Monday, 21 October 2019

Festive high tea

I drove to Thornhill for a ten thirty funeral this morning, meeting with a family that had driven over from North Devon with grandfather's ashes to scatter in a garden there, following a funeral service in the recently refurbished Briwnant Chapel. It's acquired upholstered pews after a quarter of a century with chairs. Now there's a catafalque with curtains set diagonally in the left hand corner and the usual lectern on the right side, video screen up behind it with an exit door in the right corner. And no altar.

This is already a commonly used layout, adaptable for ceremonies of any religion or none. There's a candle and a crucifix if you need one, though you have to make up your mind beforehand about where you want to place it in relation to the coffin and the congregation. On this occasion the curtains were left closed as the catafalque was redundant. There was a small covered trolley, used for a child's coffin, of a suitable size to take cross, candle and the decorated cylindrical disposable 'scattering tube' as it was described containing the ashes of the deceased. A new experience for me in this context.

Thankfully there was no rain and the ground had dried out when we walked outdoors at the end of the service for the scattering, straight on to the ground beneath some trees, with poor grass cover. I had envisaged a flower bed or some shrubbery rather than a leafy glade. Instinctively I positioned myself in the circle where the slight breeze wouldn't bring the fallout dust in my direction. After scattering the ashes formed a circular cream coloured pool, in stark contrast to down trodden red soil and grass beneath our feet. 

I found this a little incongruous, and wondered how long the stain of this human bone meal deposit would be so starkly visible to passers by. Would a sprinkling of earth be made to cover it or not? Would a sprinkling of water or rain make a difference? I wondered. I must ask when I'm back here again tomorrow for another funeral. The Church's insistence on burying cremated remains suddenly acquired a different perspective for me, even if it does go against the tide of common culture and practice.

When I got home, I found that yesterday's cooked crab apple pulp had yielded a couple of pints of juice. With added sugar this made five standard and two small sized jars of jelly, although it was very runny. It needs more reducing, Clare says. Right now it would make an exquisite sweetish coulis, to use with roast meats, paté, or even a nut-roast, I suspect, as well as with ice cream or thick yoghourt.

I cooked lunch alongside finishing off the jelly, as Clare and Kath had gone for a swim, but I ran out of time, as I had to St John's for a very special Mother's Union tea party. Ruth and John Honey are celebrating sixty years of marriage this week, and they invited MU members from other branches and diocesan MU officials. There were about forty people there, including several husbands, and I was just a few minutes late. I'd agreed to attend and lead special prayers for the occasion, but the MU president had already started with a few prayers by the time I'd arrived. Not that it mattered. They were in good hands already, and they didn't give me a hard time when I explained about the crab apple jelly bless them!

The MU's own prayer booklet is very nice piece of work, though I haven't had occasion to study it or use it properly before, but I asked for a copy to refer to, and adapted some of its devotions to fit in with the overall anniversary and family life themes, as I led them in a quiet reflective act of worship, using a chorus with them that some would have known anyway. They sang, albeit a little shyly. It's not something they're often asked to do unaccompanied, I suspect. It flowed naturally, and I could tell from appreciative faces afterwards that I'd struck the right note. I really enjoyed speaking to God and the occasion.

A traditional High Tea with cake and sandwiches followed, served by two of Ruth and John's three daughters, ending with cup cakes topped with the number '60' in sugar icing letters to take home. Emma is now on maternity leave so she didn't attend, nor did Frances, whose ministry in the parish starts tomorrow. I wonder if anyone thought to invite her. It would have given her a positive preview of a significant element of parish life and fellowship. I think they both would have enjoyed this.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Crab apple harvesting

I celebrated and preached at St Catherine's this morning, and we had a christening during the service as well. As I approached the church porch, members of the baptismal party were assembling outside and greeting each other. I could hear Italian being spoken, and realised that Nonno and Nonna were here to welcome the latest addition to their family. They'd come from Sardinia to be with their son and daughter-in-law. A good night's sleep meant that I was fully alert and was able to greet them in Italian, without lapsing into Spanish, which is my default second language these days, after five years of daily learning. The ten month old infant was well behaved, and only just started to grumble when we reached the font. Mum held her as I poured water over her head. She went quiet and looked surprised when I did this, and it caused everyone to laugh with delight.

Kath arrived in time for a late lunch. She has an evening's work tomorrow as a 'Dr Who' film extra up in Ystrad Mynach, my home town. The filming takes place in Tredomen, where Caerphilly Council's new offices are located, or the site of a former engineering works. The engineer's office and laboratory, dating the early 20th century was where my mother's father was based when he was an installation engineer at the works. The laboratory was where I had my first summer job as an assistant in a Coal Board pollution monitoring station in 1964 nearly forty years later. That old building still survives, but is dwarfed by the imposing new glass and concrete municipal headquarters.

Clare left early for her monthly study group, so I cooked for us, and then we went for a circuit of the Taff and Bute Park. Near the tennis courts and bowling green on Llandaff Fields are two crab apple trees crammed with brightly coloured cherry sized fruits, which add a splash of vivid colour to trees whose greenery is fading. A lovely sight.

On my walk Thursday afternoon, I gleaned a raincoat pocketful of them within reach on lower branches of the smaller tree. This yielded over half a pound of fruit. Clare found a recipe, then I prepared and stewed them to pulp in a pressure cooker, and strained off the liquid through a mesh bag overnight. With sugar added and further cooking, we ended up with two jars of a delicious spicy jelly.

Kath and I tackled all the branches we could reach on the larger of the two trees, even more densely packed with fruit, and came home with four pounds of fruit. It took ages to prepare them for cooking, and the mass of pulp left straining overnight was the size of a melon.

I went to be early after supper, as I needed peace and quiet to write a special letter of greeting to an old friend from Geneva days, Philippe Chambeyron, who turns seventy at the end of this week. He and his wife Julia, were part of the small group who worked to build the mission congregation at Gingins, and develop the now thriving La Côte Anglican chaplaincy between Lausanne and Geneva.

We've stayed in touch since, but haven't visited them for seven years. Lack of a car when we were in Montreux in summer 2018 prevented us from visiting them at home, due to the difficulty of getting from the train at Nyon to the village of Vésenex outside Divonne les Bains where they live. It was the end of 2000 when we left Geneva. We continued to visit most years even after I retired, but then I started locum duties in Spain and the years simply seem to have sped by since then.

Saturday, 19 October 2019


This afternoon we drove to Mountain Ash for the housewarming party of an ex-colleague of Clare's. The house which Gareth and Sophie bought a year ago at a good price and are now renovating is in a side street terraced row up the eastern hillside above the town with lovely mountain views. Theirs is perhaps a century older than the other houses, perhaps where an official or landowner had lived, or even a Manse maybe. They have enough land around for a garden and also to extend the house one day. Gareth has made a garden tree house for his young daughter, and he loves it.

There was hardly anyone there I knew. People were in family groups with young children and pets to manage, so that limited the amount of conversation possible. I ended up talking with a convinced and well informed euro-skeptic, which was probably good for me. Some of his analysis didn't ring true as fact to me, but who am I to fact-check the rhetoric of others when it borders on conspiracy theory? I don't do any political homework after all.

Thankfully we needed to return after a couple of hours, as Clare was being taken to St Edward's in Roath to  a rehearsal before an evening concert by the Fountain choir and Roath recorder ensemble. I  stayed home to finish tomorrow's sermon, and watch this week's double episode of the outstandingly good French flic series 'Spiral'. The concert will be repeated soon at Insole Court, half an hour's walk from home. That suits me better.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Writing and planning

Wednesday morning I celebrated at St Catherine's and Thursday morning at St John's. Next Tuesday we go to Oxwich Bay for a fortnight, and from that evening Mother Frances our new Team Rector will take charge of the Parish. She'll need to familiarize herself with the routine of daily worship as it's distributed between the three churches, and meet those who turn up regularly to pray. She knows when I'm back if she needs cover. I will need to look at my weekday plan to worship as member of a congregation. My Sundays are already booked with one exception, for more locum duties elsewhere. That's just how it goes.

I spotted a window of opportunity in which I could go to Malaga at the end of November, and stay in Rosella's apartment in Rincon de la Victoria, but finding suitably convenient flight dates proved to be a deterrent. With twelve days free, I could only manage a stay of five. Not enough time to organise myself domestically and relax, so I gave up the idea. Now I'm looking at a longer time in January instead.

The past couple of days, in between routine task, I have written a third  short story that I'm pleased with, about a street evangelist who was out and about his business in Ystrad Mynach when I was a teenager. I shared both my earlier efforts with Cousin Dianne to get feedback. She's done a proper writing course since retirement and has her writing experience to share plus constructive advice to offer. She's made encouraging remarks abut them and I'm enjoying our email exchanges. Writing for pleasure isn't so easy when there's a fair amount of writing for work to do and time to be spent on keeping abreast for brexit news.

This week I have the pressure of a Sunday sermon and two funerals to prepare for use before we go on holiday. The temptation is to work into the night, and I want to avoid that, at least while I'm still recovering full health and functionality. I'm looking forward to a quieter time for the rest of this year.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

A new adventure

Last night I finally made myself sit down and try to write a story. Only rarely now do I write poetry. My output is mainly in the form of correspondence, sermons, eulogies and this blog. I feel, however, that I could derive even more pleasure if I tried my hand at creative story-telling, but where to start. My first effort was about writer's block. It was all I could think of, faced with a blank page and no ideas of how to start. It needed more editing this morning until I was pleased with it, and that led to writing a short story about childhood influences which shaped my path in life. The initial outline draft came to me easily, but it needs working on to complete.

In the afternoon, I walked to a street at the Leckwith end of the Parish for a bereavement visit, It was sunny when I left, but an unexpected downpour started when I was over half way there. After the visit it didn't rain again, so I went for  longer walk and called in at Canton Rectory to welcome Frances our new Team Rector to be, and apologise for not being at her induction next Tuesday, as we'll be down in the Gower in a bungalow at Oxwich starting our fortnight's much needed holiday.

Then it was back to writing again after supper, to complete my second story. I'm enjoying this, though I have no idea whar anyone will think of my efforts.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Grass roots pastorate

A few weeks ago I was in touch with Fr Chris Reaney, a friend and colleague, since the days when I worked as Wales USPG Area Secretary in the eighties. He's been Vicar of Troedyrhiwgarth in the Llynfi Valley near Maesteg, and we haven't seen each other since his induction, nine years ago. So I arranged to meet him for coffee and lunch in Maesteg, and travelled up by train rather than using the car. As the day return ticket only cost me £5.50 with my rail card, cheaper than driving and better for my carbon footprint!

I went to the station by bus and missed the 10.18 train, due to a lengthy traffic queue on entering Westgate Street. If I'd known, I could have got off the bus a St David's hospital and walked half the distance to the station in good time. The trouble is extensive sewer repair works in the lower section of the street creating a choke point for buses and commercial vehicles accessing the city centre. Still, it gave me time to pop into a Market shop and buy some memory foam cushion insoles, as the ones in my winter shoes have worn thin enough to make them uncomfortable to wear. It left me with plenty of time to queue for a ticket and take the 11.18 instead.

The fifty two minute journey is pleasant, passing through a still verdant rural landscape after leaving  Cardiff suburbs behind. There are touches of autumn colour here and there, but most of the leaves are now darker, almost olive green, as a result of milder air temperatures and no frost. The train takes the main line westwards, passing St Fagans and Pontyclun, then turning north after Bridgend to enter the broad Llynfi Valley. 

There were once coal mines lower down the valley, but Maesteg was built on the benefits from the early iron industry, and is the main town of the old Borough, with an ancient Parish church, Llangynwyd, first planted in the sixth century on the hilltop ridge road, as with other ancient Celtic Christian sites in South Wales.

Chris met me at the station, which is quite close to the town centre. Just beyond the end of the line is an Asda supermarket so there's a large car park, to support both shoppers and park and ride travellers. A useful late twentieth century re-purposing of old railway properties, I think. We walked to the main square and had lunch there in a cafe opposite the town hall, an All Day Breakfast for both of us.

The town hall itself is a huge complex of well used buildings, with a covered market at ground level and a large auditorium above it, an outdoor market and the Town Council offices adjacent. The covered market is redundant since the outdoor market acquired a collection of retail units around its periphery, and is being re-purposed as a library. It's an imposing collection of late Victorian municipal buildings, substantially built in stone and brick, visible across town as they rise above the three storey shops in the main street.

We had much to talk about and shared worries about the continued contraction of the Church in Wales and its public ministry, in the Valleys as well as the city. He worries, as I do that the organisational changes which group Parishes into larger entities in which fewer full time clergy chase around looking after a smaller, more dispersed and mobile membership, will detract from the traditional pastoral role of being present and available in the community for all, knowing people and being known, whether church members or not.

Given our shared history, inspired by world mission through our relationship with USPG it's not at all surprising that we both see the present and future of the church based on the call to flourish in the grass roots of local community, growing its plans for witness, service and proclamation from the bottom up not the top down.

While we were in the cafe getting lunch, I noted how many people Chris stopped to greet and chat with as they came and went. His Parish is the neighbouring one, although he also works Maesteg town itself, and after nine years is a familiar local figure uo and down the Llynfi Valley. That's how it should be for an Anglican Parish Priest.

I've never doubted the need for structures to hold us all together and support us, but they're still too top heavy, to my way of thinking. Perhaps grass roots mission won't flourish again until much of the top heavy component withers away. It's possible this will happen, and one of the casualties will be the loss of its paid professional ministries. It would hurt badly. It would be tough getting there and recovery would be far from certain, but an entirely voluntary kind of ministry for most pastoral purposes would only take us back to where the church started from at the beginning. Would that be so terrible?

I was home again by four, and then did the week's grocery shopping before supper. The train I was on advertised that it would stop at Ninian Park station, fifteen minutes from home at the other side of the Parish. I was pleased at the prospect being home earlier, but the train didn't stop, it sped on to Cardiff Central, and had the usual 61 bus journey back instead. A programming error in the heads up display probably, using a Match Day train schedule instead of the standard one, most likely.


Sunday, 13 October 2019

Not quite a protest, more a gentlemanly warning

For the third Sunday in a row I returned to Grangetown to celebrate and preach at both churches. I had been asked to do a baptism during the service, but was contacted by the churchwarden midweek to say it had been postponed, as a godparent couldn't get there. The couple and their young son and his baby brother were in church anyway, and I had a chat with them after the service. They hail from Sri Lanka. Next week I'm back at St Catherine's, so it won't be me. I'm just a little disappointed.

As I was driving home afterwards through Canton there was a long queue of slow moving vehicles on Cowbridge Road East, mostly tractors great and small, interspersed with a few cars. Were they returning from a city centre protest? I wondered. Apparently not. It was part of a rally of agricultural vehicles, ancient and modern, seventy five of them, which started out in Wenvoe and paraded into the city centre and back. A great way of showcasing Welsh agriculture. 

It wasn't Not quite a protest outing on this occasion, although publicity quotes did highlight Welsh farmers' concern about threats to their business viability due to the current state of brexit induced uncertainty. Not so much a shot across the bows, more of a gentle 'don't forget we're here' reminder. If leaving the EU without a deal betrayed the Welsh farming industry, I for one would get out and cheer on a city centre gridlock farmers protest.

This afternoon it was sunny with clouds with a light warm breeze, perfect for walking. Almost all the equipment for yesterday's athletics meeting had either been taken away or was stacked neatly, ready to remove. A 3km strip of mud around the west wide of the park was all that remained of the running track, and the footpath verges were pretty broken and muddy too. I wonder what'll be done to remedy this, if anything? If only it hadn't rained so much last week. 

I took my HX90 and LX5 cameras out with me, so take black and white as well as colour photos. As the sun was low in the sky, and shadows were long, I got some satisfyingly atmospheric monochrome pictures to add to my collection. As Clare remarked when she looked at them on-line, it takes a little time to get used to seeing the content of a photo in shades of grey, now that we are so used to colour in almost all photography we see, movies and stills.

I intended to spent the evening watching 'Non uccidere', but ended up spending the time before bed updating this blog instead. Ah well, it'll keep for another dull uneventful day, no doubt.