Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Back to College

Term started for students at St Michael's yesterday, and this afternoon was our first tutor group session. Peter Sedgwick, the Principal has invited me to continue working with him and the group, and having survived the first term without making too much of a fool of myself, I decided sharing the group with Peter might be a good opportunity for me to learn from him. It was good to see everyone again, all recovered from illnesses and injuries which seemed to plague the group at the end of last term. I'm beginning to muse on the possibility of a project to engage some students in worship and  ministry during Holy Week. This year it falls during the academic vacation, when the College is not in session, so there will be an opportunity to do some practical work in which all have the chance to shape what is offered. We'll see what happens!

After brisk walk home, a hastily scoffed supper, I was out again for a Chi Gong session - the first of the new Chinese Year of the Dragon, which began yesterday. I'm fascinated by the way some characteristics of the movement of the year's creature are fed into the approach we make to the exercises we do. Over the twelve year cycle, this leads to a continuing variety of small subtle ways in the body is being worked and stimulated internally and externally. So, even if the forms generally appear the same, there a nuances of content, so it's never dull, always challenging to stay awake to. There's no danger of the body being reduced to mechanical movement. It's truly a living art, and an art of living.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Sunday commuting

I enjoyed my early Sunday morning drive to St MaryChurch to celebrate and preach. My usual route via Llanbleddian threatened to be blocked off by road resurfacing work, so I took the narrower road running direct from Saint Hilary, and was thrilled by the view south on the descent. The hilltop village with its church and circular 'Llan' at the centre is hidden entirely by trees on the north side, so all you can see is the timeless patchwork of fields and hedgerows. Next time I must stop and photograph this lovely panorama. This time I was nervous about losing my way or encountering a hidden diversion, so I didn't stop.

Fortunately I found the road had been re-opened after all and was able to use it to drive into Cowbridge for my third Sunday service there this month - a family Eucharist, with youngsters reading, and some cheery hymns to move about to. For once I preached without a script, and managed to contain myself without dragging on for too long, and I really enjoyed the good humoured interaction I had with the congregation. Then it was back home for a family lunch, before saying goodbye to Kath and Rhiannon, returning to Kenilworth to get ready for another week of work and school.

I took an afternoon nap and then had a damp dark drive to Flemingston to celebrate and preach at an evening Eucharist. The car grumbled unusually at splashing through lots of water on the ground once on the way there and once on the way back, but thankfully it didn't let me down on the five miles or so of unlit narrow lanes I had to drive to get back on the A48 road to Cardiff at Bonvilston. I met just one car in this deserted section, and banished all thought of a breakdown and being stuck out in the countryside, trusting in vintage VW engineering and Providence at the same time, while listening to an interesting CD of Flamenco and Arabic fusion music. I was glad to get home again and relax after an enjoyable, if demanding day. Little Jasmine was still settling down to sleep, after a weekend excursion to Brighton with her Daddy to see her step-brothers. 

Saturday, 28 January 2012

In the midst of life ...

It was such a delight to return from the office yesterday evening in time to see Jasmine and her cousin Rhiannon re-united, as Kath and she came to stay the weekend. The first weekend after Rachel and Jasmine arrived from Canada, they had a marvellous time playing together, and Rhiannon wept with disappointment when Jasmine went off to spend some time with her daddy. Now the house is filled with the sounds of two highly imaginative children, playing creatively.Owain came over for supper, so our three children were re-united with us and with each other, and as the little ones were busy with each other and not too late for bed, this gave us adults quality family time for each other, something we treasure when our lives are spent for the most part in other places.

I went to St German's to say Mass in honour of St Thomas Aquinas, and learned of the death of Father Alan Jenkins last weekend, the day after my friend Peter. Alan was a few years older than I, but we were contemporaries as part of the national network of University Chaplains in the early seventies, when he was priest in charge of Saint Teilo's, which was later in my care when the Rectorial Benefice of Central Cardiff still existed. He had lived with cancer over the past couple of years, and was still exercising ministry as a local priest until last summer, doing occasional duties at St German's, until the last occasion when he had to drop out of the rota because he was no longer well enough. That was shortly after he'd been told that the treatment had not been able to stop the spread of the disease. May he rest in peace

The death and funerals of two contemporaries within the same week is an insistent reminder not to take for granted the blessing of family time together. Sadness can arrive when it's least expected.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

If it ain't broke

Rachel and Jasmine returned on Monday, and it's been delightful to wake up this week to the sound of an imaginative child playing, or to be nudged by cold feet as she climbs in for a cuddle in between Grandma and Grandpa, to continue her game, until hunger awakens the need for breakfast. Richard came around, and in between showers, put the finishing touches to the front path, which now looks splendid, and gives me pleasure.

What annoys me beyond measure is that the simple process of posting the above picture, which used to take a minute, uploading from my Desktop, has just taken me half an hour. It displayed correctly on my computer, but when uploaded, it displayed sideways, as if I had not rotated it. I tried using Picasa to upload it to this blog page, but it would only post it to a separate page. I transferred my text to this page but although upright, the photo would not centre properly, even after tinkering with the HTML code. Finally, Google + let me to acces the correctly oriented picture from the Picasa album dropbox, and to cut and paste it correctly formatted to this page of text. Simple solution, now I know for next time, but no warning that it's all a bit different. 

Google is so keen to overwhelm with new features and user interface appearance. It's always nagging you to try new things. But if you decide you're happy with what you already know and work with efficiently, you still get nagged, and slowly things that used to work stop working as well as they did. It look me long enough to get my sister June to be confident enough to use the old interfaces properly, and now she feels frustrated and helpless, because she now has to interpret what she sees (or guess), rather than just use it. Maybe this is just another old folks grumble, but if there are millions more older users (with disposable income to part with), why annoy them? If it ain't broke don't try to fix it - just make sure it runs smoother and faster. That'll do.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Death of a friend

After Mass at St German's Saturday morning, I took Clare to the station to catch a train to Coventry for an overnight Rhiannon minding session, as Kath and Anto are playing a Saturday evening gig in Litchfield. This left me with a quiet weekend to myself. So, I went into the office and put in a few hours of background preparation work to make 2012 accounts recording smoother. Better to do things like this when it's relatively quiet, than do them under pressure later on, and make it easier for someone else to deal with them if needs be. The office was  unexpectedly empty for a busy Saturday afternoon, and I had to remember the key code to unlock the door for the first time in many months. I enjoyed working in solitude and getting things done without distraction. I had intended to go out to Ely for the memorial service for Bob Morgan, but decided to go home instead and make the most of time alone.

There was a slightly cryptic message on the answering machine from our friend Gill in Geneva, promising she would ring back to speak to us later. When she did ring back, after supper, it was to announce the death of our mutual friend, Peter Slessor, former church warden, one time honorary verger at Holy Trinity Church in Geneva. Only last August we visited Peter and Andrea in Scarborough where they had returned and settled happily after several decades in Geneva. At that time he was undergoing chemotherapy for a tumor in his aesophagus, and was coping well with drastic treatment. We heard at Christmas that he'd successfully got through the radiotherapy component of the therapy, or so it seemed. Since the summer, he'd suffered badly from mouth ulcers, a side effect of the treatment so they said, but this made it harder for him to eat and drink properly. He lost weight and, was hospitalised due to dehydration, leading to kidney failure.

I got the impression when we talked back in the summer during an out-patient treatment session, that he was well aware of the risk of this 'kill or cure' treatment for a very serious condition. Yet, he took it in his stride, thankful for the full life he'd enjoyed, in a career in international business development with the United Nations World Trade Organisation, and grateful for the contentment of retirement times with Andrea, both in Geneva and back in Britain. He'd been a most loyal friend and ally when I was Chaplain of Holy Trinity. He was a man with unassuming charm concealing great pastoral awareness and sensitivity, deep faith and love of the church and its sacraments. He was also a hard drinking Scottish raconteur, who could tell jokes for hours on end without repeating himself, a polished middle class Aberdonian version of Billy Connolly, with a huge capacity for friendship. He'll be missed by many.

I was glad of the time alone to think about Peter and pray for him, and to remember him at Mass today in Cowbridge Benefice. I celebrated first at Llandough, a place settled by St Dochdwy a fifth century hermit. The present church dates from the thirteenth century and stands within the old castle precincts. The locality has acquired many more houses in the twentieth century, but still rates as a hamlet rather than a village, set above a stream running through an idyllic wooded valley. The congregation was very friendly and I was treated to a cup of tea and several Welsh cakes before driving on into Cowbridge to celebrate at Holy Cross Parish Church. I'm at Holy Cross again next Sunday for a Family Eucharist. That gives me something to look forward to and plan for.

On the way home, with only myself to make lunch for, I took time out at Culverhouse Cross retail park to do some window shopping. The shortened the afternoon idle time before visiting St German's for Evensong and Benediction, and then picking Clare up from the station. Peter's death, very much on both our minds. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Surprise gift

Richard has been laying the front path tiles this last few days, as the weather has permitted. It's finished apart from the grouting, but it's been too cold and damp to complete, so the tiles are shrouded in plastic for the next few years, until it's dry enough to be done in one pass. So, the house has gone quiet again.

Rachel and Jasmine left this morning for a weekend visit to Jasmine's other grandparents, and a couple of Aunties. After lunch I took a funeral service in Pidgeons' Chapel of Rest followed by a school rush hour crawl up to Thornhill Crematorium for the Committal. On the way back, I got chatting with my chauffeur, a man in his fifties, about Tai Chi/Chi Gung, something he took up a few years ago as a remedy for a bad back. He'd done some martial arts when he was younger, but now he is an enthusiast for the gentler art of movement. My Thursday class started again last night, as ever enjoyable, although my joined up memory for some sections of the short form is persistently poor. More practice needed I guess.

As I arrived home, Bishop David Wilbourne drew up on his bicycle and greeted me. He was out and about hand delivering to local clergy copies of a Lent Book - 'The heart's time' by Janet Morley, a gift from both Bishops, meant as a token of appreciation for our work. The book, an anthology of daily poetry readings and comments for the season is an interesting choice, and promises to be enjoyable. I was quite heartened by this unusual gesture of encouragement, and it was especially good to welcome the Bishop into our street, even if I couldn't show off our newly tiled path this time around.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Beach trip

A damp overcast day today, but this didn't stop us from taking Rachel and Jasmine down to Penarth Head to hunt for fossils and brightly coloured quartz samples on the foreshore. It was such a delight to hear her exclamations of delight at each fresh discovery. It's lovely to have a five year old about who is as interested in rocks as she is flowers, trees, birds and insects. But then she does live normally in the Columbia Valley, in the Rockies, as different as it is equally interesting a physical environment. There are now two trays of samples collected, taking up kitchen workspace. These will need to be whittled down to a small handful of treasures to avoid luggage overload on the return trip. I foresee tears ahead.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Partnership changes coming

Rachel and Jasmine arrived Monday afternoon to much rejoicing in our household. Soon the front room floor space became a playground with all sorts of imaginative games played out. A terraced house with rooms on three levels is a good place for hide 'n seek with Grandpa too.

Tuesday I went into work, principally to attend a reception at the Mansion House to honour Eric Dutton the 'father' of city centre retailing, who has been passionately involved in the transformation of Cardiff's premier shopping area for the past fifty years. He was one of the early movers and shakers behind setting up a security radio network in the city centre, decades ago, and accompanied Cardiff Business Safe at various stages of its development. At 83 he is starting to take a back seat in overseeing improvements, not that he'll ever be satisfied things are as good as they should be. Nothing but the best is good enough for his beloved City! The event began with awards by Eric to three retailers responsible for initiatives in the vicinity of their own premises to ensure high standards of care in the retail zone. Then a presentation was made to Eric with speeches from the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council. 

In conversation afterwards, I learned that the way existing Partnerships between the Council and other bodies operates is about to change, and that the present Community Safety Partnership (of which Cardiff Business Safe is supposed to be a member, not that there's ever been much evidence of this), is to be absorbed into a larger new body. No details yet. I wonder how far this is a consequence of the need for cost cutting currently causing upheavals in most Council activities. It's a matter of  'watch this space'. It may be a while before we learn what impact this change has on the work of Cardiff Business Safe, if any. 

Recently I've been writing an historical review of the past six years of our existence, and concluded that for all the noble aspirations behind its set-up, some crucial components were overlooked by all involved in the Partnership, and this has made CBS more vulnerable to the upheavals of the day than should ever have been allowed. Suffice it to say, none of the Partners would have tolerated or perhaps even survived the existence of such design flaws in their own organisations. But what's past is past. Fortunately, CBS has done more than survive despite inherited weaknesses, thanks to the determination of its volunteers to make a worthwhile contribution to the welfare of the City against the odds. I hope a constructive review of organisation and the Business Crime Partnership will result in placing us on a much sounder footing.

How good it was to re-start Chi Gung class this evening. Last week I wasn't well enough, and I wasn't sure that I was really well enough tonight. Nevertheless, I'm glad I made the effort.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

SIM update.

Rachel, on Skype from Kenilworth reported that it wasn't the UK SIM card that had bricked her iPhone, but some annoying piece of software she'd not removed correctly. This required a trip to an Apple store to get the phone restored to (locked) factory default settings, then a trip to Coventry market to get it unlocked again, once updated. Now it works properly how she wants it to, and accepts foreign SIM cards. What a lot of fuss.

Saturday morning Mass at St German's, an excursion into town for a cursory inspection of end of sale tech bargains just in case, and a quiet afternoon of sermon preparation and early evening waiting for prime time episodes three and four of 'Borgen', sustaining its interest and excitement on sheer intrigue, with no blood and guts anywhere, and some superb acting. We really should make more effort to get out on a Saturday, but when the weather is lousy and colds linger unpleasantly, it hardly seems worth while.

Today, I sang the Sunday Mass at St German's for the last time during the interregnum, from here on I'm booked each Sunday morning until April - mostly in Cowbridge Benefice, but with a couple of Sundays in Pentyrch as well. Frustratingly, Dean's induction has been deferred for yet another month. He still can't move into the Vicarage as the builders have yet to complete remedial work. There are some problems he will have to live with as there were things which can't afforded to be done for some time. At least the house is large enough to give him some choice of rooms when it comes to making a decent living space for himself. It wouldn't be like that if he had a family to provide for.

The usual congregation of a dozen was present for Evensong and Benediction tonight, plus a woman and three girls, all aged about eight, who were very well behaved and joined in nicely, saying 'Amen' loudly and clearly at the ends of prayers. I thought the woman must be a parent or carer of one or more of the children, but it seemed they had shown up at the church door at the same time as she did, and at their request she took them in to join in the service. The girls asked if they could see the organ, so I took them up the steep winding stairway to the organ loft, where Brian the organist was happy to let them explore the manual and pedal keyboard to their hearts delight, producing an amazing cacophany of sound, worthy, as someone wryly said afterwards, of one of those modern French organ composers. I hope the children felt welcomed and accepted.

I've enjoyed the past six months of doing duties at St German's, and I must say that I've felt welcomed and accepted along the way by a congregation getting used to the absence of a much loved priest and pastor. It's a pity Dean won't be fully in action in the Parish until Ash Wednesday. I know how pleased they will be to welcome him into every areas of their life together.

Friday, 13 January 2012

SIM card woes

Thank goodness I'm surfacing again, and starting to feel normal after five days with a heavy cold, leaving me quite sleepy and lethargic most of the time. After a week of dampness the sun is shining again too. Nevertheless, I got into the office for a few hours yesterday and for some lectures on St Mark's Gospel in the Cathedral Lady Chapel on Wednesday. This was part of the diocesan clergy Continuing Ministerial Education programme. Suppressing embarrassing noisy coughs was hard work and left me with an aching rib cage, but I was glad I made the effort, as I much appreciated both the content and the stimulus to fresh thinking it provided.

Rachel and Jasmine arrived yesterday morning from Canada, and went by train to Kenilworth for a weekend with Kath, Anto and Rhiannon. The two little girls are so eager to meet up again, as are the big girls! Rachel bought a UK SIM card for her phone and this has stopped it working altogether. That's how smart it is. Such punishment is meted out by phone companies and manufacturers in cahoots with each other to anyone daring to look for a less costly way of making phone calls.

Ironically, the price of a basic phone have now fallen to the extent that you can now buy one that will take many standard brands of SIM card in Tesco for only ten quid. I guess the only question is - can you use your home-side SIM card to copy the data it contains to a new phone's internal memory, and save yourself the hassle of keying in all the data again? Or will doing that nix the SIM? If you do these things only when you travel, and you don't travel every often, you're left at the mercy of 'experts' and big monopolies - which, of course, include the supermarket giants that sell cheap unlocked phones, and SIM cards at their checkouts.

Richard, our favourite carpenter and handyman has been with us this last few days, re-pointing the bay window exterior walls, and yesterday he spent preparing the ground for re-laying the path up to the front door. The path's red and black Victorian chequer pattern quarry tiles have come loose and broken as a result of much moving of heavy objects in and out of the house over the past couple of years. Richard has found the same colour and quality  tiles - commonplace in this area, so the final result will be as pleasing to see as it would have been to the first occupants 115 years ago.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Stephen Hawking at Epiphanytide

As I wafted incense into the stable scene of the three Magi presenting their gifts to the Christchild at this morning's solemn Mass, I couldn't help but think "Rentokil fumigation at your service, my Lord", but kept it to myself, and preached about the searchers for cosmic truth finding it in the vulnerable humanity of the babe in the manger. It wasn't too hard to get in a mention of Stephen Hawking on this his seventieth birthday, even if his reverence for the mathematical order disclosed in all things makes him a worshipper of creation rather than the Creator. What his precise and disciplined creative mind actually makes of many layered Gospel story telling and interpretation is hard to imagine. He doesn't do religion. And that may be good for us, in that it challenges us to ask ourselves what religion does for me.

After Mass I had a baptism to perform. This time, a four year old girl with long blond hair and a gap toothed radiant, trusting smile which reminded me of Rhiannon at her age. What joy it would give me to baptize Rhiannon, but alas, so far, no interest. It's a matter of 'watch and pray'. After lunch Andrea from circle dance and Tai Chi dropped by for a cup of tea. It's a rare pleasure to have afternoon visitors.

I nearly made myself late for Evensong and Benediction, sitting outside St German's in the car, with the poetry programme on Radio 4, listening to a wonderful Robert Frost poem called The Star Splitter, about a country smallholder who burns down his house and spends the insurance money on a high quality telescope. He gets a job as a railroad clerk so that he has time on the night shifts to indulge his passion for the heavenlies.

The poet says to his neighbour who craves a telescope of his own

What do you want with one of those blame things?"
I asked him well beforehand. "Don't you get one!"
"Don't call it blamed; there isn't anything
More blameless in the sense of being less
A weapon in our human fight," he said.

... He had been heard to say by several:
"The best thing that we're put here for's to see;
The strongest thing that's given us to see with's
A telescope. Someone in every town
Seems to me owes it to the town to keep one.
In Littleton it may as well be me."

This poem was chosen in honour of Stephen Hawking's seventieth. Apparently, he was too poorly to attend his own birthday celebration, but followed it by a web cam link. I hope he gets to hear the poem offered in his honour.

By all medical expectations Stephen Hawking should have been dead from motor neurone disease in his twenties. Remarkably, he's lived on 45 years and with the support of the best equipment modern technology can devise, not merely to keep him alive, but continuing to be creative and communicative, even though vulnerable and trapped in his body by this disease. It's not just the will to live, but the will to live creatively and contribute as one of the great mathematicians of all time which has sustained him against all odds for so long. I'm not sure how Hawking would understand the notion of God's grace, but as a believer that all life is a divine gift, I understand his amazing persistence as a manifestion of grace, and hope he doesn't mind too much.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Winter sun, Cardiff Bay

The improvement in the weather gave us an opportunity to get out in the fresh air today. We drove down to the Bay Barrage, and parked there. The tide was right out, so we took a walk around Penarth Head along the beach. The fencing and prohibitive notices have long been torn down, and dog walkers were out in force in the bright still midday air. I was under the impression that there was a plan to make a public footpath from the Barrage to Penath, but now I realise it may remain a good intention for longer than expected.

At high tide the sea comes in close to the base of a cliff composed of interesting coloured layers of soft and friable materials. There were layers of grey and green limestone containing fossilised shells, plus red sandstones the colour of a house brick but only just a bit harder than baked mud. Along the base of the cliff ran a layer of amorphous crystalline silica, as bright white in places as fresh snow. Here and there, the ancient presence of metallic minerals in the groundwater had turned nodules of silica bright pink or garish artificial looking red, unmissable among the grey pebbles. A feast for curious eyes. Even while we were walking we saw evidence of substantial land slips and heard the sounds of stones falling down the 100ft steep slopes.
Stopping cliff erosion would involve first constructing a mile of 50 foot high sea defences as far as Penarth pier, and building a platform behind them, wide enough to accommodate a walkway, with buttressing to contain cliff erosion which is going to continue with wind and rain, even if the sea doesn't get near. I'm sure a team or Swiss or Italian engineers would take such a thing in their stride, but it would be very costly to pay for. More than can be afforded in a time of recession even if it is the kind of government public works project that could provide employment for hundreds.

We lingered on the Barrage enjoying a panini lunch, at the little snack bar, which makes good use of a once optimistically erected bus shelter to house a few tables out of the wind. We watched boats come and go through the sea lock, and wandered around Penarth Marina, hoping for a better glimpse of a fishing cormorant. Once filled with sunshine and fresh air, we set off to visit the tea shop in Waterloo Gardens over in Roath. It was so full there was a queue for a seat, so Clare bought herself a speciality tea and a piece of beetroot and chocolate cake to take home instead. 

With sermon prepared, tea and supper behind us, it was soon time for 'Borgen' the latest Danish drama series to grace BBC4's output and raise the ratings respectably, I guess. It's a re detailed yet fast paced account of coalition politics, and how key players cope with circumstances in which big changes happen quickly under the influence of several disconnected events. A must-watch for the next month of Saturdays.  I wonder if Clegg and Cameron are watching, and how long it'll be before the series is joked about in Parliament (Cardiff or Westminster).

Friday, 6 January 2012

Busy Epiphany

Back in the office after the holiday break, straight into preparation for issuing the first batch of 2012-13 subscription invoices. The initial data check revealed a couple of dozen subscribers are overdue, and that means issuing them with warning reminders to try and collec the backlog before sending out the new one. Even  so, by the end of Friday afternoon a hundred invoices had been done, some mailed out, others waiting for cross checks to be done. No matter how good you think your working dataset is, there are always errors to be tracked down, because the information going into it changes in some small way quite frequently. It's anything but foolproof, but for the most part it serves our purposes for the time being.

This afternoon we had a useful meeting with our equipment suppliers' technical team, to iron out problems and start thinking about what network developments might be feasible and affordable as even better new technologies come into the market. It's part of our long term plan to extend services down the Bay, up into Cathays and along Cowbridge Road, but we can't promote this to potential users until we can be certain that we can offer the quality of service they expect. Radio reception, like mobile phone reception, might generally be good in an area, but certain kinds of buildings create reception backspots. Indoors is always trickier than outdoors, as we know to our annoyance at home - and our house is in line of sight to the BT relay mast in the city centre a mile away, if you go up to the attic bedroom.

Useful though the meeting was, it put my production schedule behind, and it was gone seven by the time I left the office, rather disappointed with myself that I'd been unable to make it to Mass today. Never mind, I''ll be celebrating at St German's tomorrow and on Sunday morning when the day of the Three Kings will be kept with rather more incense than gold or myrrh.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Job done

There was more work to complete this morning before I could leave with a measure of job satisfaction. Anto's new office machine had to be made fully ready for use with all the extra necessary software. The data transfer was easy, apart from the migration of emails and contact details to Windows Live from XP. We'd have been OK if we'd simply transferred the Outlook Express files while we still had them, but we got misled by an article which persuades us of necessity of converting them to Outlook files. Outlook 2000 on the XP machine works fine, but Outlook when installed on Windows 7 works but will not read in old archive files, so correcting that is a job to be done next time. 

Windows Live once set up worked fine, but would only import 6800 client email contact details piecemeal from an Outlook Express exported CSV file, possibly because of the many inconsistencies harboured by the data set in Outlook Express over many years. This took three hours, no that I was bothered, as the rain was pleting down outside making the very thought of driving home uncongenial. By the time I left, almost all the migration tasks had been completed, and Anto was left with his brand new machine and an XP legacy machine fit for office use - except for one thing. His expensive specialised CD printer doesn't work in Windows 7, and no remedy for this could be found on the web. What will the suppliers have to say about this I wonder? Names of maker and supplier are withheld, pending feedback on their performance.
My drive home to the west and south through Borsetshire (BBC Archers' version of Worcestershire) into a setting sun with the sky clearing of clouds, was a delightful experience, accompanied as it was by Vladmir Askenazy's version of Rachmaninov's 3rd and 4th piano concertos on the car stero. Winter music, just perfect for a beautiful English wintry landscape. I hadn't expected the job to require two nights away, but when it required much machine minding to make progress, it was necessary simply to accept that it takes what it takes to get done, and enjoy a satisfactory outcome, eventually.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Computers - the hard grind

Some years ago, after a scary computer moment, I persuaded Anto to buy a PC and set it up for office use as a backup machine he could switch to if ever needed. Last year he bought a hard drive to back up his data, so re-instating the office using a backup machine should have been a doddle. But unfortunately it wasn't. A standby system needs to be run regularly to be kept up to date, and that hadn't been done for a year or so - it was still running Firefox 2 point something, so old that it's auto-updating was looking for stuff on extinct web servers. It only took a few minutes to download Firefox 9, and AdBlock Plus, but there was also the need to install a new anti-virus program, and it took a lot longer to wait it installed scores of Windows updates, including XP Service Pack Three. 

It all worked without a hitch, but machine minding was time consuming and hindered other tasks required to re-instate a full working system - like updating system remembered passwords and new web oriented file transfer facilities which didn't exist when this machine was last put to sleep, but are now relied on daily. The worst task was getting a special commercial grade CD printer to function properly, prior to custom printing the first batch order of 2012. It chose year end to run out of ink, and fitting a new ink roll was a two person job. All this was required to enable a normal return to work after the New Year Bank Holiday. 

We called a halt to our unfinished business after twelve hours of work, and watched a DVD of the Swedish version of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' until after midnight. Not a good idea. It was not only complex but disturbing. It was a product placement tour de force on the part of Apple Mac, co-starring with the punk girl genius hacker leading character. If she could so easily penetrate the defences of others' Mac computers, extract confidential data and even control others' PCs remotely, isn't this an indictment of the so called 'inherent' security of Mac operating systems? Or else it's a statement of how complacent Mac users can be about security, because they're sold on the Apple marketing hype, and are less than vigilant about what they need to do to secure their machines.

Wet New Year

I celebrated the last Mass of 2011 at St German's this morning, and apart from that spent a quiet day at home doing nothing much. To see the New Year in, we lit the candles on our little tree for the second time this Christmastide with the curtains open to the street, although there seemed to be few people around, given the lousy weather. It was too wet to walk out into Llandaff Fields for the fireworks display. Mary, our neighbour from across the street came over and joined us for a drink to see in the New Year with us. Then it was time for bed, as I needed to be fresh for my one Sunday service of New Year's Day.

We drove to Cowbridge, to the ancient church of Holy Cross in the town centre, where I'd been invited to celebrate the Eucharist and preach for the one service in the Benefice that day, drawing together over sixty people from its eight churches - each of them once a Parish Church in its own right, and each with their own Vicar until half a century ago. The last time I was in Holy Cross church was for Fr Graham Francis' first Mass celebration forty years ago. Much has changed in the years since then.

My prevailing recollection of Holy Cross is of a very grey church, well kept, and sober in appearance, and of a nave crammed with box pews. Graham wanted to celebrate using a nave altar, and there was little room in which to set up a temporary Lord's Table, but somehow we managed. It was probably the first time since the reformation that a nave altar or incense had been used in the church, let alone eucharistic vestments word, Cowbridge Parish being rather low church with a hint of freemasonry about it. This was about as far as 'fresh expressions of church' went in 1971, as far as we were concerned.

Walking into the church this morning was a pleasant surprise. The box pews have been cleared from the front half of the nave, but are retained in the back half and the south aisle. The open area is red carpeted and contains removable chairs. During Advent and Christmastide the whole church is decorated with dozens of Christmas trees, each created by a local voluntary organisation to celebrate its identity and contribution to local public life. This added decoration is a superb festive enhancement, once you get over the idea there's something odd about having more than one Christmas tree on display. It conveyed an impression of warmth and hospitality matched by the welcome we received from worshippers. I much enjoyed leading worship there.
After the service we met with the Curate, Fr David Boult, who is at the moment while Fr Derek Belcher is on sick leave, the only full time cleric serving the communities Benefice. With duties at St German's coming to an end this month, a lot more of my attention will be given to supporting them, especially in Lent and Holy Week. This'll be quite a different challenge for me, as I've done relatively little work in a rural context over the years, where pastoral activity is naturally more dispersed and in small groups.

We lunched at the Loch Fyne restaurant in between Cowbridge and St Hilary on the way home, then I collected an overnight bag and my computer bag of tricks and drove in the rain to Kenilworth to work on migrating Anto's office system to new equipment, a task that proved less than routine, as his main computer had been dying of exhaustion for some time. The simple task of backing up volumes of data to an external drive became increasingly harder. A hint of effort caused it to overheat and cut out. Would it be possible to accomplish the task or were we already in disaster zone? It was half past one when I crawled into bed, still wondering.