Sunday, 29 June 2014

Petertide pilgrimage home

On this Sunday Feast of St Peter and St Paul, I breakfasted and then left at eight thirty for Blaenavon to join the Parish Eucharist in St Peter's Church there at which Father Rufus would be presiding for the first time. To get me in the mood, Roman Catholic Sunday Morning Prayer from Bradford sung Cathedral style by two youth choirs was on Radio Four as I ate, then as I drove, a fourth day in a row on the M4 towards Newport, though this time, turning off at Bassaleg for the journey through the Eastern Valleys, past Risca and Newbridge towards Brynmawr. I missed my turning to Blaenafon at Abertillery, so had to go right through Brynmawr and find the high moorland road which descends into the village from the north. I had just enough time to do this and enjoy this remarkable route

By the time I found the church and parked nearby, I was walking in during the first hymn. The congregation of about fifty were cheerful and welcoming, and there was a feast of food and drink afterwards. Rufus' Italian in-laws came over for the weekend to celebrate a new priest the family, and took a full part, including Daria's uncle who is a Benedictine priest living in Assisi, and still working in retirement. I chatted with them a little in Italian, but the Spanish kept on interfering, but they tolerated this with good humour.

I drove home on a different route, which took me past Hengoed and Ystrad Mynach, where I grew up. With time to spare, I stopped to take a walk over Hengoed railway viaduct, now part of the national network of cycle trails. When I was travelling to school at Pengam Grammar, our train, on Cardiff - Rhymney line would stop and wait at the Hengoed Low Level station to connect with a Pontypool - Swansea train on the High Level station, bringing pupils from the Eastern Valleys to join us on the third of a three stage train journey of over an hour they'd make each day to get to school. A quarter of an hour by car would suffice nowadays, but there were very few cars doing the school run in those days The transport infrastructure was good enough and sustainable, also free to scholars.

After inspecting the bridge, I drove over to the Graig which overlooks Ystrad Mynach, and noticed that since my last visit there had been some interesting looking changes to the buildings of Ty Isaf farmhouse on the hillside above Penallta Road. It overlooked Glen View, the street in which I grew up, and was an important part of the view from my bedroom window as a child, especially on full moon, or when the night mail train would  hurry past, emitting sparks and steam. I had to go over and take a proper look.

But first, a quick visit to the Penallta Colliery site, where the huge buildings adjacent to the derelict main engine house and pit headgear have been revived, restored and occupied, I believe as part of a business development park, although I can't find much information about it. The old pithead baths built in my childhood are ruinous. Are they scheduled for conservation? Or awaiting funding for demolition?  Must find out.

Then, down the hill for a peek at Ty Isaf farmhouse, now surrounded by a new handsome pennant dry stone wall, since the road outside it was improved. A small collie dog came to greet me with tail wagging, barking enthusiastically. His owner soon followed, and asked who I was looking for. I said that I'd noticed the new wall and interesting changes to the farmhouse exterior, albeit in the usual traditional local pennant stonework matching the walls. I mentioned that seeing the farmhouse from Glen View below was a favourite childhood memory. "Are you the Reverend Kimber?" she asked.

It was Carol Thomas, sister in law of Nesta Thomas, who'd been in the same class as me in Ystrad Mynach Junior school, brought up on the farm, still living locally. Nesta and I met when I visited Holy Trinity Ystrad Mynach  working for U.S.P.G., and she was church warden, thirty years ago, and on another occasion when they'd been at St John's for a Côr Meibion concert. I was amazed!

We talked about the remarkable stylish barn conversion into two houses gracing the east side of the 1740s farmhouse house, and I was allowed to take some photographs. The land is now rented out and worked by a neighour, and the sounds of sheep are as close as they ever were, but cattle there are no more, nor the muddy yard they traipsed through to milking, once upon a time. Carol's husband died eight years ago. He's buried down in the front garden, with a weeping willow behind his headstone. Fitting, for the last  generation to keep animals on this rich Valleys pastureland.

So many things have changed in the valley I knew and left behind fifty years ago for University, never to return, make a home here. It's tidier, cleaner, less polluted than it has been for a couple of centuries, at least on the surface- It's no longer a place of heavy industry, though still some upland farming, and many if not most people travel away from here to work - it's been suburbanised. And it would be an attractive place to live if we hadn't long ago settled for Pontcanna.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Ordination at St Woolos

For the third day in a row, I drove East down the M4 towards Newport, the previous two times to go to our radio supplier in Chepstow, and this morning to Newport, for the ordination service at Saint Woolos Cathedral. Among those presented were four students  from St Mikes - 'Becca and Phil to be made Deacon, Rufus and Will to be ordained priest. The first three were all in my tutor group. 

Rufus asked if I would be among those to approach close enough to lay hands on him with the Bishop with direct contact. There are always dozens of priests who want to share this moment and only a few are able to get close enough, so the candidate is surrounded by a forest of waving extended arms, when the Bishops says "Send the Holy Spirit upon this your servant ..." I felt greatly honoured to be asked, and when the time came I was moved to recall my own unrepeatable moment of intimate attention at the heart of what Bishop Richard referred to as "a holy scrum".

When Archbishop Glyn Simon laid hands on me to ordain me as a priest forty four years ago, his hands had the slight tremble of a man starting to be vulnerable with the beginnings of Parkinson's disease. But his were not the only hands on my head or shoulders or back. This experience of the Spirit at this moment is one of great solidarity. Whether you're a candidate or one of the participants, there's a sense of sharing in this few seconds which is unlike any other moment when, as a minister, you're called to lay hands on someone.

It was  lovely sitting in the brightly sunlit chancel after receiving Communion. There were over five hundred people present, and the distribution inevitably took some time, but the choir sang, and the time of waiting and giving thanks was most pleasurable. Then, after greeting the newly ordained in the churchyard outside afterwards, I returned to Cardiff, did some weekend shopping and went home to relax and savour the experience over again.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Missed a turn

Although it's only a ten minute walk, I drove down to St John's Canton this morning to celebrate the Eucharist for the monthly Mothers' Union Corporate Communion with a dozen people present. I took the car so that I could drive straight to a rendezvous with Ashley, for a visit to PMR Products our radio supplier in Chepstow. He was so far behind schedule it was half past three by the time we left in pouring rain. 

We talked so much on the M4 that I missed the junction for the M48, and we had to drive over the Severn Crossing, and up the hill to the Almonsdbury M4/M5 interchange then go south to the A38 Thornbury Junction before we could back track and use the old Severn suspension bridge to arrive in Chepstow. That lost us the time we needed to brief our radio engineer. All we could do was hand over the kit we'd taken with as, as their office was about to close for the day and let him go home. Both of us had skipped lunch so we visited the nice sit-down chippie by the bus station for a very pleasant quick bite to eat.

So annoying to have such a moment of inattention, and a toll to pay for straying across the border into England. Phil the engineer laughed when we told him "You're by no means the only one around here to do that." he said with a smile. Ah well. Back again tomorrow. Hopefully the weather will be better.


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

St John the Baptist celebration

This morning, the Steering Group of Cardiff's Business Crime Reduction Partnership reconvened, as a result of patient efforts of the part of its chair Rory Fleming to consider the re-written Constitution of the new BCRP Board of Management. This was the outcome of my calling to a halt the re-establishment of the Board at the end of October last year, due to deficiencies in the foundation documents that had been, in my view, disregarded under the pressure to achieve an outcome, on the part of busy public officials with an insufficient grounding in the legal history of Business Crime  Reduction Partnerships. It was difficult and embarrassing at the time, but since then, some progress in revision has been made but needs putting to the test.

I'd never imagined I'd turn into a bullish legalistic pedant in my old age, but that's what has happened in the face of a continuing need to preserve the integrity of Cardiff Business Safe's trading position in running the RadioNet system. We've had to face pressures from bureaucrats compelled to deliver something that will do them credit in relation to the political agenda of the day, wanting to take us over - people with no expertise thinking they can acquire it at will. Then there are a few entrepreneurs scheming to avoid paying up what they owe for services provided them over years. Not a very large number of them maybe but there's such reluctance and difficulty entailed in bringing them to account.

Getting everyone with an interest in public security and safety to face facts and agree how to deal with such issues is difficult, and sticking to what you know is right and true can lead to discord and hostility. I don't like this, but in a way there could be no better day to be outside my usual peace and comfort zone.

Today is the Patronal Festival of the City Parish Church of St John the Baptist, my last church before retirement, which I now see from the office window, a hundred yards away, the chimes of its tower clock still punctuating my working days. I reckon I've preached on the ministry of John the Baptist at least a hundred times since I was ordained - not the same sermon, but a variety of them, which have evolved in the light of my life experience. It always comes down to following his forthright example, as the Collect for the day says : 'Constantly to speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice and patiently suffer for the truth's sake'.  That's a tall order, and the toughest bit is working on oneself so that one doesn't betray the meaning of one's own words.

This evening at St John's Church held a celebration of the completion of the work done on glazing the tower porch, reported here earlier in the year. A pet project I started before retirement that took six years to come to fruit. Archbishop Barry came to preach about doors and the contemporary significance of transparent doors, and then to dedicate the new ones. There were about ninety present, lots of old friends, but equally delightful, the faces of some new congregation members who have found a home in St John's over the past four years. Numbers of people who have passed on to Glory are being replaced. 'Twas ever thus. A church at the heart of a now under-populated city is a place where certain people are inspired to make a spiritual home and build community. Irrespective of the efforts of the congregation and clergy, God provides!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Planning headaches and opportunities

Today's Sunday duty assignment was at St Cattwg's Pentryrch. The last time I went there was two years ago during an interregnum. It was pleasing to see this village church with a congregation of fifty adults in the congregation and more than a dozen children in Sunday School. The church is well used, and there are development plans to transform the back of the church into a more open and manageable welcome area. 

In the next ten years, the near neighbourhood of this rural commuter village will change dramatically, as an all-new village is constructed, close to junction 33 of the M4. This will lie within the area for which the Parish Priest of Pentyrch will be pastorally responsible. There's another site like this one too, on the East side of Cardiff near Llanedeyrn, where there has already been a substantial expansion of the inland conurbation east of Cardiff. Both are being built in response to shortages in housing and business parks along the South Wales M4 corridor. 

While it's good to see forward looking initiatives to generate employment and housing, the array of difficulties entailed in stretching existing urban infrastructure to meet greater population needs leave existing inhabitants with frustrating high levels of traffic congestion, affecting commuters and access to public amenities. 

Philip, one of my former tutor group students at St Mike's is going to work in the Rectorial Benefice of Cyncoed, which embraces the new Llanedeyrn housing development. I look forward to learning from him in years ahead what this will involve for the local mission of the church in the Parish.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Midsummer sadness

The longest day of the year, warm, bright and sunny despite clouds decorating the sky interestingly. Clare had to go and help at the Steiner School summer fair. I went for a walk and later joined her to have lunch at school and chat with various people. Then we drove out to the St Fagan's National Museum of Welsh life for a walk around the delightful and beautifully maintained italianate gardens of St Fagan's Castle, busy as ever with people enjoying one of Cardiff's best free visitor venues.
On the way out, through the gift shop I found and bought a newly published Gomer Press book of photographs, with text in English by Damien Walford Davies and in Welsh by key bi-lingual Carmarthen writer Meredydd Hopwood. It's called 'Poet's Graves', a black and white photo expedition to the last resting places of seventy one Welsh poets from antiquity to yesterday. Each picture is accompanied by vivid poetic prose in both tongues, It may sound like a morbid theme, but it's a beautiful statement about people whose seminal words have best defined landscape over centuries. Many of the places portrayed I have visited at one time or another, being a cleric and having spent seven years in ministry visiting parishes in the length and breadth of our 'Gwlad beirdd a chantorion'. This book gives me both pride and pleasure in being a native of Wales.

After supper, we settled down to watch the final episode of the last series of Wallander recounting the detective's last case before he has to retire, victim of early onset Alzheimer's disease. Throughout this series the portrayal of his decline has been a tribute not only to the acting of Krister Hendrickson but also to the sensitivity of the production team in airing one of the crucial issues of our time.
The series ending was sad, but nonetheless impressive - not in a pool of blood in a final shoot-out - that would have been a cinematic way of stating that violence has the last word. Wallander retains his dignity, and is seen at peace surrounded by family, yet he has freedom and independence, until presumably he can no longer look after himself. In the parting shots he is not not yet ravaged to helplessness by the disease, but left in the winter of life on the cold ocean shore. His eventual dying and death lie outside the story of his achievements as a champion of truth and justice. In dramatic terms, this fictional character, so real in many ways, is allowed to defy the maxim: 'If it can be seen, it must be seen'.  We're none the worse for that.

It's so good to have a dramatic production that speaks about the blighting effect of Alzheimer's on a gifted individual in an age when more people are getting older and living with sickness and weakness for longer. The prospects for old age are nothing but scary when you start losing your powers, and society is a better place when this is universally recognised, understood and provided for. I wonder if any of the perpetrators of violence both great and small ever consider what may happen to them before making victims of others?

Friday, 20 June 2014

A new dongle and a culinary co-incidence

Sarah spent today in the St David's centre main office, meeting with security workers to sign them up and issuing them with 'need-to-know' documents about confidential information sharing. In turn, her efforts fed me with couple of new dozen email addresses to add to our DISC intranet reporting system. Sarah is good at enthusing people, and I anticipate a good influx of useful information in coming months.

British Telecom has now issued me with a new mobile internet dongle to permit internet access working away from home or office. This was vital in the wilds of coastal Pembrokeshire last summer, even if signal reception was weak and patchy, and only out in a country lane, would it work. 

When I acquired a Windows 8 computer however, the software installation led to error messages, not finding a signal. Hence the new dongle, identical in brand name and number to the previous one, but inscribed with different serial number in tiny letters. Software installation on Windows 8 machine was flawless and the old SIM continues to work. I imagine there's been a minor firmware upgrade to the electronic circuitry in the dongle, as well as new software, but there's nothing on the packaging or in the instruction booklet to indicate the new dongle is good for Windows 8. Black mark BT! A Windows 8 sticker on the box or dongle could prevent confusion between superficially identical pieces of kit, and who knows, reduce help line calls.

After several weeks of forgetting, I went to Wally's deli in the Royal Arcade to pick up a kilo of Asturian rice. Funnily enough I was in there two days ago, bought some pimenton, but forgot the arroz redondo that soaks up flavour and makes paella what it's meant to be. I arrived home to discover that Clare had also remembered to visit Wally's and came home with a kilo of the same rice and a kilo of Italian risotto rice as well. I'm so sad that we lost to weevils the kilos of red and black Thai rice given us by Claudine last time we met, a year ago in Switzerland. How we enjoy the different varieties!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Financial prudence wins

I was in town early to attend the monthly Radio Users Group this morning. It provided a good opportunity to Sarah, our retail operations co-ordinator and newest CBS team recruit, to publicise her current project of getting security staff engaged with crime incident reporting and registration under the Data Protection Act, ready for her meeting with them tomorrow.

Later in the day, Ashley and I visited the bank to arrange transfer of the final sum of money that finally releases titular ownership of the radios and network equipment to us, bringing closure to negotiation, and freedom to revise budgets with new aims in mind. The bank officials took ages with us over security verification before authorising the transfer, even though Ashley is a well known regular customer. It's odd when you think that I could have made the transfer alone by internet banking, albeit in two payments. On this occasion it needed to be one and as it was a moment to remember, we went together, in person. 

The bank's caution is praiseworthy if time wasting under the circumstances. The process would have been smoother, less prone to inconsistency if more bank employees remained longer in the same branch, long enough to get to know all regular customers. Like the police and other public officials however, it seems staffing is forever in a state of flux, and this isn't beneficial to the end-user.

As sustainability and stability are essential to the operation of CBS, we have to plan thoroughly. We can't afford risk or extravagance. But, as men in our late sixties, raised through post war frugality, followed by a dash of progressive optimism in life as young adults, we share from our respective backgrounds a sense of what cautious  development involves, and have results to show for it. The trouble is that officers we have to work with in Council or Police rarely understand how business works. They know how to manage budgets, but financial resources are given them to work with, not earned. That can make a difference in realistic planning, so we need to be single minded when it comes to financial control over the enterprise.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Markers of achievement

There's nothing like a spell of pleasant weather, and a little pressure free time in the office to making catching up on work tasks to be completed quite a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. That's how it Monday to Wednesday slipped by cheerfully. The only thing of interest was the arrival of a Blackberry work phone upgrade for me. It's hard to believe that it's more than eighteen months since I first acquired one, and started fuming and fretting over its tiny keyboard and screen. Much as I've disliked the standard Blackberry Bold, however, its connection reliability at home and abroad has always served me better than my Android devices, so it goes with me whenever I travel.

BT Business informed us of a contract renewal deal on a Blackberry Z10 touchscreen smartphone. It received good reviews, but appeared just as the parent company RIM started to go downhill fast, so fearing the worse some sections of the global market went for other devices instead. RIM has had hard times, but this doesn't seem to have been reflected in the robustness of its network connectivity, only its profitability. So, on the basis of the reviews, we signed up Tuesday afternoon, and the new phone was delivered eighteen hours later, backed by a couple of text messages to advise me of a straightforward SIM activation procedure.

It was late afternoon before I collected it from our 'other' office and took it home to unpack. It's an impressive piece of kit, with Blackberry's own user interface rather than the common Android arrangement. It'll take a bit of getting used to, but the clarity and slickness of the display make it a pleasure to interact with. By the time I got around to SIM activation, I found myself with an overnight wait. It's procedure initiated via the internet but overseen by humans, and BT no longer provide a 24/7 service, so the old phone with its larger format unswappable SIM card stayed in use overnight. Hmmm. Even so, I know I'll enjoy using it.

The other good thing about Wednesday was agreeing a satisfactory end of lease deal with our company financier. By this weekend we'll own every piece of equipment in our possession, and owe nobody anything. We've worked very hard for this, never defaulting on a payment, relying on direct revenue, no grants or subsidies. I look back to my time at St John's, and recall how the Tea Room raised a similarly huge sum of money over a decade of selling drinks, sandwiches and cake with a few dozen volunteers - enough money to redecorate the interior and transform the tower porch entrance into an elegant and appealing point of access - I feel proud to have been associated with and supported both of these voluntary social enterprises that in their different ways have done so much good for the city.

It's a delightful co-incidence that I should receive an invitation today, to attend a porch dedication ceremony at St John's next Tuesday. The Mayor and Archbishop Barry will be there.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Trinity Sunday

I went to the Cathedral Solemn Eucharist this morning and found great pleasure and solace in beautifully conducted service with three well chosen and concise hymns, a good sermon from the Dean, and fine unpretentious singing from the boys choir. All was well ordered without fuss. There was no mention of Father's Day or the World Cup football. 

The Dean preached relevantly about the essentials - God and love - and we were drawn into worship of the Three in One without drama or exertion through the normal rhythm of the liturgy. It was most refreshing, and enabled me to spare a thought and a prayer for my home parish of Ystrad Mynach, and for the chaplaincy of Geneva, still fondly remembered, and about to welcome its third incumbent since I was there. How time flies.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

A bewildering Nabucco

This evening we went to the Millennium Centre for the WNO rendering of Verdi's Nabucco, accompanied by our neighbour Liz, whom we invited to join us, as we had a spare ticket. As ever, orchestra and singing were magnificent, driven by diminutive  conductor Xian Zhang, who was subjected to the indignity of being plucked off her feet in a big bear hug during the final curtain call by lead singer David Kempster. To my mind, his enthusiasm wasn't sufficiently respectful of her prowess as musical leader. He wouldn't have done that if the conductor had been a bloke.

I didn't so much quarrel with the innovative production as spend far too much time trying to figure out what its modernist minimalist setting and symbolism meant to  convey. The positioning of the cast on stage sometimes left me puzzled as to which actors were supposed to be Hebrews and which Assyrians. Would I have been any the wiser if I'd gone to the pre-performance talk

I don't think I was alone going home disappointed. Nevertheless, American singer Mary Elizabeth Williams brought terrific energy and style to the role of Abigaille. She's a diva, she knows it, and enjoys inhabiting her dramatic stage persona just as much as she enjoys singing a musically challenging role. Maybe she understood the producer's intent better than anyone else on stage. We last saw her a couple of years ago in the role of Verdi's Floria Tosca. It was equally as engaging to watch as well as hear.

Unusually, on the way in to the performance, I met four different people I knew from my time as city centre parish priest - two of them were Welsh clerical colleagues. Nabucco has always been a favourite with the home crowd, whether the WNO programmes it as part of a 'Faith' season or not.

When we got home, aware that I had no ministerial duties to require early rising, I stayed up late and watched 'Wallender' on iPlayer. Another moving portrayal of a man stricken while still working flat out at solving evil crimes by the onset of early Alzheimer's disease. It was very moving, sad and thought provoking to watch.

Friday, 13 June 2014

A satisfying breakthrough

Things are looking up at last. Yesterday our CBS team - Ashley, Sara, Kevin and I met with the new Police Chief Inspector for the City Centre and one of the Divisional Superintendents. They came for a briefing on the work of RadioNet and the problems we've had making progress on re-establishing the Business Crime Reduction Partnership board, now a year overdue.

The delay has been attributable to changeovers in personnel responsible in the part of both Council and Police, with a series of newcomers to their office hungry to slow things down and make their mark by re-inventing the wheel, rather than listening and trying to understand the complexities of who we are and what we do. This has been a hindrance which has deprived us of appropriate help and support in the redesign of the Board and its constitution. 

It'll be another three weeks before we finally meet up with the most recently assigned Council officer, who was tasked several months ago to liaise with us, and has left us way down his priority list. It has been a hard task, getting things refined to the stage where the appropriate instruments of governance are fit and ready, now we're there. We've done it in the end with no help from any of the legal experts of Council or Police - ironic when it's a matter of partnership in communications, for public benefit.

Today, before going off to officiate at the funeral of a centenarian, I met with the Partnership Steering Group chairman, Rory Fleming, who has accompanied the formative process with perceptiveness and exceptional patience for the past eighteen months, given that I halted the last planned inaugural board meeting at the eleventh hour when I discovered faults in our documentation which we'd not noticed previously, or else nobody scrutinizing them had bothered to draw to our attention. 

Being a shrewd business manager, I believe Rory understood my reasoning and was willing to give us the benefit of the doubt. He went on to idenitfy a deficiency in the constitution I'd not grasped, being too close to it. That led to more work, more discussion more drafting, and eventually a cautious degree of satisfaction that design and content will serve the purpose of getting the Partnership Board established properly in a correctly structured relationship to CBS as its trading arm. Today, we fixed another Steering Group meeting and set a new date for the inaugural Board meeting. It comes just at the right time, when CBS is ready for the next development phase to get under way. It'll mark the end of a challenging birth and five year infancy for our home grown not-for-profit voluntary social enterprise.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Password problems

As it's St Barnabas Day today, I joined the St Luke's congregation for a quiet morning Mass. As  it was bright and sunny, it seemed a good idea to go out for lunch, so we drove to Dyffryn Gardens, walked for an hour or so, marvelling at the changes in vegetation since our last visit six weeks ago, and then ate in the visitor centre's friendly cafe.

Last night, Amanda called, as she was having problems with her computer, feeling that she was losing control of it. Now she's quite computer savvy, and I thought if she's bothered, maybe I should help troubleshoot. She texted me earlier today to say she's been unsuccessful with the measures I proposed over the phone, so I decided a hands-on session was necessary. I drove Clare to her staff meeting mid-afternoon and then took off for Bristol.

Thankfully, there wasn't a lot out of order, just enough to leave her feeling helpless. One of those software downloads with boxes you have to un-tick to avoid acquiring unwanted crapware had been ticked. Her default home page had been set to display a branded search page, full screen. This hid the normal browser controls, so it wasn't possible to change the home page settings. I messed around until I found how to switch off full page mode, and then reset the home pages as she wanted it.

She's also lost access to her Tesco shopping account and couldn't figure out why. She'd made half a dozen attempts to re-set the password, none of which delivered, and made a mess of her memorised passwords, particularly as Tesco require use of an email address and login password. Your password should be different from your email one for security reasons, but it's easy to get confused. Worse still insistence on high strength passwords by default on Tesco's part, means that if you miss out one of their required alpha-numeric components, your password change is requested and it's not at all clear why. 

Yes, the instructions about password quality are there in your face when you're setting up a new one, but if anything they are close enough to be easily overlooked as you're trying to think of something you'll find either memorable or easy enough to write down. High strength passwords are neither of these, since they use keys which normal mortals don't use often and get distressed about locating consistently.

It's understandable that Tesco have ramped up their security critera, but if this encroaches on usability, it's not good for customer relations. Apparently the helpline people were decent with her about the problems, and assured her that the problem was at the home end. But that was as much as they could do, and naturally it left her worried that her machine had been compromised. This fear was indeed enhanced by the unknowing acquisition of a foreign home page. Sites with secondary download tick boxes on by default should really be blacklisted, for the anxieties they cause.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Refecting on Moses und Aron

Since Saturday night's performance of Moses und Aron, I've been pondering on the portrayal of its two main characters. Moses, the inarticulate one,  presented as having this idea about the unique and eternal God, source of all existence, its order, purpose and meaning - the eternal one so far beyond human comprehension that no words or thought can convey the reality of the divine. It's only possible for humankind to be in awe, and to worship the source of our own being.

Aron, on the other hand is the one gifted with words with which to express the thoughts and ideas of other people, the spokesperson for the rank and file, who consider themselves unable to rise to the idea of reaching out to the infinite, of transcending all human concepts in placing the divine reality at the centre of life. Aron argues that people need words and symbols, something tangible to represent their higher intentions and meanings. In the wilderness, the people of Israel miss the deities around which their lives in Egyptian captivity revolved, and appeal to Aron to give them something more tangible to identify with. 

He forges the image of the Golden Calf to be the focus they think they need, but this initiative turns out to be a recipe for chaos and anarchy, as it points them nowhere beyond themselves. It is nothing more than a reflection of who they are - their strengths, but also their fatal weaknesses and flaws. People look for something to secure and unite them outside themselves, but don't look far enough beyond themselves. The worship of the idol doesn't take them out of themselves towards the Beyond, but quickly becomes an end in itself, stifling growth, leading to decay and destruction. The concept of sacramental and iconic symbolism in which the visible is a window to the unseen, had yet to emerge as something human hearts and minds to play with and learn from.

Idolatry, which turns goods into Gods, ascribing ultimate divine significance and power to naturally created things and human constructs, is sternly prohibited by the law which Moses receives from God in solitude on Mount Sinai. In solitude, away from all social demands and pressure, it's easy to think uncompromisingly. Following through in people's lives with such a tough commandment is fraught with challenges and difficulties, as much today as in ancient times. Aron is unsuccessful in translating new ideas of God's supreme uniqueness in a way people can learn from them. Are we any better in an age in which we are frequently being told  'image is everything' ?

Schoenberg's Moses conveys starkly some central tenets of mature Jewish teaching. He doesn't, however, glean from Exodus the significance of the conversations and arguments between Moses and God, whom Moses talks to as a man talks to a trusted friend. Schoenberg's Moses seems to wrestle alone with absolute abstract ideas. He conveys them somehow to Aron who expresses them to the people on his behalf. Moses as introverted prophetic philosopher isn't quite the familiar biblical character. The bible is much more concrete in delivering ideas. Biblical anthropomorphism is far too easily written off as the product of a naive and primitive mind-set, rather than a creative engagement with understanding that leads beyond the dialogue of words into the depths of silence. It's a form of learning through play how to approach ineffable divine reality, and play is one of the great resources of the human mind for working things out creatively.

I heard the other day on the BBC Radio Four Today programme of Professor Dawkins' proposition to ban myth and fairy tale from schooling on grounds of the statistical improbability of magical events occurring - frogs turning into princes. Can't the editor do better than to put up a children's story writer in defence of her art, when an educator, psychiatrist or philosophical theologian is needed to contend with Dawins' instinct to censor anything that doesn't comply with his rationalistic world view? This is about the richly textured nature of truth we live by and worthy of better consideration even in a popular news programme. 

Scientific rationalism and the knowledge it offers is an essential and reliable foundation to life in the modern world. It's not an end in itself. If idolised and made into a divine substitute, it has the power to consume and destroy its devotees. This we know only too well from the history of modernity. Are ordinary human beings capable of resisting the impulse to some kind of idolatry or another? Or at least reading the spiritual health warnings in place for the best part of three millennia? Sometimes I wonder.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Benefice farewell

No duties this Sunday, so Clare and I attended the Parish Eucharist at St Catherine's. Clare walked to the Riverside farmers' market and I went home to fetch the car to pick her up. I mis-timed it, since neither of us carrying our mobile phone, so we missed each other. She was quicker than I expected and was nearly home by the time I left the house. After lunch, she went to her monthly study group in Bristol. Owain came over for coffee cake and a chat about his most recent job hunting expedition. We watched a remarkable TEDx talk video of Tariq Ramadhan speaking with inspiring clarity about spirituality and ethics. He's a Swiss academic and writer, also a Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University. It's well worth watching. There's a link to the video here.

Then, for the first time in more than a year, I went to Choral Evensong at St Catherine's. It was Team Vicar Fr Martin Colton and his wife Chris' farewell service before they move to a new parish ministry in Reigate. A hundred people plus associated clergy were present from all three churches in Canton Benefice. Team Rector Fr Mark Preece paid a warm tribute to his colleague, reminding his listeners that not only the Benefice but also the Diocese was losing one of its most accomplished musicians from its clergy strength. Certainly the effort of the Choir at Evensong was a credit the the priest who has encouraged them for the past seven years. 

Fr Phelim O'Hare moves from his Cathedral School chaplaincy and NSM Curate role in the Parish to being a full time team Vicar in September, so mercifully the interregnum in our busy Benefice will be short. I return to locum duty in Fuengirola end of August, since recruitment of a new Chaplain failed to produce a candidate to interview. Until then, I'll be on the locum duty roster in my home parish for a change.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

No singable tunes, but so thought provoking

This evening we went to the Millennium Centre for Shoenberg's 'Moses und Aron'. As a result of attending the pre-opera discussion hosted by David Pountney and Mona Siddiqui, our appetite for something that's definitely not run-of-the-mill opera has been whetted. Schoenberg was a creative artist with a strong sense of mission, confronting his contemporaries in the German speaking high cultural realm with the uncompromising moral and spiritual demands of Jewish monotheism. He was discovering his identity as a Jew for the first time returning to the religion of his forefathers after a secular upbringing. He wrote both music and libretto for the two finished acts of his opera, and left directions about its staging. The entire opera is an expression of his unique prophetic voice. It's hailed as a masterpiece, but would we agree?

I anticipated that the music, based on Schoenberg's innovative use of the 12 tone scale, would be difficult to engage with, and indeed the first twenty minutes of listening was challenging for its sheer intensity. Or perhaps it was a matter of attuning to something different, with few memorable motifs or tunes to pick up. The choral element of the work was just astounding in richness and complexity, mixing polyphonic singing with choral speech. The physical positioning of different elements of the choir, not only on stage, but in the orchestra pit and off-stage behind the scenes, created the most remarkable sonic textures. On times the orchestra seemed to be playing a dissonant counter-melody to the singing of the choir, with powerful effect. 

Moses and Aron are the key dramatic figures on stage. Moses speaks, but in a rich melodic way, contrasted by Aron's singing voice. The orchestra doesn't accompany the singing but rather creates a huge rich sound track, building atmosphere, reflecting the content of the libretto. If it was hard to tune into at first, it's because there's simply nothing else quite like this music. It gave me that same buzz of excitement I get from hearing good contemporary jazz improvisation.

The design and staging is said to be derived from Schoenberg's production ideas. The set for the first act resembled a political debating chamber, presided over by Moses, accompanied by Aron as his spokesman. This is where Moses proposes to the people of Israel the covenant of allegiance to the one true and eternal God. The meaning of this is discussed in the light of miracles wrought by Moses before the exodus from slavery in Egypt. 

In the second act, the set is transformed into a cinema auditorium. This act recounts the story of the making of the Golden Calf and all that follows from it, concluding with the return of Moses and the destruction of the tablets containing the Commandments. There's no image on stage of the idol, mentioned in the biblical story. The subject of the people's idolatry is a projected movie. Aron speaks to them of the 'image' they watch as being images of themselves. In this context, it's an astounding, challenging idea. 

The dialogues of the people of Israel with both Moses and Aron were of great interest meriting further study, and cross checking for consistency with biblical narratives, or reflecting Schoenberg's textual interpretation. He was, after all a newcomer to biblical tradition, perceiving the story with fresh eyes. I look forward to finding out more and can now say with personal conviction that this work is a twentieth century masterpiece in every sense. The third act was still a work in progress when Schoenberg died. An attempt has been made to complete and perform it from legacy material, but that wasn't included here. As an unfinished work it has greatness in its own right, because of its bold confrontative nature.

There's no doubt WNO's production and performance of the opera is as good as it gets, and faithful to its author's prophetic intent to get his contemporaries to think about real nature of divine reality and what it demands of human beings. In an epoch marked so strongly by idolisation of the self and self-fulfilment, may this work continue to make us think hard about what we value most in life, and why.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Transition time for St Michael's

I made a return visit to S Michael's College this morning to meet the Principal Peter Sedgwick for a catch-up chat. He's in his last few weeks in office now before his retirement begins with a term in Durham University, dedicated to writing. His decade of leadership and labour in re-developing the roles and functions of the College has been in every sense a remarkable enterprise. He's taken the College a lot further in response to contemporary mission educational demands than some in the Church in Wales have yet to realise. There's a persistent mind-set which prefers to remember the institution as it used to be, despite the facts. 

Already Vice Principal Fr Mark Clavier has taken up the baton as acting Principal, with the prospect of interesting times ahead. The College's plan for redeveloping ministry training, implemented since last summer has been well received by participants. All this happened despite the proposed closure of the residential training component of the College being on the agenda and hanging over everyone. The strategic review of ministry training has been long drawn out. I believe its recommendations are soon to be decided upon by the Bench of Bishops. It's up to them to set the priorities for the Church in Wales' future mission. Do they value sufficiently the assets they already have? 

The great strength of St Mikes is that is fits the unique context of the Province of the Church in Wales with two indigenous languages shaping discourse - Welsh of course and the English spoken in Wales (Wenglish?) with all its nuances, poetic variety and historic differences. Church ministry leadership is mainly made up of ordinarily capable people, whose strength is in both their sense of belonging and their ability to adapt and identify with the community they serve. Fitting in is vital. I think St Mike's is good at helping people to learn this. It doesn't come naturally to everyone with a vocation, but it's essential to healthy spiritual formation.

I gather there are further plans to redevelop the provincial training programme in a way that will see groups of students together on pastoral placement in new grouped parish ministry areas, during their academic learning phase. This is a challenging innovation for all involved, I believe that moving the training and learning experience close to the pastoral front line could a lot of good, both to students and parishioners. Practically speaking, it is bound to be costly and involve sacrifices all round in an era of income constraint. Other small churches like ours have given up on their residential training, sometimes decades ago, and now admit their regret at having done so.  Affordability is a matter of values and priorities. I fervently hope those who advocate closure, in favour of sending Welsh ordinands to English Colleges will renounce this temptation to ecclesial suicide and recant of their ill founded belief.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

D-Day veterans in the spotlight

The D-Day 70th anniversary commemoration ceremonies of today and tomorrow have rightly dominated the news recently, with prominence given to the story of an 89 year old navy veteran who missed out on booking his group excursion to Normandy and took himself there by public transport, much to the alarm of people in his care home who hadn't realised he'd gone. Well, maybe he didn't remember to sign out in his enthusiasm to get going, but he linked up with other veterans on the ferry crossing and someone phoned home to let them know he was OK.

The media accounts of this were to my mind shoddy. There was no consistency in reporting when he got home. It was insinuated in some reports that he'd absconded in defiance because he'd been prevented from going by the care home when, as the care home manager said when interviewed, he was a resident free to come and go as he pleased, certainly not a person of concern due to vulnerability. 

The editorial stereotype of a care home nonogenarian initially presumed he wasn't capable of looking after himself, when clearly he was. Increased longevity in our times can mean lots of different things to different people, depending on their state of health and their constitution. It's not so unusual any longer to be fit, sane, competent and active at great age. We hear of elderly people still running businesses, being creative writers or artists and athletically active well past their three score years and ten. It's good news to set against the just concern we have for others whose ageing has brought them 'trouble and sorrow', as Psalm 90 says. Sadly the increased volume of news 24/7 carries with it an increased volume of rubbish.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Remote control camera

I went to my dentist in Llandaff North yesterday morning, to have a crown fitted to a large back tooth. The filling it replaced was still intact after twenty-five years, but the edges of the tooth itself were getting ragged. The crown covers and protects perfectly although it feels somewhat strange, it's so smooth it feels like having an extra false tooth attached to my jaw.

I decided to wait for a bus to return home as one was conveniently scheduled to arrive within minutes of reaching the bus stop. Needless to stay, it didn't come. The timetable lied, so I had a twenty minute wait. I could have been half way home in that time. Former city centre colleague Alun Tudur, minister of Ebenezer Eglwys Annibynol in Charles Street accosted me at the bus stop, about to visit one of his deacons who lived in a house adjacent to the stop. I haven't seen him for at least a couple of years, since we bumped into each other ourtide the CBS office, which in those days was also in Charles Street. My how time flies.

It was raining today when I drove the car down to N G Motors in Splott for its annual service. I have previously walked or cycled back home or to the office from there, but it was too wet to enjoy the added exercise, so I caught a conveniently arriving eleven bus from Splott Road. This took me to Greyfriars, where I only had to cross the road to pick up one of the Stagecoach out of town buses, the 122, which goes to Tonypandy via Ponyclun via Cathedral Road, close to home. Most convenient.

I had no reason to go out again after my return. I had a briefing to write for office purposes which could be done from home. With time on my hands I decided to install and try out the Sony Playmemories app on my Samsung Galaxy Ace Duo, and on my Asus Transformer, to serve as remote control devices with my Sony HX50. I was impressed with how easy it was to set up and use on both. The large clear preview displayed on the Transformer screen is most helpful in acquiring a desirable photograph.  Now I have to think of situations in which it might be worth the effort to use it. 

I imagine it would be beneficial with the camera on a tripod. To avoid shake when pressing the shutter button on a tripod mounted camera, I have to set the shutter timer to allow the camera to settle from the touch impact of my finger. This remote control app allows for focussing and other adjustments, as well as shutter operation. You can see exactly what you're shooting and don't have to be in line of sight. This is good for shooting shy wildlife. All that remains now is to remember to pack a small tripod and the phone when I take a camera for a walk.

Monday, 2 June 2014

An overview on contemporary Islam

Unusually for a Monday, I was out of the house just after nine fifteen, walking down to St John's Canton to join the diocesan Continuing Ministerial Education programme day session with the theme 'Understanding Islam and Muslims in Britain'. Sociologists Richard McCallum for the Oxford Centre for Muslim-Christian studies and Dilwar Hussein of New Horizons provided input and discussion ideas. Dilwar's comprehensive introduction to Islam, mapping out the diverse world of Muslim belief and identities was rich and insightful, perhaps because it didn't get bogged down in the minutiae of theological dissent, but considered everything from a sociological perspective. The broader view prods me to make time to resume and complete reading Hans Kung's huge tome on Islam, which I've had for several years.

I left before the final discussion session, to get a bus into town and complete a job at the CBS office. I felt I didn't have much to contribute. These days I'm a little distant from the front-line pastoral context in which local parish clergy operate. Working so much in Spain over the past few years, where the history and context of Christian-Muslim relations is somewhat different, means I haven't much to reflect upon that would be relevant to a brief conversation between clergy mostly interested in addressing immediate presenting problems. Nevertheless, the insights on British Islam today and the careful adoption and adaptation by some scholars of interpretative approaches to sacred scripture influenced by twentieth century western approaches to philosophy, theology and literature made it an encouraging and worthwhile occasion.

That's probably only the second CME day I've attended since I retired. There were about fifty people there, two thirds of the current working clergy complement in the diocese. I didn't notice anyone else there who was retired, but as it was only ten minutes walk form home, it was very easy for me to turn up. What really struck me was the diminishing proportion of people whose faces I could put a name to. Now I know fewer of the younger generation, except the half a dozen St Mike's alumni acquainted with by working at the College or on student placements in my last parish. It's funny to feel a stranger in a familiar place.  It's a price to be paid for having moved around so much over the past fifty years, I guess.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Street Party

This morning I celebrated the Eucharist at St John's Danescourt and Christchurch Radyr, standing in for my friend and former colleague Jenny Wigley, who was doing duty as a Llandaff Cathedral Canon, preaching at services there. It was a busy morning. In both churches there were newly confirmed candidates to welcome, and at Christchurch an infant to baptize as well.

By the time I arrived home for lunch, Meadow Street had been closed off and cleared of cars and 'The Big Lunch' was in full swing in the sunshine, bringing together inhabitants of Llanfair Road and Meadow Street with their picnic chairs and tables and a variety of food to share. It was an occasion to celebrate successful joint action by residents to overturn parking regulations imposed by the Council without proper consultation. 

Local Councillors acting on our behalf negotiated suspension of enforcement action by traffic wardens. When both streets were resurfaced recently, the restrictive road markings were painted in and parking regulation notices fixed to lamp posts, despite the commitment to change the regulation order. Unfortunately, reversing the action of imposing the parking regulation takes as long as it did to introduce it. Nobody seems to bother much about the waste of time and money painting un-necessary lines and installing notices. Or else, the left hand of the Council section responsible doesn't know what the right hand is doing.

Clare contributed a tray load of chocolate brownies, having been asked to provide something sweet. Standing around or sitting chatting at table were a couple of dozen adults and as many children playing in the road. We ate and drank and chatted with the neighbours. Rhiannon sat at our new garden table out in the street, and drew a picture of her house back home, and then we took her over to Llandaff Fields where she visited her favourite tree and re-built a house for the fairies among its roots. A favourite activity on her visits to Cardiff.