Saturday, 31 May 2014

A flute for Rhiannon

After breakfast and a final stroll around the garden at Plas Baladeulyn yesterday, we drove back to Cardiff yesterday in decent weather on roads a lot quieter than I'd expected for the second weekend of half term holiday. We stopped in Brecon to do our weekend food shopping, and had lunch in a small cafe-cum-delicatessen in the town's covered market. In the evening, there was a Sunday sermon to prepare and some catch up TV to watch.

Kath, Anto and Rhiannon arrived mid-afternoon today. Anto went straight off to Clwb Ifor Bach to prepare for the fourth Third Uncles' reunion gig. Clare and I met Kath and Rhiannon in town, so that we could visit Gamlin's music shop to buy a flute for Rhiannon. Her playing and enthusiasm for the flute has developed in this past year, as she has grown physically to the point where it's now much easier for her hands to cover the flute keys. She's been playing her mum's instrument until now, and will soon be taking her Grade Two exam, so it seemed like the right time for this. We looked at several second hand flutes, and were were taken down to a quiet corner of the shop's basement for Rhiannon to try them out. She fell for the first one she tried, with a warm rounded tone, and left the shop all bright eyed and smiling.

Owain came around for supper and went with Kath to the gig afterwards. Rhiannon stayed at home with us, and watched a video with Clare before going to bed. 'Wallander' was half way through by the time she went up, but I was able to watch it from the start using a new iPlayer streaming feature before it ended in real time. Krister Hendricksson's portrayal of the ageing detective losing his memory is remarkable.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Ynys Mon on Ascension Day

We got up early this morning to breakfast in time to be out of the house by nine, and on our way to Bangor to attend the 10.30am Eucharist for Ascension Day. The Cathedral website said there was a service and I emailed a request to confirm this, as the home page was still advertising Easter services, evidently not having been updated since then, so there was no knowing whether the usual weekday routine service continued or was supplanted on this special occasion. The response to my request arrived, telling us about a 5.30pm service, but only after we'd decided to take it on trust that there would be a 10.30am service, 

We arrived in good time, but the officiating priest didn't show up. The Sacristan rang around and found a substitute before coming out to apologise to the nine of us who were waiting. We all sat quietly and patiently for a quarter of an hour until he came. The anticipation was most enjoyable, as was the bi-lingual service, offered in a gentle and relaxed prayerful manner. It was a happy occasion, despite embarrassing mishaps. There's no doubt about it, the church is under pressure to live up to its own aspiration to offer the best it can to those who seek its ministrations. Patience is not just a virtue but a necessity.

We had coffee in a High Street bakery shop before leaving town and heading for the Menai Bridge, to cross over into Anglesey, Ynys Mon - Mam Cymru, to visit Plas Newydd, a huge chateau-like National Trust property with extensive gardens and an arboretum, bordering on the Menai Straights. It was in the national news recently for completing a £600,000 project to install a marine source heat pump to drive its central heating, oil powered until then. The house was shut, but the gardens were open. It was dry but overcast with a chill wind, so it needed a certain resolve to keep going. We found the spot where the heat pump's water source was located just above the shore, freshly lansdscaped, the grass not yet grown back. 

After lunch in the site cafe and a second walk around the gardens, we drove further along the A4080 road, and discovered a CADW signposted turning up a side road to Bryn Celli Ddu, a neolithic burial mound in a field at the end of a new and well constructed half mile path through fields. The site is thought to have begun as a henge, a twenty metre diameter stone circle, a rarity in Wales. Later occupants of the territory plundered the stones to construct a communal burial chamber at the centre of an earth mound. The site was excavated and reconstruction was based on this theory. Anglesey has many such neolithic sites. So much to see! 

We drove on past Brynsiencyn down to the road to the shore leading to the Sea Zoo, and to a dead end at water's edge, where there's an old ferryman's house and a small harbour. It's dead opposite Caernarvon on the mainland. Whether there's still a regular ferry service, I doubt, although there were several boats beached by low tide in this vicinity, which could be used to transport goods across and avoid traffic jams on the bridges. Another similar ferryman's house stands in the village of Porthaethwy in the lee of Menai Bridge, but that's well above the shore. The need for a ferry so close to Telford's bridge has long gone, but Cambrian House as it's called, is one of the oldest there.

On our way back from the shore to the A4080 for the home run, quite by chance we happened upon a small roadside cottage serving home made cream teas, under the banner 'Giddy Aunt's Tea Room', run by a couple from Yorkshire, with a delightful story to tell of how they'd purchased a small plot of land with rights for a caravan dwelling, and a ruined agricultural building in one corner. Over several years they obtained planning permission and re-built the ruin as a smallish cottage, and eventually to use its facilities to run their delightfully situated little tea room. The wife was a great raconteur, who'd successfully appeared on the "Who wants to be a miilionaire?" TV game show, and paid off their mortgage on building work with the proceeds of her win. An unexpected bonus to our first visit to 'Mam Cymru', as Ynys Mon is also known.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Walk around the lake

The peace and quiet Plas Baladeulyn offers is quite soporific. Last night I was in bed and asleep by eleven, and despite waking several times briefly in the night, it was ten to nine when I finally woke up and realised the time. We had to rush downstairs for breakfast. We weren't quite the last. Another guest missed altogether.

Rain threatened to neutralise any excursion plans we might have, so we decided instead to walk around the lake at the bottom of the garden. As it is surrounded by marshy ground on three sides, there's not much of a lakeside path. We had to walk up the hill a mile and a half, and cross the valley where it narrows and take the return journey down the far side of the lake down the track to farm with a campsite in one sheltered field and half a dozen large open fields with thousands of sheep grazing in them. 

In the marshy area around the lake, reed and coarse grass was covered with what looked like white flowers from a distance, but on closer inspection, proved not to be flowers but small balls of a fine fluffy material, most probably flax growing wild. There were even patches of it floating in open water beyond the reed beds. It's something I've never seen or noticed in the wild before. We heard the cuckoo again at closer quarters saw a heron fly across the lake, a pied wagtail, a few mallard and Canada geese, but there seemed to be more gulls visible than any other species, riding the thermals where the valley narrows, and roosting in one small patch of shingle on the foreshore. 

Our leisurely little round trip took us two hours, and then it was lunchtime, so we went and bought food for a picnic in the Co-op at Penygroes. But the time we got back, the rain had started, so we ate in our room and then siesta'd. There was no good reason to venture out again, except to take even more photographs to add to the ones taken with my Sony Alpha 55 DSLR during the walk. Reviewing pictures taken, I found there were some using the telephoto lens which didn't meet my expectation, and I took my other Sony (HX50) to shoot the same subject for comparison purposes. The same cloud cover, albeit later in the day, yet the super zoom picture quality was better at several points - same aperture small difference in speed. It may be a question of telephoto lens quality. I'm no expert in understanding criteria for assessing let alone discussing the fine detail of photo quality, but I recognise the dissatisfaction.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Pilgrims of a kind

After a good nine hours sleep and a hearty breakfast we lazed around, uncertain how the day's weather was going to evolve. Would it get cloudier and rain, or clear up? Well, by half past eleven nothing had changed, it was just cloudy, not too cold, so we headed off inland, first to Bettws-y-Coed where we had a picnic lunch and visited the railway station. In addition of serving as a station on the main line, it boasts a miniature steam railway pulling several dozen tourists around a large oval track several hundred yards in length, and alongside it a small electric tram, plying up and down a single line, carrying half a dozen. There are holday cottages, a few shops and a restaurant in the old station buildings. Altogether it's a creative re-purposing of real estate no longer needed for running a rail service, adding great value to the town's tourist offer.

From Bettws-y-Coed we followed the old A5 coach road in an eastward direction as far as a junction which took us to the village of Penmachno. We then followed a single track metalled road several miles up and over a forested mountain into a secluded valley to find Ty Mawr Wybrnant, a sixteenth century farmhouse now in the hands of the National Trust. 

In 1545 it was the house of a prosperous tenant farmer, and became the birthplace of William Morgan, the first translator of the Welsh Old Testament, and reviser of Salesbury's Welsh New Testament. Alas, it was closed! We were, however, able to walk around and enjoy the peace and beauty of this hidden place, and to marvel that a young man from here had made his way to study in Cambridge in the 1560s. In addition to his scholarly achievement, he was appointed Bishop of Llandaff in 1595 and moved back home up North to become Bishop of St Asaph for the three years before he died in 1604. His translation of scripture has done as much for the formation of the Welsh language as it Tyndall's English and Luther's German translations for their respective mother tongues.

We returned the same way, stopping in Beddgelert for a walk along the river and a cup of tea afterwards. As we entered the riverside park, we couldn't help noticing more than a dozen dogs of various breeds and sizes, all attached to their owners, assembled alongside the wall by the entrance gate. We puzzled over this rather conspicuous gathering for a moment, and that Clare said, "Well what else should be expected in the vicinity of Gelert's grave"

Monday, 26 May 2014

Springtime in Dyffryn Nantlle

We were out of the house and on our way up the A470 to North Wales by nine thirty this morning, and found only light traffic all the way. The weather was good and everything made for a relaxed and pleasant journey. We stopped for a pub lunch in Caersws, and arrived at Trigonos in Dyffryn Nantlle by three. We noticed once we crossed over the Brecon Beacons bluebells were in bloom everywhere in the hedgerows and mountainsides. Ours in the garden at home were over two weeks ago. 

In Snowdonia the visual impact of rhododendrons, mostly purple, is a striking contrast to bluebell blue. Rhododendrons are an invasive species, imported by the wealthy from the Himalayas in the nineteenth century, and now running wild, regarded as an invasive species. In and around Beddgelert, the National Park authority is taking initiatives to curb if not root them out, before they destroy native species which cannot compete with their vigour.

After unpacking, we walked out by the lake at the bottom of the garden at Plas Baladeulyn, saw several ethereal powder blue dragonflies in the long grass, a fish jumping and two white butterflies mating, one of them had bright yellow wing tips. As well as the sound of blackbirds, robins and chaffinches, we heard the solitary distant voice of a cuckoo. It don't think I've heard one since I was last here three years ago. 

It's very quiet here, and also difficult to get a phone signal in such a deep valley. Nothing from BT and a very poor one from Orange-EE standing in a corner of the car park. So we have to rely on wi-fi, and for that, a short walk from the main house to the neighbourhood around the estate office. The government talks about improving rural internet services, but in some parts of rural Wales mobile reception is in a worse condition. I couldn't help noticing so many UKIP posters on display in this region, symptomatic of disaffection with the Westminster political elite, and for that matter the Cardiff political elite, for failing to deliver resources which have become critical for economic development and success.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Rogation Sunday

This morning I was back on duty for the first time since returning from Spain a month ago. Fortunately I felt well enough to cope with, and enjoy celebrating and preaching at two Eucharists for the East Vale group of churches, at Peterston and St Brides - both of them 'super Ely'. It's exactly six months since I was last there, on the Sunday before I went out to Spain. I enjoyed reporting back on just a little of my experience of the Malaga Semana Santa processions, before talking about the meaning of Rogationtide processions in Britain. Charmingly, the weekly service leaflet of the day at St Brides had a colour photo on the front of such a procession, taken somewhere in the parish at some time in the past. I wish I'd remembered to ask who the parson was, featured in the photo.

With an early start, and a fifteen minute drive, the first service being at nine and the next at ten thirty, I was home before noon, but in need of an horizontal siesta later on. We've decided on an early start tomorrow for our journey to Snowdonia for a half term stay at Trigonos, in Dyffryn Nantlle, so I spent part of the evening packing equipment books and clothes to make the place a home from home to venture from to visit interesting photogenic National Trust properties, hitherto unexplored by us. I just hope the weather won't be too daunting. But I'm taking three books to read in case it rains enough to make excursions unattractive.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Thanks KwikFit

Last night I, as we set out for the Millennium Centre, our car, which had started fine in the morning, failed to start. The battery is losing charge, and is at least four maybe five years old, therefore probably dying. This damp and rainy morning, I hooked it up to our battery charger for several hours, and succeeded in getting the car to start. I drove straight to our nearest KwikFit centre on Cowbridge Road, and was delighted they could deal with it immediately. The manager loaned me an umbrella, so I could walk home and have lunch while I waited for the job to be done, alternator health check, battery health check, and replacement. By the time I returned, the job was done, a great relief as I resume Sunday duties tomorrow. 

We went for an afternoon walk into town and back in the rain for tea in John Lewis'. Down the Poncanna side of the Taff, we saw a flock of starlings feeding in the wet grass under the trees alongside the avenue. We were serenaded by a wren and a blackbird, oblivious to the depressing dampness of the hour. As we crossed the footbridge, scores of swifts swarmed over the river, darting in every direction feeding on midges in the air as they flew. Sometimes on this walk you're lucky to see a handful of crows and pidgeons, and then the mood of dull day can be a handful of surprises. 

The city centre was in festive mood, with a live soul band playing in the drizzle outside the Castle, and tens of thousands of good humoured rugby fans making their ways into the Millennium Stadium for the Heineken Cup final. As the match was under way, streets were quiet when we made our way home after a look around the store and tea. The second instalment of 'Wallander' was on BBC4, portraying the detective as growing increasingly forgetful about ordinary things, attributable to his profound concentration on the case in hand, but shades of things to come, as the series moves to his end.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Prelude to a night at the opera

After another day housebound by weather and the miserable effects of sinusitis, we ventured out this evening to the Millennium Centre, for supper at Ffresh, the stylish in-house restaurant, where we were greeted by a Welsh speaking Maitre d', and served by a French speaking Quebecois. 

Afterwards we attended a talk given by David Pountney, librettist and opera producer, about composer Arnold Schoenberg's life and his operatic masterpiece 'Moses und Aron'. His special guest was theologian and broadcaster Mona Siddiqui, one of Britain's top islamic theologians and inter faith dialogue specialists. They had done the same double act this morning at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival, and seemed glad to have another go at it on home turf. It's one of a series of events under the banner 'One World, Many Faiths', mounted to accompany the summer 'Faith' season of operas, well just two of them actually, the other being Nabucco. We have bookings for both in the coming month.

I didn't know anything about Schoenberg apart from his name being associated with use of the twelve tone musical scale. Despite its length, David Pountney's biography of Schoenberg's life and work was informative and interesting. and Mona Siddiqui's valuable comments and reflections left me wanting to hear more from her. The theme of their conversation was that of identity in relation to religious faith.

Schoenberg was born into a non-practising Jewish family. His search for spiritual meaning led first to conversion to Christianity. Then, well before the rise of Nazism, he encountered and was subject to the social germanic anti-semitism of the era, and reacted against it by reverting to Judaism. His consciousness awakened to the profound evil of racism and the need to campaign actively against it, which he did with prophetic discernment and fervour in the political sphere, finally joining other German exiles in the USA during the time of Nazi supremacy.

As a man of Jewish ethnicity disposessed of its ritual and community life, Schoenberg strived to engage with the religious and spiritual meaning of Jewish scriptural foundation texts, discovered in the context of modern secular liberal values and his pride in German artistic cultural heritage. His opera 'Moses and Aron' centres around the relationship between the Moses the inarticulate man who walked and talked with God, and Aaron his brother and divinely appointed spokesperson to the children of Israel. Its setting is the story of the Exodus from Egypt and sojourn in the wilderness up to the fabrication and destruction of the Golden Calf and death of Aaron.

Schoenberg wrote both libretto and music, but only completed the first two acts. These were performed in concert for the first time just before his death in 1951 and premiered as an opera on stage six years later. His use of the twelve tone scale, in which each musical tone and semitone is equal to the other, was intended as a revolutionary innovation heralding a new era of artistic musical consciousness. It's more than coincidental that in Schoenberg's latter years, Swing was evolving into Bebop taking Jazz in a new and revolutionary direction. Black Jazz musicians, were also struggling with questions of identity post-slavery, in an 'emancipated' society that was nevertheless riddled with racism. 

Schoenberg's engagement with the Torah as an outsider to Jewish religious tradition led to a realisation that the first two Commandments required an uncompromising moral and spiritual austerity hardly congenial to human beings. This may be what having faith in God demands in the wilderness, in times of crisis, but what happens in the promised land? Or is there no promised land, in a world so ridden with injustice and tyranny?

The evening's conversation was a stimulating prelude to a night at the opera still to come, and touched upon many more issues than it pursued. It was the beginning of an interesting dialogue about what it means to come to the sources of faith, if not faith itself, out of a society that has lost touch with its identity and roots in religious culture and spirituality. It's an issue that has resonance for all kinds of believers eager to share their faith. Remarkably, it occurred in a precinct of highest artistic endeavour, rather than in seminary, cathedral, mosque or temple. I'm sure there are historical precedents for this. It was just good to be there.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Office at home and at work

Thunder and rain today. At least it lowers the pollen count, but there's not much incentive to go out. The new antibiotics are slowly conquering my infected sinuses but improvement is slow. Thankfully there are matters I can deal with from home, as my office work environment can be accessed and contributed to whatever computer I have, wherever I am. It's not yet perfectly seamless but it's adequate. There are always legacy issues to be dealt with when it comes to software compatibility, as we are running machines with three different operating systems.

Every software giant seems to want to 'improve' work tools are already fit for purpose in the eyes and under the hands of the regular user. Creating a need for upgrades meant to enhance user experience keeps companies in business, but this can backfire if users don't agree, as has been shown by the fate of Windows Vista and Windows 8 in less than satisfactory user uptake. Reliability, consistency and compatibility are what most concern busy long term users. Stopping to learn how to use a new operating system or new versions of software you rely on heavily makes life worse for the user not better.

The version of MS Word we use in the office and at home dates back to the turn of the century. I installed and used Open Office as well MS Office when it was launched in 2002. I've used Libre Office since it was launched in 2010 as a Free and Open Source alternative to Open Office. It has continued to improve and add new features with each upgrade, and yet its user interface has remained consistently the same. It means learning new things is always an incremental extension of what you already know. It's a tribute to the way the Open Source design and programming community learns from user feedback. Why does Microsoft thinks it knows what's best for us. Consistency is every bit as important to users as improved speed and reliability.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Virgen de Soledad and other images

We hosted the monthly Ignatian meditation group at home this lunchtime. Thee were six of us. I offered to lead, as I wanted to share a discovery made during Semana Santa in Spain of one particular image of the Virgen de Soledad - Our Lady of Solitude. Some portray Mary weeping, wringing her hands in sorrow, lamenting the death of her son, but this one struck me as quite different, memorable.
The cross behind a kneeling Mary is empty. It is finished. She is alone with her grief, and emptiness. If indeed the body of Jesus had been laid in her arms, as imagined in the Rosary and the great tradition of pietà sculpture, this moment is past, and he has been taken away for burial. It's that empty moment unmentioned by scripture, in between Jesus saying to John, "Son behold your mother" and John taking Mary into his own home. It's the tragic counter-point to Annunciation. "Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word"  

It makes me think of all those grief stricken mothers you see in television news stories about wars, natural disasters, accidents, and those moments when we say "Oh God, why?" and there is nothing else to say.

After lunch with the group, I had intended to go to the office, but inflated sinuses made me feel groggy and tired so I went to bed and slept away the afternoon instead. Clare's colleague Sandra came to stay the night, and that left me to my own devices, idly watching catch-up TV, while uploading Costa del Sol pictures to my OneDrive site, so now I have a second Cloud photo archive. Frankly, accessing photos through Google+ is irritating, because of the attempt to create an all purpose user interface to compete with Facebook. I liked Picasa a lot better, and now it's relegated to being a background option. Getting into photos with OneDrive is simpler and the interface is nice and clean. Despite my annoyances with Microsoft, some things they do very well indeed.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Slow recovery

Disappointingly, last week's course of antibiotics seems to have had only limited impact, reducing but not eliminating nasal congestion and chronic bronchial catarrh I've been enduring for months. Maybe hay fever is partly to blame. Anyway, rather than wait until Friday for a return visit to the doctor, I dropped a letter into the GP surgery on my way to the office, yesterday, asking for a repeat prescription. To my surprise, I had a call from the practise receptionist on my mobile, as I sat snuffling at my desk, and the offer of an appointment this morning. 

After another check up I was issued another prescription, and was able to collect and resume medication straight away. At the moment the weather is fairly warm, and I'd like to be spending more time outdoors, enjoying Spring. With a diminished sense of smell, and the arbitrary rise and fall of swelling in sinuses reacting to variations in air current and pollen count, I'm reluctant to go far, or do much. So I stay indoors, and occasionally take a few photos of bird table visitors, in the hope of improving quality and content of pictures using a telephoto lens.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Enter YouView

Friday, we drove over to Bristol in beautifully sunny weather to visit James and Amanda, who returned from hospital earlier this week. James went into school to get some help with sorting our a course for next year. By the end of the day he'd  applied for a BTech Computing course at the near by Filton FE College. This is a good move, as he has set his sights on working in the computer games industry eventually.

A conversation with a telephone sales rep from TalkTalk at the beginning of the week, led to us being offered a free subscription package upgrade at no extra cost. This includes a TalkTalk YouView digital box, which arrived today. It gives us the full range of free view offerings plus a wide range of catch-up TV options and a channel for renting movies in addition. All I had to do was connect it to the router, and run the set up programme which despite a few ambiguities in the on-screen instructions worked well. We had arrived home just too late to see an edition of 'A place in the sun' house hunting programme, focussing on the Orihuela region, not far from Sta Pola, where Anto and his sister still have their mother's apartment. The first test of the new device was to find the programme in the roll-back schedule and watch. It couldn't have been easier.

Saturday was a quiet day, apart from our afternoon walk around Bute Park, with tea in the Castle grounds restaurant before heading home. It was good to take advantage of our Cardiff Castle Key cards, which not only give us free entrance as citizens to the Castle, but a discount on refreshments as well. In the evening we had the treat of watching the first of the new series of 'Wallander', said to be the final series, charting his life as he slips into illness and old age. Impressive acting as ever.

Clare and I went to St Catherine's for the Parish Eucharist this morning, and walked to Riverside Market to shop for organic veggies and cheese. The weather was again beautiful, but the pollen in the air hit me hard, and swollen sinuses took away the pleasure of the walk and laid me low for the rest of the day. There's been something of an improvement from the course of antibiotics which I finished last night, but allergic reaction to the prevailing atmosphere is still the order of the day. 

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Morgan legacy

This morning I went to my first CBS Radio Users Group meeting since last October. Following this I worked in the office chipping away on some of our remaining bad debt problems until it was time for Ashley and I, with Sarah our new BCRP co-worker, to visit Rory, chair of the BCRP Steering Group for an update on our recent activities.

Rory's office is on the first floor at the St Mary Street end of the Morgan Arcade. Last time we were there together, back in January, she showed us the re-building and conversion work going on above and behind the St Mary Street facade. Progress on this has necessitated re-routing access to Rory's office through an entrance in Tredegar Lane at the other end of the Arcade. This took us along dusty corridors above the arcade and its shops, into parts of the building which were the back offices for the Directors of the David Morgan Department store, which ceased trading in 2005. It's all in the process of re-furbishment. In many of the empty rooms you can still see old fireplaces and wallpaper dating back to the middle of the last century. 

As we made our way out after the meeting, Rory took us through the quiet corridors of the new Morgan Apartment building, on the Hayes side of the development, to glimpse an extraordinary large panelled and timbered room with stained glass in mock baronial style. It sits over the Hayes entrance to the Royal Arcade and now serves as a common meeting place for apartment residents, but in the heyday of Cardiff's renowned department store, it was a prestigious function room for events related to the company. Next time we visit Rory, I must be sure to take a camera and take some pictures of this remarkable interior, for posterity.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Tooth upgrade and guts ache

Yesterday morning, I had the first of a pair of dental appointments to fit a crown to a back molar, which had to be postponed before Christmas, when the dentist went down with 'flu. I was in the chair for over half and hour, and afterwards I walked back home from Llandaff North in the sunshine along the Taff Trail, to shake off the stress.  There's a wait of three weeks until the permanent replacement crown can be fitted. By the evening the temporary crown had parted company with the tooth. I'd been warned it might happen. It fits neatly enough to serve as protection for the filled tooth beneath, but I have to be careful about eating on that side, or end up losing it.

This morning I joined half a dozen others and Fr Mark for the St Matthias Day Eucharist at St Luke's. It was good to touch base with him as he prepares to fill the gaps in the regular duty rota after Fr Martin departs for his new parish next month, before Fr Phelim takes his place in September. I look forward to helping him out as often as I can over the summer.

After lunch I went to the quarterly meeting of the Wales Against Business Crime group. This time it was in Cardiff as it was the turn of CBS to host it. During the meeting, I developed an excruciating stomach pain and had to leave, as I couldn't concentrate on proceedings. After half an hour it faded away as quickly as it arrived. I realised that I was paying the price for snacking on chocolate biscuits and water instead of eating a proper lunch. Normally I wouldn't have such trouble, but my present antibiotic regime kills off some of the bugs in the stomach which regulate acidity. Serves me right.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Birdy weekend

A quiet solitary weekend spent mostly at home apart from shopping for food. Finally, I observed several small birds at our RSPB garden bird feeder, sparrows, but also a couple blackcaps, somewhat shier, and less frequent visitors to the feeder than the sparrows. The blackcaps seem to be setting up home in the roughly pruned leylandia hedge in the garden opposite ours on Llanfair Road. I watched them doing a mating dance, and arriving with feather for the nest. I wish I'd  videoed them. Here's one ,  snapped with my Sony HX50 at 40 feet waiting for a turn at the bird feeder.
I attended the Parish Eucharist at St Luke's. Instead of a sermon we watched a video about a family resettling in Southern Sudan. Christian Aid week is with us once again. In the afternoon I walked down to the Taff in a bracingly fresh strong breeze and took some photographs with my Sony Alpha 55, trying to capture the sense of movement in the trees. I also got a few nice shots of a grounded crow, or is it a rook?
Owain dropped by to say hello in the evening, and introduced me to the TV comedy show Silicon Valley, a savagely satirical take on life in hi-tec business start-up in California. It's brilliantly funny and I was so taken with it that I watched another three of the episodes available after Owain left.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Mistaken identity

Clare and I left the house at the same time this afternoon. She was headed for a weekend of looking after Rhiannon in Kenilworth, and I was on my way to the office.  A Dwr Cymru van was parked at the end of the street and their Damaged Sewer expert was on the case, examining the underground environment with a camera probe to establish if there's any damage in the neighbouring system that's been causing the half a dozen sink holes that have appeared in this locality over the past four years.

I mentioned the discovery by the road making team of a collection of plastic bags at the end of a string down the sewer access shaft. He laughed. "No, not a drug stash" he said, "That's rat poison - not that rats come up here that often, because of the poisons in domestic sewage."  Nevertheless, the assemblage of plastic bags was no longer attached to the string - either detached and disappeared into the outflow, or surrepticiously removed yesterday. Someobody thinking the bags contain drugs are in for a surprise!

Later, in the office, there were changes in the management of our crime database management system to be dealt with, and notifications to be uploaded. The system has been secured against the Heartbleed security compromise exploit, and for us this meant re-registration and password changes, just to be on the safe side. There's nothing worse than a flawed secure system.

After work, a late afternoon visit to my GP surgery for a doctor's diagnosis of my persistent bronchial catarrh. I came away with a prescription for antibiotics, but too late to collect from pharmacies in Canton or Pontcanna, so took the bus into town to visit Boots the Chemist next to the main bus station. Nevertheless, I was home just in time to cook supper and listen to the Archers.   

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Resurfacing Meadow Street

Yesterday afternoon Ashley and I made another journey to our suppliers in Chepstow to sort out a batch of problematic radios and to order a new batch of replacements, as our original equipment issue approaches the end of its life expectancy in the coming year. I returned to join Clare supper as she had two colleagues staying with us overnight, but then I returned to the office to work with Ashley on constitutional revision issues (yet again). When I got home, getting on for eleven o'clock, I had to hunt in Llanfair Road for a parking space, in anticipation of not being able to park in Meadow Street all next day, due to road surfacing. I got luck and was able to shoehorn the car into a space only a foot longer than itself. Old VW Golfs are great manouverers.

The road works team was with us by eight, but several people had not yet removed their cars, and the first couple of hours was taken up by the team knocking on doors to find out who had ignored the notices, hand delivered a couple of days ago. Some of the offenders were from neighbouring streets, and took some tracking down. I didn't see the tow truck being pressed into service, but it was ten thirty by the time work was able to start with a clear street.

A remarkable machine designed to scrape off the old decayed road surface, sweep up the bulk of the road stone and send it up a twenty foot conveyer belt into the back of an accompanying lorry, was first on the scene.
 They were accompanied by a road sweeping vehicle and a couple of all purpose excavators to trim missed corners and tidy up loose chippings, leaving the stone gutters and kerbs exposed neatly. The speed and precision with which these vehicles accomplished their task testified to great training and teamwork on the part of the crew.

When they tackled the far end of the street where it opens out on to the back lane, a new sink hole appeared right next to the iron cover of a sewer access shaft. It's in the area where repairs to sink holes has been necessary at least four times since I retired. Why the subsidence occurs has never been tracked down. The road works team had not been briefed on this history and possibility of re-occurrence, by the Council's Highways department which commissioned the work. When I asked the men probing the hole about this, they merely laughed. Nobody tells us anything, they said.
With a bit of a struggle they removed the cast iron sewer access cover and satisfied themselves that its brick shaft wasn't damaged. Someone noticed a piece of string had been secured to the frame of the cover, and tugged it up to reveal a collection of small dirty plastic bags tied to the other end. "It's a drug stash" one of the men remarked, and debate ensured as to whether there was coke or hashish in the bags. None of the crew was keen to find out, or handle it in any way, so they agreed to leave it where it had been found, and replaced the access cover. If it was indeed a drug stash, either it had been forgotten, or the user had been unable to retrieve it, as the cover required special tools and considerable effort to remove.

Next the tarmac laying machine and road roller arrived, and the new surface was pressed into place with equal speed and dexterity.
 In three hours the job was done, despite continuous rain. I went into the office, and by the time I returned home, the line painting team had been and gone, leaving the street looking fresh and clean, filling up rapidly with cars once more, including our own, once Clare came home. She'd used it earlier and I didn't exactly know where it was parked ad interim, so she retrieved it while I cooked supper.

My photos of a memorable couple of hours can be seen here.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A bad back and a new Bishop for Europe

This morning, just as I was cleaning the dining room before driving Clare to Newport for an osteopath appointment, I was hit by an excruciating pain in my lower back as I was bending to clean the feet of a chair I'd picked up, then I coughed involuntarily and felt the shock of a spasm running up the inside of my spine. No trapped nerve as happened by in February, but revelation of a weakness, an incomplete healing. So it was Clare that ended up driving me to Newport. Fortunately our osteomyologist Kay Saunders was able to treat us both. 

Can it really be five years since I last went to her for treatment. I know from previous experience that her treatment, will speed recovery, though I expect several more days of pain and stiffness, due to what is effectively a re-opening of old wounds. Getting about now with the pain reawakens the memory of coping on my own in a strange apartment far from home earlier in the year. I had to learn extra patience and not to panic in the face of the challenge of staying mobile, and not being a liability to my hosts. What do I need to learn now? One thing seems certain. I must warm up properly before tackling housework in future, to make sure my back is as flexible as it needs to be. Perhaps spending a day reading a book, mostly on a far from ergonomic sofa, was also a contributory factor. That sofa has to go!

The new office chair in my study is now the most supportive and comfortable seat in the house, so it got well used in the afternoon and evening. The 'Thinking Anglicans' website told me that Canon Robert Innes, Senior Chaplain of Holy Trinity Brussels the pro-Cathedral for Northern Europe, has been appointed as Bishop of the Diocese in Europe. Diocesan Press Officer Fr Paul Needle interviewed him, as he was getting off the Eurostar shuttle at Waterloo, and posted it on You Tube. A positive way to declare his intention to exercise episcopal ministry from Brussels, commuting to the diocesan office as and when necessary. 

To appoint a working Chaplain as Bishop, whose operational base will be within the Diocese he serves is most welcome. It represents a positive response to appeals made about these matters in consultations during each of the three previous episcopal selection processes. He's the first non-Anglo-Catholic to be appointed as Diocesan Bishop. Holy Trinity Brussels can be regarded as broadly Anglican evangelical, and Archbishop Justin's choice acknowledges that the Diocese in Europe's prodigious growth in the last thirty years owes much to broad evangelical Anglican missionary enterprise.

I spent the rest of the evening, watching episode two of 'Hinterland', which we missed yesterday, but could view via the 'Demand 5' website. Like the first episode, the storyline flowed around unfinished business from previous generations, and its fatal consequences for people today. The acting is excellent and the landscape photography beautifully atmospheric. Good to see Aberysytwth town showcased as a setting for some of the action. Definitely a must watch.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Bank holiday good read

It was such a dull Bank Holiday Monday that we stayed at home and read all day. It was an opportunity to read John Le Carre's novel 'A delicate truth' straight through apart from meals. Much of it is set in Gibraltar, where a botched secret anti-terrorist operation takes place during the latter years of the New Labour administration, making deniable use of American far-right mercenaries. It's also about a diplomat and a senior Foreign Office official who become whistle blowers, outraged by the secret exercise of power without accountability by a minister of state and the cover up which follows. At the end of the story it's unclear if they are successful in an endeavour that will certainly cost them their careers if not their lives.

Le Carre is a master story teller whose writing observes the corruption and deceit of the modern world with prophetic indignation, a great novelist, far more than just a writer of classy spy fiction. During my time in Andalusia, I haven't had the desire or good reason to visit Gibraltar, although it's only two hours drive from Fuengirola. I can't say that its curt portrayal in this novel has persuaded me to make the effort, should I return to the Costa del Sol.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Cathedral revisted

Today, with another free Sunday, I decided to worship at the Cathedral, as I haven't been there for any event since the departure of Janet Henderson. Clare opted to go to St Catherines as usual, and got herself recruited to help with hospitality in the Parish Messy Church project. I went to the Cathedral Sung Eucharist (Bairstow in E Flat), at which incense was used, its clouds pleasingly illuminated by shafts of sunlight. (The scent of a new regime?) The nave altar wasn't used, only the high altar, previously used only for distributing Communion. This is a simpler arrangement, to my mind, welcome.

Although the choir is very long and the high altar quite distant, this arrangement works a lot better. The prayers are fully audible, made quite intimate by a properly functioning public address system. Although the ritual at the altar is executed in an aesthetic and dignified manner, there's no really need for it to be universally visible - you don't feel any less involved, and most worshippers love the long slow procession (dare we call it a 'prayer walk') through the choir to the Communion rail.  I well recall my Russian Orthodox friend and early mentor Fr Nicholas Behr saying over forty years ago: "In the celebration of the divine Mysteries, once you know what is happening, there's nothing to see."

The new Dean, Gerwyn Capon is currently on holiday, and Fr Graham Holcombe celebrated and preached. He made reference at the beginning of his sermon to the Easter Lilies decorating the chancel, recalling the enthusiasm shown for them as 'trumpeting the Resurrection' by Canon Edwin Davies one of my predecessors at St John's, fondly remembered by Fr Graham and myself as one of the luminaries of Cardiff back in the 1970's, writing a weekly column of his own in the Western Mail. It's hard to imagine that happening nowadays.

The service was better attended than when I last visited a year ago. I do hope this is a sign of renewing vitality. The whole church and the city needs its Cathedral to be the best, the measure of healthy Christian community and witness to which all else is compared, whether the media seriously value its social contribution or not.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Bank Holiday weekend

We drove to Bristol Friday to visit Amanda, who's in hospital again, and to give James some support. Caring for his mother this past month or so has led to him missing school and examinable assignments, so now he's not going to be able to complete his A level year. We took him out to his school at Thornbury, to find out what options might be available to him. His head of year and head of sixth form were delighted to see him as he has recently been the subject of their pastoral concern. They took an hour with him, mapping out the options for next year, encouraging him to come into school while he's free from having to care for his mother daily, and use staff expertise to write applications, once he's clear what he wants to do next. It's very pleasing to see that he has so much understanding and support there.

Saturday, we took the bus to Penarth and had lunch in the 'Cafe des Amis'. Then we went down to the sea front to inspect the recently renovated and now open buildings on the Pier. It's an impressive restoration and adaptation of a landmark building. 
Part of the upper level of the old ballroom is now a cinema. Underneath it there are function rooms and exhibition space. On the sea side is a stylish restaurant with deck and balcony level dining areas. The pier was busy with bank holiday weekenders enjoying the warmth and Spring sunshine. 
I had a fit of geekiness and took all three cameras, (Sony Alpha 55, HX50 and Lumix DMC LX5) along with me, aiming to take the same photo with each of them, in select locations for comparative purposes. It was an interesting if fiddly time consuming exercise. The wide angle capability of the Lumix lens in comparison with the others is impressive. The telephoto capability of the HX50 and the quality of output is quite remarkable. I used my 28-200mm lens with the Alpha, and found its performance disappointing. Maybe that's my inexperience at using it, even on auto settings, but it could also be a matter of quality as an entry-level priced lens. Some of the photos I took are here
We walked back to Cardiff Bay along the beach, as it was low tide, and then along the Barrage to the Millennium Centre for tea. We bumped into Canon Aled Edwards, the CYTUN executive officer in the foyer and chatted for ages. He was on his way out after an Open University Graduation ceremony - one of the many events hosted by our wonderful operatic auditorium.