Friday, 30 July 2010

From frontier to frontier

Wednesday we travelled right across Switzerland to see our friends Heinz and Maria-Luisa who live in Grabs, close to Lichtenstein and to the Rhine, which forms the border with Austria at this point. The five hour journey took us through Lausanne, Fribourg and Bern to Zürich, where we changed trains, to go south in the direction of the Alps, on the Chur/Coire train for an hour to Sargans, where we changed to a local train for Buchs, then finally a bus to Grabs. It's our first visit here in twelve years.

As we crossed the country, we passed from warm sunshine and clear skies into cooler regions with rain. It was quite a pleasant relief after a fortnight of heat, and the mountains wreathed in cloud looked particularly dramatic. What immediately struck me was how bright were the greens of the grass and trees. The Suisse Romande appears parched, although this is not really the case, as grain crops are widely grown, and the huge fields are golden brown colour before and after harvesting.

Our friends trained with Clare in Stourbridge twenty years ago, and we've kept in touch since they returned home. Naturally, there was a great deal of catching up to do. We saw them at home last, during the first winter in their new eco-house, designed innovatively at that time to have a minimal carbon footprint. It was a old rural village house made largely of wood, and its interior was transformed to optimise conservation of energy, which means that all year round is is never too hot not too cold. 

We were given a room in the roof with a picture window balcony view across the Rhine valley to Austria, wreathed in clouds. Its wooden walls and roof are one, like a large barrel a train tunnel, a beautiful and serene space in which to sleep, drummed gently to sleep by the persistent rain. 

Having talked until late, we slept late. Sunrise was concealed un-noticed behind clouds. After breakfast, Heinz fetched a car to use for the day from the local 'Mobility' car pool - they don't need to own a vehicle, as they cycle most places every day, and for longer distances public transport is outstandingly good with plenty of provision for taking bikes on trains. These are well thought out sustainable options. The Swiss are way ahead of the field in making the ideal a reality when it comes to transport. 

The reason for having a car was to get the four of us as conveniently as possible into the mountains for lunch and a trip around the inner and outer Cantons of Appenzell, with its spectacular mountains and green hills. It's a much promoted and popular tourist region, yet despite this it gives the impression of being unspoiled. That's partly because of careful ancient building conservation and planning of new accommodation in a style that reflects the old. Traffic is carefully managed, and coaches kept right away from the town centre. 

The Canon of Appenzell is for historical reasons completely enclosed by the much larger Canton of St Gall. The town of St Gall is the transport and economic hub of Eastern Switzerland. A one metre gauge railway owned and run proudly by the Canton of Appenzell links the enclave with the main rail network. It has fairly modern rolling stock but is famously slow running because the track beds have not been upgraded since it was built a century ago. This is deemed to be bad for those who commute to work elsewhere, but it's great for tourists who won't mind a leisurely journey, to savour the landscape. 

During the afternoon the rain stopped and the clouds broke up, although not sufficiently for us to be able to see the 2,500m Säntis summit which dominates the Alpstein chain of mountains running through the Canton. We drove up the pass to the point where the cable car departs for the summit. The views from here, just above the tree line are also spectacular, and made more interesting by the ever changing clouds. 

Another time, when we have more time, we'll either ride or take one of the steep paths upwards, several hours climb at least, and weather permitting. There's a new rotating restaurant at the top. We've seen it already on CFF promotional posters in railway stations across the country. 

Today, after another late night of talking and a late breakfast, we returned to Geneva, impressed by the punctuality and ease of connections punctuating our journey and even more impressed by the output of information in German, French and English broadcast over train and station public address systems. It's designed to made train changing as simple as possible. There are usually gaps between connections that are long enough to allow for platform changes in large stations, which could be accomplished with ease by someone pulling heavy luggage or in a wheelchair.  Everything is so well thought out. It's no wonder the railways here are so well used.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Reformation Town

This morning I completed the on-line application form to obtain a copy of my police record from the Swiss authorities, paid for it on-line, printed it off and signed it ready for posting to Berne, although printing had to wait until I'd fetched Claudine from the airport, and I'd had sufficient time to coax the printer into doing its proper job on demand. It's so frustrating when simple things don't happen automatically.

Then Clare and I took the tram to Balexert shopping centre, where I was able to post it, and buy a card to send to the St John's tea room crew. It'll be another fortnight or so before I see them all again. After a fruitless hour looking for a birthday present to take home, Clare returned and I went on into the city for a late afternoon photo expedition to the vieille ville.

Compared to many similar mainly 17th -18th century urban environments, Geneva's old buildings are quite restrained, with very little baroque embellishment. In the winter they can look sombre and dark, but in good summer sunlight, their built-to-last quality stands out well, and there's no shortage of trees and greenery to add bright relief to the substantial grey of the stonework.

I went and sat at the back of the twelfth century former cathedral of St Pierre, and remnisced about times I'd spent there, leading Holy Trinity Church's annual Nine Lessons and Carols service for a congregation of over a thousand. It's a majestic building, stripped of its papistical liturgical décor, bare as a cistercian monastery, except for the great pulpit from which Calvin, Farel, Knox and other reforming luminaries preached, with pews for the hearers. There's a long narrow communion table on the top chancel step, from which the Eucharist is distributed to queues of the faithful by several ministers standing side by side. In this it resembles a shop counter more than something domestic sanctified, but at least it makes you think differently for once about what you're doing.

I thoroughly enjoyed rediscovering streets once familiar to me, with their classy art galleries, antique shops, fashion boutiques, restaurants and exclusive old style apartments tucked away behind courtyards with high wooden gates. With Swiss Confederation festival day occuring this Sunday, all of the many flagpoles of the old town were bearing the city's huge standard, adding an extra layer of colour to the usual grey and green. All very tasteful and dignified, just the way I like it.

I journeyed back to Meyrin using the tram as far as Cornavin station, and then the commuter shuttle train from there to home. This journey is fifteen minutes by tram plus a ten minute walk, whereas the train takes five minutes and stops just two minutes walk from the door. With a little planning one can travel right across the Canton far quicker by public transport than is ever possible by car. I look forward to the day when one can say the same about Cardiff.

Monday, 26 July 2010

A high perspective on Geneva

Clare went off the the other end of the lake this afternoon, to see a former colleague which lives on a hill among the vineyards near Grandvaux, not far from Vevey. I mooched around town for a while and then went back to find out what I could about ordering a copy of my criminal record file from the state authorities in Bern. This is part of the routine for obtaining a Permission to Officiate as a retire cleric in the Anglican diocese in Europe, something I proposed I would do once retired. I'd been told that an application could be done over the counter at the main Post Office, or via the internet, but I had a feeling it was not as easy as that, so I skipped the counter queues and headed home to Meyrin.

On-line, I discovered that I would have wasted my time queuing to get the paper forms, as these are now only available for you to complete and print yourself via the Swiss government website. You can pay at the Post Office in cash once you have the print out, then send off the receipted document, or you can pay on-line, which I opted to do. The current cost is CHF12. That's about eight quid. The government website in question is informative, accessible and quite well structured, in German, French, Italian and English. The latter has become the unofficial second language, not least because there are so many foreigners and Swiss nationals using English at work if not at home. After a careful read, I was comforted to think that it was going to less of a trial than I had anticipated, to accomplish the task on-line.

Clare returned and went direct to Petit Sacconex, where our friend Manel lives, and I went out and joined her there, using the tram and a connecting bus followed by a short walk through the Parc du Budé to reach her apartment. Our former GP Pierre and his wife, both memebrs of Holy Trinity congregation, were also guests, plus a colleague of Manel's just moving back into Geneva to the HQ of the UN HCR (High Commission for Refugees) after a posting in East Africa. He told us that the family's goods and chattels were somewhere out on the high seas, coming to Europe via Cape Horn rather than the Suez Canal these days, because of the threat from Somalian pirates. I bet that puts the prices up.

Manel took us up to see the roof garden of her apartment block. It has eight floors of apartments, plus a two storey garden with double swimming pool on top. There are grass lawns with daisies and violets, flowering shrubs and several mature trees flourishing up there. Located on the modest hill of the Parc du Budé site, the upper garden is by a fraction the highest point across the city. View in all directions are spectacular, especially on a variable cloudy evening as the sun is setting and rain threatens.

The Parc was, like most of 20th century Geneva, once farmland. Its original owners gave developers a 99 year lease in the sixties, to put up apartment blocks, a school, community facilities and shops on strict condition that some of the farm land and its buildings were retained in use for their proper purpose. And this is still the case, in the middle of a densely populated urban area. There's even a farm shop selling produce grown there!  The original owners have retired and the farming has been taken over by two creative young men, who are in the process of optimising available land for food production. The first year, all was ploughed over using a tractor. The second year, they used a horse drawn plough - far less disruptive to neighbours, and highly educative for neighbouring school children. Brilliant.

Our little excursion to the roof was a surprise apèrtif before Manel gave us a superb Sri Lankan curry. She told us that she's applied for Swiss nationality now she's retired. Her family is spread around the world, and reaching them, starting from Geneva as home, is the best option, and of course, after a working life in UN HCR, it's where most of her friends and colleagues still live. There are people of every nationality on earth living in Geneva. Hosting all nations is something of a vocation for the genèvois. It's also a profitable busines to get right and continue to do well, as the needs of globalisation change. Yet it retains well its distinct identity as a city of the Suisse Romande. I wonder how much this is to do with the unique setting, the power of the landscape itself to shape its destiny and character as an unique place of meeting?

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Blessings counted

This morning we went to the main Family Eucharist at Holy Trinity Church Geneva, and met even more people whom we haven't seen for years. HTC has a fine traditional robed choir, a childrens' choir and an 'informal' choir, which sings spiritual songs and choruses from a variety of european and african sources. It was this group's turn to contribute to the service, making it a joyous affair. After Communion, they sang a special song in a leave taking ceremony of blessing for the Kenyan ambassador and his wife, who'd joined the congregation at the start of their tour of duty seven years ago. It's a church whose life is punctuated by the comings and goings of workers in the international communities of the city.

After the service we met up with Irene and her fiancée Thomas, to whom we were introduced for the first time. They took us to Port Gitana, a restaurant on the lakeside in Genthod, a few miles out of town, for a long, leisurely 'catch up and get to know you' lunch in the shade overlooking the tiny harbour.

When they decided to marry, Irene had told him she wanted me to conduct the ceremony, only it took several years for her to get around to telling me this. In fact it was only last week over the phone that she sprung the surprise on me. Not that I minded. For her this is a new beginning in life, having brought up three daughters as a single parent holding down a diplomatic staff job in Geneva, thousands of miles from her family in East Africa, after her marriage turned abusive and died. She's always been a woman of prayer and radiant faith, so she's never been a victim or a survivor, but one who has plumbed the depths and risen to new life. It makes her amazing at encouraging others with difficulties.

Thomas is a German businessman she got to know in the course of her work providing telephone support and advice for him from Geneva during a visit he was making to her homeland during a period when the security situation there was fragile and threatening. Romance arrived later, and is giving them both great joy, and in the coming year, when the last of her girls leaves home for university the wedding will signify a fresh start for them both. We're thrilled to witness their joy and hope, having shared some of her suffering when it seemed her family life was in ruins fifteen years ago. They are obviously giving each other a new lease of life in their middle years, and having fun, both together and with the children.

Thomas told the story of how he'd taken Irene to meet his father with some haste as he was dying, and he wanted his father to share his happiness before he left this world. He spoke no English, she spoke no German, but typical of Irene, she took his hand and prayed with him, a long lapsed church-goer, who so appreciated this, he kept asking her to pray with him. He made enough of a recovery to leave hospital and live the best part of a year longer, and she was there to pray with him on his deathbed. 

Irene's brother is a priest, her mother, now in her eighties is a lay preacher whose 'golden years' project is to complete the building of a church in the country visit where she lives, near Mbale. To work for your country's ambassador and be a natural ambassador for Christ in your own right is one of God's unusual surprises.

At tea time we made our way home using the country bus rather than wait for the fast train. It took us on quiet roads with spectacular views of the Jura and lake, which we recalled from pleasant summer cycling trips in times past. However busy it could get, this setting often gave an uplift to our lives - except when the clouds sat just above our heads and rained ice and hail on us, as it did most winters - just like Cardiff.


Saturday, 24 July 2010

Visions from on high

Today we drove around the contournement (the western Geneva ring road) to the French border, and then went along the Annecy Road up the Col de Mont Sion, where we turned south and up hill to reach the Salève, the limestone ridge which overlooks Geneva from the south side, rising 1300 metres, which is nearly 900 metres above lac Léman.  We had a picnic lunch in a lay by overlooking lac d'Annecy, the plateau des Glières and the  chaine des Aravis mountain rainge, all clearly visible, across the broad valley ten miles across below us.

We then drove up as far as we could and parked next to the restaurant by the France Telecom relay tower, and then walked for an hour along the crest of the ridge, through rich alpine pastures filled with brown cows, treated to a symphony of cowbells tickling, topped exquisitely by a skylark.

I think I had just an ordinary camera last time we were last up here, so I had a feast of photographing the dramatic scenery in every direction, including some good closeups of hang gliders suspended on thermal currents fifty metres or so off the cliff edge where we were standing. At was cool up there, and cloudy, but not overcast, so in every direction the skies looked dramatic.

It's rather a slow drive to get to the top. The alternative is to use the cable car from Veyrier on the border, which is spectacular, but also expensive - fine if you have a tight tourist schedule, but not when you have a leisurely afternoon to savour the breadth of beauty reveal up on high. For anyone confused about the urban geography of Geneva, the view from the Salève is the right remedy, since everything is visible and can be pointed out, like on a relief map. Well, we were, after all, higher than Snowdon is above Caernarfon, lest anyone forget the sheer scale of the landscape here, atop one tiny fragment of the alpine range which runs for several hundred miles across this region.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

More time for friends

We were invited out both for lunch and supper today, to meet with old friends and congregation members of Holy Trinity Church. It was such a pleasure to catch up with people in the relaxed atmosphere of Alec's and Anne-Marie's beautiful garden at the opposite end of Meyrin from where we are staying. Although we have been there many times over the years, even since leaving Geneva, we had difficulty finding our way there, simply because their neighbour's garden, where you turn off the access road, has now sprung a large  high white fence, transforming the landmarks we'd got used to. 

It made me realise how much we rely on things looking the same. And of course things change not infrequently - particular where roads are concerned. The route de Meyrin out of the city centre all the way to the French border is essentially the same as it's been for at least the past half century, but navigation now requires great caution, as the centre section of the road is occupied by tram lines and stops, with additional sets of lights to give trams and buses priority. I hope this means it's safer for everyone.

In the evening we drove over to Versiox where Yvette had invited us to dine with mutual friends Andrea and Peter, who lived in a neighbouring apsrtment block before moving to Scarborough several years ago. We spend a couple of holidays looking after their apartment while they were away in those days. There's a collection of identical style apartment blocks located either side of the railway line at Pont Céard station, and finding the street was no bother. When we came to park however, we had both forgotten which side of the railway station the apartments are located - yet it's only three or four years since we were last here. 

The penny soon dropped, and very soon we were welcomed and installed for a lovely evening of more catching up. There's hardly ever opportunity to reminisce, as there's so much to tell about what's been happening as years whizz by. Maybe the time for reminiscence is when you become so inactive that looking back is only thing you have left to do.

Quiet afternoon in Versoix

Today clouds moved in and obscured both Alps and Jura. Keith Dale left the house for a London flight at 6.30am. At 9.30am we took Claudine into work over in Montbrillant, near where we used to live, ready equipped for an evening flight, straight after work, also to London. Now we're in charge of the house and their two Bouvier de Flandres hounds. They have been notably quiet and well behaved for us all day.

Perhaps that's because the temperature dropped ten degrees centigrade, making it bearably humid. After lunch we ventured out to Versoix, to permit Clare to swim with the tame ducks off the pebbly beach in the parc de Port Choiseul, next to which we also lived for five years. I sat on the beach and photographed the birds and the boats. Our memories of this quiet corner are of simple pleasure in the beauty of the lakeside, rarely coarsened by its hosts of summer weekend visitors. No glitz or glamour, just decent food at the two buvettes (snack bars), and lots of children coming and going, learning to sail little dinghies out of the école nautique in the port. 

Versoix was developed in the nineteenth century before roads really got going as a trading port to permit French neighbours to get their goods directly across to towns on the other side, or upstream to other lake side towns. Lake pleasure boats plying between Geneva and Lausanne via Evian still include Versoix Bourg in the older part of town on their landing timetable.

After the beach, we paid a visit to Monnot's bakery in Versoix Bourg for a drink. We used to buy our fresh pain chocolats and croissants here. Owain and his mates would buy a whole tray of fresh bakes at six in the morning on their ways home from all night raves somewhere in the Canton or beyond, back in the last century.

As we left for home rain began to fall, refreshing the air and reviving our spirits with the same simple delight and blessings as we experienced yesteryear.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Ski terrain revisited

Yesterday we took the inter city train to Yverdon and then the regional train up to Ste Croix in the Jura to meet up with our friends Valdo and Anne-Lise. The train actually stops in their home village of Balumes, but I was determined that for once we'd ride the train up the long slow ascent through ancient pine forests, and meet with them up there. I've been to Baulmes several times, but never taken this train, and a special treat it was, as the carriages are equipped with large panoramic windows, permitting a great view.

After we'd met up, they took us to a chalet restaurant up on the mountain side overlooking ste Croix, surrounded by summer pastures, grazed by cows. Here we lunched in a large simple cheerful indoor room with long tables covered in red chequered plastic, eating the special fare on offer - Gruyère cheese fritters, made with a special batter of flour and beer, with green salad - as much as you can eat for CHF17.

Then we took the short walk uphill to the viewing point at 1400m that offers a panorama of the entire range of the Alps to the south, looking beyond lac de Neuchatel in the green and golden patchwork of the plain below, with Lac Léman just visible to the west in the heat haze. The viewing point was on top of one of the dozen or so limestone vertical outcrops which project like pillars from the cliff rising 800m from Baulmes below.  These are known as the 'aiguilles de Baulmes'. Then we wandered along the paths either side and visited a couple of other aiguilles (without benefit of safety rails) before driving along the forested plateau familiar to Valdo and I from previous winter ski expeditions. It was wonderful to see how rich and green everywhere was. Covered in a thick layer of snow, the landscape is almost monochrome, though due to our good luck the sky is usually blue. The transfiguration of summer is memorable and moving to behold.

We stopped for tea at a wide open place with a slightly different equally spectacular known as 'le balcon des Alpes', with a broad rounded hilltop edge, rather than a cliff. Here we watched and photographed hang gliders as they arrived, prepared and went off the steep slope in search of late afternoon thermal currents that would enable them to rise another 500m before making their gentle descent into a field outside Vuitboeuf far below. Most notable was a young Japanese girl being initiated into the experience by flying tandem with an instructor - 'baptème en pleine air' the French call it. 

Her friend came along to take photos with a large presumably Japanese camera  (well, me too). It took ages to get ready, then in an instant the breeze blew up and in a few seconds the parachute was inflated and they were off the ground. About ten minutes later, after the couple had gained altitude, they made a low pass over the take off spot, which took the girl's companion completely by surprise, as she didn't have her camera ready when whoops of delight and excitement became audible above our heads. It may be an amazing experience, but it's not one I'd fancy paying out several hundreds of francs to endure - nor free for that matter.

Valdo and Anne-Lise took us back to Ste Croix for the ten past six train. With rail connections working perfectly, and a through train from Yverdon to Geneva, we were back home in exactly two hours. It was great to see them again, and to have a day conversing mostly in French. It always surprises me when I get started how easily it comes back, even if vocabulary recall is a little slow on times. Like the food and the climate, the change makes all the difference.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Mandement - a border stroll

Yesterday morning we drove out into the neighbouring countryside at the west end of Geneva canton to Dardagny through the district historically known as the Mandement. The Rhone leaves Lac Léman and winds its leisurely way out of Switzerland and into France through rolling hillsides given over to vineyards and orchards - it's been described as 'la Provence genevoise', and has its own noted food and wine trail. The Rhone is wide enough to have its own swimming beach at one point, while at others it passes, green and silent through dense woodland.

The district is a walker's paradise, and trails criss cross the franco-suisse border, so we stopped and took an hours stroll through tall trees populated by many different kinds of butterflies, going so energetically about their business that they were almost impossible to photograph. We climbed until we emerged from the trees on to a hilltop with a view packed with vineyards all the way back into the city limits. We could just see the tiny white crest of the jet d'eau rising ten kilometres in the distance above the collection of suburban high rise apartments which houses the population of Le Lignon commune.

Then we descended to Dardagny and lunched under umbrellas on the patio of the tea room. The heart of the village with its imposing Mairie and much smaller protestant Temple side by side is a well conserved 18-19th century environment. More recent residential building has been kept to the periphery, and takes advantage of the wooded landscape. There we several caves vinicoles in the village, but being a Monday lunchtime none were open for business - just as well, as the temperature had risen into the thirties again by this time, so we headed home for a siesta.

In the evening we were taken out for supper in a Vietnamese restaurant just across the border outside Ferney Voltaire, by Michael and Barbara Bell, dear friends at whose wedding I had officiated just six years ago in Canterbury. Both a professional translators, still working well into retirement and loving it, as they can take on as much or as little as interests them. We met two of their colleagues, and passed a pleasant evening in conversation at table in the open air, mostly waiting to be served as the place was very crowded. It was late, and thankfully somewhat cooler when we slipped across the border back to Meyrin. For all the hassles borders can present, they are still among the most interesting places to be, not least because cultures interact and stimulate each other there.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

A blest Sunday

Today the sky was blue from end to end, Mont Blanc was visible for the first time since our arrival and we were blessed with a cool breeze. Just the perfect climate for the Lord's Day.

For the first time since we left Geneva, we attended worship together at Holy Trinity Anglican Church this morning. Matins too! We received such a warm welcome from so many people we remembered and who still remembered us, it was just like turning up again at St John's. The same was true in the afternoon, when we were taken over to Gingins for the Eucharist, at which I had been invited to preside and preach. I don't know how I managed to pack to come away without including any liturgical robes but I did. It's only the second time in three months that I've celebrated, and I guess habitual checks which used to be automatic when a liturgical engagement was in prospect, are already beginning to slip. But nobody minded I was in ordinary clothes with just a borrowed stole. 

There were forty present, a goodly number for mid summer, and it was the occasion for announcing the name of the candidate selected as the pastor for the chaplaincy. The existing chaplain's gave notice of resignation just before Easter and his resignation took effect only at the beginning of July, so evidently the diocese in Europe worked hard and fast to ensure there would be as short an interregnum as necessary. We were told of a short-list of four: two men and two women.  One of the women candidates was selected. Everybody was pleased and happy with the news. I couldn't help but feel for St John's people back home, receiving the recent news of failure to appoint my successor. And that with a year's notice of my departure to prepare. Is it any wonder that good faithful people feel not listened to and taken for granted?

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Time to think

Because of the heat, we've had two quiet days, with brief excusions into the city centre and local walks, plus a fair amount of eating sleeping and for one in a while in my case, reading. When we met on Tuesday, Julia enthused about a book by Melvyn Matthews, whom I remember as Bristol University Anglican Chaplain at the time I was Team Rector of the St Paul's area of the city. He went on from there to work at Ammerdown ecumenical conference centre near Bath, and eventually to Wells Cathedral, where his gift as a writer and spiritual guide developed to the full. The book in question is called 'Both alike to thee', the title is a quote from Psalm 139 verse 12. (also used in an exquisite Taizé chant 'La tenèbre n'est point tenèbre devant toi: la nuit comme le jour est lumière'). The book's subtitle is: 'The retrieval of the mystical way'.

It's a learned discussion about the taming and domestication of Christian spirituality which has gone on since the Renaissance. It's a process which has detracted from ancient thinking about the divine mysteries of faith, in which the utterly transcendent majesty of the unseen and unknowable God of all stood above and beyond all human notions of incarnation and 'God in the ordinary'. Matthews understands mysticism as a reaction, a protest against the tendency of both church ritual and doctrine to contain rather than point towards the mystery of the Author of Being. While the book is hard work, intellectually speaking, its threads of argument connect with elements in my own experience, and my own frustration with the official church's current problems at retaining both its credibility and cohesion in a spiritually hungry, insecure time.

Matthews points out that we all too readily speak about God as if God were nothing more than another reality in the realm of existence. He claims we have reduced our way of thinking about God, and our God talk reflects it. This says more about us and our self obsession in compliance to the spirit of the age than it does about God. God-talk should be disturbing and uncomfortable, shaking our preconceptions and complacency: awkward, fragmented, unfinished, because nothing we can say however magnificent can contain the divine reality. We should have problems talking about God, we should not find it easy, to even begin to express a fragment of the reality of our Creator. Better to be speechless with awe he thinks. I like this. It resonates well with me after forty one years of striving to be an official spokesman and defender of the church, striving against fundamentalist authoritarianism in all its manifestations.

He speaks about the contemplative person being able to stand and identify with those who are on the margins of society because they have a deeper freedom within themselves and do not find their authenticity or identity given them by the establishment to which they belong. This too rang bells with me. I have been reflecting lately on my reasons for punctual retirement. I've lived an active and exposed life in public ministry, and felt increasingly inadequate discharging that commission, whether the feeling was true and typical for my age, or an illusion bred by un-necessary tiredness. I'd rather feel inadequate than be complacent, but the question that's come to dominate in recent years is how to remain true to God, how to grow in openness to God beyond the role assigned me by the Church or by public perception of its representatives - particularly when much of the Church seems to have become confused in understanding its own value and true purpose?

I don't think I'll ever be a decent contemplative, but that's what I yearn to work at - to keep knocking at the gates of glory, for as long as I have breath in my body. Melvyn Matthew's book makes me feel this may be less bizarre than it sounds.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Bienne and Laura's new house

At eight yesterday morning, our host took delivery of a new dishwasher and a new fridge, which required fitting in to their existing kitchen by two delivery men who spoke with the characteristically droll accent of the young Genevois. This early awakening got us up and out of the house in good time to catch the 11h14 train to Bienne. It's a lovely journey along the side of two lakes and wooded countryside, flanked by the south facing slopes of the Jura, carpeted and patterned with vineyards and orchards. The last time I did the trip, eighteen months ago, was in mid-winter under grey skies with a half carpet of snow. This time we saw the landscape in all its technicolour glory.

Laura met us at the station, herself in transit at that moment, to give us instructions for reaching her house later. Then we had several hours to eat and discover the town centre. There's a mediaeval village with the remnants of its fortification spreading upwards from the base of a south facing hillside, and several old squares (I think they were all triangular shaped), and a large town church. These areas were in the throes of being transformed with stages and ad hoc restaurants for a festival - a rather leisurely hive of activity in the heat.

Above the old town, on the other side of a country railway branch line, the tree clad hillside is a network of steep steps and narrow winding roads rising up 400 metres from the plain, distributed with houses of varying age and design, many with their own terraced gardens and a view of the twentieth century town centre beneath. The Rolex factory is dominant on the hillside and visible all along the main shopping street below. 

The railway station stands with its Greek portico facade about a kilometre from the old town quarter. All the area in between forms the modern commercial heart of the town. It looks as if it's developed with less thought for aesthetics than function, a mixture of irritating if not jarring styles and shapes, in contrast to the more ancient domestic and civic forms of the old town.  We climbed up the hill to try and get an overview for a photograph but this proved difficult. The many trees, dense housing and garden walls obscured the panoramic view. If we'd been able to find and use the funicular railway to the summit, no doubt our quest would have been rewarded, but not on this occasion.

At tea time we went out to the eastern suburb where Laura lives, and found her at home in her new Swiss wooden house. Say that and you immediately think of an alpine chalet, but this is a modern eco- house, built on a mound from which it projects over a garage cum storage space. Pictures here show the building before its present vegetation had grown up, and doesn't do it full justice. It's a large one storey flat roofed assembly of wooden boxes inside a box, with a quarter of a metre space between inner and outer walls packed with insulation (hemp fibre). The entire house is heated by two smallish wood burning stoves. The outer surface is clad in armoured glass, giving the building its dark brown earth colour. It's surrounded by trees and bushes whose reflections make the large flat surfaces come alive with movement. 

All the doors are designed to be wide enough and the rooms large enough to move around in a wheel chair and never feel cramped. There are no steps, but there is a gentle gradient from the entrance of the house up to the bedrooms. All the interior surfaces are high quality wooden composites in a light beech colour. Little furniture is needed apart from chairs and tables because entire walls and corridors have tall  built in cupboards enclosed by effortless sliding doors, providing ample space for domestic needs, and making it possible to banish all clutter, outdoor clothes, cleaning appliances, TV, hi fi, computers etc.

The centre section of the box is cut away to form a sheltered courtyard. Lounge and bedroom windows look out on to this. Apart from one corridor window, no rooms look outwards to the neighbours. I guess this requirement didn't figure too highly in the owner's design priority of making the best of the time and space he had left with his wife who was in the latter stages of terminal ilness. Sadly, she didn't live to see it completed. Let's hope that the planning journey gave them both great joy. The house is a place of beauty and inner spaciousness, a tribute to their domestic vision.

All this gave us lots to talk about, as Laura prepared us a superb meal, which involved me in half an hour of turning the handle of a pasta machine. I 'm now motivated to get ours out of the cupboard when we get home, and revive the habit. It's amazing to think that when we went to Geneva, church secretary Laura had recently given birth to Camilla. She wasn't there with us on this occasion, but over in Fribourg hunting for lodgings ahead of the start of her first semester as a law student in university there. It was just great to catch up on all the news around the supper table in the relative cool of the evening, before heading home in the dusk on a succession of well timed connecting trains, all the way to Meyrin by eleven fifteen.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Subscribing to Swiss railways

Another morning whiled away avoiding the heat, then a trip down to the huge Balexert shopping mall where the CFF (Swiss Railways) have a travel booth (for want of a better word) where you can buy tickets pick up timetables, and make enquiries of pleasant, well informed staff. 

After considering our travel plans for the next couple of weeks, an on-line enquiry confirmed that even as non residents we could buy a CFF annual rail card, and have all our Swiss travel at half price. Our first two long distance trips would cost 600Fr (approx £380) with or without a rail card. From the third trip, everything is half price, and the card is valid for the next time we return. Also for £35 with a rail card, you can go anywhere you want in Switzerland for the day, from Lac Léman to the Bodensee, through the Simplon tunnel to Domodossola, and then on a narrow gague alpine railway to Locarno, on to Lugano on the Italian border for lunch and a stroll before heading home to Geneva via Zurich. I could go on and on. This is a train fancier's paradise, whether you like the vintage stuff or the hi tech inter city expresses.

Whilst it's horrid paying out such a lot of cash in one fell swoop, it gave us both a great sense of excitement to own a rail card once more, as we did throughout our eight years as Geneva residents. To be able to travel anywhere on one of the world's greatest networks through one of the earth's most beautiful countries, at a reasonably affordable cost is a great pleasure, and feels like a privilege. All this holiday's extra travel is possible due to the kindness and generosity of St John's people towards us as we left the Parish. 

Our first outing tomorrow is to Bienne/Biel, a franco-german bi-lingual town at the east end of Lake Neuchâtel, a hub of the watchmaking industry, home to the now famous Swatch brand, which salvaged Swiss clock and watchmaking enterprise when new digital timekeeping mechanisms from the east overwhelmed the traditional market for time pieces 25 years ago. It's 85 minutes away by Inter City Express. Our friend Laura has just moved there to live, and wants us to see their new house, but she is being quite mysterious about it and says "Just wait and see."

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Pays de Gex

After a slow start to the day, necessitated by the heat, we headed out across the border into the Pays de Gex around lunchtime in the direction of Divonne les Bains. This area was our back yard, so to speak, when we lived in Geneva. We both have happy memories of cycling through the wheat fields and fruit orchards which have characterised the landscape since Roman times. 

The CERN Large Hadron Collider circular tunnel is set beneath this largely flat landscape at the foot of the forested Jura mountain range, where we used to do Ski de Fond in the snowy season. It's such a special region in its own right, with its own distinct history and culture, that it really annoys me when the media locate the LHC under Geneva or even under the Swiss Alps, unashamedly advertising the geographical ignorance and careless verification practices that are typical of what media consumers have to put up with.

The Pays de Gex is rural, but increasingly a suburbanised region, from which international workers in UN agencies and global companies commute to work. There are still large numbers of gessien village dwellings and farm houses in use for dairy farming, but also new exclusive estates of substantial modern houses, springing up in pasture lands deemed to be less than profitable in new social and economic conditions. 

We took our usual route on the back roads to Divonne les Bains, where we bought a picnic lunch of bread, cherry tomatoes and smoked salmon from a sleepy lunchtime supermarket, and then consumed it in a quiet corner under cooling trees at the edge of Lac de Divonne watching dragonflies dance along the water's edge, as a family of moorhen sailed about their business just a few yards away.

Afterwards we made the short journey to Vésenex on the eastern boundary of Divonne, to visit our friends Julia and Philippe, for a leisurely chat and a swim in their garden pool in those perfect conditions you can only dream about in mid-winter when you're shut in and shivering.

Although it's ten years since we lived hereabouts, I feel the place just as much a part of me as Llandaff Fields, but with many more happy memories and associations. I would love to have retired here, but could never have afforded it. Part of the secret of happiness, however, is to love what you have, rather than have what you love.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Geneva, one more time

Bristol airport was busy for our flight to Geneva, no doubt due to the holiday season getting into full swing. There'd been long slow queues at check-in, as only one desk was open for those of us who'd not checked in on-line. It was so slow we began to wonder if we'd be in time for our flight, even though we'd arrived punctually thanks to good train and bus connections. When it got to one o'clock, a second desk opened and the queue shifted much quicker. The new airport security arrangements made the passage to the departure lounge speedier than on previous occasions, so we caught up with ourselves only to be informed of a two hour delay because of air traffic management problems, on the Easyjet Airbus' round trip - Bristol - Geneva Madeira - Geneva - Bristol before picking us up for the final round trip of the day, to and from Bristol.

The temperature was still thirty degrees when we stepped off the plane at half seven in the evening. Our friend Gill picked us up and drove us to Keith and Claudine's to unpack and unwind after the trip. Annoyingly we were too late arriving to go and listen to Claudine preach at Evensong in Holy Trinity Anglican Church, but she was soon home after our arrival.  By the end of the evening car horns were honking crazily in the background - the Geneva Spanish celebrating their country's World Cup victory, we were told.

It was rather hot for sleeping but somehow I slept through until the noise of aerial and road traffic awoke me. By then, Claudine had already left quietly for the airport for a early flight to London, where she's working and staying in Lambeth Palace until Friday, helping the Anglican Communion office to develop a working relationship with UN international agencies. As an international human rights lawyer and an active lay person she's better positioned than most clerics to inform the process. Let's hope this is understood and respected. Church leaders aren't always so good at listening to their laity!

Clare and I took ourselves into the city centre to look around, check out the plethora of summer sales, and ride round on the air conditioned buses and trams, rather than stroll to far in the intense heat. More work is being done on the tram infrastructure where the river Rhone outflow from the lake is crossed by several tram, bus and trolley bus lines in the same area. This will reduce congestion once it's complete, but here we're talking public transport congestion, rather than cars. This central area is far from friendly to any private vehicles apart from bikes.

We rode out to the Place des Nations, so that Clare could see how former grassy area in front of the Palais des Nations, where the world gathers to protest publicly on every imaginable subject, is now paved in white marble and punctuated with fountains which are a hundred percent accessible to adults and kids alike, as they spew forth high plumes of water that descend as spray, most welcome on such a hot day. Children treated the whole wet area as a playground, whooping with delight as they danced over, stood or sat around among the cooling jets. Nearby, in surreal contrast to children at play, under the ''Broken Chair' sculpture a group of Iranian dissidents stood, denouncing the crimes of ayatollahs back home, photographed by their friends, and no doubt their enemies too.

That was enough tourism for one day. We were both beginning to wilt with the intensity of the heat, and so we headed back to Meyrin, grateful for air-conditioned public transport all the way.

Friday, 9 July 2010

On policing food and parked vehicles

I took a long time to wake up this morning, and rise to the challenge of a trip to Maindy pool. By the time we'd medicated the pussy cat (recovering from a leg abcess), done our swim, and sat in a traffic queue to get home for half an hour, it was eleven, leaving little of the morning left for chores and preparations for travel. By lunchtime, however, Clare had successfully navigated the Air Canada booking website, and bought our 'plane seats to fly to Calgary when we visit Rachel Jasmine and John for a (hopefully) white Christmas and some skiing in the Rockies, where they now live. Then it was down to St John's for a curtailed visit and chat over some light washing up - not many customers in this warm weather, when now there are so many places around town where people can sit outside to eat and drink.

Finally the Food Police have caught up with the Tea Room, I learned. The sale of home made cakes is banned under new Health and Safety legislation. Anyone wanting to provide these for sale must have a kitchen of a certain standard and be prepared to open it for H&S inspection. While some providors are unoncerned by this insistence, others see it as an invasion of privacy and a serious challenge to their integrity as domestic food providors. Home made cakes are a key attraction to the food retail 'offer' made by St John's. There's nobody who doesn't take food hygiene seriously, and no serious food related H&S 'incident' has ever been reported. As someone pointed out St John's is an easy target for the enforcers because it is in such a high profile public place, but there are hundreds of churches all over the country that rely on the income from home made food sales that will suffer if this legislation is enforced.

To my mind, however well intentioned and correct this procedure may be, it is an imposition which is foreign (yes, from the EC in Brussels), where British bureaucrats we're led to believe are under-represented), and without due regard to the prevailing culture of wholesome food preparation, or proper respect for the conscientious people who prepare it in good faith. These rules are not evidence based, as far as I can gather. Can anyone show relevant statistics of those made sick by consuming home made cakes at church fetes, receptions or tea rooms like ours around the country? And if so, what's the statistical variance between these figures and random fluctuation? Furthermore, how is this legislation to be enforced if so many are engaged in home made cake provision? Can the state or the EC afford the necessary scaling up of food police officer numbers? 

If law is unenforceable and does not enjoy the good will of the majority of decent informed people, what purpose does it serve? Money effort spent on policing the kitchens of parishioners would better be spent educating home bakers to achieve high standards, just as money has been spent on publicising the wholesome consumption of fruit and veg, and eating balanced meals. It won't be too long before ingenious new ways of arranging supply and demand of home made cake that cocks a snook at the food police.  When will they ever learn?

After the tea room, I went for a CBS admin session, the last before holidays, at Southgate House. The huge room we've used is now stripped of everything save our equipment and desks. The move  to a new office will happen some time while I'm away, but whether into City Hall for an undetermined spell or into the new CPE (Civil Parking Enforcement, aka Traffic Wardens) offices in Charles Street, we don't yet know - the new offices are still being fitted out, and there's something of a delay already. We should have been installed two weeks ago. CPE started operations at the beginning of this month, but has yet to build up to full strength. 

It's quite a challenge to integrate into the Council's  civilian way of running things an outfit that has hitherto been subject to police force command and control style management. Traffic regulations are a mix of the sound and sensible, the stupid, the unfair and the unrealistic. In any changing situation the rules of usage need to be adapted in the light of experience. No matter how much we love to hate traffic wardens, their job is to keep the city safe and accessible for everyone all the time. For those involved, no matter how much experience they bring with them to the job, it's going to be a matter of learning by doing. But, just imagine how it would be if all our traffic regulations were in every detail imposed by Brussels, and not by County Hall and South Wales Police?

Thursday, 8 July 2010


Last night I caught up with the second showing of the second episode of  'Rev', portraying the life and times of a new inner city London Vicar with a tiny congregation in a giant decaying Georgian building. The setting is Shoreditch Parish church. Early audience ratings were high, and despite some lukewarm preview opinions, it has also met with critical approval. It's not the Vicar of Dibley, that's for sure, but it's funny, painfully well observed and true to life, from my experience of inner city parish work, with its regular assaults and challenges to a pastor's faith, and invasions of personal life.

The episode I watched saw the Rev's Parish church being visited by an evangelical cleric with a large and lively young congregation, scoping the set-up for a potential takeover, promising regenerative financial support, backed by the earnest conviction of the incomers (or invaders) that it was what Jesus wanted. It had me squirming as I remnisced the days when the faltering St James' congregation offered hospitality to a large and vigorous pentecostal congregation, 'Cardiff Christian Life Centre'. The fiction ran fairly true to life from my experience of the 'cross cultural' encounter between two radically different ideas and approaches to mission rooted in the Gospel. 

It also reminded me of the period when I looked after S Paul's Portland Square in Bristol, another huge church like St James', also with a congregation of just over a dozen regulars, who looked askance at my proposition to offer free hospitality to a small West Indian pentecostal congregation, so different in character from the big successful white evangelical church counterparts with (theoretically) the same fundamentalist theology. In practice they were more tolerant to people of other faiths, races and those in same sex relationships - accepting those they didn't presume to understand or analyse.

Fundamentalist theory and practice never had any appeal for me, although I have encountered many such believers of great faith and sincerity. The fault line that marks divergence in ways of relating to people whose beliefs or lifestyles seem to contradict mine has rarely arisen, or perhaps escaped me so far. I wonder if that will change now I'm retired, no longer an offical representative of the 'middle way'? Will I become more susceptible to hear people say what they really think or feel, rather than what they think they ought to say in front of a man of the cloth? Will I be as passionate in disagreeing with them, as they are in condemning those unable to comply with their 'biblical' benchmarks?

'Rev' is indeed a promising sit-com series, with more depth and cutting edge than 'Dibley', which had its occasional finer moments, but was more a lightweight parody of rural church life. 'Rev' may seem like parody at first, but hits the nerve of moral perplexity, and the really serious challenge of living with difference which urban situations throw up. It may raise some laughs, but it also has the potential to stimulate some serious thinking about the way we live and what makes it worthwhile.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The words in the picture

When I got around to reviewing the photos I took during my visit to Bristol last week, I came across this one, taken at a bus stop shelter not far from Temple Meads station, as I walked into the city centre.

It's a fashion store ad. graffiti'd with a statement which mocks the pretensions of the marketing mind behind the cool image of a trendy young woman of androgynous tendencies. I snapped the image without pausing to examine it at close range to find out  if the top side graffiti was additional or part of the ad. image. 'I am not who you think I am'  is the title of a 1999 American novel for young adults by Peg Kehret, also a song by Bryan Adams, so it might have been an esoteric cultural cross reference beyond my understanding. However the middle strip containing the punch-line seems to be in the same hand as the rest, so it stands as a later addition. It reads 'I'm Alan Shearer' - famous retired English footballer and TV footie pundit.

It made me laugh, and I'm not a football fan. I've managed to get through the World Cup telethon thus far without seeing a match or enduring more than a few minutes worth of those excruciating banale discussions by members of the sporting commentariat. I must confess, however, to my delight in Lynne Truss' hilarious daily audio blog contribution to Radio 4's Today World Cup News effort.

What drew my attention to this piece of demotic street wit was its setting - Bristol - home and early artistic canvas of internationally famous graffiti artist Bansky, whose works are visible on several walls around the city. This time last year, Bristol's City Art Gallery hosted an exhibition of Banksy's works which attracted a record quarter of a million visitors in the two months it was open, such is the interest shown in his work by the public.

To my mind, most graffiti has little artistic merit, and is no more than an attention grabbing outlet for bored neglected youngsters. Banksy has shown that street graffiti, irrespective of its graphic merit, can convey powerful social comment, subversive political comment or withering satire. His work makes you look at the everyday world differently, and invites you to question your accepted perceptions and values, and, more often than not, to smile if not laugh out loud at the vanities of this world. My interest in his work means that a walk through Bristol made me look twice at graffiti rather than ignore it.

The words in the picture I snapped may have had nothing to do with Banksy, but they reflect his subversive influence, inviting others to ridicule the vanities and whims of this passing age. Would that contemporary religion was as capable as this of critiquing the culture in which it is embedded.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

die Meistersingers

Like many of Wagner's operas, die Meistersingers is long. We went in at four in the afternoon and came out at ten in the evening, but there's an hour supper break in the middle, plus shorter intervals. The plot is less convoluted than in other Wagner offerings - it concerns a young man wooing a young woman, whose hand in marriage is the prize in a competition for singer-songwriters, I'd guess we'd call them, who attain recognition for their capabilities by the Nurenburg city guild of Master Singers - maintainers of a long tradition in creative artistry. There's lots of humour and just a bit of deviousness, with heaps of exquisite choral, small ensemble and solo singing. A good pace was maintained throughout, so it never got to feel as if it was as long as it actually was. This was partly due to masterful stage production, creating a visual backdrop to the singing perpetually interesting and varied. Another triumph for WNO.

Having not read the synopsis, I guess it took me a while to equate the mis en scene with our own sitz im leben (to mix the languages and metaphors) here in Wales. The competition of the plot was like that of an eisteddfod, the Guild of Master Singers a reflection of the Gorsedd of Bards, seen as cultural guardians, a point of creative reference in a changing world with its exposure to ideas and values from elsewhere. In the last half of the last act, when the hero has won his woman with a outstanding song, innovative and yet reflective of all the values and traditions of creativity upheld by the Guild, he is upbraided for attempting to decline the honour of membership of the Guild by the artistic doyen of the Master Singers (named after German mediaeval poet Hans Sachs and played beautfully by our own Bryn Terfel). What follows is a musical polemic on the virtuous ideal of German creative arts, an exhortation to resist crass foreign influences, and stay faithful to national tradition. 

The opera is set in mid-summer at St John's tide - the 'name day' of Hans Sachs - Hans being an abbreviation of Johannes. The libretto gives poetic indications to the spiritual and social importance of the feast in that setting, as it once was also the case here in Britain. The opening scene is set within the singing of a hymn for John the Baptist day in church. But apart from this, the ethos is of romantic idealism, with little expression of religious piety, the sacred, or deeper spirituality. I guess it's what was happening at the dawn of the era of secularity, when science and rationalism was killing off God, as Neitsche, a contemporary of Wagner, would have said. 

The opera's final chorus was accompanied by the entire cast displaying images of all kinds of German artists down the ages in a ritualised way, exalting the creativity of the nation. This brought to life a collage of the same images displayed on the proscenium curtain in between acts. It was a powerful coup de theatre, which made me wish that such effective and novel usage of modern imagery could be achieved in church liturgy to remind the community of faith of its spiritual identity.

The defence of noble German creativity was for Wagner a kind of patriotism  perhaps not unfamiliar to us in Wales. It was easy enough for nazis and radicals alike to co-opt it for their own purposes, as Christian faith centred spirituality and its moral focus was supplanted by a quest in different directions for something to fill the void opened by the 'death of God' in contemporary culture. The resistance of conservative religion in Wales to the rise of secularism seems to have absorbed a great deal of our extreme emotional patriotic energy, tempering the impulse to political extremism. The relationship between religious culture and artistic creativity endured for much longer, and as was pointed out by  Geraint Talfan Davies in his recent William Hodkin memorial lecture this remains a largely un-investigated aspect of culture in modern Wales.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Two days' outings

Yesterday I went over to Bristol by train, to see my sister Pauline who is in hospital there after having fallen in the street on her way to the Eye hospital with her husband Geoff, and cracked her hip. As only evening visiting was possible, I took the opportunity to travel over earlier in the afternoon and meet up with Amanda to go bargain hunting for a laptop with her, which we duly found in John Lewis' Cribbs Causeway store. I broke my journey at Filton Abbey Wood, a commuter station, not far from where she lives. She picked me up by car there, and after shopping returned me to a Temple Meads bound train to reach my destination. A neat hassle free way of beating Bristol's terrible traffic congestion. An-off peak Cardiff-Bristol return ticket cost me two thirds of the price of the petrol, and Seven Bridge toll. That's what I call competitive value on a local travel service.

As I had an hour and a half to while away before visiting time, I walked to the hospital through the old city in a leisurely fashion and took photos. It was fascinating to view an environment we'd lived in for eight years, as a visitor with fresh eyes. Bristol has seen a great deal of urban redevelopment as well as suburban expansion, the former making the most of the city's water courses. Its historic quarters are mostly well maintained and preserved, and the town centre exudes an air of well established prosperity with a strong business sector. A report from UWIC in April this year ranks Bristol as the UK's most competitive English large city. A third of the UK's FTSE top hundred listed companies have a 'significant presence' in the Bristol area, as well as hosting many foreign companies. 

Bristol Council is proud of its efforts to position the city region as an attractive place for business investors. Exactly what Cardiff is also seeking to do. Bristol maintains a position it has held for 250 years due to its maritime engagement with slavery and colonial trading. Bristol prospered when Cardiff was still a minor riverside village. Coal and iron brought Cardiff some wealth, relatively late in time, but it has yet to build the kind of substantial business foundation as Bristol possesses. Let's hope this can be achieved in a more ethical and less exploitative way in the coming decades of economic development - starting with a Severn barrage maybe?

Today iOwain's 32nd birthday, so we met up and took him out to lunch in Llantwit Major. He wanted to go to a gastro-pub favourite of his, but we were refused service because the staff were preparing for a large post funeral reception - which explained the number of fellers in suits and black ties walking purposefully in the direction of St Illtud's Church. We lunched well at a restaurant called 'Illtud's' nearby, which was a great compensation, and then paid a visit to the beach. The threat of rain held off until we got back home for tea and birthday cake. Our friend Keith Dale arrived from Geneva at tea time. Claudine flies in form South Africa tomorrow morning. They're joining us again for a night at the opera - Die Meistersingers - an eagerly awaited treat given the acclaim from Eddie and Anne when they attended last weekend.

After a day of inaction the gas service supply crew returned, dug another hole the opposite side of the road, renewed some piping, and then filled in the holes to tarmac level and departed, leaving them fenced in, taking a second car parking space out of use. I guess it's someone else's job to finish off, tarmac-ing over the filled in holes. After tonight's rain they'll be water holes in the morning.