Thursday, 16 June 2016

Carlos V.

I have just finished watching Carlos Rey Emperador. It has taken me two months to do so, but at my rate of watching stuff, that is quite good. This Spanish TV series of 2015 has 17 episodes, each of 75-80 minutes.
With a production style similar to that of modern soap operas, it is, nevertheless, very well made. The costumes and settings are particularly good, as is the acting. However, the episodes can become somewhat boring, as each scene inevitably portrays yet another domestic, studio-produced conversation between historical characters. Nonetheless, the vast career of this series grew on me as I watched. My favourite scene was at the end of Episode 16 when the Emperor retires to the Monastery of Yuste. The actual monastery was used, to great effect, in the filming of this scene.
Somewhat typically for historical dramas, history is manipulated. This production contained exceptionally good, and exceptionally bad parts. The worst, I think, was the portrayal of young Philip II just before his first marriage, and on the night of his first marriage. This portrayal marred badly the overall production.  
The actor, Alvaro Cervantes, who played the part of Carlos V, did so extremely well; in fact he was superb in the part. What particularly impressed me was the way in which he  aged as the series continued. It is hard to make a young man look like an old man, even with all the make-up. But the way that this actor portrayed the role, as the character became older, was remarkable. Carlos V is, after all, the most powerful ruler that the West has known.
I also felt that the viewer did need to have a fairly good understanding of history. Famous characters routinely appeared in scenes without any introduction. Once I realised this, I kept my mobile phone close by, and found Wikipedia to be an invaluable aid for identifying them and thus better appreciating the scenes in this epic production. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

Renovation 12.

On 25th April this year, with the evening sun picking out some colour, I took this photo. The renovation work is essentially complete, and I await the establishing of a new equilibrium in the ecology of the pond, through the use of the filter and the growth of plants in the water.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Renovation 11.

I took this photo on 20th April this year. The pond looks really well finished off with the Marsh Marigold in glorious bloom. You can see the gill nets which Rob and I fitted over much of the surface of the pond. Unfortunately these are a necessity; I haven't seen a heron near the garden since the nets were set in place.
The pond has the original five goldfish, together with five new ones. The frogs spawned profusely in March and by the time this photo was taken, the pond was 'newt city'!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Renovation 10.

This photo was taken on 2nd April 2016. You can see the work Rob and I had done to finish off the edge of the pond with stones. This work involved a careful assessment of the water level round the entire circumference, so as to create a neat and level edge. We achieved this by creating an overflow in the bottom corner of the pond - which is out of picture. I'll endeavour to take a picture of this for a future post.
You can also see the small waterfall at the head of the pond, which is a lovely feature in both the movement and the sound it creates. I have a 2200 pump which feeds water into a large bio-filter, positioned behind the bamboo leaves (in the photo), and then, by gravity, to the simple water fall. I'll take a picture of this too.
BTW, the pond has a volume of 30,000 lts. It's quite a big one!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Renovation 9.

Although Rob and I did some work over the winter, trimming the edges of the liner and placing edging stones, the next pic was taken on 4th March 2016 after a light snow.
You can see the pond now clearly delineated, and the gill nets dragged by ice and snow onto the surface of the pond. But all is well.
To the bottom right you can just see the stone fire pit where I make paellas in the warmer months on a wood fire.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Renovation 8.

It was 3rd November 2016 before Rob and I reconvened. You can see in the photo above that there is now about a foot of water in the pond. This rise in level was due to rain and to ground water pumped up from the well. We had stretched gill nets over the pond to protect the fish from herons.
Our work that day consisted principally in collecting soil to build up the two new banks, after their original level had settled.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Renovation 7.

At last the day came for us to put the new liner in place, laying on top of the old one. This was on 23rd October 2015. 
In the photo above you can see a large object in the pond. This was an old plant tub made of durable plastic and which Rob had opened the bottom of, intending it to be a refuge for the fish.
Once the liner was in place we were able to empty three water butts of rain water, and pump the contents of a well into the pond; in all, about 1000 litres. We put back the five goldfish which had survived the herons' visits, together with large clumps of the oxygenating weed.
At the end of the day there was about 8 inches of water in the bottom of the pond, and within minutes of being introduced the fish were enthusiastically exploring every inch of their new habitat.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Renovation 6.

On Thursday 22nd October 2015 Rob and I met again to complete the building up of the two new banks. Once satisfied that we had put enough rock and soil in place, with the right contours, and had faced it with old pieces of carpet, we put the old liner back into the pond. Here it would act as an under-liner for the new one.
You can see from this picture how clean we had managed to get the old liner before putting it back it in virtually the same orientation that it had previously occupied.
I should say that during all this time we had perfect weather for the job. Apart from some rain which fell during the weekend, we had clear, sunny days, and temperatures of about 13C.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Renovation 5.

It was the following Tuesday, 20th October 2015, when Rob and I re-convened. I should say that each day we worked on this project, we spent up to three hours working together - between five and a half and six man-hours.

By the end of Tuesday 20th the two new banks were built up. You can see in the above photo a length of red carpet which we used to maintain the bank on the near side. You can also see a length of black hose leading into the empty pond cavity. This would stay in that place under the new liner and act as a release conduit for water accumulating under the liner.
We hoped that by replacing the old liner, which had indeed been leaking, we could cure the build-up of so much water under the liner.
The old liner had been rained on a few times over the weekend and, together with some scrubbing down from Rob and I, was now more or less clear of sediment on its upper side.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Renovation 4.

Overnight on 16th October it rained quite a bit. Rob and I were glad because the old liner would get a good soaking and make it easier for us to clear all the sediment from it. Sadly, I didn't take any photos of the old liner being cleaned. But during the next day, 17th October, we set to with brushes and a hose pipe, and did our best to remove more of the mud.
We also worked again on the two new banks that we were establishing for the pond. The photo below shows the results of our work that day. The new bank on the far side of the pond is a little clearer in this pic. And you can see water still pooling in the pond cavity.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Renovation 3.

Next day,16th October 2015, Rob and I faced the hardest job of all; we decided to take the old liner out of the pond and lay it out so that we could clean it more thoroughly. We needed every ounce of strength to drag the liner out and across the grass to an open space where we could lay it out. There was still sediment on the upper side, and mud clung to the underside - it weighed a ton!
Our hope was that if it rained the upper side of the liner would get a good wash.
We were interested to see that water was already pooling in the open pond, and it soon became clear that the top soil of the garden was laid over a solid seam of clay.
We then began a new task. We had decided to make the pond a little smaller by creating two new banks. Our work would result in reducing the size of the pond from being an irregular 6m diameter circle, to being 6m in one axis, and 5m in the other.
We started on the far bank, placing first rocks and then soil to build a new bank. You can just make out, in the photo above, the new soil (and rocks) which we put in place along an eight or nine foot segment along the far side of the pond. This was another back-breaking task which ended the third day's work.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Renovation 2.

The following day, 15th October 2015, Rob and I emptied all the sludge out of the pond by hand. We used a bucket and a washing-up bowl to scoop out the knee-high sediment, which we then spread all over the garden among the plants and bushes - back-breaking work. In two and half hours we had just about cleared all the mud out.
Having revealed the liner we were able to make an inspection for puncture holes. We found a few holes, two of them on the pond sides were about an inch long - yes, there had indeed been a slow leak.
As we gazed at huge expanse of exposed liner we knew that the next day's work was already presented; we would have to clean up the old liner quite a bit more.

Friday, 22 April 2016


Here in the presbytery garden at St Ignatius' there is a wonderful pond, which was created by one of my predecessors twenty five years ago. Last year, 2015, the pond was so over-grown that I even launched an inflatable into it so that I could do some weeding.
I also suspected that the pond liner was leaking. The question then was, should I attempt a small clearing up job, or should I replace the liner. 
The pond is an irregular circle with a diameter of 6 meters, so emptying the pond and replacing the liner would not be an insignificant task. This is what I decided to do.
With the help of Rob, from the parish, the two of us began this huge work of renovation on 14th October 2015. We pumped some of the water out of the pond so that we could catch the fish. I should say, at this point, that there had been nine good-sized goldfish and one large dark fish in the pond. We retrieved only five goldfish - the herons had taken the rest. The pond is also full of frogs and common newts.
This is how the pond looked after our first day of work:
By the time we started work on the pond the newts had already migrated into the garden to overwinter; many of the frogs on the other hand, made their own escape out of the pond as we worked, others tried to conceal themselves in the deep mud, hoping that we hadn't seen them. 
Having pumped much of the water out, we discovered that there was about 16 inches of sludge and sediment right across the bottom of the pond. No wonder the weeds were so prolific! We would have to remove all of this by hand. It suddenly became became clear to us the size of the job which we had undertaken.
To be continued.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

A very happy birthday ...

… to our dear Queen, Elizabeth II. She is our longest lived monarch. May God bless her on her ninetieth birthday, and through her, the whole nation.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Undimmed witness.

The memorial to the martyrs of Durham is by the small roundabout on Framlingate, north of the city and close to Durham City Hall. The memorial (photo above) could easily be missed, so it is better to park the car and walk over to see it. The inscription reads: "Without doubt these priests were martyrs to God."
It is good that this memorial exists, but the place where six priests and three laymen gave their greatest witness is a quarter or a mile further north, on the very crest of the hill. Here, nineteen years ago a gully named 'Dryburn' was filled in with ballast so that a new hospital, The North Durham University Hospital could be built.
On this arial photograph of the hospital, somewhere in the top part of the picture stood the ancient gallows of Dryburn, which was last used in 1805. Here on 27th May 1590, Frs Richard Hill, John Hogg, Richard Holiday and Edmund Duke were hung, drawn and quartered. These four were beatified by Pope St John Paul II in 1987.
On 4th February 1594, Mr John Speed was hung for having assisted Fr John Boste.
Then on 24th July 1594, Fr John Boste was hung, drawn and quartered. He was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
Then on 9th August 1600 Fr Thomas Palaser was hung, drawn and quartered, and Mr John Newton and Mr John Talbot were hung. Fr Palaser and Mr Talbot were beatified by Pope St John Paul II in 1987.
What a record! What a blessed site for healing!
All these martyrs would have been held, before execution, in the old Gaol, which was the then north Gate of the old city of Durham, part of which still exists just behind the shops near where Owengate and Saddler Street meet.
Also, we must include Fr Thomas Plumtree, who took part in the Northern Rising of 1569 and celebrated Mass in Durham Cathedral. He was captured and hung, drawn and quartered in the the Market Place at Durham on 4th January 1570. He was beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.
The Market Place (photo above) is as busy as ever, but holds no memorial to Durham's first saint.
All these martyrs are commemorated in the beautiful Church of St Godric, just to the west of the old city, and where there is Eucharistic Adoration every day.

May the life and witness of these ten men be a light for many, a light that will never grow dim.