Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Law & Order

This morning was my third trip out to Pontyclun to give a Lenten address on the Exodus story. I was only just punctual, having left it a little later to depart than usual. Also it was raining. I was delighted to see very little diminishment in the congregation that gathered to listen. I shared thoughts with them about the divine gift of law, how the very survival of the Exodus people in the wilderness depended on them being bonded together by their social order and a moral code that enabled them to live with their differences and manage disputes, to accompany their acquisition of desert survival skills. Then it was home for lunch, before heading into the office for a few hours, in among the enforcers of order when it comes to parking around the city.  

The regulations are meant to help de-congest the roads leading in and out of town, and prevent vehicle users from parking stupidly and dangerously. So many drivers act as if they were the only people needing to stop wherever they will, believing firmly in their right to do so, or to be an exception to the norm. I'm not sure how traffic wardens cope as well as they do with the angry abusers and barrack room lawyers, try to persuade them to tear up tickets issued or threatening something nasty if they don't.

How many ways can someone say at the end of such conversations 'See you in court', and not be understood?

Monday, 28 March 2011

Anglo-Caribbean Obsequies

I took a funeral service this morning of a woman who died suddenly in mid-life at 'the Res' Parish Church in Ely, for a family originating from the Caribbean Island of St Kitts. Making the arrangements was a little more complex than usual. The woman's mother, who'd sent her children to 'the Res' to Sunday School more than thirty years ago, was herself a Seventh Day Adventist, and she wanted both the former and present Pastors of the Cardiff church to be involved in the service.

The funeral arranger rang last week to say that the names of the Pastors given were 'not on the list' and could I provide contact details. None had been given to me, and I was somewhat bemused by this lack of local information as the funeral directors in question were located 250 yards away from the Adventist Church, just around the corner. Anyway, once this fact had been drawn to their attention it wasn't long before I had a call from Pastor Jeremy Trameer, and we were emailing each other to agree details of an order of service that would bring three of us together to share in this celebration.

Last week's funeral notice in the Echo on first publication erroneously declared that mourners might wear something colourful. This was corrected on second publication, and only a handful found themselves caught out - not that it mattered. West Indian mourning custom prescribes black garb, but says nothing about what kind of garb, so the sad event becomes a life affirming display of style and variety of dress for both woman and men - hugely dignified. People arrived from London and the Midlands as well as from overseas, and all parts of Cardiff and South Wales. The church was packed, and dozens were standing outside. They were about 500 there altogether, around three quarters of them West Indians, with a range of Caribbean and Anglo Caribbean accents between them. It must be 35 years since I last did a West Indian funeral, and it brought back positive memories of my years of ministry in St Paul's Bristol.
I enjoyed meeting with Pastor Trameer and his predecessor Pastor Moore, and watching them meeting and greeting members of their community with admirable warmth. Pastor Trameer is British, slightly built, with the kind of 'european' face you might see in a renaissance lithograph. Pastor Moore is a tall black man with braided hair and an accent more West Midlands than West Indian. Together the three of us were a fair representation of the diversity of people in Christian ministry. I hope the mourners saw it that way.

The funeral concluded with cremation at Thornhill, and after farewells, and thank-yous I was taken back home for lunch, before going into the office for a few hours, still pondering on my time as a parish priest, and all that I had received from being a pastor in a anglo-caribbean community, as rich in kindness as it was poor in environment and material goods.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Summer time arrives

We looked after Rhiannon again this weekend up in Kenilworth, as Kath and Anto had the last gig of their rural tour series on Saturday night. The last episode of the Danish detective serial 'The Killing' was on TV, and fortunately Rhiannon was in bed by the time it started. It's been a compelling watch over the past ten weeks, going into great detail about a murder investigation and its impact on lives of people who knew the victim, plus the political fall-out in the run-up to local elections. The course of the story was never really predictable, although the culprit when finally exposed was someone right within the intimate family circle, and that was something I speculated about from early on. 

Apparently the BBC has bought a second series, due to be screened in the autumn, with taciturn, observant  Detective Sara Lund invesigating yet again. With rare exceptions, she wore the same thick woolly jumper throughout the twenty days portrayed in the story. Will the jumper star again in series two? Which retailer has the euro merchandising rights I wonder?

The clocks went forward an hour overnight. As I wanted to go to the 8.00am Eucharist at Kenilworth Parish Church, it took me a while to figure out how to set the alarm function on my phone, as the time elapsing between setting it and activation included the hour's advance. I needn't have bothered, as I was awake and de-activated it well before it was due to go off. I love the quiet early walk to St Nicholas' church, down the back lane, then up the hill along a tall tree lined path to the churchyard. The blossom is out and the birds rehearsing their spring calls - and the quiet congregation smile a welcome, and look as if they are pleased to be there, even if it is with an hour's less sleep.

Afterwards, we all enjoyed mid-morning brunch together. Then we dug out a section of lawn turf in the back garden to make a space for laying slabs on which to erect a Wendy House for Rhiannon. It was an interesting exercise in collaboration between four adults, all of whom are used to being in charge in their own fields of work - "All primadonnas" as Anto bluntly put it. Somehow we got there without quarrelling or sulking, although I don't know what the green waste collectors will think of a wheelie bin stuffed with clumps of grass. By the time we were back home, Kath had sent us an iPhone picture of the pavement in place, laid by the two of them after our departure. Next weekend, their test will be erecting the Wendy House without grief and tribulation.  Good luck to them!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

It does you good

After working in the office this afternoon, I took the bus to Penarth to join the Tai Chi class there, held in Westbourne school. I'd returned too late to attend this weeks Tuesday class, and didn't want to miss out. Christie our teacher was away for the evening, and the class was run instead by one of her more experienced students, so I got to do some Chi Gung, and to practice some of the early moves from the Short Form Tai Chi sequence, which did me good. Best of all, I didn't have to wait long for buses to arrive on time, and to return home half an hour earlier than expected. It's all in the timing. Evenings, bus frequency is much lower, so there can be no hanging around when the class is over.

Hopefully, I'll do more Tai Chi as this year progresses, and eventually get back to where I'd reached when unfitness forced me to stop attending classes. The learning approach is different now. Much more care and attention to detail, more work to be done on physically absorbing every element of Chi Gung training for engaging in Tai Chi. It's like learning everything about words in a sentence before being let loose on assembing them into meaningful speech. You learn a lot more about yourself in the process, and I still notice a real benefit in health and well-being, and the ability to live with the unavoidable aches and pains of ageing.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Monastic re-union

We arrived in Sherbourne at tea time and checked in to a comfortable room Mike booked at the Britannia Inn, just two minutes walk from Sherbourne Abbey. It's a beautiful well kept small town with many old houses, such that it seems to belong to an earlier era between the wars in the twentieth century, a bit like the villages which are the setting for the TV series Midsomer Murders. It still has a railway station and so the area is within commuter range of London and Southampton - an expensive place to live, or visit for that matter.

We dined on bar snacks, having lunched well earlier in Wells, and then drank a bottle of wine together in our room and talked until we were ready to sleep. Although our room overlooked a minor road through the town, it was very quiet and our sleep undisturbed.

Before departure, we feasted on a full English breakfast, and then a visit to the Abbey, another beautiful fan vaulted mediaeval building in golden hued stone. This place is the spiritual home of the Dorsetshire Regiment  and the history of several centuries of their campaigns was written in the memorial tablets to fallen soldiers on the walls. I may have visited here once as a young church crawling adult, but my abiding memory is visiting here with my parents in my early teens during a South Coast holiday. It was perhaps the first time I heard a boys choir rehearsing Bach's 'Jesu joy of man's desiring'. It haunted me with an unfamiliar sense of awe and wonder for a long time afterwards. I remember that more than anything else about the place.

We drove through quiet country lanes lined with leafless hedges and adorned with daffodils to arrive at Hilfield Friary. I had forgotten how remote it was. Indeed, I had forgotten a great deal about the Friary itself. It took me quite a while to recall this place where I had spent a momentous week at the age of nineteen, confronting the mystery of Christ's passion head on in the rites and ceremonies and preaching of Holy Week, Franciscan style. I guess my attention then was so inwardly focussed that I paid little attention to my environment or drew much from it. 

In those days, a much larger community of brothers cared for elderly and infirm single men, and was still visited by itinerant homeless people, although fewer and fewer came as the Welfare State extended its embrace to the neglected casualties of war and economic turbulence. Membership  of the English Franciscan province is much smaller these days than provinces in other parts of the world. Hospice style work is now no more than a memory shared by elders of the community wondering who will look after them in their final years, as the community itself now seems less able to fulfil this function amongst its members, and less interested in continuing this tradition.

Brother Raymond Christian was there to meet us, and we were allowed to take him into Cerne Abbas and have lunch while we talked together of our lives' journeys over the thrity years since our last visit together. Cerne is a beautful rural village with a fine Parish Church and many ancient houses. We saw a thatcher and his apprentice at work, repairing the roof of the Royal Oak Inn, where we ate. Older buildings have their outer walls surfaced with a mix of red brick and golden hued limestone courses, occasionally with wooden beams, plus mortar surfaces into which knapped flint pebbles are neatly set. A real feast for the eyes.

A Benedictine Abbey was founded in Cerne at the end of the tenth century, hence the name of the village. The monastic church disappeared after the reformation but many of the attached buildings of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries survived as a nobleman's dwelling. The present owner encourages visitors to look around the exterior of the house and grounds. We met him in the yard and he greeted Raymond with warm familiarity, not because he knew him personally but because he knows the Friary well as a local landowner and appreciates his unusual neighbours. He clearly loves his home with its thousand year historical record of ownership, from pre-reformation Abbots to a handful of gentry families over five centuries since then. 

He pointed out to us the courses of knapped flint visible in the facade of the buildings. "The older the building" he said, "The neater the arrangement, size and fit of the flint pebbles used." An indication of the excellence and precision of mediaeval craftsmen compared with their Victorian descendents with so many more implements available to them. "What artisan monks and lay brothers had in abundance that successors did not have", he observed, "was time to achieve their best." To make something really well can be its own kind of art form.

After lunch, we took Brother Raymond Christian back to Hilfield, said our goodbyes and headed North towards Bristol. The plan was to drop me off at a railway station so that I could take a train back to Cardiff and my six thrity Chi Gung class. However, we misjudged the journey time, and the congestion around Bath and the Bristol outer ring road put paid to any idea of punctual arrival. The six fifteen shuttle from Filton Parkway to Cardiff was so crowded with people, plus three cyclists in our carriage, that the conductor was unable to walk through and collect fares. I got off at Newport found the conductor and obtained my single ticket standing in the small guard's compartment, just before arrival in Cardiff Central. A number 61 bus was waiting and I was home in time for the Archers and supper.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Stopover at Wells Cathedral

This morning, I took the 9.45 National Express coach to Chepstow to rendezvous with my old friend from Bristol University days Mike Wilson, to drive from there together down to the Francican Friary at Hilfield, near Cerne Abbas for a re-union with Brother Raymond Christian SSF, a mutual friend for the past 46 years. Holy Week in 1964 I spent in retreat at Hilfield Friary, with a fellow Bristol student Frank Dall. That was where Brother Raymond Christian and I met and became friends. Later he'd visited Bristol for dental treatment, stayed with us and got to know Mike as well. Raymond and I last met up in Cardiff three years ago, when he was staying with Fr Tristram Hughes, but the last time Mike, he and I were together was when Raymond made his life profession at Hilfield thirty years ago. It's amazing how time whizzes by.

Mike and I arranged to travel down from Chepstow together and stay in Sherbourne overnight before meeting up with Raymond on Tuesday morning, so we took advantage of an unhurried journey to visit Wells Cathedral on the way. I think this may have been my first visit there since 1966, when Clare and I spent another Holy Week there as guests of the theological college, and attended all the services of Holy Week in the Cathedral itself. The detail of that week I hardly remember. We went to church a lot, and heard devotional addresses and sermons each day, but their content is beyond recall. What has lasted is the sense of occasion, the atmosphere, the silences, the exaltation, the fellowship, and the sense being immersed in the mystery of Christ's presence. Since those far off days, observance of Holy Week has always been for me the most special part of the Christian year. I owe my priestly vocation to mission and evangelism to it, and the renewal of my faith in God in many a difficult time.

Wells Cathedral is not as vast as many are of its kind, but is beautifully proportioned in such a way as to convey a kind of intimacy within a large sacred space. The warmth of the stone and the colour of its glass contribute. In recent years a sympathetically designed visitor centre entrance area has been added, and there are some new modern furnishings that reflect changes that have taken place in liturgical usage over the past half century. It's rare to find a Cathedral or a large city church these days which doesn't have a votive candle stand, or for that matter sacred paintings and sculpture, even though these are the kind of things which the reformation targeted as popish abominations. Anglicanism has evolved in a way that has enabled it to reclaim the value of these things in encouraging the piety of the faithful. 

One innovation stands out in my mind, however, and that is the introduction of Byzantine style icons. Wells has quite large icons of Christ, Mary and St Andrew its patron saint. It also has icons of the fourteen stations of the cross painted Byzantine style, although devotion to the way of the Cross wasn't an original Byzantine form of prayer outside of pilgrimages to Jerusalem. My journey of faith has been influenced by Orthodoxy since I first met it, forty eight years ago. It was rare in those days, even in High Anglican churches to see an Eastern icon displayed. Now it's commonplace in churches of all kinds, largely due to the influence of Taizé, but also because young people like me growing up in the post war world discovered this ancient Christian ethos whose mystical approach provided an element of counter culture in the face of the historic Protestant and Catholic confrontation that preceded ecumenical dialogue and partnership.
I am happy to think that faithful people will find these icons a way to engage in prayer an mediation. It does depend on how well teaching about them is integrated into the process of catechism - icons are so much more than beautiful pictures from another age, seemingly closer to eternity than we seem to be. It was lovely to observe a large party of school children being accompanied on a tour by their teachers and by the Cathedral's education officer, giving them a taste of the experience to be found in a living sacred place. The liklehood is that they were from a church school, and that the content of the visit will be followed up in the classroom. But what of their parents, I wondered. Will they be sufficiently educated to re-inforce the learning of the day, particular its devotional and spiritual content? Several generations of parents have emerged,  raising children, that missed out altogether on Sunday School, not to mention Religious Education in day school. How much needs to be sustained to turn back the tide of spiritual ignorance today.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Spring weekend

Clare spent yesterday at a jewellery workshop down the Bay. I went into town for a wander around the shops. Ashely phoned me with a query, and I was near enough to the office to pop in and interrogate the records there rather than wait until I returned home. The place was deserted, but I had my pass keys to get in to the deserted building. The only trouble was, I could not remember the key pad code to the locked office door. Having tried all the combinations I could think of, I felt a real fool standing there waiting for Ashley to call me back with the number. Fortunately it was only a few minutes. I should write these things down somewhere in a secret place I guess. There are so many passswords and codes to memorise today, and it's hardly a fun game, but more like a trip hazard where you least need one to be.

In the evening we watched the penultimate pair of episodes of the Danish detective TV film 'The Killing'. Despite being so long drawn out, it has certainly maintained its suspense and kept us speculating about what happens next. I imagine there'll be even more surprising twists in the final episodes next week. The portrayal of detective work Danish style is interesting enough, but the portrayal of the impact of a murder on the victim's family, and on many others connected to her is remarkable, in addition to the political plot weaving its own dark thread of iniquity throughout.

I had a return visit to Tongwynlais Parish this morning to celebrate and preach at St Michael's and St James' Taff's Well. It was a lovely sunny morning, with even more Spring flowers and blossom to brighten the spirits. I preached about Abraham uprooting himself from Harran and becoming a nomad in Canaan in his later life, and was pleased this evoked a positive response from several elderly members of both congregations. 

As the sun is now setting that much later, Clare and I went for a walk right around Llandaff Fields and Bute Park at the very end of the afternoon, to enjoy the sea of daffodils, and little pools of hyacinths and primroses here and there. It was closing time when we'd reached the southern perimeter wall of the Castle grounds, a little too early really, given the lighter evenings, as evidenced by the number of people still cycling and walking through the park. Next Sunday the clocks go forward, so I imagine there'll be a change of closing schedule thereafter.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Lenten fare

I went to St Paul's Pontyclun this morning to deliver the first in a series of five Lenten addresses at their midweek Eucharist. The journey out along the road from Llandaff through Miskin was most enjoyable, with spring blossom in the trees and daffodils along the grass verges. The weather was fine, and got me off to a good start.

I had an attentive congregation of over two dozen, plus Grace Karamura the Vicar, who celebrated. I decided when first asked in November last to do a series on the biblical Exodus stories. I started work on them when I returned from Canada in January, and the whole came together quite quickly after two months of mulling over. 

Each address needs some attention beforehand, but this gets me interested in the material once more, so that the experience of preaching them is enjoyable. I was delighted to discover that the Parish bible study group has only just completed a study of the Joseph saga, and will be continuing with Exodus during Lent. The group leaders were enthusiastic about this prospect, and that makes it all the more a challenge to do well.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Vale locum

We went to the Parish Eucharist at St John's Canton this morning. Fr Martin Colton announced at the end of the service that he and Chris had become grandparents this week, which generated a nice round of applause and smiles all round. We then walked under a blue sky to the outdoor market to get our organic veggies for the week. The footpath along the Pontcanna side bank of the Taff is flanked by tens of thousands of daffodils of several varieties, such a delight to behold, and well worth a photograph.

Yesterday I had a call from Fr Derek Belcher, Team Rector of the Cowbridge Benefice with its twelve historic churches, to ask if I could stand in for him at an evening Eucharist at St Michael's Flemingston, a small village overlooking from the north side RAF St Athan air station in the Vale of Glamorgan. I set out in good time to arrive for six thirty. However, the first five minutes of my journey became twenty five, as the back streets taking me to the westbound A48 were to my surprise congested by traffic returning from parks or shopping in town. A48 traffic was flowing normally all the way to Cowbridge, so I had no further problems and arrived on time. The only annoying thing was that there wasn't enough  time to walk around the churchyard and take a few photos of the beautiful little 14th century church in its immaculate setting, with manor house next door, bathed in evening sunlight. If I'm asked again I shall be sure to leave even earlier.

There was a congregation of eight in a church so small that each pew held just three people, in all there was enough room to seat around fifty. In the floor of the vestry is the charming effigy of a noble lady wearing a wimple and a long gown, Joan Le Fleming, one of the 13th century Norman settlers who made their home here after the Conquest. So sad to see a notice in the church porch stating that it is kept closed outside of services to prevent vandalism. Maintaining such historical cultural treasures with so few people available or interested is one of the most difficult issues for the contemporary church to deal with, when is is short of support as well as short staffed. Will things change I wonder? 

I was impressed last night with a programme presented by Melvyn Bragg on the King James Bible making a vigorous case for its importance not only to religion and literature, but to politics and science, questioning the accepted assertion that politics and science are children of the secular Enlightenment, by making a case for the overarching influence of biblical language on all intellectual discourse, in addition to everyday vernacular. I tend to think of Bragg as an informed skeptic rather than a man of faith, but he is quite forthcoming about the indebtedness we all share to the translators of scripture into English. It was good to see Astronomer Royal Prof Martin Rees, interviewed and lending a degree of support to Bragg's case. Programmes like this can help quietly challenge the arrogance of modern despisers of religion and hopefully nurture a re-valuation of the contribution Christian faith can make to everyone's lives today.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Greg Tricker on Christ

Clare and I went by train to Gloucester today, to view the art exhibition by our friend Greg Tricker, which will be there in the Cathedral for the next two months.
Sixty six works, stained glass, sculptures and paintings. Some of them have appeared in previous exhibitions, but over half are new, focussing on Christ. The setting is perfect as his creative inspiration is taken from the Gospels and the life of the Saints. His work reminds me of Chagall and Roualt, yet his style is unique, distinctive, evoking the numinous in its beauty and simplicity.

I took photos of exhibits which were new to me. Here's a slideshow of them.

I think of Greg as a contemporary icon painter. Even though he doesn't paint in the Byzantine style of traditional 'iconografeia', his paintings work in the same way. The subjects, more often than not are gazing to the beyond, rather than towards the on-looker, but the gaze, and the subtle emotions expressed in the subjects eyes take you with them somewhere else. The paintings are mostly simple and seem to be lacking in much detail, yet when you consider the detail added, whether in use of colour or figures, everything has a relationship to the theme, and to the story represented. So these are images capable of being used in teaching about Christian faith in much the same way as the original icons were.

Greg had invited us to the preview of the exhibition last Friday, but we were unable to go. We were just delighted to find him there in the nave, chatting about his work with other visitors. He said that he's been coming as regularly as he can this week and will do in future, as he enjoy discovering what people think of his work and discussing it with them. He's a gentle self effacing man who empties himself into his work, and is as a result without egotism. He's just delighted when anyone says something that reveals they have made their own inner connection with one of his works. It's not about him, but about the creativity that happens through him. Such a breath of life in today's self-dominated world.

Things seem to be getting worse in Japan with crises hitting two nuclear reactors as a result of Friday's earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese have have built resilience into the framework of their society as well as their buildings because their land is prone to earthquakes. So they should be able to cope with the crisis. They are very rich and will have to invest in reconstruction, rather than making money elswhere out of their savings. This may make waves of a different kind on the international economic scene. However an even bigger setback could be lurking in this nuclear emergency as it unfolds.

Quite apart from the dangers of radiation etc,  if they lose the output of a couple of reactors for several years, that's around 20% of the capacity of their energy infrastructure, which they rely on to keep society and the economy running. Even more if further faults are found in other reactors. Do they have a fall back plan? If citizens lose confidence in the nuclear option, and demand alternatives on a massive scale, the cost of that plus reactor decommissioning could be colossal. I imagine this whole exercise will push them a few rungs down from the top of the global economic ladder. China is currently cash rich, and in a position to invest or give economic support for a speedier recovery, but given the history of enmity between China and Japan, that seems like a recipe for strife. There could be global repercussions which make cleaning up the mess and reconstructing homes look easy in comparison.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Disconcerting co-incidence

A trip to London and back yesterday to see my sister June. I decided to take a book to read, rather than a magazine or newspaper. I took a paperback from my shelf which has been there, waiting for me to get around to reading it for the past dozen years - Thomas Friedman's account of life as a journalist reporting on Middle East affairs between 1979 and 1987, first in Lebanon during the civil war then in Israel afterwards called 'From Beirut to Jerusalem'. On the front cover it cites a reviewer who says "If you're only going to read one book on the Middle East, this is it."

The only other book I read about the Middle East was a history of Arab Christianity back 1997, when I visited Syria. The rest of my knowledge and interest is based on my brief travels in Jordan, my ten week sabbatical in Jerusalem, plus decades of following BBC news of the region on air and on the Web, plus Ma'an News and Al-Jazeera Web coverage. As I've been following the Libyan conflict closely of late, I wondered if this book had in any way stood the test of time.

I found it immensely readable, full of insight still relevant today, and I got through half of its five hundred pages in travelling to and from London. His narrative stops in 1987, yet a great deal of Friedman's analysis and commentary stands the test of time. Since it was published in 1990, he has produced four other major works (see here) - on globalisation, on the impact of  9/11,  on the internet revolution, and arguing the need for a green revolution in response to climate change. I guess I'll have to read all of them to gain more of his perspective on the Israeli/Palestinian situation, as there's no follow up to his first book yet. He's become one of America's wisest and balanced commentators of the modern world. I have some catching up to do!

Fortunately I enjoyed the quickest scheduled bus journeys both directions with no traffic delays. In the day's mail was a DVD from the Environment Agency, telling us what to do in the event of flooding. Cardiff's flood defences are much improved since the last big inundation in the 1980s, and there's the barrage as well, but given the huge rainfalls we now get, and the remote possibility that the barrage floodgates could not be opened, there could be trouble, so it's sensible to be informed and ready just in case. When I checked the on-line news this morning there were first reports and pictures of the Japanese tsunami wreaking havoc on a scale hardly imagined. It was disconcerting co-incidence.

South Wales took a hit from a tidal wave on the same scale in 1604, yet the Coalition Government has just shelved plans to build a Severn barrage, which would not only economically uplift South Wales and the West of England, but also provide a high level of front line resistance to another tsunami. Damage to the economies of regions on both sides of the Severn Estuary would far exceed building costs that would be recoverable from the energy generated over the next half century. Peter Hain recently expressed the conviction that private investment could be raised to cover the costs of building a barrage. It will be very interesting to see who else puts their hands up in his support in the light of the colossal tragedy which is undoubtedly about to unfold.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Lent begins

Yesterday morning I took Clare to an appointment for an osteopathy treatement in the Beechwood area on the far side of Newport from here. The traffic wasn't too bad so we were punctual. Conditions are slowly improving along the M4 around Newport, with an end to the extended road works in sight at last. While I waited, I walked up the hill to Beechwood Park - somewhere I didn't even know existed until Kay, our osteopath recommended a visit.

There's a Victorian mansion astride a hill top overlooking a  park down the steep valley with fine trees dropping away to the south side overlooking the city. On the hilltop behind the mansion there are various sports and leisure facvilties. All is well maintained by the Newport Borough Council. The mansion appears to be used as a conference centre, and there are several small business 'incubator' units in the outhouses, plus a cafe, which wasn't open by the time I arrived. As the weather was crisp and fine, I did half an hour's Chi Gung in a secluded corrner after my walk around, an excellent start to the day. I worked in the office all afternoon, then headed over to St Mary's Church Hall in Poncanna for a Chi Gung class before going home to enjoy pancakes with Clare.

Today I took both the Ash Wednesday services at 'the Res'. This must be the first year I can recall in decades when I haven't had to provide and prepare Ashes for the penitential rite of the day, often at the last minute. In places where I've worked it's been something left for the Vicar to arrange. But, with Jan on sick leave, everyone responsible for keeping 'the Res' running makes sure everything is sorted for visiting clerics. A pleasant change. There were eighteen of us at both services, a different eighteen, I should add. I was pleased to see people departing full of good cheer. If I can, I like to encourage people to see Lent in a positive light, always remembering that God's graciousness and compassion always outshines our weakness and failure.

Sunday, 6 March 2011


Yesterday we took Auntie Daphne to the National Botanical Garden for an outing, as the weather was reasonable. As she can't walk far, Clare booked a wheelchair for taking her around. It was waiting for us when we arrived and we made good use of it.

Wheelchair access is pretty good throughout the public domain, and there was a shuttle linking the main entrance and restaurant . The challenge for both Clare and I was pushing it. She had less problems than I did as the height of the pushing handles was just right for her, but after a while I found it quite a strain on the back because it was too low for me. Now here's a problem I'd never even thought of before. The usability of wheelchairs from the carer's standpoint, as well as the user.

Giving disabled people full access to everything society has to offer is quite a challenge to designers and architects, and much more complex than anyone can have imagined before we started rising to it. It's worth the hassle though. Everyone benefits all round from elegant user friendly solutions.

We went to the Cathedral Sung Eucharist this morning. It's just as well that there is level access from the east end of the building, when the main west end approach is down a steep hill. It's a very special setting, rivalled only by St David's in Pembrokeshire, but I think Llandaff has less accessability issues, perhaps thanks to its post-war makeover in Glyn Simon's days as Dean, when I was a boy.

Friday, 4 March 2011

A grandpa's life

Wednesday, I celebrated the midweek Eucharist at 'the Res' in honour of St David. Thursday I was at St John's Canton celebrating their midweek Eucharist. Again we honoured St David our patron saint. And why not? It's a moment in the year everyone in Wales has memories of, and wants to enjoy for whatever reason.

Afterwards, I took the train to Coventry, where Kath collected me for an overnight babysitting session with Rhiannon, as their band 'Lament' had an evening gig. Together we collected Rhiannon from school, then they left for the gig. I helped Rhiannon with her homework, and taught her a little about magnetism before making supper. She seemed pleased to have me looking after her for a change. After supper we watched a video of 'The Jungle Book', and she snuggled up beside me, and watched intently. Having joined the Cubs when I was rising ten, the characters of the story were familiar to me, so I was able to talk about them with her - very much part of my childhood too.

Kath took me back to Coventry station to start my journey home after breakfast and the walk to school first thing. By half past two I was back in the office, updating records of the past couple of days for a couple of hours. But, with opera on the menu for tonight, I was home by teatime, ready to take Clare and Auntie Daphne to the Millennium Centre for Verdi's 'Il Travatore'.

The production was drab and minimalist, but the singing was superb, particularly the female leads. We had seats in the front row overlooking the orchestra pit. It's not perfectly comfortable for viewing both stage and sur-title screen, but it's certainly a place where it's easy to stay fully awake, with so much to see, so close.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Dydd Gwyl Dewi

I was delighted to receive an invitation to attend the annual service for the Mayors of Wales, held at St John's once more. Last year, I was organising it. This year, sitting at the back with the church wardens. What a pleasure!  It was all beautifully done. Stuart Lisk led the service as he had done on previous occasions, Monseigeur Bob Reardon read the Gospel and Archdeacon Peggy Jackson gave the blessing at the end. Stephen Wigley, Wales' top Methodist leader preached worthily of the occasion. My good friend Roy Thomas read a lesson in Welsh too. It was lovely to see several other members of the congregation too, tucked away among the congregation. It was a very ecumencial occasion, as well it should be, in celebration of our citizenship. However, I was not alone in being disappointed that the singing of both national anthems was omitted from the proceedings, just after the service and before the recession of dignitaries. 

I learned later there had been a row about this at a late stage in the City Council - not just the rather gauche excision of the anthems from the service sheet, (in spurious deference to the Archbishop's opinion about national anthems in church services - elevated in populist imagination to the level of an ecclesiastical ruling) but a dispute about whether only the Welsh anthem, or both or none should be sung during the evening banquet at City Hall. The decision was taken to sing none, and that meant some Council members boycotted the event. This does nothing to enhance the citizenry's confidence in their elected members. The authority of our community leaders is weakened when they squabble so childishly. 

Most people put up with, or actually sing the anthems as an expression of solidarity and shared identity. We are both British and Welsh at the same time. Simple respect for self and others should mean at least tolerating the singing of our anthems, whether you agree with their dubious lyrics or not, because they are part of the story of our togetherness in good and bad times, and represent good will towards each other and respect for the state of which we are citizens. There, that's got that off my chest.

After the service there was a reception with refreshments in St David's Hall, at which several clerical colleagues were also guests, much to my delight. Then we descended to an enclosure next to a temporary band stand on Hayes Island, to watch the arrival of the St David's Day parade and listen to the folk music, from a Welsh group, and from Breton visitors with bagpipes, and shawms, plus a dozen superb dancers in traditional costume - ah we should have more events like this with more folk groups from across the Principality. Anyway, there was more to come. Wonderbrass, Cardiff's superb jazz ensemble finally took the stage for another rousing musical session. At this point Clare arrived, having walked with the procession from City Hall, and my phone rang. It was my financial advisor reminding me of a home rendezvous for which I was now late. So I had to dash back and miss the rest of the festivity. Between us, we took some photographs. You can find them here

The day was crowned with a recorded broadcast of Max Boyce's recent 'Live at Treorchy' concert, replaying a famous recorded gig he did in the Parc & Dare Hall in 1971. And to think, we had to turn down tickets for this live recording, because we were booked to be in Kenilworth for Rhiannon's birthday. Glad we didn't miss it. We take our patron saint's day celebrations seriously, but it has to  include some self-depreciating humour to do justice to the occasion.