Thursday, 31 January 2013

A busy Church day

It was my turn to celebrate the Eucharist in College this morning. Because of the pressure on students to pray, eat breakfast and get to nine o'clock lectures on time, there's always an anxiety about the service running on too long. Sometimes it does because student led intercessions go on too long, or because no attention is given in preparation to the length of the set readings. There's the feeling that it's better to drop a reading rather than look carefully at the texts to see where they focus on the essential message, and how it's possible to prune without losing value. But that requires critical examination and reflection and the daily timetable is too crowded for this to be an easy natural thing to do. More's the pity. Anyway, today's choice from the weekday lectionary, plus the simplest unhurried liturgy and plenty of silence only took 25 minutes, which shouldn't stress anyone out.

After breakfast I spent time with a student who had things to talk through, then went down to Canton St John's, to take a Mothers' Union corporate Communion for a dozen older women and one loyal husband. By way of contrast, the liturgy was 1984 Prayer Book. Given the occasion, I improvised a homily reflecting on the St Luke's  Gospel passage used about the call of the disciples. Forty relaxed minutes with a congregation that wasn't in a rush to go anywhere. I sat with them and drank tea, then popped home for an early lunch before going out again.

Before visiting the office to catch up with a number of matters needing attention, I had an engagement at St John the Baptist City Parish Church, my beloved former Parish, to conduct a memorial service for the late Nancy Jordan, a member of the congregation for half a century. She died while I was in Sicily and her funeral took place in Abergavenny during the bad weather earlier in the month. Few were able to attend and were in any case sad that it wasn't at St John's, where she was a faithful regular until just a few weeks before her death in her mid-nineties. Everyone who could, of the regular congregation, turned out for the service, accounting for two dozen people a third of whom were the choir. 

Amazingly, nearly a hundred others were there as well, which is a remarkable turnout for a nongenarian. As well as family members, there were friends across the generations present, a tribute to her links with her alma mater, Cardiff University and its Graduate Association, also Aberdare Hall in all of which she'd played leading roles for half her life. She was one of that superb generation of women who flourished during World War Two, contributing to the transformation of society in the second half of the twentieth century. I'm so glad to have known some of them over the years, here in Cardiff and back in Geneva.

I hung around chatting to church members for much too long after the service. As a result my time in the office was too short, and I had to dash home to eat and then drive Clare to Dinas Powis before my Tai Chi class. It's not often I feel quite so tired in Tai Chi, having expended a lot of 'liturgical' energy during the day, but by the time we'd finished, I was fairly well restored to normal, ready for bed, and another earlier rise for a trip to London.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Tech anxiety management

Three days in a row I manage to arrive early for Morning Prayer in College, but I still need more sleep to compensate for it. Another day of rain, commuting between St Mike's an CBS office. I enjoy the contrast between the two environments and the things I have to deal with in both. The Principal's laptop started to give him grief this morning, and he was convinced it had died, and was about to send it off to Staples to be repaired. I asked if he's back up his data, and he hadn't, so I volunteered to try and access it using my treasured Linux on a USB stick to de-cant the vital stuff. Fortunately I had a empty spare 8GB drive and crossing my fingers that it would suffice, set about the task following the evening's Methodist Covenant service in chapel. It's one of my favourite liturgical celebrations for its unique prayer content.

When I switched on his laptop I was greeted by the usual error reporting black and white page that gives the option of running a repair or starting normally. Often the fault report related to an imperfect or an interrupted shutdown, that has left a few files open that should be shut. Windows 7 is quite tolerant of such small faults and repairs them on the fly as it boots up and re-opens your choice of programs, so it's the first thing to try rather than run a repair job which takes hours to complete a faultfinding scan before showing you any options. It's a pain, because it tricks you into thinking the machine is dead, rather than working scrupulously. The user interface could do with improvement to help tech anxiety management.

It booted up normally. I ran a virus update and check scan, then decanted five gigs of data to the empty stick. USB sticks are slow after using a portable hard drive, it took forty minutes and I was late arriving home for supper with one of the new Steiner teachers as a guest. Next mind, it was satisfying to have avoided a data disaster.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

New lease of life

Rosemary Alldis, former College tutor, but still a Chaplain, when she's not teaching courses to clergy out in Indonesia, addressed us at Morning Prayer today, enthusing about the work she's been involved in, and will be returning to next week, stimulating a more creative approach to reading and preaching from scripture. It's a programme devised by the late John Stott, himself a great biblical preacher, and it's now become popular in churches all over the world. Like me, Rosemary is a retired priest, and she's full of energy and delight in doing what she's asked to do. What's the secret? Freedom, pure and simple, being able to respond to a need, to a request without feeling that one has an obligation to try and do everything. 

The delivery of a License to a priest to serve in a Parish or special area of ministry is a solemn commission that defines the scope and limitations of your work. Even though this is expressed in broad terms, it imparts a sense of duty and responsibility. It's wonderful to feel entrusted with the mission, but it can feel burdensome when duty means having to do things you think beyond your ability or capacity. By the time you reach retirement age, you have some idea of what you do best and what you'll be relieved to let go of. And you can choose how much or little you do. Thanks to improved health and fitness, it's meant a new lease of life for me - and evidently for Rosemary too.

We had a long first tutor group meeting of the term after breakfast, which I chaired. There was a lot to get through and we finished just as lunch was due to start. I hope there won't be so much to work on next time we meet in a fortnight. I worked in my office all afternoon until it was time for tutor group meeting. 'Becca and Rachel had been on hospital placements, and both written excellent reflections on this, so we discussed this experience, and while we talked, we worked together stuffing chocolate cream eggs into little knitted chicks and bagging them with gift stickers - part of a fund raising effort for Velindre hospital, which 'Becca brought with her back from placement.

The, home for a quick supper and walk to Chi Gung class in the rain. I didn't want to take the car and risk losing my car parking space in the street. It's become harder to park in the vicinity recently. A few more new cars, larger cars often badly parked, reduce the number of spaces available, so this discourages frequent casual car use. Not a bad thing really.

Monday, 28 January 2013

College under scrutiny

College re-started today with Morning Prayer at a quarter to eight. In my locum capacity as acting Dean of Residential Training, I must be there with other staff members at morning and evening services, Monday to Thursday, and that means rising at seven to be there before time. That was fine in Sicily, when seven was first light, a natural time to wake up, but here and now with Cardiff's grim cloud cover most days, it's a struggle. I'll get used to it, once I've adjusted to an earlier bed time. I often work late and do my best thinking at night, when there are fewer distractions, but the change will do me good, I hope.

It was good to catch up with more returning students and hear news of who's been placed in which Parish for their first Curacy, and who's still waiting to hear. Each diocese does things differently, as resources, needs and circumstances surrounding openings for new ministries vary considerably, and it's all made more difficult by shrinkage in serving clergy numbers, funding limitations, and availability of suitable candidates. 

The College will be subject to a review of its work, plans and programmes in the next couple of months, a consequence of the recent Church in Wales Review, with its recommendations for radical re-configuration of ministry to parishes through the creation of teams covering large population areas with many more churches in them than existing Rectorial Benefices and rural incumbencies. It's good to be looking at whether courses offered are serving and can serve the changing purposes of the Church. 

The first step will be the writing of a Vision statement of ministerial by two of the Bishops to guide and inspire the review. Co-incidentally, when I returned home after breakfast, BBC Radio 4's 'Start the Week' programme featuring several professional writers from different backgrounds was discussing George Orwell's essay 'Politics and the English Language', and his assertion that sloppiness of language reveals sloppiness of thought. Discussion wasn't limited to the quality political writing, and was insightful about the how the use of jargon and trendy phrases can permit someone to use a lot of words to say very little of any value. I wish the Bishops would listen to the programme repeat (here on iPlayer) before getting to work. Best practice, as applied to political writing applies to spiritual writing also. Above all, the Vision statement must inspire, as well as guide or nothing much will come out of the College review.
I hope the review process will include St Mike's graduates now working in Parishes. We see them during the year as they come for in-service training. Their feedback on the usefulness of academic learning and the community learning experience of College life will be of great critical value. 

In the afternoon, I spent a couple of hours at the CBS office then returned to College for the first Family Service of the term. One of the students, an ex-primary school head teacher did a lovely Maths Magic presentation with a spiritual message for the children present. He had them, and the adults in the palm of his hand for ten minutes. In a couple of weeks from now four children, all from the same family, will be baptized. A special occasion for all of us.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Holocaust Sunday

It was good to be driving up the A470 again with the rising sun behind me to celebrate the Eucharist at Abercanaid first thing this morning. In Radio Four's Sunday worship slot, Morning Prayer was being broadcasted from Cardiff. Immediately I recognised the voice of Canon Peter Collins the Administrator of the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral, and later Archbishop George Stack whom I heard preaching at Llandaff Cathedral Evensong last Sunday. I was especially grateful because I'd got up too late to say Matins before I left. 

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, and this was the theme appropriately running through the service. Beautiful use was made of 'the Met' choir, singing Psalms and Canticles with Anglican as well as Gregorian content. The Archbishop spoke with simplicity and clarity, quoting Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the late Dean of Westminster Abbey Michael Mayne and Dietrich Boenhoffer in a brief address. Christian testimony these days is both ecumenical and interfaith in its scope, no matter what denomination the preacher is.

Abercanaid was snow free when I got there and the congregation pleased to be back to normal, out and about again. The sun shone as I drove home. I picked up Clare from St Catherine's after the Eucharist there and we went to Riverside Market, where a chilly wind blew uncomfortably, so we didn't hang around for long. After lunch we takled with Claudine in Burma, Rachel in Arizona, Amanda in Bristol. Yesterday we heard from a delighted Kath that she'd got the funding to take on tour performances from the parent and children dance project she's been working on for the past six months.

Owain came around for tea. He told us how his techno tracks are gradually being taken up for internet broadcast and gaining appreciation. He's put spare time to good use this past year, and it compensates somewhat for being stuck in a dead end job unable to make it back into his career employment option. After dark, thunder and hail in copious quantities surprised us. Owain sensibly took a taxi home, leaving us to get ready for the week ahead.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

New school open day

Today Cardiff Steiner Initiative held their first Open Day at their new base in the former Hawthorns Primary School in Llandaff North. The place is still being prepared to welcome children after half term, and by then only half of work of renovation and adaptation will be complete. Nevertheless, substantial progress has been made, and the main hall and three classrooms are ready for use. I went with Clare to have a look around and greet people there I knew. While I was there, a steady stream of well wishers and parents turned up to take an interest or inquire about schooling for their offspring. Most gratifying.

Clare stayed there until the event finished, but I returned home as I had more work to do, reviewing the notes from yesterday's meeting over the phone with Ashley, writing a sermon for tomorrow, and then starting on another document for College. Just as well there was plenty to keep me indoors as the afternoon and evening weather was bad, featuring hail and thunder. Still, darkness falls a little later each day now, more perceptible than at the turn of the year, even if there's cloud from horizon to horizon.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Santes Dwynwen

The first meeting of the new CBS RadioNet steering group was this morning, convened by the city manager, not unreasonably impatient to get on with set-up business even though we still await the appointment of representatives from retail users. There were half a dozen of us, and after a wobbly beginning - we'd not been informed until the last minute that the start time had been deferred an hour - and it was a little difficult to get clarity about lines of responsibility on some issues.
Ashley and I have the longest continuous memory of how CBS was designed to run. Unfortunately the original intentions have been poorly pursued because the stakeholders who should have taken careful interest from the outset didn't, and the exercise of keeping CBS firmly tied to its mission and ensuring its viability was simply left to CBS volunteers to get on with.

After five years of poor support, all sorts of people are starting to take an interest who don't have sufficient background or understanding of our highly regulated framework. Assumptions are made which aren't always accurate, so getting clarity of communication at the outset is essential to avoid grief later on.
Anyway, after a few awkward moments, the meeting outcome was positive. We will be meeting on a monthly basis for the rest of the year. That'll keep us nicely on our toes.

If I'd known about the morning meeting delay in advance I could have organised myself better. I missed an opportunity to attend Mass for the Conversion of St Paul, and that was a disappointment, as he remains one of my top ten Saints.

After working in the office through lunchtime, I went home to work on a document to circulate to students on the whys and wherefores of creating their personal portfolio, then went up to College at the end of the afternoon on an errand before Clare and I went out for supper at Stefano's restaurant around the corner. It was a special fund-raising evening to raise money for a  de-fibrillator, featuring a quartet of Welsh National Opera singers performing popular romantic arias. It was, in the old Celtic calendar Dydd Santes Dwynwen, the Welsh counterpart of St Valentine, both belonging more in folklore than in history, unlike St Paul. 

The food was good and the singing delightful. It was most enjoyable conclusion to a dark chilly wet, yet nevertheless busy winter day.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Lucky escape

I trekked through snow and slush to St Mikes this morning. The place was buzzing with an in-service session for clergy today, also several Bishops and others were in for a ministry review session. Deployment of ordinands and filling key diocesan posts are both difficult and complex affairs now that resources and personnel for full time ministry are under increasing constraint. The pressures of church decline are a cause of anxiety for many in responsibility. It can't be easy to stay serene and confident, let alone in touch with signs of hope wherever these are to be found. Thankfully, this College is a place where there are signs of hope in  people, staff and students, both realistic and eager to address the challenges facing them

I'd like to think that in the long run there'll be a re-valuation of the role of non-stipendiary clerics, that the same training for mission and ministry applies to those supporting themselves in secular employment as in paid posts. People today are used not just to changing jobs, but also training to acquire new appropriate skills, possibly several times in working life. Adjustments need to be made to permit clerics to move back of forth between secular employment and the role of full time parish incumbent. In the realm of housing, pay and conditions this is a considerable challenge to supporting agencies at diocesan and provincial level. It's also a challenge to the individual man or woman also, shifting focus from one working culture to another. It seems to me it's one of the best ways the church can respond to the call to mission in this ultra mobile era.

I was pleased to receive from one of my tutorial group students a lengthy account of her vacation placement observing the work of hospital chaplains. It was a good read, well observed, material to reflect on and work with in coming months. Term starts Monday next.

In the afternoon I spent a couple of hours in the CBS office adding data that I couldn't import into a new Sage accounts package which will look after our finances in the years to come. It's a boring but necessary task, but it'll at least oblige me to review the accuracy of our entire data set. There's a huge amount to learn, as the way of working is more structured and also focussed differently from the somewhat ramshackle information system I put together. I just hope the new system will make it possible us all to work effectively on company business.

Finally, late in the evening I caught up with my sister June, triumphant at having succeeded in stopping her bank card before any payment for duff software could be extracted from it. he'd started to suspect she was begin scammed just before I rang, so my call propelled her into immediate positive action. Her survival of this potential misfortune may well be due to the payment collectors being based in the USA. It would take them time to process the details and transmit internationally, and for once, because of prompt action, time was on her side. I had a peek at her email account and there was evidence of a security breach, so the password had to be changed. Her machine will remain switched off until I can go up to London and go over it thoroughly to find out if anything was done to her machine by stealth. Meanwhile she is ringing around telling all her friends, and warning them against self styled IT expert con-men.

I'm not publishing the name of the fraudulent sales company on-line, just in case their scouts are on the lookout for negative mentions in the media, and decide to retaliate. But if anyone wants to know, just get in touch with me.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Beware scammers about

Hmmm, more snowy weather than expected. It was funny looking at Cardiff weather websites predicting light rain, and watching snow flurries out of the window. The temperature must be just hovering around zero. It's slushy wet walking everywhere, but that's preferable to car hassles.

My sister June sent me an email as I was going out, which immediately set of alarm bells telling me that someone calling themselves an IT expert had called to warn her of a dangerous virus on her computer (which wasn't even switched on at the time). I rang immediately to warn her of a scam, but her phone was occupied for the next three hours, but which time, it was too late. I found out from the scamware database within seconds of enquiry the reputation of the company. She'd been sold software she didn't need for a non-existent problem (she runs up do date anti-virus software at my insistence). If only she'd phoned me instead of emailing. For once I was glad of the early warning of trouble from a message notification on my Blackberry. Figuring out what sort of damage has been done by this kind of fraudulent cold calling is going to take a little time. It worries me.

I went up to College lunchtime for a couple of brief meetings, and then took the bus (thankfully they're running OK) into town to tackle a small technical request to provide voice traffic data for police evidence purposes from our RadioNet database. The system is pretty solid now and we're all learning how to work it. Occasionally, procedures have to be run a couple of times to ensure we get exactly what we need, but practice makes perfect.

Because of the snow, the evening's Chi Gung class wasn't as full as usual, but I was very glad it was still running, having walked to St Mary's Hall in the snow. It was just what I needed at the end of a stressful day.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Encouraging city centre news

I've been to the CBS office today, and been into College twice. I meant to do some work this morning, but ended up chatting with a couple of students who were revising two thousand years worth of church history for an up-coming exam, and then joining in the revision Q&A. It was great fun. Once could make a nice College parlour game out of it. Ecclesiastical Trivial Pursuits?

In discussing yesterday's Cathedral visit and sermon by Archbishop George Stack with Peter the Principal, I learned something historical that cast yesterday's event into an altogether different light. It seems that the last Bishop of Llandaff before the Reformation break with Rome was the Confessor and Spiritual Director of Queen Catherine of Aragon, whose divorce from Henry VIII was the issue around which the King nationalised the British church. To know this is to understand that Archbishop George preaching in this particular Cathedral pulpit is a pilgrim for reconciliation, not just a high officer of the church engaging in ecumenical diplomacy.

I also learned today that the Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral has actually purchased Ebeneser Congregational church opposite in Charles Street, as part of its long term development plans. I'd heard gossip about this before last summer but assumed it was speculation. Apparently the initiative was encouraged by Archbishop George, as is use of the old church Sunday School building by Council and Local Health Board for an emergency medical triage centre to deal with casualties of night economy over indulgence on weekends. 

The church undercroft hall and kitchens are to be used by the street care teams for a feeding station, again with the active support of the new Archbishop. This is amazing good news for city centre voluntary workers, and very much to the credit of the local Catholic community - not to mention an answer to the prayers of many over several years past.

Ecumenism in contention

As it's the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it was no surprise that one of Wales' leading ecumenical ambassadors of the past forty years, Revd Noel Davies, was preaching at the Cathedral Eucharist yesterday morning. Former General Secretary of CYTUN, now in retirement, he's  pastor of Ebenezer Newydd Welsh Congregational Church in Swansea. He was in good form, although I must admit, I've heard him preach that sermon before. But then, it's not really surprising. There's only so much you can say about mission and ecumenism that hasn't already been said.

In the Cathedral notice sheet there was reminder that Mgr George Stack, Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff was preaching at Evensong, so I proposed to make an effort to return to the Cathedral, but I dozed off after lunch and lost ten minutes, so I arrived during the singing of the Psalm, slipped into the nave feeling a little guilty, and sat next to another retired cleric, more punctual than me. I'm glad I made it. He preached a thoughtful sermon about the value of ecumenism and witness, touching upon the contentious and thorny issue of presumed consent in relation to organ donation for transplants, under debate in Wales at the moment. 

He takes the same line as Archbishop Barry about the risk presumed consent poses to a Christian understanding of human dignity and responsibility. He was emphatic about the need for freedom and generosity in the charitable exercise of consent. This is different from compulsion in response to need. It won't be properly understood, that's certain. Both Archbishops will continue to come in for negative criticism from transplant advocates, although they share concern with them for health and quality of life for all who suffer.

There's a profound problem in failing to understand that church leaders are guided by perceptions of the entire world in all its complexity. Their position is far less immediate in perspective than the urgency felt by campaigners giving their utmost to respond to the crises of  life threatening illness sufferers the best way they can.

It's possible for those addressing 'big picture' issues to ignore what's in their faces. But, it's equally possible for those responding the crisis before them to fail to see or fail to be concerned about unforeseen consequences of their actions affecting the wider world. We see this all the time in politics and economics. In this special issue of medical ethics, both politics and economics, not to mention global interdependency and social justice come into play. We need more open dialogue than we're getting on what life is all about.

Quality and value mean different things to different kinds of people it seems, and depend on whether you're one of the haves or a have-not, wherever you live.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Was it a dog whistle?

No need to get up early today, so a nice quiet slow start, with plenty of time to say Morning Prayer before walking across Llandaff fields through snow and slightly frozen mud to attend the eleven o'clock Sung Eucharist at the Cathedral. 

As I was walking along I had a disconcerting experience. I heard what I thought was the alarm signal 'peep' on my watch. I looked at my wrist. No watch. And anyway I detest the sound and it only ever gets switched in by accident. I knew I'd left both my working phones behind, but patted myself down anyway, but the 'peep' sound was irregular. Tinnitus maybe? No, wrong pitch. Then, on the near horizon, I spotted a father and son with a small dog racing up and down. The boy put his hand to his mouth and I heard the 'peep' again. He was blowing a whistle.

I was given to understand a long time ago that a dog whistle sound is outside human auditory range. This was such a tiny noise that it could easily get lost, except perhaps in a relatively quiet open Sunday morning space. On the other hand, that tiny 'peep' sound is one we've got very used to noticing in all sorts of settings over the past thirty years of digital watches and microwave ovens. Maybe it wasn't a real dog whistle. I mention this because sometimes I wonder if my hearing is deterioriating. However, it could be my concentration on what others say is in decline. Or again, it could be a plague of sloppy speech making sentences harder to decipher. Or combination of all these things. Anyway, my ears can't be as bad as I feared.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Barrage in mind

Yesterday, despite snow leading to a late start as some early public transport services were absent, by mid-morning, many buses and trains were running. Owain went to London and back for a job interview, and buses enabled me to get to and from work without difficulty, perhaps because there were far fewer cars than usual. There was little snow locally overnight, and this encouraged Clare to set off for Kenilworth by train to look after Rhiannon while Kath and Anto spend time in a recording studio. 

Mid-morning, I had a phone call from a churchwarden up in Abercanaid to say it had been decided to cancel tomorrow morning's Eucharist.  The village is still snowed in, so even if the A470 main road proved useable, the last mile would be impossible, and the congregation reluctant to risk venturing out to church. So now I have a sermon written and nowhere to preach it.

Finally I got around to archiving properly all the photos I took in Spain and Sicily. Nearly a thousand in the three months I spent on the Costa Azaha and over twelve hundred and fifty over five weeks spent in  Taormina. Many of the latter are repeats of the same scene, over fifty of Mount Etna in different weather conditions for example, attempts to get the best out of very variable conditions of lighting and contrast at different times of day. I didn't move around much, the way I did in Spain, but that gave an opportunity to spend more time looking at the place in depth, following events over an afternoon or days, photographing people in addition to streets and landscapes as I usually do. The photos can be viewed on-line here 

When I'd finished this little labour of love, I went into town for a look around the shops, and bumped into my friend Roy Thomas in the Grand Arcade. When I sent him birthday greetings from Sicily he replied to me whilst travelling in South Africa. It was great to catch up over coffee, and learn of his involvement in the new campaign to develop a new Severn Barrage project.

I was greatly disappointed when this was project ditched from government's plans, being convinced that it has much to offer, long term, not only in clean and sustainable energy, but also to offer a measure of protection against the complex and largely unforeseen risks emerging as global sea levels rise due to climate change. Sure, there'll be an ecological impact from such a huge engineering project, but global warming is already doing far worse. Compensatory conservation measures are vital to barrage design, but with so many contributory environmental factors changing at the same time, it would be mad to view conservation as a policy of 'no change' preservation, when it needs to be one of sustainable dynamic adaptation to unforeseen unavoidable changes which we may only be able to mitigate.

Friday, 18 January 2013

File hunting

We woke up this morning to the sound of children's delighted voices acclaiming fresh snow, as parents looked on and wondered if they'd be able to get to work. Only two cars left the street all day, which was a relief to me, as I was able to re-park my car within sight of the house. Last night when I got back from my Tai Chi class in Penarth the street was full and I had to hunt for a space in our vehicle congested area.

Bloom Street, next to our to the north had been emptied of cars for over past three days for re-surfacing work, and this meant displaced vehicles adding to competition for space locally. We're about to have imposed on us street parking regulations that will require us to buy a parking permit. Already there are more cars than houses, and fewer available street parking spaces to make possible the issue of one permit per house. 

Buying a permit, won't guarantee a space when needed, only the right to ring Civil Parking Enforcement to complain and get them to send a traffic warden around to give a ticket to an offending car. If only the Council would put more imagination and effort into public transport network improvements that would make it easy for people renounce car ownership altogether.

Yesterday morning I went to the monthly RadioNet Users Group meeting. Unusually, it wasn't held in a conference room around a table, but in a stylish cocktail bar furnished with a couple of sofas and stools for perching on. It felt rather strange. During the meeting someone mentioned that the Users blog link on previous minutes published didn't work. If fact, I'd noticed this the day before and re-printed extra minutes with the corrected link. 

When I looked at the blog site, I found that I hadn't updated it since I created it fifteen months ago, despite having minutes of all meetings and other publications to post there for convenience of users. This led me to inspect the CBS office blog as well, and found that it too needed updating. It's routine stuff I'd simply forgotten to do. I had plenty of free time when I was in Spain and Sicily, and could have done it remotely, but it never occurred to me. So, the time was overdue to get on with the job, as the omission has now been noticed!

I went up to College for lunch followed by a meeting with a student, then started on the task in hand. Most of the material I had to hand and posted quickly, but just a few key files proved really elusive. They were files I'd worked on mid November last, so why they were missing was a puzzle. When I returned from Tai Chi, I made an effort to track down the information, which simply wasn't where it should have been in any of the copies of the office file-system I use, either on hard drive or in the Cloud, so I had to work my way through various email accounts I use, looking for copies attached to messages, and that was where my search paid off.  

Then I remembered the last time I'd used the missing articles, they were on paper! I'd even scanned and sent them digitally, but forgotten to put them in the right place with suitable names for easy finding in the file system. It's isn't all that often I get caught out like that, but when I do, I pay for it in lost sleep, that's for sure.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Recession accounting

I'm getting back into routine now, with visits to College in the morning to check on student comings and goings, and then have lunch and chat to people on this week's external course - an introduction to chaplaincy studies. Then I head to town and the CBS office in the afternoon to deal with whatever I can help sort out, and ease the administor's work load. December bank statements needed checking over and data entered in our records. On Monday evening, after a time wasting battle to deal with an obscure MS Outlook error message preventing download of office emails, I ended up taking work home with me, rather than stay any later. It's ages since I've done that, but end of year stuff needs dealing with sooner rather than later. 

Often CBS gets payments with scant information to say what invoices they refer to, and this requires detective work. Many payments are made in arrears following chase up efforts over eighteen months or even longer. We've noticed businesses both small and large are less punctual in paying by an invoice due date. In the case of bigger well resourced companies and those being taken over, changes in their administration take place and either we aren't informed of billing address differences, or they are slow in coming. Sometimes, internal financial scrutiny of outgoing payments leads to months of delay in issuing payment authorisation. Or, a new supposedly more efficient accounting system is introduced and CBS is obliged to re-apply to be regarded as a supplier on the new system, even though the company owes us money. We don't benefit from this but the company in question does. Payment delays improve their cash flow position, whilst weakening ours. If a company goes into administration or closes down, we may have difficulty getting our equipment back from the store or club, let alone getting bills paid. This is what recession means. If we weren't a volunteer run organisation we'd find it hard to continue making progress.

How nice it was to get home tonight early enough to cook supper and walk to my first Chi Gung class of the New Year in good time. Afterwards I booked my Bristol - Malaga flight ready for my spell of locum duty cover for my friend Geoff Johnston in Nerja. I was fortunate to bag one of the last three seats on the return leg on a conveniently timed decently priced flight. I return as summer holiday traffic in both directions gets hectic. Looking forward to returning there.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

A Valleys Sunday morning

Out of the house by quarter past eight this morning, driving up the A470 to celebrate the Eucharist in Abercanaid, part of the Benefice of Merthyr Tydful, somewhere I've not visited before. The last time I was in the Taff Vale was last August when I took services at Aberfan. The rising sun shone at my back, bathing everything with golden light. Windows in Valleys terraced houses caught the sun in batches, making them appear like distant floodlights lighting a stadium. A glorious start to the day.

Abercanaid village is tucked in behind the closed, derelict Hoover factory site. You have to drive right around its desolate perimeter to access the main street by car. The sizeable church building suggests the prosperity of a former era of mining and manufacturing in this area. It is however no longer used as worshippers can't afford to maintain it. On the same site there's a smaller stone clad hall. This was the original multi-purpose mission church building. It has now reverted to its former function, housing community activities and Sunday worship.

The congregation were very welcoming and kindly understanding of my no-show last Sunday. There were twenty of them and they sang with gusto, sixteen women and four men. They read lessons and prayed thoughtfully. It was lovely to hear voices speaking in my native mid Glamorgan accent again, and I enjoyed telling them about Miss Mabel Hill of Llandaff and Taormina, as I unpacked the meaning of baptism into the Body of Christ in the sermon.

I got back in time to pick up Clare at the end of the service at St Catherine's so that we could go to the market together before lunch. She had an afternoon meeting, so I considered going out for a walk, but it was too cold to be enjoyable, and the sky had clouded over. So I whiled away the rest of the day, doing nothing much apart from reading Giles Tremletts's book on Spain post-Franco, and talking to the kids by phone.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

A two birthday weekend

In College Friday morning to take part with other staff members and students in the interviewing process for the appointment of a Vice-Principal. Afterwards I met up with Rufus and 'Becca, fresh from delivering essays written during the vacation. Both, I think, are glad that they have a couple of weeks respite before returning for  the start of term.

Two of our students, Tom and Sam announced at lunch that they were flying off to Jerusalem tomorrow for a course based at St George's Anglican Cathedral. I'm delighted to know that this is being made possible as part of their training programme. It's such an important and formative experience for anyone called to public ministry in a diverse and global church. Even if both end up staying in fairly limited localities for much of their working lives, they will bring the world church to people through their experience in the Holy Land.

At tea time, I had a call from a relieved College Principal, Peter to say that an appointment has been made, and the new V-P can start in the summer term. An announcement will follow in due course, but it's just good to know there's an end to the uncertainty, and to my temporary extra College duties.

In the evening we drove to Newport to join Andrew's twenty-fifth birthday party, laid on by Martin and Chris. It's nearly twenty years since they started fostering him, and then adopted him. How he's developed through those years is astounding, a real testimony to what patient love and compassion can achieve to enable a child to overcome severe handicap and suffering in their early years. There were several dozen friends and family present and a lavish feast prepared by Martin. Chris said that over the Christmas period, with the series of parties and social events they'd hosted, meals for three hundred had been made - homely hospitality on a grand scale.

After a late night out we slept in a little longer this morning. Then Clare prepared lessons while I prepared a sermon, and after lunch we went to Dinas Powis for our second party of the weekend - Clare's colleague Jacqui, celebrating her 70th birthday with a house full of family and friends. A surprise puppet show was arranged for her, given by kindergarten teacher Anna, who celebrates each birthday with her little ones by telling them a beautiful simple story of how each came from heaven to earth when they were born. The story was then extended, using a candle for each of Jacqui's seven decades to allow family and friends to reminisce about different stages of her life. It was a very touching and loving tribute, paid to her by those who know her best. Such a lovely idea, and so much nicer than a Powerpoint slide show of the family album.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Lighting and data triumphs

Before I left the office yesterday evening, Ashley had established that the florescent lighting tube I'd been hunting for over the past couple of days could be obtained from stocks held at an electrical trade wholesaler's store in Canton, the family business of Alan Wilson Electrical Supplies, just ten minutes walk from home.

I was there purchasing a couple of tubes by ten past nine. By half past I'd discovered that not only had the tube died but also its mounting. I rang up to check if they had one. The man at the other end expressed doubt, but went and checked and found there was one left. It was waiting for me when I arrived for a second time at ten to ten. This time everything worked fine, though I had to wait for Clare to return from school at lunchtime to have another set of hands - one to hold the mounting and tube, one to screw it back into a most awkward place under a cupboard.

All sorts of places we enquired of had lighting tubes and fitments available on their shelves, but Howden our kitchen suppliers three years ago provided accessories to their own standard, which wasn't quite the same in length or power consumption as varieties of equipment commonly used. With their name and address actually printed on the dud tube removed, their commercial operation is clearly big enough to enable them to commission mass orders direct from a suitably competitive manufacturer.  So, anyone who buys their equipment gets locked in to their supply cycle for obtaining spare parts. 

This may benefit the company and be convenient to some customers. However, our experience of ordering lighting components through our local Howden outlet was less then satisfactory. The same was true for Kath and Anto, who also have a Howden kitchen installed a year after ours.  Kath got spare parts for her kitchen lighting off the internet. This is the first time any of our original installed kit has needed replacement, so it was most fortunate to discover a local firm that has sufficient longevity to carry all kinds of electrical spares and odd bits and pieces across generations which people may need, but which get swept away in the tide of commercial progress by bigger corporates. It's not just the parts but the huge amount of expertise shared by a family firm which makes a small family business like this an unique treasure.

In between the craftsmen who can make anything you need, at a price, and the mass manufacturers which increasingly supply global markets with useable consistent standard products, comes a huge range of companies - SMEs is the current jargon phrase - small to medium enterprises which make, store, or distribute accessories or components that greatly prolong the life of useable equipment or installations with replacement parts. Sure, this service can be and often is achieved effectively by big corporate bodies using suitable computer inventory software and storage, but not always.

What's amazes me is how something even better and more efficient than this can be achieved by a company whose life and collective memory spans generations, a team of people able to remember what customers may need after the big guys have moved on and are busy promoting 'bettter' replacements for everything, although nobody asked them for this. Knowing what the customer may need is a different kind of service from persuading customers what they may next need but don't yet know. In the ecosystem which is trade and commerce, there's room for all types.

This afternoon, Ashley found his lost phone and spent half an hour negotiating BT automated answering menus in order to persuade someone to re-instate his blocked phone. When he'd succeeded, he observed that none of the real people spoken to asked him to confirm his identity for security purposes. Strange. 

Anyway, I succeeded in getting him to part with his recovered phone for long enough to perform a full system back-up, and a separate file of all his contacts on both our computers, just in case there's another incident of this kind in future. I wanted to do this nearly three years ago, but our RadioNet service is so dependent on telephone contact that it's taken me this long to get around to securing the vital information. I'm glad and relieved to have done it, but ashamed it took so long. These are hidden risks we didn't need. Thankfully, it's the first time such a nightmare data loss scenario has confronted us, and we survived - wiser for the experience, I hope.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Another techie day

What a relief to wake up early and find that it's going to be a blue skies day! I spent much of the morning tucked away in my little office at home installing my new HP multi-function printer/scanner on both Windows and Linux Mint partitions. The HP printer Linux software installation required far less effort than previous piece of hardware. Things have improved and the equipment works quite well, though not quite as smmothly as the Windows installation - which was slower than I'd expected. Still, job done, and now I can take the old  Samsung printer/scanner and use it in the office in College, to saving having to descend two long flights of stairs to use the network printer and scanner.

I went into College to check if any of my tutor group students were back, bumped into Phil, and stopped for lunch before going in to the office. Ashley had lost his phone and was in the throes of arranging to have it blocked and ordering a new one. I took charge of the phone which the lost one replaced to see if I could extract the contact data from it, as no proper up to date back up had been done. Oh yes, it's easy to feel superior if you're good at managing these routines, but our office is so busy we don't always get the down time.

When we make time to work on these matters, the software programs are slow, and choosy about what they'll let you do, including parting with essentials. My office laptop now has Blackberry, HTC and Samsung software installed on it, and none of these packages with their respective hardware give the end user control needed. The excuse is to protect careless idiots from destroying their data, but you can't always get at the stuff you really need most, and keeping synchronisation under control is also a hassle. It can lead to data loss rather than preservation.

It was seven by the time I got home, after my fruitless efforts at data transfer. After supper I tucked into my second Inspector Montalbano novel of the week, and read until I started to nod off.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Picking up the pieces

Since we've returned home, we are both still waking up before dawn, much earlier than usual. At first light the streaks of cloud across the sky are all red, and it doesn't take long for the the cloud cover to grow dense and grey, obscuring the remains of the early blue and it stays dull and grey all day, and sooner or later rain comes and goes. It's typical of mid winter along the lowlands of the Severn Estuary. There's no point in hiding, so eventually we get up, eat breakfast, say prayers and get on with the day, trying not to get lost thinking too much of open skies, sun and mountains.

First, a trip to the GP surgery to pick up a prescription in response to yesterday's letter. It isn't ready, I can't hand around to find out why, as there's a tutor team meeting in College to get to on time. It's the day when activities resume, and there's a Masters' degree course running. Our students will arrive in fits and starts over the coming days, as there are two weeks worth of an exam schedule before the normal routine of College life resumes.

After the meeting, I popped across the road from College to say hello to Pauline, and learn that two St John's people have now died recently over the holiday. Nancy, in her mid nineties and Sam in his late eighties, details of funeral arrangements are awaited, but it's likely neither will be in a place where they were well known and loved. After coffee I inspected Pauline's increasingly slow running computer. Its browser was congested with tool bars and add-ons that sap performance on a seven year old machine, and goodness knows how long it is since the hard drive was last de-fragmented.

We left it running as we parted company, to get on with our respective afternoons. I think a new machine will soon be necessary, even though this one hasn't died. It can't keep up with the demands made on it. Sad to say, it would run quite decently for regular tasks using Linux, but the problem is the learning curve for someone busy. And having made the switch, the machine might still expire, and another new operating system would then have to be learned, and that's no fun when you're busy and organising your life depends upon not having to think about what you're using.

I returned to the GP surgery and was successful in obtaining a prescription second time around. I collected the medicines, returned home to change wet shoes, and then headed into town to see if I could buy a replacement kitchen florescent tube, but no luck again, the sizes don't match, and we'll have to order one via the internet. Our not very efficient kitchen suppliers use non standard components - vendor lock-in. Things you don't tend to think about when you're spending lots of money fitting replacement units. 

By the time I got home it has already been dark for two hours. Clare was working out how to assemble and use the Nokia phone she bought today to replace the stolen one. The operating system, though basically the same had a different user interface, and this took an age for her and I to figure out. We're just not used to swapping phones. Why should we unless lost or broken? Clare's now taken out a monthly contract. This was less easy than anticipated, because she had to prove who she was. The reported theft of phone meant that the PAYG credit was rescued and credited to her, but it also meant that a strict credit rating identity check had to be run as protection against identity theft. Pleasing if inconvenient thoroughness.

She also enquire of her banks when she could expect replacements for the other two cards reported missing and presumed blocked nine days ago. Neither branch had any record of notification. The cards didn't seem to be blocked at all. Clare called the card protection agency who confirmed from their records that notification of all three cards lost had been sent, but not acted upon over new year. This is certainly to the discredit of the banking system. Come to think of it, the very notion of 'bank holiday' is not at all comforting in a 24/7/365 world.

It was disturbing news, but thankfully bank statements showed no unauthorised card activity on either account since theft. It's possible that after money and phone were extracted by the thief, the bag ended up in the sea, or tossed into waste land, where it may one day be discovered. It was what the investigating officer said happened typically in these cases. Local thieves weren't that sophisticated.

I whiled away the evening reading one of my Christmas presents: my first Inspector Montalbano novel by Antonio Camillieri - the Voice of the Violin. I remembered the TV movie well, so there were no surprises, but the humour and lean descriptions played well with memory and imagination, and I read it in an evening. A sliver of wintry comfort.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Back in harness again

It's much the same temperature here as it was in Sicily, but already I'm missing those blue skies and sudden spring like turns in the weather. My first task this morning was to take a prescription renewal request in to the GP surgery, then a visit to St Michael's to catch up on news with the staff and with the Principal over a quick sandwich lunch up in a High Street coffee shop. He returned from Newfoundland this weekend and jet-lag notwithstanding is already very busy with work. Everything gets back into full swing tomorrow.

I then went out to look for a replacement flourescent tube for one of our kitchen units. It's an odd size and specification and I anticipate having trouble finding one. I visited an expert home lighting retailer Clare has found  helpful in Cardiff, and although he didn't have the goods, he gave me a web address to search for information, also the address of a lighting wholesaler not too far away. No success, so it will mean hunting on line. 

While I was out, I called into Staples thinking I would buy an ink cartridge for my ancient Samsung lazer printer, but the model no longer seems to be supported, so it would mean having to order one via the internet at top prices for old stock. Instead of doing this, I bought a discounted HP lazer printer of the multi-functional variety, for only a tenner more than the cost of a cartridge. It's a lot faster and has more print memory, and a bit of an indulgence really.

Then it was time to pop into town and visit the CBS office to pick up from where I left off five weeks ago. Work on the new Admiral Insurance tower block in the space next to Motorpoint Area has progressed considerably over the past month. When I left there was just a large excavated hole in the ground, its sides being re-inforced. Now the central stairway and lift tower is rising at a pace.
 While I was away Ashley's computer hard drive failed, and although he was able to get it fixed and re-instate the system from the back-up I'd made a couple of years ago, he was just too busy to fiddle about with setting up email accounts all over again, a task made even more annoyingly difficult by BT's migration of their in-house email servers to Microsoft Exchange last autumn, with the consequent loss of several months of our email archive material.

I had difficulty configuring the Windows Mail client on his computer to work with the new system, as I was lacking the detail necessary. After a while, I was able to log in to the webmail and make it functional. With the necessary information to hand I configured Windows Mail to access Ashley's account on my computer for practice, and downloaded all his 187 emails from the past six weeks on to my laptop. I was furious with myself for failing to notice that the stupid default setting deleted emails from the host as they are downloaded to a pop3 account, so then it too me another hour to figure out how to send the emails back to his computer, and get the job done. The guys who design these programs simply don't think practically in a way that favours the end user.

On my way home, I called into Clas Ohlsen's hardware store in St David's Grand Arcade and saw that they have kitchen flourescent lighting tubes of the correct length for our set up, but I couldn't figure out if the socket configuraion was the same, so I couldn't buy with confidence. Meanwhile, Clare had gone on-line and found just the correct information about the flourescent tube in question. However, the phone signal in the depths of the store was insufficient for us to talk about it, or for me to access the web page on my office Blackberry. So it'll have to wait until tomorrow.

I  got home before seven and cooked us a very pleasant fish paella with prawns and Vietnamese river cobbler, with onion, leek, butternut squash, carrot, red pepper and the juice of a whole lemon. It's the first paella I've cooked for six weeks, and it wasn't quite as spicy as my usual offerings, maybe reflecting a little some things learned by practice and experiment while I was fending for myself in Taormina?

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Epiphany arrival

We arrived home at twenty past three to a cold house and a pile of mail, unpacked as much as necessary and crawled into bed slightly comforted by the face that the first of Clare's replacement bank cards was waiting for her. We were up in good time to join the congregation at St Catherine's for their Epiphany Parish Eucharist. 

Talking with Father Phelim afterwards, we were surprised to learn that he'd been to Taormina on honeymoon! He recollected the value he'd found in always having a photocopy or picture on his phone of his passport, just in case he lost it when travelling after check-in. Well, next time we'll be better organised.

We went to the Farmer's market and to the Co-op to stock up for the week in one fell swoop, and after a light lunch, got on with the business of getting everything up to date, unpacking, washing clothes, and for Clare, applying for a new driving license on-line. Then we sat down and opened a small collection of Christmas presents which awaited our return - including two 'Inspector Montalbano' novels. Well, now we have our own inside experience of a Sicilian commissariat, and an interview with a real live Inspector of the Policia di Stato.

Owain came over to check on his mother and eat supper with us,  and the girls rang up to speak to her as well.  Altogether a happy homecoming.