Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Priest, pastor, pedagogue

After a few late afternoon hours in the office, I walked over to Adamsdown to St German's Church to join the three hundred strong congregation celebrating the 43rd anniversary of Father Roy Doxsey's ordination to the priesthood, with a solemn Mass, followed by retirement speeches and a presentation, bringing his fifteen year ministry in the Parish to its conclusion. Roy looks and behaves somewhat younger than his seventy years, but seventy is the compulsory retirement age for Church in Wales clerics, and that's that. He's had a home of his own in the hamlet of Bethlehem near Myddfai in Carmarthenshire for more than a quarter of a century, but he won't be retreating from Cardiff, having taken a small apartment in the neighbouring Parish of Roath, so that he can continue to play a part in the church's life and witness in the city.

He preached with great humour, telling the story of his life in ministry and witnessing to the faith that has sustained him in a moving way. He began: "I'm fighting off a chest infection today, but I'm very glad this is my farewell we're celebrating, and not my funeral." The congregation came from all periods of his life in ministry - colleagues, parishioners, community leaders - I counted half a dozen Tredegarville teachers there, from the role we shared as school Governors. Most of Roy's ministry involved him one way or another with education: school chaplaincies, warden of a Zambian ministry training scheme, and latterly school governor and pastor. Yet, he left school with no qualifications. When his vocation emerged, he was sent to study at Ystradmeurig College, near Strata Florida in the wilds of Cardiganshire, a long gone institution where aspirants were helped through a catch-up educational process to prepare them for tertiary theological study. 

The church lacks such institutions nowadays. Once they offered spiritual formation through life in a small community of prayer and study which brought out the best in students and built confidence in their ability to carry on learning at a higher level. Roy, a self confessed rebel, was among the last generation of ordination candidates to take that route. It made an admirable missionary pastor out of him, without ever quenching his challenging spirit or his sense of humour.

Preparation of this kind is now done through evening courses at F.E. colleges or seminaries. Aspirants don't have to uproot until they start a full time training course. It keeps them in the everyday world, and this can impose additional pressures on them as learners, as I have seen with a few of the part time theological students I've received on parish placement. I wonder if it gives such a substantial spiritual formation as can be gained by the close contact afforded in a residential community of prayer and study. Well, I guess I'll find out this autumn. I've accepted an invitation from Peter Sedgewick, Principal of St Mike's to explore becoming part of his team of personal tutors, working with a small group of students as they face the educational challenge of preparing for ordination today.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Tech support

I spent today getting my friend Father Graham Francis' new laptop purchase up and running. Wednesday last we met up at John Lewis', where he is store chaplain. Their summer clearance sale was about to start, and up in the top floor technology department, there were some bargains to be had. As Graham is none to sure how he will get on with a laptop after eight years of using a desktop machine now running at a snail's pace, partly because his ISP is AOL, and his broadband is supplied by a sluggish USB ADSL modem. So, he bought a decent enough entry level Compaq machine at a rock bottom price, enough for his modest office needs, and dozens of times fasted than his existing kit.

Next day, I went down to get it working for him. This turned into a nightmare because the laptop would not recognise the USB modem, and the installation disk, failed. It was probably designed for Windows 95. There was no way of getting on-line to start the process. A call to the AOL help line was helpful  in understanding the problems, and enabled us to acquire the correct user access details to hook up. I went to the office and brought back a couple of spare wireless broadband routers to try and establish a connection. Two more calls to the helpline politely concluded that the helpful staff were not trained in the technical arcana of either of these industry standard devices. In the end, Graham rang them again and expressed his dissatisfaction with not being able to get on line with his new laptop. Before he could threaten to move to another supplier, an offer was made to mail him a replacement 'proper' AOL wireless router, and award him a substantial discount on the service provided for the next year. If only we'd known that six frustrating hours earlier!

The router arrived over the weekend and today I went down a second time and succeeded in setting it up very quickly, and installing some of the programs that he could use to work on his existing data. Since he began using a computer he'd stuck with Word Perfect, and long ago lost the installation disks. There was no version he could download, but an early version of Lotus Symphony I found some time ago offers a high degree of file compatibility - albeit imperfect. Imperceivable minor changes in fonts and layout left some of his carefully crafted page files in need of tidying up to fit presentably. Once saved, the new format would not be accessible on his old machine. So much for file format interchangeability - an area in which some measure of agreement has been reached over the years between the big players.

Most users just want something that works without needing to tinker. Nobody willingly puts extra time into learning how to use a different set of software, unless it's a route to earning more. Volunteers and occasional individual users with limited skills want to put all their time into being productive, not relearning how to handle tools with which they thought they were familiar.

Thank goodness for the Free/Open Source software community, which understands this and does brilliantly in providing a means for people to get what they really need, rather than what some corporate program designer presumes they must use in the interests of profiting from built-in software redundancy.

Once I'd got Graham's laptop properly up and running, I returned to the office for a couple of hours, then rode over to St Dyfrig and St Samson's to celebrate the evening Mass, to allow Graham to go to another friend's silver jubilee Mass in Aberdare. There was a welcoming congregation of eight women, one of them an Anglican who was also a Methodist lay preacher - a pretty good turn out for a Monday evening. And I was glad to have the opportunity to remember my friend Elfed among the departed for the first time.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Home to sad news

When I woke up after the gig yesterday morning, Clare was out in the garden putting the finishing touches to the installation of a set of curtains she made for Rhiannon's Wendy house. It was a lovely surprise for her when she arrived home from an overnight sleepover at her best friend's Imogen's house. Imogen also has a Welsh granny who visits and looks after her from time to time.

I spent much of the day trying to process video material shot at last night's concert, with little success, as the computer I was using was underpowered and crashed from overheating when asked to work hard. I couldn't use my little portable, perfectly up to the task, for long as I forgot to pack the power lead. I learned hands on about the frustrations of converting video files from one format to another. It's a tricky business at the best of times, and hard to explain simply to those who can't be bothered to get to grips with the complexities of proprietary software, happy to stick with products only if they work 'out of the box', as they should do. 

To my mind there is not enough interchangeability between the formats different hardware manufacturers use. Their philosophy is: to keep customers loyal, make it as difficult as possible for them to switch and use the digital output of their video camera on another system. With the arrival of Windows 7 it's become easier to play back and edit different video formats, but for those still using Windows XP, it's just an obstacle course.

I began today with a walk to Kenilworth Parish Church for the eight o'clock Eucharist, then we breakfasted together late and hear about Kath and Anto's duo gig in Lichfield last night, for which we were enlisted as babysitters. We took a picnic lunch out to the Abbey fields and sat on the grass, where we attracted the nerve racking interest of a series of curious dogs being walked by their owners. Then it was time to drive home to permit Clare to spend the end of the afternoon helping clear up after the Steiner School summer fair, taking place in St Catherine's church nearby, while I cooked supper.

I found a message on the answering machine which led to a call to the our local USPG advisor, my old friend Chris Reaney, to learn of the death of Father Elfed Hughes. Elfed has worked for USPG in Wales before he got a headquarters job in charge of USPG's affairs in Britain. Failing investments and declining revenue has plagued USPG for the past twenty years, and led to a drastic downsizing of the organisation in order to keep as far as possible its funding commitments in the Third World. Elfed was one of those who made sure that the crisis was faced in a positive and creative way. He had recently volunteered to become redundant and was on the hunt for a new job. Before the weekend, a friend in London saw him and described him as looking well, full of life hope for the future. He was found dead, most likely from a heart attack, in his Tonyrefail home yesterday. From his days as a young priest, when I first met him, thirty years ago, I was aware he suffered from two life threatening conditions, either of which could overtake him at any time. His walk of faith was always on the tightrope between them. It's the only way to explain his exuberant adventurous faith.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Lament at Warwick Arts centre

Having missed the Tuesday Chi Gung class this week to go the induction service at St John's, I went to the Tai Chi class in Penarth's Albert Road Methodist Church yesterday evening instead. The huge church building is up for sale, and a church hall renovated and converted into an attractive multi purpose sanctuary and social centre. It's a pleasant place for our mediative learning activity, and the class was en enjoyable experience. 

I did the first section of Short Form Tai Chi, which the class is learning, from memory for the first time in months without making a fool of myself. The class did me a lot of good, and filled me with fresh energy, so much so that when I got home, I wrote up the morning's meeting minutes and still got to bed by half past twelve. I slept well and slept late, which was annoying since there were errands to be done before setting out for a weekend in Kenilworth, and we arrived there only just on time as a result. I was rather sad that this crowded morning meant I was unable to attend a St John's Day Eucharist anywhere. It leaves me feeling that my retirement lifestyle still falls short of being satisfactory.

Kath and Anto's band Lament were on stage for a gig in the studio at Warwick Arts centre, a few miles away, and with Rhiannon enjoying a sleep-over with friends, Clare and I got to watch them perform live for the first time since I retired. There was a good sized appreciative audience there, and the band performed superbly. It has developed a tremendous musical cohesion, hugely confident in its own compositions and arrangements - playing vibrant swinging latin-jazz with the tightness you'd associate with a top string quartet. I took video footage on my new camera as well as photos, and drained the fully charged batteries of this and my back up camera in the course of an hour an a half shooting. The next job will be to get the the best footage on to You Tube, for the world to see!

And indeed, here's the link!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Each in their own world

I took minutes for the monthy meeting of the CBS Radionet users group this morning, and was hardly surprised at the frustration expressed by some present at the lack of progress in dealing with occasional problems arising from evening gatherings of street people for food hand outs in Charles Street. Security staff from the stores in St David's centre are often first responders on the scene when somebody driven to nasty behaviour by drink or drugs becomes threatening or violent to members of the public or to other vulnerable people out there.  

The nightly presence of a Police officer in this vicinity nightly would make all the difference to other professionals' concern for the security and safety of others. But the Police, they said, are rarely around or available when needed. Cut-backs in policing budgets, if it leads to any change in operational priorities, show no sign of bringing improvement to this situation. It's been the same for years.

Knowing something of the fruitless efforts made to resolve the problem by the Street Carers Forum and City Centre Management at the request of the Police, I could explain what had happened. Re-location of food handouts is not yet practicable, as there is no useable space in the city centre where street people would feel safe to gather. Like every other citizen, they have a right to be in the centre, much as many would like to see them cleared out. They gather in public places because it counters the sense of isolation and insecurity. It's at their place of need that food distribution can happen most effectively. The best solution would be a small drop in venue /feeding station, run by volunteers right in the centre. But who is prepared to invest in providing such a place?

If that can't happen, a fresh initiative is needed to manage the present situation better, with neighbourhood meetings of security pros, Street Carers' Forum reps, City Centre Management, social workers and Police to identify core problems and agree remedies. I was surprised to discover that no security professional knew the social workers working the city centre. These experienced carers are often better at dealing with difficult clients behaving badly than the Police. Another case of people occupying the same social space, coping with the same problems separately but living in their own worlds, without reference to others.

The temporary re-siting of the city's main work with homeless and vulnerable people - the Huggard Centre and Tresillian House - to the old Custom House Building, close to several hotels and John Lewis store, caused uproar initially. The operation has been well managed however. There are regular meetings with the posh neighbours, and two weeks ago the Custom House team joined Radionet, and is in touch not only with neighbourhood bosses, but also workers on the ground concerned for public safety and security. A similar meeting in the Charles Street neighbourhood might prove useful.  I wonder what I can do to make sure that happens?

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A new start on Midsummer Day

I woke up early this morning and for the second day running found myself able to work on the book I am trying to write. Once I'd completed additions to a chapter that I woke up thinking about, I switched to digitising a roll of black and white negatives belonging to my sister June, taken in the 1960s. Some of the photos were taken from her office in the City of London at the time the Barbican centre was being built. Others were taken on holiday in Florence. I was pleased with the result and uploaded them to her Picasa web album site, and later received a delighted email full of reminiscences.

After lunch, it was time to put on a suit and tie and spend a late afternoon hour in the office before making my way with Ashley to St John's City Parish Church for the induction and welcome celebration of Liz Griffiths my successor as Vicar. Nearly 250 people were present including several dozen clergy, with Archbishop Barry, plus the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon and the Bishop designate of Salisbury, currently at St Martin in the Fields. Both of the latter were former incumbents under whom Liz worked. Everyone was so delighted the deputy Mayor made a brief speech of welcome on behalf of the City that she received a round of applause. This kind of positive bonding with the City 'fathers' prepares the ground for a ministry that will engage her with Local Authority members and officers from the outset. I'm glad to have had the opportunity to make the case for this in the last three years of my ministry, and now to see it have good support from church leaders.

Ashley, Clare and I sat right at the back of the nave together. It was not an occasion for me to dress up and parade with clerical colleagues. But it was a time of happy re-union with members of the congregation that I haven't seen for many months. It's like being part of an extended family. I so hope that Liz soon experiences their warmth and openness towards her ministry. It was also an occasion to feel a sense of completion of closure. It was right to retire when I did, right for the church, right for me. But I felt less right about leaving when there was no early appointment, and when I was given to understand how difficult it was finding suitable candidates to interview. Nevertheless, when the time was fulfilled, the right person appeared. 

It was so good to see how pleased Archbishop Barry was to announce the appointment of the first woman incumbent in the eight hundred year history of St John's. Yes, but not any woman priest, rather one with strong experience behind her of the kind of ministry she is about to start exercising in a full leadership role at St John's.

Inspector Tony Bishop attended the service in full dress uniform, representing the Police. His retirement begins on Friday. I'm sure he won't miss the unsocial hours, but I wonder how he will feel about no longer being in the public eye? I know I don't much miss it. But I do miss that sense of being part of a community that prays and cares for each other. Wherever I go on duty, I'm welcomed, but I'm a visitor, just passing through. I have to learn how to belong all over again, now I'm not appointed to belong anywhere in particular.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Paternal pride

We attended the Trinity Sunday Eucharist at St John's Canton this morning, then walked to the Riverside Market to shop for the week's organic veggies. We returned with a couple of kilos of organic strawberries and cooked them into jam after lunch. I walked over to the Cathedral for Evensong, and the house was fragrant with the aroma of strawberries when I returned. This inspired me to bake some bread to accompany our first tasting. Owain came around at tea time, bearing a Father's Day bottle of Rioja as a gift, which the three of us then proceeded to drink together over supper. Rachel rang me from Canada. Kath and Amanda texted me greetings. As fathers go, I consider myself to be well blessed.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Le quattro volte

We went to the shops on Cowbridge Road this morning and it started to rain, so we took refuge in Chapter Arts Centre for a cup of coffee. There we noticed an interesting Italian film 'Le Quattro Volte', and got tickets for this evening's early screening. We lunched at Oscar's on Wyndham Crescent - our first visit there since the former 'Le Gallois' was taken over by the Cowbridge restauranteur. It was an enjoyable experience, though not one we could afford to repeat too often. Food prices have certainly risen recently, and the overheads of running any restaurant, let alone starting a new one, makes any new eating place a risky venture, now that people can afford to eat out less than they used to, 

At Chapter cinema, we were surprised and delighted to find ourselves sitting in the same row as Clare's teaching colleague Jackie and her husband Russell, and Jan, Vicar of 'the Res' with Peter her husband - all of us, I suspect were attracted by the unusual nature of the film. It portrayed in a very simple way a sliver of life in a Calabrian hill village. The place initially gives the impression of being suspended in another era, fifty or sixty years ago. Attention to detail reveals that it could have been set any time in the past twenty years. It's just that the village is a poor, left behind sort of place, with a way of life and landscape little touched by the passage of time.

The film portrays the daily life of an elderly goat herding peasant who dies on Good Friday after the via crucis is enacted in the street outside his home; the birth of a kid-goat and its struggle to survive in the open  with the herd; a traditional folk ritual involving the erection of a huge felled pine tree on the village square; and a group of charcoal burners at work. The Guardian review gives a superb précis of the story.

What made it special for me was the absence of music, not that it was a silent film. The sounds were those of its natural setting - wind in trees and grass, bells attached to a herd of goats, church bells, an occasional vehicle, hubbub of people talking without their conversation being audible. The camera recorded scenes like a still photographer composing a view, whether of a landscape or an intimate close-up, but then staying with it for minutes at a time, registering all that happens from this perspective, before switching to another. No use of zooming or fading shots, just gazing contemplatively at what happens.

It was a meditative observation of the basic elements of life. Indeed, the title of the film in English - the four turns - comes from the Philosopher Pythagoras of Samos, who founded a religious sect in the southern seaport city of Crotone in Calabria 2500 years ago. He spoke of needing to know aspects of four lives within ourselves - mineral, vegetable, animal and human. This is what inspired director Michaelangelo Frammartino to create a docu-drama of great beauty, capturing a way of life that persists where wealth and power hardly reach to turn the world up-side down and disconnect its inhabitants from their environment.

The film reminded me of the Greece got to know as young island hopping backpackers in the sixties, before the advent of mass tourism and modernisation, or even the remoter agricultural parts of Haute Savoie today, still untouched by the encroachments of the ski industry. Some may regard these as 'backwards places' in the new Europe, because they seem unable to move beyond subsistence. Yet, in a way, they show how some folk are at ease with having just enough. No matter how hard their life and work may seem in our eyes, their closeness to nature makes contentment possible.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Singer of the World week

I spent lunchtime today in St John's tea room today, as the team was lacking a couple of workers. It's the first time in a couple of months that I've been germ free and available to go in and help out. In addition to helping with the washing up, I made a batch of BLT sandwiches, and cooked an appreciated vegetable soup from prepared frozen ingredients, and then served it up to customers. A great pleasure - the first time I've been let loose like that at the stove. That's how short handed they were.   

It was good to be back among friends, especially as they look forward to the induction of their new Vicar next Tuesday. Thirteen and a half months of an interregnum has been a long time for the community to hold itself together, and it's been successful in this. Everyone is now ready for the new beginning with a new pastor.

Afterwards, I went over to the office and did several hours work before returning for supper, followed by the last round of the Cardiff  'Singer of the World' competition on TV. It's been thrilling to hear and/or watch on the radio or TV this past few days - so much wonderful young talent, such marvellous musical choices made by the twenty performers. All those selected for Sunday evening's finals are so good, it's impossible to imagine how the judges can choose between them.

Clare went to a Welsh book launch last night. The family and friends of the North Walian author found that hotel rooms in the city centre were double the usual price because of the extra demand for rooms generated by the singing competition. It was disturbing to hear that the author's elderly father, booked to come for the launch had been taken into hospital, and was refused a refund, even though there would doubtless have been other potential takers. If I could find out which hotel, I'd be eager to name and shame. There's no excuse for making a family's distress that much worse. This does the city's hospitable reputation no good whatsoever.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Surprise acquisition

Yesterday morning we took a trip to the recycling centre to drop off a kid's bicycle, and then decided to stop off for lunch at M&S in the new Leckwith retail centre. Browsing the technology section, as I habitually do out of curiosity in any big store, I spotted a bargain, and bought a bargain Sony laptop on impulse. It was the last thing I expected to do when I left home, although I have been looking with interest for a potential replacement for my regular desktop machine for some time.

Setting it up was a smooth and easy process, but I ran into time consuming trouble attempting to install the Libre Office Open Source productivity suite of programs. Getting the installer to play with the in-built Windows 7 security was difficult enough, but eventual successful installation routine failed to leave me with a program that worked. No amount of on-line research last night and this morning has yielded either a solution, or another person with a similar machine and the same problem. 

The arrival of usable on-line office productivity suites like Google Docs makes this far less of an issue, but I'm left wondering why this occurred. I read and followed meticulously the 'Readme' instructions accompanying the downloaded installation file. I've been a Open Office and now a Libre Office user since the former was launched, and this is the first time I have ever experienced such an installation failure.

Apart from this, I'm glad to have piece of kit that will give me a good viewing experience when catching up on missed TV programmes on BBC iPlayer.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Worship in Spirit and in truth

I managed to wake up early enough to go to the eight o'clock at Kenilworth Parish Church this morning. When I arrived the church was open, but a notice at the entrance announced a grand Pentecost Family Service in the open space of the Abbey Fields below the church at eleven. The church was unusually quiet and empty, apart from the Vicar who greeted me. I said I'd come for the early service as I wanted to spend the rest of the morning with the family. He talked about the later event without actually stating that the eight o'clock was not taking place. "Oh you've come for Communion, sorry." he said, and invited me to stay and enjoy the silence. He seemed preoccupied with the gloomy weather, and whether to move the event indoors. True to form, by eight fifteen it started to rain.

Thank God for a good memory that still retains the old prayer book Liturgy and a church well equipped with decent modern pew Bibles. I prayed the Eucharist by heart, and read the appointed scriptures for the day, enjoying the silence. I've done the same before when visiting places where there's no church. The Vicar came and went several times during the half hour I prayed there - no doubt worrying, the way I used to if I took a risk that looked as if it wouldn't succeed. I felt sorry for him. Was he waiting for me to leave in order to lock up? I wondered. I stayed the full half hour. I'm as allergic to mornings as I ever was. Getting up for early Mass even in bright summer time is always a struggle against Brother Ass. However, even if a little disappointed, I left the church refreshed.

It's a worthy idea, to have a united public open air act of witness, but witnessing to whom? Non-churchgoing parents taking their kids to the swings or dogs for a walk? A better location would be the market place, albeit a lot harder to organise well and successfully. A non-eucharistic service is supposed to appeal to those on the edge of, or outside the church. It goes down well at Christmas with carols making a bridge to popular culture, but on a cold damp English midsummer day, how do you engage any except the most steadfast faithful people? 

There's only one service for Anglicans of Kenilworth Parish all day: 'Family Praise in the Open' (like in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost) - non Eucharistic, not in church. Nothing for passers-by like me, or those who can't fit into the main plan for the day. Why pick one of the four Sundays of the year the Book of Common Prayer designates for Communion celebration? There can be every good reason to break with tradition on times, but on some occasions, doing so makes me wonder if were not losing touch with our roots, and aren't looking at the way the world works with sufficient clarity.

I know how difficult it is to be innovative and attractive in the offer of public worship, and how strong is the desire to reach out and share the most important things about life with others outside the community of faith. In the end, the community of the Spirit grows and extends through the relationships people make with each other and with God, and every effort is made to make these meaningful and relevant. Kenilworth Parish is very good at this. An occasonal liturgical flop is survivable, and shouldn't quench creative intiative. However there is still much to be said for maintaining a default pattern of worship, no matter how taxing to ensure this may be.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The art of service

This morning, I went to Coventry by train to join Clare, looking after Rhiannon. The journey up the Severn estuary at low tide under a bright blue sky was just beautiful. It was enhanced unusually by a rather original ticket collector. He made traveller announcements over the train's loudspeaker system and in person in a hip southern American negro drawl delivering or should I say rapping his message in rhyming couplets. 

"Are your tickets fine for the Birmingham line?
Gimme a sight and I'll check if they're right."       And so on..

Whether he was American or not I don't know, but his skin was as black as his uniform. He had a big warm smile and radiated charm and good humour. He played the part of a cool yankee train conductor to perfection and passengers loved him. Some even joined in and replied to his poetic banter with rhymes and couplets of their own, and the carriage rocked with laughter from time to time. It made a change from curt if not dour actors whose passing speech is limited to "Tickets please".

This was a fun mini-theatrical experience. I wondered if Cross Country Trains were training other operatives to deliver their sevices with such originality and panache. The last such memorable experience that I could call to mind was crossing Switzerland by train, and being sold refreshments from a trolley by an guy of Indian origin whose sales patter switched continually between English French German and Italian, all in the same sentence. No doubt he could have switched into a few Asian languages as well, if needed. Excellent, confident relaxed communication from someone takng pride in doing very well what many would regard as a menial job.

People like this really do enhance the quality of life for others, simply by making them smile more often.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Severn crossing

Owain came over for a final breakfast with his sister, then she packed up and set off for her motorway rendezvous with her Aunt and Uncle. Three quarters of an hour later she rang home in a panic. Had she just driven past the service station in question? It no longer seemed to be called what Uncle Geoff called it. To hell with marketing and ownership and the name changes this imposes. To those of us (myself and Uncle Geoff included), who remember it being built and the opening of the first Severn Crossing, the place will forever be 'Aust Services', named as it was after the nearby village, from which cars were ferried across the Severn to Beachley near Chepstow during the 32 years before the Severn Bridge opened.

Fortunately I knew the route well enough to be able to give Rachel instructions that took her up to the M5 interchange, back down the M4 and then turning on to the M48 to reach the Aust turn-off, the service station, and a happy extended family re-union. "Thanks for being my personal sat-nav." she said.

When we lived in Chepstow, during my time working for USPG, Clare commuted to Bristol daily, accompanied by Rachel and Owain, who attended the Steiner School there. So that piece of motorway was familiar territory in some ways, yet it's so different being a passenger struggling to wake up on the way to school, than it is being a mum with your own child to look after in the back of the car while you navigate. Certainly no time for memories on a journey like that.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Exhaust-ing crisis

Yesterday, sister Pauline and her husband Geoff proposed to drive over to join us for lunch, in order to see Rachel and Jasmine. We waited with increasing anxiety for them all afternoon. At six we had a phone call to say that they'd lost their car exhaust on the motorway, and it had taken five hours to get it fixed. Neither of their mobile phone numbers responded to our calls, perhaps because of reception problems were they'd stopped. Also, Pauline had forgotten to take her contacts book with her - she hasn't yet mastered adding them to the phone memory. As is often the case, tech things that are child's play for the young are not so for those in their eighties. Anyway, all's well that ends well and Rachel will rendezvous with them on Monday at a mutually convenient motorway service station en route for Kenilworth.
I covered for Father Graham at St Samson's this morning, while he took a weekend off. An 8.00am said Mass and a 9.30am Solemn Mass, fifty people between the two services. Recently the church has welcomed an influx of young Indian Christians who have rented houses in the vicinity, working mostly as nurses - some may well be students. Their quiet intense devotion and warm smiles are an encouragement to this mainly ageing congregation. They seem quite at ease with the relaxed catholic pomp that characterises the liturgy. It's a rewarding experience to lead them all in prayer.

After a motorway journey yesterday, Rachel returned with our car sounding like a tractor. Thankfully it hadn't fallen off, although one bump would probably have seen it off. I had to drive delicately to church. Instead of meeting up with the family down at Riverside Market after Mass, I had to drive straight to Quikfit and replace the middle and tail-pipe sections of the exhaust, so that Rachel can drive a safe and legal borrowed car away with her when she leaves tomorrow. The service I received was, as ever in Quikfit, excellent, and so I was home for lunch in good time.

An expensive family co-incidence, don't you think?

Friday, 3 June 2011

It's a wireless world

Before the weekend, I brought back from the office an old laptop of mine which I set set up some time ago to provide me with a reference filing system for looking up things while working on my regular computer. It hasn't proved its usefulness - there are some things that would be easier to look up from a hard copy print out than having to switch keyboards and focus of a different screen temporarily screens in mid-operation. After half an hour trying to recall the combination for the security tether lock, I finally succeeded in liberating it, took it home and ran the necessary updates to the operating system. 

Not having used it much recently, I'd forgotten just how spritely this seven year old machine could be on all basic tasks, with 512k of memory, 40gb hard drive, and early Celeron 486 processor. It had become so desperately sluggish running Windows XP with anti-virus that I installed a dual booting Linux system before finally wiping XP and settling for Ubuntu with the LXDE desktop environment, tailored to run on old machines with less hardware resources. It works a treat, deploying the decent wifi card without need for more than a prompt for router i/d and password. I settled on using the Chrome internet browser, as it's quick all round, and it works unfailingly.

I get teased about my investment and interest in technology. Grandpa and his computers is a family joke, but this didn't stop Kath bringing her laptop for wi-fi troubleshooting (too many helpful wi-fi assistant programs clashing while trying to compensate for the obtuse but far from ineffective Windows XP wi-fi set up routine). I've had several goes at this on visits to Kenilworth, with no success. This time, with more free time to focus and experiment - success! What followed was a shy request from Rhiannon (sent by text from her mother's iPhone). Did Grandpa have a spare laptop for her?

Well, she's seven now and starting computer use in school. All Microsoft Windows machines, of course, so I wouldn't want her to have problems as a result of working on two different systems. But then, hopefully, she's mentally agile enough to take this in her stride. So with this in mind, I set up the Lubuntu laptop with her user name, and a password she wouldn't forget (even if she had to be reminded how to spell it). Then, we tried websites she'd been accessing on her mother's laptop - the horrid if brilliantly designed Barbie website, the Mini-bugs website (linked to homework on garden insects), and the 'Sing Up' website, designed to teach singing together to primary school kids. Chrome under Lubuntu simply delivered these with no glitches - a nice clean simple reliable interface. All that's necesssary for an easy introduction to computer use.

When they returned to Kenilworth, the laptop went with them. Today Kath emailed me a photo of Rhiannon and her friend, happily installed with her new acquisition. That laptop came into my life the year she was born, and it's still working well. You don't have to upgrade every other year if you claim the benefit of using Open Source software. Just don't expect anyone in the shops to tell you that.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Ascension Day

With an opera booking for this evening, it was necessary to keep the feast in an morning Eucharist, so I joined the two dozen faithful at St John's Canton for their 10h30 Ascension service. After lunch, I went into the office for the first time this week, since my catarrhy cold has left me less than functional over the past few days. We had an important strategic planning meeting to attend in County Hall, as well as catch-up paperwork.

As we'd booked three tickets for the evening performance of 'Cosi fan tutte', it was possible to take Rachel and our neighbour Mary to the performance, leaving Clare to take care of a Jasmine who was happy to have her grandma to herself.

The opera was arrestingly original in the setting given to the essential plot, which tells of the ultimately disastrous experiment made by two soldiers to test the fidelity of their betrothed beloved. The action was placed in a Welsh seaside resort in the 1960's. As the soldiers were portrayed disguised themselves as holiday camp Redcoats, the inference is at the town in question is Pwllheli. The rubbish bin into which the chip papers of the principals were stuffed in the first act had 'Sbriwiel' written on the side. (I wonder if they change that when they go on tour?) 

The translation of the opera from an Italian context is not so far fetched, if you think of the widespread Italian migration into Wales in the 20th century - ice cream parlours, coffee bars, restaurants set up in the wake of migrating coal miners, and the soldiers as visitors from the New Europe with its military alliances. The tale of temptation, betrayal and infidelity works in any context - just as it does in the Bible.

The singing was outstandingly good. The theatrical experiment added something special to frame the music for a contemporary Welsh, if not British audience. My companions were much taken with our discount front row seats. It's one of the best things we ever do. Well done WNO, as ever!