We were on holiday in Madeira and on returning to the hired car, found a ticket on the windscreen with a parking fine. To park, it seems, cost €1.50, but we had not seen the ticket machine. The fine was €150. I was distressed.

I had been reading an inspiring book, “Care of the Soul” by Thomas Moore. In it the author points out your responsibility to look after your own happiness and psychological wellbeing, and explains how to do it. “Tending the things around us and becoming sensitive to the importance of home, daily schedule, and maybe even the clothes we wear, are ways of caring for the soul”, to give ordinary life depth and value.

I have always used a fountain pen and ink for marking and for writing letters, and had decided that now, in my sixties, I’d save up to buy a really nice pen.

Parker Sonnet Fougere silver

It turned out to be a Parker Sonnet pen made of solid silver with a gold-and-platinum engraved nib and pretty gold trim. I could get a second-hand one for £230. Paying a €150 fine would wipe out what I’d saved. Laura pointed out that if I could afford to pay a €150 fine I could afford the pen, so just go ahead and buy it when I got home. Sensible.

Well, when we got back to our rented apartment Janet rang the owner to ask for help how to pay the fine and he said the €150 was accumulated parking fines on the car; ours was €6. Laura said, “There you are, dad.”

Then my mind turned over the idea, why spend so much on a pen to write letters that no-one would reply to? Janet said that’s not the point, you are not writing to get a reply, just to enjoy the experience of writing and sending the letter.

Parker steel Falcon

Also I don’t need a silver pen just to write a diary, the steel Falcon I have with a beautiful hi-tech integrated nib has been great for decades.

But still that soul issue lurked. Long story short, I treated myself. The pen sits in a little pool of light on top of the diary on my desk, so I see it many times every day as I walk past, it’s part of my environment. I use it daily and refill it with brown ink every two weeks; doing so makes me content and gives my writing time more richness. I savour using my Sonnet.

You have to be mindful of the things that make you happy and make an extra effort to do things that make you happier each day.

 For me it also means making good dinners and sitting down for a proper family meal. Having log fires in winter. Spending quality time with friends and family. Tending our trees and vines. I could do these things an easier way, but done carefully they make life richer and therefore I’m caring for my soul. Others benefit too, of course.

I could just chuck meat under the grill, but eating outdoors (a barbecue) with all the trimmings and the homemade wines is all care for our souls.

I commend this to you too. What parts of your routine give depth and meaning to your life at the moment? How would you show yourself that you care about how you spend your life, your time that you will only have this once?

          Samuel is a classical singer – a very good one. He’s also great company. He’s our son too, so I have to declare I may be biased . . . He invited us to Burgos, 500km from here (but at least it is in Iberia)  where he would be working for four days with the Gabrieli Consort, a high calibre Early Music choir.

On Saturday 11th June  we drove to Burgos and when the satellite nav said we had reached our destination we were sunk – it was a street of boarded-up houses with a high-walled park opposite. Eventually we found it was a long street split by a roundabout, but numbered from 1 up at both sides of the roundabout. Two number 2’s, two number 34’s etc. We were directed to the other number 37.

Once installed in our nice hotel on the far side of the roundabout we dressed smartly and walked into town along the riverside to the first concert, in the Cathedral.

One is not allowed to record performances or to take pictures, as artists have to be paid more if this happens! Anyway, the Gabrielis including Samuel were brilliant, singing unaccompanied Requiem for an Empress (written in 1603).  The music is very much better live as the sound is enveloping and resonant in a way that recordings cannot reproduce. It was great!

Lerma is a medieval town 40km distant, and it was there we heard an organ duet concert on Sunday lunchtime. The organs in San Pedro College are a pupil-and-teacher pair imported from Holland four hundred years ago; the picture shows one of the pair, with the college chapel choir-stalls beneath. The other organ is ten metres away with the organists’  backs toward each other and seating for sixty choristers in a C-shape between.






We returned on Monday to hear the Gabrielis give two concerts of music from the 1600’s; the acoustics were good and the performances brilliant.

The streets and all the perimeter of the town’s main square (plaza mayor) are nicely cobbled, and there is very little traffic.

We gave Samuel his dress shirt in his early teens and he loves it to bits! It looks formal but hidden (until he takes off his jacket) are brightly coloured Rupert the Bear pictures on the back and sleeves!


Janet wearing Samuel's tails

We drank lots of freshly pressed orange juice with ice, as it’s very unwise to have anything alcoholic within twelve hours of a performance. This picture was taken at a café opposite the parador (posh hotel) in the plaza mayor, which is a broad hilltop with beautiful views across the countryside below – rather like many Italian or Portuguese towns. The plazas are more spacious in Spain, and often without shady trees, relying on the shops around the square having shaded colonnades with rooms above.

Tuesday morning was free time for us to walk into Burgos and buy Morcilla de Burgos (black pudding made with rice, onions and cumin) and other bits ‘n’ pieces.

The most well-known entrance to the town centre is El Cid’s gate, with the cathedral in the background. El Cid was one of the first to organise the expulsion of the moslem North Africans from Spain in the 11th century. He was born near Burgos.

Whilst we enjoyed our free day Samuel and the choir were rehearsing – this is two photos merged and shortened to show how beautiful is the cathedral, a lovely rehearsal room!

Samuel pictured after the rehearsal, pencil to hand (behind his ear!). The evening concert. “Songs of Farewell” comprised four 16C songs, three 19C songs, and two modern ones which were brilliant. One was by Jonathan Dove (born 1959)” Into thy hands”, and the other by James McMillan (also born in 1959) “A child’s prayer” which almost brought me to tears, one of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard. This last concert was simply fantastic, especially in this beautiful cathedral with long acoustics, well exploited by the performers.

Looking upwards from my seat, into the lace-like dome of stained glass above the nave. The cross to the left is the same one atop the lofty golden altar in the merged rehearsals picture above.

The concerts were part of a private five-day tour for an audience of just 170 participants organised internationally by Martin Randall Travel, and we would like to thank them for so kindly allowing us to hear the concerts. It was an unforgettable experience. Those participants we met were lovely people, as passionate about music as us, and they made our time with the tour all the more enjoyable.

The rural Portuguese are very traditional and their choice in names is limited, usually a compulsory biblical name (José, João) then, if one’s parents were more imaginative, a couple of extras (Fernando or Carlos). Since there are so few surnames, a man is often given (and has to routinely use) all four of his names. However, we do know men with unusual ones. For example Melchior the architect, Baltazar the calçeteiro (cobble-layer), Joachim our neighbour, Americo the plumber, Anibal our roofer’s neighbour, Horatio who ran a café, two Nelson’s, and Jacinto the builder.

Maria is used for a boy’s second name or a girl’s first name, where it is commonly followed by the name the lady actually uses.   We have  friends with second-name Assumption, Ascension, Birth, Conception, Resurrection, Rosary, and Welcome. (Assunção, Ascenção, Nascimento, Conceição, Resurreição, Rosario and Benvinda). We know two Maria de Jesus’s, a Lourdes (site of virgin Mary’s appearance in France) and two Fatima’s (Mary’s appearance in Portugal).

So why this blog? Well, our daughter is imminently expecting her second child. Her son Dominic, aged five, has chosen its name – Marmalade or Frank. For himself he has decided Harley is the best name. We could do worse – Shadrak, Meshach or Abednigo, anyone?

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