Friday, 18 August 2017

Arrival day

As soon as we arrived we logged our electronic devices on to the speedy fibre broadband Swiss Telecom wi-fi, and advised the children of our arrival.  After a late breakfast, we walked the couple of hundred metres down to the lake through a pedestrian tunnel under the road to Territet railway station. A footpath runs by the lake, through the Commune de Montreux and beyond, said to be 30km long. The lake wall is constructed to contain flowers and shrubs along much of its length. Given that the climate here is mild for much of the year, the vegetation is reminiscent of the Mediterranean coast, richly colourful.

We walked from Territet into Montreux, found the main shopping street and did some top-up food shopping. The fridge was already stocked with most of the essentials, so it was mainly veggies and cheese we needed. Food prices as notably high here, about a third dearer than Britain, and double that of the euro-zone. It's twenty minutes drive around the end of the lake to St Gingolph in France. It may not be worth going there to try and save money, except for a very big food shopping trip, as France voisine is not going to be as cheap for fresh food as we found Spain to be. We just make the necessary adjustments and live within our means, so we can keep all our budgeted cash for travel, and benefit from our abonnements demi-tarif

We returned to Church House for lunch, and really needed an afternoon siesta afterwards. Since we've been here, curiously, a small bus has arrived and departed, usually empty from the alley next to the house. When Clare went around the back to check out the cost of riding up to Glion on the funicular railway behind the house, she got chatting to a lady who was waiting for the bus. It seems this is a replacement railway service, as the funicular is hors de service this week for annual checks and maintenance.

I worked on my Sunday sermon, staring out of the window at a large building 100 metres away clad in plastic sheets covering scaffolding. Then I went for a walk to find out what it was. It looked as if it was old and elegant from what could be seen of it. A history plaque on the end wall, near its side entrance stated that it's the historic Hotel des Alpes - Grand Hotel. In the late 19th century it hosted Austro-Hungarian empire royalty among its guests, and the first telephone in Switzerland. As an early mass tourism venue it pre-dated the arrival of the railway line and indeed helped to attract developers to extend rail travel to Territet and beyond. It ceased to be an hotel thirty years ago. Part of it became a theatre. It's now being restored, and is treated as a national heritage conservation site.

Early evening, hours before sunset, heavy clouds rolled in from the mountains and we had several hours of heavy rain and thunderstorms. We found out how the telly works and were delighted to find we could access UK TV channels. This means we can watch the new series of Inspector Montalbano tomorrow night. Later, Jane visited us and briefed us about forthcoming services and chaplaincy life in changing times. After decades of demographic changes, Montreux and Lausanne chaplainces are much diminished in support. 

Tourism still flourishes but there are far fewer ex-pat residents now than in the golden era when many wealthy Brits retired along the lake and built these churches. In between the two is Vevey chaplaincy. It flourishes, due to the large population of local anglophone residents, employed at Nestle's headquarters and other satellite companies. What will the future bring? Both Montreux and Lausanne are currently in vacancy wondering how to proceed, especially in the light of a shortage of clergy able and willing to come and settle here for ministry.

Journey to Switzerland

Yesterday morning, I celebrated the Eucharist at St John's with nine others, took my leave of them and returned home immediately to finish off packing my case and eating an early lunch. Just after one, Mary our neighbour drove us to Cardiff Central station to take the train to Bristol, with lots of time to spare, just in case there were delays in arriving at Temple Mead station. This happened to us the last time we travelled over to Bristol Airport to fly to Budapest a year ago, causing unwanted and stressful delay in arriving for our flight. This time, all was well, except that the airport shuttle bus stop has moved from one side of the station entrance to the other for the first time in all the years we have been using the service.

Bristol Airport was, as to be expected in mid-August, quite busy. People were queuing, but moving through the check-in area surprisingly quickly. Check-in desks were apparently replaced just last month by an array of automatic self-service terminals, supported by airline staff. The system is very simple. Your flight ticket QR code is scanned, your bag is weighed, and as long as it conforms to the prescribed weight limit and content declaration, the machine prints a baggage label which you apply yourself. The bag is then taken to the usual check-in desk site and placed on a conveyor, where the label is scanned to check that it's the correct one issued against the ticket. 

I think the label may have an RFID tag plus a bar code to make it recognisable to both standard systems in use at different airports. The technology now being rolled out to regional airports has been around for some years and it works impressively. Staff are available to help travellers on a friendly face to face basis, but are more efficiently used, as those used to this routine check themselves in and move on quickly.

There was a queue of several dozen moving at a steady pace through the security clearance area. This too has been remodelled in the past year. There are now six luggage and people scanning terminals, half of which were in use. This procedure only took us ten minutes surprisingly, and is a testimony to improved efficiency. People moan about long delays at larger airports. Well, Bristol's queue of maybe fifty people at a time, scaled up five or ten times at any moment in a bigger airport, even with a bigger system working at full capacity, will scale up the delay in getting through. It's still amazingly efficient at processing people unless the technology fails, or staff don't show up for work when expected. Millions of people around the world, on the move, day and night, and under such constraints. It's a remarkable everyday achievement.

As testimony to increased airline traffic, our flight was twenty minutes late taking off, and made up five minutes en route. The queue at passport control was long and slow, and although this meant we picked up our luggage as soon as we arrived to reclaim it, we missed the half part nine InterRegio train to Montreux by a few minutes, and had to wait forty minutes for the next one. Church Warden Jane met us at Montreux Gare at twenty to midnight, and drove us the last kilometre to St John's Church House.

While the church is characteristically Victorian (dating from 1875) and Anglican in appearance, the house adjoining is characteristically Swiss with shutters and dormer windows in the roof space. The upper interior is entirely clad with wooden panelling, and has four bedroom, two bathrooms, a large landing space and a small upstairs rood terrace in the space between house and church. It's a very spacious house, and the only disadvantage, like so many English churches of this period, is that it's by a busy main road and railway line. Thankfully, it's pretty quiet at night, and we slept well.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

More digital chores

I had a funeral to take at St Catherine's yesterday morning, followed by a burial at Thornhill. Then in the afternoon and evening I scanned another collection of my sister June's old holiday slides from 40 years ago, which I brought back with me from my London visit last Friday. It's fascinating to see how the Amalfi coast, and Ibiza looked in those days, when tourism development was in its infancy, and most people still lived poor and simple rural lives around the Mediterranean. June is delighted to see them again on her computer, not least because it awakens pleasant memories of her youthful travels.

I was back again at St Catherine's this morning to celebrate the midweek Eucharist for five of us. Over coffee after the service, I acquired a handful of fresh basil and a variety of different tomatoes, freshly picked from the church veggie garden. I cooked these as soon as I got home into a delicious pasta sauce for lunch, such a pleasurable blessing.

The rest of the day I spent on computer chores. Typos in the CBS Network News I prepared when I was in Malaga needed correction. The printers were not able to take on editing tasks. I suspect now they are simply too busy with production runs. The MS Publisher file created was not backwards compatible. It would be a matter of finding a PDF editor up to the task of doing do accurately and cleanly. I downloaded and used PDF-Xchange, a free editor recommended by Tech Radar. It was very complex and it took a certain amount of ingenuity to make the required changes, as I didn't have time to learn how to use the editing tools properly, but I succeeded in the end, and the printer reported that the edited PDF performed as expected, before going into production.

The next chore was document scanning. Clare's Will and mine to send the children copies, plus a long company document, which missed my scanning blitz six years ago. when I was setting up the CBS office data system. Both jobs took ages, as the scanning routine is so slow. It's hard not to lose concentration and remember to turn over double sided pages. The one page I did miss was number thirteen, what else. Scanning the page later after checking the whole pdf revealed the error. The challenge was to insert the missing scanned page. I had no suitable software on my Windows 10, but thankfully my old Vista desktop, still running happily and hosting reliably my slide scanner when needed, has a suite of PDF editing apps which are simple and effective.

All in all, a productive sort of day, despite the challenge of obtaining right tools to do the job with the minumum of learning necessary for the task.

Monday, 14 August 2017

A day of updates

Yesterday, morning, Clare and I went to our solicitor's office on Llandaff Road, to go through the revised draft of our Wills, and sign them. The last time we did this was November 1992, just before we moved out to work in Holy Trinity Geneva. Co-incidentally, we're flying to Geneva on Thursday, on our way to locum duties in Montreux. I've already been busy with arrangements for a wedding blessing and a christening on top of the regular services. It's going to be an interesting time.

 I went over to visit my old friend Graham Francis, who's living now in retirement just down the street from St Saviour's Splott, where he has been helping out during the interregnum, in the same way I was helping out at St German's. Recently he's been undergoing chemotherapy prior to surgery to remove a stomach cancer. He's facing up to this life threatening challenge with confidence, realism and good humour, and continues to busy himself with worship and ministry in whatever way he has energy for.

A secondary reason for visiting him was to give his Windows 7 laptop a servicing, and decommission his ten year old desktop machine, which still runs, but astonishingly slowly. Fortunately, many years ago I set up a back up program to auto-run - Syncback. The computer hasn't been used much since the advent of tablets and smartphones, so backups an external drive have only ever been partial. Even so, given the time, it successfully completed its routine, so that now he has a complete and up to date archive of his files of the past decade, if not longer, which can be attached to his laptop when needed. 

Sadly the intermittent use of this device also has created problems with updating, and it runs very slowly, due to congestion which the use of CCleaner took ages to sort out. The anti-virus library was 520 days old and there were scores of other Windows security updates. All seemed to be competing for internet attention, and after four hours, I had to walk away, leaving the machine running in the hope that in the course of time, days if not weeks, it will sort itself out. I recall a similar problem with the office PC over in St German's taking weeks to update, although that problem was compounded by a flaky wi-fi connection.

Bringing machines back to working order after increasingly longer layoff, due to the ease of being able to do basic everyday tasks on a tablet or smartphone, is a great disincentive to using a Windows computer, so it's no wonder their market share is falling. This adds to the perennial problem of built-in redundancy, caused when older operating systems are no longer supported with security updates, or drivers not provided to enable older hardware peripherals to run with a newer operating system. Good equipment going to waste, causing electronic waste pollution when disposed of wrongly, and all due to the illusion that newer and fancier, with more options available is really desirable. It isn't, so the big computer businesses play tricks to force us to give up on old kit. What a foolish world!

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Taxing time

Last night I watched the final double episode of the Spanish crimmie on BBC Four 'Se Quien Eres' and was most disappointed at the conclusion. The disappeared student turned out to be alive after eleven days of incarceration in an underground cellar without food and water, something I consider highly unlikely. And she was revived by some rather dubious DIY first aid, and seemed to recover so quickly she was able to escape and run for her life, instead of being hardly able to stand after her ordeal. The last episode was dramatic in its revelations, but was in effect only a curtain raiser for a second series of ten episodes yet to come. Incredible in every way, and after such a disappointing end, it's doubtful as to whether it'll be worth watching the second series. Shame, because it did actually start to raise interesting questions about the identities we construct for ourselves in relation to others.

This morning I celebrated the Eucharist at St John's and St Catherine's for congregations of around thirty in both places. We had no organist at St John's, so I led unaccompanied singing, which worked quite well. There are times when I think organ accompaniment can inhibit people from singing out. Is it that the congregation can't hear itself singing so easily, and ends up not making the effort?

For much of the rest of the day, Clare and I worked at filing out on-line tax returns. Hers is somewhat less straightforward than mine, due to a small amount of income from a legacy of foreign shares. It's quite difficult to understand what is required to complete the necessary dialogues in order to enter the required figures, so it was painfully slow for her. I managed to complete mine in a few hours, while helping her, but filing her return will have to wait until tomorrow.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Wandsworth excursion

After a reasonable nights sleep under the circumstances, I work up before the alarm went off, and got myself to the bus station with fifteen minutes to spare. Considering that the coach stopped in Newport to collect passengers, the journey was perhaps the shortest I can recall, arriving thirty five minutes ahead of the scheduled time. There were none of the usual slow downs due to congestion or traffic queues going into Central London, possibly because this is the holiday season and the flow of commuters is much diminished. On the return trip, we arrived fifteen minutes early, on a coach that went direct to Cardiff without stopping in Newport. There was some of the usual Friday evening rush hour congestion, but it was less worse than usual.

June was surprised when I turned up three quarters of an hour earlier than expected, but pleased that we had the extra time. First, I had some adjustments to make to her Samsung Galaxy tab and some apps to install - this is still a mystery to her. I particularly wanted her to be able to use Viber, but after installation, was thwarted by the requirement to use her mobile phone number to receive a text message for verification purposes. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but June doesn't use the phone she has. It was uncharged and out of credit, so no verification code could be received. Such a disappointment. Still, I was able to install several catch-up TV apps, and perhaps more importantly to complete the configuration of her Smart TV hub. 

She's had this TV for a couple of years and enjoyed live watching without understanding that catch-up services were also available. So she's been watching catch-up TV on her computer, sitting in the most uncomfortable of positions. Not good at her age. I wish I had realised this earlier. She didn't realise the potential of her new equipment, and lacks confidence to learn what's necessary to use its potential to the full. Often you have to pay for set up services when you buy new electronic equipment. I think this should be included for free in the sale offer, especially where sales to older people are concerned.

I set out in good time for the return coach, having experienced a dreadful rush on my last visit, due to mistaking the actual departure time. This time it was worse. There was 45 minute delays on the rail service due to 'trespassers on the line'. The train stood for 10 minutes waiting for a platform just outside  Victoria station. I dashed from the platform with six minutes to get to the coach station. I made it, dead on 18.30, and was relived to find a queue for the Cardiff service. There were so many travellers there were two coaches. The one I was directed to went straight to Cardiff. Just after ten I was home again, and enjoying a late supper, very pleased not to have missed the coach.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Software - built-in redundancy frustrations

There were ten of us again for the Eucharist at St John's Canton this morning. I had a phone call from the GP surgery late yesterday afternoon telling me my prescription was ready, so I walked there to collect it and have it made up at the pharmacy opposite before going home. 

After lunch, I went into town and met with Ashley to catch up on CBS affairs. Then we went hunting for a copy of MS Publisher, to make ready for the autumn newsletter publication, but we couldn't find a Microsoft Office bundle which includes it. 

It's ages since we last needed to change software. For the most part we use Free Open Source material. I've worked with an old copy of MS Publisher 2000 for the past fifteen years and never needed anything else. I doubt if it can be installed on a Windows 10 machine, if I could lay hands on the original disk, as 64 bit computer hardware running Windows 10 can make it impossible to run older software. It's not often I need to use Publisher, but it's inconvenient having to spend time learning to use an alternative program that's unlikely to be compatible with MS Office generated files. I need to do some research to find a sustainable solution.

Early to bed tonight, faced with an early walk to Sophia Gardens bus station for a 07.15 coach to London to see my sister June.


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Swiss discount travel sorted

Yesterday morning I took a funeral service at Thornhill crematorium for a man who'd died alone at home. He'd been an angler who'd lived in Cardiff in the last decade of his life, and had not made any friends. There were just six mourners. It was possibly the smallest funeral congregation I've had in decades. Being alone in the wilds of nature can be a consolation, and for some even, a way of life. To be alone in a city, infirm only able to remember past haunts is sad to contemplate.

Clare and have both been thinking about our forthcoming time in Switzerland, people we hope to see, places to visit. Our dear friends Alec and Ann-Marie will be in Anzere as we arrive, and as that's not too far from Montreux we'll be able to meet up with them. Cousin Dianne and husband Ian plan to be in Monthey some time during our stay, and we have Geneva visits lined up as well. When I checked my regular medication, I found I'd be a week short before returning home, so I wrote to my GP, and dropped a letter into the surgery, conveniently located near St Catherine's, where I went to celebrate the midweek Eucharist for ten of us this morning.  

Travel in Switzerland is a pleasure, since public transport is so good. It's expensive, but value for money if you buy an abonnement demi-tarif which gives you 50% discount on public transport fares and some special offers on museum entry charges etc. When we were in Geneva we had an annual subscription, but visitors can buy one for a month. It can be obtained on-line, but there are several websites offering similar services. Sorting out which one to use and how the system delivers the product is a headache, because several options are available - digital, postal, pick up at the airport station on arrival - but, by the evening we had spent nearly a hundred quid each and received a digital document for printing which, presented with one's passport entitles us to half price train tickets. The outlay will soon be covered with trips we have planned.