Sunday, 30 May 2010

Stop losing the plot and muddying the waters

It's Trinity Sunday, which brought Geneva and Ystrad Mynach together in my prayers, as both of these Anglican churches carry this noble dedication.  In fact, it's 65 years ago this month that I was baptized in the latter, just a month after my birth. Here's a photo, taken after the event in the back garden of our house in Glen View, (the Graig, Hengoed is in the background), with my parents, godparents (both in uniform), and eldest sister. My other sister June is taking the photograph. After a stressful war keeping coal production on the move in Penallta Colliery, my father, at 42 is going grey and losing hair fast.
Yesterday, I thought about making a little pilgrimage to Ystrad Mynach today for their Patronal Eucharist, but a late night movie 'Fitzcarraldo' (1983), which I'd never seen only heard about, proved such compelling watching that an early start was ruled out, so we went to the Cathedral Parish Eucharist instead.

After the service, I met someone who was rather disquieted by the content of a new blog site satirising Llandaff village clerical life in an offensive, slanderous way. When I got home, I took care to read through all the postings made in the two months of its existence, and was deeply troubled by the tone and attitude taken, as well as by its inability to pose intelligible serious questions for debate. It brings honestly intended critical blogging into disrepute. I left the following comment on the site in question for acceptance or rejection after  the most recent posting.

"Scurrilous satire, sniping at the establishment and established religion is very ‘Radio 4’. The Beeb is a founding pillar of modern establishment and democracy. It manages not to take itself too seriously, and for the most part, even if its satirical critique offends, it does not aim to arouse ill will. The same can be said about most blogs  offering a humorous take on religion and the church, but alas not this one. The ill will expressed anonymously towards leading churchmen and women under the guise of mockery is designed to hurt not promote debate or reform, to give voice to a kind of spiritual arrogance that betrays the Gospel, and defiles a community struggling to give an authentic witness to faith in today’s hostile climate."

Baptism commits us to fight against evil and follow Christ. Sowing seeds of ill-will by any means is  incompatible with this, and just makes it harder to confront the painfully difficult issues Christians are bound to face on the path of discipleship. Someone writing out there has lost the plot, and needs to stop and take stock before firing off again.

Friday, 28 May 2010

The devil in the detail

Over three weeks ago I wrote that the experience of moving into retirement was like moving to a foreign country, especially in the need to learn new bureaucratic routines relating to pensions, tax, Council Tax, and putting retirement lump sums to work. Given all the security concerns in banking over recent years, doing something as simple as changing account addresses also proved problematic. It was fine with accounts in two banks out of three, each with its own registration routine, but the third was a different matter. 

On two separate occasions a week apart, bank staff took my details, but their computer refused to enter them. This precipitated them into embarrassed apology and promises to get it done later, which didn't materialise. I then wrote to the bank manager and hand delivered a letter, but received no acknowledgement, and a bank statement was sent to the Vicarage instead, proving nothing had been achieved. So after a fortnight of this, I wrote to Customer Service at HQ and complained, cataloguing events thus far. Today, a week after posting the letter, I received a reply at home with a fulsome apology and explanation, plus the promise of a forty pound credit to my account as a 'sorry' present.

It seems that the glitch had been caused by an error written into my account details, either on some earlier occasion, or by the latest bank clerk. The bank computer recognised there was a problem but the remedy for this was not accessible to the operative, who was thus left bewildered at the failure of a routine keyboard task. As often with tasks that rate as 'too difficult', it got put to one side and not properly dealt with, until I complained. In the same post was my new Council Tax i/d card, bearing the name 'Reverand Kimber'. I wonder if the same spelling error had been made by the bank operative? It's the sort of thing you can look at for ages and not see, if 'Reverend' is a word you hardly ever use.

Computers can be hard taskmasters, all too easily generating a sense of despair and powerlessness in users when they don't work as they should. This is something I often feel when trying to do travel enquiries or book on-line. Sites rarely operate in a way that is completely natural and intuitive to the user, causing endless bouts of frustration, re-entering data that is correct, but hasn't been retained on a page because of an incorrect choice made about the next step, an so on. It may be much better than it was a decade ago, but a lot more work is needed to make a machine as helpful and friendly to deal with as an an expert human.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Repairs effected

The hole in the road wasn't completely filled in, but left guarded by cones. I suspect there wasn't enough care core material left on the Council lorry to fill it in completely. Anyway, a team reappeared, and started drilling at about eight thirty today, excavating a two metre square patch of tarmac to expose the void, and then fill it in entirely. Nosey as ever, I went out to have a look and a chat with the workers.

No, the foreman told me, it wasn't a collapsed drain, as supposed. He said he'd attended to dozens of such holes around the city in old streets which may not have needed attention for many decades. He attributed the phenomenon to the compaction of underlying road material being done manually (i.e. just stamped upon by workmens' boots) in times past if there was no road roller to do the job. The streets now carry more weight of vehicles than in the era they were made (1900's), so if  the underlying layer isn't compacted evenly enough any time a repair is done, spontaneous collapses occur as the road material rearranges itself, and potholes appear. Nowadays, road mending teams have a variety of  smaller portable pieces of equipment that one person can operate, to provide the desired finish.

It's interesting to note that the lane behind the street remains riddled with potholes, though none of the is deep or dangerous. Here the problem is the other way around. The underlying road material is firm, harder than the tarmac laid upon it. It doesn't resist extremes of temperature so well, and over a few years it breaks up and needs re-surfacing. It's probable that even a back lane now takes as much traffic as a crowded street, and in time this will need taking into account when re-surfacing.

I've noticed over time that dealing with potholes is an unofficial performance indicator for Council services. It's one of the things that can suffer in time of budget cut backs. The good thing about the City's 101 hotline for accessing public services, is that members of the public can draw attention to issues that can be dealt with quickly, as opposed to them having to wait upon less frequent inspections to be noted for action. A policy of encouraging all citizens to take an active interest in their environment can certainly help local government cope better with financial constraint.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Unintended consequences

A pleasant journey over to Bristol today in bright holiday like weather, to help Amanda hunt for a bargain car to replace her Clio, written off last week. It was interesting to note in the three car sales places we visited, how few sub-£1000 cars in decent there are on offer these days. One of the dealers attributed this to the government's car scrappage incentive, taking out of circulation many low value, but otherwise serviceable high mileage vehicles.

This affects those who cannot afford to take out a loan or expend their savings on a high cost subsidised trade in for a new car, and are obliged to look for a low cost cash option. Fortunately with the write-off compensation money available, we were able to identify a few possible purchases after a trek around East Bristol suburbs, and Amanda opted to put a deposit on a diminutive Ford Ka, like the one she had before, only this time bright red.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Pentecost hole

We awoke early enough to get to the eight o'clock Eucharist in warm bright sunlight at the Cathedral for the first time in years. I found the quiet simplicity of the service in such a majestic setting was just what I needed, without needing to socialise beyond a smile and a nod, slipping in and out discreetly through the north east door. I wonder if we really make enough effort to provide mainstream acts of worship like this that allow people to be receptive and contemplative without all the demands of singing and ritual to attend to. Maybe that's a reaction on my part to decades of performing sung services 1-3 times every Sunday. Except for this. 

Owain, now an adult at work in e-marketing, has on times observed that the USP (=Unique Selling Point) of church worship is not its music or ritual, no matter how much adherents may value them, but rather the space, the silence, the occasion to pay attention, to contemplate what is being said, and what the symbols used represent. Why don't you simplify more, to address to those who aren't so literate in their grasp of what's going on? He's asked me. Well we have, if you come to eight o'clock, I thought to myself, but it's hardly the most congenial time in a 24/7 world to attract the masses. The Cathedral has 8.00am and 12.15pm said services, representing about a fifth of their Sunday communicants, and the majority are of the older generation, rather than the young and inquisitive. So this doesn't bear out what Owain says, unless he's right about timing, and about how we present what we offer to a potential new audience. The question is, how is the art of contemplation in worship to be commended, and learned by people schooled by today's climate of thought?

As I was parking the car on return, a neighbour came out and drew our attention to a circular hole, hald a metre wide, which had appeared overnight in the middle of a large tarmac patch further up the street. It looked to me as if some subterranean structure, probably a sewer, had collapsed. I rang the '101' number advertised by the City for any and every emergency and reported this at 8.50am. By 10.15am a Council lorry and a couple of highway workers were on the spot, filling the hole temporarily and cordoning it off with cones. That was impressive, to my mind. Congratulations are due to all who make such things happen.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Sunny Saturday

I donned shorts and a tee shirt and jogged around the block to deliver prescription notes to the doctor's surgery this morning. A mile round trip through the streets. It's the first time I've done that in a couple of years I think. Running seems more natural to me than swimming, even though I felt somewhat ungainly on the outward trip, wary of broken pavements. My feet let me know that they weren't any longer used to this kind of treatment. Happily, I didn't get out of breath - I guess cycling has helped me retain my puff. No doubt I will ache somewhat tomorrow, but at least it's a start to building up fitness, without the worry of having to go to work and cope with the agonies of stiffness at the same time.

After lunch I went bargain car hunting around town for an hour. Amanda had her old reliable Clio written off last week, in the same way as we had our Golf before Christmas - a glancing blow in the wrong place doing more than just denting the bodywork. I didn't have any success, and was astonished to find that the base line price for 'old cars' at enterprises that trade in them is now over £2,000. A copy of Auto Trader revealed that sub £1,000 cars are being traded rather than scrapped, but the market is pretty small. I realise how fortunate we were to be able to replace our written off Golf at no extra expense. My aim is to ensure the same for Amanda.

What nicer way could there be to celebrate a warm blue skied early Summer day, than an afternoon walk across Llandaff Fields, to the Taff trail and then into Llandaff for tea? That's what Clare and I did when I returned from my mission. It's great to see our city's green open spaces so well used by people of all ages. The Cathedral West doors are left wide open to let in the sun as well as visitors.
Such a pity that Cardiff City's Premier League ambitions were thwarted this afternoon, with all the supposed economic benefits that's meant to convey, although for whom, I'm not sure. It's hard to see sport as wealth creation in the same way that manufacturing, research and new technologies are. Let's hope that our fine University will be more of a winner in drawing new enterprise to establish itself here, now the City is saleable with a desirable quality of life and congenial environment.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Movements in sight

Right early this morning I succumbed to Clare's persuasions, and accompanied her to Maindy pool for a swim. Not so early, as I take quite a while to become functional, and the rush hour traffic didn't help, so it was quarter to nine by the time we got into the water. We had a good half an hour before the first school parties moved in. I managed twenty miserable lengths and thought I would burst. I enjoy swimming in the sea, but not in chlorinated indoor pools. It was so long since my last visit that my name had been taken off the admissions system. I had in any case lost my free admission card and had to re-apply, but one was ready for me by the time we left. It took me a while to recover, but I did feel better for the additional exercise. So exercise is obviously something I need to do more of, now I have the free time.

I went and did a couple of hours washing up in St John's tea room at lunchtime. I learned that the advert for a new Vicar had appeared in the Church Times, and the Times (there's posh), and was encouraged, jokingly, to re-apply. This move has clearly boosted morale, as it means an appointment by October is possible, and that will be good for the church.

After this I went and did a stint of database building for Cardiff Business Safe. It appears that the offices where  CBS was based under an informal arrangement emptied two months back by the relocation of City Centre Management to the Old Library, will be handed back to the landlords at the end of next week. This is a worry because it's still several more weeks before CBS can move into its promised allocation of space in the new HQ for Civil Parking Enforcement in Charles Street. Even this arrangement is uncertain because all there is at the moment is a gentleman's declaration of intent, with nothing on paper.

When you think that no pub, bar or club in the City Centre is allowed to open without having a security radio on site, as a condition of its license from the Council and enforced by the Police, it's disturbing to consider that the not for profit voluntary organisation which provides and maintains this radio network for the City, may have to face several weeks with no workplace to call its own. Admin can be done from a laptop at home, but there's a lot of troubleshooting needed daily, and a stream of repairs and kit replacement which cannot be done from a car boot.

CBS was set up as a voluntary body, with lots of good will on the part of all those interested in public safety and crime prevention, so that the security network's existence and use could be independent of the fortunes of any of its stakeholders, whilst relying on a measure of practical support from all. This aimed to put it above politics, but this aim has not been achieved. Party politics is not the issue. It's the internal power politics of local government and those whose aim is to protect their own fiefdom, and disguise their failings - a common weakness of all large organisations and empires in which accountability becomes too complex a process and all to easy to turn into a superficial ritual that disguises reality. As it stands, we're due for a couple of difficult operational weeks.

This evening I attended a 50th anniversary CACEC lecture in honour of its founding father William Hodgkin at City URC, given by one of Wales' leading luminaries, Geraint Talfan Davies, former Millennium Centre and Arts Wales director and head of various TV channels. His theme was 'Religion and the Arts in Wales today'. It was a brilliant, well thought out analysis of the state of religion and culture, with a call to Universities to undertake in depth research into the contemporary role of religion as an inspirer and motivator of contemporary culture, in both languages. Hopefully this lecture will shortly be published and promoted to a much wider audience than the dozen of us who attended.

Archbishop Barry was in the chair. He greeted me on arrival with a smile and volunteered that the new Vicar of St John's appointment had been advertised today. I told him I'd already been informed. There was no point in saying that the process could have been advanced a lot earlier as we'd agreed when I gave a year's notice of my departure.  Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans, as John Lennon once said. The important thing is that the ball is now rolling, and life is going in new directions for all of us.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Home broadband again, at last

When I got up yesterday morning, I switched on the router, all plugged in and ready to go, to check for any sign of life. Lo and behold, the DSL light went green for the first time since leaving the Vicarage three weeks ago. All the laptops in the house work with it - still using the old modem from the Vicarage account, rather than installing the newer, posher one, plenty of time for that later, when all the pictures are up. 

It's been a long wait, and it's such a relief to be able to switch on and find things out, having become so dependent on that level of domestic convenience. What a remarkable change in the way we run our lives over the past fifteen years!

I've had to buy a wireless adaptor to allow my desktop computer tucked away upstairs in the back room now, to talk to the router downstairs, next to the main 'phone. I was thrilled to discover that when I attached the Netgear USB adaptor and booted up Linux, it was recognised automatically and worked immediately. 

Four years ago, I bought the same kind of adaptor to use with a wireless broadband setup and getting it to play properly with Linux was tricky and frustrating, teaching me much about the limits to my skills. Linux has developed such a lot in the past two years that now it's more hassle to install the same USB adaptor on a Windows system, involving running an installation disk, and the procedure takes all of five minutes instead of a second or two. That's what I call progress.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Of ministry and management

I was back in St John's this lunchtime, to pray with a mother and her son whose husband had died abroad on holiday. They were unable to bring his body back for a funeral here, so a daughter had gone out for a cremation service, leaving the rest behind in shock and grief. I'd received an enquiry over the weekend to lead them in some prayers at the same time as the cremation was taking place. I referred it to the Area Dean as priest-in-charge, but he was already booked, and consented to let me take his place.

I took them into the little Herbert Chapel, which as well as being a historic family memorial chapel with a fine seventeeth century chest tomb with effigies, most likely was built two centuries earlier as a chantry chapel, for the daily recitation of Masses for the Dead. It's a little haven of peace along the north side of the Chancel, with a beautiful nineteeth century window of Christ the Good Shepherd - one of two such windows in the church - very much a sign of the value placed on that icon of the Lord in the life of the community and its Parish Church.
I led them quietly and slowly through most of the funeral office without comment, and let the peace of the place work its perpetual miracle. Afterwards, a much relieved widow said: "I didn't think it would help so much, the way I was feeling earlier, but it did." Thus consoled, they departed. I was happy to have been able to help them find what they most needed, in a place so very dear to me. I find it a a great relief not to have all the day to day worries and responsibilities for such a holy place, and a privilege be able to offer the most basic of pastoral ministries freely, wherever I am asked.

With a Street Carers' training session in County Hall to attend in the evening, I spent the afternoon updating information and compiling subscriber invoices for Cardiff Business Safe. Each time a put in a few hours there's something new to learn about how different enterprises manage their finances, which are prompt payers and which are the slowcoaches or avoiders. Some of the large corporate bodies are the worst, due to complex administrative and anti-fraud procedures. Large corporations with strong centralised controls may well know how to communicate with each other, but the demands they make of small suppliers in circumstances of mutual reliance, leave much to be desired, and are close to be oppressive in their demands. Colonialism is far from dead!

Today's hot news is the appointment of a new Chief Executive Officer for Cardiff County Council, John House, currently Bristol Council's deputy CEO. So, none of the internal candidates, either internal to the Council or to Wales got the job. It's a bit like what's happened with several senior appointments in the Diocese of Llandaff this last few years. What does the desire to bring in 'new blood' from outside hope to address on this occasion, I wonder? No doubt all will be revealed in due course.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Rejoicing in freedom

At last, a weekend away. Neither of us have wanted to go far since I finished work and we moved house. Getting sorted out has been top priority. Saturday night, Lament (Kath & Anto's latino band) had a gig in deep rural Northamptonshire, so we were recruited to look after Rhiannon, always a delight for us. So we drove up in time for lunch yesterday, rejoicing in the knowledge that there's be no parting of the ways, with me having to drive home late in order to be there ready for early Sunday morning duties, and Clare staying over to return by  train. Making the lovely journey across country through Archers countryside - Worcestershire and Warwickshire was a pleasure untainted for once by the thought of having to make the return trip in the evening, driving into the setting sun. The pressure is off! And I feel so much better for it.

Not that I needed a lie-in this morning. I wanted just to get up and go to the eight o'clock, and give thanks for the freedom to be there, on the receiving end, enjoying the beauty and serenity of a said Eucharist, with the sound of wrens and thrushes in the trees of the churchyard there in the background. Just to have the time to notice them and savour the hymn of creation without a worry in sight. Here's a photo of St Nicholas' Parish Church from the avenue of stately lime trees leading uphill to it from the road. Such a lot to give thanks for. 
Kenilworth Parish had a Garden Party yesterday. I noticed the Vicar occasionally struggling to maintain the flow of his address and prayers, and identified from my own experience with the symptoms of tiredness. Always clergy are doing too much, giving too much for their own and everyone else's good. I recall Dean Gareth Lewis' words to me back in my USPG days. "What the churches need from you as a visiting priest is your freshness - more than anything be sure to give them freshness."  Thanks for that Gareth - rest in peace, good friend. 

They were wise words. I'm enjoying doing nothing apart from making a home and sorting our affairs at the moment, and am glad nobody is chasing after me to do locum duties - it may help not having widely publicised my new phone number yet - I don't need to feel wanted, I do need to feel refreshed, running on full rather than winging along nearly empty, most of the time. That's how it's felt in the past three years that I worked entirely on my own as priest, contrary to all my wishes and instincts. But that's all behind me.  I'm now in a situation where I can truly 'wait until power comes from on high', and am most grateful for that.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Getting straight at last

I went to the Ascension Day Sung Eucharist last night at the Cathedral. Haydn's Little Organ Mass was sung making it a rather splendid occasion. However, I could have done without the Benedictus being sung. After a suitably brief and bright Sanctus, the Benedictus is actually a five minute organ solo, two minutes of which is the choral rendition of the words themselves. It means that today's celebrant is left standing at the altar waiting to continue the Eucharistic prayer in a most incongruous way. At the time it was written, the priest would have continued post-Sanctus with the silent recitation of the Canon of the Mass, as far as the elevation of the host, to which the Benedictus would be the acclamation, but this is not what is done any more, so really a liturgical re-think is in order to give proper value both to the Eucharistic prayer and the music.

This week we've cleared the remainder of spare stuff from the Vicarage garage, and emptied all the boxes, at home except those containing pictures waiting to be hung. There's not a pile of empties awaiting retrieval by the removers, store in the Vicarage garage - there's no space for them at home, storing everything we need and all we've decided to keep rather than dispose of has been quite an exercise. Fortunately Clare is brilliant at creating storage solutions, and has made lots of extra shelves for our cosy lounge and the dining room, so all is now fairly ship shape. We just need to hang pictures, and that's a cause of some indecision, as many of our art works belong in the much larger Vicarage rooms, which we have now left behind for good. So a big re-think is needed, and our attachments to some of our 'cultural' possessions needs re-assessment.

We have a phone at home, but still no internet. It's made me realise how dependent we've become both for staying in touch with people but also for acquiring up to date information on so many mundane matters. I've done several afternoon sessions of voluntary work for Cardiff Business Safe this week, which at least has given me the opportunity to check emails in the makeshift office, and also at home using a wireless dongle, although this is awkward, as the only place with a decent consistent signal is the attic bedroom. It's given me a personal insight into why universal high quality  broadband supply and access is such a political hot potato. Hopefully, it'll be back to normal by the middle of next week.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Strength in frailty

Back at St John's today to conduct Hilda's funeral. Yesterday evening I spent an hour chatting with her two sisters - she was the eldest of four girls. I learned that the three eldest and their mother had been bombed out of their house in Hackney during the blitz, and had come to Cardiff, where the youngest, Iris, was already an evacuee, still in primary school, was staying with relatives. All three had worked in a factory down the Bay making 'inflatables', as we'd call them today, including barrage balloons and replicas of tanks and guns, used as decoys, positioned to fool air attackers. It was hard physical work, typical of what the 'war effort' meant in a labour intensive era. They stayed on in the company after the war and saw the development of the first inflatable boats and aircraft emergency exit chutes. 

Hilda concluded her working life at 69 in Howell's department store, after a spell working in her uncle's plant nursery. One way or another, it was a long, hard working life for one who had been a sickly child whose prospects of longevity were doubted. She proved more resilient than her parents ever imagined, and was blessed by a long retirement with her sisters before Parkinson's disease struck her. Here's a photo of her  taken in Abbey Dore on the Parish Pilgrimage five years ago.
I admired her physical courage and determination in the face of frailty, coming with her sister to the Eucharist in Tredegarville school after Saint James' had closed, even when that meant using a walking aid to cover the quarter mile journey and two main road crossings to get there from home. She was a quiet, reserved soul, with remarkable inner strength. She received the sacrament with devotion right to the last time I saw her, on the day of my farewell at St John's, finally bedridden and poorly. The rank and file of God's church on earth has many unassuming stalwarts like Hilda. It's a great honour to have been able to minister to some of them in my years as a pastor.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Still waiting for a result

It's four days since the election and we still wait to hear how a new government is to be shaped. Interesting times for us here in the U.K., though this is pretty usual in many European countries. We postal voted again this time round, so Thursday last passed without the ritual visit to the Convent, behind Queen Anne Square,  where our local polling station is located. I stayed up to watch the results until about two, but was falling asleep with boredom as the commentators wittered in speculation about the inconclusive outcome, already obvious from the exit polls. The appliance of 'science' to observing elections takes much of the drama and excitement out of it. The TV debates were interesting, and had an impact on the election process, if only to make people less certain and confident about the choices they'd have to make, after having been so exposed to the three men of the moment trying to out talk each other. 

No matter what the outcome in terms of governance turn out to be, my vote was cast, not with national leaders in mind, but still on the question of which candidate locally will best serve the interests of the constituency. I look forward to the day when the voting system will be designed to reflect more truly the voting wishes of the electorate across the board, despite the fact that it will lead more often than not to the kind of hung Parliament which we are now bound to get. I am much more in favour of multi party government, where the best policy wins rather than the best parties to win the support of our MPs, and the electorate.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

A memorable wedding

Yesterday, Vanessa and Keith got married at St John's. They invited my predecessor Mac Ellis and I to share the service between us, and scores of Vanessa's musician friends took part. Just about the whole of the regular congregation turned out to celebrate with them. The music was glorious, and there was a 'vin d'honneur' with lots of cake in church afterwards. There must have been 250 people there, such a happy occasion. Clare and I joined the family feast in the evening at New House Country Hotel, and that was a splendid occasion with superb food and funny speeches from Vanessa's brothers.
This is the only wedding St John's has booked for this year. But, it was truly a 'quality' wedding in which the deeply sincere Christian meaning of marriage was upheld and rejoiced in by all who took part, as can happen when two members of the regular congregation meet, fall in love and marry. A memory to treasure.

I went to the Cathedral Sung Eucharist at eleven this morning, and found the music and indeed the traditional full Prayer Book service was just what I needed to be on the receiving end of, having been on the giving end of the same kind of experience for the past seven and a half years, I find I have not tired of it. More than anything at the moment, I need to be quiet, to wait and receive (as well as get on with the necessary unpacking and adjustments to lifestyle), so I appreciate living so near. When I'm properly organised, it'll be just 20 minutes walk, or eight minutes by bike. What more could one ask?

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Foreign territory

Time to start registering changes of address at various banks, and paying the first Council Tax instalment before setting up the regular dircet debit. It's very notable that all three banks have quite different security procedures in order to establish who you are, all a bit disconcerting really.

I queued for over half an hour in the Post Office to pay the Council Tax only to discover that a special plastic account identity card is necessary to make a cash payment, or else you have to pay the Post Office two quid for taking your money and passing it on. This I found most irritating. How simple it would have been for the Council Treasury to have included such a plastic card in with their account invoice for the year, but no, I then had to go down to the new library and apply for one (takes three weeks), at the ground floor section next to the internet terminals, which now houses the Connect to Cardiff offices.

The computer network was running too sluggishy to make checking emails a slick and easy experience, which makes me think that someone somewhere has underestimated the amount of network traffic on a sub system with over ninety PCs for public use, plus WiFi connectivity.

Having to learn new ways of doing things took me back to our first few months in Geneva, when banking, dealing with procedures to do with residence, employment, taxation and transport all had to be learned from scratch, even if they all seemed fairly recognisable on the surface. Then it struck me that entering retirement for me involves learning new bits of bureaucracy to do with pensions, taxation and so on, and this makes it equally a 'foreign land' experience.

Everyone I meet wants to know how retirement is going so far. Now I have something to say - it's just like moving abroad.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Sadness and consolation

I heard from Iris this morning that her 91 year old sister Hilda died early this morning in hospital, after being admitted with a stroke yesterday. Hilda was one of the last people to whom I gave communion at home two weeks ago, on my farewell Sunday. As it's a Bank Holiday today, there's bound to be a delay in making the necessary arrangements. I promised Iris I'd be there for them both - it's not a matter of work but the debt of friendship owed to these two women who were so constant in their support for my attempt to keep a Sunday service going in Tredegarville school after the closure of St James'. All this was despite Hilda's growing frailty, and mobility problems, quietly and courageously borne. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

Another day of unpacking and organising, with a few visits to the tip to clear more redundant stuff from the Vicarage garage. The only justification for having accumulated so much is that we raised three kids of our own, and fostered a third. Equipping a succession of large houses over the years has encouraged us to expand to accommodate the needs of the brood - needs no longer there, so this is a recognition that a phase of our lives lasting 25 years and over for 15 in effect, now concludes. Our dear neighbour, with whom we had drinks on Saturday, said that he'd prefer to be carried out in his coffin than have to face clearing house and moving. I sympathise, now the job is nearly done.

As a great comfort and consolation, Clare baked bread and cooked pizza for supper, to celebrate the beginning of our new domestic life. The smell of bread freshly baked filled the house like incense, and in a way it consecrates the house just as incense blesses a church.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

An unexpected treasure found

We joined the St John's neighbouring congregation of St Mary's Bute Street for their Sung Mass this morning. Fr Graham was on good form, encouraging people to vote in the elections, Thursday coming. It was nice and relaxed, and good to be on the reeiving end once more of the ministry of an old friend. After that it was back to unpacking. With the kitchen and bedrooms and a sitting room sorted, both of us started work on organising our work places. In my case it's a matter of continuing to sort and shred old documents, to ensure there's enough space for everything else.

In the process of sorting, there was a marvellous surprise. I found a plastic folder with a dozen or so typescript pages of eccentric stories written for the children thirty years ago, around two adventurous characters called Reggie the Rabbit and Neddie the Horse. The stories, delivered mainly ad lib, are recollected with fondness by my daughters now they have daughters to tell bedtime stories to, and several times they've asked if I had any of them written down. Well, I don't recall ever having done so, but a few weeks ago I discovered a few handwritten pages of story fragments, and now three complete stories to digitise and send them. It's a real unexpected pleasure to be reminded of that particular period of creativity in my life.