Friday, 31 May 2013

Getting ahead of myself

I went into town early this morning for the CBS Steering Group meeting. It was less well attended than the previous meetings, but it provided a useful opportunity for the exchange of information. It dawned on me during the meeting that there was work I needed to get done before I go off to Spain in ten days time, to prepare for the first Board of Management meeting in July, since I'll be in Nerja for three of the next five weeks. It meant drafting the agenda, a schedule of member declarations, and standing orders for adoption that fit with the draft constitution. It's vital that this meeting is prepared well.

I'm glad of the experience I had of running church councils, school governing bodies, and being a trustee of St Teilo Arts in its early years. The complexities of the procedure for managing a business are not all that different. It's a case of adapting to a new situation and funnily enough it comes much easier now than it did when I was younger. Amazing what a little hindsight and perspective can do.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Corpus Christi

I spent most of the working day yesterday in the CBS office preparing for a key meeting on Friday. Then the evening was spent preparing the service for this afternoon's funeral of a Cardiff Trade Union branch president who'd died unexpectedly. The main Thornhill crematorium chapel was full with colleagues from the Ty Glas tax offices as well as family and friends. 

I was surprised to be greeted by a familiar face among the mourners, Mohammed Jabbar, a member of the research focus group that worked on the Spiritual Capital research project five years ago. At that time he was working for Customs and Excise. Since then, the organisation has been merged with Inland Revenue, and all occupy the Ty Glas office tower in Llanishen. It's the first time we've met since then. 

Unusually this year, I've done a dozen funerals, and this was one of the very few occasions I've met someone I knew who was attending a service. It's a reminder for someone like me  who once worked as a priest in a very public role, of just how small is the circle of people from the general public one gets to know while ministering in a city over eight years.

As it was the feast of Corpus Christi, and the weather was favourable, more like a normal early Spring day than nearly Summer, I enjoyed cycling over to St Luke's for the quiet contemplative evening Solemn Mass. I hope the better weather is here to stay for a while. Owain came around for a late supper when I got back from church. It was good to enjoy his company while Clare is away.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Breakdown in the rain

A domestic morning - shopping, banking a cheque, finally getting my hair cut - then, a flying visit to the CBS office to sort out an office equipment malfunction, and prepare some documents for debt chasing, before going to College for the weekly tutor group meeting attended by only two of the five students, as to are away dealing with bereavements and a third is unwell. With no Chi Gung class to go to this evening, I had time to collect my spare printer/scanner and deliver to Owain at home. The rain didn't let up all day, so it was pretty unpleasant. I was consciously avoiding puddles as I drove home, aware of the trouble I had last time I was out driving in heavy rain, but to no avail.

The car stopped once just after I turned off Western Avenue after splashing through one small puddle - it always seems to happen where there are double yellow lines - but I got it started only to have it die again, just as I reached the Penhill Road traffic lights. I rolled down the hill, trying to bump start, but to no avail, and had to park on double yellow lines again, opposite the junction with Llanfair Road, just five yards short of a legal parking space. How annoying!
At least I could go home to phone the Green Flag rescue service - the first time in the four years we've had the car. It was seven o'clock. It was gone nine when the tow-truck arrived, and I'd cooked and eaten half my supper. The mechanic told me he'd attended nine calls in two hours. "I always goes mad when it rains like this." He said cheerily. It didn't take long to diagnose a broken High Tension coil, as opposed to auto-electrics which have been temporarily inundated with water, which soon dry out if the engine. 

So, with my bike on the tow truck back seat, we took the car down to Splott and parked it outside NG Motors, then I cycled the two miles back home and ate the other half of my supper. Not exactly how I'd expected to spend my free evening.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Bank Holiday weekend Opera

I celebrated Solemn Mass for Trinity Sunday at St Timothy's Ely yesterday morning. The regular sacristan cum server was away on holiday, and with no substitute, I had to arrange everything liturgical apart from readings and intercessions - a DIY job - and I'm not all that used to it these days. However, I managed to fire up the thurible without incident, and used incense as prescribed simply by parking the thurible in easy reach on the floor beneath the altar. My little improvisation worked without embarrassing moments, and having extra things to attend to didn't seem to inhibit preaching, so perhaps I'm getting more relaxed about things as I get older.

After an early lunch, I headed down to Cardiff Bay on the bus, in bright sunshine for the afternoon performance of Wagner's 'Lohengrin', an opera I've not seen before. It was such a nice day that I wasn't looking forward to spending the next six hours indoors. Also, with Clare in Arizona, I had a spare ticket. Nobody I asked was able to accept the offer. I queued at the Millennium Centre box office, in the hope of re-selling it, but had left it too late. If I'd bothered to go down on Thursday last I might have had more luck. Such a shame about the ticket. Nevertheless the performance of this amazing opera was so good it was worth walking away from the sunshine for. In fact, would have been worth paying double to see. It was a world class event without doubt. And, as if to prove it, the BBC broadcasted it live.

Bank Holiday Monday today, saw the return of rain and cold weather. A day to get up late, mooch around the house, upload photos and talk with Clare and Rachel on Skype, enduring forty degree heat out there in Arizona. Rachel has been using the Viber app on her iPhone to send me photos, so that I don't miss out, bless her.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

A feast of public transport

How splendid to awaken to sunshine and the prospect of an outing with my sister June! By mid morning, armed with our cameras, we took the train to Victoria, then the bus to Westminster to descend into the cavernous depths of the Tube station opposite the Houses of Parliament for a ride on the Jubilee line out to Canary Wharf. June was here a good while ago before the docklands redevelopment was complete, so much of it was new to her, as it all was to me. We strolled through quiet avenues and photographed vast canyons of tall buildings glittering in the sunshine, with man made tributaries of the river Thames as the setting for many.

This new aspect of London, except where you can catch glimpses of the old heart of the City of London on the horizon to the north of the  London to the on the horizon, looks no different from dozens of other twentieth century city-scapes around the world. Descend into the shopping mall, and the retail mix of stores, whether selling consumer chain fashions or luxury goods greeting, conveys no particular sense of place. You could be anywhere in Britain or Europe for that matter. It's all beautifully clean, safe and well run by polite and cheery people, but lacks unique identity, it lacks soul. Eighteen century writer Samuel Johnson said that those who tire of London are tired of life. Despite its amazing architecture and great facilities I can't help of thinking of Canary Wharf as a place to go when you're tired of London. Anyway, my photos are visible here.

The next stage of our outing was a ride on the excellent Docklands Light Railway out to Greenwich for a brief visit to the Cutty Sark.
We then took the DLR to cross the Thames, and join the Tube line at the Tower of London for the return leg to Victoria, and from thence home to Wandsworth Common by train for a mid- afternoon lunch. Catching the five to five train back to Victoria, I was in good time for the five thirty coach back to Cardiff. I'm just amazed at how much travel around can be achieved with ease in just a few hours, with a day ticket costing only eight quid. People complain that fares have gone up, but when it's possible, with local knowledge and planning to do so much in a short time, the day ticket is really good value. After a clear run out of the capital, the coach arrived ten minutes early. Altogether this day out was a true celebration of one of the world's best public transport systems. 

Back on the ground in Cardiff, however, there was a twenty minutes wait for the first of the four buses that would take me back to Pontcanna from the bus terminus. It was just as quick to walk. After so much time seated, I needed the exercise to clear the brain and get a sermon ready for tomorrow.

Friday, 24 May 2013

London in the rain

I was up at five and out of the house walking to the coach station by six to go to London to stay with my sister June. Unfortunately it was raining by the time I arrived, but that didn't prevent June from dispatching me with great enthusiasm to see a Royal Academy exhibition of paintings from turn of the twentieth century New York by an artist I'd not heard of before, George Bellows.

What a remarkable mix of subject material attracted his attention. He was interested in all kinds of things. His strongly realist paintings includ domestic portraits, city life along the New York shore line, the construction site for Pensylvania station, depictions of first world war incidents, and a series of some remarkable oil paintings of boxing matches also some lithographs of them which reminded me of Hogarth's work a century earlier. It was worth getting wet feet to go back into the city from Wandsworth to see.

Before returning to June's in Wandsworth, I slipped into nearby St James' Piccadilly to take a brief look. It's decades since I was last there. The churchyard is presently being used for a craft market, but with such heavy rain today it had very few customers indeed.
St James' is a city centre church with a lively liberal inclusive hospitable tradition which presents its offer of ministry very thoughtfully. It's rather a pity that the model considered as most appropriate to imitate for the future development of Cardiff's City Parish Church of St John the Baptist after my retirement was that of St Martin in the Fields, rather than St James' Piccadilly. There are far more lines of comparison that can be made between their locations and the ministries developed in both.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

On being spared the gory details

It's impossible not to feel outrage at yesterday's brutal murder of a British soldier on a Woolwich street. How will all the different parties affected by this act of public brutality react? Islamists cannot represent the religion they claim to defend. Using religion as an alibi for their action makes ordinary believers very vulnerable to attack by extremists of another kind. One can only imagine how hard it must be for officers and leaders having to maintain discipline and restraint to angry young soldiers under their command.

The highly diverse local community seems to be taking the lead in its determination to stay strong and united and not scapegoating anyone for the actions of individuals whose minds have been poisoned by the deceit of doctrine that justifies futile violent retaliation. The spontaneous action of a couple of female passers-by, one tending to the victim the other engaging with one of the attackers about what they'd just done was a remarkably brave humane contradiction to an act of brutality, which will live in public memory long after the perpetrators have been punished and their names forgotten.

Most disturbing however was the broadcast of video of one of the attackers taken by a passer-by at the scene, enjoying his ten seconds of public notoriety, having his say before arrest. All part of the modern conviction that if it can be seen it must be seen. Was it in the public interest to let the murderer's speech broadcasted across the planet before he comes to trial? Doesn't this interfere with due legal process? Who knows what unintended consequences could have been unleashed by this news editorial 'need to know' decision? How many more perverted minds will feel the need to ensure their violent crimes are recorded in this way in order to have a few minutes to make their statement in the public eye?

As it happened, this morning was the monthy RadioNet Users Group meeting, and although the attack was not a subject for discussion, it was clear it was on people's minds, as public security and safety is one of the chief concerns of all who attend. In any time of economic down-turn, security budgets tend to get whittled down, there are fewer police available to attend incidents and response times are slower.  What if something like this were to happen on a Cardiff street? The Woolwich attach may not have been predictable, but one of the unfortunate things about publishing video of the incident was hearing a voice at the scene remonstrating with police officers arriving on the scene: "Why has it taken you do long to get here?" It's become a familiar refrain in many parts of the country.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Waiting for the call

I was up very early for a Monday morning, in good time to take Clare to catch the coach for Heathrow for her flight to Phoenix Arizona to see Rachel and Jasmine. By the time I'd done the week's food shopping and been into College for a catch up session, it was lunchtime, and Clare was texting me to say that she'd reached her departure gate for the eleven hour flight. 

I had a bereavement visit lined up for a funeral later in the week, but received a call to say there'd been a mix-up and that Father Graham, their local Vicar, presumed by the funeral arranger to be away, had been requested and in fact was available. So, I went into the CBS office instead, and worked on getting to know how Cardiff Business Safe's crime data sharing intranet site works, and then populating it with information and key user data, to prepare for the next phase in developing the organisation's mission. 

Thankfully it was not a difficult task. I've acquired a basic familiarity with how internet content management systems work from using Google resources, and experimenting with St Michael's College Moodle set up, so I was able to work on everything I set out to do with some degree of success, without needing to refer to the user manual provided. To my mind that's a good measure of usability for someone who is admittedly not starting from scratch!

After celebrating Mass for half a dozen people at St Luke's today, I went into the office and continued what I started yesterday. Towards the end of the afternoon an outburst of mild cheers or was it jeers ran through the office, in response to the arrival of a round robin email from Council's Chief Executive Officer Jon House, announcing that he is moving on to another job. 

Instant gossip started over the recent re-appearance in Cardiff of Paul Orders, previously a top level Council officer, who for the past three years has been a city Council CEO in New Zealand. He's now hotly tipped as a successor. He'd be great for the job, and popular, but in the convoluted world of politics, little is as straightforward as it seems. We'll see what happens. 

This afternoon I bought a battery for the early Casio Exilim camera I acquired for Clare to use some five years ago, from the bargain bin at Currys Digital for a fifth of its original price, as it was already three years old and unsold. In fact, the replacement battery cost as much as I'd paid for camera itself. The battery keeps its price for people like me wanting to keep running old kit. The camera itself loses its value as the technology is superceded in new models coming to market. It's very limited compared to my Sony W690 which Clare has taken with her to Arizona, but I'd prefer to keep it in my pocket to use, than to use the quite superior camera built into my phone, which is impressive but nowhere near as comfortable in the hand.

This evening, a Skype conversation with a yawning Clare and a very chirpy Rachel, also a few arrival photos from Rachel's phone, sent by the very useful Viber phone app. Glad to know all's well, after a 24 hour wait for news. Then, off to Chu Gung as usual on a Tuesday.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Photo Whit weekend

Yesterday, Clare had a school open day. I lazed around all morning, then went out in the afternoon to and photograph birds along the river Taff. I caught a few of a couple of gulls and a couple of crows in confrontation. Not as good as I'd like. It'll take a lot more practice to get the best out of my Sony Alpha 55.
No ministerial duties this Whit Sunday, so Clare and I attended Parish Eucharist together at St Catherine's. It was a lively occasion with three children baptized, members of families who already attend this church. It enjoys a healthy number of younger members, children and adults, reflecting the make up of the area and the pastoral effort made by the clergy team. It always strikes me how welcoming the elder congregation members are here, rejoicing in, rather than resenting the hustle and bustle of kids enjoying freedom to run around in a spacious building. 

After lunch I prepared the little Sony W690 for Clare to take with her on her trip to Arizona, then edited and uploaded recent photos, and we enjoyed our little garden bathed in warm Spring sunshine. Our little dual variety hybrid apple tree was attracting the attention of an unusual looking insect probing apple blossom for nectar. A few careful photos and later an internet search revealed that it was Bombyliidae - or Bee-fly in common parlance.
The Wikipaedia photo is better than mine, but capturing a few decent images was nevertheless a delight.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Providing for rites of passage

At the end of the morning, I was collected and taken to Thornhill Crematorium to officiate at a funeral - my seventh in the Easter season. The fact that I've been asked to do this so often says a great deal about the diminishing availability of overburdened parish clergy for duties of this kind. What troubles me greatly is that churches seem to be making no effort to address the issue. 

Whether it's social convention being maintained by funeral companies, or a genuine desire on the part of bereaved families to call upon the pastoral services of a minister of religion to officiate at a funeral doesn't matter. One way or another, a need remains for families and communities to make their farewells to someone who has died with an appropriate rite of passage. Even if the majority have little connection with organised religion, it's a religious celebrant who's entrusted to occupy the role in most cases. It's not a role requiring a priest to perform. Any lay person can fulfill the role, if they are entrusted to act by the bereaved family with the support of funeral companies. Some Parishes and congregations make use of their lay preachers, though there are never enough personnel available in times of need. 

What needs to be developed hereabouts is a specialised lay ministry like the French Catholic church has created in the past quarter century. Pastorally gifted people are trained in bereavement counselling, and in the arranging and performance of funeral liturgies. As the number of active clergy in France is a small fraction of what it needs to be to meet the pastoral needs of even a minority church in a secular state, a lay ministry of this kind is a key element of the church's continuing missionary engagement in society. France makes a lot of ideological noise about being a secular state, but functionally speaking, Britain is no less un-religious. Yet, religious rites of passage, for better or worse, still occupy a significant social  role in our way of life. So why not put some effort into sharing the pastoral burden by training those who are willing to take on this role?

Don't be so complex

After dropping Clare off at her class in Dinas Powis yesterday evening, I had time before Tai Chi class to spend fifteen minutes out in the mild fresh air and evening sunshine out by the sea lock on Cardiff Bay Barrage, watching a yacht pass through. After a day of sunshine spent mostly indoors, a moment of sheer pleasure. Photos are here.

It's a pity that it's now so much more hassle to manage uploading of pictures to my photo website, since Google started to absorb the Picasaweb service into its Google+ offering. Google plus is so smart and shiny, in many ways it's brilliant, but with so many options flashing up you end up feeling like you've lost control over the user interface you thought you had mastered. Picasa evolved slowly and consistently. There should be no need to re-learn how to do simple straightforward things. This is not an improvement.

OK you can still use the old familiar Picasa user interface, but like other things due to be phased out, a switch back option appears as a floating drop down menu seconds after the Google+ photos  has loaded, but for how long? Can't we have a user interface switch button that's more prominent and permanent, as is the ubiquitous green 'Share' button. The Google+ share option is very slick, but demanding too much in your face. 

Everyone should have the responsibility to stop and think before they use this, or else they will end up inundating others with links to pictures they aren't interested in. My dear sister still sends me the same photo share link serveral times, and sends me back links to photos I've shared with her. She's far from stupid, in fact she's very methodical, getting control over these tools is dauntingly difficult and she's had a lifetime of working with graphic tools. But this shows that the way the green Share button system works is not as clear and user friendly as the smart young people running the world at Googleplex think it is. It presumes you understand jargon and popular phrases. Not a good idea.

Like junk mailers, there's an intention here to be helpful and offer services Google thinks you want, but that's not the same as asking you if you want things. Frankly, all I want is something simple and speedy that I understand and feel I can control. Likewise my sister! Give us a break Google - make it look as pretty and clean as you like but remember how important familiarity is to technology users. Learn from the disaster of Microsoft Windows 8 abandonment of the Start button (soon to be re-introduced). Don't be evil, Google, but also don't be so complex also.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

It could be worse

Today I was due to make a trip to St Asaph with Mark Clavier for a meeting arranged for him with the Bishop. The appointment offered was at eleven, requiring a very early start: do-able, but impracticable, and the proposal, planned since before his arrival was not revisited by us in the light of current facts. Currently Mark's wife works away a few days a week, and that he does the school run with his son. Hardly an onerous duty, as the lad is in the Bishop of Llandaff school on Mark's way into work, but something of a problem, as it would mean dropping him outside school a good hour before it opened. So, we had to cancel. 

Getting interviews with Bishops is not an easy matter these days, as they are required to occupy so many different managerial roles in relation to church and societal activities. Perhaps I was lucky in accessing Bishops in my travelling days with USPG, but I don't recall it being quite as hard to obtain a rendezvous at at sensible time of day as it now seems to be.  This will take an age to re-schedule. Ah well life has a habit of messing up well intended plans.

After a quiet morning at home instead, I went early into the CBS office to get to grips with the final frontier in debt chasing. We're now tackling the past four years of losses due to equipment not returned when some business has unexpectedly closed, or equipment damaged beyond repair, but still unpaid for. It's a matter of first gathering the information, and then preparing the relevant documentation for the collection agency. 

Some doing business in the city use all sorts of strategies to avoid having to pay the debts they've accumulated, declaring one company bankrupt, and then opening a new one to continue trading with, and often failing to notify their suppliers properly, thus making it harder to register a claim with company liquidators. Even when things are done legally and above board, we can find ourselves recovering only 20% of what is due. It's what happens in a recession, and everyone trading is impacted by such failures. We think it's bad, but it could be so much worse. There are still companies that are doing well despite the strain. Small businesses may fall out but the big ones sustain the economic momentum.
Above is yet another snapshot of progress on one of the few big construction projects in Cardiff at the moment, right outside St David's shopping centre. The South Wales based Admiral insurance company's new HQ continues to grow at a pace. The skeletal framework now envelops the core lift shafts, and at ground level the procession of vehicles pouring concrete to complete the re-enforced concrete pillars as now begun at ground floor level. 

When the hundreds of staff move in next year, there'll be lots of empty office space to fill in and around central Cardiff and office rents will drop unless there is an unexpected surge in demand from new companies. Extra local office workers in the city centre will boost the retail economy, but without new business it's just more of the same - effective stagnation. I keep on thinking how much the entire South Wales economy needs the Severn Barrage to be built to secure the future, as iron and coal did from the 1800 to 1970.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Midweek meditation

So good to awaken to a day of clouds but no rain, and as warm as one might expect in a British Spring. My first assignment of the day was to celebrate the mid morning Eucharist at St Catherine's, our local Parish Church, for a regular midweek congregation of eight, plus a couple of small children. After that, I had to get myself to the far end of Canton to join the monthly Ignatian prayer group, meeting there in the home of one of  its members. I spend quite a lot of time in silence and solitude these days. I doubt if I could cope with doing many other things without dipping into this infinite spiritual reservoir. Even so, silence together is even more nourishing, like a place where many deep running waters flow together. 

I get the same sense of rightness from Chi Gung and Tai Chi classes too. Even though we're being talked through our movements by a class teacher, everyone is quietly focussed, aware and intent on right action. To say that the one is Christian in its ethos and the other is indeterminate, or Chinese, fails to recognise universality of endeavour motivated by a higher sense of value and purpose. Divine grace, to the scandal of this world's particularists, knows no boundary of religion or culture. Communion in living silence can be achieved from no matter what starting point or means, as a path into the heart of the divine life. It's a conviction that's grown in my heart the longer I've lived, and I refuse to surrender it, no matter what hyper-orthodox or conservative fundamentalists threaten regarding my spiritual welfare.

From lunch after the meditation group, I went into town to spend the afternoon in the CBS office. St John's City Parish Church bells were ringing for a wedding. When I got into the office, the city centre manager's CCTV monitor displayed the camera output showing the church west door under the tower, with bridal limousine parked outside and people arriving late for the service. I was told that it was the wedding of a Sayer family member - leading fun-fair providors in the city and across the country. Seven coaches of guests, plus limos had been allowed through the security cordon for the occasion. It was so nice to know that access arrangements I'd worked at putting in place years ago when I was Vicar were still functioning.

As there are continuous changes in the world of commerce, with companies starting up, going bust or trying to re-start all the time, the management of record changes involved is continuous, sometimes complex. Attention to detail is everything. It's not my strength, but Ashley is generally thorough and diligent in checking and following through on the requirements of every users. What I have to do is make sure all is well recorded, and users know what we know. It's a perpetual work in progress. My reward for the day's efforts? A night at home doing nothing in particular.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Going against the flow

Rain, more rain, even heavier today.

I wimped out of going into College for Matins and meditation, and arrived after breakfast in time to catch a few people, before going on to do a funeral planning visit in Radyr. The rain was so heavy the roads were awash, and twice on the way from Llandaff to Radyr, the engine cut out in embarassing locations, due to swamped electrics. I drove home for lunch carefully, and returned to College to celebrate the Welsh language Eucharist later. Just as I was driving up Cardiff Road approaching College, the engine cut out once more. 

I had just enough momentum to pull off into the road immediately before the College turn-off, and had to sit there blocking the side road until the engine re-ignited again. Since it's usually a robust car it didn't take long to get going again, but I had visions of being stuck and having to push the car into a free parking space, getting soaked on my way to celebrate 'Yr Offeren'. Fortunately it didn't happen and all ended well - very well, as there were double the number of attendees due to a course in College for the day.

My tutor group arranged to go out for a pizza together this evening, so we didn't meet. I wasn't able to join them as I had my Chi Gung class booked, and I wasn't prepared to miss it. I receive so much I need from it for health and well being. I no longer take pleasure sitting in a noisy echoing room straining to hear and engage in conversation while eating a meal I think I could do better at home. 

It's a well intended idea, but for me it doesn't work. In fact, I find it stressful. Conversation requires proper attention, whether one is eating or not. The ambiance of modern restaurants I've come across works against the genuine intention to talk over a shared meal. The noise means you have to shout. Give me a home setting for fellowship any time. Call me anti-social, but the value of being retired is not having to do everything others assume must be done.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Joined up thinking

Rain miserable rain all day today.  A day to curl up and go back to sleep.

Nevertheless, I had to leave our cozy house for an afternoon meeting at the new Tresillian House and Huggard Centre, rebuilt, opened last year when I was in Spain to provide an integrated service for homeless people combining temporary shelter, transitional hostel accommodation, and  access to services re-housing needy and vulnerable people in the Borough of Cardiff, literally next door. It's an amazing achievement to have got such a complex and ambitious project into life from the drawing board. I say that because I got to see the basic design plan for the project before funds had been raised and permissions granted about two years before I retired. I have nothing but admiration for those in public service determined to 'do the right thing' by the poorest people in our area.

Nobody involved in this enterprise is sitting back on their laurels, now the place is occupied and functional on a daily basis. The reason for the meeting was to bring together people with an interest in homeless and vulnerable people from the voluntary sector, particularly faith-community groups, and take another look at how partnership with the Local Authority might be further developed.

Since retirement I've helped others to bring to birth a training and accreditation programme for the hundreds of volunteers making up the 'Paradise Run' rota of teams offering food to people on the streets at night. This has been possible due to the good-will of the City Council's homelessness service organisation. For me, it was a follow on from the relationships started as a result of being city centre Vicar. If I'd relocated far away, I'd not have been able to take part. It's given me a feeling of being useful in an area that matters a lot to me - ensuring that strong foundations are laid to support ever-changing daily needs for the disadvantaged and making sure it remains a good-will enterprise, not a political football.

Today's meeting set out to gather people from the Street Carer initiative with others from the local churches' emergency night shelter initiative, and any other that could be identified which might benefit from professional agency support, working with the same constituency in mind - like the Food Bank - for example. Definitely a useful thing to do.

At the end of the meeting I got the tour of the new buildings and explanation of how they were operating which I would have got if I'd been in Cardiff when it opened last summer. Except that now it's all up and running, populated with keen happy staff and real service users. You can't beat that.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Ascensiontide baptism

My first service of this morning was the nine fifteen Mass at St Timothy's in Caerau with Ely Parish. When the server-sacristan was doing the announcements at the end, I was surprised to hear him mention the Dean of Llandaff's resignation, then inviting people to remember her and the Cathedral in prayer. I wondered if this concern is being repeated elsewhere, in with the notices about Christian Aid week collections?

It spent quite a bit of time editing my sermon to make it more concise for the occasion, as I felt that I should be finished and ready to leave in an hour and five minutes with no lingering for a cup of tea. During the week I had a request from Fr Derek Belcher to take a Eucharist and Baptism in Llansannor Parish Church, as the regular retired cleric who helps out there was unavailable. It's nearly a year since I was last out there and I gladly agreed, although a safe gap between services would require no dithering in between. I immediately lost five minutes taking a wrong turn in exiting the housing estate on my way to the main A48 road out of town. There are few places where it's possible to do this, and I was annoyed at the error. The rest of the journey was unhindered, however and I arrived at ten to eleven, with plenty of time to get organised.

There were thrice the normal congregation numbers present. A grandson of the church warden Dr J.P.R. Williams was being baptised. The people sang well and were responsive participants in the liturgy, with 32 people receiving communion. After Communion, I offered a thankgiving prayer for the Ruby Wedding Anniversary of Drs John and Cilla, which coincided with the chosen baptism date. Fr Derek tipped me off with an email sent yesterday after midnight, which I looked as just before setting out from home. It meant I could print off a copy of something appropriate from my archive to take with me. His 'just in case' phone call arrived as I was sitting listening to the 9.00am news outside St Tim's. I was pleased to report that I was ready for the occasion, if only due to timing luck.

After a brief visit to the Williams' household not far from the church, I was on my way home for a late lunch and an afternoon home alone to recover, as Clare went over to Bristol for her monthly study group. While I was writing, I tuned in to an Ascensiontide BBC Choral Evensong, from St John's College Cambridge. A Latin polyphonic Magificat and plainsong Nunc Dimittis, then for the Anthem, Bach's Ascensiontide Cantata with orchestral support, and lots of familiar tunes. Such a musical delight.

It also meant I could sit and watch without reproach the ridiculously naff horror disaster movie remake of 'Godzilla' with all its hyper-real computer graphics animation. The script was so bad it failed to convey any sense of the sheer trauma of a cataclysmic event. Disgracefully, it made reference to the events of 9/11. How much more chilling was the raw film footage of reality, shown on TV last evening, as opposed to that of a fantasy disaster. Entertaining only for bad movie fans. The original Japanese version was also a bad film with added hilarity. You could see and laugh at puppetry strings attached to the monster in some scenes. I can't imagine paying to see the re-make in a movie theatre, though I think I saw the original as a teenager.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Green Saturday

Recently Clare and I haven't had many Saturdays when both of us have been free for an outing together. Today was an exception, and we woke up to wind and rain. Nevertheless, we decided to use our newly acquired National Trust membership cards, and drove out of town to the nearest place we could visit - Dyffryn House and Gardens. It's a grand Victorian property, fruit of the immense wealth which coal and the shipping industry brought to South Wales in another era. It's been used for public functions since I was a boy, having been leased for a thousand years to the then Glamorgan County Council by its owner Sir Cenydd Traherne. 

I recall visiting to see an open air production of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream early in secondary school, and I think I went to a sixth form conference there too. Speaking of Sir Cenydd, as a student in St Mike's forty five years ago, I was sent out to St George's super Ely to preach at Evensong in the summer, and Sir Cenydd and Lady Rowena Traherne were among the handful of people in the congregation of this delightful mediaeval country church, gracious and charming. His son Roddy still farms in the area, and has leased some of his land for the natural burial ground which sits on a hilltop overlooking Cardiff. 

By the time we'd reached Bonvilston & St Nicholas parish, n the way to Dyffryn, the rain had reduced to a drizzle. It meant we could stop at the Tinkinswood megalithic burial site, on the edge of a wood, overshadowed by a huge electricity pylon. The site is a brief walk through fields, made more accessible thanks to the  work of CADW.
On our way home we also stopped to look at the St Lythans megalithic tomb, no more than a mile away. It's sited dramatically in an open field at the brow of a hill, just off the road.
Both places have an audio broadcasting device, powered by a wind-up mechanism, rigged to the visitor information board. Ingenious! There are more photos here.

We greatly enjoyed our walk around the 55 acre grounds as the weather improved, and gave us a few patches of blue sky. In addition to the gardens, the house was taken on this year by the National Trust.
The house is in the process of being restored, and just five of its dozens of rooms are visitable, in addition to the main entrance, corridors and staircases. It's a fine building in opulent French Chateau style with lots of wood panelling and fine fireplaces. Some of its features were lost as an abortive attempt had been made to 'modernise' it into an hotel. Restoration includes acquiring similar panelling and ornate fireplaces rescued from other buildings of the period which could not be saved. Such an admirable way to conserve excellently crafted pieces of furnishing.

Several rooms although empty are equipped for use by school parties, in complete fidelity to the habitual use of the place by the local education authority over the past sixty years. I can see us returning here through the different seasons. Garden views will continue to change in a way that never disappoints. Photos are here.

Friday, 10 May 2013


I admit that thinking about the Dean of Llandaff's resignation has much exercised my mind today, even if I am on the sidelines with no possibility of making a difference to the outcome. Whatever happens, the services will continue, children will be baptized and nurtured, people will get married and the dead will be sent from church to their resting place. 

At lunchtime my place was in St Mary's Whitchurch, welcoming the family and friends of Ivor Broad, the father of my friend Julia, for his funeral service. People from Cardiff who remember him as a friend or colleague, as well as from London West Yorkshire and Divonne les Bains in France, came together for his funeral, prepared entirely by his priest daughter. There were around eighty people present. The Rector Canon John Rowlands, who'd already done a funeral on this his day off, welcomed everyone, and opened and closed the service, leaving me to introduce the readers and readings, reflect and pray.  As we led Ivor's coffin into church, we commiserated with each other about the resignation of the new Dean.

It all went as it was intended to, and after the Committal at Thornhill Crem, there was a reception just up the road at Manor Park Hotel, where co-incidentally I dined last year with friends Michael and Barbara Bell from Geneva. It provided an opportunity to relax for a while and chat with extended family members before making my way home through rainy Friday afternoon traffic. So glad that complex arrangements worked to everyone's satisfaction. I have another funeral on the horizon for next Friday already. Today I heard of a parish priest in this city's costa geriatrica who sometimes does fifteen funerals a week. How?

Another rebellious house

This morning's trip to the Church Times website exposed a news Tweet that shed light on my experience of disquiet at Llandaff Cathedral yesterday. The new Dean has resigned after two months in office. I soon discovered there was a curt press release on the Diocesan website and a news article on the Media Wales website, alleging some rejecting her ministry as a woman priest, and an on-going remuneration dispute with adult Cathedral choir-men - this time focussing on performance fees for a series of planned BBC Songs of Praise appearances. 

I don't bother to follow Cathedral affairs, but enjoy worshipping there occasionally. I'm am always made to feel welcome by clergy and people. But there always seem to be fusses and tensions about something hardly worth fretting about. The choir pay affair started well before Dean Janet came. But if professional musicians aren't getting paid Musician's Union rates why not? Aren't they all signed up members? If not why not? Is it against their religion, or is it ruled out of their contracts. Do they have contracts? Or it is because the Cathedral can't afford to pay them what the Union thinks they're worth? If it's any of these things, it's a poisonous legacy for a new incumbent to face, hard to resolve, even if you have the full support of every element of the broad Cathedral constituency.

No doubt more will come out as time passes, the Dean has not yet told her story, but maybe there's nothing to tell. If the Cathedral constituency failed to unite in welcome, or in support for their newly appointed Dean, it suggests something Anglicans should consider even more disturbing than obvious gender and remuneration based disputes. 

Refusal to work with the new Dean in her mission and ministry as the congregation promised to do at her installation, is an act of rebellion not against her, but against the Bishop who presented and appointed her. Archbishop Barry recruited someone he considered the best person for the job. The appointee takes care of the church and community which is the Bishop's home base, focal point of his diocesan jurisdiction, a spiritual place in the hearts of all who identify themselves as Anglican and under his episcopal care.

Jesus said "Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me." Christians are meant to unite under the leadership of their bishop or local leader, whether their policies or gender are agreeable or not. Even if they find episcopal rule to be contentious, harsh or confusing, the consensus of faith is that the authority exercised through this office is of God. So, if the bishop assigns someone to work with a community, those involved should thank God, make an effort, and get on with whatever needs to be done. This time, it's all come apart, shamefully, publicly. What lessons are there now to be learned? 

If a Cathedral constituency, whatever its mix of reservations and resentments, cannot unite behind the pastor its Bishop has entrusted to them, something is profoundly wrong. Dean Janet has sensibly taken herself out of the equation. Why should she allow herself to be destroyed due to unresolved issues between Bishop and Cathedral constituency? 

The Cathedral admirably welcomes a disproportionately large number of people to worship and for pastoral offices. Some are refugees from dysfunctional or dying parishes or free church congregations where the faithful can no longer find adequate spiritual food. It's not easy to integrate different demands for nurture and expectations of involvement into the life of an establishment rooted in tradition. It's a balancing act requiring work from everyone, but in the end, Cathedral life is not a refuge, nor an end in itself. Its identity and mission relies entirely on the fact that it is the Bishop's home church and must come to terms with the Bishop's policy and agenda, like it or not.

Take the episcopal throne away, and it's nothing more than a big successful middle class congregational mega-church with fancy ceremonies. Maybe it's time to challenge the Cathedral's pretensions to relevance by re-locating the Bishop's home church (and epsicopal throne) to a ravaged housing estate hall-church in the back of beyond. Oh, but Canon lawyers wouldn't approve of that! 

I bet Pope Francis does it first.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Wet Ascension Day

A bright start to this great day, but colder, and then clouds and rain to dampen the festive mood. I had intended to go to the Eucharist in the Parish at St John's Canton, but lost track of time when I was writing emails leaving it to late to arrive there, so I cycled to the Cathedral instead as it had a service half an hour later. About twenty people were in the congregation including three fellow clerics. One of them drew me into conversation as I was about to leave, as a funeral request for them had been re-directed to me. I got the impression from tight lipped sotto voce conversation not quite in my presence that it's not a happy place at the moment, despite recently welcoming a new Dean. But for as long as I can recall, there's always been someone having a moan about something not approved of in the mother church of the diocese. It's not immune from the voices of disaffection that are endemic in the wider church today.

Meanwhile, back to business. Pidgeon's funeral car collected me at lunchtime for a service in their chapel. I met their new funeral Manager John Cammell. He's putting on a reception to meet the city's clergy in a few weeks from now. Pity I can't go, as it's on a Chi Gung evening. I learned that their other new recruit, Luke the EasyJet driver was off work already with a broken foot from playing football one evening after work. The chapel was full with a few standing at the back. It was raining and windy when we finished and hardly let up for the journey to the new part of Western cemetery, for the brief damp committal ceremony.

After a brief cup of tea back at home, I headed out in the rain and the evening traffic to the Legacy International Hotel on the edge of Tongwynlais, to meet up with Philippe Chambeyron and two of his daughters arriving from Geneva, mother-in-law Barbara and sister-in-law Debbie arriving from West Yorkshire for tomorrow's funeral. I arrived just ahead of them, and it was then just a matter of double checking all the arrangements and preparations for Ivor's funeral tomorrow at St Mary's Whitchurch.

I was back home in time to eat supper, then drove Clare to her group meeting before going on my Tai Chi class. A welcome work-out after none too cheery day.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

All a matter of luck

As it was a bright sunny morning yesterday, I cycled into College for Matins and meditation, but returned home to work after breakfast, as the internet connection was down. I did a bereavement visit in my local Parish on the way, preparing for a funeral this Thursday. The usual tutor group afternoon meeting continued with Bible Study on 1 Peter. I'm making an effort to listen more than I talk. Discussion didn't come easily today. Perhaps everyone is depleted, just finished the term's final round of essay deadlines. There was certainly a plea voiced to cancel tutor group meetings today. I figured that the members had mutually agreed to study a biblical text which would cover one chapter a week for five weeks until the end of term. If you make such an undertaking in a parish you have to stick to it, so why not get into the habit here? No matter how drained of resources you may be. Frankly it was a relief to ride off to my Chi Gung class, and recover some of my own depleted energy.

Today I spent the afternoon in the CBS office, working at finalising for circulation the Steering Group minutes from a couple of weeks ago. They've been waiting for a time when Ashley and I could review them together without other matters intruding on the conversation. There are always so many distractions to hinder us. I had intended to go into College for the Eucharist before supper, but left just too late to get the vital bus that would allow me to arrive on time. One distraction too many, no doubt.

It was nice that Owain came around for supper. His job finished last Friday. This time he was able to register his unemployment and ask for a Job Centre appointment on-line. Not that he hasn't stopped looking for work all the time he's been in his recent temporary post. He gets the interviews, but not the job offers and this has pressed him to look at every aspect of his performance and application processes. He showed us his new smartened up C.V. - same facts different cladding. More eye catching, he hopes. His continued optimism amazes me. Meanwhile his techno music output gains recognition and praise, and a lucky break with music might just as equally give him the career he'd love to have, as opposed to continuing in the career he's been fruitlessly pursuing this past couple of years. He's philosophical about it all. "Job or music breakthrough - all a matter of luck." he says.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Bank holiday idleness

How good to have blue skies and sunshine for the Bank Holiday in of lieu of May-day! We strolled into town through Bute Park to shop for a suitcase and fisherman's gilet for Clare to wear to carry her essential items in when she travels to visit Rachel over in Arizona two weeks from today. The city centre wasn't at all busy. I guess the fine weather took the usual shopping crowds out into the countryside for the day. There were lots of people picnicking or playing games on Llandaff fields when got off the bus on out way home. Good intentions to go out somewhere again after lunch fizzled to nothing and we spent the rest of the day pottering about or idling with pleasure in the sunshine and mild air.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Long morning after evening with Nofit State

Kath and Rhiannon arrived mid-afternoon yesterday for a special outing to watch Cardiff's own Nofit State Circus in performance at the Millennium Centre. By sheer co-incidence the Moscow State Circus was also performing locally, out at the Leckwith Retail Park in the lee of the Cardiff City Stadium. When we got to the Millennium Centre, the arena just outside was being prepared for a big event tomorrow, celebrating Cardiff City's League Championship win and promotion to the Premier League. As we were waiting for the performance to start, City Centre and Events Manager Rob Corp came into the building with one of his lieutenants for a break from his weekend logistical organisation efforts outside. He looked harassed. He has a big job which must go well as media eyes from all around the country if not further afield will be on the Bay tomorrow.

The circus performance was amazing - all the excellence of human skills on show - jugglers, tightrope walkers, tumblers, trapeeze and rope artists. The audience stood and moved around throughout - an event described as a 'promenade performance'. Huge scaffolding towers were used for different set pieces, and shifted by the crew to new locations as required, and re-assembled to create a mise-en-scène linking to a narrative fragment around which performance set pieces were formed. It was at the same time full of traditional circus performing arts and very modern in the way it was presented. 
The performers and audience were on the main auditorium stage, sufficiently high and deep to provide a space for all the action to take place safely. The management of the whole event was executed with superb precision, and while the whole thing felt like an adventure in unknown territory the audience were made to feel safe and at ease as spectators. An exhilarating night out.
I had an early start this morning, with an eight o'clock 1984 Prayer Book celebration in the beautiful eleventh century Parish Church St Fagan's in a village which contains the National Museum of Welsh Life, just ten minutes drive from home. My first Vicar Lewis Clarke was incumbent here for many years, while he was Archdeacon. His successor was Tony Wintle, who was at St Mike's the same time as I was, but stayed a couple of years after retirement age. He just finished after Easter.
From there I went to St Timothy's in Caerau for their Sung Mass, and then on from there to St David's in the same Parish for their Sung Eucharist, followed by another service - the baptism of three children aged nine, six and three. As many people were there for the baptism as for the previous service, and only a handful of regulars who were there to look after things and support the officiating minister. It's a truly admirable job they do, and one which I suspect they will continue to do when their sick incumbent returns to duty.

I wondered how I would cope with four services in a morning, and am relieved to say that I got through without any problem. It was good to get home and still have the energy to enjoy lunch with the family when it was all over.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Taff Vale childhood

Last night's Tai Chi session was good and challenging as we played the full short form through twice. There are still gaps in what I remember properly, two thirds of the way through, but it's nice to think that joining up the parts is once more within sight.

I was glad of a quiet morning to prepare a sermon for Sunday, and prayers for the afternoon's funeral. The driver from Pidgeon's who collected me for the trip to the Wenvoe crematorium was someone I hadn't met before. He turned out to be an EasyJet pilot made redundant in a recessional-cost cutting exercise. He'd flown aircraft into Geneva many times but never gone beyond the airport terminal. A strange change, from driving an Airbus all over Europe to a Jaguar around Cardiff and the Vale.

The crematorium chapel was full, as the deceased was well known as a golf club member and a freemason. A childhood friend now in his mid seventies, close to tears, reminisced about growing up in Morganstown when it was still very rural before and during the war, before it became a Cardiff suburb. His simple eloquence brought to life that era in which my sisters grew up a generation before me. Thirty years before them, my father had passed his school years the opposite side of the valley, in Taff's Well.

When I got home, after the funeral, I was sent out on an errand to B&Q to get a big bag of potting compost, a hanging basket and a rotary clothes-line socket for the garden, now that Spring is here. I also bought some seed, and filled the bird feeder for the first time since we moved here. It'll be interesting to see what birds come and use it.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Truth and guesswork

Blue skies, milder air and sunshine again today. It makes me feel so much better. I didn't feel the need to do much apart from go out shopping for fresh fruit, as we'd nearly run out. I enjoyed a nice quiet solitary  morning, before heading into town for an afternoon in the CBS office, working on updating our inventory of lost and stolen radios and bad debt. Now we have a proper secretary and I don't have to keep focussed on invoicing and revenue generation, I can pay attention to making sense of information which has been accumulated but not analysed. 

With more office moves behind us than years of operation, it's amazing we lost very little from the paper trail. Getting it all organised and filed away is one thing. Making good use of the information contained by the paper trail is another. The new accounts system gave us what we think is a high figure for money owed to the company, but doesn't categorise it yet, as relevant information still needs to be fed into the Sage accounts program. So, a review of equipment losses and its impact on revenue was needed. 

This was initiated by our new secretary soon after she started work. But, it had to be set aside because of the need to tackle more urgent things. Nine months later, the forgotten file was brought out of obscurity, and didn't take long to update. What was interesting was to see how our general guesswork about the cost of equipment lost was close to what could be calculated. This made it possible to estimate revenue losses from missing equipment. And that made it possible to make proper sense of the accounting data. It's not hugely complex but requires a little effort to move away from guesswork, however accurate, to a factual estimation. Guesswork hides assumptions that can distort a true picture. It's better to try and understand the argument and the facts for what they are, even when they contradict what you think is happening. This much, I inherited from a youthful training in science and philosophy.

When I started training for ministry forty five years ago, I was attracted to the theological discipline that sought to make sense of 'facts' , whether this concerned scriptural texts, historical narrative, or those of philosophical and moral argument. Analysing the meaning of statements, recognising different ways in which words could be used and human experience described remains fascinating to me. But, I'm not sure this is shared by the younger generation of contemporary 'digital native' seminarians at St Mike's. They have different experiences, also different ways of working on the given data of Christian scripture and tradition, if norms of post-modern culture are believed.

The critical analysis of meaning which came naturally to my generation seems on times to be perceived as a threat to the rising generation. Come to think of it, my generation found the ideas of Bonhoeffer, Tillich, and their contemporaries hard to engage with, because they challenged some assumptions taken  for granted. Each rising generation has the opportunity to explore and interpret the world experimentally, and must expect to be challenged critically by its predecessors. Not as a defence against change, but to ensure that truth is not obscured by guesswork, however 'inspired'.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

May day revolt

Tuesday morning was taken up with a tutors' team meeting to review and finalise student reports for all who are not being ordained in two months from now.  With a funeral to prepare for this coming Friday, I made a home visit to the widow and her daughter in Radyr after lunch, then went home to clean the house ready for Clare's return. She stayed on in Geneva an extra day to visit former colleagues at the Geneva Steiner school. After tea together, I headed back to College for a tutor group bible study on the first chapter of 1 Peter. Then an hour's Chi Gung class before supper. Sara sent me a picture of a Valborg bonfire from Gothenberg - Valpurgisnacht - auf Deutsch, a half year away from Hallowe'en. My how the seasons pass.

I spent this morning preparing Friday's funeral and Julia's dad's funeral, set to take place at St Mary's in Whitchurch ten days from now. After a day of leaving messages on each other's answering machines I finally had a conversation with Canon John Rowlands the Rector to arrange the details. Satisfied that all is now in place, I headed into town for an afternoon in the CBS office designing information leaflets on night services available to people in the city centre to circulate to security radio users. The new Admiral office tower next door to Motorpoint is growing nicely, as you can see from this photo.
On my way there, I went into Curry's digital in Grand Arcade, as I often do, to see if there's anything new of interest on offer. In just a few minutes I was accosted four times by sales staff asking me "Are you alright?" Finally, in sheer annoyance I rounded on one of them and said: "What's the matter? Do I look ill?", which rather took him aback. They don't seem to be trained to ask: "Can I help you?", and all habitually use this annoying casual colloquialism with a double meaning. Sure, "Can I help you?" may well evoke the response: "No, I'm alright." but that's no reason to ask "Are you alright?" given the rich communications potential of the English language. I tweeted my annoyance, and was somewhat amused to elicit a response from @curryspcworld.  

There are huge cultural gaps in the use of English across the generations, and social classes, and no longer a consensual social protocol for interaction in the public realm, as there seems to be in the use of European languages which use old conventions more so than is done in English. The aim on the part of retail workers is to be friendly and put customers at their ease, but there seems to be little understanding of how to make space, either physically or mentally to consider the product in situ. Perhaps the staff just don't have enough to do to keep them from mobbing customers.