Eve my muscles ached after the strains of the previous day. I went into work for a few hours before playing a bilingual Mass at 5.30pm. While at work another couple who had stayed with me a few weeks earlier returned for another few days. Following this I went to a local party at which I was to offer frozen margaritas made with my Margaritaville frozen drink maker machine. Many who laughed when I first brought it to the pub were full of admiration once they tasted my potions. I had arrived at the party without a coat. The wiser locals had dressed for harsh florida winters and I was taught a lesson as the temperatures plummeted to 63f.

The party finished at 10pm and although tempted to join a few at the pub I decided that bed was wiser. I had two Masses in the morning and then a meeting with a musician colleague. Later that evening I joined friends and work colleagues for an annual bash. It was a great end to the toughest part of the Christmas Season. The rest would be downhill.

Monday 23 December

At 1.30pm on Saturday 16 November I had a funeral for a man who had been a lawyer for some big-time shady people. By 1.55pm there was still no sign of the visiting priest they had selected. Maybe he feared some reprisals, who knows? I was able to contact our own Pastor who stepped in to save the day.

The following Monday I drove to Clearwater for a lunchtime gathering of the local chapter of Pastoral Musicians. It had been cancelled once before due to a funeral and on this occasions the Chapter Director had chosen to do anther funeral rather than attend and the Secretary was ill. The person nominated to chair the meeting had no idea of what topics had been submitted for discussion and started with the usual fluffy crap. After 40 minutes I’d had enough of this as had another Music Director who described it as the same kind of car crash as the previous session we had with ILP’s publisher Vincent something Italian. I intervened and introduced the five items I had offered for the agenda and at least there was some real discussion and outcome rather than what our joys and sorrows might have been!

As I returned home from the meeting I stopped off at the Goodwill Store in Oldsmar. I had been keeping my eyes open for replacement wooden chairs for the staff kitchen table. I found an exact match and the following day this was delivered to work and our maintenance folk chose to resurface the table in their workshops. At $40 for 4 chairs and a table it was, as you might expect from me, a bargain!

On Wednesday 20 November I answered an advert about a bed for sale. These particular beds are tempurpedic and sell for about $8000. That’s a ridiculous price and one which I could not countenance. But having owned it for almost 6 months this couple were selling for $3000 so it was another bargain and was delivered on Friday 22 November.

On Thursday 21 November I had man round from Frontier to fit two further TV points (for the Airbnb rooms) and realign the wifi which had been misbehaving. See my entry for 11 and 12 December to discover how that went.

Thursday 28 November was Thanksgiving which in these parts is a big deal. In the Parish we offered a Thanksgiving meal to the homeless and lonely in addition to offering Masses which kept me occupied rather than in bed! During the afternoon I joined several friends from the pub for our own dinner at which I supplied the Margaritas via my bargain frozen drink maker.

Friday after Thanksgiving is Black Friday at which folk arrive early in the morning queue up to purchase the possible bargains from their favourite stores. I decided to take my kayak out on the waters. It was a wise decision but on the return home I hit a pothole and the hitch to my kayak trailer malfunctioned. Later I was to learn that the hitch was still usable but had to be connected in a particular way henceforth.

On Monday 2 December I got up late and started to reform my Airbnb page. I had reorganized my office within part of my very large bedroom and this meant I had 2 rooms to offer on Airbnb.

On Tuesday 3 December I had a funeral for which I and the church charged no fee. Before I arrived there had been some commotion regarding a singer who had arrived to sing the Ave Maria. I knew nothing of this and the presiding priest said she should not be allowed to sing. In the event the mother of the singer was causing such a disturbance that I took it upon myself to allow her to sing once I had ascertained that this was the wish of the family members. The priest thanked me for my diplomacy and then the mother vented her spleen against me. Both mother and daughter knew my contact details and could have alerted me to all of this prior to the event but chose not to. Both of them used to be regular members of the choir!

On Wednesday 4 December I received a booking for 4 months. His approach was by Airbnb but they blocked him because he had made it clear that he wished to continue of that network. I had his Christian name, the town where he lived in Canada and the fact that he was a hopeful distance runner for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. He was not difficult to track down and we spoke face to face later that night. My place was particularly attractive since only around the corner is his chosen gym, and training ground. His personal trainer would visit to stay on a couple of occasions during the four months.

On Thursday 5 December and the following day two friends from the local came to install and 8X12ft decking complete with TREX surface and two electric outlets. They did a great job and it is wonderful to look out and see patios furniture looking just proud to be on it!

I was determined to take some time off work during the next week but at the same time to complete much of the Christmas and New Year preparations while the other staff were there to assist. Our Pastor had generously given us all additional days vacation which amount to an extended time off over Christmas and the New Year. As ever I would not be able to take these as I would be working in the church over this period. It presents a dilemma for our HR people who often want there to be no exceptions. Anyhow I ended up working 13 hours on Sunday but completed the task.

On Tuesday 10 December I was able to complete an arrangement of a Christmas Carol and a translation from the latin of a movement from Charpentier’s Christmas Cantata. Then later that afternoon as usual I went to the Jesuit High School but on this occasion not to teach my scholarship students but to offer an organ recital. I played ‘Carillon de Westminster’ by Vierne and the ‘Magnificat Fugue of Bach. My students offered works by Couperin, Bach, Clerambault and Zipoli.

At Choir practice on Wednesday 11 December we welcomed Donna as a new member. However it was not a productive rehearsal as many were missing and then one old gent fell and banged his head in the car park and another lady became ill. This is one of the challenges of having an elderly choir. Illness are all around but they are a great bunch of people! I returned home opened a bottle of wine and prepared to relax in front of the tv watching a film on Netflix. I had no internet and no matter what I tried there was no success so I rang the provider Frontier. After 45 minutes the engineer had no success too and could only offer an engineer visit on Saturday morning. I had a guest arriving for 3 nights on Thursday so there was some urgency. I awoke and rag Frontier again at 8am and managed to get a really helpful engineer with much experience. But he too was banging his head against the wall and in the end suggested I drive to the Frontier store and exchange my router unit for a new one. I was there when they opened at 10am and had it all wired up when the engineer rang again at 11am. After an hour on the phone neither of us were having success so he expedited (that’s what they do in USA) an engineer to call hoping that this might be sooner than Saturday.

This week all the signs of Autumn are here. We had fog yesterday and today the leaves are falling and they’re all ending up in my pool! The temperatures have been in the low 80sF but there is a breeze in the air today which offers a certain welcome freshness to the normally humid experience.

This has been a strange month. It has been the first time since I have been here that I have experienced living from pay check to pay check. Don’t become worried for me … that happens when you spend $3000 on a bed, $2500 on lounge furniture, $2000 on a deck, $850 on the car in addition to all the usual bills. On the positive side the expenditure was all on bargains (apart from the car) and I was also able t book a holiday: 6 nights in Key West at the start of January!

The engineer arrived early on Saturday and quickly dismissed the telephone engineer advice as inadequate but then became dumbfounded himself! An hour later he had solved the issue and I was back online. By midday I was in work again and further prepared for the period after Christmas.

I had a wedding on Saturday 14 December after the Vigil Mass. It was a little unusual in that a young girl played the piano for the two entrance processions. When the bride arrived she did not look happy. They had a relative who was a deacon and he presided although he was legally blind. This might be why he missed some worrying moments like their failure to look at each other as they exchanged vows, to hold hands (they shook hands once at the point they should have exchanged vows while holding hands). It was all done and dusted within 30 minutes. I hope the marriage lasts considerably longer!

On Sunday afternoon I knew I was ill and by evening I had no voice. On Monday I had a free day so once the guy had been to fix some problems with the pool I went off kayaking at Caladesi Island. There was a good wind at first so I had an enjoyable sail until the wind dropped completely and I had to rely on the pedals.

The last complete week before Christmas is always one of trying to arrange last minute preparations around office parties etc. I always prefer to have done most of my work before this final week and by and large I managed this. The choir practice on Wednesday went really well and having lured some singers from other Masses the soprano section was looking healthy.

I had another wedding on Saturday 21 December. It started late but didn’t last long. I still had little voice so just had to play them in and out! Then began the weekend Masses and fortunately most had a Cantor so I did not have to abuse what little voice I had. I was feeling really tired due I’m sure to whatever illness I was enduring.

On Monday 23 December I stayed at home for my day off. It had rained heavily during the night and was continuing into the afternoon. Earlier in the morning I received a message from a friend that a mutual friend is in the closing stages of living with lung cancer. Perhaps the only comfort in times like this is that God is with us. God will be especially close to Graham and to those who care for him.

Friday 15 November

Today I awoke really early and among other things (read on) I realised that I have not posted a blog for two months! Sorry readers.

Annual return to UK

For two weeks in October I returned to UK to visit friends and family. On arrival at the airport I went to collect a Peugeot 308 rental car but was informed that a Mercedes would be only one pound more per day. I’d never even dreamed of driving a Mercedes but jumped at the chance. A few hours later I parked the car in order to buy mum some flowers and ‘kerbed’ the alloy wheels. Later when in Sheffield I took the car to a dealer to have the wheels repaired at a far lesser cost than returning a damaged car to the rental agency!

Armed with flowers I discovered that mum was not so well so I spent much time with her. By coincidence the day after my arrival my niece Bethan was giving an Emfest Concert, an event in memory of her sister Emily who had died about 5 years earlier. It was a wonderful night with great entertainment. I marvelled as Bethan even sung a poignant song about Emily.

I did manage to visit friends in Leicester and then spent two days in Sheffield checking out my house. A friend reminded me that this was supposed to be a holiday so rather than stay with a friend on the outskirts of the city I decided to investigate Airbnb. I found an apartment in the centre of the city right next to the Anglican Cathedral. When I enquired one evening the cost was 130 pounds per night. By next morning it was only 61 pounds. Bargain! The house was fine but the gardens had been let go and were very overgrown. This worried me so I visited the agents to see what was going on. On a further visit to the house I decided to extract all my organ music from the cabinet in which all my music is stored. Later I arranged to send 4 boxes of music to Tampa at a cost of 440 pounds!

My visit was so last minute that I was unable to visit many of my closest friends but was able to catch up with Helen and Gary and bump into a few familiar faces from the cathedral where I used to work.

On my return to my mum’s I was able to take her to Southampton and Guildford to visit brothers and spent the last night with Chris, Sue and Bethan in a gastro pub.

Re-discovering the organist within me

On Sunday 3 November having arranged cover for the 7pm Mass I went instead to support the parish outreach to students at Tampa University. Our parochial vicar presided at Mass and I was asked to provide the music. The university’s Sykes Chapel has an amazing organ so I was asked to play a prelude, offertoire and sortie of Bach, Marchand and Dupre. I got there early so that I could enjoy the instrument which I certainly did!

Flooding in UK

On Thursday 7 November I received a video clip from England. Later I discovered it was from the tenant in my house in Sheffield. UK had been experiencing torrential rainfall which was being described as biblical and Sheffield was the worst hit area. The lights had gone out briefly in the house so the tenant had gone to the basement to check the fuse cabinet only to discover the it was flooded. In the basement as well as a washing machine and fridge freezer there are also many of my kitchen belongings and clothes neatly stored in cardboard boxes placed on pallets. This provision was not enough to counter over two foot of water. I called the insurance but they would not be able to send anyone out until Monday 11 November. The tenant knew someone with a water pump and began pumping out water the following morning.

A new bed?

I have noticed in the past that when I felt down or had a massive hangover I used to make rash purchases. I now see this habit continuing to this day. I had responded to an advert offering a 6-week old $8000 king size tempurapedic bed for $3500. This wet my appetite so I visited Haverty’s, a high end store, to investigate further. The saleswoman also explained how much cheaper the purchase could be if I were to purchase the mattress from the main brand and buy the base from another supplier. I love a bargain and told her so. She then introduced me to what she claimed was the bargain of the store. To be fair I had for a while been musing about replacing a sofa which a friend had given me, but when she showed me a very high end sofa reduced by over $1000 I was hooked. It was then taken away to be spray protected and delivered on Wednesday 6 November.

By Saturday I returned to the store to purchase the remaining two items of the set, an armchair and a chaise long also at greatly reduced prices. Why were they reduced? Because the manufacturers had brought out a different colour! This is America at its most stupid.

I then decided that I would advertise two other high end sofas which I had bought from a neighbor two years earlier but had found to be uncomfortable and placed them in the bedroom instead. Perhaps I had advertised them at too high a price as they did not sell immediately. After four days I decided to contact an amazing business called ‘Missing Piece’. They would value the items themselves and find a buyer.

Musical Challenges

On Tuesday afternoon I went to teach my Zipoli organ scholars at Jesuit. The High School had decided to hold a mini-organ recital at which both scholars would play two pieces. Between them they selected Couperin, Bach, Clerambault and Zipoli (the Jesuit composer after whom the scholarship is named). I would also be expected to add a piece of my own … probably Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster or the opening movement from Vierne’s 2nd Symphony. The recital would take place on 10 December.

Garden plans

I had Thursday off work and awoke early enough to do some work around the house. At coffee time Kathi from the choir arrived. She had been a Trojan gardener when I moved in and completely redesigned my gardens. She was here to see how things were progressing and left me with plenty of ideas. This meant a trip to Home Depot for various gardening products. I dropped into the bar on the way home and spoke with my handyman, Dennis about building a deck to accommodate my garden table and chairs. As the discussion continued we got onto Airbnb and the idea struck me to move my office into one end of my huge bedroom and to offer a further bedroom as Airbnb. Exciting stuff.

Things going bump in the night

I went to bed early but did not sleep well so by 4.30am I was moving furniture, computers and digital piano from the office and as I type now at 7am I am established in the new location! I had a funeral at midday so feeling like death warmed up would probably be a bonus!

Friday 30 August

Wow! Another blog only 4 days after the last. Something must be afoot? And it is!

You’ve probably already heard that hurricane Dorian is gathering pace and intensity and heading for my house. To be fair it will affect the whole state of Florida and more besides.

It is unlikely that I’ll be evacuated. During Irma I was evacuated from my apartment close to the sea only to reach the house I had bought two days earlier with a chair, a plastic sun lounger for sleeping, a radio and 4 bottles of wine. As readers will recall Irma sent a tree into my roof and I have only recently completed the repairs.

Since Irma I have a new roof, new tiled ground floor, new patio doors, hurricane proof windows (!) and have regretfully had to remove most of the trees from the property as they were becoming dangerous. I still have the mighty oak in the front garden but a limb fell from that on Monday!

Yesterday I visited the local supermarket and there was madness. Shelves were emptying and water was being rationed. I only needed a few bottles of water. I normally drink from the tap but water can become impure during these situations. They would only allow me to take a case of 24 bottles and then insisted I take another because it was BOGO! Ridiculous eh?

I have a bbq as everyone does over here so if I need to cook I’ll be able to. In fact I have a joint of pork grilling away now even though there is torrential rain right now.

On Tuesday I collected Rose from Tampa Greyhound Station. I had met Rose 5 years ago at a Society of St Gregory Summer School at Worth Abbey. I was one of the speakers. She must have remembered me and having moved from the Columban Mission in Birmingham was now serving as a lay missionary in El Paso. Much of her work centred on immigration from Mexico and beyond to USA.  I’ve always tried to be hospitable in the past so her request to stay for a couple of days in between visiting relatives in N Florida and a retreat with the Benedictines at St Leo Abbey was accepted. I had promised to take her kayaking but I only managed to get a few yards down the road when the trailer fell off the hitch which would not engage. I beat an undignified return and instead we did some gardening in between bottles of Prosecco! In the evening we went out for meal and returned for more wine and a game of Monopoly which, note my family, I won of course!

On Thursday morning I dropped Rose at the retreat house at St Leo Abbey and since it was gloriously sunny I headed for the beach as any wise Floridian would!

Later that evening I found myself in the neighbourhood bar. One of the locals walked in and immediately caused some concern. He seemed disorientated and was just skin and bones. I don’t think he been eating. The bar did not serve food but they found some nuts and a sweet drink before allowing him to proceed to beer. Since I had earlier dispensed some Ibuprophen to a gent who had terrible back ache I was feeling rather like a medical practitioner! For my own part I dispensed a few vodkas with water.

Yesterday I received an email from a senior member of staff of our school requesting that I include some of the older girls’ favourites in the music list for September. This is just symptomatic of  a prevailing attitude which determines that ‘they must have what they want because they are paying fees and we must keep them happy’. Poppycock. And I would not mind but the request came with several misspelt words. I would have expected that an educational establishment knew the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’!

Well the usual August afternoon storm has passed for the time being and the joint of pork is cooked so I’ll nip out soon and rescue it.

Tuesday is the day when I’ll be asking for prayers. The hurricane is forecast to strike the east coast sometime during the early morning and will affect Tampa later in the day.  Forecasts can always be wrong but there is a science to this and all the models show it affecting Tampa. When it turns will determine how deep I ‘hunker down’. I have a collection of candles, torches, batteries and radio all ready to be engaged and a good book about how the concerns of the multinationals have dominated American politics for years. That should take my mind off things.

See you the other side of what Trump calls ‘a monster’.

Monday 26 August

Since my last post the weather really picked up with temperatures in the mid 90sF. Accompanying this were some pretty spectacular storms but this is all good for the garden which, I have to admit, is looking quite healthy. It’s August and you can expect a lot of rain.

On Wednesday 21st I went in and played for the school Mass and did some more admin before leaving the office around midday to get the second of two immunizations for shingles. The first produced a bad reaction and I was fearful of the same. I got a slight fever and joints ached but I’d already decided to take the day off and get through the time by watching Netflix. In the event Frontier’s internet provision went down for 36 hours and I was unable to use this as a distraction!

On Sunday 25 August I arrived at church for the first Mass at which I also had to serve as Cantor. At the end of Mass Lei Ray Yu came up to me. I had met her and her husband Brandon during an NPM at an Italian restaurant in Cincinatti at the invitation of Paul Inwood. A few months ago I learned that Brandon had accepted the music job at nearby St Ignatius, Tarpon Springs.  I had reached out to his wife to cover an absence from St Lawrence in October and she had come along to hear how our Masses went. It was a delight to have her company for 3 Masses and I look forward to future encounters.

This coming week I have taken time off work in order to host a Columban Lay Missionary from El Paso. El Paso has joined a growing number of places which have become associated with a mass shooting. Unfortunately the weather looks as though it will change for the worse: more rain I suspect and thunderstorms. This could rule out the planned kayak excursion.

Friday 16 August

My last blog ended with me going out to The Local to take advantage of the double bogo. I dropped into the Cornerstone for a couple before visiting the local where a friend bought me a double G&T then I did the same with my double BOGO and then returned with friends to the Cornerstone. Thankfully one of the friends offered me a lift home!

In the last blog I also mentioned having acquired (for free) a 2-drawer filing cabinet. The saga continues because I heard that the parish school was disposing of various items including a 5-drawer lateral filing cabinet. Such items cost more that $1000 so it hurt that the school had considered dumping it. I put my name on it and returned to the office to consider what would have to go. I chose a shelving unit which although of good quality was not really serving my purposes. As I trundled out into the corridor it struck me that the closest place to repatriate it would be the staff kitchen. Having removed an old piece of junk furniture there was room there. Then the Kitchen Action Group of Audrey and myself swung into action. 3 hours later we had transformed the kitchen and there were three boxes of useless pot lids etc destined for the charity shops. A few days later I bought a set of dinner plates (from Goodwill) for the staff kitchen.

In the last blog I also mentioned how I often found all manner of alternative activity rather than tidy the office in my house. Well, I have just installed some signal boosters and am now able to get on the internet with greater ease. Previously the signal was being blocked by 2 air conditioning units! Tidying the office will be the next step after completing this edition of the blog!

Yesterday at Goodwill I found a carton with a self-assembly shelving unit. I bought it and spent an hour putting it together. This was not as easy as it could have been since the only thing missing from the box was the instruction booklet. A quick phone call to the manufacturer had them sent to my email. Now I have somewhere to showcase my cookbooks and my electric martini maker.

About two weeks ago I got an insect bit on my right knee cap. These things normally disappear but it didn’t and I was getting some stiffening of the leg muscles. This morning I visited the doctor who diagnosed it by sight as a fungal infection. I felt a bit of a wimp but he assured me I had done the right thing. Florida is almost tropical and hosts any number of dodgy critters. I should know in 3 weeks if his diagnosis and remedy were correct.

Since I had to collect the medicine from the pharmacy I also agreed to have a flu jab while I was there. My insurance would cover this and for the trouble the pharmacy gave me a $10 voucher which I then spent on a BOGO bacon pack. While we are on the subject of jabs, about 5 months ago I got immunised for shingles. I suffered a terrible reaction the following day which was a Sunday. I didn’t even make it through the first Mass before I went home to bed. The shingles treatment is in two stages and I have booked stage 2 for tomorrow Saturday. We will see if I get the same reaction.

During the last week I had two major church events. The first was the patronal feast of St Lawrence. I had already written a hymn to open all the English speaking Masses and translated it for use at the Spanish Mass. Then I published an article in our bulletin and replicated it on the parish website along with the music and a recording. I was very pleased to discover that so many had listened to it prior to the Mass. The 11am Mass was a bilingual one and was followed by a parish barbecue for over 1000 people! I didn’t get to it until after the next Mass and the food had cooled down somewhat. I also prepared an updated version of the psalm for St Lawrence feast day in both bilingual and English editions.

This weekend had a moment of sadness as one of my most dedicated Cantors sang with us for the last time. He had chosen to explore life with the Franciscans and to see whether there was a future for him as a lay brother.

A few days later we had the second major event: the Assumption with another bilingual Mass and the creation of another bilingual psalm as well as a Grail text edition of the English psalm.

I found myself remembering my dad this week as I combed my hair one morning. He always used brylcream to keep everything in place and a well-meaning fellow drinker had offered me advice to try something similar. So now each morning I apply a bit of gel and think of my dad. This morning I ventured into a different hairdressers. The owner, also a fellow drinker at the Cornerstone pub nextdoor, greeted me at the door and immediately set about doing what hairdressers do best. 15 minutes later I was out and feeling much neater.

Have a great weekend. It’s the double BOGO challenge at The Local again tonight so I know where I’ll be. Now I have a few hours to tidy my office!