Monday, 30 September 2013

Bargain hunt continues

Eddie and Ann set off for Felixstowe in Monday rain after a long slow breakfast together, and we made a hesitant start to our week. Mid afternoon we travelled into town together - me to bank a cheque and Clare to meet Owain over an exchange of birthday present. 

Duty done, I made my way to John Lewis' store only to see Clare descending the escalator as I was ascending on a bargain hunt. Having landed two great bargains here recently, I can't resist looking for a third when there's nothing better to do. I found just what I was after, a big HP desktop PC running Windows 7 for the office at forty percent discount, to replace Ashley's big laptop, designed with gamers in mind in late 2008, running Windows Vista. It was, in its day, the most expensive piece of equipment we had, and the only one to have failed requiring a visit from a Dell service engineer to sort out the RAID array and re-install the OS, with corresponding data loss. 

Unfortunately, I was in Spain at the time, helpless to intervene with caution in this emergency - probably out cycling somewhere out of 'phone signal range. Getting all the necessary software back up to required standard was one of the first jobs I did when I returned. There was minimal real data loss. A little email data was lost because British Telecom re-jigged their email servers in the same month of misfortune, so missing stuff couldn't be downloaded again. Nothing critical to Company business was lost, due to an obsessive dispersed back-up policy for which there is no need to apologise.. Tomorrow is dedicated to setting up the new machine ready for Ashley to use when he gets back into action after a retail crime conference in London the day after.

Having delivered the new PC to the CBS office, I headed for home. Passing St John's church, I noticed that the contractors shutters around the tower arches had been removed, revealing the new glass door and wall panels which have just been installed. It gave me great pleasure to see this as it was a project close to my heart. I took a few unsatisfactory photos using my Blackberry phone camera. Here's the best of a mediocre bunch.
After supper, I drove out to Cowbridge Holy Cross to join a two hundred strong congregation for the licensing and welcome of Fr Edward Dowland-Owen, the Benefice's new Team Vicar. It was an enjoyable experience, sitting in the congregation with lay people I normally lead in worship, feeling part of this 'community of communities' that calls itself 'church' in this area. Apart from attending summer Evensong at Llanfrynach, this is the first big Benefice event I've taken part it. It gave me a sense of belonging that, if I'm honest, I've missed since retirement. It makes me feel blessed.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Last respects

This morning, I headed out to Llandough for my first service of the day with last night's music still going around in my head, somewhat preferable to the musical offering of BBC Radio 4's Sunday worship from Latimer Minster in South Buckinghamshire, an evangelical initiative describing itself as a 'Missional' church. I arrived early enough to have time to stop and photograph a small herd of cattle grazing by the river Thaw in the autumn sunshine.

I back tracked to St Hilary for the second Eucharist, a congregation still mourning the sudden loss of one of its long standing stalwarts John Curteis, buried outside in the north west corner of the churchyard after a service last Thursday. As he was a prominent public figure, there'll be a memorial service for him in Llandaff Cathedral in a fortnight's time. Before driving home for lunch after the service I went to his grave, still covered with a huge white wreath of flowers, and prayed for the repose of his soul. I'd first met him when I was at St John's, as a fellow member of the Order of St John and the United Services Mess. He will be missed by many.

Owain joined us for lunch. By the end, I could hardly stay awake, and needed a nap. It's been a demanding, busy week. We went out for a stroll and tea in Bute park, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. After supper, we watched another delightful episode of ''Young Montalbano' on iPlayer. Eddie and Ann are fans too.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Tosca reflection

Today was Clare's birthday, and before a grand late breakfast/Brunch together, for which Owain joined us, I dashed down to town to tax the car, renew my ISA account, and purchase a new printer for Clare, as a surprise birthday present (the garden shed she wants is still a work in progress). Her printer gave up the ghost yesterday unexpectedly. The model I wanted was out of stock at John Lewis, Clas Ohlsen and Curry's - all snapped up by students in Freshers' week I was told apologetically - but thankfully Staples still had some, and at the right price, with a free ream of paper thrown in. Too big to wrap up, so I unpacked and installed it ready for use.

End of the afternoon the four of us went down the the Millennium Centre for an early supper at the busy 'Ffresh' restaurant there, and then the evening's performance of Puccini's Tosca. This must be the third or four time we've seen the WNO production since it was launched over ten years ago. Tosca was played exhilaratingly by American soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams. Her lover Calvardossi played with energy by Glyn Hughes. Claudio Otelli was disappointingly introverted in his presentation of the evil Scarpia, but all in all it was a marvellous performance. And it made me think.

Tosca's aria Vissi d'arte is a prayer of lament declaring how she lives for art and for love, is devout and sincere in exercising her religious piety. So why has God rewarded her with evil misfortune? She doesn't seem aware that what's happening to her is a result of her own passionate impulses. Her tendency toward jealousy and her fiery temper have been exploited by the spymaster, who understands human weaknesses all too well. He too purports to be a champion of Roman religion and the status quo, while in secret he is a lecherous abuser of women. In a fit of outrage as he is about to rape her, she kills him, and there is no way out for her or her lover but death. As she jumps from the battlements of the Castel Sant Angelo, her last words are "Scarpia, we shall meet this day in heaven." It's always sounded a bit odd to me. 

That she should mention the name of her abuser and not her beloved is odd enough, but heaven? Shouldn't this pious lady have known better? Was she ignorant of the consequences of suicide in Catholic belief? Or, that Hell is the destination for mortal sinners like Scarpia and herself? Is it an expression of irony in the face of despair? Or colloquial Italian for 'afterlife' which hasn't survived in translation? I'd love to know. Or is this the librettist's portrayal of someone who lives by their feelings, who prefers to think as little as possible, having a piety that is uninformed by reasoned faith.

Calvarodossi, cursed by Scarpia for being a libertarian expresses his Enlightenment passion for freedom, and is betrayed to death not just by the villany of Scarpia, but in effect also by Tosca who discloses the secret of her lover's aid to a fugitive because she cannot stand to hear him being tortured. For all her success as a performing artist, she is spiritually immature, and probably ignorant. Calvarodossi, may not seem deeply religious, but he puts his life in the line because nothing is more important to him than love and freedom.

The message? Beware of piety, not backed by disciplined thought and understanding. It can lead to tragedy.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Tax horror story

Yesterday, I dropped Clare off at school and then made my way to Christchurch Roath Park to celebrate the midweek Eucharist there for the second week running. Although my back was less stiff, if was still painful with certain movements, so I abandoned the idea of returning the car to Clare and going by bus into the office as I did last week. Instead I lay flat on the floor with my head on book and worked on gently lengthening my spine as I learned from my Alexander teacher thirty years ago. When Clare had finished work I fetched her by car. After supper it was study group for her and Tai Chi for me, with my back standing up well to the exercise.

Ashley and I conversed  at length by text message in the afternoon. The finalised CBS accounts had been delivered to him, and approved for submission to Companies' House tomorrow. He was in the course of trying to prove the existence of CBS as a registered trading company to the tax authorites in order to settle our VAT bill - HMRC had failed to register our three previous changes of address and then de-registered us - a consequence of their own administrative chaos following the merger of Customs and Excise and Inland Revenue. Since the last time we paid our dues they have stopped receiving cheques and will only accept electronic payment. You can only register for this by providing proof that you company exists and is trading.

More tax horrors today, and more text messages exchanged with Ashley, as the outcome of registering your annual financial statement at Companies' House is a requirement to pay immediately Corporation Tax that's due - 20% of annual surplus of income over expenditure. Again, this can only be paid for electronically. A completely separate registration process is required to identify the Company and set up an account for it as a payer of Corporation Tax. All the steps were duly followed, but the information Ashley had received from the accountants wouldn't permit him to set up a new account and by the time he had queued for ages and argued on a none too helpful helpline, he learned what was missing it was too late as the accountants had gone home for the weekend.

So, we have money we need to pay the Inland Revenue on two accounts but their system requirements make it hard to do so easily or efficiently. How easy, I wonder, do tax professionals find it? Will it be easier next time, now we know more about how things work? Or will the internal merger lead to changes that confound the end-user?  If you're working hard and struggling get your accounts filed on time it can be a nightmare. If you're unfamiliar with different on-line systems, and if you fail to meet the deadlines imposed, there fines are imposed which eat into your profit margins and weaken your economy. I wonder how much a problem it is to small businesses, and how much it contributes to small business failures?

I couldn't spend long in the office this afternoon to support Ashley, as Eddie and Ann were arriving to spend the weekend with us for the last few days of their holiday in Devon. I had paella to cook for our little family re-union and news catch-up time. We didn't talk about tax, that's for sure!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Stand-in pastoralia

I drove Clare to school in the rush hour traffic this morning on my way out to Christchurch Radyr to celebrate the midweek Eucharist, and enjoy a brief coffee and chat with the half of the congregation that didn't rush off straight away after. Jenny and Chris are at Clergy School. Then I returned home to wait to be picked up for another funeral, at St Paul's Grangetown. My driver told me proudly that it was the first outing for the new Jaguar fleet cars, taken delivery of last night. I didn't think the one I rode in yesterday looked any different. The fleet cars are immaculately kept. It seems there had been maintenance issues with the ones disposed of however, and reliability is essential for those organising funerals. 

There were over two hundred people of all ages present, to say farewell to one of the well known local characters. As the weather was mild and sunny, many people stood around outside, smoked and chatted until the last minute, almost everyone traditionally dressed in black - smart or casual. I conducted the service from a lectern with its own platform. Once I started, I wasn't able to adjust its position and had to stand back with my heels slightly off the platform to read naturally and look at the congregation. It made me fully aware of the pain in my back. Not as bad as yesterday, but enough to make officiating more of an effort than usual. 

We went to Western Cemetery by a different road from the hearse. Any route across the city is heavy with traffic on a lunchtime. Going separately carries a measure of haste and uncertainty with it, but we arrive five minutes before the cortege, and then had to wait ten minutes as the grave digger appeared not have have finished clearing up after him, but the Committal was soon over and I was back home for lunch before driving into the office, to meet Ashley for an expedition to Cwmbran to the auditors. In the end other operations got in the way and the vital amendments were delivered by phone. By the end of this week CBS will be fully up to date with Companies' House with annual financial statements we can take some pride in, and present to the inaugural meeting of the Board of Management in six weeks time.

It was raining miserably, so I left the office early and drove through the evening rush hour traffic to Llandaff North to fetch Clare from school. In and out of cars all day. No wonder my back hurts. Not enough gentle exercise to loosen me up.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Not curtains

My back hurts, it's stiff and painful after lugging paving stones around yesterday. I'm unused to such intense physical activity. I had a funeral at Thornhill Crematorium mid-morning, an elderly lady whose husband's funeral I'd officiated at three and a half years ago. There were eight people there. When I pressed the button at the end of the Committal the curtains didn't close around the coffin. I pressed again. Nothing. So I carried on to the end as if it was meant to be the way it was despite feeling disconcerted.

After saying farewell to the family, I returned to the chapel to inform the attendant, and found him and his colleague inspecting the lectern and the switching device. He'd told me earlier it was his first day back. What had the others been up to in his absence, he must have been wondering. The director of the next incoming funeral was hovering in the background, surprised to have found the curtain open. He looked at me and said: "It's not the first time it's happened. It'll take a week to get fixed."Blamed on budget cuts, no doubt.

I went into the office in the afternoon, but didn't stay long as I had my usual Chu Gung class to go to early evening. I was pleased to be able to manage it, despite my groaning back.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Paving pursuit

We loaded the dismantled bike shed into the car and took it to the Steiner school after breakfast. Then I went on an expedition to both B&Q stores on the West side of town, in search of some paving slabs to lay as a base on which to construct the garden shed I have yet to order. At the Culverhouse Cross store I found a stone slab called Derbyshire terracotta - except that it was pink, but I thought it would go nicely with the existing tiles in the garden, and thankfully, Clare approved. Despite my correct calculations, on the area needed to house a shed, the location suggested a larger base would be desirable, so I had to make a return trip for another three. 

With each slab weighing five kilos, requiring four separate lifts and a carry of twenty yards, getting the job done was a bit like a weight training session in the gym. As I don't go to the gym any longer, I had to be extra careful to lift correctly, but my back ached and I was pretty tired by the time I'd finished. I then had to go into the CBS office to load ten crime reports into the database, as I didn't get around to doing it after the RadioNet users group meeting last week.

On the BBC ten o'clock, news correspondent Frank Gardiner gave a presentation on the background to the terrorist outrage at the Nairobi Westgate shopping centre. He was paralysed as a result of an attack when he was working as a reporter in Riyadh several years ago. This time, he stood in front of a large screen while talking, supported by a frame around his legs. It was an amazing display of his courage and confidence in continuing to be a major interpreter of and contributor to world news. I don't know how long he's been broadcasting on his feet like this. It's so good to see the Beeb making such a positive affirmation without feeling the need to draw attention to it. He recently give an interesting interview on Radio 4 about how he came to terms with disability. Now his triumph over adversity is visible to the world, and those who sought to take his life are shown not to have won.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Sunday treats

My first Sunday Eucharist was at St Marychurch.  I took the old road from Bonvilston past Llantrithryd church, which I must stop and visit one day. There were a few cars parked outside, as people gathered for their morning service. It's a lovely route, through narrow lanes with occasional glimpses of the wider countryside that hasn't changed much in the past few centuries apart from the metalled road. After the service, David the churchwarden invited me for coffee at his house across the road from the church. His home is a converted old farmhouse which he has done much work on himself, a true labour of love.

From there, I went to Holy Cross Parish Church in Cowbridge town centre. The celebration was graced by three violinists, a trumpeter and drummer as well as the organist, making for a pleasurable experience of parish worship. There was coffee and chat afterwards and it was one fifteen by the time I arrived home. By the end of lunchtime, the house was again perfumed with the aroma of damson jam cooking. Clare had bought more at the Riverside farmers' market and got to work increasing the stock of one of our favourite jams. She also bought some creamy hard Caws Teifi. It reminds me of the best of Franco-Swiss Jura cheeses, and it goes perfectly with the damson jam she made last week. Ah, pleasures of autumn!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Down with the shed. Enter the Chromebook

Finally, it was time to take down our garden bike shed, in preparation for the arrival of one larger shed to hold the bikes, mower and gardening tools. After a late breakfast I set to, with same power screwdriver I used to erect it three and a half years ago, I carefully dismantled it, and Clare bagged up the screws and labelled the components. It's due to go to the Steiner school playground for another life as an equipment store. Apart from one panel water damaged because rainwater accumulated at that corner of its concrete base, it's still in remarkably good condition, with a good number of years of life left in it. The little tool shed is quite ruinous, but it has been there since we bought the house twenty years ago, so it's hardly surprising.
It only took us an hour, then we both returned to preparing things - lesson plans for Clare and two funeral services for me. It was four by the time we left the house for a walk into town and then a bus down to the Millennium Centre to book tickets for a show at half term when Rhiannon comes to stay. We decided to catch the bus back to the centre for a cup of tea at John Lewis', open until six for refreshments and seven for purchases. I had my usual nose around in the electronics department and came away with a Samsung Chromebook at  nearly twenty percent discount. My sister June has been saying for some time that she'd like a small light computer she can use on her lap, to look things up when she's watching TV (as I and many others do these days), so I thought I'd buy one and set it up with her account details for a try-out.
I spent an hour after supper before my weekly episode of 'Young Montalbano' familiarising myself with the machine and configuring it with June's favourites. Then, when I deliver it, the only thing remaining to do will be to upload all her data to Google Drive, and show her how to use it.  I wonder how easily she'll adjust to the change of habitual usage?

I found the Samsung a pleasure to use: good keyboard, bright sharp easy to read screen, quick to start up, not to mention long battery life. Thinking of what my sister uses a computer for - browsing, emails, the occasional document and photo management - it's adequate for her needs, and easier to live with than any Windows operating system with its endless notifications, and different ways of achieving the same task. I'd find its narrow simplicity constraining if it was my only computer, but as several computer journalists have observed in the last year, it's possible to work on it for days at a time before you need to use a tool or a program that is more powerful or versatile.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Making connections

I had a bereavement visit to make this morning in connection to a funeral I've been asked to do next week. One of the children of the man who died turned out to be the licensee responsible for a pub in the city centre. Inevitably, we talked about RadioNet, CBS and current challenges and difficulties of maintaining standards and running a decent business in the city centre. 

From there, I went to Holm Tower hospice in Penarth to visit my cousin who was admitted earlier in the week. He couldn't be in better hands. Afterwards, on impulse, I went down to the Barrage and walked out to Penarth Head. The tide was out as far as I've seen it, so I took a few photographs before going home. 
I had intended to go into the office and process a batch of crime reports, but a few phone calls, funeral and sermon preparation put paid to that idea. Ashley was in Milton Keynes for a Crime Partnership conference. We spoke in the evening. It appears to have been a fruitful day for him. Lots more to get on with next week.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Anniversary time

Today was the forty third anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, so I was pleased to be asked to celebrate the midweek Eucharist at Christchurch Roath Park while Sally their locum priest in charge is taking a holiday break. First I drove Clare to school in Llandaff North, then cut across town to arrive in good time. From there I drove straight to the Motorpoint Arena to attend the monthly Radio Users Group meeting grateful for a loaned parking space, to get me there on time and not get wet in the process. Then I took the car back to school for Clare to use for errands later after her teaching session, and caught the bus back into town for a networking conference at City Hall of voluntary and statutory organisations that have different roles in caring for homeless and vulnerable people in the Borough.
There was an impressive turnout of over thirty different groups, half of them church based or inspired, the rest were a mix of statutory agencies and organisations emerging from black and ethnic minority communities. I had been tasked by the planning meeting with getting some Anglican involvement and had contacted various people with oversight responsibility to ask if they would make sure the conference information got to the right people with social responsibility roles. The responses I had were rather last minute and not committal, so the Church in Wales didn't have a publicity stall at the event. Messages had not been passed on in time. The joint leaders of the Llandaff Diocesan Social Responsibility team did attend however, and were as puzzled as I was about the lack of timely communication regarding such a significant event.

After supper, I ferried Clare and Gail to Dinas Powis for their study group and went on to the first Tai Chi session of the autumn. We did our group warm-up using the Bo a six foot bamboo staff used the practice of martial arts, a new and enlivening experience for me. Its use is very simple and straightforward, but it requires and rewards full attentiveness. I look forward to more of the same in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Meditation soup

After a busy Sunday, a quiet Monday at home, interrupted only by requests to officiate at two funeral next week, when it's the Llandaff diocesan clergy school and most serving clerics will be in Oxford, from Monday to Friday. So, I guess it'll be a busy week for us retired parsons. Tuesday I went into the office in the afternoon and gladly resumed this term's Chi Gung sessions in the evening. 

Today, I hosted the Ignatian meditation group, and cooked for them Anne-Marie Hester's wonderful soupe de courge using one small 'summer squash' bought on Sunday at Coed Hills Riverside Market Garden, plus red lentils and onions, flavoured with lemon juice + zest and garlic, served with fresh chopped coriander. So easy to prepare. I had the lunch table ready by the time the group arrived at midday, and so was able to enjoy the meditation session to the full. I finished the afternoon in the office, working on the crime intelligence database. From the sublime to the infamous in just a couple of hours.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Busy Sunday and a happy meeting

A very early start this morning, twenty five past seven to get to Holy Cross Cowbridge for eight o'clock Communion. Just before I reached the turning to descend Primrose Hill from the A48 into town I was stopped by Police motorcycle escort riders accompanying a very large wide slow moving vehicle which was climbing the by-pass road ahead of me. I was warned that it could be ten minutes delay, and began to worry it could make me late. 

I took a side road in the hope that it would take me on a back lane and avoid delay, but the un-metalled potholed road terminated in a walking track, and I had to return to the main road, fortunately, just as the giant vehicle was passing. A low loader lorry was carrying a huge silvery metal capsule, towering thirty feet above the road, and twenty five feet feet wide. I guess it was a reactor vessel destined for a chemical plant, possibly in Barry. I can't imagine what route it would take to avoid bridges. Anyway, I arrived with five minutes to spare and then proceeded to Llandough for nine fifteen and then to Ystradowen for eleven o'clock services. Last Sunday, former incumbent Stanley Mogford's death was announced. This week the deaths had to be announced of Llansannor Churchwarden and organist Margaret Edwards, and former St Hilary Churchwarden and deputy Lord Lieutenant John Curteis - the latter quite unexpected while at a meeting. Cowbridge benefice will certainly miss two such good and faithful servants.

It wasn't raining when I arrived at Ystradowen, so I left my mac in the car. By the time I came out at midday it was pouring down, so I had to run precariously down the slope of the church path to avoid a soaking. Today, the Riverside Market Garden, located in Coed Hills, just outside St Hilary, was holding an open day for supporters with lunch provided. Instead of shopping for veggies in town as usual, Clare found herself a lift and we met up there in one of the greenhouse poly-tunnels.
 The rain didn't stop until after we'd finished lunch in Coed Hills House. It's an amazing fertile and bio-diverse location, with a huge field given over to organic horticulture. It has developed remarkably well in the three years since the project was launched and there's more to come. Already forty families obtain their weekly veggy box order from there. We  returned with several bags of vegetables taken straight from the ground. Beetroot, fennel, broccoli, leeks, squashes among them.

We then went out to meet Sarah Rowland Jones, the Vicar designate of St John's city parish, at the invitation of Glenys, who is giving her hospitality during her flying visit from Cape Town where she's currently working as an advisor to the Archbishop. She has a strong background in international affairs from being a British diplomat before ordination, and activity in global Anglican and ecumenical affairs since then. Last week she was at a World Council of Churches meeting in Geneva. She's just the kind of person who can flourish at St John's and continue to participate on behalf of the Church in Wales and the Anglican Communion in international affairs. She has the kind of enthusiasm that will go down well with a congregation that will take an interest in her wider role. And that's not something you can say of every church in these uncertain times.

After supper and 'the Archers', we watched the second episode of 'Young Montalbano' from BBC iPlayer with laptop connected to the TV via the cheap HDMI cable I bought last weekend from Asda. It works a treat, and provides a low resource alternative to subscribing for digital TV recording services. We could afford it, but it's hardly value for money when you have so little spare time for entertainment on demand and such a satisfying life without it.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Operatic perspective on Tudor times

A quiet day's pottering at home, writing a sermon, followed by an evening outing to the Millenium Centre for the WNO's performance of Donizetti's opera 'Anna Bolena', the Italian spin on the tale of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn, the first part of a series of three Donizetti operas around the English Tudors. Unusually, the auditorium was less than full, perhaps because of critics' lament about the stage design and costume. It was certainly a minimalist presentation on a black set with dark colours so that the lighting emphasised mainly faces and hands. 

The costumes were a de-historicised allusion to the period, almost Wagnerian in abstraction, nothing attractive or likeable. Enrico, with his long mane and garb looked as if he'd been parachuted in from the ring cycle. He projected nastiness so effectively that at curtain call he raised an appreciative theatrical 'boo' as well as applause from the audience. The music, the singing and stagecraft of the performers, not to mention the energetic antics of the conductor, made the performance powerful and moving, provided you could be philosophical about the mise en scene. A great night out.

Donizetti's liberetto portrays an evil, ruthless, scheming king in a less than subtle way. Taking into account what a nasty piece of work the author of the Anglican break with Rome was, there seemed to me an element of Italian Papal aggression towards the English in the spin given to the story told. How did that go down when it was first performed in London two hundred years ago? I wondered. Mind you, if the story had been set in an a non-historical continental land, fictitious or real, with characters named to suit, this probably wouldn't have drawn my attention.

It's impossible to feel pride about the origins of  Anglicanism in reformation conflict. It's something of a miracle of divine grace that so much good fruit came from inauspicious origins over centuries since. 

Talking of which, the Church in Wales Governing Body voted in favour of ordaining women to the episcopate yesterday. It will grieve many adherents to a traditional understanding of ministry and church structures but at least it's reformation without blood letting. More reform is needed to make the church and its message more credible to the contemporary world - the way episcopacy and authority are exercised, the way decisions are made and followed through. Old ways and institutions can't last much longer due to decline financial support that goes with loss of members. Can the church lose size without totally losing substance and significance? It's not really in our hands. It's up to God.

Friday, 13 September 2013

In a hole on Friday the Thirteenth

It was a horribly rainy day today. Clare's old friend Marion from St Paul's days thirty years ago came over for lunch. Afterwards I was taken to Danescourt cemetery for an interment of ashes, following a funeral I officiated at three months ago. It rained throughout. The little casket was placed in a hole at the foot of an existing family grave, just outside its kerb stones. After the ceremony, some of those present began discussing the reason for this location stating, rather too late, that the preferred site was inside the kerbstones. But apparently this wasn't possible because a concrete base had been placed over the grave and the kerbstones set into it. 

The family agreed they wanted the earth beneath the base to be dug out to receive the casket. If only they'd said before the ceremony, it could have been put on hold while this was negotiated. The cemetery manager and the funeral assistant who'd driven me there both got out their mobile phones and talked to their bosses. But once I'd formally committed the casket  to the ground, it couldn't be lifted out or relocated without an exhumation license, as the act of committal has legal force behind it. 

The supervisor wouldn't give permission to 'undermine' the concrete slab, removing the earth with a trowel and making a niche to accommodate the casket. The hole made was large enough to permit this to be done without needing to remove it. The obvious and commonsense solution to spare the family any further discomfort was ignored, with the insistence that proper procedure be followed. The rain continued and the family left. The hole with the irremovable casket in remained covered but unfilled for the moment, and as there was nothing more I could do, I left, explaining to the bewildered funeral assistant that while there was good reason for the law to exist, that didn't always mean that the application of the law made decent sense. Anyway, it was the afternoon of Friday the Thirteenth.

I got home and struggled on the phone to Ashley to edit corrections into a document I needed to get off before going out. It was a hair tearing disaster, because I had a bad attack of 'version control' and started working from the wrong file. Finally, we drove in driving rain to Bristol to see Amanda, as tomorrow is her birthday. 

Now she's got regular daily care and weekly visits to a hydrotherapy pool, she's far less stressed and coping better with her crippling condition. However, many of her carers seem to have personal problems and they off-load them on her because she's such a good listener, and that's both tiring and frustrating. Still, she's in a much better condition than last time I saw her. It was late by the time we got home. The only parking space in our neighbourhood was less than a foot longer than the car. How I parked without bumper squeezing I don't know. The manouverability of the old style VW Golf is truly remarkable.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Attending to details

This afternoon Ashley and I had a meeting with Eleanor to finalize preparations for the inaugural meeting of the new Business Crime Reduction Partnership Board of Management, later in the Autumn, and I came away with a pile of work to do. Then we went to Cwmbran with documents to hand over to our company accountant who is in the last stage of finalizing the 2012 accounts. 

It's nice to see that things are in order and reasonably well on time, thanks to Julie our admin assistant who has been with us now for just over a year. She's taken charge of using a Sage business accounts computer package, and this will really streamline the financial reporting process for 2013. I can now leave the routine book-keeping to her. My only role is making sure all our data is backed up, although I'm fairly certain she does that as well. But you can never have enough backups in different places - just in case.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Nine eleven remembered

After a month of inaction, with an hour to spare on Saturday I started revising chapters of my book from some of the suggestions made by Peter Sedgwick. Monday morning I woke up early thinking about it, and got to work on it straight away. Apart from praying the daily office, meals and comfort breaks, I worked on it all day until bed time, a stretch of fourteen hours. Crazy maybe, but the energy was there for it, and I got more than half of the job done as a result. Tuesday and today, I went into the office in the afternoon but carried on working on the book, and completed the rest. It has a different structure now, having gone from thirteen to eighteen chapters, many of which are shorter. I'll have to print it out now and see how readable it is, and whether my spurt of obsessive behaviour has paid off.

The first version was complete by the time we left Geneva. Re-reading it made me realise how much it needed to incorporate reflection on events since the beginning of the new century - particularly those of this day twelve years ago, which have so profoundly changed the way in which we live. The so-called 'free world' is not what it was, but more of an armed camp on constant alert, in which habitual trust is ever more difficult an attitude in life to maintain. Will we ever re-discover the things that make for peace?

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Extra cover

With both the Cowbridge Benefice clergy on leave and another moving house and waiting to start, I have three Sunday services this week and next. I started out for Llansannor in good time, aware that the road closures in town for the 10K Kidney Wales Fun Run in town might have an impact on traffic further out.  The car was covered with dew, it's that much cooler at night as the days shorten and the scent of Autumn is in the air. Thankfully, the A48 was as quiet as it usually is early on Sundays, and I was early enough to enjoy a few minutes of peace and quiet while people were arriving. The church is a haven of tranquility, being half a mile from the village and three hundred yards from the nearest country lane. Outside, a cockerel crowed briefly as I sat there waiting.

From one of the remotest churches of the Benefice with a congregation of nine this morning, I made my way to Holy Cross Parish Church in the centre of Cowbridge with a congregation of thirty. I was greeted by a church member who announced the death of Canon Stanley Mogford, a few days before his 100th birthday. He'd been a priest for 75 years, and was Rector of Llanbleddian with Cowbridge for many years. The only time I ever met him was when my friend Fr Graham Francis did his first curacy there forty odd years ago and I helped him to arrange his first Mass in Holy Cross.

I returned home for lunch. Clare came back from the market with a bag of early damsons, and was already cooking them into our favourite jam. I drove out to Flemingston to take an evening service for nine people. It's the southernmost church of the Benefice. I was last there fifteen months ago. The village flock of Guinea Fowl still roams the churchyard foraging for food, before going to roost for the night in a nearby tree. They're not wild, they belong to someone locally, but I don't know who. After the service people were fixing the date of their Harvest supper. It's that time of year already.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Enter Young Montalbano

On my way into the CBS office yesterday morning I went into St John's City Parish Church to join a congregation of 150 celebrating the golden wedding anniversary of the Reverends Eddie and Sally Davies. Edddie is doing locum duty at St John's these days, but 50 years ago he and Sally were married there, so this was a special double act for them. Archbishop Barry led the service and preached. The choirs of St John's and of Christchurch, where Eddy used to be Vicar and Sally is now doing locum duty, joined forces to lead worship and Cardiff City Male voice choir was there to sing special items as well. It was so good to be there and congratulate them, as well as greet old friends.

Clare and I were back at St John's this afternoon for the 'Friends of St John's' Annual General Meeting, preceded by Evensong at which I'd been asked to officiate. It's the first time I've sung a full Evensong since retiring, although I have said Evensong at Flemingston a couple of times since, but it's not the same as singing the office. I started to do that in Vale country churches  during vacations when I was a student at St Michael's. Sung Evensong is a rarity in parishes nowadays. It was part of normality back then, and something churchgoers often express nostalgia for though not enough to support it regularly any longer.

On the way back from St John's we stopped at 'Almeida', the Portuguese restaurant on Cowbridge Road East, which replaced the Turkish restaurant there, which replaced an Italian one ... It's hard to make a living from a small speciality restaurant at the best of times, even worse in the sixth year of recession. I admire the zeal, courage and belief  of those who invest their lives in giving it a go. The food was good, and so was the Portuguese wine that went with it. The background music was interesting too - a mixture of Fado and Brazilan, or was it contemporary fusion? I wonder. I forgot to ask. Definitely worth another visit.

We arrived home to the surprise discovery that a new Italian crime drama series was just getting under way on BBC4. 'Young Montalbano' is a prequel to the popular and well established 'Inspector Montalbano' series which endeared us to Sicily long before we went to Taormina last December. This series portrays the beginning of the Inspector's career in charge of Vigata Police Station, with an all new cast of actors to portray characters from the book, remaining quite faithful to the way the characters presented themselves in the original series. An impressive piece of work, with hilarious moments and intriguingly complex plots to sustain interest throughout.

Maybe it's something to do with the producer's own approach, but in this series I noticed how clearly everyone spoke and how easy it was to distinguish between the accents of characters, the use of Italian and Sicilian dialect. Over the past few years of European Saturday night drama I've got used to reading subtitles. It's less essential with Italian, however, as I understand much of what I hear. I still struggle with this when the language is Spanish. The challenge of making sense of the spoken word, however, is part of the entertainment pleasure.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Surgical action

I took some stuff by car to the municipal re-cycling centre this morning, and went for a replacement flourescent tube for the kitchen lighting unit at Alan Wilson Electrical, which had exactly what I needed in stock. On my return, I could hear the buzz of a chainsaw nearby and found that access through the lane to our street was blocked by a lorry with a warning sign stating that tree felling was in progress. When I went up to my study at the back of the house, this is what I saw.
It was the end for the tallest tree in the back gardens of our neighbourhood. Several more look as if they've not been pruned for decades, including the leylandia and hawthorn either side in the picture above. Certainly if the tree being felled had come down in a gale in the direction of the house, its top branches would have landed on the roof of the kitchen extension. So, much as I hate aboricide, this was a good precaution, whether linked to garden remodelling plans or not.

That leylandia stands in the garden across the lane nearest ours. It had grown to twice the acceptable size for a tall hedge and cast a shadow over the flower beds in our garden for the best part of the day in summer, even worse in winter. Much to our delight, this was the lumberjack's next target. Hopefully, the extra light will make some difference to growth potential next year.
This is how it looks after surgery. Our flower bed is still in shade at midday, but not for quite as long. Now if this was Switzerland there'd be a communal regulation height of two metres for leylandia hedges and a uniformed officer to come around and remind you of your civic duty, then a notice of penalty for you to pay in the post if you ignore the advice. Would it work here?

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Review of life

A quick visit to the doctor this morning for my annual 'hypertension review' which, I suppose, is to check if my condition has changed and if the medication is still doing its job. Some time ago, using a blood pressure measuring device at home, I discovered that the first few readings were invariably high., and then it levelled off. Whenever I went for a checkup at the surgery, the result of their measurements was generally similar, causing furrowed brows of concern, and another visit to schedule. Over the past year I have shed excess weight and changed eating and drinking habits, perhaps as a result of spending four months in Mediterranean lands. When you feel really well and fairly fit, what's to worry about? 

After my previous visit I indulged in a spell of obsessive behaviour and took my BP twice daily, before during and after our holiday in Pembrokeshire, taking readings multiple times and averaging them out after eliminating the highest and lowest pair, each time. I was satisfied with the outcome of three weeks' effort, and showed the chart I'd compiled in 'Libre Office' to my long suffering GP, who graciously accepted that it showed nothing to worry about. On average it's lower than it was a year ago, lower than when I retired, lower than when I was compelled to close down St James' church and clear the building with very little support from on high. Stress can certainly be very damaging to middle aged clerics at risk of forgetting to look after their health properly, and that was certainly the case with me five years ago. But you learn the hard way, don't you? 

The freedom of retirement has done me a power of good. I still take on responsibilities and enjoy the work I get asked to do, but the pressure and stress of obligation that goes with being a licensed office holder of the church, depending on it for accommodation and income, is no longer there. When I was younger, being provided for, not having to worry about money or shelter was a blessing, and all that was asked of me was that I should flourish in ministry wherever I was planted. I think I did my best, but as the decades rolled by, it became increasingly difficult to feel satisfied with my best, ever inadequate to a situation changing for the worse. I guess that's how family carers for highly dependent sick people may feel, when it seems nothing they can do will make their loved one better - hence the stress.

Three years into retirement I make every opportunity I can to support colleagues and congregations that need gaps in pastoral care plugging. I'm aware it's appreciated. Occasionally I wish there was something more in depth I could do, working with groups or individuals to grow their faith. Being available here and there as a locum pastor is a bit like being a bee or a butterfly flitting from plant to plant - an analogy I recall hearing from Ken Cracknell, an itinerant inter-faith theologian thirty years ago - I must remind myself that all that flitting around is a means of cross-pollination, bringing fresh insight while rehearsing ancient truth.. Whether that contributes to ultimate fruitfulness, we may never know.

Monday, 2 September 2013

On-line chores

Spiro came around this morning and installed the new front room light fitting. We all agreed the right choice had been made, second time around. It looks really good in situ, so we are delighted. Then, I booked a flight for a return trip to the Costa del Sol in November, this time for locum duty in the eastern chaplaincy based of Fuengirola.  I followed Clare's example, flying with Vueling out of  Cardiff airport, getting there with the new four times an hourly airport shuttle for free with my bus pass. The cost of travel will be the lowest I've paid for ages, only partly because it's at low season prices. Best of all, flights in both directions are at convenient hours. Between now and then, autumn duties in the Vale of Glamorgan, to add to my continued pleasure in voluntary ministry.

Late afternoon, I spent a couple of hours in the CBS office adding more information to our DISC intranet site and sending emails. Then, in a couple of hours after supper, I filled in my tax form on-line. Last year this chore was completed early June because I needed to sort my affairs before going to the Costa Azahar for three months. This year, I prepared all the documents before going away on holiday, but didn't have time to steel myself for the effort of concentrating thoroughly on so much detail. It always takes me a little time to figure out what some of the questions mean, and go over the calculations to ensure I haven't forgot anything. 

After ten years of use, I find the HMRC on-line tax form procedure straightforward. Small textual variations from year to year, as fiscal policy changes. Reading and re-reading is necessary to be sure to understand and answer correctly. Answers that require text box input are a pain, as it's easy to forget that use of the 'carriage return' is not allowed. It's easy to type them in habitually, earning a big red error message. Still, it could be worse. Booking a flight and completing a tax form all in the same day gives me a great sense of achievement.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Passing generations

My first Sunday duty today was at St Marychurch. After the Eucharist the congregation of eleven stayed on to discuss what to do about the proposed 'Back to church Sunday' on the last Sunday of the month. This is a small but lively village where more people support the church and its charity fund raising events with money and help than ever darken its doors. How to respond to the initiative in a sensitive way? That was the question.

Like many churches, this little flock collects for the local Foodbank - could this be an occasion to augment the local appeal? Why not? But how about focussing on bringing the village together in or around the church, to express appreciation to everyone who has involved themselves in supporting church initiatives, as a starting point? That's an idea to be mulled over, and it may take longer than the four weeks before that 'Back to church Sunday' event is due to take place - but something of value will happen as a result of their thoughtfulness, I'm sure.

My second service was at Llansannor. Eleven adults and three children. Among the dead we prayed for Cliff Morgan, Welsh rugby star of the fifties, TV sports commentator and presenter through the decades following. Two members of the congregation had known him personally throughout their adult life. Wales is a small world, made coherent by lasting friendships and enthusiasm for performance arts - music, theatre, politics, rugby, and once upon a time, preaching - albeit no longer. Most of my  compatriates have lost their taste for religious discourse and drama. Perhaps it's just as well. To be regarded as a star preacher would render the most devout soul vulnerable to pride and vanity. We suffer from an overload of these, even in decline.
On the way home, I collected Clare from the market, and we had a light lunch. Owain came around for dinner in the evening - a tapa of ham and broad beans, followed by roast duck, beetroot tops, spuds and rainbow carrots, washed down with Argentinian Pinot Noir, and followed by the promised plum and blackberry crumble. So delighted he's starting a new job tomorrow.
We learned of the death of Sir David Frost on the lunchtime news - another key figure in public life when I was young, following Alan Whicker last month and Cliff Morgan two days ago. It's that time of life for my generation.