Back to earth – life after the Calpe retreat

Sunday 21 – Saturday 27 June 2015

download (13)So last blog week began midway through the Calpe retreat that happens every two years. I think I can honestly say this was the best of the four or five I have attended. So good for a number of reasons and I have tried to detail why in the separate ’15 top things’ blog. For me the key thing about a retreat is not escaping from the world to the middle of nowhere, that creates a false security, and the Calpe retreat is good because it takes place in a busy tourist town. I feel retreats are something that need to be taken into the ‘normal’ world and the real task is how to do this? Two practical things I think I took away were some books to read and the need to restart attending church on a more regular basis.

The wound of separation

download (11)Our Wounded Healers theme continued on the previous Sunday morning with the life of Brother Roger of Taize. Taize is a chant-type singing / praying that is both accessible and powerful. Brother Roger himself had a fascinating life that was influenced by the division he saw after WW2. He set up an ecumenical community in France that has effectively now become a place of pilgrimage. He was very concerned with stopping division and tried to encourage the healing of the divide between churches. A very inspirational man who built something from nothing, the tragedy being that he was publicly murdered at prayer by a mentally unbalanced individual.

Skipped lunch again in an attempt to not eat too much and took a long walk around the salt pans in Calpe where birds congregate. A nature area in itself that was once marshland, it is impressive to see where nature has retaken some man-made structures within its boundaries. A longer walk than I expected but I did find a motorbike-themed cafe on the other side. No beach today – too busy plus I was still nursing some sunburn. I watched a film on the life of Brother Roger which, if I am honest, was too anodyne and I drifted off in parts. Blog for previous week done trying to tread the line between explaining how much the retreat meant to me without breaking confidences. Dinner together at the down-market port restaurant and then a walk under the penon (big rock) that dominates the town. Shown a new app that I downloaded (Sky Lite) which allows one to see the position of the constellations in the night sky.

The wound of guilt

download (9)Monday was the final workshop day as Tuesday is about having time to oneself. We finished with the life of Mychal Judge a gay but celibate Franciscan priest who was a chaplain to the New York Fire Service and one of the first deaths at 9/11 (the image here shows his body being carried away from the Twin Towers site). Very moving and inspirational, I decided to stay for the post-coffee discussion for the first time during the retreat; some moving stories and thoughts. I also took lunch with everyone else as I was hungry and downloaded the Jesuit app ‘Pray as You Go’ which provides a podcast each day to listen to – recommended. A quick burst of sun on the beach though I found out later that the film of Mychal’s life I missed was actually very good – oh well win some lose some. Attended mass as I did every retreat day and it was the usual mixture of contemplation and beautiful voices. Dinner was back to the more upmarket restaurant for the last time and I had sole again – I can honestly say I haven’t eaten as much fish in one go as I did last week. Back for conversation and songs but I was too tired.

The Feast Day of St John the Baptist – reflection time

download (12)So the penultimate retreat day was marked, as the whole week was, with beautiful sunshine. There were no workshops with time to do whatever people felt appropriate. Breakfast together then I spent time on the beach lying in the sun and thinking. Indoors and I had planned to go back to the beach in the afternoon but cloud came over so I stayed in before attending our farewell mass. I really enjoyed the masses and they made me feel like I needed to start going back to church on a regular basis despite the treatment by some in the wider church of LGBT people. Cooked and shared dinner together at the retreat house and gave out our gifts for the retreat organisers. Feast day of St John the Baptist so people paddled in the water at midnight alongside a bonfire and fireworks – Spain does fiestas and Saints’ Days so well.

Goodbye, see you again in two years’ time hopefully

Final day. Breakfast together and some left straight after. People going throughout the day so lots of hugs. I was not leaving till after lunch so  time on the beach, had a farewell coffee at Cafe Playa, and then back to do some cleaning – a shared duty of us all. Across to Alicante airport and one of life’s beautiful coincidences bumping into Rob who manages one of my abstinence based recovery projects in the north of England; he had been on a yoga retreat. Decent flight and journey back to London getting to Dave’s place around 9pm. He was away on work duties so we had a phonecall and he reminded me to water all his plants (as well as sorting the washing and doing my meds).

And so back to normal

images (10)Thursday and Friday were all about getting back to normal but trying to keep the good stuff from the retreat. I saw mum on Thursday morning who was still in a lot of pain and relatively immobile because of her leg; she is seeing her GP regularly so I am not sure what else can be done. Then back to the gym and it was good to be back. And in the afternoon my return to the office, I think the best thing I can say is how nice it was to see my colleagues. Tons of emails to deal with and a fairly urgent phonecall. I did manage to leave just before 5 and spent the evening with mum particularly catching up on Emmerdale.

Paper prototyping workshop

Friday I pottered because had to be in the office by 11 and so there really was not time to get to the gym. Alongside some colleagues, I ran a Tech for Good workshop for the Queen’s Young Leaders all about creating personas / characters and then looking at possible digital solutions to their problems through paper prototyping. All went well and it was nice to meet the inspirational four young women from Mauritius, Zambia and South Africa. Fascinating to hear about where they live and what they are trying to change. Big thanks to my colleagues from NeonTribe and Working with Joe who helped out massively in ensuring the workshop was good. Managed to get out of office around 6. Dave arrived back and we met for a catch up meal. All OK until he realised he lost his bank card so had to phone and cancel. Watched a bit of Glastonbury though bed by 11.

We need to stand up to bigots and stop turning the other cheek

Saturday up and out to gym. Armed Forces Day and Pride in London as well. I used to attend Pride but I’m not in the mood so much now, not sure I really like all the crowds. Walking back to Dave’s I did encounter a group of nasty Christians (like the Westboro Baptist Church) who had placed themselves on the Pride route deliberately to antagonise. I am tired of turning the other cheek and had a go at them explaining out loud that ‘God created me gay and loves me as I am’. Preacher’s response was that being gay wasn’t genetic thus God didn’t create gay people (and thus cannot love what he has not created). Told them they were all sad and they were – average age of about 70 with really bad dress sense. Rest of day spent chilling in the sun and reading plus catching up on ‘Jonathan Strange’ and ‘Vicious’ missed whilst in Spain and flitting in and out of Glastonbury. Must admit, the line-up this year felt pretty weak to me. – Kanye West, please?!

Health and efficiency 

Exercise on the retreat limited to walking and back in London gym only achieved on Thursday and Saturday. Both times constituted decent all-over workouts with +5km on the rowing machine and some weight-training. I did have a fall on the retreat and hurt my wrist. Only started realising how tender it still is when I did certain exercises that used to be easy such as press-ups and dips. I think I am going to have to nurse the wrist back to wellness. Can’t be sure what happened to my weight on holiday as my scales are not working, they need new batteries. And my hayfever is kicking off; interesting in that it was worse in London – due to the pollution?

Personal development

No DuoLingo last week, I was still relying on my Spanish immersion whilst in Calpe and just ain’t been time since getting back to London. Digitally, main step forward was watching some more of the Narayan tutorial on the ever brilliant YouTube; this did teach me some new stuff around using images. As a side note, I have had troubles this week logging into my WordPress site – anyone else?


download (14)Finished ‘Seventy Seven Clocks’ by Christopher Fowler which was a perfectly good read if slightly unbelievable even with being set in the other world that was 1973. Whilst still on the retreat I moved onto Rupert Smith’s ‘Interlude’. He is a great modern gay writer and this was a clever book inter-twining two stories with the modern one being very realistic about the way some relationships go. And so to ‘Captain Alatriste’ by Arturo Perez-Reverte whose ‘The Siege’ I read and loved recently. Alatriste is a seventeenth century swordsman based in Madrid during the reign of Philip IV (pictured). Wonderfully reminiscent of seventeenth century life and more complex than its small number of pages would suggest. First in a series and I look forward to reading the others.



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