Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Post Christmas Family Time

After a late start to the Feast of Stephen it was time to head for the shops, and the discovery that not all were yet open for the 'sales', as if they weren't permanently in sale mode this year end. Owain and I headed out of Cardiff by car to walk up the Garth in the mist, while the rest walked along the riverside to town. After days of intermittent rain, the ground was saturated and extra muddy due to the number of walkers about. I did a spectacular slide off the track and gently ended up flat on my back, my jacket and trousers covered in mud. After supper, an evening dominated by board game favourite Europareise.

St John's Day was marked with a family visit to St David's Hall for an afternoon performance of Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake' by the Russian State Ballet and Orchestra of Siberia. It was utterly beautiful, and the musicianship as excellent as the dancing. It was just amazing to see the prinicipal ballerina taking the past of Odette/Odile dancing her dual roles with a different quality of movement displayed in each persona - the roles were perceptibly acted out within the highly limiting formal convention of classical dance convention.

Afterwards, we visited John Lewis' store for refreshments, and to purchase a new office computer for Anto, to give him a fresh start for the New Year, and a more inherently secure stable system to work with, following his Trojan virus attack on the day they set out for Cuba. He got a good deal on a well equipped Compaq that's more than adequate for the needs his daily workload, and is ten times quieter than his five year old workhorse. Best of all, it only took half an hour to get ready for use, suitably protected with up to date security measures.

Today, Holy Innocents' day, I said the morning Mass at St German's, and returned again after lunch to officiate at the wedding of the couple I prepared last Wednesday. The groom was in his best dress Army uniform for the occasion, as were half a dozen of their guests, one of them in RAF uniform. The bride wore a deep blue satin cloak over her white wedding dress for arrival, to fend off the wintry winds and resembled a mediaeval image of Mary of a noble princess, radiant with happiness. After the ceremony it was too cold to pose for photos outside so they took them all in the church, its beautiful sanctuary and reredos bright with afternoon sunlight. 

I had to drive out of the churchyard through the side gate, as I was blocked in by parked cars and needed an early exit to be punctual for my next engagement, a hour's skating on the ice rink outside City Hall with my daughter and grand-daughter. It's three years since Rhiannon was last on ice-skates, and we were very impressed with how quickly she picked up the technique and stayed upright, even if for the most part she wanted to hold her mummy's hand. Clare and Owain came along and took photos, and we all drank hot chocolate together afterwards. Clare said she'd tried the mulled wine, but found it disgusting. This is not good news given Cardiff's growing pretensions to gastronomic grandeur.

A visit for supper from Kath's friend Kath tonight, followed by more board games tonight. I was feeling too tired for the latter, but I couldn't resist watching a biopic called 'Mongol' about the early life of Gengis Khan shot on location in the Altai region that covers the parts where North China, Kazakhstan and Western Mongolia touch each other. The landscapes were so beautiful, and empty of habitation except for tents and horses. I was reminded of my visit to remotest Northern Mongolia in 1999. It's a region I'd love to return to, but sadly I think my visit was one of those one-in-a-lifetime occasions, only afforded because of the enquiry I was commissioned to carry out there. Such good fortune.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Christmas comes

At lunchtime on Christmas Eve, Kath, Anto and Rhiannon arrived, still jet lagged from their trip to Cuba and full of stories. Owain joined us as well to complete this year's festive complement. After we'd eaten, we looked at the photos they'd taken, and then for me it was off to St German's for the evening Vigil Mass with blessing of the Crib. It was surprising to see how little traffic there was as I drove over at the very time the last of the shops would have been closing. Little sign of revelling on the streets.  Over sixty people were present for the Mass, a quarter of them children. Half those attending took Communion. After the service, with much wild ringing of the sacristy bell, one of the servers appeared, disguised as Santa, with a sack full of gifts for the children. I was given one as I was leaving, to take home for Rhiannon, plus a bottle of Gin for me.

The streets were deserted when I returned for the 11.30 Midnight Mass. On such a cold wet night, it's not surprising that there were only three dozen in the congregation, but everyone sang enthusiastically to make up for it. It was half past one when I returned home, and found a note charging me with home Santa duties, plus full disguise and sack. Rhiannon was awake until after her parents' bed time, not only because of excitement, but because her body clock was still telling her it was tea time, not the middle of the night.

By the time I was up and out of the house for the 10.00am Mass of Christmas Day, I was beginning to feel just a bit jaded. These days, I'm not so good at very late night activities other than sitting writing. Again there were about three dozen of us for this service, very few children, but we did have a young baby. By two o'clock we were all sitting down together to our traditional festive banquet, right on schedule. My only disappointment was that apart from me, none of the family had gone to worship. By mid-afternoon, my usual Christmas Day fatigue began to set in. I think next year I'll have to give Midnight Mass a miss unless it finishes at least and hour earlier.

Friday, 23 December 2011

O Emmanuel - Festive preparations

Such a rainy as well as busy preparation day today. Clare fetched the turkey ordered from Driscoll's on Cathedral Road first thing, then I took the bus into town to shop for salmon and king prawns in the forever  bustling Central Market.  On return we found the salmon was much too long for the fish kettle, even with the head off, so a large tail piece provided us with fish to bake for supper, and I used the head to make a fish stock which, with half a onion, red pepper, a leek, and some beetroot tops, became a tasty soup for a starter.

Yesterday I was given a box of two dozen clementines as a Christmas gift. They were superbly fresh, nicer than ones Clare got from the local supermarket, so I took the fruit she'd bought, put it with four lemons, and made half a dozen jars of marmalade, filling the kitchen with wonderful seasonal aromas.

After lunch, wWe went by car to collect our veggie box order from Riverside Farmers' Market, but the Ty Mawr Organics team were late arriving, so we went home. I returned to town by bus with a shopping trolley in tow, aiming to spend an hour in the office and then go on foot to the market in hope of collecting the order afterwards. Thankfully, by the time I quit work it had stopped raining and Ty Mawr Organics were finally installed at the market, dispensing veggie box orders from the back of a horse trailer. The shopping trolly was well loaded when I set off for home, and I was relived to catch a sixty one bus from Cowbridge Road East with only a minute to wait.

The fridge is full, and Clare has started preparing our traditional vegetarian chestnut casserole dish, loved by vegetarians and omnivores alike in our household. This'll be our first Christmas in our retirement home, and it's been a great pleasure to have the leisure to get everything ready to welcome the family tomorrow.

After supper, a quiet evening in front of the telly watching the Royal Ballet's enchanting performance of 'The Nutcracker'. Tchaikovsky's orchestral music sounded quite fresh to me tonight. Last week, I found a bargain double CD of the four Rachmaninov piano concertos in HMV, with Vladimir Ashkenzy playing. I heard the second movement of number two on the radio and then couldn't get it out of my head. Our ancient tape recording was missing, fragments of the music wouldn't leave my head, so I had to find the cure, and listen again properly. A YouTube rendering wouldn't satisfy, I had to hear it on my home hi-fi. Hence the rare purchase. So, I'm enjoying Russian nineteenth century music this week. Just right for winter evenings.
 

Thursday, 22 December 2011

O Rex gentium - Either side of Winter solstice

We drove over to Bristol on Tuesday to have lunch with Amanda and James and exchange Christmas presents, as we can't all be together for the feast. We no longer have a house big enough to accommodate the entire family in one go, and now that Amanda needs to use a walking frame and a wheelchair for going out, a small house with no stair lift is inadequate for an overnight stay. I realise how fortunate we've been over the years to be accommodated in large Vicarages, even if heating them was a drain on the budget, even with a subsidy from the Parish.
   
After Mass at St German's on Wednesday morning, I rehearsed the young couple whose wedding I'll be doing a week today. As it happened, the church was laid out with six large requiem candlesticks ready to receive a coffin for a funeral after lunch. It seemed rather an odd setting to rehearse marriage vows, but the couple didn't seem to mind. The tall Christmas tree was up and decorated, ready to be blessed and lit at the Vigil Mass on Saturday evening. The nativity scene has yet to be prepared. Apparently children attending the service bring the figures to be put in place in and around the stable during the service. The figures have all been spruced up ready. I'm looking forward to it.
  
Today it was time for the staff Christmas lunch. We went over to the Madeira restaurant next door to the Masonic Temple in Guildford Place. Ashley and I with three of the younger members of staff who work on our floor. The Madeira is a Portuguese Restaurant, very Iberian in cuisine and decor, much larger than its street frontage suggests. I didn't feel ready for a second British Christmas meal within four days, so I had grilled fresh sardines followed by swordfish, washed down with plenty of the indigenous house red table wine, not intoxicating enough to prevent me from returning to the office and preparing four more Overdue letters for mailing out. The office was somewhat quieter than usual.
We bought a bargain Christmas tree for a tenner last week from the Llandaff Fields allotment, where a spare parcel of land used by community group was planted with pine saplings five years ago. With the resurgence of interest in home grown food, the land is now in demand for new allotments, so the trees have to go. We got to choose and dig out our own little tree with roots from a very wet and muddy patch of soil, and kept it in the garden until this morning when we brought it in. Now it stands in the front room bay window, decked with candles, ready for Rhiannon to decorate it when she arrives on Christmas Eve.  
  

Monday, 19 December 2011

O radix Jesse - Christmas rush

After a busy Monday morning, I enjoyed a leisurely Christmas lunch (my first of the season) with the entire staff team in the now quiet St Michael's College refectory, sitting around a large horse-shoe of tables with a great view of all the traffic queuing both ways in Cardiff Road outside, making their ways to and from shopping in the city centre. By the time I was ready to leave, traffic had quietened down and I was able to drive home briefly before going into the office by bus for a couple of hours preparing debt-chasing letters to overdue subscribers, to reach them before year-end. There's still quite a lot of accounts tidying to be done before they're fit to be passed on to the auditor. Being in town gave me an opportunity to buy Clare's present. The streets were very busy with shoppers. No sign of the retail economy slackening this year in Cardiff, apparently sales are up, again. Other shopping centres are suffering, however.
  

Sunday, 18 December 2011

O Adonai

A nice relaxed start to the day before attending Mass at St Luke's, our local Parish Church. Sister Wendy Sanderson preached. It's the first time I've seen her since she relinquished her role as Chaplain to the city centre's clubland three years ago. After the service she told me that next year will be a big one for her, as she is getting married in the summer, then starting as a student at St Mike's for a year before ordination. It's great news indeed, particularly as Wendy was not in favour of women's ordination when she began her remarkable adventure in mission and ministry some nine years ago, with a licensing service at St John's City Parish Church, six months after I started there.

On the way to my two afternoon carol services, I called in on Fr Derek Belcher, Team Rector of Cowbridge Benefice for a chat. He's recovering from major surgery and will be out of action for a good while. He has accepted my offer to work continuously with him and colleagues in the Benefice for the duration of Lent this year, with some kind of themed course material running throughout, once we have a common notion of what's needed. I already enjoy my visits to the Vale, it will be a good creative stimulus to be there regularly during the key inspirational season of the year for Christian faith communities.
     
The first service of Lessons and Carols was at St Marychurch, five minute's drive along the ridge road from where Fr Derek lives. The place was full with forty people attending, and there were mince pies and mulled wine or tea to follow. Thankfully the temperature had not dropped below zero when darkness fell, although the sky by this time was clear and bright for my drive further south along the ridge to Flemingston Parish Church. This time the church was half full, with just eighteen people present for lessons and carols by candlelight. Since my last visit the interior of the church had been repainted and its roof timbers oiled, so the place looked beautifully fresh, and glowed in the warm light of dozens of candles.

Instead of driving home straight away in the dark, it would have been good to stop awhile in the heart of the Vale, far from any street lights, and gaze at the heavens for a few hours, but it was far too cold to do that. With the risk of sharp temperature drops never far away, I did the sensible thing and headed home cautiously across country to safety, warmth and supper of rye bread and Stilton cheese.
 

O Sapientia

After celebrating yesterday morning's Eucharist at St German's, I met with a lovely young couple whose wedding service I will be conducting on Holy Innocents Day, to get to know them before meeting with the rest of their families at the rehearsal next week. He's a soldier specialising in electronic warfare - making sense of battlefield communications - and she's at Glamorgan Uni studying sound engineering, so unusually, they both have listening as a core interest and skill. He's just come back from a week of training exercises with a month's leave to get wed before deployment. Theirs will be the first wedding I've done since the month I retired. I hope I won't get nervous like I used to when conductign weddings.

After lunch, Clare and I went for a walk around Llandaff Fields, almost empty as everyone's in town shopping. It was windy and cold. By the time we got to Blackweir Bridge it started to rain, although the sun was shining through fast moving clouds. We took refuge in the Bant a la Carte deli on Cathedral Road for coffee and cake before heading home. There was no sermon to prepare, as I'm only officiating at carol services in the Vale this afternoon. So, I cooked supper, somewhat nervously, using for the first time an unfamiliar new electric stove, delivered Tuesday last and installed Thursday. Getting used to different controls and the response time of electric hobs will take some time. Thankfully, I didn't ruin any food on my first attempt, but cooking was hardly a relaxed affair.

Last night was the final double episode of 'The Killing II', as fast paced and with as many twists and turns as a downhill alpine cycle race. The political dimension to the drama as as complex and surprising to follow as the murder mystery element and the two interlocked brilliantly, as in series one. Both have proved to be outstanding works of modern television drama, casting a stark light upon the presumptions and prejudices which accompany every aspect of contemporary life, and the dire consequences of failing to hold them in check, no matter how much any of us believe we're objective, detached and working only with factual evidence.  

Lund, the detective heroine develops throughout as she learns by suffering the consequences of any unwarranted supposition. Her relentless obsessive pursuit of unvarnished fact in her investigations grows, and breeds discomfort in her relationships with everyone else involved. When she's proved right, there's not even the hint of a smile of triumph on her face, if anything it's a suggestion of relief we see in her passionless gaze, as she is freed from the torture of uncertainty that accompanies her when not knowing what really happened.

On the political side of the drama, the character of Buchs, the new Justice minister develops in a similar way, as he finds strength and courage to pursue dark secrets in high places of government which he doesn't seem to possess at the outset. A third drama series is promised. Where else can it take us, and get us thinking about violence, the use and abuse of power in today's world?

O Sapientia, Wisdom holding all things together - understood as factual know-how, insight or experience in discernment is not only about knowledge possessed. It's also about the right and holy desire for truth that sets us free, enabling us to know who and what we are as children of the Most High.
 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Advent around the world

This morning, I stood in for Fr Martin Colton, celebrating the midweek Eucharist at St Catherine's Church, not far from home. After lunch, I was taken to Thornhill Crematorium to conduct a funeral service, and had enough time for a cup of tea before setting out to St Mike's to celebrate the Eucharist for students on their penultimate day of term. I stayed in College for supper, as I'd been asked to attend a Christmas concert for members of the Llandaff Society in the College chapel, and offer a prayer and blessing at the end. As I was there early, I was able to help Pauline light scores of tea-light candles to give the place a seasonal ambience.

The Oriana womens' choir performed not only choral works, but a series of readings about Christmas selected from Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'. The chapel, with room for just eighty people, was completely full. It was a delightful experience, much appreciated, to judge from the smiles afterwards. 

Peter Sedgewick, Principal of St Mikes, fresh back from his sabbatical term brought his mother to the concert. He's looking very well and refreshed after a few months of study and reading, based in a quiet village outside Cambridge, well away from all the daily challenges of College life, here or there. Already he wants to know if I'm willing to carry on next term with the tutor group. That's something I need to think about over the weekend. It's been a stimulating experience for me, even if I have on times wondered whether I've been doing what's actually expected of me. There's hardly a training manual, and I wonder what students make of this as a requirement of College life. Perhaps I should ask them.

When I got home, I was catching up on the news when I had a Skype notification that Rachel over in Canada just before sunset, was on-line, so we had a great chat for 20 minutes. Just as I was about to switch off, another notification appeared. Claudine had just switched on her iPad over in Bangkok, just about to start her day at six in the morning (Thursday), so we had an even longer catch up chat, about the flooding there, about her work visits to Yangon in Burma. It turned out she'd received the Christmas parcel Clare had posted to her last Saturday yesterday morning (her Wednesday). Four days, Cardiff to Bangkok by mail. That's amazing, if you think how often people complain about the inefficiencies of the modern postal network.
   

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

End of term week

After a couple of afternoon hours catching up in the office, yesterday, I had to dash to St Mikes to preside at a Family Eucharist, the first half of which was led by students. Working with a focus on the half a dozen children present with their parents was great fun, even if the hymns were a bit too long for my taste.

This is the last week of term, many students and staff are looking tired and in need of a good long rest. All but one of the five students in my tutor group have had injury or illness since they returned after the Summer. Spring Term begins in the last week of January. Some students will go on special placements once Christmas festivities are over. It's pretty intense and demanding for them. Do they really get enough time for their spiritual formation, to work on themselves and nourish their relationship with God, with so much intellectual work, so much activity and interaction with others to cram into their lives?

I was back in College this afternoon, seeing individual students. While I was waiting for them there was an enormous hail storm, which turned the pavements white outside, blocked roof gutters and started leaks on the stairs outside the Principal's room which I've been using. At the end of the afternoon the tutor group met socially for a short while to finish the term with mulled wine and home made vegetarian mince pies, thanks to Clare. 

The mince pies were the last to be baked in our faithful gas oven, which we exchanged today for a shiny new all-electric stove, bought over the internet from Boots the Chemist's on-line retail service. The purchase worked well and delivery timing was good and prompt. The gas supply to the cooker was safely capped this morning, and the new cooker arrived while I was in College. Spiros, our favourite electrician from Corfu is coming to wire it in tomorrow morning. So, in the absence of a cooker, we ordered a Turkish take away from Seren our local mediterranean restaurant, and I collected it on my way home from Chi Gung class. Back in College again tomorrow to celebrate the last evening Eucharist of the term.
 

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Not invented here

Back again today at St German's for their Sunday Solemn Mass, Evensong and Benediction. It was good at last to announce the date of Fr Dean Atkins' induction as priest in charge, 23rd January. After Christmas I have two more Sundays there leading worship before he takes over, and then I'll be free to offer to do duties in different places. I've enjoyed the continuity of serving the same community, and would happily do the same somewhere else. However, there doesn't seem to be any taste among our wise and learned leaders to do any strategic planning for the deployment of supernumery ministers for an entire interregnum. This is normal practice in some provinces of the Anglican Communion, but not here in Britain. A case of 'not invented here'?
  

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Happy to be there

After celebrating Mass at St German's this morning, I took two St Mike's students, 'Becca and Tom, for an introductory visit to Ty Mawr Convent. Rufus another student, joined us there. We joined the Sisters for their Eucharist, then ate a picnic lunch together before I gave them a tour of the grounds I've become familiar with over the thirty five years I've been visiting there. 

The rain and wind held off, so we then went for a walk down the lane into the valley to Whitebrook and back, enjoying the tranquil beauty of the scenery for an hour and a half before our journey home. Just right really for an afternoon's extended conversation about varieties of monasticism. This little area is one of my favourite places in the world. I'm always happy to be there.
  

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Perspectives

An early visit to St Michael's this morning to preside at the Eucharist. While the ancient churches of both East and West celebrate the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on this day, the Church in Wales commemorates St Cynidr, one of our sixth century Celtic Bishops of the southern borderlands of Wales about whom little is known. In the old County of Brecknock, there are five churches bearing his name, and two places in neighbouring Herefordshire also with associations, plus his own stretch of mountain moorland - Mynydd Llangynidr - at the top eastern end of the South Wales coalfield, overlooking the Usk valley and Llangors Lake - a favourite place of ours. So, it seemed right to remember both universal and local names cherished by our faith.
 Mynydd Llangynidr, looking north towards Llangors Lake
After lunch, I joined a meeting at the Diverse Cymru HQ of their Equality Assessment Group in conversation with two Forestry Commission Wales staff members about the development of their marketing strategy to promote mountain biking and the use of forest trails on both public and private land. Our preparatory task was to consider the draft policy from the perspective of the new single Equalities Act. Diverse Cymru has done a lot of excellent work in recent years to develop a way of evaluating the impact  of the plans and proposals put forward by public bodies. It leads to some interesting conversations about the values and priorities of the business organisations do. The impact assessment leads to a valuable broadening of perspective, puts assumptions to the test and leads, hopefully to an improved outcome for those involved.

While we talked away in the fifth floor top floor office, the wind buffeted the building and rain lashed the windows quite dramatically. Thankfully it was much calmer for the short walk home, and I had plenty of time to cook a paella for an early supper before we both went out for the evening - Clare to her study group and me to Tai Chi. It's lovely to have a life with so much variety in it.
  

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Malware crisis

The annual Christmas circular newsletter is now printed off and ready to go, so after a visit to the doctor's for a routine checkup and lunch yesterday, I went into town to buy some Christmas cards. As I was paying for them my phone went. It was a worried Katherine, asking for advice. Anto's office computer had been hit by a virus, and getting rid of it was posing a problem. I made a few suggestions as I stood outside the card shop in St David's Centre, clutching boxes of cards as I talked, not having had time to put them in my rucksack. I then waited for further updates for the rest of the afternoon. 

It couldn't have happened at a worse time for them. They were awaiting Rhiannon's return from school, and were then about to set off for Heathrow for an overnight stay before flying to Cuba for a long planned trip to all the island's best music and dance places, to refresh their inspiration for their latino band Lament. Viv, Anto's sister minds the shop while they're away, but needs a serviceable secure system to use. Eventually, the status quo seems to have been restored, after performing a system rollback, re-installation of all OS updates and Antivirus software, which seemed to have been knocked out by the malware attack. 

If only I could persuade Anto to use a Linux driven computer for secure threat free surfing, and restrict internet use of his business computer to selected safe sites, the liklehood of bad stuff like this happening would be reduced greatly. I shall nag him about it over Christmas. I even woke up very early and remembered that I had forgotten to tell them to change all their passwords as a security precaution. So I got up and texted them at the airport as they were checking in, poor souls.

Two students were absent for the tutor group meeting, one was poorly and the other's wife was ill, which meant a change in our arrangements. The Paradise Run arrangements came up for discussion, as College students undertake food distribution duties a couple of times a term. Disappointingly, nothing was known as nothing had been said to them about the Street Carers Forum, or its accreditation and training programme. It's up to me now to ensure that there's an evening's briefing for students factored into the College timetable for next term. I think it could be useful at several different levels, and Paul Hocking, Chair of the Street Carers' Representative Group is keen on the idea.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Back where I belong

Today's Sunday duties had me driving early out into the Vale to celebrated with the congregations of St Marychurch and St Hilary in the Cowbridge Benefice, as ever a real pleasure. After cooking lunch for myself, I drove up into Blaenau Gwent to the Parish of Blaina & Nantyglo to listen to a sermon preached by Chris, one of the students in my tutor group at St Mike's, on Parish Placement there. It was a long journey but the sermon was well worth while.

The drive, almost all the way in darkness, took an hour. It would have been so beautiful in daylight, but I left home too late for that. Thankfully, I was well informed about the location of St Ann's church, so all I had to do was keep going until I spotted a road sign for Nantyglo, which happened only in the last couple of miles of the journey. Quite an adventure if I'm honest. It's a place I never visited in the seven years I travelled Wales on behalf of USPG.

Nick Perry the Vicar warmly welcomed me and said that he knew all about me because he'd worked previously in Merthyr F.E. College with my cousin Ros. It's such a small world. He had a delightful rapport with the twenty strong congregation. His opening welcome and announcements in the middle took the form of a relaxed humorous spontaneous conversation with the congregation as a group. What a delightful loving welcoming community they were.

I took special pleasure in hearing the melodious accents of grassroots Valleys people, including their voluntary priest Fr Clive, who celebrated the Eucharist. They reminded me of where I came from - me with my homogenised middle class accent, far more Vale than Valleys, more Jon Humphries than Ystrad Mynach after decades of ministry outside Wales. It made me happy and proud in an uncomplicated way to know where I come from in this excessively mobile age.
  

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Directions

After celebrating the Eucharist in honour of St Francis Xavier, apostle of the East Indes and Japan, at St German's this morning, I joined a group of Tai Chi/Chi Gung students for a refreshing few hours of  guided meditation at Sully Dojo - a place where local judo and aikido students go to train. Website directions and the map provided seemed reasonable enough until attempted in reality. I searched all the side roads in and around Barry's eastern dockland industrial estate before finding the dojo located on the edge of the grounds of a F.E. college whose notice board wasn't noticeable from the adjacent roundabout. It occurred to me that only professionals notice how good public signage is. However, all the world complains when signage is unfit for purpose.
   

Friday, 2 December 2011

Diverse Cymru launch

As a result of previous involvement in the work of Cardiff Disabled Access Focus Group, I received an invitation to this morning's launch in the Welsh Assembly's Senedd building of  'Diverse Cymru'. Two of Wales' front line advocacy agencies - Cardiff & Vale Coalition of Disabled Persons and AWETU, working on mental health issues with black and ethnic minorities - have combined massive expertise, experience and resources to work on behalf of all kinds of people disadvantaged on grounds of disability, race, gender identity, sexual preference, age or religion, and become a national resource agency. Leader of the House Jane Hutt AM opened the launch. Cardiff Council's Deputy leader Judith Woodman was announced as the new organisation's first president.

About eighty people were present, from a variety of political and voluntary community organisations from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures. There may well have been people belonging to different faith groups but there wasn't anyone present I could identify as representing any religious body. There could be different reasons for this. The need to support this kind of advocacy work may not have caught the public attention of faith community leaders. Or, the work of organisations here joining forces may not have sought formally to recruit support from religious bodies. 

My interest in disability and equalities issues was stimulated as the City Centre redevelopment was coming to its conclusion. Access policy concerns remained an interest for me after retirement when our Amanda had for the first time to start using a wheelchair. I'm learning to look at the world differently and ask questions that were not on my horizon before. I may be able to make observations about religious cultural implications on equality and access issues as a result of professional and personal experience, but I don't represent any religious group. I look forward to the day when they rise to a new challenge of our time and start taking notice.

After the event I drove over to the new Steiner kindergarten in Roath to attend their celebration of St Nicholas patron saint of children and spiritual advocate of generosity and gift giving. Clare was involved in a eurythmy interpretation of the story told about St Nicholas. It was a real delight to watch. Then I took Clare to the station for a train to Coventry, as she's looking after Rhiannon this weekend, leaving me to my own devices.
   

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Damn Good Send-off

I travelled early to Newport this morning to lunch with my friend Martin before we attended the funeral at St Woolos Cathedral of its recently installed Dean, Fr Jeremy Winston who died nine days ago. I felt no desire to dress up and join the eighty odd clergy who sat together, and as a result I stood for the entire service next to the font in the most ancient section of the building which joins the tower with the nave. The place was full with people from all over the church in Wales and further afield, paying their respects to a distinguished priest who had the ability to stay friends with many different kinds of people, many of whom didn't agree with his views.

Bishop of Monmouth, Dominic Walker presided at the Requiem Eucharist. It contained favourite hymns everyone could sing, a Mass setting by Lotte, and anthems including the sublime 'In Paradisium' from FaurĂ©'s Requiem. Archbishop Barry was present, and someone said, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet was in choir - the C of E remaining flying Bishop? Or was it his predecessor, now a Roman Catholic prelate?  Many of those who resisted women's priestly ordination were there, but also many woman clergy, who valued the courtesy and respect Jeremy showed towards them. That such a funeral could unite so many people showed what an excellent Bishop he might have made, regardless of his traditional catholic view of ministry - a man who loved his church and all her people. Much of the Church in Wales seemed to be there. It was a damn good send-off as Fr Tim Hewitt said on Facebook tonight.

John Davis, Bishop of Swansea and Brecon gave the homily/eulogy, and gave us a few things to smile about amid the sad solemnity. He was Curate in Chepstow when Jeremy was Vicar of neighbouring St Arvan's, and I was there, working from home for USPG. I was recognised and greeted by Hugh Allen a priest who was in Newport at that time. We hadn't met since. I learned he'd retired early from ministry and joined the Orthodox Church, unable to come to terms with womens' ordination. Communion distribution in such a congested building seemed not to have been well planned and took an age.

The public sector workers' strike meant that Jeremy's burial alongside his mother couldn't take place after the funeral service. So, his body was returned to rest overnight in St Mary's Priory Abergavenny before interment, giving people there an opportunity to pay their last respects. Such are the marvels of technology that the funeral, like his installation service, was relayed by video internet link to the Priory for those who couldn't attend, possibly sparing the environs of Newport's Stow Hill from lunchtime gridlock during the service. Jeremy would have liked that.

As I'd made a mid-afternoon rendezvous back at the office, I had to leave before it was all over without receiving, thereby missing the opportunity to meet and greet decades worth of colleagues from my seven years in Monmouth diocese. On the way out I was accosted by Fr Mark Zorab, Deacon of St Arvan's Parish. He'd been Warden when we last met 23 years ago. I hadn't recognised him in clerical garb as I'd not known him other than as a devout layman. Another life touched by Jeremy's,  grieving the sudden loss of a close friend. 

It turned out I could have stayed longer. My colleague was delayed an hour and a half, stuck in traffic on the periphery of Cardiff caused by closure of the Bay by-pass tunnel, due to the national strike. The city centre was heaving with shoppers - maybe strikers taking advantage of an extra free day? I returned home to eat with Clare and Owain, then returned to a much quieter city centre for an evening of catch up in a workplace as empty as it had been for most of the day.
  

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Early morning meditation

I was due in St Mike's college chapel this morning at 7.45am, to lead Matins and give a meditation. I'd spent many hours crafting my brief effort, and retired to bed worried about waking to the alarm. I don't like active early mornings, even if I do wake up at first light. I found it hard to settle. 

I realised that I'd forgotten to mention in my addess that this day in the Anglican calendar is the annual Vigil of Prayer for World Mission.  When I worked for USPG this was a key occasion in the Church's year to draw attention to our raison d'ĂȘtre, and recall some outstanding Anglican pioneers who dedicated their lives to break down cultural barriers to share faith in Christ, often despite of, rather than because of huge expansion of world trade from the 17th century onwards. Important to mention this in a College where some of the students have a limited background experience of the full content and value of the church's calendar year.

Added to this, I was also thinking of Fr Bob Morgan, whose funeral my College duties prevented me from travelling to St David's to attend. After churning and turning, I got up at five thrity and re-wrote an introduction to the address mentioning the Vigil and dedicating it to Bob's memory, as it reflected the kind of incarnational theology we shared in common. You can download and read it here

I went back to bed, slept until the alarm went off, and got to College punctually. I came away relieved and satisfied, then put myself to shame by eating a cooked second  breakfast I didn't need. Hardly a good example of Advent restraint, let alone weight loss strategy. No even a good Chi Gung workout this evening could make up for that. Thankful that I didn't have to go to work after this,  went home and back to bed for a couple of hours to make up for hours lost.

After lunch I returned to College caught up on some Tutor group stuff before our tea time session, and read some sections of Teilhard de Chardin's 'Le Milieu Divin' from both the French and English copies I possess. It's something I haven't tried before, and I found doing this somewhat improved my understanding of it. He was a man of vision, ahead of his time, but his written discourse comes from the learned world of nineteenth century Jesuits, and needs decoding improve my comprehension of his passionate insight into the Christian cosmic vision. Interpretation and translation go hand in hand, I think.
 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Advent begins

This morning's journey to Porth to celebrate the Parish Eucharist at St John's Cymmer was in bright clear weather. Quite unlike the previous occasion in October, when it was misty and damp, and I ended up at the wrong church. There was a welcoming congregation of fifty, and afterwards I joined them for a cuppa in the church hall before my journey home. Everyone was in good spirits as they'd netted over eleven hundred pounds at their Christmas Fayre yesterday. I was asked by the lady who served me tea if I wanted to join the men. 

Two dozen women were moving around chatting in groups. The four men present, all of pensionable age, sat around the same table together, obviously old friends. They welcomed me to sit with them and we chatted and joked for a quarter of an hour. Whether they'd worked or sung together or been church members for heaven knows how long, it was clear they all belong to the local community and were growing old together.

I enjoyed sitting with the old guys. I'm now one of them myself - it's hard to get used to the idea - but it was special to be with them. The women are pleased they're there at all. One of the men, a retired mechanic 77 years old, told me that he's a 7th Dan Aikido master, involved in martial arts for more than half his adult life. I told him I'd been learning Tai Chi for nine years. It's not something I often get to talk about to anyone in church circles and something of surprise to do so today, up in the Rhondda Valley. 

As Cymmer is equidistant from home by two routes, after making my farewells I took the alternative way home via Llantrisant, making the most of sunshine and blue skies, enjoying the scenery, laughing at Radio 4's 'I'm sorry I haven't a clue' all the way home. At lunch, Advent candles burned while we ate. I hung Ann-Marie's patchwork Advent wreath on the front door last night. It's been with us each December for well over fifteen years.

After lunch, instead of a snooze, I had enough time to catch up on last night's missed double episode of 'The Killing II' with iPlayer. It's every bit as eventful and intriguing as the first serial, but faster paced, which means that it won't be able to address in the same depth the subject of the impact of a crime on a family which was superbly explored in the first. This time the political process of coalition government is under scrutiny, and how it tackles a situation that conspires to arouse islamophobic reactions from the public. Complex.

As I set out for Evensong and Benediction the sun was on the way to setting. The thin sliver of a new moon was visible in a still pale blue evening sky. The next new moon will be on the evening of Christmas Day. Maybe there'll be more time to stand an stare at it in wonder then. Weather permitting.
  

Saturday, 26 November 2011

End and beginning

Here we are, last day of the liturgical year. The Mass Gospel this morning had Jesus warning his disciples to be on the alert in order to be responsive in the coming last days (Of the world? Or of his life? Probably both) "Be on your guard so that your hearts are not weighed down by dissipation and drunkenness, and the worries of this life." Quite suitable for Advent, and all its pre-Christmas celebrations. We have our first 'winterval' outing tonight - Clare's choir dinner. As she's unable to drive until her cataracts are removed, it'll be an alcohol free night for me, and viewing part two of  'The Killing II' on BBC iPlayer tomorrow night. But quite apart from that, Advent is upon us - one of my favourite seasons of the Christian year. It helps me cope cheerily with the encroaching winter darkness.
   

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Another unexpected death

I took the funeral of a former dockside crane driver at St German's this afternoon. He was born in Cardiff's dockland, served in the Welsh Guards during the war and returned to life and work in his home Parish after demobilisation. He spent the rest of his career loading coal on to ships, getting dirty every day he worked, and by the time he stopped work, the flow of coal out through the Port of Cardiff was slowing to a trickle as the mines closed. He was proud of the place he spent his life, and much of his leisure time in retirement. 

He'd married a St German's girl, and her funeral had been there five years ago. Traditionally docklanders want to return from wherever they eventually made a home for their funeral at St Mary's Bute Street. This keeps Fr. Graham extra busy. On this occasion, a docklander wanted to be buried from the church where he married and from where his wife was buried, so other docklanders came away from home in force to pay their respects. A hundred and fifty people attended the service. Afterwards the cortege made its way to Thornhill cemetry through Cardiff Bay, driving past streets the deceased had lived in as a child.

On the journey one of the funeral attendants riding with me in the car asked if I knew Fr Bob Morgan who'd died a couple of days ago. He then fished out his iPhone and showed me the news article and photo of Bob which appeared on the Western Mail/Echo website. It came as another shock in the same week as losing Fr Jeremy Winston. Bob was 83 however, not 57 like Jeremy, but it was still unexpected. 

Bob had already been Vicar of 'the Res' in Glanely for several years when, as a junior Curate in my post- ordination training programme I first met him. His was considered one of the toughest jobs in Cardiff, and he was innovative, and an enterprising radical catholic missionary in engaging with a huge working class community. He got elected as a Labour councillor for his local ward, and rose to lead the Labour group and South Glamorgan County Council, as it then was. He ran a massively popular youth disco in his church hall. Not only did it fund lots of necessary work on church buildings at that time, but it gave him a zone for informal pastoral work with generations of young people.

Decades later, many of them, now parents or grandparents themselves, remember him still, as I've found in my recent pastoral engagements in Glanely. It was the only Parish Bob ever took charge of. He understood it was important for community building that there was a consistent long term pastoral (and in his case also political) ministry at its heart. The church building is still a key gathering place in that community, part of its social cohesion, a legacy of his sojourn that still flourishes. He was in every sense friend, mentor and role model to many priests trying to undersand and do mission in the sixties and seventies. I'm proud to count myself as one of them.

We met up again a decade after Bob's retirement when I preached Holy Week in St David's Cathedral two and a half years ago. He said he'd come for just one hour of the Three Hours devotion, but he stayed throughout and kindly expressed his appreciation for my efforts. He probably didn't realise how nervous I felt having to preach before the gaze of someone I'd looked up to for years. I felt honoured by his staying power at my feet. It was one of his great gifts to the Church and the people he lived to serve. May he rest in peace, and rise in glory.
 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

School opening day

I left the office early this afternoon to have enough time to get to Roath for the opening ceremony of Cardiff Steiner Education Initiative's new kindergarten building, housed in the century old former Saint Anne's Parish infants school, which closed last summer. 

Representatives of the Parish and previous school were present, also parents with children and a group of former pupils from the past decade of the kindergarten's existence in its Iron Street building in nearby Adamsdown. These took part in the opening ceremony.

It was a lovely occasion. Anna, one of the school's founding staff members, who told a story, also Russel the school's eminent mentor. A moving contribution was made by a Sudanese Sufi Sheikh. He reminisced about his childhood by the Nile, living close to nature. He stated how Steiner education reminded him of the spiritual values that nourished him, and how pleased he was to advise and support Muslim parents to send their children to the kindergarten. Fr. Stuart Lisk, Vicar of Roath spoke about the death and resurrection of the school. It was a happy day for him, as he was Chair of the old school's governors, faced with accepting the heart breaking closure decision due to decline in pupil numbers. 

Steiner education's creative approach to pedagogy garners parental support from people far and wide. Parents and staff work together as genuine stakeholders to form a self supporting learning community truly centred on the world of childhood development. It achieves government targeted aspirations for learners, albeit by a different route along which creativity, co-operation and spiritual awareness of the world and each other all play a vital part in the child's schooling. 

The Church in Wales' partnership with the state in its schooling programme strives hard and often excellently to achieve similar educational aspirations, but this is not without compromise, because of the way all teachers are trained and shaped by the experience of dependency as part of a large public service institution. In effect, schools (State and Church Voluntary Aided) are clients of the Local Education Authority. Pupils and their parents are clients of the school. Public bodies, both church and state are perennially subject to the vagaries of politics and finance. Running them always seems to involve excessive amounts of change management and trouble shooting, draining energy from the essentials of pedagogy. 

Small community stakeholder engagement behind Steiner education is much more demanding in some ways on parents and teachers, but gives much more to the children, consistently enabling each one to rise to their potential. It succeeds in meeting the kind of aspirations Church schools strive to maintain in their altogether different organisational model. I'm thankful this initiative flourishes, not least because of the inspirational example it sets in local early years schooling.
 

Monday, 21 November 2011

Dean Jeremy Winston

I received a phone call from my friend Martin this morning to tell me that a mutual friend of ours for the past thirty five years had died overnight. Father Jeremy Winston was only recently installed as Dean of Monmouth, and no sooner had he moved house during a few hectically busy weeks, than he collapsed and was taken into hospital. Tests revealed an advanced brain tumor, and preparations were well advanced for him to start chemo and radio therapy. Martin had visited him in his new Deanery home yesterday afternoon and found him up and about, fully engaged with life as usual, and positive despite the enormous threat over his life and ministry. And overnight he's gone. Such a shock.

Jeremy was Vicar of St Arvans where we lived in neighbouring Chepstow, and when not involved with USPG duties, I'd help him out in his five church rural parish in one of the most beautiful parts of Gwent. He went on to a long and distinguished ministry as Vicar of Abergavenny, and contributed to liturgical reform and governance in the church in Wales, on top of taking several rural parishes into the town benefice, and major restoration works to the church, culminating in reclaiming a mediaeval tithe barn close to the church and turning it into an attractive visitor centre. He was no stranger to ill health and pain, yet packed in to his thirty years of ministry double what most others would achieve. Such a sad day for the Church in Wales.

Jeremy was a mission minded Anglo-Catholic, who could not reconcile himself to the ordination of women because of its impact on church unity, and St Mary's Abergavenny was where many the ceremonies carried out by the Provincial 'flying bishop' were held. His appointment as Dean of Monmouth was welcomed by female and male clergy alike, as his was renowned for his gracious respect for all colleagues, and his regard for decisions made by the Church in Wales, even if he himself didn't agree with them. He'll be remembered as one of the best Bishops the Church in Wales didn't elect. (Or wouldn't elect because of his position on ordination). Despite this personal discomfort, he remained a loyal and true Anglican to the end. He will be missed, and leave a gap in the leadership of the Church he loved.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
  

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Sunday busyness

I began the morning celebrating the Parish Solemn Mass for St Saviour's congregation in Splott, almost a year since I was last there. Then it was a matter of popping less than a mile down the road to St German's for their Parish Solemn Mass, followed by a baptism - my twelfth during the interregnum - and at the end of the afternoon, Solemn Evensong and Benediction as usual. By the end of the day, my hair and clothes reeked of incense.

When Father Dean takes over at St German's in January, this will be his Sunday routine, with all the pastoral activity that inevitably accompanies it. Fine, as long as everything runs smoothly and there's no traffic congestion on the short trip. Fine as long as Ministry of the Word and sermon don't exceed a certain total length. It's manageable, ironically, as long as the St Saviour's congregation doesn't double in size - distribution of communion no matter how efficiently stage managed has a way of eating up time and eating into schedules. 

I had an equally busy Sunday morning for many years of working on my own: eight o'clock, followed by nine thirty and eleven o'clock services in different churches, then Evensong. It left me drained, always feeling I wasn't giving core community supporters enough attention and interest. But that's how the job makes you feel - a sense of pastoral obligation that goes with the freedom and privilege of priestly life in a parish. The pattern may just about be sustainable, but does it nourish people and priest? The danger is that it keeps us all busy and talkative, less good at being together and communing.

Being retired, and only less frequently doing the kind of Sunday duties which used to be routine all year round gives me a different perspective. I'm happy to help in sharing the burden, and I want what I do to be more than just terminal care. I wonder where and how I can take any kind of creative initiative that can help change things for the better, but I don't see it at the moment.
 

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Re-union

After saying Mass at St German's this morning, Clare and I went out for an expensive coffee and croissant at Creme in King's Road. After lunch we went into town for a shopping expedition, ending up at St John's for Evensong. The congregation were welcoming a party from Trellech congregation in Monmouth diocese. Their Vicar, Sandra Howells was a lay person in the congregation at Chepstow when Clare and I lived there and I worked for USPG. Clare and Sandra got a Bible Study group going which was one of the things that helped to spark Sandra's vocation. It must be twenty years since we last met - such a delight. With the party was Father James Coutts, former Vicar of Monouth, retired some ten years ago and living in Sandra's Parish. It was good to meet him again, looking fit and well. It's a lot longer than ten years since we last met at Ty Mawr.

With tomorrow's sermon taken care of earlier in the week, I had time for some writing, and to watch the first couple of episodes of the serialised Danish crime drama 'The Killing II'. We seem to be in for another month of exploration of Danish politics addressing issues of xenophobia and islamophobia. It's made extra interesting through the close quarters portrayal of wheeling and dealing in a coalition government. That's the rather prominent backdrop of another murder investigation by eagle eyed Sara Lund, whose near autistic attention to detail enables her to join up dots and notice patterns nobody else can see because they are so busy over-reacting the the pressures on them. It's half the length of the first series, maybe more intense. Will it hold up a mirror to our own situation?
 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Alarm distribution

In town early today  for the monthly Radio Users' group. We distributed a large quantity of personal attack alarms, recently delivered to the office, to Police and security staff for free distribution in stores. It's one of the things CBS undertook to do in response to concerns expressed about retail staff personal safety leaving work in the dark evenings. I hope the distributors remember to give us credit for this.

The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing renewal invoices for subscribers who join in autumn, plus a few chase up reminders to those whose payments are overdue. There was more to do than I'd anticipated, so I got home later than anticipated, and we had to eat in haste in order to get out on time, Clare to her study group and me to Tai Chi - another rewarding class at the end of quite a demanding day. The meeting minutes will have to wait until tomorrow.

Great to learn from the news of the capture of Saif-al-Islam Gaddafi, the last of the dictator's sons remaining on the run. His trial will challenge to Libya's fledgling justice system to prove its integrity and fairness.
 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Class Mass

As Father Dean was away today, I stood in for him at the Tredegarville School 'Class Mass' in St Germans for one of the older year groups. The children are with few exceptions well behaved and attentive. Dean's efforts to involve the children in readings and an offertory procession are well worth the effort he's put into this. I look forward to seeing how he develops this further in coming years, with physically active as well as verbal forms of participation, suitable for the occasion.

He's not yet been given a licensing date, and work on the Vicarage is still not finished. The interregnum seems set to continue until the end of the year if not January, so by the looks of it, I'll be at St German's for Christmas.
 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Economics of Gospel communities?

Back at St Michael's College again today, following the students' reading week, with a lunchtime Tutor team meeting, then an afternoon spent meeting with individual students to find out how each of them are doing before the group met for the hour before supper.

In the group we prayed using texts from a Greek Orthodox lay person's daily prayer book, which was a little out of the ordinary, even if we only used the English from the bi-lingual sheet. We then had quite an interesting discussion about the variety in pastoral values and priorities in church fundraising, mission and maintenance. 

It struck me listening to the conversation that within and across denominations church communities embrace a diversity of economic characteristics, in the way they plan (or don't plan), raise funds and disburse them. It may relate both to a given context and the tradition of social teaching which has been derived and applied from the interpretation of the Gospel. There are plenty of books about Christian stewardship around, but I| confess that I don't know of many writings that study ecclesiology in the light of economic practice.

Perhaps this reflects just how out of touch I am with contemporary theology.
  

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Two kinds of remembering

St German's Remembrance Sunday Mass this morning began with my reading of the names of all those who died in two World Wars, about eighty names all told, from St German's and from St Agnes a long vanished daughter church. From the surnames it was possible tell that some families lost two and three sons on the Western Front. One of the Curates, John Godfrey Barton was killed in the North African campaign in the Second World War, and one of the Parish Sisters died in a blitz raid.

No doubt there were also servicemen raised locally who were killed in half a dozen or more conflicts that British forces have been involved in over my lifetime. The lack of any church monument to any of them reflects not only that there were fewer of them, but also it's a symptom of the dispersion of once tight knit working class neighbourhoods over the past half century, with the rise of post war housing estates around the periphery of the city. The impulse to raise a memorial to local fallen comrades would not be so strong with fewer of them, less well remembered. Those newer war memorials will tend to be raised only where churches serve the neighbourhood of a military base. 

I get quite irritated if I attend a Remembrance ceremony where the fallen of post 1945 conflicts are not referred to, at least in general. It confines to the past something which remains still part of our troubling present. We have still not conquered the deeply embedded impulse to wage war despite knowing in more graphic detail than ever just how evil war is.

Yesterday, our dear friends Oswald and Marion took us out to lunch at Miskin Manor near Pontyclun. It's a delightful Victorian homage to a prestigious mediaeval country house, with harmonious late 20th century additions, set in well managed grounds with a lovely mixture of trees, still in leaf on this mild late autumn day. At some stage in the afternoon I fell to reminiscing about my mother's Yorkshire Spice Cake recipe. Clare wondered if she still had it following a cook book clear out before we moved. Later in the evening she proved she'd retained it, by cooking a small trial version with half the sugar of the original, to suit our taste.

We ate Yorkshire Spice Cake for pudding at lunch, mine with yoghourt - not the way I would have enjoyed it fifty years ago. The texture, once cold enough was just perfect, but my memory of the flavour was that it was spicier in those days. The keynotes were ginger and nutmeg, but did my mother use anything else, not recorded in the text? Maybe not. My palate has changed. I have far less of a sweet tooth and we use spices in cooking far more now than when I was growing up. Far more is available to us to use, not to mention recipes and foods from far and wide. I didn't taste yoghourt or eat curry for the first time until I'd left home for university, forty eight years ago. This month it's forty eight years since Clare and I first met.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

11/11/11

As yesterday was Armistice Day, I went into town to the Wales National Cenotaph in Alexandra Gardens behind City Hall, to join in the two minutes Silence. I arrived in good time and was surprised to discover no formal preparations for the Remembrance ceremony. About a hundred and fifty poppy wearing people turned up, some bearing campaign medals, some wearing an armed services cap. The City Centre Police Inspector and two sergeants turned up in uniform, and at five to eleven a troop of thirty cadets in identical track suits marched in, with a couple of NCOs in uniform, followed by a group of twenty others not in uniform. Four cadets read out commemorative statements which were hardly audible to the gathering, then all fell silent until the stroke of eleven when the Silence proper began. No bugle playing, no traditional formal Act of Remembrance, no wreath laying, although there will be a ceremony this coming Sunday. At five past eleven everyone dispersed. It couldn't have been more low key.


Last night I attended my ninth annual United Services Mess dinner to act as Chaplain, say Grace and lead the gathering in its customary Act of Remembrance. In conversation beforehand with other top table guests, I discovered the official ceremony of the day took place inside the Castle walls. It seems the ceremony, and the Welsh National Garden of Remembrance moved there after last year's Armed Forces Day was held in Cardiff Castle. It has remained there since. Cadets will have their own good reasons for continuing to parade at the National Cenotaph, likewise the handful standing around the nearby Falklands War memorial.  But what of the 150 others who turned up in the wrong place like me? Did they not know about the change? Or, if they knew, was it too far for them to walk to the Castle? Or, were they quietly making their protest at the change by being at the Cenotaph instead of the new location?

I walked past the Castle to reach Alexandra Gardens. The only external publicity for current events within was for the Wales GB Rally, on this weekend. There was nothing to tell passers-by that the National Remembrance Garden was inside the Castle Grounds. Citizens with photo-card passes can get into the Castle grounds free, but visitors pay. If it was special free entrance for all for the Remembrance ceremony - was this advertised anywhere? On-line maybe? Fine for those with mobile internet access, what about others who might just want to take part in such a special moment in the heart of Wales' Capital city?

Whoever is in charge of making such information public should remember there is still a Digital Divide. Also, most of the public, who just turn up to remember without benefit of an official invite, aren't mind readers.
    

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Return to St John's

For the first time since I celebrated the 40th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, we walked into town for the Parish Eucharist at St John's this morning. 'Becca, one of the students in my tutor group was preaching her first sermon, so it was my job to listen to her, and she did very well indeed. 

It was lovely to see all our friends in the congregation. There were over fifty people present, some new children in the Sunday school - all very pleasing. Two of the children, brought by their dad, a local licensee, I baptized in my first year in the Parish. Now they are nine and ten. It's the first time I've seen them since, partly because at that stage the family lived away from the job, but now they live just around the corner from the church. 

It was good to meet Liz my successor for the first time, as well. She has a different kind of challenge to the one I faced as the Archbishop has involved her in working on ministry vocations in addition to her city centre role.

After the service we walked over to Riverside market to get our organic veg for the week and then walked home for lunch. Then, it was back to St German's for Evensong and Benediction, now in a darkened church no longer filled with the rays of the setting sun - it's quite a change of atmosphere, even if the temperature is still fairly mild for a November Sunday.
  

Remembrance-tide begins

Yesterday morning, Clare and I attended the blessing of the Royal British Legion Garden of Remembrance at Saint John's, sitting in the congregation for the first time. As I'm still Chaplain of the Cardiff and Vale branch of the Legion, it gave me a good opportunity to connect with many members who were present for the ceremony. Most of those present were as old if not older than I, and maybe for that reason alone they seemed pleased to see a familiar face there with them the usual place even if the service was being taken by a newcomer to them. RBL members ask very little of their Chaplain. While I was wondering what else I could offer to do Syd Nash, one of the event organisers approached me and asked if I'd help arrange a ceremony to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Legion next February in Llandaff Cathedral. That made me feel a lot better. I have a very high regard for all that the Legion does.

Afterwards, we lunched at Pipi's Greek restaurant in Caroline Street, with an authentic menu that'll take a few more visits to explore properly. I sipped my first proper Greek coffee since we holidayed in Corfu five years ago, awakening memories that go back four decades. Mediterranean food and places have figured greatly in our days of adventure throughout our married life together. We then made an effort to get started early with Christmas present shopping in John Lewis', but it was so crowded we soon ran out of energy and headed for home, to an evening without sermon preparation for a change. Tomorrow we go to St John's to listen to one of my tutor group students preach her first sermon.

I took advantage and stayed up late to watch the first two thirds of 'Vengeance' a popular cult movie about the overthrow of a nazi style dictatorship in Britain, which first featured the now ubiquitous-at-protest-events Guy Fawkes mask. I'd seen the last third of it before and made little sense of its end, so seeing the beginning was a reasonable effort to make on an idle evening. It resembles other movies, like Superman, Batman and Spiderman, deriving inspiration from strip cartoon novels, embodying narrative in which much is unexplained, so everything is barely credible or only just adds up. Storylines consist of an elementary argument forged  from untested generalisation. The Guy Fawkes mask has become a trendy symbol for protests against the dominant western world social and economic order. It just doesn't add up to my mind. It's a triumph of style over substance for a media image obsessed generation. The season of Remembrance-tide always reminds us of how complex as well as costly the struggle for freedom and democracy will always be.
  

Friday, 4 November 2011

A Day in the Control Room

It's six weeks since the major upgrade of the CBS radio handsets took place. Today we met with Phil the engineer in the CCTV Control Room down in County Hall to complete the exercise with a database update of information about the 200 plus network handsets. The network computers are in the actual control room, on a long desktop housing CCTV screens and their controllers, radio handsets on different talk groups blasting out their message exchanges, all facing a huge wall with more than two dozen huge video screens containing images linked to CCTV cameras across the city centre and beyond. At the other end of the room is another wall of screens displaying images of road junctions around the city, staffed by the different team. It's overwhelming at first, all the flickering images and noise from radio communications. It's a debilitating challenge when you have to concentrate on doing something with lots of detail. I admire those who have to work in this enervating environment day after day. 

I was seated adjacent to the SafetyNet database screen for information checking. The operator to my left took calls relating to opening and closing the security barriers for regulating vehicle traffic in the pedestrian zone. The room heard the conversation between him and the driver of a van from a company called 'French' who was demanding to be let into the pedestrian zone for an out of access hours delivery, and refusing to remove his vehicle from where it was obstructing emergency services access. The operator politely refused his demands and was treated to a torrent of obscene abuse audible to the whole room. Everyone present jeered with derision. The driver was told to move or expect a visit from a mobile police patrol, and only then did he reverse his van back out into the traffic at the bottom end of St Mary Street,

This task was long overdue, as we had problems piecing together a totally correct account of all our radios, in active use, being repaired, broken beyond repair, lost or stolen. Not having a single information system logging all changes over the past three years, whether temporary or permanent, made the audit process into a constantly moving target. I managed to build an information while pursuing the working data, and over time have reduced the number of unknowns. piecing together 100% of the information, however, is a lot harder than piecing together the first 95%. After last minute revision yesterday and this morning while waiting for Phil to arrive, we were ready to go. The job took him six hours non-stop, including troubleshooting anomalies.

With my part in the process completed, I went home after four and a half hours, glad to return to the chore of cooking supper. As I arrived at the front door, I completely failed to notice that our new front gate had been installed while I was out. Admittedly it was dark, and the gate is painted black, but the finished job gives the house exterior such a right feel, blending in to the point of being unremarkably 'normal'. making it look just like it did before the street was stripped of its railings to help with the war effort, some seventy years ago.
  

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Ends and beginnings

I rose early to go to St Mike's to preside at a service of Morning Prayer, followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It's not a bad idea to vary the form of the Liturgy of the Word and Prayers in this way but it seems strange to me to have no Gospel reading, however short, among the scriptures read, as happened on this occasion. During the prayers, the name of Alan Schwarz was mentioned among the departed. Afterwards I learned of the death yesterday of one of Wales' leading Jewish partners in Interfaith dialogue, and President of the Cardiff Orthodox synagogue. He'd been buried as well, the same day. I wonder who'll replace him in giving such a positive lead in mutual openness? He will be greatly missed by many people.

Heavy hearted, after breakfast, we drove to the vet's surgery for the last time with Ben this morning. We stayed while a sedative was injected and watched him strive to stay conscious a just little longer before going under, while we continued to stroke him. A lethal injection was then administered, and his vital forces slowly ebbed away, leaving us both tearful and sad. The right thing for a helpless animal. But would it be ever right for a helpless human being, consenting to someone else making an end of their lives? Some seem to think so. The practice of foreshortening someone's mortal suffering has a long history, and is even found in Old Testament scripture. I confess that discussion and debate about regularising voluntary euthanasia leaves me feeling very uncomfortable and unresolved, as does the presumption that organs can be 'harvested' (such a sinister use of the word), unless someone decides to opt out.

After our sad surgery visit, I took Clare to the new Steiner School, just opening this week in the former Saint Anne's infant school buildings in Roath. Teachers and parent have done a wonderful job renovating the place and giving it that distinctive ambience that makes a Steiner School classroom such a gentle environment, where imagination and creativity are nurtured rather than over-stimulated. Looking around the place was a cheering treat, and brought back happy memories of Rachel and Owain's schooling years.

At lunchtime, I went to the doctor's surgery for my 'flu jab, then into the office for a few hours before a double class of Chi Gung and Tai Chi. I really noticed the impact of the injection on my arm when I started exercising. I was working against both tiredness and grief. One way and another, that was a hard day.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

All Souls sadness

We took Ben to the vet's this afternoon, and the kind serious look on her face said it all really, even though she said the decision to have further treatment was ours if we wished. An eye operation on a seventeen year old cat, however fit, would have a lower chance of success than with a younger cat, but was possible. I found it hard to imagine Ben surviving and not suffering further in a neighbourhood with at least one other aggressive tomcat, with one eye, slowed down by age, as he already is. 

Whilst Ben is happy about the house, especially the comfy places, he's still very much an outdoor cat, even if his domain has shrunk to the garden and lane beyond, so keeping him in with a dirt tray would be not much of a life. Letting him roam would risk a repeat incident. Suddenly I see how vulnerable his damaged eye has made him.

We decided to take him home and discuss matters. Owain came over for supper, and Clare rang Rachel in Canada. The concensus, wrought with much sadness was in favour of ending his life. So we rang the vet to book another appointment, and gave Ben his favourite treat of tinned tuna, for his last supper.

I went in to the office for a couple of hours to catch up on some necessary work. As I was leaving the damp evening darkness was dominated by the sound of the Catholic Cathedral's Passing Bell. Well actually, it's a tinny recording, sounding a little like something from a Hammer horror movie. I popped in to pray for a while as clergy and congregation made preparations to celebrate the general All Souls' Requiem Mass with the new Archbishop presiding for the first time.

Can you pray for the soul of a cat condemned to die? Well, you can give thanks for the gift of companionship and loyalty, however much those things are governed by the evolutionary process whereby humans and animals have a symbiotic relationship. One thing is sure. Cat and human, by whatever path, share the same fate.
   

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Homecoming disquet

Our journey home to Cardiff went smoothly and to time. Taxi, 'plane, bus, train, bus, all connecting without delay. It meant I could meet with my tutor group at St Mikes, and lead a session with them on prayer and the body, which I'd been mulling over for the past week. By sheer co-incidence they'd had a meditation on a similar theme during morning worship.

Poor puss Ben's injured eye looked a lot worse after our week away. It looks as if an abscess has developed and burst. He's a bit subdued, but active, and pleased to see us, as he always is. Another vet visit tomorrow. I fear the worst.
  

Monday, 31 October 2011

A sunny Halloween - for a change

I don't recall waking up to blue skies and bright sunshine on Halloween before, nor breakfasting outdoors, as we did this morning yet again. We took the eleven o'clock bus into town, and found the outdoor market was on, around a hundred stalls, selling mostly clothes and shoes, with occasional watch and trinket sellers, a couple of fast food vans and a couple selling herbs and spices. It occupied the half the football stadium car park, and was bounded on one side by social housing blocks, the other by the enclosure of the old town cementario (cemetery). The section of the market closest to the entrance was taken up with flower sellers, catching the eye of those arriving who weren't already laden with huge bunches of flowers from their gardens or nearby supermarket. And lots of people were arriving to make their commemorative visit. 

Regional TV news programmes the past few days have carried several items of interest about the persistence of the popular tradition of visiting family graves, sprucing them up and laying flowers in preparation for 'Tosantos' - All Saints/All Souls. There are even voluntary groups that renovate areas of neglected cemetery, no longer visited by families or without famility members to visit. One large municipality employs charming young hostesses in uniform to welcome and guide visitors who can't find their way around - some are tourists looking for the graves of famous locals, others are simply relatives getting increasingly forgetful with age, with younger family members brought along out of duty, less inclined to remember the location of a tomb or a memorial to a distant dead relative.

After an hour in the market, we walked to the Salt Museum domain, with its carefully managed 'Salinas', with walkways, hides and intepretation panels - thanks to some European Community eco-funding. It's not as wild or vast as the area of 'Salinas' and scrubland the other side of the main highway south, but it's rich in wildlife. So, I got more photos of flamingos and the black winged stilts which eluded my shutter last week. Infuriatingly, just as I entered one secuded area which would give me closer shots, a pair of cormorants took flight closer to me, and unsettled a group of several dozen feeding birds. These took off showing their most spectacular scarlet and black under-wing colours just as I was struggling to get my camera into operation, so I lost the precious moment fighting with the machine, and missing the enchantment of just seeing such a rare sight, at forty to fifty metres. Ah well, another time I suppose.

We returned to the Playa de Levante next to the port, where Clare went for a swim and found the water quit warm enough for an enjoyable experience, despite seeing a large jellyfish. Then for the third time this week, lunch in Bar Los Curros, right on the beach, serving a great variety of the most superb fresh fish cooked in that straightford Spanish manner that does nothing to disguise the flavour or freshness of what is cooked. We ate differently on each occasion and weren't disappointed. The place is usually full with Spaniards and occasional foreigners like us who've made the journey of discovery through its unpretentious doors.

Today we noticed people at half a dozen tables eating from large paella pans. It looked like rice that had been cooked with stock and spices, but with little or no meat or vegetables added. At one table the dish was black rice, the colour of laver bread. It made me wonder if this might be a regional speciality to be eaten on the Vigil of All Saints. It was too late to ask and try. By then we were full of fresh sardines and baby squid.

We strolled into the town centre, all quiet for siesta with shops shut. I took time out for a snooze in the shady 12th century courtyard of the Castillo Fortaleza, and then we returned to the Gran' Pena beach cafe for tea and icecream, just in good time to watch the homecoming of a score of the port's fleet of trawler, each escorted by wheeling swarms of huge gulls, visible even though the boats were half a mile off shore. We often hear trawlers going out or returning from the night shift just before dawn. It was a rare sight to see so many of them arrive, just as the sun descended into the last hour of its autumnal glory.

Then it was time to walk slowly home, appreciating the sunset, and to call in to Enrique's bar for a drink - he's a long standing local family friend to Anto and Kath, and Anto's mother before him. She settled here 25 years ago when the neighbourhood was being built. We talked about Tosantos, and Enrique lamented the commercial introduction of Halloween commodities. Like Santa and northern Christmas kitsch, these things are foreign to Spanish tradition, with its deep Mediterranean roots in Christian tradition and history.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

A Family Sunday in Spain

Yesterday, we woke up to dark overcast skies. It rained a little on and off, and it got clearer towards evening, with beautiful sunset skies on this evening when the clocks were to be put back an hour. We only ventured as far as the supermarket, two miles there and back. I cooked a paella for supper, which turned out well, despite having to use a poor quality frying pan, and we went to bed early to take advantage of the extra rest.

We woke up to a bright sunny day, and after breakfast made the 45 minute walk into town for Sunday Mass in the Parish Church. There are two clergy, four Sunday Masses here. We arrived in time to have a coffee in Glorietta Square, just around the corner from the church, before the eleven o'clock. The cafe area was crowded with people breakfasting, young and old alike, and an accordeonist was playing popular tunes and begging a few coins from his audience. A young African trader did his rounds with a couple of trays of watches. For the first time in several years, I saw one identical to the Casio I lost some months ago, but as I've acquired a different one since, I resisted the temptation. One is enough.

The church was full for the service we attended, three hundred adults and a hundred children. There was a music group consisting of a couple of guitars and woodwind soloists, and some very lively singing of popular hymns, all of which seemed to have actions. It seemed in every sense to be a true 'family Eucharist'. Some worship songs had lots of rhythmic clapping, reminiscent of football anthems. Some of the adults as well as all the children joined in with gusto. There was no traditional church music. 

I recognised the two priests as ones who were in place two and a half years ago. The Parish is fortunate to have such continuity when European Catholic church priestly vocations are still falling. There was a lovely lively sense of being part of a worshipping community. The sense of prayeful joy made it resemble a charismatic renewal worship gathering, except that it was more focussed, disciplined, with lots of spontanaiety and warmth in the personal interactions, with no expressions of a self indulgent nature. Good teaching and leadership is reaping rewards here. It felt so right as a contemporary Spanish expression of Christian faith.

There was a handsome Tall Ship flying the Portugues flag anchored a mile off the mainland. After Mass we strolled out along the harbour wall among half term weekend promenaders to get as near as we could to take photographs. This gave us an impression of the size of the fishing fleet anchored here at Sta Pola, as most of its craft were in port, resting quietly moored along the key, some of them doubled up in one berth. It's said to be one of the largest fleets of its kind in the Mediterranean. 

We then made our leisurely way to the Varadero restaurant for Sunday lunch. It was very busy with families of three generations, sitting, eating and talking their way through a sunny afternoon. Every bit as Spanish as our lively Sunday Mass.
  

Friday, 28 October 2011

Orthodox connections

Another day of clouds and sunshine. We were again awakened before dawn by the buzzing of alarm clocks in surrounding apartments - three of them, at different times over half an hour, and each lasting for 10-15 minutes. The floors and walls are so thin that the noise can almost be felt as well as heard. There's no sound of anyone getting up, switching them off and thumping around to follow - the holiday apartments in question are presently unoccupied, and their owners have gone back to their other home in a big city somewhere probably in Spain, without disconnecting their alarm clocks from the mains. The sound emitted is that of an older type clock radio which runs off the mains. Spaniards are noisy at the best of times - even it appears, when thy're not there.

Today is the feast of St Simon & St Jude, Apostles, and this awakened memories of the time we lived and working in the St Paul's Area of Bristol. St Simon was one of our Parish Patrons, as a church dedicated in his honour was erected in Stapleton Road. It survived the alomst total devastation of the area during redevelopment and the laying of the M32 motorway first junction out of the city centre, and is still a landmark of the area, distinctive because the top of its spire was lopped off in the eighties. It became redundant in the early 1960's and its high altar reredos ended up gracing the south west corner of the nave, where a side chapel was created to permit Mass to be said there occasionally. The building was given to a growing Greek Orthodox community in the city, and still functions as Bristol's Greek church today.

It was an important place on my early ecumenical journey. A Greek Orthodox fellow student took me to worship there. It was the first place I had ever experienced worship in a language other than English or Welsh. At that time the church welcomed a young Russian Orthodox deacon, sent to the city to gather fragments of Slavonic church groups into one congregation. The priest prayed in Byzantine Greek and the Deacon in Old Church Slavonic. I found the solemn ritual awe inspiring and the depth of silence on times palpable. It was the start of a lifetime's affair with eastern Christian spirituality. When I was Team Rector of the St Paul's Area, my visits to St Simon's were few and far between, because their service times co-incided with ours, and there were few  weekday when worship was held. Nevertheless the influence of that early experience persisted, and the Slavonic speaking Deacon, once ordained priest, Fr Nicholas Behr became a friend. I learned a great deal from him in ecumenical discussions over tea and his German wife's delicious cake during our student years.