Monday, 31 January 2011

Making connections

After making our weekly visit to Riverside Farmers Market, yesterday, we  again walked to Llandaff to worship at the Cathedral Sung Eucharist. We were treated to Mozart's Coronation Mass - the rendering still in need of a little refinement maybe - but nevertheless an uplifting accompaniment to Prayer Book Liturgy with winter sunshine streaming in to lift our spirits even further. We were treated to a fine, well thought out sermon from Archdeacon Christopher Smith, adding further to the inspiration on offer. 

The service is fairly well attended, but I'd love to see Cardiffians queuing to savour the experience. Along with services at our other Cathedral and St John's, it's a refuge from the dumbing down of Anglican tradition, accessible through beauty, order, dignity and sensible discourse. It's a lot more than just plain traditional in ethos. A quick scan of the many people who participate in making worship happen tells its own story about how the Cathedral continues to evolve, thankfully. A great place to be off-duty, from where I stand.

Today we drove to Bristol and combined a dental appointment for Clare, with a visit to Amanda, that would allow us to transport her to Horfield  Leisure Centre for a physiotherapy session in the swimming pool. Since leaving hospital back in December, she has made slow steady progress in regaining use of her left leg in circumstances where further deterioration was expected. She's found reserves of courage and persistence that have taken her where she wants to be. I'm amazed, and also very proud of her.

I cooked supper while Clare and Amanda relaxed together, talked and surfed the net, to identify how Amanda can link up with fellow  F.O.P sufferers.  Thus far, she's been busy battling against it, but she's now ready to reach out and find others like herself. There are only 700 on this planet with the same  condition, one in two million people. Only in the past five years has its genetic  origin been identified. Over the past 22 years since the distinct characteristics of the disorder were first noted, efforts  have been made to make support publicly accessible, through an International foundation, dedicated to backing research and  offering information and advice to sufferers and their carers. Engaging with this community is Amanda's next step, thanks to the Internet.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Moonyeen - in memoriam

We met Moonyeen in '68, when I was a student training for ministry. Theatre was the interest we had in common. Clare played Lady MacDuff to her Lady MacBeth in 'the Scottish Play'. We lost touch after we moved to Birmingham, and got back into contact nearly twenty years later, through her realising who our daughter Kath might be, when she saw her one day in a public dance performance. 

By this time, Moonyeen was teaching circle dancing in and around Cardiff. In mid-life she had transmuted from a talented actress into a charming charismatic outrageous feminist divorcee. She'd renounced ownership of a surname by deed poll to be just plain Ms Moonyeen, except she was anything but plain. She was the embodiment of sixties hippie eccentricity and flower power culture, colourfully if not exotically dressed, theatrical, hilariously comic, larger than life and utterly anarchic. 

She was a superb, sensitive, inclusive teacher, whose enthusiasm and compassion would persuade if not inspire even the most reluctant to get up and have a go. When home on leave from Geneva, we went to her circle dance group and had lots of fun, so it was natural to go regularly once we came back for good. We did this for several years until work pressure and health issues intruded. She started to go south for the winter. The cold and darkness depressed her. She needed her place in the sun. Eventually she over-wintered in Cyprus, and it was there she had a major road accident from which she never recovered. After a few months in hospital in and out of intensive care, she died - last Winter Solstice night during a full eclipse of her beloved moon.

This occasion would be one of great significance to her as she'd long ago ditched cradle Catholicism in favour of her own New Age brand of pagan mysticism and nature worship. She remained compassionate and wise, utterly in awe of the mystery of the divine, resistant of any effort to systematise or control it. She respected my attempt to remain a cleric in the service of the church, and explore its spiritual depths. Our 'inter-faith' conversations over the years were brief and few. We danced and joked more than we ever talked. But despite her levity in all serious matters, she was a woman totally given to following the Spirit, no matter what cost personally to herself or, (alarmingly sometimes) those around her.

The illness of her latter years has been labelled as bi-polar but to me, this doesn't truly fit. Her openness, sensitivity and anarchic responsiveness to others and the world had no boundaries. It meant she'd rise to the heights and also descend to the depths. It meant she lost friends as well as gain them. She'd suffered through her life, was touched by the sufferings of individuals, and by war. Her 'cosmic' spirituality made it hard for her to defend or detach herself from experiencing the world's darkness and pain. Her faith in divine goodness and mercy (in whatever way it was manifested) meant that she'd always struggle to bring the light of love  into the darkness, some way, some how, wherever she was.

Holiday induced delays over inquests, first in Cyprus, then in Cardiff after her remains were finally repatriated this week, meant that her obsequies at Thornhill Crematorium this morning had to continue in the absence of her body. The ceremony was led by a woman called Rachel Matthews who describes herself as  'a community celebrant', specialising in devising events for people of non-standard religious needs. She made a superb job of it, far better than I could have done, if I'd been in charge. It was an event that long ago Moonyeen declared should be a 'fun'-eral. We laughed with affection when Rachel declared how typical it was of Moonyeen not to turn up for her own 'do'.

It was an unusual way to say 'goodbye' to an old friend - the first funeral of this kind which I've attended. It was filled with both sadness and warmth at the fond memory of someone who'd touched many lives through both theatre and dance. Inevitably the assembly ended up on its feet dancing by the end. After an hour we needed to get up and move - there was no heating in the chapel.

The celebration ajourned to the Bear Hotel in Cowbridge for lunch, meeting and reminiscing with the family. I wasn't surprised to learn that both Moonyeen's mother and younger sister were both poets. Moonyeen was always articulate, witty, good with words - but for her, poetry was made in movement under the heavens upon the well created earth, in the light or in the darkness, following the Author of the Dance...

And the Dance goes on

Friday, 28 January 2011

The King's Speech

Following another non-stop afternoon in the office, we went out to the cinema at Chapter Arts Centre to view 'The King's Speech'. The main auditorium was full, and the showing was preceded by a talk from a man who trains speech therapists at UWIC. This was a fine touch, as it helped underline the significance and value of the story that was about to be told, of King's George VI's accession to the throne, his personal battle to overcome a terrible stammer, and his relationship with an Australian speech therapist. 

In every way, I think this film is a masterpiece, in its portrayal of a man and his wife burdened reluctantly with high office, and the compulsion of duty to the nation that drives him to work on and overcome his own worst fears. It's a eye opener into a piece of recent history, in a time I recall my parents talking to me about when I was a child, before any of this really appeared in the school curriculum. 

Despite the portrayal of all the human frailties and failings that were and still are part of the heritage of our Royal family, this film's disclosure of the the monarch's role in sustaining good national governance leaves me glad to be British, proud of the service offered by our royals to the country and Commonwealth. Our constitution may be quirky in this turbulent era of democratic republics, but it works. Monarchy gives continuity and breadth in the service of the common good. Long may it flourish!

Thursday, 27 January 2011


I've taken services two days in a row at the Church of the Resurrection in Ely, as Jan their Vicar is on leave to recover from surgery at the moment. Today it was a funeral, followed by burial up at Western Cemetery, just as the afternoon temperature went down to minus five or thereabouts, and there always seems to be a chill wind up there on the hillside overlooking Ely. The car transporting me to and fro took me right back into town to the office by four, as I had some jobs to do.  It took the entire 20 minute journey to thaw out - and I was wearing the ski jacket I took to Canada with me! I didn't get home until eight thirty, so it's just as well that Clare has gone out early to her study group meeting, and didn't miss me coming home for supper.

Yesterday I celebrated the midweek Eucharist in 'the Res' in honour of the Conversion of St Paul, a day late, for nine people - seven of us communicated. The remaining two were a couple of friends in their early thirties attending worship because they'd starting preparation for Baptism as adults this coming Easter. One said that his child was to be christened in the coming year. Presumably this had nudged him into starting his journey.

On the feast of Paul's conversion itself, I popped into St David's Cathedral for their midday Mass on my way to work, just across the road in Charles Street from our Business Safe Office. After all, it was the last day of Christian Unity Week, so I thought I should make an ecumenical effort and attend a service in a church not my own, even if it wasn't an ecumenical service. The Catholic Mass has been familiar to me since its introduction in English back in the early seventies, when I belonged to a University Chaplaincy ecumenical team. I attended Mass on campus at least once most weeks of term, so it became something of a spiritual second home to me - or perhaps a spiritual third home. 

At University I became equally familiar and comfortable worshipping in the Orthodox Liturgy, before really knowing anything about Latin liturgy. I was blessed by belonging to a culture of curiosity about faith and worship matters during my early spiritual formation. In more liberal times, I received Communion at Catholic Masses and even con-celebrated with Catholic priests - once was in French, along with a Protestant pastor, and Catholic clergy presided over by a Swiss Bishop!. Never have I received  the sacrament at an Orthodox Liturgy, however. Often, in either environment I wished I could identify more fully and feel I really belong, but that wholesome personal desire for unity with another community never amounted to a temptation to convert. 

I'd like to think my non-conversion isn't a matter of having a vested interest in remaining an Anglican priest because my livelihood depended on not doing so. Such a complete change of allegiance and identity could only have spiritual value as a result of a calling from God to witness differently in a particular context, or become part of some unique mission requiring this life change. Each job move in my clerical career emerged as a calling out of a discomforting sense that what we'd moved into a place to achieve was as good as done. 

It was like that when it came to retirement. But given the problems encountered in recruiting a replacement for me I sometimes wonder - did I get that one right? I rejoice in freedom from responsibility worries, being able to pray without pressure, spending more time with the grandchildren, travelling without having to organise locum duty cover first. (My darling wife Clare, bless her, organises pussy cat feeders.). I'm also glad to find I can still convert thoughts to intelligible prose. I've written nearly four thousand words over the past ten days of regular effort since I started my book project. What I miss is preaching regularly, so I hope my off-the-cuff homily on St Paul at yesterday's midweek Eucharist didn't cause anyone dismay - I'm booked in to do those midweek celebrations until Jan returns from leave.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Unity - the ignored dimension of success

Saturday night, Kath and Anto came in from their gig while we were getting ready for bed so we stayed up late and talked. I didn't think I'd make it to the eight o'clock Eucharist at Kenilworth Parish Church, but I was up and out of the house in good time. The Vicar gave the usual stock homily about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and exhorted everyone to get out of their comfort zone and attend the evening's united service at the Methodist Church (the Parish Church would not be holding a service). It didn't inspire me to turn out, even though I was faintly curious as to how many might turn out for such a service in an English town. I noted that he reminisced about John Paul II's pastoral visit to Britain in the eighties when Archbishop Runcie and the Pope prayed together in Canterbury Cathedral, but he didn't mention Pope Benedict's visit last year - equally significant, being a state visit, something unthinkable thirty years ago. Nothing about real unity in mission to a secular civil society was mentioned or valued.

We tend to think there's been scant ecumenical progress because churches mostly remain in their institutional ruts and are bound by their habits, preferring to try and survive decline and only merge with others when this is utterly inevitable. Yet, political and social conflict in the UK using denominational allegiances as an alibi is almost a thing of the past, despite occasional dire warnings which some to come out of context and unsupported by a reality dominated by inertia and aparthy. The press make a fuss about Anglo-Catholics going over to Rome in a very public way, and even more public provision being made for their acceptance by the Pope, yet switches in allegiance of this kind have happened for the past couple of centuries in which the two churches have moved from confrontation into dialogue. 

Ecumenical (if not yet fully inter-faith) representation and participation in the life of society generally is now the accepted norm, and all sorts of contributions are quietly being made to the common good in policy formation and social, which have been forged by partnerships between Christian bodies. Cut backs may have meant fewer university, hospital, military and prison chaplains are now serving the same large constituencies, but the part they play is valued by a much broader cross-section of people without regard to denominational histories. These often seem irrelevant to pastoral work in a wholly secular environment. There has been valuable progress made on the the missionary edge of the Christian enterprise, but this seems hardly to be noticed or valued properly. 

The future of churches as the spiritual heart and soul of society is more dependent upon its performance in the everyday market place of life, much more than seems to be admitted in the domain of normal parochial life. More's the pity.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Weekend away

We had a batch of Christmas cards in the post yesterday, forwarded from the Vicarage. Despite our early mail out, many people printing address labels from their database may not have opened our card early enough to detect news of the change of address, and make the modification. So, our cards have come to us in three waves - one before we left for Canada, one as we arrived home, and now another a week later. One card with newsletter bore the sad news of the death of the wife of a contemporary from University days who died last year after a battle with Parkinson's disease lasting twenty years or so. Both of them faced this trial positively and courageously, exploring every new line of research and therapy, conscious of their solidarity with hundreds of thousands of people globally, similarly afflicted.

Another student contemporary of ours is also an early onset Parkinson's sufferer, now confined to a care home. We are that 'baby boomer' generation for which life expectancy has been extended by improved social conditions, health care, and medical innovation. I start to wonder how many others of our young graduate circle of acquaintance now also at retirement age are similarly afflicted or have already died.
We travelled up to Kenilworth this morning, to look after Rhiannon tonight, while Kath and Anto go with their band Lament to perform their Latino music in a village hall somewhere out there in Middle England. It's the second year in which they're toured rural venues and played to good audiences in out of the way places - the idea is popular and they're popular with a growing clientele. It's great to catch up with them after our Christmas away, and share all the news and stories of Canada - well, fill in detail not in the blog, or portrayed in the photos. It's six weeks since we last saw Rhiannon,  who'll be seven years old next month. In that time away, I see changes in her - not so much physical growth, as development of confidence as she gets used to being able to rise to all the challenges of schooling and her cultural leisure pursuits. She put on a puppet show for us this afternoon, with an improvised script making use of Punch and Judy characters she's had for some years. I'm not sure I could follow it all. It seemed quite surreal in parts - not that she'd comprehend surrealism at her age.

Friday, 21 January 2011


While I was away, Cecily McDonald died. She was one of the few remaining St John's city centre parishioners to be born in the Parish. Her father was a local publican, and she grew up and into the LV trade herself. I took her Communion back in November at the request of her son Julian, who works at the reception desk in Central Police Station, as I had done during my ministry to her once she was house bound, before I retired. Julian left a message on our answering machine to let me know when we returned. Thankfully the funeral was arranged for today, and Father Mark who was conducting it invited me to take part.

Cecily was interested in the discussions I had with the city centre developers about raising a sculpture in St John's Churchyard. I was sure the only kind of work to survive critical scrutiny would be one  with a commemorative character. Style would be less significant than motive, I maintained. One that would fit the bill, to my mind, would be a work of art dedicated to the memory of the 360 victims of the Blitz raids on Cardiff. There's no public memorial to all those who lost their lives. I put the case  for this to the Art Procurement professional, with a smart office down the Bay, hired by Land Securities to spend the budgeted millions or outlay on new art for the city centre, but the idea that an artistic competition to place new sculpture in the city centre should be constrained by such a theme met with a polite shudder of revulsion. 

I pointed out that nothing that wasn't in some way commemorative art would be acceptable to the Diocese whose responsibility for the proposed site of the sculpture arose from real ownership. Then, the lines of communication went dead. I never heard from the Art Procurer nor from Land Securities on this matter again. Not even an apology for the waste of our professional time and services. I guess that's how English big money deals with us provincials who still have title deeds in coveted places. Damn them, I want to say. Cecily would have just given a knowing shrug - that's how they are , get used to it, they don't know any better, poor things - she might have said.

The first Blitz raid on Cardiff was Jan 2nd 1940. Co-incidentally this was the day sixty one years later, when Cecily died. Imagine the unforgettable impact of a bombing raid in a highly populated area on a fourteen year old publican's daughter. Yet, she never grew bitter about it.  Despite her great age, there was a good crowd present in church. I was privileged to read the Gospel and to give an affectionate eulogy about someone whose war time story-telling gave me an insight into the way ordinary citizens coped with horrifying events in those years before I was born.

This evening, after a spell in the office, I had to go out to Ely to do a funeral preparation visit, meeting the family, hearing the sad story of untimely death. A man sick with emphysemia went home and died in his chair watching his beloved Discovery channel on TV. Having lived out his life in the same few streets of a huge housing estate, this was his wonderful window on the world. His sudden demise was compounded for the family by the equally sudden death of his small dog this morning. Did it die of grief? I wonder. There are so many things about timing in human existence which we fail to comprehend.


Thursday, 20 January 2011

Words in the cloud

The working week has slipped by rather quickly. Monday I woke up with sufficent energy to go for a jog, only the second time since we moved, and really quite enjoyable as it wasn't too cold. Tuesday evening's Chi Gung session was energetic and stimulating, but as a result I stayed up too late didn't sleep too well, and woke up late and tired on Wednesday. Today I went to the mid morning Mass at St John's Canton. If I eventually succeed in rising earlier, I'll have a go at attending early Masses in the Parish or at the Cathedral.

I think jet lag is still disrupting my efforts to make a good start to the day at first light, and the same is true for Clare. I also went into the office, afternoons, to catch up on all the accumulated unfinished business of more than a month away, but summoning the concentration for that kind of work is less that easy. Nevertheless, I have managed to write four hundred new words a day, either morning or evening. Getting my thoughts out into a place where I can later recall them and reckon with them is the most important thing - out of the assorted jumble of reflections made I hope structure and content will eventually emerge.

After the first couple of writing sessions, I made a change in my work method. In the course of any week I expect to use four different computers, and since three of them dual boot Linux and Windows, I could be using a word processor and saving new text in one of seven different file system locations. Sure, I could save it all to the flash drive I habitually carry in my pocket, but what if I forget to move it from one set of clothes to another, or leave it in the office? Answer: use an internet file location. Or, put it up in 'The Cloud' as the latest techy jargon refers to this. And why not?

Google Docs has been around for several years, offering a web-based word processor for a consistent editing experience wherever you can log into your Google account from a browser. I've used it on occasions before, but always carried a flash drive with a work archives on it to and from church. I never had reason to put stuff on Google Docs, until now. As a Google fan I can honestly say that none of my ten thousand plus emails sent, received and retained has been lost since I opened my first Gmail account this month four years ago,. The same is true of thousands of photos stored in Google's Picasa web albums, begun nine months earlier than that. It's also five years and five months since I posted my first blog on 'Edge of the Centre'. So I'm giving Google Docs a try - and so far, so good. 

Google's on-line editing software feels better in use than it once did. It works well so long as there's a decent stable broadband connection, not necessarily high speed. Now I can work in writing with ideas wherever there's a computer with internet. If I want someone to look at a text with me, I can send them a sharing link, give them editing privileges. But apart from that the work is not for show in the way a blog posting is.  The possibility of publication is something that will need to be worked on just as strenuously as the production of something that might be of interest for others to read, interested in my subject or my ideas, people who mostly don't know me.

Blogging is about remembering and reflecting on things that grab attention in the stream of life - the landscape features of the journey you think matter at the time. It's an exercise in mindfulness, so that an interesting life doesn't just become one long blur of half recalled moments and sentiments. It's not possible to write about any day in detail with regularity. A novelist or a historian may take years to recall just one significant day. I write for the pleasure of sharing with others I've conversed with over the years, to fill in the gaps between our meetings and conversations. After all, people you make strong connections with in life, for whatever reason, these days no longer live just down the street or even across town - they can be scattered all over the world. 

From telegraph to telephone to internet in a century of enhanced mobility, relationships can be forged and sustained between people of great differences all around the planet, like never before in human history. What a wonderful time to be alive! If that's not a quantum leap or a paradigm shift, in human evolution, I don't know what is.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

A decision taken

After another erratic night's sleep, this morning we shopped early at the Riverside farmers' market, then walked to Llandaff for the Cathedral Sung Eucharist. Our old friend Father Graham preached a fine sermon in his role as Canon in Residence, and we met up with Eleri his wife, Katherine's godmother, for a chat on the way out. Today's weather was grey and damp, and it started to rain as we strode across Llandaff fields, so we didn't go out again. I found myself daydreaming about snowy mountains and blue skies. Nevertheless, it's good to be home again where we belong.

After lunch, something went wrong as I was updating Clare's Linux laptop, and I couldn't restore it to working order, so I decided to replace its Xubuntu installation with Linux Mint. For once, I took the precaution of backing up her data properly using the Mint live CD as I was uncertain of what had happened during the failed system update. This took several hours, but worked perfectly. Linux Mint then installed effortlessly over the Ubuntu partition, and required very little setting up afterwards. Clare's data survived the installation intact. It couldn't have been easier, and I swear the laptop works a little quicker and slicker than it did before. Mint has a reputation for working well on older machines.

In my recent unscheduled awake hours, I've started to think about a book I want to write. The thoughts are still  unstructured, but the focus emerging from the jumble of ideas and insights that come from the edge of dreamland is that of spirituality in the light of modern self understanding and awareness. I now have the time to give an hour a day to creative writing, quite apart other things I have to do. The only thing I have to sacrifice is all those evening hours wasted watching worthless telly. One thing our stay in a home without TV in Canada taught me is that, like junk food, if you learn to do without it and be careful of what you take in, you feel so much better for it.

When we were in Monaco I made pastoral visits to an elderly retired concert pianist whose arthritis had compelled her to give up after more than fifty years in performance. She was philosophical about it, and spent much of the day in bed watching every kind of TV soap opera you could imagine. "I never had time for any of this when I was growing up, or when I was working." she'd say. It wouldn't have made me content, only more restless, no longer to be creative in some way.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Jet lag strikes

Yesterday, I woke up at first light pottered around with catch-up tasks, then went in to St John's for the midday Eucharist - so much to give thanks for over the past month! I chatted with the tea room crew for a while, then went off to shop for a 'network through the mains kit', to replace the wireless network connection to my desktop computer. Reception from the router to the back room upstairs became erratic a couple of months ago, and no amount of re-positioning has been able to cure a problem causing all kinds of dysfunction.

It may be a hardware fault, but I suspect one of the neighbours may be running a piece of electrical kit that causes occasional interference to the signal. Currys had just the right thing at a reasonable price. Then I went on to browse the sale at Cardiff Camera Centre and came away with a the Sony Cybershot I'd thought of buying before going to Canada but didn't. That bit of pretend self denial (do I really need another camera? I say to myself) meant a I got 25% discount on pre-Christmas prices, before the added VAT price hike, and an interesting new toy with extra capacity to shoot photos in low light - so I'm pleased with myself.

Owain came around for a paella supper and catch up time. We were looking at photos after supper at table on a laptop, when I succeeded in knocking over a cup of coffee on to it. It died immediately, which was a bit upsetting. I did my best to dry it out, but my best efforts couldn't get it to re-start. We adjourned upstairs to Clare's study cum spare bedroom, to continue looking at maps on her computer. I sat on the bed, feeling fed up with my clumsiness - blame it on jet lag I said to myself - I lay down and conked out for several hours. When I woke up, Clare was already in bed asleep or trying to sleep. I re-joined her, but couldn't drop off. After some hours tossing and turning, mentally kicking myself for ruining the laptop, I got up to take a pill I'd forgotten. It was half past three. I moved into another bed to avoid further mutual disturbance. The next thing I knew it was light, but it was eleven o'clock in the morning, so I must have slept another six hours.

After brunch, I went to do some first aid on a friend's computer system which was rejecting the login password, with no intelligible explanation. A zealous BT Yahoo! security policy issued a refusal to forward an attachment which it considered to be dodgy, despite the fact that the anti-virus scan had cleared the attachment of all offence. And we thought it was a password problem. The reason was there in an Outlook Express error message. This was not written in plain but in geeky language, and displayed in a hard to read small font, contributing greatly to the difficulty of resolving the problem. 

We changed the password three times before cottoning on to the solution, and used a password sniffing program to double check that rejection of the password  was not a result of unintended corruption or mis-spelling. It took over three hours to track down the problem.  Deleting the offending email and attachment did the trick. Meanwhile, I set about updating (aka machine minding) a Vista laptop not used since last October and lacking Service Pack 2. This occupied the entire time taken by detective work on the main computer. So much for  low levels of user maintenance. So much seamlessly smooth collaboration leading to ease of use between big players in the world of everyday computer users.
My dried out laptop worked properly without complaint when I returned and switched it on. This post is written on it. Barring any more accidents, hopefully we'll sleep better tonight.

Thursday, 13 January 2011


At first light, the skies were leaden and the streets below our Regency Suite Hotel apartment looked quite univiting, so Clare went out to the adjacent fast food store to get something for breakfast, rather than us go out hunting for one of the better recommended places for breakfast somewhere out there in the unfamiliar and chilly streets (still minus 23 centigrade).

Later, we braved the outdoors to visit a local covered shopping centre called the Eaux Claire Market. It's a simple modern design, mainly iron work building on two levels in a retro style emulating Victorian covered market structures, omitting the fancy decoration. The site of the market may well date back into the last century, and the building may have replaced an older one. There was nothing on display to inform about its history.

Over the past twenty years, the buildings of old downtown Calgary were razed, with few exceptions, to create the present 'central business district'. The city sprawls out in every direction for many miles over rolling plains, and is composed mostly of one and two storey buildings, so the distinctive glass clad high towers of downtown are visible to well beyond the city limits. In wintry conditions, the sight of downtown on the horizon is reminiscent of something from in a sci-fi movie it was visible from the airport, beyond the city limits.

It was simply too cold to be out on the streets looking around for more than fifteen minutes at a time, so we bought food for lunch at the market and ate in our apartment, whiling away the time until the airport shuttle taxi came to pick us up.  After a twenty minute drive, we were checking in our baggage and browsing the shops, with a three hour wait until boarding. Our 'plane arrived on time but was three quarters of an hour late taking off, as were others. The necessity of spraying departing aircraft with anti-freeze seems to have been the most likely reason.

After takeoff, we watched movies, ate and then dozed until dawn broke on us, somewhere between Iceland and Scotland, about seven hours into the nine hour flight. Although late arriving, a mad dash between terminals ensured that we were able to catch the coach on which we were booked. We dozed our way to Cardiff via Bristol and Newport, and arrived in the rain in time to jump on a 33 bus, and were home by half past four - thirteen hours travel from Calgary, plus tree hours waiting, plus five hours the day before getting to Calgary from Fairmont Hot Springs.

We enjoyed the travel and enjoyed our stay. It's take some time to re-adjust to so much rain, and neither snow nor blue skies.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

On the road

We said our fond farewells to John and Jasmine after breakfast, and Rachel drove us into Invermere for a last look around while she attended an appointment. It was bitterly cold, minus twenty three at the lowest. We took refuge in the bookshop and Blue Dog Cafe for refreshment and warmth. Then Rachel drove us up the valley to Radium to catch the coach. As we were an hour early, she took as on a walk along the bank of an iced over stream, Sinclair Creek, which flows down from the National Park (which starts just outside of Radium) and across the plain into the Columbia River. This river has been restored as a breeding habitat for salmon, although salmon hereabouts can no longer go to see since the famous Grand Coulee Dam was built further south in the USA of the 1930s. We got really cold, but it was well worthwhile to see what the small local community had made of this little project.

When we got back to the Esso station to pick up the bus, we discovered the Greyhound Coach schedule had been altered, and the bus had left two hours earlier. We'd received no notice via our internet booking, and discovered that although the staff had been given long term notice of the change, the date of change had been sprung on them. The agent was marvellous. He rang Greyhound in Calgary and arranged for a taxi to take us to Banff to pick up an evening coach from there into Calgary. We were amazed when it showed up, and the driver turned out to be the husband of teacher Maxine in Jasmine's pre-school group. Small world. This misfortune turned out to be quite a privilege. A comfortable car ride through the park, driven by a retired lumberjack who knows and loves his environment.

We were in Banff nearly two hours before the coach. We were dropped off at the charming railway station, which also serves as a Greyhound pick up point. We were able to visit the town centre and have coffee and cheesecake plus a browse of a few of the shops, before doing battle with the chill to return to the (fortunately well heated) station to await the arrival of the bus. It arrived just as the darkness descended, so we saw no more of the National Park, as we rode quietly into Calgary. The hotel room turned out to be a one bedroomed apartment with kitchen diner and two TVs, plus andn internet connection. Pretty good for seventy quid. The downtown location is surrounded by glass tower blocks, parking lots covered in snow and artificial light. Such a shocking contrast to the lovely  Windermere Valley, lit more by moonlight than street lamps. Such a contrast that all I wanted to do at the end of a long day was put my head on the pillow and hide in sleep. Nevertheless, we struggled out in the cold to a spaghetti house a couple of desolate blocks away to eat a proper supper before turning in for the night.

Monday, 10 January 2011

A day of great beauty

After breakfast this morning, Rachel and Jasmine took us out for a walk up through the Hoodoos conservation area, just a mile down the main road from where they live. The area is part of a large glacial moraine over three hundred feet high, where it looms over the road by Dutch Creek Bridge. Its outer surfaces have been eroded by wind and water into strange statuesque pillars since the time when it was a large plug for an earlier much bigger version of Columbia lake, pushed into place by the glacier which preceded it in one of the Ice Ages. Now it's covered with trees and undergrowth, providing a home for many species of animals and birds. It's a slice of paradise for any naturalist.

The temperature went down to minus eighteen overnight. The sky was clear bright, the air still, and the cold air invigorating as we made our way south up the steep track on the east side of the moraine. We saw the tracks of deer, hare, rabbit, and cougar, in addition to those of a cross country skier. Jasmine heard the call of a black capped chickadee, which she'd learned about in pre-school group, and I spotted a small flock of them roosting in a fir tree, and photographed, along with the animal tracks, and the spectacular scenic views of the mountains, Columbia lake and river valley. It was an unique experience worth coming to Canada for in its own right.

Jasmine got chilled and had to be carried back down, warmed up and cheered up with a story from Grandma (my, how that child loves stories!), while we drove her to her pre-school afternoon session. We then had lunch at Invermere's Blue Dog Cafe. It had an excellent healthy snack menu and seemed to by run by a team of staff who all looked young enough to be still in school - we all remarked on it - and very well they did their job too. We browsed an excellently stocked bookshop for a while and resolved to waste more time here tomorrow morning, when we shall have to wait there for Rachel to give us a rise to Radium Hot Springs to pick up our Greyhound Coach for Calgary.

With an hour to spare before collecting Jasmine, we drove over the mountain pass and down the valley to have a brief look at Panorama, with its formidable 10,000 ft ski mountain, golf courses and, when not frozen, the white water rafting river that runs alongside the road. It was far to cold to stop and walk around, but at least we got some idea of the place, and took photos. It's been too cold to ski here this time, but never mind. It's so good just to view on a day a bright as this.

We returned, picked up Jasmine from school and headed home to Fairmont Hot Springs. I quickly changed, donned my cross country skis and headed out for one last circuit of the gold course, just as the setting sun's light turned the snowy peaks that tower above Fairmont's ski hill a glorious shade of pink - not orange, but on a day with the air as clear and pure as it has been today.

What a  lovely way to say goodbye to this extraordinary place that's been our home for the past month.

Thanks for having us John, Rachel and Jasmine.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Lake views

We went to the Eucharist at Christ Church Trinity Invermere this morning. Instead of the Anglican interim pastor a Reformed pastor officiated, and the liturgy took on the characteristic ethos of a modern reformed church celebration. The preaching and the prayers used were eloquent, beautiful and appropriate expressions of the Epiphany theme. It was a refreshing alternative to the comfortable familiarity of the Anglican way of doing things. 

We went down to the lake to Kinsman Beach again and skied for half an hour after the service. It was clear and bright, but too cold to stay out for longer, because of the light wind. But it was worth the effort. We took the track in the opposite direction - basically Invermere town south side of the lake, which is occupied by leisure homes, boat houses and landing stages, with little or no sign of occupation in this closed season.

We watched a group of half a dozen men out on the ice with their snow shovels, levelling by scraping a square surface out of the rough snow and ice - the arean for a curling rink. We learned that a local tournament will soon take place here. Tents and stalls will appear and lots of people gather to cheer on their teams. Locals here in the largest populated place in this part of the valley know how to make the most of their lake all year round.

After a late lunch, John took Jasmine and I out for a drive down the fourteen mile length of Columbia Lake, as far as local logging centre Canal Flats, with the mountains en route lit by late afternoon sun. We stopped and walked on the ice at two places with landing stages and play parks. At the first one, a CPR coal train going south passed us by. John counted 130 trucks plus the four engines, confirming the count I made a couple of weeks ago. I've now revised my best guess - the train is more like two kilometres, a mile and a quarter long. Standing off shore, it was possible because of the long shape of the lake to see the entire length of the train in one gaze. I look forward to viewing the photo taken on a large enough screen to check whether this was captured by camera.

Viewed from the highway above the lake, its frozen surface seemed mottled, as if covered by waves, quite different in character to the surface of Windermere lake.  On closer inspection, the snow cover on Columbia lake was not nearly as thick, and there were patches with little or no snow cover, where the ice was dark and transparent where exposed. The only reason I could think of for this difference was a kind of wind tunnel effect. Columbia lake is longer and straighter than Windermere. Without obstruction a wind would be able to keep snow moving across the surface, to pile up on Columbia's shores. The less regular shape of Windermere and its surrounding valleys would possibly hinder this sweeping wind effect and allow snow to settle to more of a depth across greater areas of the lake surface.

There's so much beauty to behold in this region, you'd need several life times of gazing to tire of it. Tomorrow is our last day before we travel. What shall we do I wonder?


Saturday, 8 January 2011

Wales in BC

The temperature was only just below zero last night. There were snow clouds hanging around, but we had hoar frost rather than snow. I went for a walk after breakfast and captured a few beautiful sights, then headed down to the valley floor along Wills Road, the main road through a estate of individually designed houses, a mixture of regular homes and holiday chalets, all set in pine forest.

The road took me to an open area of wetland, frozen over, and beyond that, the meandering course of the Columbia River, flowing quietly across the plain. There were several riverside holiday homes along the east bank. I was delighted to see that one of them was flying the Welsh Dragon from the garden flagpole - a little part of B.C. forever Cymru in the heart of one householder. There's an open area of the river bank which is used as a landing stage for the craft used in river rafting. The river runs slowly here, twisting and turning across the plain, so it's not exactly white water adventure stuff. A handful of mallard ducks were swimming along with the currrent. They were the only other evidence of occupation. The river is rather free of holidaymakers at this time of year.

I walked back home in time for lunch, then we all went up Fairmont skil hill for the afternoon. There was lots of fresh snow, and because it wasn't so cold (in fact it snowed lightly most of the afternoon), a fine powdery surface layer was quickly replaced by lots of little snowdrifts, heavy and challenging to ski through. It was a testing afternoon of hard exercise. I had more falls in two hours than in the rest of three weeks on piste, so I was exhausted and a little battered by the time we arrived home.

We were invited out to the Hoodoos Grill for supper with firends of John and Rachel. I could have gone straight to bed, so I wasn't exactly sparkling company, although a  delicious Bison Lassagne revived me in the course of the evening - another first for this amazing trip of ours.  

Friday, 7 January 2011

Walk over water

Yesterday I was exceedingly tired as a result of my uphill trek the day before. Nevertheless Clare and I went out for a circuit of the fairway in the morning, which left me even tireder. We went to bed at nine, and I slept nearly twelve hours.

Today we'd planned to go and ski at Panorama. However, cloud cover and temperatures above zero for the first time since our arrival took away all of the allure of skiing on powder under a clear blue sky at ten thousand feet with mountains mostly below us. So, after lunch, we went up to Invermere for some shopping and an excursion to the village of Wilmer nearby, and on to Lake Enid, a place where Rachel and Jasmine camped in the wilds last summer.

This time the lake was frozen over and together with the surrounding forest covered in a foot of fairly fresh snow. The temperature there was just on zero, so it wasn't too damp to walk in the snow through the woods, following deer trails. On the way back to the car we walked across the length of the frozen lack. Clare and Rachel, assisted by Jasmine, in time honoured family  fashion built a snowman, well actually, it turned into a snow-gnome, even nicer, in the middle of the lake. The conditions were perfect and they were proud of their achievement. Photos of Lake Enid start here

We drove back to Invermere to get the shopping done, and then went home for a supper of pork and fish and cheese roasted Swiss style on a raclette grill. And the temperature hasn't yet returned below freezing here in Fairmont.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Ascending the hill - old style

There was more light snow overnight, and the temperature rose to minus eight. Rachel took Jasmine into school for her first day back of the New Year then we lunched with next door neighbours George and Kirsten up at the Fairmont Hos Springs Resort Hotel, almost deserted now the holidays are over. Following this, Clare and Rachel went to the spa, John and I went on up the mountain to ski - he for the downhill runs as usual, me for the cross country course which we'd not succeeded in finding and following properly last week.

This time I found the sign posts, few as they were and spent an hour and a half winding my way up the mountain side. It was stunningly beautiful but unrelieved hard work. The photos start here. Every time I thought the trail was about to turn back on itself, it turned in the opposite direction and went even further up hill, weaving its way along the contours in a generally upward direction. The trail crossed a running stream twice in the 6km ascent, before the trail turned in what I finally decided must be the right direction. Within 500m the trail ran out on to the downhill piste, about 400m below the top of the run where you come off the chair lift, where the first set of snow cannons are sited for this piste. 

It was high up and very steep, and by this time I was too tired to attempt to ski down it safely, so I dismounted and walked down a very steep slope, fortunately flattened for skiing and easy to manage at a steady long stride. I descended about 800m until I was within sight of the ski lodge before I felt it was safe enough to mount my skis again and glide down the last half kilometre home. The exercise was more demanding than anything I've done in several years, and although tired at the conclusion, was well pleased that my body hadn't let me down. When I thought about it, I was daft to have gone out alone on an unknown badly indicated trail with a very difficult last leg, especially as I'd forgotten to take my daily pills this morning. 

All's well that ends well, I guess.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Snowing for real

Overcast again today, and a steady fall of light snow. I accompanied Rachel with some errands to do in Invermere, so that I could walk around and take some photographs in places where it was normally hard to stop. It was snowing much more heavily that, which somewhat sabotaged my project. Neverthless, I wandered around and took photos for an hour, and enjoyed the vigorous exercise needed to stop getting chilled - it was still minus thirteen, making nonsense of that old saw 'it's too cold to snow' - it's the rise in humidity in cold weather that brings on the snow.

I was interested to see how the surface of the Columbia River remains unfrozen at the point where it flows out of Windermere Lake into the wetland area on the north side of Invermere. The river doesn't stop flowing beneath the ice, even if it's a metre thick, but there's something about the environmental conditions, perhaps simply the movement of surface water at the point of outflow form the lake that limits the build up of ice. The little I could see of the wetland area approach appeared interesting. On the slopes above, I've been told, are eagles' nests, and the swampy reed beds are host to many kinds of migrating birds and salmon fry at the right season of the year. Public notices on the river bank demonstrated municipal commitment to regulate water traffic and protect the inhabitants of this special environment. I'd love to see this area in spring or autumn.

We drove home for lunch and afterwards Clare and I went out for our afternoon promenade, making the most of the additional snowfall for some vigorous exercise. We were both pretty whacked when we got back. Rachel and John went off to a hockey game with friends after supper, Clare bathed Jasmine and I told her a story. Thankfully she went off to sleep peacefully, giving us a chance to relax and listen to music, as the light snow continued to trickle out of the sky under cover of darkness.


Monday, 3 January 2011

Ski envy

Very cold again today, and overcast. A stop in day for the most part, although John went hour for an hour of downhill skiing, just up the road, while Rachel and I ventured out for a little ski promenade on the golf course. Clare and Jasmine baked cookies. 

Low temperatures keep the snow surface soft and powdery, but the underneath layer is firmer and more load bearing. This offers excellent conditions to practice manouvering, as opposed to straight line skiing, on slopes without well worn tracks. I'm enjoying getting quite a new feel of how you can use your weight and balance to control movement on skis which are hard to manage if you don't want to go in a straight line or stop on a gradient without crashing. The additional practice is giving me a fresh confidence in how they're meant to be used.

If I say I gained mastery of this kind of ski during our Swiss sojourn I mean coping with something that never felt wholly predicatable, very much subject to one's levels of strength and concentration. I always admired the old geezers who skied past, rarely fell and could go anywhere without hesitation - Swiss army trained if not nurtured in the art since childhood. Oh to be as good as them!

How this experience translates into action in less than perfect conditions remains to be seen, but this month's everyday 40-50 minute outing is more practice at cross country skiing than I could ever achieve in Switzerland where I managed three outings a week in winter, and maybe four consecutive days on ski holiday. I can but rejoice in my exceedingly good fortune to be here, and thrill to the everyday beauty of the terrain, as well as getting in so much time on good snow.
John returned from downhill skiing pretty chilled, but rejoicing in the empty slopes, post vacation, and the pleasure of a fresh powdery surface up there. It's even colder up the hill, what with the cloud  layer up at the level of the top section of the chair lift. To restore us all, Rachel cooked us a fish which I guess we in Wales would call Sewin - sea going trout. It went down a treat with a good bottle of Canadian Chardonnay, and a salad of baby spinach with dried cranberries, mushrooms and tomatoes.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

An unusual Sunday stroll

The temperature stayed down below minus fifteen for most of New Year's Day, so we didn't venture out to perambulate the golf course until mid afternoon, and that was about all we did, apart from a few phone calls to greet people. Today, being Sunday, we made the effort despite similar temperatures, and made it into Invermere to attend the Parish Eucharist service at Christchurch Trinity, the main church in the Windermere Valley Shared Ministry pastorate. About forty people attended a relaxed celebration, the first of the New Year, with the same priest who'd ministered at St Peter's Windermere, Christmas Eve.

People were friendly and welcoming enough, but seemed more interested in their relationships with each other, no doubt influenced by having to start the year with their Curate elevated to the responsibility of being Interim Pastor. The outgoing Pastor was Presbyterian, the next one will be Episcopalian, as is the Curate, so there will no doubt be adjustments as the congregation think together about the 'refreshment' of their mission and ministry (as the website describes preparations to be made to enable a new appointment to take place). We didn't need to socialise on this occasion anyway, as we had planned to go out on the Windermere Whiteway together - Clare on snowshoes, Rachel on her new ice skates, and me on cross country skis = following a quick trip to Sobeys and Pharmasave for supplies.

We drove back down the main road and turned off to Windermere Beach, for our point of departure. We went south along the lakeside, off shore, joining other skiers, dog walkers, even a cyclist making the most of the bright sun and clear skies, although the temperature remained at minus twelve,  and it felt even colder when you turned your back to the sun. We really had to keep moving not to get chilled. Thankfully there was no wind to make it any colder. 

Someone in a large SUV drove across the ice, though not on the prepared path, and its progress was marked by the eerie sound of cracks and shudders, as the ice flexed under its weight. Enough to make one nervous! We promenaded as far as Indian Beach before turning around, and so covered the best part of three miles before continuing home for a bowl of soup. Rachel and Clare then went off to the Fire Hall for a couple of hours of routine maintenance duties, before supper.

I guess that's the nearest I'll ever get to walking on water.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year's Eve

The temperature went down to minus eighteen overnight and was slow to creep up to the point where venturing outdoors was worth the effort. Rachel and I went out and skied around the perimeter of the golf course, about four kilometres, when the temperature got to minus twelve, which was managable as long as we kept moving briskly. That's the furthest I've skied cross country, so far, and it left me feeling rather tired for a long evening, but reasonably free of aches and pains, which is pleasing.

We were invited to join friends of John and Rachel, two families related to each other, of Ukranian origin. It was lovely to be with a bi-lingual family, at home in different cultures and having a positive attitude towards the value of migration, similar to that which I have held since our years living in Saint Paul's. It was a night of fondues - cheese and chocolate, also marshmallows roasted by a log fire, which went down well with adults and kids alike. 

We asang 'Auld Lang Syne' with champagne, and pulled crackers  at midnight, and had fireworks outdoors afterwards, as did others in the valley below. Our host and his teenage sons ventured out with the temperature at minus twenty to set them off. Jasmine had playmates of her own age for the evening, but didn't make it as far as the fireworks. After a couple of toasted marshmallows, she surprised us by falling into a deep sleep, from which she couldn't be roused when we carried her to the car to drive home. The only reason I didn't fall asleep also was the great company and conversation - not conducted in competition with the TV,  as we've experienced in other homes here, but around the fondue pot on the dining table, with the Times giant Boxing Day crossword being completed by many family contributors at one end as the evening progressed.  

A New Year's Eve to recall with much pleasure.