Monday, 29 April 2013

Homebound surprise

Clare and I were on the first train into town this morning after nine. It was unusually eleven minutes late and we had to rush to get to her tram, just in time, to take her out to the Steiner school in Confignon for a day's visit, part of the purpose of our weekend trip.

As we boarded the train in Chambésy, a man I didn't recognise greeted Clare in Welsh, and both fell about laughing with astonishment. Chris is a member of the Cardiff Mochyn Ddu Tuesday Welsh conversation group. He was on his way to the airport to catch a flight home after a spell of house sitting for a friend in Versoix where we used to live. "I often meet someone I know when I'm far from home." he said. "But I've been here two weeks without meeting anyone until now. In fact, I only just texted a friend to say this trip was a disappointing exception." Mae byd bach, yn wir - such a small world.

I made my way to the airport, checked in early and used the free airport wi-fi to catch up on emails, although it took me ages to log on correctly. I was quite amazed by how fast it was and free of connectivity issues in comparison to British airport sites I've used on occasions. It certainly passed the time waiting for my flight, which was fifteen minutes late arriving and landing, despite a very rapid turnover of passengers.

I realised when I asked the flight attendant for a coffee that I didn't have enough change in English money, but felt sure I had enough in Swiss Francs. It turned out I was wrong. £2.50 or €3 equates to CHF5 on a flight out of Switzerland. In the air, it seems the Swiss Franc is only worth 50p, whereas on the ground it is worth 70p. I'm sure market economists have an explanation for this, but to those on the receiving end it's no more than a rip-off. I wonder what the Swiss government thinks? Or does it care?

It was a very bumpy flight, the worst I can recall for many years. With nothing but hand baggage, I was soon on a bus for the railway station, arriving to get straight on a Cardiff train, which was late leaving. So instead of having to wait half an hour for a train as usual, lateness of transport made no difference. I was home earlier than usual, soon sorting through a pile of month-end and year-end letters and making catch-up phone calls. More mail over one weekend than I get normally in several weeks.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Re-unions happy and sad

We spent a cold wet Saturday morning in Geneva town centre, meeting friends at the Holy Trinity Church Spring Fayre - the 'Book and Marmalade sale', selling English marmalade, bri-ca-a-brac, and second hand books, and serving lunches to any who'd turn up. It was a lousy day for a fundraising event, yet the dogged perseverance and patience of a dozen or so people organising it, earned CHF4,400 for church and charity funds - that's £3,000 in our money. Fantastic.

We met up with our friends Keith who'd come down for the weekend from Yorkshire and Claudine who'd arrived from Yangon with a delegation of top officials from the Myanmar government  the previous week whom she was shepherding for a meeting with the Swiss government. We ended up at Claudine's pied a terre in Carouge, chatting to her while she packed for the return journey, with me setting up her awkward Swisscom mobile wi-fi dongle on her Macbook, iPhone and iPad, so that she'd have immediate access to internet on her next visit home.

We had a superb evening meal at the Auberge da la Bourse near where she lived. Clare and I shared a large Dorade (sea bream) and Claudine had a traditional Swiss dish 'tête de veau' with a parsley and horseradish sauce - something not on the menu over in S.E.Asia. Then we accompanied her by taxi to the airport to drop off her cases, so she could check in for her flight unencumbered early this morning, before parting company.

We attended the nine o'clock Eucharist this morning at HTC. Friends Brian and Beryl were celebrating their golden wedding with a glass of champagne to go with the crossants after a service which included a prayer of blessing over them. What a delight! So glad we chose this weekend. After the service, we went for a train, but it pulled out as we touched the door opening button, and gave us an hour to wait. So we walked down to the Pont du Mont Blanc to watch the local stage of the cyclists' Tour de Romandie, won by English rider Chris Froom, I learned later.
Eventually, we returned to Chambésy for lunch, which Yvette prepared - her first meal cooked on a new high tech stove, part of a kitchen makeover still in progress. She did us proud. While we were waiting for her to complete her lentil gratin and asparagus feast, I spotted two black squirrels cavorting in the neighbouring garden, bounding around like kangaroos in a way I've never seen British squirrels do. I got a photo of one of them using a huge fir tree next door as a vertical playground.
In the afternoon I drove out to Divonne-les Bains in Yvette's Saab to see Julia and Philippe. It's the first time I have ever driven a such a powerful turbocharged motor, so I was very careful. It was an enjoyable trip nevertheless. The night we arrived, I had a text from Julia to say her father had died the night before in Halifax, Yorkshire. We talked about the service and arrangements to return him to Whitchurch, Cardiff for the funeral. I ended up volunteering to take the service and liaising with people involved locally. Over the nearly twenty years we have known each other I have met all Julia's family, so I may be more of a familiar face to them than local clergy. What more could I do to support a valued colleague and friend?

In the evening we visited Ann-Marie and Alec Hester, who'd invited us and Yvette for supper. It was such a delight to see how their three year old gransdson Samuel, adopted by Dagmar and Guy has grown in the year since last we saw him.  It's wonderful that we still have such happy connexions with so many people in a place where I worked last thirteen years ago - something I am most grateful for.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Back to Geneva again

Yesterday, we were out of the house and off to the station in a taxi by five past seven this morning. By nine we were through security checks at Bristol Airport with just hand luggage for a weekend trip to Geneva. Our plane, with its eyecatching devout registration code left and arrived early.

We walked out into the Arrival area, to be greeted within seconds by Yvette, our host for the weekend. Amazingly she'd parked so recently that we left without having to pay a fee, as she was still inside the ten minute free 'drop-off' allowance. A true rarity of timing.

Yvette lives in Chambesy, not far from the Orthodox Oecumenical Patriarchate centre. Her husband is Orthodox, so they have close family connexions there and I have fond memories of perticipating in the Divine Liturgy in French in the basement chapel there, and in Greek in the main upstairs church, mostly on holidays after we'd moved away.

Our dear friend Gill invited us to supper that evening, where we were re-united with more old friends, and one new one - Gill's godson Tim Challen who works for the United Nations own Credit Union, which was founded back in 1946 to serve the financial needs of U.N. employees in its main centres. It now has tens of thousands of members world-wide in places where U.N. staff teams are deployed, and must serve as a role model for co-operative banking and all continents. 

Due to time spent working in Africa, Tim has set up an N.G.O. organising young people's formative expeditions to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, with special focus on youngsters from East Africa's urban slumland, and poor rural youngsters living within sight of the mountain, who'd never dream that climbing it would make any difference to their lives. What clearly had made a difference to Tim's take on life, he put lots of energy into making happen for others. An unusual conversation to start our weekend. Tim's account of his climb experience is here. The N.G.O. website is here.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

St Mark's Day inauguration

Drove Clare to the Steiner School in Llandaff North for her classes this morning, then made my way East through the suburbs to reach Lakeside in time to celebrate a St Mark's Day Eucharist for seven faithful people. Then headed in to town, and left the car in the assigned parking place under the Motorpoint Arena where it had been arranged I would rendezvous with Ashley for another trip to Chepstow. As I was early, I made a trip to the Co-op Bank to complete a transfer of funds I'd only done half of during yesterday's bank visit to deal with a savings account come to maturity. This was followed by a visit to Santander's nearest banking station to arrange an account status change and take advantage of their latest offer. Then, back to the office to collect some equipment and set out for our radio suppliers' HQ in Chepstow.

It was good to have time to chat things over in the quiet of the car during our pleasant journey there and back. We got our new Dell tablet configured for remote access to the SafetyNet server as needed and retrieved the Asus Transformer which proved unsuitable to access a Windows VPN in the way it's been set up. It'll still be a superb platform for an on-line file library to make office facilities accessible in any location. Moreover, I get to take it home and figure out how to get it to play with our office system. All this new technology requires a good deal of thinking though to get the most out of it. Just when you've got used to a new way of doing things, another presents itself. For every innovation there are new complications, and everything has to be looked at with total security in mind. So there's never much room for uncritical enthusiasm when making adjustments to the total system.

We got back to Motorpoint car park and unloaded the consignment of radios purchased on our last visit there, all configured ready for use, then it was time to head off to Llandaff in the evening traffic, with just enough time to get to St Michael's for Evensong with the special ceremony to license Fr Mark Clavier as Dean of Residential Training and Dr John Wilks as Director of Post-Graduate Training. The College chapel was packed with visitors and students. I felt very pleased to squeeze on to the end of a pew next to one of my tutees, having discharged my last responsibility as acting Dean by negotiating and producing the service sheet for the occasion.

It went off perfectly and the Archbishop preached in a way that did justice to contemporary biblical understanding of  scripture. It was comforting to have such a positive message 'from the top' in the light of the last term's out-break of fundamentalist dogmatism, attempting to re-fight battles dismissed by the church catholic as irrelevent even before I occupied a pew in this chapel, three generations ago. It's just not good enough. The Church in Wales is a diverse body. But there are limits to diversity. Convictions about the nature of scriptural authority that contradict the freedom which the Gospel Jesus proclaimed are a challenge to everyone to think deeply about what gives confidence, purpose and openness to the journey as His disciples. 

The dynamism of the Gospel and the richness of ways in which it is proclaimed offers both security and freedom to those who follow the way of Jesus - trusting in a living Word, as opposed to a very fixed idea of how God's mystery is to be understood and lived. Launching out into a different way of thinking may be for some a disconcerting exit from their comfort zone, but the blessings are beyond conception.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Sant Sior, nawddsant Palesteina a Syria - Lloegr hefyd

I went into College for Morning Prayer as Fr Mark Clavier, the new Dean of Residential Training was due to give his first meditation/reflection at the service. I was impressed that he stood in the aisle and spoke for the allotted time without notes on the cosmic frame of reference in which the church's ministry is exercised. Later in the morning he came to his first three hour tutors' meeting and listened to us discuss the drafts of final reports recommending to their respective Bishops the nine students due to be ordained in ten weeks from now. A good opportunity for him to get to know those entrusted to his pastoral charge, even if they'll soon be on their way. Over the coming years of their in-service training, they'll return to St Mike's on a variety of occasions, and he'll be there to welcome them back.

Before the evening's tutor group meeting I celebrated the Welsh language Eucharist. Being St George's Day I reminded the three worshippers present that he was patron saint of Palestine and Syria as well as England, and for a much longer period of time than our near neighbour. At the end I turned the page to give one of the paschaltide prefaces to the blessing, and then my mind went blank, I simply couldn't recall the trinitarian benediction formula in Welsh, which I've memorised - well you need to as it's not printed where you'd expect to find it in the book. Annoying and embarrassing.

The tutor group decided that it would like to do bible study again this term, focussing on one continuous text. 1 Peter was chosen, as it can be covered a chapter a week in the sessions remaining to us this term. It was good that Fr Mark was with us, especially as he's conducted a bible study of 1 Peter in the recent past. Not that we knew this when choosing. I was surprised that the students didn't seem to realise how important 1 Peter is as an Eastertide text and in relation to the baptismal vocation of the People of God. I thought someone might have remembered that much from the liturgical lectionary, or from lectures introducing them to the bible. Sometimes I wonder what they do learn from university theology.

How pleasant that it was warm and dry enough to ride my bike down to the evening's Chi Gung class. How good to get right back down into the body after a day in the head.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Learning business lessons

I went into College after breakfast this morning, but people I wanted to see were busy, so I went off and did a bereavement visit in preparation for this week's funeral - a man admitted to hospital with severe joint pain who contracted 'flu  while there and died of pneumonia. His widow rehearsed with sadness but no bitterness what sounded to me like a story of poor patient management, as if the staff just didn't know how do deal with his suffering - dealing with symptoms not the whole person.

I lunched in College, did the necessary catching up and then headed for town to spend the afternoon with Ashley working on an inventory of company assets that will give a necessary overview of what equipment we own, what we paid for it and what it's now worth. This was an outcome of last Friday's steering group for me. Again, this was spurred by a need to make available to newcomers such information as will help them get a more detailed idea of what it takes to run the company, and what subscription revenue has been spent on. The better the picture we convey the better the understanding can be developed that will support the next phase of our development.

It was a satisfying afternoon, crowned, when I got off the bus at the top of Cathedral Road, by the sight of the cherry trees lining the edge of Llandaff Fields in full blossom after a day of showers and sunshine. On my way into work buds had just started to open. In the course of the day, Spring arrived.

I felt much better for putting in place another piece of the giant jigsaw of company affairs which should have been there from the outset. It wasn't implemented at the start because of the way the whole enterprise was rushed into being without a proper management plan. Getting the technical side up and running was easy and only took a few days to get started. Getting the financial recording and administrative support in place without it costing a fortune and slowing down growth much further has taken four years. I wonder how many enthusiastic business enterprises flourish and then fade with similar weaknesses they are unable to overcome?

I think that a key business problem today is that successful growth and its rewards are presumed to be possible much quicker than is realistic. The speed of modern technologies is a huge advantage in the communication of ideas promotion of products, rallying support - but only if used to good effect. The benefits of good ideas, good products, may take longer to realise. The work involved in making an organisation sustainable, consistent, reliable enough to keep delivering the goods can be overlooked in the excitement for start-up. Big risks can reap big rewards, but also catastrophic failure. Carefully measured risk may not deliver as much in the short term, but yield more in the long term. Patience is still a virtue.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Saturday snaps

We didn't do much yesterday apart from take a routine afternoon stroll around Bute Park, sunny and mild at last. I experimented with the best way to photograph new foliage in bright light, but found the auto settings of the two cameras I played with less than easy to work with. In the process, I lost a pair of reading glasses which I had to take on and off in order to use the viewfinder. I haven't yet worked out the most convenient way to arrange my kit so that I feel in control of what I'm doing. Using a small compact camera or a phone camera is very much easier, but I persist with the high power kit hopeful of more interesting results. Here's the one I was most pleased with:-
And this one too, which the Sony Alpha 55 DSLR took in its stride while my capable little compact camera struggled to get right - in my hands - because it has a focus tracking device which didn't quite explain its usefulness in action.
I was out in St Timothy's Ely for the Eucharist by nine this morning, after a longer than usual night's sleep. I collected Clare from St Catherine's to go to Riverside Market for our weekly organic veggies and cheese. Then I cooked lunch and did little else apart from some reading for the rest of the day. Saving my energies for a trip to Geneva next weekend.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Funeral offices and business meetings

Yesterday morning the monthly Radio Users Group took place, and there were thirty people present. It was the best turn-out for a good while, but I couldn't hang around for long afterwards as I had to get home and prepare for a funeral early afternoon.  The service was in Pidgeon's funeral chapel, and there was a similar number present to make their farewells to a man who'd died in his early sixties due to collateral damage from diabetes. I had no appetite for work when I returned home, apart from cooking supper. The first Tai Chi class of the new term left me feeling grateful for the good health and modest fitness I enjoy.

Today was the CBS Steering Group meeting, for which I have done a good deal of preparation this past few weeks, right down to early this morning, assembling at the crack of dawn an up to date detailed account itemising all the Terms & Conditions attached to a RadioNet subscription and use of equipment. Nobody needs to have all that stuff to refer to in separate documents if they are coming to it for the first time. Trouble is, those of us who've worked with the information for so long get used to shuffling pieces of paper - and this can try the patience of people of good will learning how the business works. Now it's done, and the document was something I could deliver when the meeting finished, an hour and a half after it should have done. 

A tour through the draft Constitution produced all sorts of discussion about how the future is meant to work with many more people involved. I wonder if any of the keen ones realise how much they'll be have to work at without any sense of the benefit of an organisation as well adapted to the conditions and needs of its users - there's just so much detail involved in everything RadioNet must do.

When I got home, there was an email from the Area Dean about yet another funeral next Wednesday. It co-incides with Fr Mark's final meeting as Area Dean as he hands over to colleague Bob Capper. I had to turn down a funeral request for today because of the Steering Group meeting which I couldn't miss. It's important to me to give as much support as I can to the full-timers. Their numbers keep on shrinking, but the number of families still wanting funeral with a minister for their loved ones doesn't diminish. It's no more than a holding operation. Sooner or later the churches must see the sense of training lay pastors to officiate at funerals and offer bereavement counselling when needed, the way the French Catholics do.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A very public farewell

Back into College to replace laptop plug adaptor this morning. Unable to access internet however. Not unusual in this neck of the woods. As College IT services are now managed by the Representative Body of the Church in Wales, I suspect that the increase in capacity of the system may be a fraction of what it needs to be for present purposes. Glad it's not my job to sort out. I wonder if the churches will benefit early or later from the promised super-fast broadband provision trumpeted as one of Cardiff's recent gains in bidding for new services?

Much local internet excitement last night as Cardiff City Football Club qualified for the Premier League. It's reckoned to be capable of bringing about an uplift of the local economy because of media attention and additional visitor spend. No doubt city centre management colleagues will today be starting to think about changes that'll need to be made to cope with the influx of football supporters for attention grabbing matches in the season ahead. I hope they won't be disappointed. Cardiff City football supporters are very happy today, if not suffering from hangovers.

Before lunchtime I listened on the radio to the broadcast of Margaret Thatcher's funeral, resonant with classic texts from the traditional Prayer Book and Catholic liturgies. Much of the design of the service was her own. It was a long way from the plain Methodism of her upbringing at one level, yet, at another it expressed thoughts of abiding value about the meaning of life and death as our common British culture seeks to voice them. The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres did a good job on the sermon cum eulogy in expressing the core Christian convictions to which her active life gave witness. I rarely agreed with any of the ways in which she implemented her convictions, and regret their outcome to this day, but whatever the limits of her vision or sensitivity to the impact of her decisions, her integrity is worthy of respect.

As the funeral cortege was finally leaving St Paul's Cathedral, I met with four others for the monthly Ignatian meditation group, which I was asked to lead. Such a refreshing contrast to all the other things which occupy my life. I leave a meeting of this kind reassured that pondering on scripture and waiting for insight and inspiration to come compensates for the poverty of communication and trivialisation of language which besets both the church and society in much of today's world. Then, a journey into town to spend the rest of the afternoon in the CBS office, wresting with words and phrases that will discipline our organisation and its policy decisions, and undergird our fitness for purpose.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Orange EE blues

I did bother to get up early this morning and get to Morning Prayer in College as my dear near neighbour on the upper corridor Dr John Wilks was addressing students and staff for the first time in the Tuesday Reflection assignment. John is an experienced Methodist lay preacher and a theological educator with a long and interesting track record in working with people training for ministry and mission. It was good to hear him engage with one of the high points of New Testament writing - 1 John 4 - and the challenge that faces every community to make love of each other and love of God consistent with each other.

After breakfast, I had a go at sorting out my new study, which has two computers. One wired up and ready to go, the other just dumped surplus to requirements somewhere else in the building I guess. The one wired up took half an hour to boot up and attach itself to the network. The hard drive wasn't all that full. It was probably eight or nine years old, same age as my oldest functioning laptop from which Windows XP was banished in favour of more efficient and speedy Linux several years ago. 

I went home for lunch to collect the old HP laptop. It had much the same specification as the machine I inherited. It booted up in 3-4 minutes, attached itself to the College network, then blew an adaptor plug fuse. Idiot that I am, I picked one from my collection with a 1amp fuse when a 3amp is needed for the laptop's replacement transformer. Ah well, it can wait. The time for urgency in reading College emails and shuffling documents is past. Thank heavens.

Fr Mark came to the evening's tutor group for a get-to-know-you session. It's not as if students don't know much about him already, but it is as important for them to make their own personal relationships with him as it is for me to step back. 'He must increase while I must decrease', as St John Baptist would say. 

After the session it was satisfying to get away in good time to attend the first of the new term Chi Gung sessions, which did me a power of good. Then I went over to Owain's place to pick up the misplaced SIM card. It worked perfectly after a re-boot. Even so, it's yet a poor advertisement for Orange EE's customer service. Just as well I didn't have cause to rely on a connected phone that I'd paid for to be in urgent contact with someone during a minor personal crisis. Having emergency service access on any phone is all well and good, but why overwhelm 999 with non-critical stuff because your providor cannot deliver accurate and timely information about the phone service you've paid for?

Monday, 15 April 2013

Handover time, straightforward or otherwise

I went into College late today, as I didn't feel the need to arrive in time for Morning Prayer on the first day of term. I needed to remove the remains of my stuff from the office which will from now on  belong to Fr Mark Clavier. He was already busy unpacking books, so I collected what was mine and moved it to the empty room without a view across the corridor, which already has my nameplate on it. After lunch we met for half an hour for a hand-over briefing. It's a relief to revert to being just a voluntary tutor again with a better defined part to play in College life until ordination time marks an end and a beginning for those accompanied through training. 

It's been quite difficult to maintain my city centre interest in CBS RadioNet at the same level over the past six months. Having a secretary to take care of the financial administration has been a huge advantage, and it has enable me to concentrate on building the aspects of the organisation which interface day to day operations with the right level of accountability to Business Crime Reduction partners: viz. the Retail Partnership, City Council and South Wales Police. This side of our enterprise was badly done from the outset, and it has disadvantaged us in ways that have made it difficult to grow universal confidence in work that in reality is done very well indeed. We've got things back to where they should have been from the outset, but now there's a lot of work to be done to communicate this to everyone with an interest in the well-being and security of the City. And that's what I'd like to concentrate on doing next.

By the time I'd returned from the CBS office, my new phone had stopped being able to connect with the Orange EE network. Yesterday I'd followed instructions and replaced the still active SIM card from my old phone to the new one, and it had worked in the new phone until now. The sales-girl on Saturday had told me that the new SIM card would be activated in 24 hours, and that was not the case, hence the switch. I thought I'd misunderstood her. Now my old SIM in the new phone was dead. But, unfortunately I'd put the new SIM (which I thought was redundant) into the box with the old phone, which I'd given to Owain. Oh dear, I'll have to wait until tomorrow to recover the SIM to see if it contains my account details. Even if it does, it will mean that the originally promised 24 hour activation period was, in fact, 48. How's that for customer service?

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Return to Radyr

Another early Sunday start, with not so far to travel. Three morning services in Radyr Parish to take, as Jenny is taking her Easter break. An eight o'clock at Christchurch with twenty communicants, followed by a nine fifteen at St John's Danescourt with another twenty communicants, then a Sung Eucharist back at Christchurch with seventy-five communicants and a couple of dozen children in the Sunday School. It was very enjoyable. This time I got to speak with David and Joyce Suthers, the only Radyr parishioners I have known for ten years since we met over a Korean Veterans' service in St John's City Parish Church. They were there also on Easter morning, but the church was so crowded and busy we missed each other.

At the end of lunch, twenty hour hours after purchasing my phone, it was still not working as it should but the old one still worked, so I called the help line, and was told that all I had to do was swap the SIM card from the old into the new phone. It wasn't something the sales girl had reminded me to do. I guess she must have assumed I knew all about these things - well, if I did, I'd forgotten. Much as technological progress fascinates me, I invest only as much time acquiring need to know-how where phones and other gizmos are concerned. Once set up, my old Samsung Galaxy has 'just worked' and required precious little extra understanding, so I forgot something basic that my grand daughter would be able to grasp. So now my slick new Galaxy Ace 'just works', apart from a few apps still needing to be downloaded to it.

Owain came around, and together we tried to figure out how we could set up the necessary components of Wordpress in the web space I rent from Servage. He wants to build his own website to advertise his professional skills with a view to try his luck as self-employed copy-writer. It was an exercise in learning by doing, rather than simply paying for service providor to do it for us. We followed the instructions as far as we could, but found we needed a registered web address to use with the Wordpress program files we'd uploaded, and Owain didn't have the necessary details, so we didn't reach the start line this time.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Tech shopping day

Yesterday I determined that after an afternoon in the CBS office preparing documents to circulate for next week's Steering Group meeting, I'd go and buy a new phone on my way home. It's taken me the best part of a year to get used to a touch screen device. It was old technology when I bought it, and now it feels a little slow to the touch, compared to those used by others that I occasionally get to try. However, by the time I'd completed all my tasks, I was too late and had to dash home for supper. 

As Clare had a school AGM to attend this morning, I was able to take advantage of free time and visit the shops. I texted Clare to join me for lunch in town, and had a wander around the John Lewis technology store, in the hope she'd rendezvous there with me, but her meeting ran on late. But, while I was there, I found a bargain Dell Windows 7 Inspiron Duo convertible netbook/tablet, for the office, and had it put aside for later collection when Ashley gets into town. It'll be able to plug a gap in monitoring the network while he is on the move and make for a more efficient service.

I then went to the Orange EE shop in Grand Arcade where thankfully I had little time to wait before buying a Samsung Galaxy Ace II that had commended itself to me from internet reviews and hands-on browsing in stores while fending off the enquiry: 'Are you alright there Sir?' It always takes will-power to resist the rude auto-response: 'What's the matter, do I look unwell or something?' and it wasn't long before I was on my way home for a late lunch. In fact, Clare rang me from home just as I set out. Ironically, the Grand Arcade shops aren't a good place for reception using oldish technology.

The new phone didn't take long to set up, as it's Android Gingerbread version is only a slightly polished update on the one I've become familiar with, but it's much slicker to work with. The sales girl told me that it could be a while before the new phone was activated for use, as the number transfer could take up to twenty four hours, so the old one remains in use until then.

Ashley called twice, but I didn't reach the phone in time. By the time I'd rung him back, he'd just bought the wrong computer, having requested the one set aside in his name in John Lewis', because the counter clerk collected the wrong one from reserved goods section. It's had to understand how this occurred, as the sales person I dealt with had taken to desired item off the shelf, written Ashley's name, company and phone number on the back of the correct 'special offer' price tag, and taken away from the shelf to re-unite with its accessory components. Thankfully he was still on the top floor and only had to re-join the queue and jump up and down bit. He came away with the right piece of kit, a profuse apology and another £20 off the bargain price!

It was too rainy to go out for the rest of the afternoon, so we pottered about instead, and watched the DVD movie of 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' together in the evening. It's beautifully filmed, atmospheric, with great attention to detail and an absorbing slow pace. In a way it's quite stagey in the way it moves between several scene locations. Having read the book and seen the BBC original film series and heard the radio version, this seemed less complex, slightly abstracted from the original, and the 'mole' unmasked with not quite with the surprise impact delivered by the others. Oldman plays an impressive inscrutible George Smiley, but Alec Guinness' unimpressive little man portrayal still packs more lasting punch for me. With all its complexities this is one of those stories that characterise the second half of the twentieth century.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Rainy Birthday

Rain on and off all day, lots of it. Clare was working in the morning so to amuse myself I went and visited Curry's superstore to see if they had any new kit or bargains I didn't know about. Nothing interesting, but I did chat to one of the guys I know there, who used to work at store in town, but left before it closed to work nearer home with free parking. Although a camera expert he earns little more than the minimum wage after a decade in this kind of job. Retail is a tough place to be nowadays.

I collected Clare from school and we drove up to Caerphilly mountain for a walk. We stopped at the now opened stylishly re-built snack bar in the car park at the top, so that could get something to eat, as Clare had lunched in school with the children. I had a huge bacon and egg 'sub' (a giant white bread roll, as used in the Subway fast food chain), followed by a Magnum ice cream. It was just warm enough to sit outside, but by the time we'd finished, the rain started to lash down on us heavily, so we gave up thoughts of a walk and went back home for the afternoon.

Owain came to join us for a birthday supper, bearing a bottle of our family favourite Bourgogne Pinot Noir. I wanted to cook something special, rather than be waited upon, and turned out something everyone enjoyed. Rachel sent me some of her latest batch of her Arizona hand made chocolates. There was a DVD of Bob Marley from Kath, Anto and Rhiannon, plus a CD of 'Arab Spring' popular protest music to invigorate the ears. Clare gave me a year's subscription to the National Trust, and this will make sure we get out and about on visits we've been meaning to do but don't always get around to.

Three years since I reached retirement age, rich and varied years, taking photos, blogging, travelling and really enjoying visiting so many church communities on locum duty. I feel more well and healthy now than I did then. In some ways I'm still working hard, and not infrequently get told off for this by family and friends. But, I'm not working because I need money to survive. I work at a pace I can cope with, only taking as much responsibility as I can enjoy, doing the things I value most. 

A life in ministry should be one dedicated to Him 'whose service is perfect freedom'. I can say without regret that far too much of a working life in the public ministry of the church felt more like compulsion than liberty. Retirement has finally redressed the imbalance. It could never be a question of sitting about all the time doing nothing. It's nice to have that as an option to enjoy now and then, to savour the joy of living in freedom. I recall the story told of Jamaican freed slaves, considered lazy and unambitious by their former owners because they'd only work as much as they needed to subsist on, and then sit around in the shade idling away their days. When challenged, the response was; now at last we can make time to do the one thing we were never free to do before - nothing.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

New shoes

More work on student reports yesterday, and a trip to the CBS office to wrestle over the detail of the constitution until late. Even North Korea's nuclear sabre rattling young despot is overshadowed by the Thatcher demise debate. I bet Kim Jung Un is well fed up at being sidelined on the world stage by a former female western political heavy hitter. Serves him right. 

I had a funeral at St David's Caerau this morning and took along Phil from my tutor group to share in the service, having briefed him over the weekend about my exchanges with the bereaved family. He was at ease in the pastoral and liturgical roles assigned to him. He could have taken the whole thing with ease if I'd been unable to do so. To some liturgical performance come naturally, for others the beginning is a nerve wracking nightmare. The challenge is to give each one the right measure of support to enable them to develop their own gifts.

I arrived to collect Phil during the morning coffee break. Peter and John from the staff team were there chatting. Before we left, Peter came out and gave me a couple of bottles of fine Bordeaux Cab/Merlot as a thank you gift from the team. Such a nice surprise - one of Clare's favourite wines.

On my way in to the CB office for a final editorial scrutiny of the Constitution text, I stopped to buy some much needed new shoes and sandals. I was pleased to find just what I wanted, but when I came to pay discovered that I'd left my cards at home in a pocket of the shirt I was wearing before I changed to go out to the funeral. I started off for home and then wondered if Ashley was somewhere around the block and in a position to lend me the money. Ten minutes after a text message and a phone call and he appeared with cash in hand, and we were able to leave with the goods and walk to the office together.

My new sandals cost five times the 'el cheapos' I bought in the Vinaros Carrefour when I arrived last June. I wore them non-stop for six months and now they're falling apart, just about wearable in a crisis. At last they can go out on their own with the rubbish, leaving some good memories behind.

Monday, 8 April 2013

The death at the Ritz

This morning was my final attendance of the College staff team meeting. Next time the new Director of Residential Training will be in place. It's been a stimulating experience, being accepted even temporarily as a member of such a well focused, confident and creative working team with vigorous commitment to the mission of the church and education of its ministry candidates. While many in the church struggle with the need for change, here's a group of gifted people alive to opportunities that make others nervous. I hope fervently that their vision and commitment will be recognised as they move reluctant learners in the right direction, when the work of the College comes under review in the coming term.

While I was posting some cheques into my account at the end of the morning, the annoying live news broadcast feed that pollutes the dignified silence of the bank - or makes it impossible to overhear the conversations of others, or hear yourself think - depending on your point of view, announced the death of Margaret Thatcher at the London Ritz Hotel where she'd been staying since Christmas. Not totally unexpected, given her age or condition over recent years. There'll be nothing else but this in the news for the next week or so, and the profound wounds which her era inflicted on society will be re-opened and licked painfully by the 24/7 news media.

I hated the change of moral and social ethos which characterised the mindset she represented with such courage and conviction. But her practical realism was to some extent admirable and worthy of respect. She led from the front, but was not alone in her convictions, rather she was the voice articulating a deep shift in values, and I still think that much of this shift generations to come will live to regret. Whatever, may she rest in peace.

From getting an overview of the College's developing integrated pastoral skills training programme in the morning, I moved after lunch to laborious line by line scrutiny of the  draft Constitution for Cardiff's Business Crime Reduction Partnership management board. It's the first time since our landmark meeting last November that Ashley and I have really had a chance to attend to the details and discover potentially risky flaws that could undermine the stability of the organisation's set up. Ninety-five percent of this six page document is just the way it's meant to be, but as ever, the devil is in the detail. Fortunately Ashley is as good at nit picking as I am at seeing the whole picture. So we need a good argument over a document to bring out the best in both of us, for the good of the cause.

It was well after seven by the time I got home. I still had a student report to draft, but after that I was grateful to have nothing much to do except stare vacantly at the telly at the end of a day of such mental exertion.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Low Sunday labours

Out bright and early driving up the A470 to Abercanaid to celebrate and preach this morning. I was bemused to see that since my last visit a month ago the shell of a new house had sprung up in grounds next to the hall-church, that were once the site of the old primary school now demolished and replaced on another site.

I ditched the straight text of the sermon I'd taken with me, and improvised, following the thread of ideas and associations evoked by the Gospel of the day. The congregation is alert and listens, and that gives me confidence to speak directly of things that matter most to me.

The old lady who pointed out to me the bed of snowdrops beneath the tree behind the hall-church, sent me out to look at the daffodils now emerging in the same spot.
Twenty five miles north of Cardiff and 150 feet above sea level, the daffs are several weeks behind their counterparts in Thompson's Park. On my journey up and down the Taff Vale, a thin ridge of snow was still visible along the exposed eastern shoulder of the valley. The weather's been that much worse up here in recent weeks.

Before returning home for lunch, I drove out to Culverhouse Cross for a rendezvous at McDonald's Restaurant with two sisters whose mother's funeral I'm preparing to officiate at in St David's Caerau next Wednesday. The undertakers are from out of town, family members are scattered, and so we couldn't easily meet in a funeral home office, or in either of the daughter's houses, so this was the next best thing. It's not so easy when you're retired and don't have an office open to the public in your home, as I did for forty years. I'm learning to improvise, however.

Owain came for tea, as he often does when he's in town on a Sunday. The evening was given over to preparing another rota for the coming College term. It's not one of my favourite occupations, but at least this'll be the last time I have this particular job to do, and that's a welcome relief.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Severn double crossing

I lost most of Friday to writing student year-end reports. I went out only briefly to retrieve a prescription from the GP surgery, for my next batch of medication and then again in the evening for a bereavement visit in Caerau.

After the usual leisurely Saturday start, we went out to Thompson's Park, awash with daffodils and spring wild flowers at the moment. I took my Sony Alpha 55 DSLR camera and got a few decent shots, but wasn't satisfied that they really captured the amazing expanse of yellow and green glory under a blue sky. 
Te little walk gave us an hour's aesthetic pleasure before driving out of town to find ourselves lunch before heading to Bristol to see Amanda.We stopped at a pub in Caerwent, and had a drink while waiting to order. The place was so busy that in the end we gave up and drove into Chepstow, got sandwiches at the Co-op supermarket, and ate them outside the Castle down by the river.

It's some years since we were last there together. I appreciated the new visitor centre and gift shop which has appeared in one of the rooms to the side of the twin tower gateway. 
We lived near here for seven years while the kids were at school. The area around the castle was a great place off-road where they could play safely. The town looks and feels more prosperous these days, a most congenial habitat for the commuting classes, as it was when Clare used to drive to work in Bristol across the now 'old' Severn Bridge, that opened the year we graduated from University.

It was good to see Amanda back home from her brief spell in hospital, finally being attended to daily by carers and in good spirits. She has acquired an 'ejector seat' armchair that lifts her into a standing position. This is a huge blessing, enabling her to stay mobile, as she can now sit down and then get up to use her walking frame unassisted. She's admirably brave, determined not to be defeated by her condition.

The sky was blue and the sun shone all day again today. Driving home across the newer Severn Bridge into a glorious sunset was more of a delight than a difficulty. Not often do we get to use both bridges in one day.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Chepstow - re-visited from a different angle.

I went into College to do some report writing this morning, then into town by car for a change, to collect Ashley for a visit to the headquarters of our radio equipment supplier, PMR products, at their Chepstow home base. The company office is in the vicinity of Chepstow railway station. Trains to Birmingham pass through there and a few local trains stop daily. The old grey stone station buildings are now occupied by commercial companies, as they are surplus to the requirement of current railway use. They testify to a much busier era, when the wonderful scenic line up the Wye Valley was still open. What a tragedy it was ever closed, when it had such potential for development as a tourism resource.

Our initial task for the day was to agree a deal on the purchase of a batch of radio handsets at an attractive price which can be of particular operational usefulness to CBS. Once that was done, we were given a demonstration of the GPS tracking facility inherent in our radio handset's operating system. A mapping display of the area ibn question can be superimposed with location data - just like on the movies! Is it as good, as accurate and speedy in updating? My experience in GPS enabled digital cameras left me with doubts. 

A clear account of this handset function by Adrian, PMR's chief programmer, was reassuring. Then I became part of the demo, sent out into the wilds of Chepstow with a live handset to be tracked on screen by Adrian and Ashley. Every now and then I would report my location and have it confirmed by Adrian from the map on-screen, or else, he would tell me where the screen reported I was standing, and I would confirm it. It was quicker than I'd imagined, plus, I  discovered that the GPS update speed was configurable - useful in a sudden emergency. Just like the movies!

My brisk walk around lower Chepstow was a nostalgic affair, revisiting part of the town where we'd lived as the family was growing up and I'd been working for USPG. It looks a lot cleaner and tidier than it did in those days. It's gratifying to see how many of its 18th and 19th century houses have been restored, rather than swept away in the cause of progress. There's a new Tesco's. Town centre shops and eating houses have been up-graded. It's a nicer place to live now that it was when we lived there in the eighties, but nowadays, I suspect we couldn't afford it.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Think citrous

Last night we had a family meal at Stefano's restaurant, one of our favourite haunts, in Romilly Crescent around the corner. After a day of much play and not enough food Rhiannon seemed to be under the weather. The transformation effected by her usual plate of spaghetti with butter was amazing!

What a relief to get up this morning to normal internet connectivity once again. I was reminded of how we felt after occasional power blackouts when I was a child. After a brief visit to College to collect information for report writing, I drove Rhiannon and Kath to Cardiff Central station for their train home, and after lunch, a brief spell of catch-up in the CBS office.  As I left, I was given a box of Israeli Clementines from Jaffa. I don't know why they came my way, but the same happened last year a few months earlier, and we turned them into fabulous jam to share. 

Over the course of the year, however, my eating habits have changed significantly. Time spent in Spain, and then Sicily have made me into a citrous fruit eater in a way that has never been the case in my entire life. When I was young, post-war, oranges and bananas were a rarity in the Valleys, fruit eating wasn't a habit easily acquired. 

After many months of mediterranean diet and successful spare weight loss, I now think nothing of eating half a dozen pieces of citrous fruit a day. This past year, I've had far fewer colds and escaped the common round of nasty viruses. I'm willing to attribute this to improved resistance as much as added vitamin C, but who knows? Needless to say the Clementines this year will not get turned into jam. The gift box represents half a week's provision, given what I've been buying from the market on my way to and from the office this year.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The illusion that speed means progress

Easter Monday we all rose late. It's quite a while since I last slept ten hours. We didn't do much or go far, as it was still cold and dull. Irritatingly, the internet was intermittently on and off all day, and for the most part slower than usual. Not that unusual with TalkTalk Broadband however. Most nights we're without a reliable connection from nine thirty for two hours.

Easter Tuesday, rising late again. Mary from across the road came over to ask for help with her computer, as she was getting error messages she didn't recognise. It turned out that her internet connection was also very slow and intermittent, making the job of updating an old XP driven computer into a series of long freezes. Now Mary is a BT customer. I've checked all my equipment, connected to TalkTalk broadband, and the problem's the same. This suggests there's an infrastructure problem somewhere not too far away and it's affecting service providors who buy their slice of the information highway from BT Openreach.

My router shows I am connected, the operating systems on various computers in the house show that my  data is being sent out but only a tiny fragment of data is returning, not enough to display a website, only enough to make the browser hang. Then after a while the router displays 'unable to connect to internet' and drops out for several minutes before resuming at a speed too slow to be functional.

Nothing about local outages on the news. Nothing about it on the TalkTalk website - no point in phoning them as their customer service is rarely of any use at the time you need it. Oh yes, the way I know this is because my BT 3G wireless internet dongle still works, enabling me to visit websites and post this. It's lucky I have no urgent need to spend lots of time on-line at the moment. 

I wonder how many people in business, or managing emergencies are wondering what on earth is happening. It makes me realise how dangerously dependent we've become on internet connectivity over the past decade, and just how wicked it is that internet service marketing promotes an illusion of a world in which every service runs perfectly, consistently and powerfully, when in reality it's still a work in progress whose reliability falls far short of being comparable with that of the national electricity grid.

The Big Joke is all the promotional hype Cardiff is getting to do with the roll out of super-fast broadband services intended to improve economic development. What's most needed is consistency and reliability at whatever speed. Without that your plans always unravel and your emergencies are un-manageable.

What are we doing by lying to ourselves about priorities?