Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Photography with Rhiannon

I seem to have spent an excessive amount of time on line and on the phone through the weekend and since dealing with urgent business concerns. Not quite what I hoped for with Rhiannon spending the week with us, just something to be coped with, by getting up early and working late. Monday she went shopping with Grandma and did some baking. Tuesday we went on an expedition to Dyffryn Gardens, and I gave her a camera to use. The weather was very kind and congenial for picture taking. I was much taken by her skill and enthusiasm for taking pictures with our little Sony Cybershot W690 point 'n shoot with telephoto lens. 
In fact, she took over two hundred pictures of which no more than half a dozen were out of focus (as the battery was nearly empty and its motor functions slowed up). Most of the pictures she took were well framed and without motion blur, with some interesting close up selections. Quite something for a nine year old. I was quite thrilled to think that I have an accomplice who finds pleasure in capturing visual beauty and interest the way I do. Oh yes, all our family have cameras and take pictures as a matter of course, but what I saw yesterday was the hunter's glint in her eye as we wandered the gardens together.

Today, I showed her how to upload pictures to the Picasa website from her own Gmail account. It'll take a while for her to learn to use properly, and learn photo editing, but there's nothing like an early start. I had difficulty accessing Google+. It required date of birth and gender, if not a photo for her profile, information I had no right to give or encourage her to impart. She's old enough to use her account responsibly, but has no need to disclose any information that might make her vulnerable on-line. She's not too young to hold and use an account, which is, in any case, supervised by her parents, but why should such personal details be of any interest to anyone? Or the personal details of anyone supervising her? I used to take no interest in the issue of personal data acquisition by Google and others, but suddenly it's become personal.

Anyway we got her pictures up on the web and looked at them on the Asus Transformer when Uncle Owain came around for supper happily home from a great weekend of gigging in Berlin. I wouldn't be surprised if he moved out there before too long.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

East Vale churches revisited

I failed to take advantage of the clocks going back an hour, as I had to work overtime on composing an urgent business letter, but I woke up as did Clare and Rhiannon, early enough to enjoy breakfast together, including a feast of freshly cooked waffles, a Rhiannon favourite.

Today's Sunday duties were in two churches of the East Vale Group of villages, Peterston super Ely and St Brides super Ely. The last time I visited these churches was when I was a student at St Mike's taking Sunday Evensong and preaching. I'd never driven there before and was quite unfamiliar with the geography of that particular part of the Vale of Ely, which made me a bit apprehensive, but I arrived in good time nevertheless. When I entered St Peter's my memory of the place took a while to register recognition. Forty five years have passed, after all. Seeing the tall bronze figure of an angel serving as a lectern and a distinctive bronze mock mediaeval tabernacle in a single niche in the east chancel wall helped the sense of familiarity to return. The congregation of three dozen was lively and welcoming.  

It was the same in St Bride's as well, albeit with a congregation of half a dozen. There is a distinctive genuine mediaeval Florentine statue of Mary and Jesus in a niche at the centre of the east window, giving it an unusual continental country church appearance. There are Flemish glass medallions depicting biblical scenes set in plain glass lights surrounding it, and these date back several centuries. The congregation knew they had been acquired and installed with the statue during the 1960s, but nobody knew where they came from or how. Both these churches are in beautiful rural settings and well looked after, as most country churches surviving still are - testimony to the commitment of people in small communities, rich and not so rich.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Funeral for a Cousin

I drove to Barry Friday morning in good time for my cousin Gareth's funeral at St Mary's Parish Church. As a former church warden and head sacristan, it was done just the way he would have wanted it done for any faithful congregation member under his care. Apart from the dozen or so relatives, the church was filled with parishioners, old friends and colleagues. Fr Ben Andrews celebrated a solemn requiem Mass and was joined by his predecessor Fr John Hughes, a former server colleague now a priest Fr Chris Seaton, and myself. 

The newest English translation of the ancient Roman Canon of the Mass was used as the Eucharistic prayer. I'd never seen it before let alone spoken it aloud in prayer, and I stumbled through the section very kindly assigned to me, the 'Memento Mori Domine'. I'd have preferred the old modern translation, or even the mock Tudor English of the English Missal version. No wonder some Roman Catholics hate and resent this latest change, the poetic quality of the original is undermined by the awkward Latinate nature of the language used, alien to native English speakers. Why adopt something manifestly bad? I don't get it.

I couldn't stay long as I was due to drive to Kenilworth and pick up Rhiannon from school to bring her back to Cardiff for half term. Inevitably, leaving the funeral made me late, but Kath and Anto were home ahead of me, and able to collect her from friends who looked after when school finished.  

This morning, I took Rhiannon to her youth theatre workshop at Warwick Arts centre, then navigated my way, using a Blackerry app, to the nearest Tesco supermarket, where I was able to buy myself some new underwear and a new belt after several uncomfortable unsupported days. My twelve year old leather belt, bought on our first Corsica visit finally broke beyond repair this week. It was the first opportunity I've had to get a replacement.

After lunch we drove to Cardiff and by tea time, Rhiannon was organising a big tea party of an assortment of small soft toys - dogs, cats, rabbits, bears, even a bird. A touch of paradise? 

This week's episode of Inspector Montalbano was good. I noticed the women that seduce him are brunettes, often bad girls, whereas Livia, his fiancee and Ingrid his loyal close friend, are both blondes. You might be tempted to think it's like the black hats/white hats of cowboy movies, unless you take into account the fact that his long dead mother was brunette. Fascinating, as Mr Spock would say.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Conferencing in London

Tuesday morning I visited the NHS dentist with whom I am newly registered for a first check-up. Apart from a few minor repairs and the need for a crown on one of my vintage fillings, my teeth are thankfully in fairly decent shape. I now have a couple of appointment for the course of treatment, when I return from Spain.

I went into the office for the afternoon, and after my weekly Chi Gung class headed for London on a late train to attend a Business Crime reduction Partnership conference. I stayed overnight with my sister June, arriving there at nearly midnight, to find the automatic door opening mechanism, repaired that very day was not functioning, due to a mechanical fault caused by installing a new lock. The building management agents are hopelessly inefficient. I wonder how long an effective repair will take?

The Wednesday conference was held at the Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square, a century old building that started life as a permanent indoor circus, and later became used as a music hall, a theatre and even a night club. It has been renovated and adapted for its new use, restoring lots of its original decorative features. During one of the breaks one of the business partners in the venture chatted to us with enthusiasm about its building in 1900 and its subsequent history. It's one of several fine Edwardian theatres by architect Frank Matcham, a very strictly run gaming house open to the public as long as they behave themselves properly.

Our conference was excellent in that the failures and problems as well as the successes of Partnership working were discussed. It became clear to us that the difficulties Cardiff B.C.R.P. has striven to overcome in the past five years are far from unique. We had a meeting after the meeting with the Operational Director of the Association of Business Crime Partnerships, who was very helpful in his analysis of our situation and in giving us valuable advice. 

I got back to my sister's place at seven. We had supper, then I introduced her to the Samsung Chromebook I'd brought with me for her to try out. It wasn't a success, as the track-pad was too sensitive to control properly for stiff old fingers, and the font size too small for easy reading. She very much liked the ease of access to iPlayer, YouTube and GMail, albeit recent interface changes to GMail make this much less easy to use than the old form she'd gotten used to. It's a nice light machine, but it's clearly not older non technical user friendly. I could see myself on the phone for hours talking her through getting used to it and getting only exasperation as the outcome. So I decided not to leave it with her, and reconfigured it for my own use before packing it for the return journey.

I left London on the train late this morning, and completed my sermon for Sunday en route, using the Asus Transformer which I'd also brought with me, and its Polaris Office suite, for a change. What it can do is quite good, but I still prefer the proper desktop user interface I'm accustomed to, than any interface designed primarily for touch screen users. I don't care if this means I'm stuck in the past. Maintaining productivity is what matters.

Before going home I went into the office for a couple of hours, and as Clare was poorly, went out on my own for my last Tai Chi session until December.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Fifty years ago this week

After seeing Rhiannon off to school we left Kenilworth in torrential rain to drive across country to Worcester to have lunch with our friends Mike and Gail. The journey was uneventful until I took a wrong turn on the northern outskirts of Worcester, just a mile from our destination. It was a move which took us an hour to rectify as we got quite lost in driving rain and persistent traffic. There's been so much building of new housing estates to the north of Worcester since we last lived up in the West Midlands that the landscape of the area is confusing, unrecognisable without sight of a 'proper' map to give perspective.  Regrettably I had forgotten just how good my Blackberry's mapping device is, and by the time I'd remembered I had it with me, and found out how to work it - the first time ever I needed to in earnest - Clare had left me in a parked car and gone to obtain directions from a nearby chemist's shop.

This week is the 50th anniversary of Mike introducing me to Clare at an open air 'War on Want' bread 'n cheese lunch on the steps of Bristol's Student Union building - then, the Victoria Rooms - in our first term as University undergraduates. He and I were next door neighbours in Churchill Hall of residence on the Downs. Clare and Mike went to the same English lectures. We all liked music, and for a while we sang folk songs and went to Choral Society together.

We lunched at a very nice old pub, the King's Arms in Ombersley, and inspected a huge very classy delicatessen shop called 'Checkett's' a few paces up the road past the church in the village. We returned to their house to talk, drink coffee and tea, and listen to Mike play one of Bach's French suites on Clare's clavichord, which is on loan to him as we really don't have enough of a good space to keep it in regular use at home. Then he played us some fiery Chopin on his Bechstein upright piano. He's maintained a high standard of piano playing every since we've known him and is still receiving lessons regularly in order to improve his technique. I have fond memories of Mike practising piano in the rehearsal room during our days together in Churchill Hall. He worked his way through Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues, with me idling besides him, acquiring a lifelong love of this 'essential' work of art.

Knowing of my interest in cameras, Mike and I discussed options for the acquisition of an advanced digital camera that could match the performance of his old 35mm SLR. I took out my Sony Alpha 55 to show him, just as one of their two fine cats with blue black fur jumped up on to the table. Truly, they behave as if they own the place.
Those grapes, sweet dessert varieties, were grown locally by the proprietors of the cattery Mike and Gail use to look after their pets when both of them are away. Apparently the pusses aren't interested in fruit, but sit up and take notice when the lid is taken off the butter.

We drove most of the way home in rain and semi-darkness. It was an uneventful and un-memorable trip in every way, performed on auto-pilot to the extent that I found it hard to recall journey detail. We arrived just as 'The Archers' was getting under way, so I sat in the car and listened before unloading our luggage. Glad to be back safely and sleeping in my own bed again tonight.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sad news

I made it to eight o'clock Eucharist at St Nicholas Parish Church this morning, still with several dozen regular attendees who seek out early morning peace and quiet. 

Other worshippers, not just the Vicar, make an effort to greet strangers like me. It's great they bother, but in my case, most of the time, it's not what I need. Silence and simplicity in conventional liturgy is what I crave most. I think the whole church still struggles with this notion, as if it doesn't trust the power of Word and Sacrament at its most basic to commend itself. 

Rhiannon was content to play in her home environment for most of the day, apart from an afternoon expedition to Waitrose's. I cooked my paella to match Kath and Anto's return from their Leicester performances at supper time.

During the afternoon, I received messages from my cousin Alan and my sister June telling me of the peaceful death from lung cancer of my cousin Gareth at Holme Tower hospice in Penarth in the middle of the night. He was seven years older than me, the first and eldest of our generation of cousins, active in his local Parish Church for decades until he became too sick to attend.

I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to see and pray with him there three weeks ago. May he rest in peace.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Fictional take on reality

We took Rhiannon to her theatre workshop at Warwick Arts Centre, then returned to Kenilworth, taking a brief look at the (mainly French) street market in the old town above St Nicholas' Parish Church. |
A wedding celebration was being concluded as we walked past. The bride, we noticed, radiant in a white dress, was in a wheelchair.
We then made an expedition to the Waitrose supermarket in Kenilworth's modern town centre to shop for the ingredients of a paella to cook for Sunday supper.

Kath and Anto arrived home, delighted with the success of their day's performances and we ate fish and chips together. Everyone apart from me wanted to watch 'Strictly Come Dancing' and 'The X Factor'. Thankfully, there was a second telly, so I was given leave to feast on the first episode of the third series of Inspector Montalbano, one slice of telly I find utterly engaging.

I'd wager the opening sequences have either been re-shot meticulously, or re-mastered by way of a digital editing suite, as the colour display seems far less bleached than the original. The sound track also seems a different take from the original score. Positive signs of producer pride. A new actor is playing Livia, Montalbano's mostly absent fiancée. The Radio Times critic complained she was too young to reflect the passage of time in her long-standing unfulfilled relationship with the detective who never loses his obsession with the crimes he investigates. I disagree. Lina Perned portrayed Livia as a well-preserved independent female Italian forty-something - the kind of woman who doesn't show the signs of having endured the trials of motherhood. Just right, in context. One up for casting, one down for the critics.

Andrea Camilleri's storylines are as complex and puzzling as ever, yet worth the attention. If you don't get it the first time around, thanks to iPlayer, you can review the bits you didn't get. The diversions into Sicilian culture are entertaining, sometimes illuminating, rarely distracting. But, it's those plot-lines disclosing criminal intent in the strangest of places that sometimes need revisiting, to be sure you've really got it. And then, you're left with something worth reflecting on.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Once in a blue moon

I attended yesterday morning's RadioNet users' group, and collected some more email address sign-ups for access to our DISC crime intelligence sharing network to add to the expanding list of participants. One of those who attended the meeting transferred some suspect photos from his phone to mine via Bluetooth for transferring to the system when I got back to the office. Last month, I was told, info on a suspect uploaded to DISC by another user helped a guard identify someone attempting a theft, by observing the same modus operandum. It's pleasing when things like this work as intended. Once my DISC updating tasks for the day were complete, I went home and cooked an early supper, prior to going out for our evening classes.

This morning, after meeting a good friend for coffee and catch-up, Clare and I drove up to Kenilworth to meet Rhiannon from school. Kath and Anto's Wriggle Dance Theatre performance tour 'Once in a blue moon' started today, with a dozen gigs in the Midlands and East Anglia, spread over the next six weeks. By a stroke of serendipity, tonight's both a full moon and an eclipse night. What better occasion to launch!
All this on top of their everyday work. It's lovely to be able to support them by looking after our lovely lively grand-daughter. While we were awaiting for Mum and Dad to arrive home for supper, she practised her flute, and I accompanied her on the guitar. It's the first time we've ever played together. A satisfying delight, reminding me of playing with Kath when she was learning the flute.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

On not fixing what ain't broke

In stark contrast to yesterday, this morning's sky was overcast, and it rained. While I was editing and uploading photos from yesterday's outing, I had a message to tell me of the untimely death of Gordon Nichol, after a fall. He was another of the faithful at St John's, a contemporary of mine who'd expressed the hope that I'd be available to take his funeral service when the time came. I recall him asking me this himself in person on past occasions when he was in a melancholic mood. I spoke to his partner to let her know I'd had the sad news.

Then at midday, I dashed through the drizzle to the Ignation meditation group at Diana's house. By the time we'd finished our forty minute session, the skies were clear blue and the sun was shining again, making the day feel more like one in April than October. A pleasant surprise.

After lunch with the mediation group I went into the office, stuffed envelopes for a RadioNet mail distribution, then attempted to design and print some labels to a new format. No matter how many adjustments I tried, or scrupulous checks I made, I couldn't get the label file created to print out and properly match the label sheet. Nor, could I get control of the tray I wanted to use to feed labels through the lazer printer. It's an everyday office routine I've never been able to master, despite understanding how it works and thinking I've configured it correctly. I suppose it's one good reason why many small print-shops still exist and have enough clients to keep them busy with work.

Owain came around for supper, getting to grips with his Samsung Galaxy Ace II and asking my advice on low level controls he hadn't worked out for himself. Unfortunately I'm not much better myself. There are so many options and things I either don't need or don't have a clue about, I investigate features on a need to know basis, and generally forget very quickly how I did or didn't achieve a result. 

One thing is certain. I don't like any of the possible web browsing interfaces available on Android equipment, tablet of phone. They simply don't allow the same precise control as the browser user interface on a proper computer. It bothers me that the standardisation of interfaces across different devices is tending to make desktops work more like phones and tablets, and in my book that's taking away control from the user. And no, I never wanted to be obliged to learn a new user interface, which limits what I can do quickly and efficiently from memory. Why should I have to waste time acquiring extra abilities to use equipment when what I already had was perfectly adequate? Why does Google keep on changing the layout of its main homepage? Twice this month so far.

How long before someone clever invents a 'retro interface option' for people like me that resent so much the additional un-necessary imposition?

I heard this evening from Richard Hall, churchwarden at St John's city Parish Church of the death of one of its faithful members, Gordon Nichol, following a fall dowstairs. In an occasionally melancholic mood before I retired, he would say to me "When I die, will you officiate at my funeral here at St John's?" Yes, of course!" was my considered pastoral response, believing that he would outlive me.

You never know what's going to happen, do you?

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Afternoon outdoors

The weather today was unusually warm and bright for Mid-October, so I went out for a walk with my camera up the Taff Trail from Pontcanna past Llandaff Rowing Club to Hailey Park in Llandaff North.

At the far end of Hailey Park, which runs beside the river, I discovered a newly opened pedestrian bridge over the Taff, opening footpaths to Radyr on the other side.

The new bridge has been built on top of a railway bridge that once linked the Melingriffth tin plate works with Taff Vale line on the west bank of the river. Founded in the middle of the eighteenth century, and in its time the largest in the world, the works closed down in 1957. The site was later cleared and was absorbed into the park, providing playing fields and a wild area.
It's remarkable how green the leaves on the trees still are, as if it were still late August, with only a few occasional patches of dark red. Some, but not all of the ground foliage has turned yellow. The colour contrasts are amazing.
It did me a power of good to get out in the fresh air and soak in the colours of the landscape. I ended my walk in the centre of Radyr, catching the 63 bus back to Pontcanna in time to cook supper before going out to the Chi Gung class.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Job done

I cleared the data from my spare phone this morning, and got it unblocked at the EE shop in town this afternoon. Then, on my way to work, I went to the Old Library where Owain is currently temping in the City Council's Tourism and Leisure section, to hand it over to him.

Walking to meet Ashley on the way to the office, I was quite surprised to see Jean-Bernard Métais sculpture 'Alliance' on the Hayes outside the new Library turned into a temporary advertising hoarding.

I wonder what the artist thinks of this? I wonder if it will raise debate about the nature and function of public art hereabouts? I'm greatly looking forward to Grayson Perry's BBC Reith Lecture series, which gets under way tomorrow. He'd undoubtedly have some funny comment to make about it if he saw it.

A couple of hours in the office, and then home for the evening, sifting through old poetry and compiling some of them into sections with brief introductions, ready to post on my poetry blog. The results of my labours are here. Quite a satisfying evening.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Creative deficiencies?

Out to Llandough for the first Eucharist of the day and then on to Ystradowen for the second. I was struck by an enticing cooking aroma wafting over the churchyard from the Black Lion pub next door as I left for home. Lunch was on the table for me as soon as I returned - a cauliflower cheese, the first Clare's made for many years, thanks to a giant organic cauliflower in this week's veg box that'll do us at least four meals and still taste freshly picked, such is the quality of what we get from the Riverside Market Garden.

Clare had her monthly study group in Bristol in the afternoon, and that gave me time to review some text written in recent years for posting on my poetry blog. It's nearly four years since I last found time to do any work on this, and there's a lot of material from a collection of works going back nearly fifty years, which I haven't got properly named and sorted from the archive I started digitizing fifteen years ago. I've had all this free time to make good use of since retiring, and have written a huge amount but not reviewed what was once for me a treasured creative channel. 

Why so little written in the new millennium? A simple answer. Digital photography. It's twelve years since I bought my first Sony Cybershot, and found a means to relate to what I see that by-passes words. It's absorbed a great deal of my creative energy, and my ability to focus on what fascinates me - the interplay of shape and colour, light and shade. 

Returning to my book project 'Stones into Bread' to revise and update it recently was quite a challenge, as it involved re-shaping a volume of text and embedded argument in the light of helpful comment received. Working on even smaller amounts of text with a 'single eye', would perhaps be even more demanding. I've always waited for a moment of inspiration to guide poetic endeavour, rather than studying an idea or theme and working on it. Yet, funnily enough this is what happens when I take up a camera. 

There are places I return to in different weathers and seasons. Landscapes, townscapes, architecture, capturing broad visions, sweeps of colour, reflections, bold shapes and exquisite natural detail are things I return to. Poems, my kind of poems, are like snapshots, observations that awaken strong feelings. You can't capture that easily in a photo. Reviewing old material reminds me of something I may be lacking in creativity these days.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Lost and found

In the post this morning, a jiffy bag from Margaret up in Llanafan containing my lost Samsung Galaxy Ace II, missing presumed damaged or stolen, when all the time it was hiding in the black leather back seat of her car from that delightful afternoon back in August when she showed us around her parish. And still holding its charge. Amazing! All I have to do is get it un-blacklisted by Orange, and Owain can have it to use, since I already have a new phone, and he wants an Android smartphone to get him started, as he's been using a conventional mobile for years.

Clare had a school open day, so I was left to my own devices until mid afternoon, and just pottered around - emails, blog, sermon for tomorrow - not enough blue sky to be worth a photo expedition on my own. We went into town and ended up having tea, as we often do, in John Lewis' before returning home for supper and the last episode of 'The Young Montalbano', a splendid series faithful in content and spirit to the original featuring the detective in mid-life crisis.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Shed woes

Last Friday we ordered a shed from B&Q. We were meant to have been called about a delivery date by Wednesday. Nothing doing. Clare rang the number provided only to find they had no record of the order we'd paid for in full being placed. We got on to the store, and I drove down there to be sure. Fortunately they had a record of the order that matched our purchase. Whether ours had never been sent, or simply got lost in the extremely creaky in-store IT network various store workers have complained about to us previously, we don't know. But now we have to wait until next Monday to chase up a delivery date. How very frustrating. At least it gives me extra days to perfect the leveling of the slab foundation on which I'll erect the shed when it arrives.

I noticed the film of 'The Da Vinci Code' was on TV, and I started to watch it but very quickly gave up, out of sheer annoyance, not only with the offensive and absurd plot presumptions, but also with the way so much of it is shot in semi darkness, making it quite hard to watch on TV in a lit room. The way it frames the Catholic Opus Dei organisation bears no resemblance to the socially enterprising wholesome outfit running a Boys' Club in the house on Wandsworth Common opposite to where my sister June lives, producing decent, well educated responsible young citizens with a Christian faith and commitment to serve others. The difference is so great that the film is exposed as no more than a crass sensationalist tale, neither enlightening nor entertaining. Glad I didn't pay to see it when it was breaking box office records.
In last night's veg box from Riverside Market Garden arrived a big bag of green tomatoes, perfect for turning into chutney. When I got back from the office this evening, the house was full of the aroma of spicy vinegar. To my senses, it's a whiff of autumn, every bit as much as woodsmoke.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Machine minding

An uneventful few days. I took Andrea to her train on Tuesday morning, went into the office in the afternoon and to Chi Gung in the evening. Wednesday in the office was devoted to preparing the mailing of a dozen letters of invitation to prospective members of the Crime Reduction Partnership Board of Management for the inaugural meeting at the end of the month. Once the job was done, I had the task of re-assigning and setting up the new HP desktop PC for the Administrator to use, as it didn't suit Ashley's workflow pattern. Julie now has one machine with the office accounts on it and another for managing the rest of her labours. Getting that right also involved moving the printers around, but in the end, there were improvements all round.

What I hadn't bargained for was a massive twenty two item system update installation from Microsoft, which effectively took four machines in succession out of service for at an hour at a time. Downloads happened in the background, but then, when installation started, system reboots were required which took an age to complete. I was left machine minding, and got home much later than expected as a result. It was the same with Windows PCs at home as well. I was grateful for the use of several Android devices to consult until the job was done on a further three machines.

I went into the office early on Thursday, as I'd forgotten the night before to install our standard backup software on the new HP desktop, which Julie is accustomed to using at close of day. Then I had to wait while my office machine did its updates, as I'd not got around to it the day before. Luckily most of this week's waiting time was done when there wasn't a need for all the machines to be in use, and other things could be done not requiring computers in the meanwhile. Big companies can afford a tech guy to waste his time machine minding, or devising clever automated routines to run updates network wide, but I'm not that clever. 

It did make me wonder however just how many hours of productive time the world's billion computers take up waiting for updates - well, probably half of them don't bother installing updates, don't need to, or are designed beautifully to update in the background without interfering with anyone's workflow. But still if it's half a billion PCs, taking a total, say, of fifteen minutes waiting time a month, that's three hours a year, fifteen hundred million hours productivity time. Just say two thirds of those are updated out of work hours by corporate IT staff, that's still five hundred million wasted hours a year. Apart from the hours re-deployed by meticulous planners who factor in tea breaks, assignations, keep fit routines, or a trip to the shops in their down-time. Thankfully, the rise and rise of Linux based equipment via Android and Chromebook operating systems is effecting a necessary change in this. Will Windows ever catch up?

Monday, 7 October 2013

Castle visit

We got up surprisingly late this morning and it was midday before we got out of the house and drove to Caerphilly by way of Castell Coch to show Andrea a couple of our local treasures. It's about thirty years, when the kids were young, since we last took a proper walk around the interior of Caerphilly Castle. 
Ten years ago, a modern tourist shop was constructed to replace the elderly ticket booth just inside the outer eastern gate house, several buildings and towers have been restored for opening to the public. Clare and I had not long moved to Penyrheol during my first curacy in Caerphilly Parish in 1970 when the re-roofed Great Hall was opened to the public and started being used for mediaeval banquets. So much has been achieved by CADW since then. The Castle is now a great asset to regional tourism. It was cloudy all day, but occasionally the sun shone through, and created some interesting photographic moments for me with my Sony Alpha 55. The results can be viewed here

After our visit we had a bowl of delicious cawl in the Glanmor tea room just across the road from the castle, and then drove up the Rhymney valley to Ystrad Mynach, Nelson and Treharris to show Andrea a little of our beautiful valleys environment before turning for home. Waiting on the doormat there was a 'failed delivery' note from the postman who arrived an hour after we left, and presumably couldn't find a neighbour in to leave our replacement modem, delivered punctually as promised by Talk Talk Care. I'll have to collect it from the depot tomorrow, yet another un-necessary car trip because the arrival of the postman is so much later and less predictable than it used to be.

We had a further culinary treat for supper, as Clare cooked us some venison she'd been keeping for a special occasion with an unusual kind of cabbage resembling a large dense leaf of spinach. This went down well with a bottle of Stellenbosch Shiraz. 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Opera matinée weekend

Yesterday the temperature was mild and the sun shone, so we took Andrea out to see Duffryn Gardens. Few of the trees have yet begun to change colour and several flower beds are vivid with the bright colour of autumn blooms. The warm brought out a variety of bees, a few butterflies and lots of dragonflies, which were busy mating over the ornamental ponds.
The leaves on the vine decorated pergola at the far end of the main lawn are still an untainted green, and bunches of small black grapes nestle beneath them. It's a lovely sight.
We navigated our way across country from Duffryn along narrow lanes to find Llancarvan church with its mediaeval wall paintings, but sadly it was locked, so we headed for home.
We went out early to Stefano's for supper - fresh picked porcini mushrooms and arancini were among the treats on the menu - a perfect prelude to the evening viewing of 'Young Montalbano'. Andrea is also a fan.

Today is my first Sunday in a while without locum duty so we breakfasted late, went to St. Catherine's for their Harvest Festival Eucharist and showed Andrea the Riverside market before returning for lunch. We set out early for the opera, to enjoy half an hour's afternoon sun down the Bay before the performance of Donizetti's 'Roberto Devereaux' started. It's the third in the series of operas set in the court of the royal Tudors, with a magnificent performance by Alexandra Deshorties as Queen Elizabeth the First. The set design was similar to that of the other two operas in the series - 'Anna Bolena' and 'Maria Stuarda', dark and minimalist with hardly any reference to the historic period.

In the second half the Queen ascended to sing from a throne which resembled a giant mechanical spider, prowling around the stage. When it was revealed during the scene, it raised a ripple of amusement among the audience. It was incongruous and un-necessary, a gross metaphor of predatory power where a subtle one would have sufficed. The music was marvellous and so were the singers and orchestra, so disaster was averted, and a good time was had by all. It was good to emerge from the Millennium Centre before it got dark, for a change, and return home for a quiet evening of conversation about Geneva days.
Alexandra Deshorties
Alexandra Deshorties
Alexandra Deshorties

Friday, 4 October 2013

Troubleshooting by Twitter

Pope Francis is inspiring others and being inspired by his visit to Assisi today, home and last resting place of his inspirational namesake. The whole world is a better place for the light and joy he brings to sharing the Gospel. I spent the morning in Pontcanna's Coffee #1 learning about how one of my St Mike's students from last year packed his summer with really interesting things to do. I found that inspirational too.

This morning I woke up to find that my internet router/modem was dead, and tweeted about it to service providor TalkTalk Care. Within an hour, I received an email to tell me that a new router/modem was being dispatched to me. Great, you may think, but the story started yesterday afternoon. The internet connection was very intermittent, as it has been intermittently several times of late. It was annoying as I had some office work to get done before the weekend. I tweeted a moan about poor connectivity, and my growing curiosity about changing service providor. Within an hour I had a response from TalkTalk Care asking me to explain the problem. This was the first of nine exchanges via Twitter during the rest of the day.

First I was asked to log into my TalkTalk account page and request a line test, which I was only able to do because I had an internet enable Blackberry, of course. But at least I was spared the telephone queue, the multi-option menus and technical support people with accents difficult to comprehend. The TalkTalkCare tweeter(s) were under the impression this would restore service, having not taken in the fact that the device under test was not lighting up, even with the power on. 

I rummaged about among my spare pieces of kit for a redundant modem of bygone years to use, and came to the conclusion it was somewhere in the office. TalkTalkCare suggested I register a support request with the help desk via their internet page. The page link sent to me with the best intentions was unreadable, as it was not intended for a device as small as a Blackberry. After supper, I went off to my Tai Chi class, discussing this by tweets when an opportunity to stop arose.  On my way back from class I went into the office, rummaged around there for the spare modem without success, logged into the TalkTalk website on a desktop PC and registered my request.

When I got home late, I dug out an old multi-voltage transformer to test with the modem, just in case it was only the transformer that was dead. Sure enough the transformer powered up the modem after fiddling with the on-off switch. This got me back on-line and I was able to tweet a message from my laptop describing the outcome to the TalkTalk Care team. I left the device running and went to bed. When I got up, I found the old transformer was dead, so evidently it wasn't up to meeting regular demand, or the modem had a fault that was taking more than it could possibly give. I tweeted this to the TalkTalk Care team and very soon after had a message to say that a modem had been ordered for despatch to me. It should arrive in three working days - I make that Tuesday. Meanwhile my work Blackberry and BT mobile dongle are proving invaluable, and my jobs are getting done.

At tea-time I collected our friend Andrea from the train. She's come from Scarborough for the weekend to go to a Sunday afternoon opera with us. This weekend I have no locum duties, so it'll be good to share extra free time with her. Just as we were saying goodnight, the phone rang. It was Father Graham Francis in need of a little tech support as a consequence of a suspicious email that had set of alarm bells as it carried a file attachment which refused to open. All sorts of straightforward reasons for this, but better safe than sorry, so I talked him through starting a full security check on both his machines, just in case. I bet his namesake Pope Francis doesn't get calls like that just before bedtime.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Creativity gap

I woke up early yesterday morning from a strange panic nightmare about moving out of St Michael's College. It left me feeling rattled for the rest of the day. In an effort to discharge some of the dream's negative energy, I had a go at levelling and stabilising the paving slabs I'd laid for the new garden shed. I guess the exercise was good for me, even if it did leave me feeling slightly stiff. Note to self: must do more exercise. Then, I went into the office for a couple of hours, to compile documents for the VAT authorities to re-register with them, as they had lost our details. Owain came in to chat with Ashley and I about the Company's public profile. It's good to bring an objective analytical mind to bear on the issues we deal with from time to time.

I woke early again this morning - or so it felt like. It's not that early, just that it's the sun rises later, but this time I woke up thinking about the poetry I'd written but not yet published on my poetry blog page. So, I got up, switched on and had a look. The first thing that surprised me was that the latest posting was from four years ago, and it didn't belong there at all. It was a piece I'd written for my previous blog 'Edge of the Centre', and posted in the wrong place. When I checked the other, it was apparent that I'd only half corrected my error, for the posting was in both the wrong and the right place, very much a symptom of being under pressure, as I was in the run up to retirement.

Since then, I've only written four poems, now posted. All my creative energy has gone into taking photos and journalling. Occasionally a line or a phrase comes to me, but doesn't materialise into the effort to grow them into a poem. Editing my prose takes enough time, and the discipline of doing that has improved over the past few years. Telling stories, however, is easier than painting an insight or image with a few words - which is the kind of poetry writing that appeals to me. But then, I make very little music these days, and spend a lot more time in silence instead. I just have to follow the inspiration, after all there's nothing to prove to anyone any more.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

A satisfying day

At the end of the morning I met my good friend Roy Thomas for a delicious sandwich and coffee at the Fat Pig Deli on Romilly Road. How marvellous that the weather was mild enough to sit outside to eat and and catch up on all the news of the past few months. Then I went into town to the CBS office to install the new desktop PC and transfer data. On my way I passed by St John's and saw two guys at work on the new glass doors. I couldn't resist stopping and taking another picture.
It'll look very stylish when complete. I sneaked inside to take a look at what had been done with the re-levelling of the floor, and re-location of the step the other side of the tower porch, and was very impressed. The Victorian tiles were taken up and re-laid, and new tiles in an exact match of colour and pattern were added into the excavated area where the former porch had been. I wish it could have been done while I was there, as a great deal of worry was attached to having a hazardous step at a main entrance to the church, but five years on, it's a pleasure to see a job so beautifully done. Kudos to Peter Bricknell and his team of conservation minded builders.

Setting up the new HP desktop PC was delightfully easy, with only a brief internet hunt for a driver for the Dell lazer printer. It attached itself to the office network without any hassle, and then all I had to do was transfer data and settings. I have to confess that although I have set up dozens of computers for use over the past twenty five years, I've always preferred to do so 'by hand' - copying selected data, making the odd adjustment to file structures to suit new circumstances, installing printers and configuring email programs and getting them to recognise their legacy data, and generally that meant a day of machine minding. This time I thought I'd try the file transfer wizard.

I took my double ended USB cable for this task, but couldn't find the disk with the drivers on it, although I know they are on the hard drive of one of my machines. I couldn't be bothered to hunt, and trusted that Windows 7 plus internet would find the necessary files. No such luck. Rather than waste time, I thought I would try the transfer option using the office network. It was straightforward, although not clear quite enough to avoid a few minutes of confusion getting the computers to handshake across the network. It did work however, taking the best part of an hour to move data and settings to the new machine. All in all, setup along with downloading and installing Libre Office, took two and a half hours, letting me out of the office in time to get home, grab my shoes and go back out for my weekly Chi Gung workout. I love it when everything goes right.