Thursday, 30 December 2010

Movie night

Yesterday evening, once Jasmine was asleep, we all sat down together and watched a video of the hugely successful film 'Avatar'. It certainly is an amazing production, a testimony to what modern technologies can achieve in the field of visual art. The story is an interesting piece of science fantasy fiction, as long as you suspend disbelief, and pay scant attention to the known laws of physics. Two hours and forty minutes of a superior kind of cartoon movie is quite a lot to take, however. A good half hour of battle scenes could have been usefully edited out as they contributed little to the story. As ever, the bottom line is redemption by violence, albeit on an alien world which humans are attempting to colonise.

There are few new story ideas in the script. Most have appeared already in other films, either in sci-fi or the real world, about colonisation and the rape of natural resources. Even the unique selling point that gives the movie its title 'Avatar' with human minds controlling  artificially created clones of an alien humanoid species, in order to learn about and engage in their world appeared decades ago as I was reminded on the plane coming out here, watching a couple of episodes of 'V' back to back in an attempt to induce sleep. So basically there was little new to think about or discuss, apart from the shortcomings of the story line and its presentation. Although I found the film impressive in its conception, it was uninspiring and no more than entertaining as an exercise in showing what can be achieved by computer graphic animation. I preferred the movie of 'Lord of the Rings'.

Watching a film late gave us a shortened morning, but by midday I was queuing for an afternoon ski pass, and then for equipment hire. By one John and I were on the lift together, and we managed an excellent three hours of skiing. For much of the time it snowed lightly, although the sun was visible in and out of the clouds drifting across the piste. The temperature was minus twelve, and it was an effort to stay warm, despite being decently clad. Any time we skied really fast the wind chill factor numbed face and hands, but it was worth it. We both found the confidence to ski in the powder and rough bits along the piste edges as well as try every piste except the really bumpy steep black runs. A real treat. Rachel's jammin' down the Hoodoos Bar again tonight.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Twice in one day

It snowed for much of today - fine white powdery snow. Thankfully there was no wind to pile it into drifts. I walked the three quarters of a mile down to the nearest internet cafe to upload a large batch of photos and little videos from the past five days, whilst sipping a hot chocolate. You can view them here

After lunch, Jasmine's playmates arrived, but the weather quenched enthusiasm for a proposed sledging expedition. Moreover, firefighter Rachel got called out to attend a vehicle accident caused by ice on the road hidden under fresh snow. It turned out to be one of her colleagues on the Fairmont team whose truck had skidded and gone thirty feet down an embankment. Rachel accompanied her to Invermere hospital for a check up, and it was too late to go out at all by the time she returned. Once it stopped snowing, Clare and I went out for one of our treks around the golf course. The couple of inches of fine powder made for a deluxe skiing experience, like gliding through cotton wool. All was very quiet. There were just a few kids out sledging, though not many. 

Before supper Rachel was showing me the encyclopaedic fire and rescue service training manual which she uses to inform herself with in between training sessions. No sooner had we finished eating, Rachel's radio link to the local emergency control centre declared another RTA (road traffic accident). A vehicle on its side a few kilometres up the road towards Windermere. In a few minutes she was out of the house, and in another ten minutes we heard the sound of the fire rescue truck klaxon as it sped up highway 93/95 on its mission. Nothing happens for several weeks then a change in the weather, and they have two RTAs in eight hours. That's how it goes out here in the upper reaches of the Columbia river valley.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Shopping expedition

Yesterday we decided to do some walking, so that I could familiarise myself with the locality a little better. We walked over to the Fairmont shopping mall (such as it is) before lunch to get some bread and milk at the small supermarket, and look at a souvenir shop. After lunch, we walked down to the valley floor, past the fire station, across the highway and into the riverside golf course domain to use their footbridge to cross the river. This modest looking  creek, thirty feet at its widest here is the infant of the mighty Columbia River, flowing out of the ten mile long Columbia Lake, just a mile south of Fairmont Hot Springs. An information panel near the campsite declared the environmental importance of wetland areas along hundreds of miles of the Columbia watershed. It may not be pristine wilderness. but it is well used and well managed to the benefit of birds animals and humans.

We walked on past the southern perimeter of the small airport, as far as the railroad track, and saw a train of freight wagons heading north before turning back for home to pick up some extra clothing, as Clare was feeling chilly. We then went out along the Fairway, as the sun was setting, Clare on snow shoes and me on skis for a final bout of exercise. John cooked two huge steaks for him and I for supper, and by nine I was only fit for sleep.

Today, the day time air temperature rose above zero for the first time since our arrival in Canada, and the sun shone. We drove south past Columbia Lake for a big domestic shopping expedition to Cranbrook, calling at Kimberly for lunch. This is a ski resort popular with Europeans willing to make the effort to fly so far for excellent conditions, as well as Americans. The town has attracted lots of German migrants over the past century, and is reflected in local architecture and cuisine. There was a lot more snow there than at Fairmont. It was piled up in the streets and the sidewalks had not been cleared. We ate in a fast food place which did all day breafasts, soup and stuff with chips.

While the others visited a second hand store in search of some ski poles for Clare, I took off with my camera to take photos of town churches. Two of them were made particularly visible by their brightly coloured metal roofing. Situated on residential streets, the United Church of Canada building roof was a fine Cambridge blue, the Presbyterian Church roof was brick red, the Catholic church was in traditional grey slate, standing at a bend on a promontory just at the entrance to the town. In one of the newer streets containing shops, one of the retail properties was adapted into an evangelical mission centre, and across the street there was a newish modern style Lutheran Church. I'd guess that the Catholic Church was the oldest of the five I saw, but interestingly, none of the five was in any closer proximity to the town hall than any other. Accident of history? Or civic neutrality in town planning? I wonder.

We went on from there to Cranbrook's 'strip mall' as John called it - a square mile of large retail warehouse scale stores with ample parking.The afternoon was entirely taken up with visits to the 'Real Canadian Superstore' and Walmart Supercentre. Even with a shopping list in hand these places take a long time to navigate around with aisles sixty yards long and full store width of three hundred yards. This style and scale of retailing is being emulated in more and more places across Europe, but the North American scale seems always to be just that bit bigger. But then, space is something there's plenty of over here.

Before driving homes, we dined at Frank's schnitzelhaus, a popular busy restaurant also serving excellent bratwurst with sauerkraut at reasonable prices. John was so impressed with the bratwurst, he bought a bag of their deep frozen stock to take home. Twenty five dollars for twenty substantial sausages to keep in the freezer. Un unusual souvenir of a great meal out.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Boxing Day

A little wind today and flurries of snow, though still no huge fresh dump to add to the ski magic. I heard a train across the valley, and when I looked, realised I could just see both ends, so I counted the wagons as they passed out of sight, on their way south and then west laden with coal for export. There were about a hundred and thirty of them. Wikipedia told me that CPR ships 34 million tons of coal a year, mostly to Japan. I guy at the lakeside a few days ago told me that the the lines from northern BC and Alberta had been re-opened four years ago to take coal freight, more presumably the rising price on the global energy market made it worthwhile once more.

After a turkey lunch, we went up the hill and did some rather uphill cross country skiing (having missed the signage for the less arduous route). Coming back down was rather challenging. Rachel did somewhat better than I, although less used to langlauf skis. She's definitely more daring, that's for sure.

Turkey curry for supper tonight.


Saturday, 25 December 2010

Christmas Day

Our morning was filled with phone calls to families in Britain, present opening and preparations for lunch. The turkey was too big for the oven, so John installed it in his super barbeque  gas grill oven on the terrace outside the door, where it cooked to perfection for a late-ish lunch, accompanied by some very special Californian wines - the sort you have to go hunting for, as really outstanding vintners don't need to market their produce through big distributors, they sell to conoscenti the basis of their reputation.

In between turkey and pudding, Rachel and Clare went out sledging and I skied down the fairway and back to burn off a few calories, make some space for the pud and build up the courage to tackle the washing up - which I figured was the best contribution I could make to the banquet. Some friends dropped in for a drink at tea time, and by that time it was getting dark. Finally we got around to pudding, and then, the days being short and the nights very long, it was time for bed.


Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Eve

Rachel and I went up Fairmont ski hill and were being hoisted to the summit by 11.30am this morning. It was cold and thin clouds were with us early on, but we managed a dozen trips altogether, and a lot of good skiing. I don't know if I've ever skied down for such a long outing, four hours in total by the time we finally came off the hill. Rachel, being Rachel managed a little jump from a ramp successfully, and got an invite from Bruce, the guy who manages the resort, whom we met while we were out, to join the night time ski procession with flares accompanying Santa own the ski hill down to the Lodge.

John came and joined us for the afternoon, and Clare entertained Jasmine at home and out on the snowy fairway. She also cooked up some minced Elk meat for an early evening meal, so that we could eat and then return to the ski hill well stoked up for an hour in the open air at minus ten.

When we returned, there were hundreds of cars parked all around the ski lodge, and hundreds more in family groups, waiting to welcome Santa's arrival, just after six. Seeing snaking streams of torch bearing skiers emerging from the darkness of the summit as they descended the two main pistes was a marvellous sight. At the place of arrival, they made a circle into which Santa skied, before they extinguished their torches all at the same time.

Children then flocked to Santa to receive candy sticks to send them on their ways to bed, following ten minutes of fireworks, which looked particularly beautiful against a clear dark sky, mountains and forest, lighting up the snow. There were lots of oohs and aahs from the crowd, deservedly. This was a truly enchanting event for adults and children alike.  It was uniquely special for Rachel, skiing downhill in the dark for the very first time.

The only thing to connect all this to the sacred feast of the church about to begin was the broadcast of carols over the public address system. Thankfully, there was no running event commentary to evacuate the moment of wonder, or stuff it with banal sentimental pious remarks either. People could leave under cover of darkness, and ponder the moment and its meaning in their own way.

Later we went up to the vilage of Windermere in search of the little wooden church of St Peter, for their celebration of the first Eucharist of Christmas at 10.00pm. As we arrived, a freight train going north on the other side of the lake sounded off its siren twice, probably due to its approach to a road crossing. I wondered if the lights of the church were visible to the driver half a mile away,

Anyway, the church was full to the doors, with about seventy people there, and the mood was relaxed and jolly. The hymns had different tunes though they were not unfamiliar in content. The liturgy was modern, rather than classical, otherwise the ethos was quite traditional and the welcome warm. For a church that isn't as frequently used as the one in Invermere, it was well heated and well looked after. After the service, the curate was going straight on to Invermere for celebration at 11.30pm. She announced that she'd just been appointed interim pastor, so it seems as if she was having to manage an interregnum at the busiest time of year. I that's how I was sure we were in an Anglican church.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

O Emmanuel

The Hebrew name invoked in today's Advent antiphon means 'God is with us'. Isaiah's prophecy of the Messiah's birth (7:14), declares that the One to come as saviour will bear this name. The evangelists name Jesus as the one to fulfil Isaiah's inspired expression of hope in God's power to save his people. God present in human flesh, not in the abstract, but in the personal reality of this man whose story the recount.

O Emmanuel you are our king and judge,
the one whom the peoples await, and their Saviour.
O come and save us O Lord our God.


After lunch, we all drove up to Invermere, to a lakeside beach, where Rachel, John and Jasmine donned their skates, and went on the impromptu off shore ski rink created in the foot thick ice. Clare and I  put on our cross country skis and went out on the Windermere Whiteway, created by the local Nordic ski club. It was Clare's first time on skis for more than ten years,something which gave us both great pleasure. We skied about five kilometres there and back, enough for a first outing. Apart from being very level, the piste was very smoothy dressed and great for getting up a measure of speed, though that's for another day.

We passed a couple of off-shore fisherman's huts - sheds dragged out on to the ice to shelter someone fishing through a hole in the ice. There was one guy fishing through a hole out in the open when we were on our return journey. There were a few chairs and benches on the ice in the middle of the skating ring, surrounding a brazier with a log fire, presumably to provide a respite for parents there, minding their kids. Even at four Jasmine is showing that she can do the skating basics. John and Rachel can skate and were having fun on their own behalf. Altogether a lovely experience.

We called at Jerry's ice cream parlour for a hot chocolate afterwards, and then went on to supper with the family of some friends of John and Rachel. It was good to be welcomed into a Canadian home and have a glimpse of the North American way of family life in situ. Afterwards, we drove across the lake from Invermere to Windermere village, a short-cut across the frozen lake in the dark. First the skiing, then the driving - two memorable firsts in one day!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

O Rex Gentium

The invocation of today's Advent antiphon translates as 'King of Nations' - not nations in the 'United Nations' sense of sovereign states, but the broader idea of people identified by culture, language and geography, entities that persisted for millennia before 'nation states' were invented post enlightenment.

All sorts of local leaders acquired the status of king down the ages, symbolising identity, social cohesion, representation of a particular people before God, and neighbouring people. Kings bestow honours and favours on those who look to them and serve others well. Kings lead the way for people in encountering foes or establishing trade partners. Kings remind people of their own story, identity and belonging.

To look to God the creator (with a reference to Genesis 2:7) as king of nations proposes an ultimate symbol of unity for all the human race, where each person can find unity in their common humanity despite perceived differences of race and culture and history.

O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one; 
Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.


Lunchtime, John and I went up the ski hill for the afternoon session. We did a couple of practice runs to warm up on the beginners piste, involving long queues for the drag lift, waiting patiently in the freezing cold while children much too small to control snow boards and use a drag lift fell off, and tried again until the parents or instructors were embarrassed into giving way to other users. Before succumbing to hypothermia, we headed off for the chair lift and got properly started with some energetic skiing in good snow conditions.

At the end of six trips in the chair lift we were both aching a bit and tired, but at that stage we met up with Rachel, so I went up with her for a seventh run before the lift closed, and successfully completed my first full afternoon's ski alpin in five years without a single fall. I'm both amazed and grateful to be able to enjoy this marvellous experience once more. I think my legs will be stiff tomorrow.

There are more photos of our first week here

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

O Oriens

The antiphon for this the shortest day of the year, Winter Solstice, does not curse the darkness, but rejoices in the light that is. Oriens / Dayspring refers to the sun, for without the sun no life on earth could exist. The church at prayer has never worshipped the sun but does see Christ's presence symbolised in it - He who is the light shining in darkness, which darkness cannot overcome. The light of hope, the light of trust, the light of love that gives meaning and purpose to all that exists.

O Daystar, you are the splendour of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

We didn't wake up and watch the eclipse in the middle of last night, too tired after the party. There's cloud in the sky today and snow is forecast. Looking out of the window on rising I saw a freight train passing on the other side of the valley, a mile or so away I guess, and the best part of a mile long. The first night we were here and several times since, I've heard the rumble of freight trains in the distance, but this is the first time to see one, this thin thread of brown trucks moving steadily across the horizon just below the perimeter of the forest. The sound of the freight train is one of the great sounds that evoke the spirit and ethos of North America in my mind. 'Freight train, freight train goin' so fast ...' by Chas McDevitt and Nancy Whiskey was one of the first American folk songs I ever learned to play on the guitar. Over fifty years ago. It's taken this long to get around to hearing one running for myself.

I was up and eating muesli and taking my pills before everyone else this morning, so I went out and skiied up and down the fairway before joining the others for more coffee and a croissant. It was cold, around minus thirteen, and it took me ages to warm up. After lunch, John and I took Jasmine up the ski hill to get her kitted out for the snowy season and re-familiarise her with the nursery slope. I hired some equipment to try out, not knowing if I'd be confident or have sufficient control to enjoy an outing on the new short waisted skis. Instead of an afternoon pass - there was only an hour and a half left to ski in - I bought a couple of lift pass tickets, and went twice on the drag lift to access the easy slopes to see how I got on.

I was delighted with the outcome and then took the chairlift to the top, and skied down in a leisurely fashion, thoroughly enjoying the ease of it all. Yes, like getting back on a bike again after a long spell, but in this case, like getting on a rather posh new bike that makes the most of your efforts. I had enough time to do another run, but no ticket, and maybe not quite sufficient reserve energy to make a good job of it, so I quit while I was ahead - i.e. before I fell, or began to hurt with exhaustion - the way I used to ski. I joined John and Jasmine in the restaurant, and then we headed for home, mission accomplished, undamaged and looking forward to the next outing. I'm pleased to think that I can still do this without difficulty, despite being five years older than when I last did ski alpin. But I'm also fifteen kilos lighter, and that makes all the difference.

Monday, 20 December 2010

O Clavis David

The key has for millennia been a symbol of effective power. Even today, the software which drives our computers, or gives us access to our emails or e-banking is activated by a digital key. Whoever uses keys has control, even if it is delegated to them by the possessor of power.  In the modern materialistic world the vast proliferation of locks, pass codes and security devices is a measure of how insecure many of us are with our identity and possessions. Is there a single key that can give us all the sense of freedom and safety needed to live abundantly?

The Key of David, subject of this day's Advent antiphon, refers to Isaiah 22:22 where the prophet says that the key of the household of David will be entrusted to Eliakim when he becomes chief steward, as one worthy of taking responsibility for the safety and well-being of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Jesus in the book of Revelation (3:7) declares himself to be inheritor of the power of this key, which when he opens a door, nobody can shut, or when he closes a door nobody can open. He who also describes himself as 'the door'. He who is ultimately 'all in all', entrusted by the Creator to reconcile all things in Himself.

These are bold poetic statements about the absolute power of divine love embodied in His very being. And notably, this antiphon looks to Him first and foremost to deliver those imprisoned, or surviving at the extremities of human existence. We are called to share in his exercise of power for the good of others, but we do well to remember that God will, whenever we can't or won't.

O Key of David and Sceptre of the House of Israel, who opens and no one can shut, who shuts and no one can open. Come and bring the prisoners forth from the prison cell, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

The temperature dropped to minus nineteen overnight, the sky is misty and there's no wind. Definitely a stop in until you must go out sort of day. Clare has been playing the piano, and Jasmine dancing to the music. Rachel is baking, and discussing the shopping list with John, who flew from work in LA via Salt Lake City to Spokane on the US / Canadian border last night, and is now stocking up before he sets out on the five hour drive north up the Columbia valley towards home. Jasmine is excited that her Daddy will be home for supper, and she's wandering about the house singing.

After lunch we drove to Invermere, so that Jasmine could play with friends, Rachel could take the Jeep in for further repairs, and Clare could go to the gym, to do some work on her dodgy knee muscles, leaving me to sit in the tiny area of Sobey's supermarket devoted to refreshments and free wi-fi, updating Rachel's Mac uploading some of the best photos I've taken this week to  the internet. These can be seen here.

It was dark by the time we'd picked up Jasmine from Windermere village. The winter solstice moon ducked in and out of the peaks on the east side of the valley as we drove home - there's a full eclipse tonight in the early hours, and if the clouds stay away we're in one of the best places in the world to view it. At this stage, John was on the last leg of his journey home from the border. We got back to Fairmont Hot Springs just three quarters of an hour before he arrived, enough time to get a meal ready and a bottle of wine opened. After we'd eaten a welcome meal together, we all went off to a party at the home of the couple who own and run the local ski hill and leisure resort. A most convivial way to meet people who live and work here.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

O Radix Jesse

Today's antiphon is a reminder of the human identity of Jesus, 'born of David's line'. Jesse was the father of King David. The Jesse Tree, representing Christ's genealogy appears in mediaeval iconography of the incarnation takes his name. There's a fine example of this in the East window of Llandaff Cathedral's Lady Chapel. St Matthew's genealogy of Jesus traces his ancestry from Abraham 'father of many nations' via Jesse to Joseph, husband of Mary. St Luke's genealogy backwards from Joseph via Jesse to Adam. 

Despite their differences in presentation and content, these lists of names seek to anchor Jesus in history the original audiences could identify with, and understand that the One God sent is not a celestial alien but someone like us, sharing fully in the universal experience of being human in order to transform it. And yet, as St John says in the prologue of his Gospel: 'He came to his own and his own knew him not.'

O root of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations; kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim. O come to deliver us and do not delay.

I was sad to lose the opportunity to go to church today. It would have meant driving 20 minutes to the nearest church offering a Eucharist and kids' nativity play in Invermere. When the time came, I was the only one up and about. I was reluctant to take a strange vehicle and make the journey on my own in weather conditions I'm no longer used to. So I said the office and read through the Eucharist quietly, thinking of St John's back home, and countless other congregations around the world with nativity presentations and carol services both great and small, each bringing something local and personal to re-telling the story of God's coming.

After breakfast, Clare and I took Jasmine out sledging. At minus twelve it was too cold to stay out for any length of time and stand around, so we weren't out for long. A Quebecois electrician friend of the family came around after lunch to fix a broken dimmer switch and diagnose the smoke alarm problem. He's off to family re-union tomorrow. His father is back home after spending several years in retreat at the Grand Chartreux monastery near Grenoble following the break up of his marriage. It's good to think that contemplative religious communities are still able to exercise a healing role in today's world.

At the end of the afternoon, Rachel and I took a trip up the mountain to the ski station, to deliver some skis for pre-season servicing, and have a look around. The village is at 2,700 feet, the ski station is at 4,000 feet and the ski lifts ascend to 5,000 feet. The view north up the valley from up there is glorious.  The snow crunches beautifully underfoot and should be generous to ski on. More is on the way. It'll be a challenge to dress well enough to stay warm enough, and not overheat as happens very quickly after a short spell of vigorous activity. It's not a huge ski domain, but it will be certainly give me enough challenges while I get used to ski alpin after a break of several years.
After supper we sat with Jasmine to watch a video of the Disney version of 'Beauty and the Beast'. It was too long and too elaborate a story line to hold the attention of a four year old - not simple enough to free the imagination. I was not at all impressed by the violence embedded in this production, as it played no part in the development of the plot. Was this really aimed at adults, or an expression of what some adults think small children want, or can take? By the time it was over, Jasmine, was unusually hyperactive and took a while to return to a sleep inducing level of calm. That's the first thing I've watched on telly for more than a week, and I found it draining. The calm stillness of the landscape here is all the visual stimulation I need to sustain me as we count down the Christmas.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

O Adonai

A late afternoon walk in the snow, plus yesterday's ski outing gave me enough fresh air and exercise for ten hours relaxed sleep, waking up just as the sun was striving to clear the thin clouds from peaks across the valley. Instead of evaporating away, low down mist precipitated in a fine crystalline powder as the sun warmed the air, as the outside temperature was minus fourteen. Just enough to whiten tree branches which lost their snow cover to the sun days ago.

Today's Advent antiphon is the Hebrew for Lord / Master, used to address the almighty in prayer, to acknowledge divine power and sovereignty. The word first appears in the story of Moses and the burning bush. Adoni, the root of the word, comes from the Phoenician term used to address their deity Tammuz as  'Lord'. It was also re-used by the Greeks in the name of the deity Adonis, beloved of Venus, and also appears in other ancient Eastern Mediterranean religious cults. Sea-faring Phoenicians were great exporters of their culture.  One intriguing historical reference places the cave Jesus was said to be born in (where the Bethlehem church of the nativity was built) on the site of an ancient sanctuary to Adonis-Tammuz. 

Religions then didn't so much compete with each other as they borrowed from each other's language, stories, sacred places, rituals and symbols in expressing their ever evolving relationships to the divine and each other. Syncretism can be used as a term of disrepute in relation to religious practices, whereas in reality it's what all human beings do, unless they are insecure enough to strive to prove themselves exceptional and 'pure' in zeal and devotion.
O Adonai and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai. O come and save us with your mighty power.

This word expressing the reverence and loving devotion proper to our relationship with God, appeals to the almighty to deal with us in our great need with the infinitely greater power of devoted love that belongs to the author of our being. It expresses that ultimate trust that gives life its true vitality.


Rachel and Clare went to a breakfast time pyjama party this morning, leaving me to enjoy a quiet ponder. When they returned, Clare and I  went together down to the end of the fairway and back- she on snow shoes, me on skis. Mid-afternoon, Rachel and I went out together for a brief spell. She on the skis that used to belong to her mum. She pointed out that birds I thought were indigenous crows were actually woodpeckers. We saw several, in the same vicinity and I photographed one of them at twenty yards, resplendent like a Roman Cardinal with scarlet cap, white neck band and black body.

As Jasmine was spending the afternoon with a playmate, we were able to drive up to the Fairmont Hot Springs holiday resort, and spend an hour in the thermal baths. Hot water gushes out of the mountain around here - there's even a hot waterfall. The air temperature up there at about 1,100 metres was minus twelve, and the water a comforting twenty eight degrees. Well appointed changing rooms apart, the forty yard walk down to the pools was in the open air, not down a covered passageway. Cold enough for ice warnings to be posted. It's a popular venue with locals as well as visitors. In the water Rachel met and introduced us to one of her voluntary fire fighter colleagues whose day job is piloting passenger jets for Air Canada out of Vancouver. He loves it so much out here that he prefers to commute from local Cranbrook Airport to his duties than to live closer to the job.

When we got home, Rachel cooked and we went off to collect Jasmine from her playmates' house. There, I learned that the Windermere Lake Nordic 22km perimeter ski trail on the ice is now open. That's something to look forward to in the coming weeks, as I rebuild my stamina for an unique sort of ski trek I've never done before.

Friday, 17 December 2010

O Sapientia

Shifting time zones has given us an opportunity to adjust our habitual getting up time, to take advantage of the early morning hours, and go to bed earlier, thus maximising available hours of winter light. There is something special about praying and mediating in the dawn hours, especially as the poetic cadences of the Liturgy of the Hours rises with increased expectation of the Coming. I look to the Lord, I will await the God who saves me.  Know that the kingdom of God is at hand, be sure that he will not delay. And tonight at Evening Prayer, the antiphon that gives its Latin name to this day: 

O Wisdom, 
you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. 
You fill the universe, and hold all things together 
in a strong yet gentle manner. 
O come to teach us the way of truth.


Rachel, Jasmine and Clare went into Invermere this morning, to get some repairs done to the Jeep. I stayed behind, and took myself off around the golf course on my new skis instead. The sky was once more clear perfect blue and the temperature around minus five. I started off gingerly in the few tracks left by other skiers, but soon found that the untouched snow condition was perfect to ski hors traces, albeit fairly slowly in places where it was deeper. The initial dump of snow had been followed by continued cold weather, so it hadn't melted and compacted into ice or hard snow beneath the crust, so the skis moved nicely under my weight both uphill and downhill. Such sweet pleasure!  So good to have the time and freedom to savour it! And it's such great exercise. 

I limited myself to an hour's first outing although I could have gone further. First I have to find out how fit and resilient I am. It's at least two years since I last skiied, so I'm thankful the body's memory of balance and control of those narrow sliding edges seems still to be in place.
For me there's no better place than a hillside with views of forests and mountains for many miles to rouse the heart to praise the Great Author of all that exists, the One who holds all things together in a strong yet gentle manner.  Isn't that a great way to speak about climate, ecosystems, planets and galaxies. Poetry bridges the communications gap between humans in a way mathematics fails to.

I read a news report this week that CERN's first batch of observations from the Large Hadron Collider has dealt a heavy blow to proponents of the string theory description of the basic common components of all particles of matter. The mystery of how all things hold together may yet yield its secrets to those who probe the depths, but I love the fact that despite our superbly powerful technology and know-how, nature still gives us a hard time, and keeps us in our place as 'children of dust'.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Ski shopping

Being awake before dawn this morning was a real pleasure, as the sky was perfectly clear, and with so much less light pollution, the stars were visible from inside, without needing to go out on to the balcony in sub zero temperatures to view them. From that beginning, the sun shone in a cloudless blue sky right through the day, giving us the best possible views of the surrounding mountains.

After lunch we went to Invermere, to check out ski hire costs, having first dropped Jasmine off at her pre-school Christmas party. I ended up buying a second hand set of cross country ski gear, as this was cheaper than a month's hire by 25%. So now I'll be able to get in some early practice on the golf course fairway behind the house to get fit for more ambitious treks when the local pistes open this weekend. I disposed of all my ancient ski gear when we moved out of the Vicarage, so I'm rather pleased to have acquired some again. Staying where we are staying means I can go off any time I like, as long as the weather is right.

After picking up Jasmine and Rachel we drove home for supper. Afterward, Rachel went down to the Fairmont Fire Hall for the week's practice session, then came back and picked me up to take me down to the Hoodoo Bar-Restaurant where she was going to take part in a open jam session with some local musicians she's recently met. On the way there we popped into the Fire Hall, so she could show me around and introduce me to her colleagues. It was a very interesting and enlightening half hour, and for me a moment of considerable pride to see my daughter at home among those huge fire fighting trucks.

Earl, one of her fellow fire fighters came down to listen and eat supper, and we chatted in the corner as they made music. It was a great to see her in her element again, and have an opportunity to meet someone of my own generation and talk about life in the area. It sounds to me as if celebrating Christmas hereabouts is going to be fun.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Getting acquainted with the area

Much to everyone's annoyance, the household smoke alarms went off several times, starting at 6.30am this morning, not because of any threat to life or limb, but a malfunction that prompts it to run in test mode and declaim in a thin electronic voice "Warning carbon monoxide" and "Warning - This is a fire drill" in both English and French. This put an end to any hope of a lie-in, so I was up early taking early light photos through the trees of the Purcell mountains on the other side of the valley from our balcony window. Then I went outside and took some close up shots of the house in its wintry guise. Then it was time for a local style breakfast of home made muffins with yoghout, blackberries and blueberries  washed down with dark roast black coffee.

I then sat at Rachel's MacBook Pro and wrote a letter to email to the 'Western Mail' in support of the newly opened temporary centre for the homeless and vulnerable in the old Custom House in Cardiff city centre. The move is getting some bad press from nimbys who'd like to exclude anyone without money to spend from our smart regenerated town centre. It'll be interesting to see if it gets printed.

At lunchtime, Rachel drove us all to Invermere for a gathering of Jasmine's pre-school group and their teachers in an old people's home, where they sang some Christmas songs to the residents. Rachel has been playing guitar and singing with the group, so she accompanied them for this delightful occasion. The children also did some Christmassy craft work at tables with small groups of residents, and many gave their completed decorations to people to hang on their doors. Rachel told us of how many local organisations she knew collected goods for Christmas hampers to give to needy people around them. It seems that compassion and solidarity are strong themes in social education, and valued just as much if not more than the individualism that so dominates much of life in our times.

After a snack for the kids, it was time to take them to their regular afternoon pre-school session at the Eva Joseph Family Centre, a place well designed and purpose built just outside Invermere for educational and social activities with young children in the area. At the 'show & tell' session, Jasmine introduced us as her grandparents all the way from Wales, and Clare taught the children how to sing Welsh nursery favourite action song 'Mi welais jac y do', which was great fun.

On the way home, I got to drive the Jeep, a six cylinder automatic - my first ever automatic, six cylinder American car with cruise control. Quite an experience for a lifelong small economy car man. Clare went out for some exercise, a walk up and down the gold course in her snow shoes, while I went out to fetch Jasmine from pre-school. Then I took Jasmine, eager to find her granny out on the snowy fairway, to see if we could track Clare's giant footprints in the not much trampled snow. We got about two hundred yards, then they seemed to stop. I wondered why she'd gone so far and then apparently disappeared. Minutes later she turned up, and told us that she'd had mechanical problems, a loose shoe joint, so she'd doubled back to do repairs, then went out by another route. Mystery solved. That was her first outing on snowshoes for ten years. I saw a couple out on cross country skis, and realised how good conditions were despite no pistes being prepared. I must get to a hire shop tomorrow!

After supper, a chance to look at the photos of the day, and commit these notes to the web, courtesy of the wireless dongle which affords better speed and bandwidth than the local land-line service can provide out here in the back of beyond.

The Longest Tuesday ever

After a day of packing and last minute errands, we had a short night's anxious sleep before the taxi arrived at ten to five to take us to the bus station, to catch the first coach to Heathrow. As we queued to board, a young woman behind me asked if this ewas the Heathrow coach, as she couldn't see the route indicator on the second vehicle. I said yes, and asked where she was flying to. Saudi Arabia she told me. A student going home at term's end maybe? Though not for Christmas. She was going south east to forty degrees of heat, and we were going north west to minus five degrees of cold. Heathrow, global crossroads.

We arrived at Heathrow, sleepy from our journey, mostly in the dark. We had with plenty of time to spare for panics about misplaced items - mostly mine - it takes me a long time to get back into long distance travel mode, so much have I adjusted to a quiet homey sort of town life over the past six months. Having checked in on-line, all we had to do was drop off our bags and endure airport security clearance queues. It was busy, but it took us just half an hour from start to finish, leaving us with a two hour wait before boarding. The free wifi access was so congested that this will not be my first ever posting from a laptop in an airport Departure lounge. Dozens of people were using laptops, and doubtless hundreds using wifi enabled phones. I wonder what kind of system manages so many simultaneous users?

At the appointed time over three hundred of us were herded politely on to a huge Air Canada Airbus A330 for the nine hour flight. The last time I went West around the globe was when I went to Jamaica in 1982. This time, even further West, past the southern tip of Greenland over northern Labrador and Hudsons Bay, to Calgary in the snow covered plains of Alberta. Hudsons Bay is mostly iced over, but with huge dark fissures dramatically revealing the chilly waters beneath. It was hard to get any decent photos, as the double glazed window was partly iced up on the inside, not surprisingly when the outside air temperature is minus eighty.

Because of head-winds we arrived twenty minutes late but were soon through immigration, with a dozen courteous officers on duty to check arrivals from two international flights arriving close to each other. Our luggage, being almost first on, was among the last to be delivered, which made us nervous, with a bus check in deadline to meet. Nevertheless, we were on our way through the downtown evening rush hour in a taxi, with a chatty Punjabi driver (just like being back in Cardiff), and arrived at the Greyhound bus terminal well in time to check in with our e-tickets bought on line 4,600 miles away.

Coach security measures were as strict as at the airports, and not suprisingly after a passenger in the USA went on a killing spree last year. At six thirty we were on our way in the dark on the highway heading south into the Banff national park, with tantalising glimpses of snow shrouded beauty along the way. Just over three hours later we were re-united with Rachel at the coach drop-off point in Radium, half an hour's drive from Fairmont Hot Springs, and driven home in her posh Jeep SUV - a nice robust vehicle, something of a necessity in a region where where snow packed road surfaces are common in the early part of the season when the snow layer builds up quickly.

After a drink and bite to eat and an email home, after twenty hours on the move, it was time for bed.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Tabla rasa

Saturday lunchtime we attended Rhiannon's end of term show in Coventry with the performing arts Saturday school for youngsters, named 'Highly Sprung'. She finds this more enjoyable than traditional ballet classes she previously attended. The school's fifty children, aged from five and fifteen performed their own version of 'Mary Poppins' in dance and movement routines which required a great deal of discipline and concentration to work well. It was most impressive, and evidently a lot of fun for the kids and dance professionals working with them.

Rhiannon's love of performing arts has been caught from her parents. It isn't imposed on her. Any activity that makes use of her creative imagination is a winner with her, thank goodness. Last year there was a playground fashion for the Nintendo DS, so Santa brought her one. She also acquired a simple A- framed blackboard / whiteboard, and an array of writing tools. After a few months, the 'DS' ended up with other discarded toys. Hardly a day passes that she doesn't spend an hour or so writing and drawing on her boards, making up her own games with it. Clare bought one to keep here for her when she visits. She kept us entertained for ages by involving us in  board games generated by her imagination, when they were down last weekend.

Modern electronic toys and computer games are marketed with the promise of working wonders in the imagination. In practice they are much more limited in what they can achieve than  a device as simple as a tabla rasa, couple with a family that will play with you, rather than give you things to play with.

In the evening we all drove over to Northampton where Kath works, managing the County's dance programme, to watch the publicity launch performance of a project which has involved over seventy children in five schools. There were two local MPs several local Councillors and the local Mayor in attendance. Kath had her give her first Official Public welcome speech to the dignitaries present. I was most proud of her, naturally. 

The performance itself was exceptional, showing what can be achieved with kids that have little or no background in any kind of physical theatre, all dancing with great energy and enthusiasm, working under leadership, accepting team discipline to produce an event everyone loved. It fired them with the desire to repeat the experience - which they all will, because components of the show will tour around schools in the County. Great value for money for educational bureaucrats, wanting to get kids  (well just girls actually - for policy reasons) physically active, socially engaged and artisitically creative, all under the same budget headline. It's a pity arts projects of this kind are being targeted so early in the current round of government cuts.

If only local authorities knew how to spend less money on computer systems from big monopoly companies like Microsoft and Apple, and invested in developing free Open Source resources capable of performing on standard hardware equally as well, if not better. If they did, a lot more funding could be released to enhance the rest of the curriculum - artistic and scientific.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Change and patience

Before setting out for Kenilworth for a weekend with Kat, Anto and Rhiannon, I managed to get all the tasks I hoped to get done before putting the office laptop into storage for the next few weeks. This included the last quarterly report on the activity of Cardiff Business Safe for this year. I'm glad to say  it was a positive one, despite challenges in maintaining network operations, and extracting subscriptions from the majority of our users. I've learned such a lot about how business is done in the real world over the past six months, with the players now re-categorised in my mind as the Good, the Dodgy and the Damn Difficult/Complex.

Getting from our previous office base in Southgate House to our new place in Charles Street has been a long drawn out process, a nightmare on times, although we were camping out in the elegance of a room with a front lawn view in City Hall and graciously tolerant co-occupants. We had just to wait and cope, while commissioning and use of the new building fell further behind deadlines. It wasn't ready when the new Civil Parking Enforcement team took occupation back in August - a lot tougher for them, than for us, as they had to learn a new job while they were settling in and sorting themselves out. 

Could all this have been done better? Yes, if there hadn't been lots of other changes going on at the same time. The Council has appointed a new CEO, Jon House. I met him in a brief social encounter at Kidney Wales Carols this week, accompanied by a couple of senior councillors.  He got the job as a man with ideas and experience commending him to those tackling a changing situation dominated by spending cuts. He now has to learn how Cardiff functions from top to bottom, and what the territory he serves looks like. Those under his leadership naturally want to look at their responsibilities and give a good account of themselves. This inevitably reduces concentration on what's labelled 'task and finish' in every area of activity. Everyday work continues despite changes at the top, but sometimes at a reduced pace.

It takes time for the influence of anyone new to make an impact. The larger the organisation, the more this is the case. New political or religious leaders get elected on the 'change' ticket and all too soon find how little difference they can really make without throwing dangerously everything out of balance. 

Whether you're waiting to occupy a new office space, or taking control of a country or even a county, a large dose of patience is required to see effective changes happen. I wonder if those who strive so zealously to make our daily news 'interesting' really understand this basic precept.

Thursday, 9 December 2010


There's a lot to be done this week to clear the last subscriber accounts from the unfinished file, and get the first batch of next year's invoices ready for sending while I'm away, before we set off for Canada. So I've been putting in a lot of extra hours lately, in the hope of returning to a clean fresh start in mid January. Last night and again this evening, I went straight from the new Charles Street office over to St John's for a carol service.

Last night it was the Kidney Wales Carols. I'd been invited to give the blessing at the end, and I was pleased be allowed back to do this. The event mixes bi-lingual carol singing from congregation and suberb choirs and soloists (two adult, one Welsh primary school choice) with poems, scripture readings and brief addresses from several people, and attracts over two hundred people. With only a small part to play at the end, I was able to relax and enjoy the music without feeling the usual Vicar's concern for the whole event.

Tonight it was the St John Priory for Wales Carol service with over 250 people present, mainly members of the order, many in uniform. It was a more traditional lessons and carols event, and this created an opportunity to congratulate the new Prior designate, Dan Clayton Jones, and salute the out-going Prior, Hugh Thomas - both of whom were among the lesson readers.

With nothing to do apart from just relax and be there tonight, I found I was able to sing all the carols loudly and right through without strain. For me this was a noticable difference When I was leading half a dozen or more big carol services in previous years, I couldn't sing flat out or sing everything, for fear of singing myself hoarse and having insufficient voice to pray or bless. I've noticed other clergy do the same too. It could be that they have withdrawn into silent prayer doing te singing, but voice preservation seems more probable, given that, even for the most experienced of us, it's something of a strain to hold a big service together, and more of a strain to have to do so often in this busiest season of the year.

It's enjoyable to be on the receiving end much more often these days than at any time since I was young, even if I do miss the creative work of preaching regularly and leading worship.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Winner takes it all?

It was just one of those co-incidences I guess, that yesterday evening's TV, after our family trip to watch 'Mamma Mia' included an ITV programme about ABBA's most popular songs. Top of the list, 'The winner takes it all' - something that's happened several times in other popularity polls here and elsewhere. It is a well crafted and powerful song, a popular music standard, no doubt. Meryl Streep's rendition in the 'Mamma Mia' movie is both powerful and moving against a glossy romantic Greek backdrop.

The song speaks in a very personal and intimate way about coming to terms with the breakup of a love affair. It about disappointment, betrayal and moving on, but it's not a song of despair or ill will, but rather of resignation, dignified acceptance of sad reality. Its appeal is so enduring, it clearly touches deep feelings for a great many people. So what does this say about today's world?

The experience of broken relationships seems to have supplanted hope, trust and intimacy in what features most strongly in people's lives. What part, I wonder, has been played by the decline in shared faith and the dominance of reason and/or the passions that has contrived to make people more reluctant to work hard to sustain commitments and promises made to each other at a personal level. What part has been played in de-stabilising personal relationship by shfting ideas of the meaning of 'happiness' and 'fulfilment'? Behind the title of the song, used with great irony - 'The winner takes it all' lies a selfish and greedy vision of life sadly taken too much for granted nowadays. No amount of political posturing about the ideal of 'Big Society' is going to change that either.

Sunday, 5 December 2010


This morning I stood in for Fr Dean Atkins, celebrating and preaching the Parish Mass at St Saviour's Splott. Dean is in the Holy Land this week. Over forty people were present, a fifth of them children. The church's central heating wasn't on, and I really admired the congregation's stoicism faced with adversity on this bright and frosty morning.

I was conscious this morning of taking my time as I prayed through the service. Although I know the words and moves off by heart, changing back from being on the receiving end i worship to leading it raises a different kind of awareness of what you're doing. You don't forget what to do, but it's not as semi-automatic an effort as it was when taking half a dozen services a week. In me this now evokes deliberation, reflection, pondering, savouring the precious moment - something that's easier when you're on the receiving end as a worshipper, which doesn't always fit with being an officiating minister.

Today will probably be the last time I'll celebrate or preach until well into the New Year. I think I'm starting to miss doing this regularly. Or maybe I just haven't found my feet spiritually speaking with the contemplative freedom I hungered for over many years and now have in retirement.


Kath, Anto and Rhiannon came down yesterday afternoon for an overnight stay. I cooked a seafood paella for supper. Owain came and joined us, then reappeared for lunch again today, so that we could all travel to the Millennium Centre together for an afternoon performance of the hit musical 'Mamma Mia' - Kath and Anto's Christmas present to us all.

The auditorium was full and the performance superb, with the audience on their feet for the final few ensemble routines. A large number of children (mainly girls, to judge by the long queues for the loos) from five to fifteen were present with their parents. The plot and the manner of the performance was to my mind, a lot better suited to adults than to a family audience. The film was certainly less explicit in its expression of sexuality. It wouldn't have got past the censors in many countries and sold so well if it hadn't been so. 

It's not good enough to assert that most of this aspect the performance is lost on children, mostly caught up with the songs and dancing. The insensitivity of the production to the kind of audience it evidently attracts contributes to the on-going sexualisation of childhood - a disturbing feature of today's culture. 

Also if the same kids have heard every other sentence spoken on stage in the opening sequence contain the expletive 'bloody',what's the point in primary school teachers hauling children into the head's office for 'inappropriate' language in the classroom? OK, I know, it could have been much worse, and the children hear much worse in the street, if not on TV, but does this actually add any value to the performance, or the lives of the audience?

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Untimely bereavement

Before I went to bed last night, I retrieved an email from the address of a former colleague, Monica Mills  written by her husband Peter, to say that Monica had died from unstoppable cancer, in just five weeks after diagnosis. It was such a shock, as we were the same age. Until a year ago, she was ecumenical  chaplain of the Lightship in Cardiff Bay, She'd moved away from Cardiff to start a part-time retirement ministry in Lymington in the New Forest, having not long recovered from joint replacement surgery. All looked well for their future, entered into with trust and confidence together. They didn't know any more than anyone else can know what lay hidden for them, either in the long or short term, but this was so very unexpected.

Essentials of Christian faith allow us to sketch our understanding of life as God intends it for us, and we follow this outline in trust, as best we can. Whatever plans or ambitions any of us may entertain, we have no control over our life span, no understanding of the gift of life, its extent or full meaning and purpose, until its end is in view. But we dare believe every human life, no matter how long or short, has its value and purpose in God's mind. Reaching into the divine unknown through prayer is such a vital activity, so central to Christian discipleship. It's not so much the answers we think we may receive, but the very act of enquiry itself, of longing to know the truth of our existence that shapes our true humanity.

It's something I think Monica understood very well, as pastor and spiritual guide, respected and valued in local government and commerce down in Cardiff Bay, as well as in the circles of the faithful.

May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Seeking things above

A great night of telly tonight with two music documentary programmes of thought provoking quality.

The first was a 90th birthday tribute to Dave Brubeck, American master Jazz pianist and composer, hosted by Clint Eastwood, with Jamie Cullum and Sting among the guests. It was a truly inspirational  watch.

Thanks to my sister June (always awake to contemporary culture) , and my local Scoutmaster Penry Jones,(not long back from National Service), by the time adolescence hit me in my home town of Ystrad Mynach I was listening to, and engaged by contemporary Jazz. Aged fifteen, I knew every note of Brubeck's 'Take Five' (the biggest selling Jazz single of all time) by heart, and many more tracks of his first few albums.

I must admit, I have not followed Brubeck's career in the fifty years since then, and have only recently become aware of the way he is honoured as a Grand Master in the world of American music. He still does Jazz inspiringly, but also choral and orchestral works and chamber music of great quality. He has been married to his wife Iola for as long as I have been alive. Of their six children, four are musicians of standing in their own right, and they still perform with him. In these unstable times, this is a testimony to the value of family life to be celebrated in its own right.

Tonight I learned that Brubeck became a Catholic when he was sixty, after working on a musical setting of the Propers of the Mass (Kyries, Santus & Agnus Dei) for Pope John Paul II's visit to California. From what he said about this in the interview, his engagement with the text he was setting to music was what led him to make his commitment to the church.  Yet another instance of the old missionary maxim  'the eucharist converts'. It's an idea I can trace back to John Wesley, who was convinced that the celebration of the sacrament had the power to move people to faith commitment.

It's true in my experience too. I have seen the mystery of the sacrament at work in others, though never in any straightforward way. For some, reflecting on the set texts and working on them (like Brubeck did), touches the heart. For others it's visual symbols and ritual which spark the awakening, while for yet others, it's the experience of being with individuals of so many differences, united in the act of prayer, singing or listening, that communicates the life giving importance of belonging to the church - not as a social institution of power and significance, but as a companionship of souls awakened to the meaning and purpose that the Gospel conveys.

It was most encouraging to learn about Brubeck's fertile creative life, and his un-institutionalised witness to faith in a prime time Friday TV programme.

Immediately following this was a documentary entitled 'Krautrock', the somewhat pejorative designation given to the German contemporary music scene 1970-1990. German pop music in the sixties was as bland and ineffective as anything from the Hitler years, and young people growing up post-war, were conscious that 'estabishment' elders of their time were for the most part those who had run their society under Nazi control. Coming to terms with this was painful, and making a fresh start even harder. On the music scene some innovators strived for a radical break with the anodyne music of the present (don't mention the war), but found no value in emulating the pop music of America or the rest of Europe. 

So, innovators looked 'above and beyond', to 'celestial' abstract sounds, uncontaminated by political reference - aided by the new technology of music synthesisers and sound samplers. Some musicians set their ears to listen afresh to the sounds of their everyday environment, and then to emulate these sounds and incorporate them into their new music. Xanakis, Stockhausen and Cage are famed as composers of 'serious'  electronic music in this era, but there were also groups of musicians working collectively in performing live or on records new forms of music that gave birth to today's popular electronic dance music scene. 

As one brought up on Jazz, and music with accessible melodic, harmonic and rhythmic content, I've found abstract electronic music fascinating but elusive to engage with. I often like the sounds, but find it hard to make sense of what it all conveys. This music documentary gave me a fresh insight into what inspired and drove those seminally creative artists of the seventies. 

For Brubeck and for the 'Krautrockers' how to take the given, yet go beyond it to some place new, rather than just please the established audience was the perpetual challenge. Would that the preaching of the Gospel was better understood in these terms.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Key to the door

Since the end of July, Cardiff Business Safe has been camping out in a splendidly located room in City Hall, sha ring space with the excellent and patient guys who organise many aspects of the Wales GB Car Rally event, which happened here a couple of weeks ago. Today, Ashley and I received our electronic photo i/d pass cards to enable us to access the office space assigned to us in 47 Charles Street. After four months of waiting we now have desks of our own, and a functional phone line and internet connection to call our own in what we hope will be a secure working environment for us. 

We've survived weeks of hassles with mail going astray because nobody was really aware that we were supposed to be occupying the desk space which we couldn't get free access to as co-workers. However much of a strain this has been, day to day operational demands pressed us into remaining patient, guaranteeing the RadioNet service on the one hand, bringing in the revenue to sustain it on the other, despite the problems arising from not having a single controllable work space of our own. 

From this day onwards, the task of getting all our records and equipment assembled in this single place  can finally happen, but it will take time. Organising this will take even longer, especially as I shall be away for a month, and in the meanwhile, day to day operational demands will continue as they ever do, without ceasing. The initial sorting out of the office will have to be the job of others.

Today's other landmark is the start of producing the first set of subscription invoices for 2011-2012, setting various price levels, and adjusting to the new 20% VAT rate. I predict complaints across the board at cost increases, but they are unavoidable. In the first two years of operating the new digital radio network, pricing of subscriptions was definitely at a bargain discount, a reasonable guesstimate to sustain business while we worked out what it actually cost. If all subscribers looked after their equipment and made sure each user was properly trained in operating the equipment, cost overheads would be significantly lower. 

The cost of accident or error became abundantly clear to me recently when I had to hire a car in Switzerland. I was terrified of damaging the nearly new vehicle and having to pay for this in addition to the hire outlay. As a result, I drove even more carefully than usual. Would that we could design an arrangement that would move radio users to be every bit as careful with the equipment committed to their charge.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Proper Winter

This last couple of weeks the skating rink outside City Hall has been fully operational. For the first years I can recall in the five since it was first introduced, there's been really cold weather and even snow, to encourage people to come out and enjoy the facilities. So much better than drizzle and rain.

The temperature has hovered around zero this past week, and I've been feeling grateful we now live in a much smaller, easier to warm house. Our Autumn energy bills (paid last week) are less than half of our former Vicarage bills. But having said that, we had to call in a heating engineer due to a system malfunction, arising from ridding the radiators of air earlier in the week. The problem was easily resolved. We'd forgotten how to remedy it, so we had to pay to be reminded of something we needed not to forget. 

We were lucky to have someone who could get to us promptly, especially when he was unsure how he'd get a vehicle out of an icy driveway. Notification of my portion of the government's winter heating allowance arrived in the post the same day. That covers the cost of forgetting, and a routine annual boiler service to follow when we return from Canada. We need this bonus less than many. I like to think that in reducing worries of this kind, it frees us to be generous in a different way.

My office work in these past few weeks has focussed on getting our accounts recording fully up to date, and issuing an assortment of non-standard invoices for radio repairs and losses, also replacement accessories. This requires painful attention to detail and seems like a vast never ending task. But that's only how it feels to have to slog through the records I've spent the last six months building into something useful.

With around 250 subscribers, mostly functioning without too many problems, the number of accounting anomalies is not large in real terms. It just feels daunting if you've never done it before. And this is what I have chosen to do, having spent most of my years as a clerical professional on embracing the whole, having an inspiring strategic vision to motivate others to unite and move forward. It's such a contrast. But it's good to experience life from the other side, and sense its demands. 

It may not mean much for my future, now that I have run out of career options, but it brings an element of reality as opposed to imagination into my life of prayer.