Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Family visit

Kath and Rhiannon arrived for an overnight stay at lunchtime yesterday. We walked over to Bute Park, enjoying the sunshine, to visit the new fitness trail installations and provide an opportunity for mother and daughter to try them out. Everything I tried defeated me. My balance skills are lousy these days but at least I got some nice photos.
This morning the weather wasn't so good, so we headed for the National Museum of Wales and did a kids exploration trail, taking us through several galleries, laid out now in an imaginative way to showcase a variety of informative exhibits. A great asset for the summer holidays. The place was crowded, with even more parents and children than tourists - a credit to the Museum's education programme. It was lovely to share this palace of wonders with Rhiannon.

Sixty years ago it was part of my childhood discovery of the wider world, in an era that had far less money to invest in the learning potential of so many remarkable historic and scientific artifacts. Only a few weeks ago, Kath took Rhiannon to the British Museum in London - they often visit London for a day outing from Kenilworth. I was four years older than Rhiannon before I made my first trip to London by train from Cardiff on my own to see my sister June. I'm not sure how safe it would be considered for a thirteen year old to do that trip in our current climate of insecurity today.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Of eels and otters

Just one service today, or so I thought, having forgotten to look at my diary before retiring last night. I was down to do the eight o'clock at St John's on my way to Llandough, and as a result completely forgot, although I was up in good time and ready to go. How annoyed with myself I was when Clare told me later. I'll have to apologise personally when I go there on Thursday to take their midweek Eucharist.

It's fifteen months since I was last at Llandough. I didn't remember that tea and Welsh cakes are served here after the Eucharist, so it was a pleasant surprise, and provided an opportunity to chat with the group of eight faithful worshippers present. I talked with two of the men about the return of eels to the river Thaw running along the valley below the village and church. Eels are abundant in the turbid tidal waters of the Severn Estuary. Good to know the story doesn't stop there. They also spoke about local fishermen seeing otters again. They have resumed residence in this vicinity, several miles inland from the sea. These are signs of a well cared for environment, appreciated as much by residents as visitors.

I picked up Clare from St Catherine's to go to the Riverside Market, and the heavens opened on us just as we arrived. Clare got wet despite being well prepared with a mac and an umbrella. I improvised a late lunch when we returned, making use of the rest of yesterday's home made pasta.  Then I had another go at picking my bike lock, again with no success. Finally I drilled out the barrel of the lock and knocked it apart with a hammer and chisel, having decided that I'd wasted too much time on a lock that was still and difficult to open, even with a key. The bike has now gone back to the shed for safe keeping until I can get a new lock for it.
The rest of the day was very lazy and dozy, apart from watching a re-run of WAL-E on the telly. A fond parody of all that's best and worst about 20th century America, with homage paid to so many other movies - so clever.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Gull watch in Meadow Street

Finally this morning I got around to finishing painting the front of the house. I'd just deposited on the path by the gate some old sheets for protecting everything from paint drops when this year's Meadow Street fledgling seagull paid a visit. It seemed so confident of itself that I popped back into the house and got my camera without startling it in the least.

Oblivious to my proximity, it pecked away at the corner of one of the dust sheets, then boldly dragged it under the gate out on to the pavement.
It continued to peck at the sheet for a while, then settled on it, as if it was about to make itself a nest there. I had to chase it away in order to retrieve it and put it to use.
All this time, there was neither sight nor sound of the bird's parents, although occasionally during the day one turns up to inspect. I watched the youngster tap on the parental crop, I can't distinguish the gender, and the older bird regurgitating a mess of food, which both of them ate from. No self sacrifice here!

After lunch it started to rain, so we didn't go out. Instead, I spent several hours learning how to use a lock pick borrowed yesterday from work, to liberate my bike from the shackle whose key is now lost, but had no success. Then there was a sermon to prepare, on the theme of persistence this week. I must have another go at that lock tomorrow.

We spent the evening making pasta to cook for supper. It took far longer than it should have because we had both forgotten the technique, so a certain amount of messing around was necessary before getting the desired result. Nevertheless, it was worth the effort.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Editing, uploading and seriously good cooking

By yesterday morning I'd volunteered and been accepted to take charge of Mary Lewis' funeral, spoken to the funeral directors, to Phil the church administrator, and prepared the order of service based around her wish that it should be like her late husband's. 

Following recent conversations about my unpublished book with St Mike's Principal Peter Sedgwick, I gave him a copy to read and received invaluable critical feedback. After receiving his positive comment on my re-writing of the book's preface, I now feel confident about re-writing and updating the rest. It got me out of bed early after a late night to work on revising the first chapter.

Following this, I had a frustrating afternoon in the office, trying to upload the eurythmy performance videos to You Tube using the faster connection available to us there, as I worked on other things. I found  I had to to downsize the clips, was there was no need to show them at HD resolution. It took far too long to do it conveniently. After too much messing around and not concentrating on other jobs in hand, I realised I couldn't achieve with Windows Movie Maker for Vista what I'd been able to do previously with the Windows Seven version of the program. In the end, I had to do the job on Clare's laptop when I got home, the only PC I have with the capacity to do this. I was astounded at how long it takes to down-size and upload a fifteen minute video. It seemed to slow up the entire home network and kept me up late.

This morning I finished uploading the video clips, then went out and met Rufus for coffee at Cafe Castan on Llandaff Fields. We sat enjoying the sunshine as we chatted about his first three weeks in parish ministry. Such a pleasure to share his adventure in ministry. I learned from him that 'Becca in my tutorial group for the past two years had just announced her engagement. A pleasant surprise.

After another afternoon in the office, I returned early as I'd been asked to celebrate the evening Mass at St Luke's as Fr Mark is still on leave. Clare came with me and read the lesson, which was a pleasure, as we don't often get to share worship the way we used to do, with me travelling from place to place on locum duties as often as I do. Afterwards we had supper at the Cardamom Banlgadeshi restaurant across the road from the church - an enjoyable end to the working week with seriously good cooking, and not our own for once.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Abergavenny loss

Clare and I drove to Abergavenny this morning to meet up for liunch with friends Mike and Gail, coming down from Worcester. It's fifty years this autumn since Mike, Clare and I met at Bristol University. Now we're all grandparents with family news as well as personal stories and ideas to exchange. We had coffee the Tithe Barn opposite St Mary's Priory Church, then a pub lunch followed by a walk along the bank of the river Usk.
It was a perfect summer day, marred only losing my house keys. The worst part about this is that my bike lock key was on the same key ring and my Tesco club card. There a Card Protection Plan key fob with a contact number also on the ring, so if it's picked, up the keys may eventually find their way back to me, or not, if I dropped them by the river.. Meanwhile, I'm locked out of using my bike, having scoured the house for the second key to the bike lock and not found it.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Electoral good news for Monmouth diocese

The hottest day of the year so far yesterday. I cooked a soup made from pea shucks onion and fresh ginger from a recipe I devised. It wasn't as good as last time because I inadvertently used too much water to release the goodness from the shucks, but that's a lesson learned for next time. In the afternoon, Ashley and I drove to Chepstow for another visit to our equipment supplier for some troubleshooting on a batch of handsets unable to lock on to the GPS signal they'd been programmed to receive. It's a rare glitch, but a fix had already been devised, so it was just a matter of going through a series of diagnostic tests before applying the remedy to the relevant sets, then returning them to service. I marvel at the sheer complexity and capability of our radio handsets. What can be done to configure them from the server database to enable them to be used with scores of optional settings for different environments impresses me greatly.

There was thunder and a little rain in the night and today was cooler and cloudy. We slept late and lay in bed listening to the radio before Owain arrived to go with Clare for a swim at Ogmore. I didn't join them as I had an appointment to repair a broken filling at mid-day. Once that was fixed, I went and booked an appointment for a hypertension review with the General Practise nurse, for later this month, and then went into the office to prepare a couple of urgent invoices for issue ahead of new radios being supplied to a couple of licensed premises. Occasional demands of this kind come sporadically, not often two in a weekend however,  but the job must be done efficiently in the best interests of service and of security. 

Martin phoned early evening to report that Archdeacon Richard Pain a fellow Ty Mawr Associate of long standing, was elected Bishop of Monmouth on the third ballot. Instead of the process taking several days, it took an afternoon - a measure of support for the man who has been mooted widely as the best choice since Bishop Dominic announced his resignation six months ago. For Martin and family it will mean a new near neighbour to befriend and support just up the path in Bishopstow.

And then to cheer my day further, Rufus emailed to arrange a meeting for coffee and catch-up Friday morning. I'm looking forward to hearing how his first four weeks in Blaenavon Parish have unfolded.

Monday, 22 July 2013

St John's tower porch transformation - at last!

On my way into the office this afternoon, I walked from the bus stop through Church Street, not my usual route, but I saw signs of building work going on at the foot of St John's tower and decided to investigate. To my great pleasure, I discovered that a start was being made on re-modelling the tower porch entrance to install glass doors and alter the position of the step down into the church, to make it safe for visitors unfamiliar with the building to enter with less risk of falling and hurting themselves.

With 50,000 or more visitors a year entering the church through the tower porch, there was always a measure of risk that someone would lose their footing, as they passed through the stylish 1960s wooden porch, not noticing the step down that followed. Accidents happened while I was Vicar and the Parochial Church Council took very seriously its responsibility to make it as safe as possible and make changes to minimise the risk to the vastly increased number of visitors in the past decade. 

A plan was devised three years before I retired to remove the porch, install armoured glass doors and change the position of the step down into the church. It stalled, however, just before I left, as there was an objection to our application for a Faculty (church planning permission) from the Twentieth Century Conservation Society, concerned about the removal of the porch, which had been expertly designed by the architect George Pace, responsible for adding inside the church a kitchen, choir vestry and toilets.

The 'Pace Vestry block' has served the church well over the past fifty years, this is indisputable. However nicely designed for its purpose at the time,  it is a brutalist modern insertion (in architecture-speak) into a fine fifteenth century building and looks ugly in context unless you know the story of the building. The south aisle in which the vestry block stands isn't fifteenth but a late nineteenth century extension, which happens to have been expertly built and furnished to a high quality, in other words fake gothic. 

Architect George Pace knew this, but lived in an era when the new could assert itself against the old in the name of functionality and modernity. As the south aisle wasn't fifteenth century but a mere seventy years old then, any argument on aesthetic or conservation grounds could be easily overcome. The Pace vestry block may contradict current values and policy, but it stands as a witness to the debate about the church environment and pastoral requirements in the 1960s, just as much as the removal of rood lofts and chancel screens did in the sixteenth century, and their debatable restoration three centuries later. 

So an argument can be made to keep things the way they are, as a snapshot of what happened in the middle of the twentieth century. The tower porch with its Pace doors is part of this equation. But what happens when the porch becomes a risk factor in the health and safety equation? Three years delay that's what. It's never easy to implement plans during an interregnum, and now St John's is in an interregnum for the second time in three years. It's a tribute to the Church Council and the authorities responsible for Faculties that negotiations about the planning objection were completed and that the project is finally under way. All this I missed out on by retiring punctually. Frankly, the Vicar's worry of coping with an unsafe environment and authorities that didn't seem to understand the urgency of the matter were among  the factors that ensured my timely departure into my present circumstances.

A year before we left, the church's excellent building contractor Peter Bricknell went into liquidation due to recession conditions. I was glad to see his name on the contractors' site hoarding closing off the tower entrance for the building work. It means his outfit is back in business, and that makes it so much easier for everyone involved in bringing to completion a plan first mooted nearly seven years ago.

I popped into church and met first Norma and then churchwarden Richard, who arrived while Norma and I chatted. It was good to share my delight that work had finally started. I learned from them of the recent death of one of St John's long standing stalwarts, Mary Lewis, aged 83. Just ten years ago I gave her husband Herbert the last rites and conducted his funeral. "I hope you'll do the same for me one day." she said afterwards. In retirement, we often met in the St David's Centre. She was there most days sitting on the bench outside Debenhams, knowing she'd meet her friends there. I stopped and chatted with her on my way to or from work in the CBS office. Now, I must make it my business to be there to celebrate her life with all those from her life at Aberdare Hall and St John's who treasure her friendship over many years. May she rest in peace with him whom she loved but saw no longer.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Images of memory and tradition

A return this morning to St Marychurch ourside Cowbridge for my first Eucharist of the day. The service register told me that my last visit was on Trinity Sunday last year. How time flies, and the people are as friendly and welcoming as ever, with a cup of coffee and a chat after the service to send me on my way. A good repair job has been done on stonework of the church tower facade since I was last there. Thirty thousand pounds worth. Unusually, the masons didn't didn't use native pennant sandstone, but something darker I couldn't identify. Different maybe, but it adds an interesting feature to the story a 700 year old edifice has to tell to future generations, and better documented than any other changes in its long life.

I went from there to Llansannor to celebrate the Eucharist for the second week running, but that wasn't the end of the morning's duties. I'd had a call on Thursday to stand in for Fr Mark, performing a baptism in St John's Canton at twelve thirty. With a thirty five minute journey into the city from Llansannor, there was a risk that I'd be delayed, so the baptismal party was forewarned. Despite a succession of red lights on my journey, I arrived with five minutes to spare, and was home by one fifteen.

Father Mark is on leave, recovering from a recent attempt on his life made by someone with a grudge who drove a car at him, and near missed, hitting the garden wall instead.  The downside of our liberal humane society where traditional values are optional, is tolerance to the reality of ill-will that permits the devil ' who walketh about as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour' to target Christ's ambassadors. Assaults even murders of serving clergy and church workers are symptomatic of dysfunctional society.

After lunch we went out to Dinas Powis to the home of Russell and Jackie who were holding a fund raising garden party with strawberry tea in aid of the Steiner school. I was rather tired after my intense morning, and went to sleep on a rug in a shady spot, while most went off for a woodland walk. It meant I was ready for tea when it arrived. I sat and talked with Fran Whiteside, a local artist and school trustee who's been learning to paint in the eastern Orthodox iconographic tradition, and has exhibited her work. She is thrilled to be embarking on a part time degree course in iconogaphy, which has come to birth as one of the outcomes of an initiative by Prince Charles aimed at promoting and teaching traditional arts and crafts.

We went to nearby Cadoxton-juxta-Barry on our way home to see Auntie Ivy and cousin Gareth who isn't in good health these days. His mum at 102 is in somewhat better shape despite sight and hearing loss. Thankfully they get good support from carers. I was thinking as we drove away that I first visited that house over sixty years ago, the same house Gareth has lived in since he was born. His brother Alan has moved around as I have, worked mostly in Europe and spent much of his life in the South of France. Just twelve hours before we arrived he'd returned there from a family visit. We met a couple of times when I was working in Monaco, but I don't remember us all being together under their roof since I was five years old. I still have a vivid memory of the terrapins they kept in a fish-tank, as I'd never seen anything like them before. And I remember the sound of Alan practicing the piano, way back in 1950.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Blysh in the Bay

As it was such a pleasant Saturday morning, and the school term is finally over, Clare was in the mood to celebrate, so we went out to the Fat Pig Deli on Wyndham Crescent for a coffee and croissant breakfast, sitting outside in the sun. Then we visited the Farmers' Market in Roath to get our week's organic veggies
and I wrote a sermon for tomorrow. After lunch, we headed down the Bay on the bus to see what was going on.  Cafe Castan or Caffi Ty-Bach as the public toilet conversion been wryly christened in Welsh, had a jazz trio entertaining customers and at a distance, people like us waiting at the bus stop.
Plenty going on down the Bay indeed. The Wales Millennium Centre has organised a festival with over two hundred performances in and around the building, spanning several weeks, called 'Blysh'. These include music and theatrical arts and street circus. The Oval Basin in front of WMC is being prepared for a month as an inland seaside resort - funfair, promenade stalls, paddling pools with sand pit, just fifty yards from the quayside water's edge. It's still a construction site at the moment. Will it be as popular here as this kind of summer 'happening' has been in other cities? I wonder.

One of the more amusing oddball events going on while we strolled along the boardwalk involved a belly dance group and drummers performing  on board a small vintage pleasure boat which lives in the Marina. The boat went round in circles just off-shore, and the performers seemed to be having fun. They were however not in close enough relationship to waterside strollers to hold an audience - nice idea though.
 A little further along outside the Mountstewart pub a huge crowd of people were standing outdoors drinking and enjoying the sunshine. From the heart of crowd came forth superb singing - dozens of voices, singing traditional Welsh 'hymns and arias' in tight harmony. Not your average inebriated sport spectators crowd celebrating a victory, but the Cardiff Blues Choir - Côr y Gleision enjoying a sing and a pint in the open air and making a very fine noise indeed.
Teenaged boys and girls were jumping off the edge the open lock gate into the waters of the disused dry-dock next to the pub, as there was nobody in a hi-viz jacket on hand to stop them or remonstrate with them on the grounds of health and safety. Only the strongest of swimmers would dare the twelve foot jump and swim back to where they could climb to shore. A timeless summer scene.
We concluded our afternoon out in the Millennium Centre itself. First, tea and scone with jam and cream for Clare, a cider for me. Then a remarkable performance on the Foyer stage from Siren Sisters, a close harmony singing group faithfully reproducing the song and dance acts of female trios of the forties and fifties, like the Andrews Sisters and the Beverley Sisters.
They catch the 'look' of the era every bit as faithfully as they reproduce the sound. Best of all, they're Welsh, as well as brilliant. What a lovely summer afternoon of leisure.

Friday, 19 July 2013

TV Shopping in Wandsworth

Up at the crack of dawn for breakfast and a walk to the bus station for the seven thirty coach to London. Another beautiful clear day, making the view of the passing countryside vibrant with colour and contrast. In a field outside Bristol I caught sight of a lone deer grazing in a field.

While I travelled, I received an email on my Blackberry from David McKenna, a dancer colleague of Kath's whom we've known for many years. He's a brilliant creative artistic entrepreneur who's done some ground breaking performance work with adolescent boys, and with male prisoners. The videos of his work I find inspirational. I wish I could get to see live performances of his more often. 

Anyway, since Monday, he and I have been discussing a project proposal of his by email. He's fascinated with the potential of digital media to extend into a performance environment what dancers communicate through their physical actions, expressing in fresh ways their visions, ideas, feelings, experiences. He's intrigued with abandoned and ruined church buildings, and what remains of that sense of sacred space and presence once believers have forsaken them. A small group of dancers want to work investigating a place to discover how their use of technology can help them articulate any remaining sense of the sacred, and what this means for them as secular artists with little religious background.

It's a privilege to be asked to be a sounding board as well as provide information and ideas for further investigation. Finding a suitable useable place in the Midlands and getting permission to take it over for a month or so won't be an easy task, but here's an opportunity for those who can facilitate, and/or do the theological reflection to engage in some real creative dialogue with modern experimental performing artists. This project really has me buzzing.

June met me at Victoria Station and we took a train to Clapham Junction to get a bus to Hammersmith to visit Currys PC World to buy her a new television, and a new digital camera into the bargain. It looked identical to the Cardiff store, so navigating to the right place in the vast cavern of a store presented no hassles. She settled for the smallest Samsung in the shop 22" screen, and the cheapest Sony Cybershot to replace her existing one whose on/off button has become unpredictable after four years of use. We returned to her flat for lunch, then I set up the camera and the telly, and moved her old telly into a back room and set that up. It all worked, so I left her, to go and catch the seven o'clock Cardiff bus, delighted by her new acquisitions.

The journey home under clear skies into the setting sun was also tranquil and beautiful, with the colours in the landscape slowly changing. The sun had just left the horizon by the time we reached the Severn Bridge and the twilight brought touches of purple and silver to the greens and grey of the estuary. Back in the house be quarter to eleven, mission accomplished.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Tweet a friend

I painted the the front garden wall coping stone, the porch and its surrounds yesterday. There's only the bay window to do a second time now and the job is complete. A fledgling seagull from one of the street chimney nests is roaming the street while its parents patrol often noisily above. Some years they die, other years they grow until they can fly, and the street goes quiet again, until next breeding season.

My complaints on Twitter about poor EE reception locally in Pontcanna have elicited a response from someone who manages their on-line public relations, via the Twitter instant messaging channel. I was at first suspicious of someone asking for my name and mobile number, as my name is published on Twitter, and my Gmail address available for them to send me an email also, so there was an amusing exchange of banter about this punctuating the routine. It seems as if work is being done on the relay system in the local cell of the network. Whether improvement will mean eventual improvement of reception remains to be seen. It's always been poor in the houses around here, no matter how good the advertised service is meant to be.

In this hot weather, the relay linking our office monitoring system with that down County Hall has briefly and confusingly done down a couple of times. Normally this is very robust, but feeling microscopic changes in alignment of the dishes, or changes in atmospheric conditions near ground level are capable of interrupting the flow, requiring system re-starts. Just like with the mobile phone. The helpline mantra for people having trouble with their reception is: "First try switching it off and on again." Heaven preserve us all from solar flares, as they too can have a much more disruptive impact on networks.

Not long after finally touching base with EE's eager to help people, I had a text message asking me to participate in a cost-free survey about the quality of service received from the help people. Here's a record of the exchange. I couldn't resist a bit of childish mischief.

RX: "Thank you for using Orange Internet Service on your phone. We'll text you shortly for some feedback about your experience (All texts are free) How likely are you to recommend us based on your experiences of using the internet on your phone recently? From 0 (Not at all) to 10 (Extremely).

TX: Internet for me is best a big screen experience. Emergency use only on a phone, as too hard to read with old eyes.

RX: Sorry, your answer needs to be between 0-10 How likely are you to recommend us based on your experiences of using the internet on your phone recently?

TX: I don't do robot polls, so stop harassing me.

RX: Sorry, your answer needs to be between 0-10 How likely are you to recommend us based on your experiences of using the internet on your phone recently?

The rubric assumes everybody knows you can only enter numbers. The robot survey monkey doesn't instruct you to. Duh! Bad design.

Earlier I'd asked the EE help line people for reassurance that I wouldn't get spam texts. This was what I got. So I complained:

TX: How come the robotic survey monkey is suddenly in touch with my phone? I only talk to humans. Sometimes.

To which I got the reply 

RX: Hi Keith, most of us here are humans, we are not able to catch the robot monkey though!

So nice to know there are humans out there not just some geek's idea of artificial intelligence to solve all our problems. Humans do stupid things, but remain smarter than machines whenever they stop, observe, and reason clearly with facts rather than suppositions, and talk to you in language you can grasp.

Enough hassle for one week, I thought, doing their best with all this technology which is never as good as we think it ought to be - although my sister June complains that it was better once upon a time, but improvements (we are talking Google stuff here) are making it impossible, as there's new things to learn and get used to when the old stuff worked just fine.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Tracking technology

Kudos to Cardiff City Council's Highways Department. The Meadow Street hole in the road reported by Clare on Friday was patched yesterday morning, before I was awake enough to notice.
What's going on under the surface to create subsidence is anybody's guess, and digging up the entire road to investigate may absorb the street's road maintenance budget for the next few years. The subsidence is not as bad as last time, but the reason for it remains as hidden as before.

I went into College at lunchtime to deliver a text I'd written for Peter to read, and catch up on the news. I hope to forge some useful links between Cowbridge Benefice Ministerial Development programme and St Michael's Core Skills training activity in the coming year.

Today, I drove Ashley to the Chepstow headquarters of our suppliers PMR Products with a couple of dozen radio handsets for re-configuration. Some of our radio handsets need to be adjusted so that their GPS tracking capability can be utilised, to make sure that lone radio users can be tracked on duty around the city centre.

We had an interesting conversation with Phil, one of their engineers about the use of 'mesh' technology to track tagged equipment in an area covered by a linked series of reception devices, not in an industrial warehouse, but in an American retirement village that needs to track defibrillation equipment, and other strategic items to ensure inhabitant safety.

A few days ago there was a news item on Radio Four about tagging Alzheimer's sufferers using a 'mesh' network so that if they wander off they can be found without raising too much anxiety. Somehow this acquired a new significance after our little chat.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A day on the road

I celebrated the Eucharist at Llansannor and then Ystradowen this morning. As it's the holiday season, numbers were down in both places, eight and fifteen. I arrived with plenty of time to spare at Ystradowen, and walked up on to the huge tree clad mound to the west of the church, which conceals the remains of a modest ruined fortified building dating back into the early middle ages. It's a quiet beautiful spot, just perfect for ten minutes Chi Gung before engaging again in worship. The regular church organist was playing once more, having returned from a couple of months in Malaysia as a music examiner.

After lunch, I drove Clare to Westbury on Trym to attend her monthly study group, then drove on down the M5 to Bleadon Hill to see Sister Pauline and Brother in Law Geoff for an hour. Inexplicably, arriving and returning I last my way, having missed crucial turnings. I guess I don't come down this way often enough nowadays. Next time I'll check the map first. My memory isn't quite as reliable as it needs to be, and with the passage of time, the appearance of places and road layouts changes, making the familiar less than familiar.

I was late picking Clare up, and unable to warn her as I'd left both mobile phones at home, and was doubly annoyed with myself. Nevertheless, we called in on Amanda and James in order to wish James a happy birthday. He's seventeen on Tuesday, and now an inch taller than me - a lad to be proud of. We didn't stop long on this occasion, as James had guests of his own, so were home again by nine. I was glad to relax after a hundred and fifty mile round trip on top of Sunday duties.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Summer in the Park

Thursday, Mioara, a colleague of Clare's came to stay for a couple of nights, interviewing for a job at the school. Our conversations over meals were fascinating as she came from Romania where she'd studied languages and then come to the UK to do a Steiner teacher training and eurythmy formation course after the fall of the Ceaușescu regime in 1989. As with other totalitarian states Rudolf Steiner's thinking was banned in Romania, yet the ideas persisted clandestinely for a new generation to discover, and were there until freedom arrived to practice educational alternatives.

Yesterday afternoon, our old friends Marion and Oswald came and joined us for afternoon tea, and a catch up session of news. How good it is to have time to relax and enjoy company. Between us, we seem to have a lot to do, so it's not as easy as it should be. 

This afternoon we walked our circuit of Llandaff Fields and Bute Park. There were lots of people out paddling or bathing in the river. How wonderful that it's clean enough to do so these days. I took photos of young boys and girls jumping off Blackweir bridge into the pool of water below deep enough to be safe. It's bound not to be permitted by the Council, but it's impossible to stop. There aren't enough park rangers let alone police officers to spoil the fun on a hot day. Pictures can be found here

We had a drink in Bute Park's 'Secret Garden' cafe, part of the horticultural nursery, which is used also as an education center. Then we tried out all latest recreational additions in among the trees - a mix of 'trim track' and adventure trail furniture - constructed from natural materials, offering a few balancing act challenges along suspended logs and ropes close to the ground. Great for little 'uns, but not so easy for someone my size, as I discovered when I tried, wearing sandals and carrying my camera rucksack. Must have a try barefoot next time.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Return of The Hole

Two years ago a hole appeared in the road surface near the house. It was patched, but then collapsed into a bigger hole, which was excavated properly to investigate, then filled in and a two metre square area of street was re-surfaced. This past week, at one corner of the patched area, another small hole, big enough to contain a football has appeared, so Clare rang the non-emergency service contact number to report it. First she had to overcome her surprise in discovering that the service now operates via the South Wales Police switchboard which puts callers in touch with the relevant Council depertment. I wonder how long it will take to get done?

Talking of holes, since we moved into Meadow Street three years ago, Orange mobile phone signal reception has never been good. It's barely adequate in the attic, and it's just about possible to receive, although not to send texts from indoors downstairs, nor make or receive a call without the line hanging up after seconds. Usually we have to go out into the front porch to make or receive a call. We concluded we were in a reception black hole and that was that. When I acquired a Blackberry for use in the CBS work, we found reception on the BT network generally good enough for the phone to function normally. It should be, after all because we can see the BT tower from the attic window. I still don't enjoy using the Blackberry, but love the fact that it 'just works'.

This week, and not for the first time, the Orange, sorry EE it's now called, service was out for several hours at a time, even when we walked down the street to look for better reception. Annoyed, I tweeted about the fact that on times Everything Everywhere = Nothing Nowhere. I noticed that someone else had tweeted about the EE 3G transmittor being down and to switch to 2G reception only. It seems that others locally, and in other parts of the country are having similar problem, judging by the complaints appearing on Twitter. It doesn't sit well with EE boasting about the fastest 4G service. Consistency and reliability are more important than speed to ordinary users.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

House painting time

Sunshine and blue skies are making life very pleasant this week for doing business as usual, strolling into town for a couple of afternoon hours in the office, and eating meals out in the garden. I woke up before six on Tuesday with some ideas to embody the plans I'm working on for a ministry development project with people in Cowbridge Benefice into an interactive blog site. I learned some new things about using the Google Blogger platform, which I've been using for nearly ten years, pushing me out of my routine comfort zone. The challenge will be recruiting people to make use of the finished product once we get it approved and launched properly.

Owain came over yesterday afternoon while I was out at the office and started cleaning the front facade of the house in preparation for painting. At last the weather is perfect and walls have had plenty of time to dry out properly for working on. Today while the front facade was in shadow we worked together on applying the first coat of magnolia paint up to the three metre mark. We'll have to get someone in with ladders or scaffolding to do up to the roof level, but already the rest looks so much cleaner and brighter that neighbours have started commenting about the state of their own. 

It's strange, I had plenty of energy for the job and worked right through to completion,  but when I stopped and started to stiffen up in the neck and shoulders, I was overwhelmed with tiredness and fell asleep on the sofa. One good thing about retirement is having the freedom to do just that. Stuff still gets done, but more recovery time is needed.

Clare's been busy in school with staff meeting and interviews to prepare for recruiting her successor, as she's announced her intention to retire, even though she may continue established kindergarten work. It's a good move, now that the school is expanding, to appoint someone new who can develop eurythmy teaching right through the school's increasing age range. She's been doing this over the past year and found development demanding on top of teaching and organisation. It would be nice to have more time together - something I was reminded of when we sat and watched the Llangollen International Eisteddfod together on TV tonight. How lovely it would be to have the freedom to take the week off and go up there next year. Impossible while it happens in term time.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Llanfrynach - this serene sanctuary

Another lovely summer day for my early drive out to St John's Penllyn to celebrate the Eucharist, just one year and two weeks since I was last there, before going to Spain. I received a warm welcome and it seems that the congregation were already aware that I would be working with them again in the months to come. The same too at Ystradowen, my next port of call. How nice it was to see the pub next door once more open for business, and the horrid pink external decoration replaced by traditional white.
I returned after the service to collect Clare from the market, and eat late lunch out in the garden before returning to Cowbridge for a tea time planning session with Fr Derek the Rector, looking ahead to me sharing in the work of ministry development and pastoral care in the Benefice, during the period of change-over between Team Vicars. Then we went out to the thirteenth century Llanfrynach Parish Church for candle-lit Choral Evensong, with music by Orlando Gibbons throughout - a nice touch.
Bright sunshine outside, but the building has no electricity, and the only water available (sometimes) is the stream at the southern edge of the churchyard. There may have been a church here well before the Norman Conquest. Its long chancel suggests that it might have once had a small monastic community, and in its early history it was an outpost of Cistercian Margam Abbey. 
The village to which this church belonged disappeared from the map after the Black Death, no more than a century after it was built. The new settlement of Penllyn is a mile or so uphill, and linked by footpath to the church, punctuated by a series of 'coffin stiles', where funeral processions of old would pause to rest on their journey. The generous grassy churchyard, enclosed by trees still remains in use for burial today. I wonder if originally it was a circular site, since there are a couple of other churchyards in the Benefice with ancient churches located inside a 'llan'. The survival of this marvellous building in a remote field, half a mile up a rough track away from the main road, has been due to enthusiasm this serene sanctuary inspired in benefactors in the nineteenth century. Nowadays Heritage Lottery funding has taken the strain and the building is in a good state of repair. 
 It's a solid rough 'n ready sort of construction, described by Geoffrey Orin in his book on the Vale's mediaeval churches as 'crude workmanship'. But I imagine many churches in ancient times were built to be first and foremost functional places for worship. With the passage of time and increase of prosperity architectural refinement and enhancement would occur. It didn't happen at Llanfrynach because its village died, and although a large building, it was relegated to occasional use as a cemetery chapel. So, in a way it gives us an unfamiliar snapshot of a stage in the development life of an ancient church. It's a treasure, deserving many more visitors and pilgrims. 

There were over fifty people present, twenty of them in the choir. Many people spoke with enthusiasm and affection about the place and the event. Evening worship normally fails to attract Anglicans these days, but summer Evensongs at Llanfrynach are clearly worth making the effort to attend. What sort of message does this convey about 'popular' worship, I wonder?

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Penarth Pier's Makeover

Clare was busy in the morning with the school summer fair, so I lazed around at home until she returned, enjoying the superb warm weather. Late afternoon we drove to Penarth, walked along the coast path and walked on the shore not far from Lavernock Point, looking out towards Flatholm and Steepholm.

We'd parked the car near Cioni's restaurant up on the cliff above the promenade, and when we returned, we decided to walk down as far as the pier in search of a drink before returning home for supper. It must be a good few months since we came here last. I was surprised and delighted to discover that restoration work on the pier is progressing at a pace. In fact, there's an open day on the twentieth of this month. The roof has been stripped and re-clad with stainless steel tiles and the walls are painted white. Gone is the horrid green paint which made it look institutional and dated. It's strikingly attractive, or at least it will be when all the scaffolding is down. The pier is open as usual to strollers, consumers of ice cream, fast foods and drinks. I had a decent cup of fresh coffee, and Clare had a herb tea. It's becoming quite classy again - a well thought out uplift for a much loved 20th century social landmark. This is how the pier looked before renovation started.
And this is how it's going to look from now on, all silvery and white.
Hearty congratulations to all who have fought to keep the pier, and raise funds for the makeover. I can imagine that it'll once more be well used as a desireable venue in this age of leisure.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Eurythmy first at Hawthorn

Having bid farewell to Peter and Sebastien about to set off to the Devon coast for a weekend of camping, Clare and I drove to Hawthorn Steiner school to prepare the meals for the ten strong team of musicians and eurythmists who'd come to perform twice today - once before lunch for children, and the second full length evening performance which Clare has spent a lot of her time organising and publicising recently. The eurythmists are students at the West Midlands Eurythmy Association school in Stourbridge, doing their end of year performance tour with their teacher. They'd left home at seven this morning to arrive in time to set up the performance area in the school's main hall, and rehearse themselves into the space.

For the children, they did a folk tale called 'Jack and the North Wind'. It was visually stunning, and such a new experience for them, that most were held spellbound for the half an hour it lasted. I took over a hundred photos with my Lumix LX5, and was thrilled at its responsiveness, given I had it on automatic settings and simply pressed the button at every eye-catching moment possible. It was exciting to get such good results indoors, with so much movement going on.
Thirty people attended the evening performance, which was a many as the hall could contain without encroaching on the stage area. There was a repeat of 'Jack' in the second half, and in the first half some performance pieces with poetry and with music, plus an extraordinary dramatic rendering of an edited passage from Tolkein's 'The Hobbit' in which Bilbo and Gollum set each other riddles.
For the evening performance the lighting wasn't as kind to the camera, and the bulb popped in one of just two stage floodlights I'd collected from Crane's music shop in town early in the day. However, I set up the little Sony W690 on a tripod on a step ladder in a corner, and let it run throughout the evening, and to my surprise the results were very good indeed, except that it switched itself off after recording video continuously for half and hour - a massive 2 gigabyte file! The hour and ten minute performance drained the battery completely, but nevertheless, delivered the goods. Editing may take some time.

What a day. I can't remember when last I saw a full Eurythmy performance - was it Clare's graduation? It's such a powerful disciplined medium of expression. I must make an effort to find time to attend more eurythmy performances, as it's so uplifting and inspiring an art form, visually, dramatically, spiritually.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Project invitation

Clare went out with Peter and Sebastien yesterday to show them the sights of Cardiff. I had to attend the  CBS Steering Group meeting, then write up the minutes, before returning home and cooking a paella for supper. Again we stayed up and talked until late. I had more work to attend to in the office as a result of yesterday's meeting, so Peter and Sebastien went up to the Beacons to climb Pen y Fan. At least it didn't rain, although the summit was disappointingly wreathed in mist. It didn't prevent them from getting some good pictures however. 

Today, they went over to Bristol for the real trip down memory lane, meeting up with former teaching colleagues, visiting Hill House where Peter once lived, now gloriously renovated by a man who'd made his fortune from wind turbines, and invested much of it restoring and well as living in a beautiful place overlooking Bristol from Long Ashton.

Now that my Sunday duties have been scheduled for the next couple of months in Cowbridge Benefice again, I've received an invitation from Father Derek the Team Rector to work with him and his colleagues on lay ministry development. He's about to have a change of Team Vicars, and sees this an an opportunity for a fresh initiative in pastoral collaboration between clergy and laity. In many respects the Benefice is already well run and a good deal of its running is undertaken by lay volunteers. Yet, there is always more than can be achieved in the realm of individual care and community work, relying on those whose roots are deeper in their locality than clergy coming in from outside can ever be. I'm looking forward to this.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Catching up with old friends

Following the intensity of Saturday's ordinations I was glad of a duty-free Sunday, and joined worshippers at the Canton Benefice quarterly united Eucharist in St Catherine's, celebrating the feast of St Peter and St Paul yesterday. I went to the farmers market to get veggies for the week. The fridge was already quite full as Clare had been buying in extra stocks in anticipation of guests this week. On Friday, Clare is feeding a dozen people who are coming to do a Eurythmy performance at the Cardiff Steiner school. Today father and son, Peter and Sebastien Stark arrived from Itzehoe in North German today, to staying with us on their road trip, visiting places where Peter had lived in Britain, in the days when he was a Waldorf school teacher in Bristol, and our Rachel's class teacher. Clare is godmother to Florian, who is one of Sebastien's elder brothers.

The last time we saw Peter, Sebastien wasn't even born. We went to stay with him and Chrissie and see their new baby Melina, in their home in Witten in the Ruhrgebeit. So there's a lot of catching up to do, as well as some touristic experiences to be had by our visitors. One of the aims of the trip for Peter and Sebastien is to speak English throughout the trip, in preparation for a possible future internship in U.K. As Peter is a determined teacher, I don't imagine there'd been too many lapses into German during their journey. Sebastian looked tired, and ready for a long sleep. Peter seemed energized by his return to a country he'd lived in for ten years, and inevitably we talked until later than we should have done, given busy days ahead.