Sunday, 31 October 2010

Eight o'clock

My first really early Sunday start forr six months took me to St Dyfrig and St Samson's church in Grangetown to celebrate the eight o'clock Eucharist this morning. Clare came too and then took the car home for breakfast, while I stayed on for the Parish Mass at nine thirty. We were just over thirty people, including several children. As with other so-called 'southern arc' (Urban priority area) parish congregations, people were very warm and friendly, obviously caring and supportive of each other. So far in retirement I've mostly been asked to help out in this sector of the city. I'm quite content with this, as it's so easy to feel at home.

There was no organist for the Parish Mass. A digital sound-track machine was used instead. The head server, in charge of the technology tried his utmost but couldn't get the timing right for the first hymn, with the result that the organ took off and stayed several bars ahead leaving the congregation lagging breathless throughout. There were several voices good enough to lead singing unaccompanied, so the question of why one should trust a machine to give the lead doesn't seem to have arisen. Nevertheless, everyone present coped admirably with the slightly comic wobbly start, and all the other hymns went well.

I walked up the river bank after the service and met Clare at Riverside Sunday Market, to shop for weekly organic vegetables and cheeses before heading home for lunch. I spent much of the afternoon asleep on the couch, making up for my early start, and despite the extra hour taken advantage of. Having to get up, prompted by the alarm clock to be sure of being there on time, meant a night of unrelaxed broken sleep, as happened each Sunday while I was working.  I never was  much of a morning person. So, although I'm happy to help out, I'm glad this is only the first time in six months  I've been asked to do an eight o'clock. I always felt eight o'clocks were necessary and indeed beneficial to self and others, once I'd made the effort, but I wouldn't want to return to doing that, week after week, as it meant that I rarely felt I was fully at my best for the Lord's Day.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Fall back

Yesterday a new small untreated wooden cupboard arrived to be used for storing table linen in the dining room. Clare took pride in giving it a coat of varnish to blend in with the rest of the wood in the room, yesterday and again today. We have new dining chairs to buy, and then our home making project will be complete - for the time being.

This morning I took the bike out of the shed and went for a ride across the park over to the big Tesco. It's only the second time I've used the bike since I retired. It took me an age to get started because I couldn't find the right tyre pump, and when I came to take the bike out through the back lane security gate, I found that the padlock had seized and had to deal with it. It wasn't until I got back that my state of annoyance subsided.

After lunch we went to Cefn Onn Park for an afternoon stroll in the sunshine. It's still pretty mild for the end of October. Normally we go there in the Spring to see the rhododendron collection flowering, but the variety of autumn colours is just as spectacular, due to deciduous conifers and wine red Acers (Japanese maples). We found a garden centre on the way back, but little worth buying at this time of year. Better to go again in the Spring.

The clocks go back tonight - already - how this first six months of retirement has flown by. After many minor hassles, I finally received my permission to officiate document for the Diocese in Europe this morning. Having this means I go on a list of clerics available for duty in chaplaincies needing locum cover. How this will work out in due course remains to be seen. Who knows? It may help get me out of my safe comfort zone into places where my experience can be of use, and maybe challenged afresh.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Street cry

As I was getting up this morning I was surprised to hear outside in the street a sound I don't recall noticing in decades, the traditional cry of a rag 'n bone man about his business chanting: "Any old iron!", (dropping down a minor third on the last word), issuing from a loudspeaker in the cab of a small flat bed truck.
We must be proud of civic efforts to organise practical efforts to recycle everything that can be put to another use. Nevertheless it's inspiring to think that small time entrepreneurs have been earning their livings doing this for several centuries, and without them, our towns and countryside would have been far less tidy places than they are today.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Home making

While I was away, Clare had the carpet fitters in to replace and add in a new section of stairs carpet, so that stairs from hall to attic bedroom are now aglow with a warm colour which blends in well with the different colours of the woodwork. 
She also found me a trolley suitably sized to fit the space next to the desk in my study, to contain my printer and computer main unit. It looks great and now I have extra desktop space. I find it possible to adapt to living and working in an environment less than comfortable if my mind is on other things. It probably does nothing for the quality of my work or life. But when matters gets sorted out by a woman with a good eye for harmony and detail, ordinary things which others may take for granted acquire the delight of luxury. Our new home is proving to be a real blessing.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Safe home with ....

I was up early to pack and have breakfast, then I took Claudine to the airport for her flight to Manchester. I returned to collect my case and then went to the airport by train via the city centre to get a pack of special tea to take home to Clare.

From automated check-in and bag drop, through security clearance to the duty free shopping mall took 25 minutes, remarkably quick considering the numbers going through at the same time to catch their flights to America. The walk from the shops to the departure lounge then took fifteen minutes. EasyJet's flights are about as far as they can be from check-in. You get what you pay for, I guess.
I passed the time until boarding taking photos of arriving and departing aircraft. I couldn't help noticing that the only plane to get a police escort out to the runway was the El-Al flight to Israel. VIP aboard, or security angst? I wondered.

The Bristol 'plane arrived on time. I was amused to note its registration G-EZAZ - You gotta feel safe going home on this flight. There was a 20 minute delay to fix a minor technical problem, the pilot said. When he'd signed off the paperwork (at least five minutes worth of the delay), he announced; "Now that the aircraft is fully sensible, we can leave." An interesting turn of phrase, suggesting that the problem fixed was with one of the hundreds of sensors in the cockpit monitoring the aircraft's condition.

We took off flying east up lac Leman, and turned north over Divonne, where I preached on Sunday, to overfly the Jura. The sky was clear, the landscape was all green and gold and orange, capped with snow along the crests, a feast of beauty. By the time we were east of Paris, a thick layer of cloud lay beneath us, from horizon to horizon, and this persisted all the way home to Bristol. We saw the ground again only in the last few miles before touchdown just fifteen minutes late. With great bus and train connections I was home an hour and a half later.

Monday, 25 October 2010

People on the move

rte de Meyrin at Blandonnet
It's seven degrees today, with the snow line down to 900m, and a strong gusting wind when I took the hire car back to the airport. Driving a brand new Polo with 8000km on the clock took some getting used to. It wasn't easy to figure out everything I felt I needed to know, as the handbook was only in German. I only needed to add petrol on my way to the airport, but had a panic as finding out how to access the tank was a matter of trial and error. Over the week I drove 318 km, using just 15 litres of petrol, an average 59mpg. Impressive, this car of the year 2010.

I returned via the town centre using the 5 bus to Cornavin, then a train home, less hassle than finding the stop for the 57 round the houses bus to Meyrin. After coffee and a change from sandals to warmer shoes, I took the train one stop back to Cointrin. There's a new big blue IKEA by the station and the Blandonnet hypermarket a three minute walk away. The pedestrian entrance to the complex is on the far side, and not well marked. Most people arrive here to shop by car. It's so big it's rarely full. I bought things for supper tonight, and then battled the gusts and swirls of winds around the tall building adjacent back to the station. 

The airport runway is just 500m north of here, and huge planes pass 50 metres over the road and rail tracks. While I waited for the train, I got my camera out, and succeeded in snapping an Air France 747 passing over the line. That way I didn't notice the cold.
On the lunchtime train, not at all crowded, there was a man standing with his mountain bike, another was  using a netbook, another was eating a salad lunch from plastic tub while reading a newspaper perched on his knee. Several more were reading papers, a few read books, or were scanning file documents. Fewer still were talking, or looking out of the window, or people watching like me. However more convenient a comfy car may be on times, I've come to prefer public transport, because of the sense it gives of being part of a very varied population. This attachment started when we lived here, and continues in Cardiff, with equal interest to be derived from every daily journey.

An hour later, I was back behind the wheel, driving Keith Dale to the airport in their Fiat Seicento. It's a lot more familiar to drive, as it's an older car - more what I'm used to. Keith is off to Yorkshire for his 98 year old granny's funeral. Claudine will follow tomorrow morning, departing just before my flight home.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Bible Sunday

I was out by nine driving on a quiet motorway in the rain over to Divonne, in good time for their Eucharist at ten. The small chapel used belongs to the local French Protestants. It is a simple homely building, which takes about fifty people comfortably.
It was built in the 1870s, to serve the curists - I had to think about how that translated into English when I saw it on a local heritage info plaque by the boundary wall. It's simply the name given to people who came to take the waters, to take a cure. The town's full title is still Divonne-le-Bains. I think the main hotel still has a spa, but this former tourist industry fare, which caused the town to flourish is no longer so evident as it once was. Nowadays Divonne is a suburban residential town for many working in Geneva's international organisations. It's less expensive, shall we say, than Geneva, though still not cheap. As so many English speaking people live in and around the town, it seemed a good place to plant a new church congregation. 

Thirty to forty people attend regular fortnightly services, and many more on special occasions. On this half term weekend, with many people away, there were still 30 in church counting adults and children. Many children are communicants before confirmation, and for me it was an unusual and special pleasure to minister to them in family groups. It was also a service at which anointing with oil and healing prayer were also on offer after communion. Children as well as adults received this, if they wished, nothing can be compulsory. The fact that it happens with dignity and reverence is a tribute to years of careful teaching and pastoral preparation.

After lunch with Philippe and Julia, I went to Gingins to celebrate and preach for a Family Eucharist. doubts were again expressed about families attending because it was half term but these were unfounded. There were 45 people present and a quarter of them were children. A ten year old called Ellie read both lessons because the boy assigned to the second lesson was away. Such confidence to read a passage, sight unseen on the spur of the moment! Many of the adults would have been far too reluctant. I was able to involve children and congregation members in relating popular first names with the bible and its many stories, in celebration of the day. Today is also United Nations Day. Considering how many of the adults present are employed by international organisations, I was surprised only one raised a hand to admit to knowing this.

I so enjoyed celebrating there again - the second time this year. It was always a special place to lead worship when I worked here, and it remains so for me.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Food for thought

After completing my preparation for preaching tomorrow, in services at at Divonne and Gingins, I went into the city armed with camera, and took a stroll across the Pont du Mont Blanc to the rive gauche, along the Quai Gustav Ador as far as the little children's beach, then walked around the Parc de la Grange, which is just across the main road, full of huge old trees resplendent in autumnal colours. It was dull and overcast when I set out, but a fresh mild wind broke up the clouds and brought the sun out. When I passed the famous jet d'eau for the second time at close quarters the huge plume of spray generated rainbows whenever the suns rays came through at a certain angle. It was altogether pleasant and refreshing walk, and you can see the photographic results here.

In the evening Claudine, Keith and I were invited to sup with Gill at her apartment in Petit Saconnex, along with Yvette, Ann-Marie and Alec. We arrived separately - for the pleasure of it, I travelled in by tram and trolley bus (there are still a couple of trolley lines in the city). Claudine and Keith came by car from church having spent the afternoon rehearsing for a big charity fund raising concert they are organising for next weekend in St Pierre Cathedral supporting a project to rebuild the Anglican Cathedral complex in Port au Prince, Haiti, destroyed by earthquake. 

Haiti's Cathedral, whatever its special artistic and cultural merits, is a key mission centre in the city, with a school and social outreach centre. At present the compound is being occupied by hundreds of homeless families. The project will bring them work and bring back into use much needed community and education facilities. That kind of reconstruction project can be a vital sign of hope in a situation where the church is at the forefront of serving the poorest of the poor.

Supper was a lovely opportunity to sit at table and enjoy a good meal in the company of old friends. Not only did we talk of Haiti but also of continuing work feeding the poor in Geneva itself. There's been a feeding centre for poor people in the area behind Cornavin main station in the area known as Les Grottes (= the caves. I never found out why) for the past quarter century to my knowledge. It's staffed by all sorts of voluntary groups on a rota basis, and Holy Trinity is one of the churches that participates. The set up is quite modest, and yet over 150 people get fed there regularly, and numbers have notably increased of late. For a city roughly te same size as Cardiff, that's more than double the clientèle. But then, Geneva being a cross-roads kind of city in the centre of Europe, the throughput of people, rich and poor alike is bound to be greater.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Lausanne reunions

Yesterday morning my forgotten half price rail-card arrived in the post, sent by Clare, which meant that I was able to use it to buy a train ticket to Lausanne this morning. There was a perfect blue sky for a autumnal the trip along la Côte lemanique. The vineyards are a patchwork of gold, brown, yellow and light green, at the moment, indicative of grape species coming to maturity at different rates, plus the slight local variations in climate producing the mix of colours. The dusting of snow above 1,100 metres gives that extra enchantment to the scene.

First, I made a brief visit to Christ Church, the Anglican chaplaincy centre just below the station, to meet Adèle Kelham for a catch up chat. It must be nine years since we last met. Christ Church looks to be in good shape under her leadership.

Then I headed back to the station to meet Valdo off the Yverdon train. We had lunch, then walked down the nicely landscaped path following the M2 line of the new driverless Metro to Ouchy on the lakeside.

Trains have rubber wheels and are driven from a central control console. They can go a lot faster uphill than downhill - for safety reasons!

The train runs six kilometres uphill from the shore to the heights of the city, rising 375 metres, and has the steepest gradient of its kind in Europe.

The area around the Chateau d'Ouchy was busy with all kinds of entertainments and activities for children, as this week and next is the Vaudois half term. There were roundabouts, mini roller hockey, and a mini ski-slope thirty metres long - not the dry slope kind, but with real artificial snow.

After taking a few scenic photos, we went back uphill in the Metro to the rail station, and then went to a matinée showing of a film about the seven Cistercian monks who were kidnapped and murdered in Algeria nearly fifteen years ago. It was a prizewinning movie at the Cannes film festival, and not surprisingly. The story in all its detail was familiar to me from visits to Tamié Abbey, the monks' home community, and the film was very faithful, with sensitive portrayals of men who refused to be driven out of the place where they had made their simple home among the poor in the Algerian Atlas mountains. Against advice they stayed until some extremist militants took them as hostages.

They were the only foreigners living in the place, and they discussed what to do with local villagers who were powerless to protect them from the violence of the armed outsiders operating a reign of terror against all in the region at that time. "We are only birds of passage." said one of the monks, thinking of leaving. "No" said the village headman, "We came here to settle because you were here. You are the tree and we are the birds. What will happen to the birds if the tree is taken away?" The monks were loved for their life of prayer, kindness and simple hard work. The community's lay brother medic looked after all who came in need, including a wounded terrorist. The film portrayed with beauty and sympathy the respect the brothers had for authentic islamic spirituality in the life of poor people. This was inter-faith dialogue by living together, sharing a common humanity and searching for God together. It is a very moving and powerful film, and a good thing for two pastors to share, and be reminded in our secure everyday world of what the cost of discipleship still can be in today's unstable world. I hope it gets released or broadcasted in English.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Chance meeting

I took part in an enjoyable Bible Study on St John's Gospel this morning in the home of one of the Gingins congregation members. It meant an early start and a 40 minute car journey to get there, but it was well worth the effort.

Later, I met Laura for lunch at the Centre Oecumenique back in Geneva. While we were getting our food I was hailed by a voice I didn't immediately recognise, but when I turned, there was the unmistakeable figure of Michael Romig, all six foot five of him. He was one of the teenagers I prepared for confirmation in Geneva over a decade ago. I was delighted to be remembered after all those years. Michael studied Arabic in University, and now works for a human rights NGO close by. He was lunching there with his girl friend, who worked for another international organisation in the neighbourhood. We exchanged emails, and will catch up on our lives electronically some time soon.

The Centre Oecumenique, though much diminished from its heyday, by the progressive cutting of budget funding and then staff by big donor churches, is still a good place to meet, and the food is reasonably priced. I guess there's hardly anyone left of the staff there now that I remember from my days in Geneva - either retired or returned to work in their native countries. Time passes.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Preaching guest

After a good night's sleep, I went in to Holy Trinity Church for the Sung Eucharist, and once more met several more people I hadn't seen in the summer. I took note of the Eucharist setting by Peter Aston, which is quite singable and has some uplifting qualities, superior to much of the banale dated material that gives me such grief in parish services I attend back in Cardiff. I met Joelle Gouel, a French liturgiologist with a passion for the Anglican musical and pastoral, who worships occasionally at HTC. I haven't seen her for ten years. These days she struggles to find a home in her own church, which apparently suffers from the same poverty of taste and lack of inspiration as many UK churches do when it comes to music to lift up the heart to.

I don't like to think of myself as a liturgical music snob, but I have struggled since leaving St John's, where a real effort was made to offer music that inspired and connected worshippers to the theme of the day, even if I didn't find it all to my personal taste. It's not difficult to do some things simply and beautifully and get everyone joining in, if the musical offering has real spiritual qualities. With the passing of time I realise how much popular church music may fail to inspire even though it stirs the emotions. It can be the way it's being performed, or it can be that the music is intrinsically dull, aiming at sentiment rather than the soul. What a valuable role taken for granted is played by the musical leadership of any church.

After the Eucharist I went to the airport to pick up a hire car that will give me some freedom of movement around the pays Vaudois in the coming week. Very nervous of this very modern machine, I drove over to Chambésy for a lunch party with church people given by old friend Yvette Milosevic, and then went on to Divonne to rendezvous with Julia and prepare for the afternoon service at Gingins. 

It was evening prayer, including the blessing of the civil marriage of an older couple who are among the leadership of the congregation's music group. It was my task to preach to the occasion. After pondering on this during the past week, the opportunity came to write down my thoughts yesterday with an hour in hand waiting for the plane in the departure zone. I don't preach so often these days, and was delighted that the complete thing came out of my head and into my note book with such ease. I also enjoyed preaching it, and was glad that it was well received, since I'd come from Cardiff for this purpose amongst others. There was a lovely festive atmosphere, more re-unions with old friends, and a party in the church meeting place afterwards. I've been enlisted to join a bible study group of Tuesday.  That should be fun.

I got home just as dark descended. As we were about to sup, Keith Dale had a call he'd been expecting to say that his nonogenarian granny had died, which had us talking at table about the ancients and elders who had played valuable memorable parts in our lives. For me, several of them were people I met and pastored here in Geneva. I'm so glad that I still have the opportunities to return, remember them, and give something back.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Back to Geneva again

An excellent and straightforward journey by train bus and 'plane got me from Cardiff to Geneva between 9.30am and 3.00pm. Good to be back, catching up with Keith and Claudine again. Their dogs didn't seem to have any trouble recognising me, and incorporating me into their social network after a three month break. Autumn is just a little more evident here than in Cardiff - a sprinkling of snow on the peaks of the Jura, close to, and the deciduous pines have turned yellow, making the great south facing forest slopes a rich tapestry of colour.

After supper we went to a concert at Holy Trinity Church, the excellent local English speaking operatic society choir of fifty giving an hour long concert of English sacred music. Not their usual repertoire by any means, except for a few of them who sing in church as well. They gave an enthusiastic rendering of some quite difficult pieces, and the retiring collection from supporters netted nearly two thousand pounds for a breast cancer charity, from an audience of about hundred and twenty. Generosity and enthusiasm abound here, even in a recession. I was delighted to catch up with several people I had missed when we were here in the summer. I still remember so many peoples' names, to my own amazement. In a way, they've stayed close to my heart over the nine years since we left.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Puzzle solved

Much busyness today, booking travel to Bristol airport, and car hire the other end. Bank a cheque, obtaining Swiss currency, catching up with Ashley and doing a few invoices for the weekend, plus the essential visit to the tea room to catch up on the news. Tomorrow I travel to Geneva to help out in the la Cote chaplaincy for a couple of Sundays.

Julia emailed first thing to say she'd received an early call from Monaco on her answering machine advising her to advise me that they needed an official document with my address on for confirmation of my request. The address is on my passport written in under 'next of kin' with Clare's name, but though it's obvious, this doesn't meet their requirement. We don't have identity cards like most people do in Europe. However the driving license photocard will suffice to corroborate the passport. It hadn't occurred to me that this was what they wanted. I emailed copies of my license straight away, and firs the first time had my communication acknowledged from Monaco with the reassurance that now the request is being processed.

I guess officials are used to a very strict regime of confirming the identity of anyone making a request for an archive document, because of identity theft, fraud etc. Clare's and my address may have been the same for the past forty five years, and her details in my passport may be identical with my letterheading, but there could be no assumption made I had to prove the obvious - that I lived in the same place - by independent means. Fine, I get it at last.

The driver's photocard is not the legal driving license document, because photo cards are neither universal nor obligatory. But their usefulness is persuasive and seems to be taking us in the same direction as the USA, where the drivers license photo card is used as evidence of i/d.

I wonder how long before the document requested finally arrives?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

A bureaucratic sort of day

I managed to get some work done on a Street Carers' Forum website last night, but the texts and information will need a lot of editing and re-presenting to make them right and effective. The design won't be very exciting, but content is my priority. Someone else can take it on and improve the look, once we are confident about what we have to say using it.

This morning I did my 2009 tax return on-line, two months early this year. It's the last 'easy' return I'll submit, as next year it'll be four income streams from the various pensions great and small which I've received, plus lump sum investment income, all new scary stuff, but stuff which can be put off until the New Year.

After lunch I drove over to Dinas Powis for a chat and a stroll through the woods  towards Michaelston-le-Pit with Russell Evans, husband of Clare's eurythmy colleague, and a lifelong teacher of anthroposophical thinking and practice. We always have deep and interesting conversations when we meet up, about art and life, about spirituality most of all. He's lived in the village for sixty years and known it for even longer. He has a great love for the hidden treasure landscape of this area, having seen it grow, decline and renew itself in many changes over his lifetime. A real pleasure in an otherwise bureaucratic sort of day.

It's been the best part of a month since I wrote to the authorities in Monaco to ask for a police record check on me their archives. It's the last little requirement that has to be completed in my application for a Permission to Officiate in the Diocese in Europe. The Swiss police record check I was able to request on-line, and have it delivered within a week. This one has been more difficult, because of the need to pay in Euros, so my friend Julia wrote a cheque and sent it for me. The Monaco authorities have been in contact with her, but not with me, requesting I send proof of my identity. I've done this, but ages have passed and nothing has happened. 

Tonight I collected copies of the documents and correspondence to re-send by email and post, with a letter asking what's lacking in my application (rather than why the delay). Who knows, maybe they didn't understand my French before? This time I had Clare's extra patient help - bureaucratic phraseology and politesse is a world of its own, far removed from the casual demotic of everyday speech.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Network of life

I took the funeral service for a Ely nonogenarian this afternoon. Her family came from far and wide, including a son from Australia. One of her grandsons wrote and read his own tribute, which was both appreciative and humorous. She'd been in a home for the last five years, suffering from dementia. Different family members spoke about their conversations with her, and her being fully present and so much her old self, and yet when asked by a fellow resident who her guests were would say: "I haven't a clue." She didn't recognise her own daughter, because the memory  she retained wasn't of a seventy year old woman, but of the much younger child and adult. How the mind plays tricks. 

Yet, the essential loving communion between people who have been close to each others remains a reality even when the factual knowledge is jumbled, faded or out of date. People in their dotage speak of the presence of dead relatives and parents, and indeed speak to them on times. They may not realise the others are dead, or they have forgotten - yet the bonds of affection which nurtured and strengthened them at different times in life are still there, making them who they are. We exist by, in and for relationships. And through relationships with God and each other our network of life extends from here into the beyond.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Change of pace

As Ashley is away at a conference in London this week, routine back office work at CBS gets interrupted, giving me time to catch up on building a new data file system, type up a document draft untouched for many months, while thinking and planning a Street Carers' website, whenever my concentration drifts.

Another excellent Chi Gung session tonight. I'm feeling the benefit - sleeping better and waking up quicker, giving a better start to the day. I'm so glad about this and look forward to the sessions greatly.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Street Carers - a new direction?

Another meeting down at Willcox House down the Bay this morning, to report back on investigation of alternative sites for the nightly street care feeding station. Each option seems to have discouraging snags. All those with money and power would like to see the work take place somewhere else, anywhere apart from out there on the thoroughfare, next to our shiny new palaces of commerce.

Given that Sgt McNeil had taken the initative to call the first meeting two weeks ago I was surprised that she neither attended nor sent apologies. I don't know how the police think they can really understand the concerns street carers share if the only thing they do is to react to a problem by spinning off an initiative, then letting it go its own way, without 'learning by doing' as the rest of us are.
Liz Perrett-Atkins of the Rainbow of Hope was at this meeting. She'd been unable to attend the previous one, and didn't seem that well briefed about the issue now being addressed. She was quick to rise to the defence of her flock when a statement was made about the problems we were seeking to tackle. But then, she surprised us all by defusing the situation by announcing an initiative soon to be realised which will remove the problem from the streets. She's looking at some kind of accommodation base for street care work within the city centre, and believes she's getting close to a solution. This made us all sit up and take notice, and the meeting was adjourned until such a date when Liz had a firm announcement to make.

The street care work being done at Glenwood Church's TAVs centre off City Road has shown  what a difference permanent accommodation can make, however it's rather far out for some being ministered to in the city centre. Somewhere close at hand would be a dream come true. We'll be thrilled if this happens. My concern is simply that such a change is properly communicated to all those volunteer teams which make up the monthly rota in good time to make things run smoothly.

This evening there was meant to be a Street Carers' Forum Representative Group to report on the two meetings that had taken place on this subject, but Paul's email service let him down without him realising it, and only a few got sufficient notice to attend, so we reviewed and made lots of notes to post on the Street Carers' blog. We discussed recruitment from the student community and how the taining evenings we've set up could be publicised. This set me thinking - it's about time to create a website for the Forum to help things along.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Tenth of the tenth of the tenth

Awake early enough to get to the Cathedral Parish Eucharist this morning. The first time in many moons. The 9.00am with lots of young families present is better attended than the Cathedral Sung Eucharist at 11.00am. I don't mind the cries of the little ones for the most part, except when they're obviously upset or in pain and parents aren't confident about deciding to take them out or not. What does bother me is a low level chatter of the adults before hand and during the Communion, which is so well organised that it's never long drawn out, but when people return to their seats they talk to each other when they could be listening to God. 

One man left his seat and moved near me to talk with a woman in a low voice. They were making arrangements about something for later on - networking I suppose we call it - for me it's an unwelcome culture shift. I think I'll stick to the 11.00am in future. The music is usually superb and the silences for savouring. I never thought that I'd find a 'family atmosphere' in church quite so disconcerting. But it's not that really, it's the ebbing away of awe and wonder from the common domestic milieu of worship that makes me feel like a stranger, an eccentric.

Today marks the public launch of the latest edition of Ubuntu Linux - at ten on the tenth of the tenth twenty ten. By lunchtime I was downloading it, by tea time I had it installed and driving my office laptop - something I promised I'd get around to eventually, not least because Linux takes 40 seconds from switch-on to internet access on the desktop, something of an improvement  on 3-4 minutes with Vista. Speed can be useful if you need to check something hurriedly. Linux on a PC may be as fast booting as a mobile phone within the year, developments are moving at such a pace. It's so easy to use, and installs with few problems. It's a matter of partitioning the hard disk beforehand to get things just right for the installation. What takes an hour to set up with Linux can take three times as long with a new Windows driven PC. Maintenance and machine minding is far less of a hassle too. Just the job to do when you're recovering from a cold.

Saturday, 9 October 2010


I was full of a miserable cold today, but made the effort to go into St John's, as the fifth annual concert by maestro Thomas Trotter was taking place, guaranteeing a busy time, in church and in the tea room. Indeed, over three hundred were there for the concert. Fortunately there was an extra volunteer for washing up, my services weren't needed, my germs even less so. So I listened to some of the concert, before becoming self conscious about coughing, and slipped away to City Hall afterwards, to skulk at my desk for a few hours feeling rotten, doing odd jobs and fighting off confusion about straightforward tasks, before giving up and going home for supper and a slouch in front of the telly.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Son of FreeB

I saw the first of the city centre's new trial electric buggies outside St John's this morning, wheeled out for a press photo opportunity ahead of the official launch on Monday next.  The guy driving it was at the focus group I attended on Thursday.
These four seaters will be used ad lib to help people with mobility difficulties move from one bus stop 'node' to another around town. The legislation governing pedestrian areas had to be modified to permit this class of vehicle to move around freely and legally. Let's hope it proves more of an attraction than the late FreeB buses, which no marketing or promotion could persuade those who needed to cross the city centre for their bus links to adopt.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Meetings, meetings

Today's Countdown 2020 meeting was held in City Hall, conveniently in a room just along the corridor from my usual work place. We were given an update on work in progress in Castle Street, St Mary Street and on the bus station Central Square. The re-paving work has brought considerable congestion to the city centre day after day for months. All are agreed it will look great when it's finished, but it reall is a case of 'no pain no gain'. 

There was a brief respite over the Ryder Cup weekend, when road works were suspended to convey half a good impression to VIP Castle visitors. The work force from Castle Street was shifted to St Mary Street for the duration, so that job is ahead of schedule. The race is on to complete as much of the planned re-paving as possible before the Christmas light switch-on starts the annual influx of extra shoppers into town day after day. It has to be done in streets already congested with traffic and pedestrians. 

There's more work to come in the New Year around the station and the south end of St Mary Street, not to mention poor old Westgate Street, in a lamentable state, but plans and preparations depend on the outcome of a WAG consultation about  Central Square, because it's a regional transport hub. Nothing can be decided for certain until this exercise is finished and has made its report. You'd think it would be possible for national and local government to harmonise their efforts to ensure a smooth, efficient work-flow to benefit the city-going public, but communication between over-sized bureaucracies is never their best achievement.

I worked through the afternoon until it was time to walk over to City Church for my first meeting of the committee of CACEC (Cardiff Adult Christian Education Centre), to review and plan course arrangements for the next eighteen months. Until recently some of its courses were accredited by Cardiff University, but as part of its cut-backs in Life Long Learning, this facility has been withdrawn. The social component of the University's output, so difficult to quantify in cost benefit benefit analysis, has been scaled back to enable more pursuit of sponsorship and grants from industry. The commodification of higher education continues apace. I believe we shall live to rue the day. 

The committee agreed to make an approach to the UCW Lampeter, whose faculty of theology is getting a new lease of life due to its union with the Bangor theology faculty in the new Trinity University College of West Wales. Lampeter has strong community educational roots, not least because of its role in training people for ministry. It will be interesting to see what kind of response is received.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Overheard on the sixty one

Coming home from a work session in the CBS office on the sixty one bus a middle aged man was sitting close to me. He spoke quite loudly to his companion seated across the aisle of the bus in a way that indicated a degree of mental impairment. After I stood up to get off at my usual stop, along with several other passsengers, the man addressed a youngster queuing behind me to get off, repeating loudly 

"Them muslims are the scum of the earth."

I stood there, frozen to the spot for a moment, wondering what if anything I could say that would be overheard by passengers, which was constructive and not aimed at humiliation in the ten seconds before the bus doors opened. The youngster then spoke up quite gently in a broad Cardiff accent.

"Scum of the earth .... If I was a muslim and you said that to me, I think I'd have a heart attack."

It was only after he got off the bus cuddling his girlfriend that I realised he was black. He was sensitive to the situation, direct and very quick witted.  What he said was simple and decent enough for everyone on the bus to grasp, including the speaker. I wanted to congratulate him - but how could an old geezer like me do that in a few casual words with the same elegance without sounding patronising? 

I wonder how many young people of colour grow up learning instinctively how to handle racist insults and defuse them? Such social skill merits everyone's admiration.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Harvest Sunday

After a rather late night, sitting up and chatting over 'birthday' champagne, we breakfasted late. I left everyone at table to go to the Cathedral Sung Eucharist, and was glad I made the effort. The choir sang a superb modern Mass setting by Lennox Berkley which certainly had the 'tingle factor'. A sheer pleasure to be on the receiving end at worship. Mari Price preached a sermon for Harvest Festival,  speaking about the development project in Zimbabwe which the Cathedral is supporting. It involves helping a church to turn several acres of of land into food producing gardens which can not support the local community with affordable food and provide a sustainable revenue for the church. It's good to see a project like this with such protential to educate donors as well as help the recipients.

Owain joined us for Sunday lunch, for which he provided a superb bottle of Brouilly, a Beaujolais wine which I've not tasted since Geneva days, when it was a lot more available and less expensive than it is here and now. I looked up Brouilly on Wikipedia afterwards, and was reminded of how much I had forgotten about the wines of the Bourgogne in general, and Gamay grapes in particular, which draw such variety of savours from the varied soils of the region. When Owain was young we had several camping holidays in this region, partly to make possible a few days stopover in Taize - not exactly the best place to camp out with children in those days, but a region that still figures in his appreciation of life twenty five years later.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Surreal comedy

Today, with much improved weather after yesterday's all day deluge, we took Eddie and Anne for a trip down to the mouth of the Ogwr valley, lunched at the farmhouse tea room close to Ogmore Castle, and then walked along the river bank down to the pebbly bar where it meets the sea. It wasn't nearly as muddy and wet underfoot as it might have been. The grass was firm underfoot and well grained apart from the occasional pothole.

We spotted a colony of a dozen cormorants flying up and down the river and settling in the various places where they usually fished.
Just beyond the pebbly bar, hidden from view until we'd mounted a slope to reach the top, there were about a hundred Canada geese feeding in a riverside tidal water meadow just fifty years away - a wonderful surprise.

We were astonished at the number of empty plastic bottles, and escaped balls of every kind golf, tennis, rugby, beach, even those small ones which are deployed in their millions in children's play enclosures, all washed up along the high tide-line. I longed for a re-cycling sack to gather them up, and add a little value to our stroll. Next time, maybe.

Then this evening we went to a delightful performance of Mozart's 'Magic Flute' at the Millennium Centre this evening. The libretto was an excellent English translation, optimising the humour with the use of contemporary idiom. The setting and decor were modern too, minimal with forms and colours resembling a Magritte painting. This added something special to the whole, bringing out the bizarre and strange elements of the original plot. It's quite a while since I've heard as much laughter during an opera of this quality. It brought out the kinship with pantomime, and made a great musical classic accessible to all ages and cultures.

Service at the bar during the interval was so slow that the we received our drinks as the second bell was summoning us back to our seats. This was most annoying, especially as one is not allowed to take glasses into the auditorium. The simple solution would be to stop taking new orders after first bell. If the interval can't be extended to accommodate the thirsty crowd, it would be a common courtesy of the house to issue a suitable warning.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Rain changes plans

Eddie and Anne arrived yesterday afternoon to spend a long weekend with us, and go to the opera on Saturday evening. We made a good start by dining out at the Patagonia restaurant at the bottom of King's Road. We walked there and back again in the rain. 

Today's persistent rain not only sabotaged the high hopes of a successful first day's play in the Ryder Cup it also prevented up from taking a planned trip out into a less busy part of rural Gwent for a walk and tea. Clare took Eddie and Anne to see the new Impressionist gallery in the national museum. Having known much of the collection since my teens, I decided to defer seeing their new environment for the moment, and went into the tea room to plug a gap in the washing up crew for a couple of hours instead. 

I met up with them afterwards in the museum, and then for the first time I was able to take Clare and Anne inside City Hall next door, to view the great public rooms and have a peek at the temporary office where CBS is camping out until we have a permanent base. The girls then went  off  to shop at John Lewis and I returned home to cook a seafood paella for supper.