Friday, 30 January 2015

Libre Office landmark and new lenses day

This morning I noticed a tweet announcing the release of Libre Office 4.4, so I downloaded a copy to install as soon as I could and installed it to try out on one of my home laptops. I was most impressed by this upgrade and processed to install it on four more Windows 7 & 8 machines in the house. It's worth the effort. A few days after the release, whatever device you run Libre Office on, notifies you of the upgrade and nags you until you install it. If you're busy, that's a time wasting distraction, so it's better to waste a block of free time and get the job done early, if you can.

It's been one of those weeks when business work has been done mostly from home. The afternoon I went into the office to touch base with Ashley and work on a few things together. I got around to upgrading two of the four machines with Libre Office installed, although I'm the only regular user, as the machines are set up for MS Office default use. Changing that would most likely sow too much confusion for comfort and efficiency. I'm glad to have been an early adopter of Open Office, and then Libre Office, not least for their versatility in dealing with different file-types, and ,pdf generation. It's great to think that so many people world-wide contribute their expertise to make a product which continues to adapt and develop in  changing times.

On my way to the office I resolved after much agonising to buy a new telephoto lens for my Sony Alpha 55, something more capable than the kit lens which came with the camera originally. I visited Cardiff Camera Centre, where I've purchased all my Sony camera equipment over the past decade, and walked out, not only with the 18-270mm 'all in one' general purpose travel lens I had my eye on, but also a second hand bargain, an old and heavy 75-300mm Minolta lens with Sony Alpha mount compatibility. It's known as the 'beer can' lens because of its length and shape, and needs mounting on a tripod, but even with the few trial hand-held shots I took outside the shop, I was impressed. Very quickly I got the feeling this would be fun to experiment with. 

Later, back at home, out in the back garden, I got a hand-held shot of the half-moon with better detail than most attempts I've made in recent years with other cameras. I'm confident the new lens will do everything I need it to. There's extra pleasure in having a classic old lens to play with as well, at little extra cost. Moreover, the purchase has prompted me to retrieve the camera handbook from my digital archive to investigate the ins and outs of using the camera's 'manual' settings. Normally, I am so lazy that I rely totally on Auto settings, and spend ages afterwards fiddling about with a digital photo edit program to get the result I could have got in the first place with a bit more forethought. What you think you see isn't always what you get in the world of photography, digital or otherwise.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Rendezvous in Ross on Wye

A chilly wet day today, nevertheless, we drove to Ross on Wye to meet with our old friends Mike and Gail. I've known Mike a couple of weeks longer than I've known Clare, as he introduced us at Bristol University a long time ago. We met outside the mediaeval market hall. It was pleasing to see clothes traders about their business in the street below, and under the ancient shelter the market hall offers. 

We made straight away for the Royal Hotel, perched on a promontory overlooking meadows flanking an elegant bend in the river Wye, framed by the A40 bypass road, busy in the background. The main bar with terrace offers a view that in better weather would rate as delightful. Today was too cold and wet to stroll the streets, let alone venture into the meadows below, so we stayed indoors for elevenses and lunch. 

The rain turned into sparse snow while we were eating, but then it cleared for long enough to allow us to walk up to the Parish Church, to take in the equally delightful view of the river plain from an unusual churchyard terrace. Then, after a warm drink and more conversation in one of the town's coffee shops, we parted company and headed for home through countryside lightly tinged with white.
I doubt if we'll see much more snow than this in the months to come, despite severe weather warnings for other regions of the U.K. Fifteen years on, I still miss real alpine snow.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Old tech, new tech

Finally on Monday morning, the phone I ordered for my sister from the Easy Life Group website arrived with the postman after a two week wait rather than the two days promised. What a relief. It's about the size of a smartphone with big keys, but its operating system is of the previous era of mobile telephony, so navigating menus and keying in the phone book data provided by June, with a plea to do it for her, was a very fiddly job. Three dozen names and numbers took me more than an hour to enter. I hope that none of them are wrong, as that will cause endless frustration.

The phone has a USB linked charger, and immediately presented some of its file system areas for examination by a PC. But there was no indication that there might be software for uploading a digital address book file from an external source, and no internet capacity, only free memory for music and pictures to display on its small coloured screen. It has other facilities that make it an attractive prospect for older people, like an alarm button and hands-free cradle. I hope June will have the patience both to maintain it and use it, after I've handed it over to her. She doesn't have that much patience with more technological innovation than she's already struggled to adjust to.

Tuesday morning Clare went off to her regular study group in Dinas Powis. I drove out to pick her up afterwards, and we went to the Fig Tree restaurant on Penarth sea front for lunch before taking a walk to Lavernock Point along the coast path. On the return leg of the walk we bumped into Sue, walking with one of her grandchildren. It's the first time we've met since my retirement dinner nearly five years ago. How time flies! We stopped at the Leckwith retail park for some shopping and had tea in M&S on the way. A pleasant change in our workaday weekly routine.

Today I had lunch with my old friend and partner in publishing the Spiritual Capital report over seven years ago, Roy Thomas. He now runs his own public relations company Redefinepr, and is about to become a domain name  registrar for recently approved .wales and .cymru URL handles. I wish him every success in putting the Principality on the global internet map in this way. When I went to the office later on, Ashley and I agreed that we must act to register our enterprise immediately, as a matter of pride. Besides, British Telecom has let us down very badly. 

Having registered our web domain with a label, BT insisted on controlling the linkage of the domain name with our web-site which is not hosted in webspace hired from BT. It worked for two and a half years and then was unaccountably disconnected. So far BT has failed to reinstate the link or give a reason for not doing so. BT is so big, so complex an operation, it often seems that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.  

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Friends reunited and The Archers

Today for a change we went to the eleven o'clock Sung Eucharist for the Feast of St Paul's Conversion at the Cathedral, and enjoyed the choir singing Mozart's 'Sparrow' Mass. Graham Francis was preaching for the last time as Canon in Residence before his retirement as Vicar of St Mary's Cardiff Bay. We were in St Michael's as students together in the revolutionary year of '68, when reform of theological education and training for the ministry managed to make it briefly to the student agenda for the first time in modern times. Throughout his ministry he has taken an interest in the development and adaptation of Christian liturgy in the service of mission and evangelisation, and over the years has acquired an extraordinary library of liturgical resource texts, and the expertise to make use of it on all kinds of occasion. He can best be described as a liturgical entrepreneur, and is an excellent preacher. 

It was good to hear him preach again, and good to catch up with him and Eleri after the service. He was lamenting the prospect of down-sizing that goes with retirement, wondering what to do with his unique extraordinary resource collection. I hope he doesn't need to dispose of it, but can instead find a way to keep it intact as a library of material for use by seminarians and researchers of liturgy, maybe at St Michael's?

We then made our weekly visit to the Riverside Market to get our organic veg supply, before setting out for Newport, and lunch with Martin and Chris and their family. It was a long and leisurely affair with lots of delicious food and good conversation. It must be last summer since we got together with them, so there was plenty to talk about. We got home just in time for the week's first episode of The Archers. These days, there's nothing routine about the varied and complex story lines criss-crossing the imaginary Borsetshire landscape. Sometimes it seems a bit over the top to cram quite so many up to date socially relevant issues into the life of this particular fictional backwater, but it does make for good discussion about what's going to happen next. It's fascinating that the innovative approach to script themes has of late become an issue for debate and even protest in the public realm of media observers and Archers afficionados.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Coed-y-Werin discovered

Blessed with a bright clear day we decided to drive out of town, to go for a walk taking a picnic lunch with us. We didn't go far, just to the top of Caerphilly mountain, and took the muddy path east  from the busy mountain top snack bar, following the ridge. On the first stretch of the path there are small oak trees, and then a line of beeches, followed by a conifer grove. We stopped by the beeches to eat our picnic in the sunshine, and listened to the call of the huntsman's horn and the hooves of horses clattering unseen in the wooded valley below. At that moment, it was if time had stood still, it felt as if we could have been there at any time in the last couple of centuries. 

We descended the ridge to the track that leads to the nearby hamlet of Wern Ddu, but went in the opposite direction, finding the entrance to the Coed y Werin nature reserve, a large hollow area in the mountain top folds occupied by clay pits and coal extraction since ancient times. It's now managed as a site of ecological interest, by Caerphilly Woodland Trust. Apart from its variety of trees, there are wetland features, and a coal seam out-cropping from old sandstone rock so typical of the South Wales Coalfield basin. A lovely discovery, which I look forward to re-visiting later in Spring when the bird population picks up again.

After our walk, we drove into Caerphilly to have tea and home baked fruit pie in the delightfully traditional Glanmor Tea Room opposite the main castle entrance. Then, home for an idle evening, in front of the telly, with no Sunday sermon to prepare. While this lack of routine task tends to leave me feeling uneasy, it is good to take a break from ministry, to step back for a while and be on the receiving end.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Mail order frustration

A week last Tuesday 14th January, I bought a large format mobile phone by my sister from the Easy Life Group internet store, that promised delivery in two working days. Friday l7th I received an email stating that the order had been dispatched. After a week of waiting in for the delivery, nothing has been received. The company advertises an order tracking service. It's not working. Rather than pay to make an enquiry via an 0800 number, I have emailed the company three times at two different and received no response. Clare has used this Kent based mail order company before and admitted that sometimes they were a bit slow delivering, but how slow is slow?

When I was young, mail services were consistent and reliable, and if you were out you could rely on the postman leaving it with a neighbour or calling again the following day. Now there are competing services of a very variable nature, so that waiting for a parcel to arrive no longer has any degree of consistency about it. Therefore I am reluctant to place any trust in mail order trading, and prefer to buy goods whenever possible in real shops. The exception this is travel tickets, where I have most experience of on-line purchase over 20 years.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

St Agnes Day

I drove through slow heavy traffic to Radyr this morning to celebrate the midweek Eucharist at Christchurch. Before we started I told them something about St Agnes, whose martyrdom in Rome at the end of the third century the church celebrates this day. A young teenager, whose love for Christ and the Gospel led her to resist an arranged marriage to a pagan noble, at the cost of her life. It's 40 years since I became Vicar of St Agnes in Bristol. The story doesn't lose its relevance or interest, as it's about a girl defying the common assumptions of her age about the status and expectations of women. Several people commented about this at coffee after the service. The story of Malala Yusouf is still fresh in peoples' minds.

I arrived home, and got ready for the Ignatian meditation group, meeting chez nous today. It was my turn to lead, and I focussed on Discernment, and Russel's question last Friday: What am I meant to be doing next?  It's still the question uppermost in my mind. Apart from another spell of  locum duty in Spain after Easter I have no other plans or projects to focus upon for the time being. It leaves me feeling uncomfortable and restless. It's not that I need lots of activity, just a sense of focus to give an added structure and discipline to life.

My new 'geriatric' driving license had arrived in the mail, a quick and efficient turn around in just a week. Well done DVLA for being so efficient!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Winter sun, Cardiff style

Apart from a chilly walk around the park in the afternoon, and finishing off my first Sunday sermon of 2015, the only thing of note about yesterday was completing my driving license renewal application on-line, cutting up the old licenses and posting off the pieces to the DVLA. 

The license renewal website is a model of simplicity, clarity and ease of use. I was relived to find the Government gateway i/d and password I use for on-line income tax filing worked as intended, and just a little surprised to discover additional information; e.g. N.I. and passport numbers, birth place, was required to complete the process. If we ever moved towards being an i/d card holding nation, all the vital information threads are stored in the DVLA database already. Hopefully the new driving license will be with me in a week or so.

On this bright and sunny morning, I celebrated and preached at Tongwynlais and Taffs Well. St James' in Taffs Well is a simple church building with whitewashed and no stained glass, on a day like this sunlight transforms the space and really lifts the spirits, enhancing the pleasure of worship.

I drove into town at the end of the service to collect Clare from the Riverside  Farmers Market, and we ended up staying for an al fresco lunch of curry served by one stall holder, washed down with a delicious Colombian single estate coffee from another. It was too chilly to stand around for long time before taking the shopping home, but once we'd unloaded and packed it all away, the lure of the outdoors returned. So, we wrapped up again and took one bus into town then another to Penarth for a walk along the pier and the front.

Many people were out enjoying a walk in the sun and dozens were fishing off the pier end as the tide was in. The queue for refreshments in the pier pavilion cafe was too long for us, so we returned home and Clare cooked some scones for tea instead. Crisp and fresh and warm. Nothing better!

Sister June is eighty today, housebound awaiting a knee replacement operation. After months of appalling mis-managment of her case by London's St. George's hospital, compounded by a broken kneecap, thanks to jerky London Transport bus driving provoking a fall, she's finally got an operation date in March. She's keen to start travelling again once she's mobile. We're still waiting for a date for Clare's 'urgent' shoulder repair, wondering if one hospital specialist department is communicating with another. Until we know we can't make any proper plans.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Catch-up conversations

I drove out do Dinas Powis this morning for coffee and a chat with Russell, a friend of ours through the Steiner school network. He turned ninety while I was away, and is remarkable lively and active in his engagement with life, limitations of age notwithstanding. We talk about philosophy and theology together, wondering about the path of human progress in these troublesome times, looking for signs of hope and creativity, marvelling together at the wonders of nature. 

We laughed at the co-incidence that both of us at the same moment, pondering on the priorities of life and its limitations as we get older, asked ourselves the question: 'I wonder what I'm meant to be doing next?' The implication is that we haven't forgotten what we're doing now, but are contemplating what the future holds for us. There's no waiting for rigor mortis. Until death intervenes, there are always new ideas to consider, new projects to be undertaken. Growing limitations don't rule out embracing whatever is there for us to enjoy and learn from. I enjoy our little chats.

Shortly after I arrived home, Clare's god-daughter Caroline and her daughter Sarah arrived for lunch on their way to visit a friend in Hereford, during a circular English tour centering on a visit to Caroline's mother Daphne recently moved into a care home in Devon. Sarah has just completed her first year as a medical student in Witwatersrand University, South Africa, where they live. It was a most enjoyable re-union. Sara was a shy adolescent when last I saw her. Now she is a confidence and strikingly attractive young woman embarking upon a challenging career. Who knows where it may lead her. We shall watch with interest.

In the mail today, a letter from the DVLA inviting me to re-apply for a driving license, now that my 70th birthday is but three months away. From hereafter, re-application has to be made every three years, and is dependent upon fulfilling certain medical requirements, voluntarily declared, regarding health and eyesight. The form is long, and bi-lingual, but it can be completed on-line. Not today however. 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Virtuous re-cycle

I had another of my restless nights and early risings today. Tucked away on my One Drive, I found a folder entitled 'New Book' that was newer and different from another I'd found on the computer I was working on yesterday. I still haven't mastered version control or system consistency. This time I was amazed to discover half a dozen chapters dating from my first stay in Vinaros, two and a half years ago. I enjoyed re-reading them and then editing and adding to them. Apart from sermons and blog postings I've not stretched my mind with fresh efforts at creative writing since then, shame on me, though come to think of it, on returning to St Mikes in the autumn of 2012, I did re-visit my first book writing effort, and did a further revision encouraged feedback from by Peter Sedgwick who had read and commented on it. Whether either book will ever get published isn't as important as making an effort to keep thinking and reflecting creatively in as many ways as possible.

In the afternoon I visited the office, where Julie, under Jane's tutelage, was getting to grips with the use of Sage accounts for invoice production. Getting the information display design right is indeed tricky. incorporating the CBS letterhead into the production template was trivial in comparison. The challenge was to find the right sized most up to date version on the office data system, one thing I was able to contribute to the process. Having Sage properly set up as well as the file of invoices that I generated last week, will make it possible for Julie to issue invoices in a rolling programme while she gets to grips with a new procedure. We need changes of this kind to be as painless as possible to ensure the workflow continues as it needs to at this time of year.

My old Dell laptop has languished under the office desk the during the year I've mostly been away, and is surplus to current needs. There's nothing that cannot be done using it that can't be also done on a newer more portable piece of kit. Given that it's six years old it's still quite quick and has a superb HD screen. It must have cost a fortune when it was new before I arrived on the scene with less costly hardware requirements to fulfil our working needs. As it's not found a use, and is superior in speed and quality to my home desktop workstation, which serves personal and work needs, I decided to take it home and re-instate it as a space saving workstation substitute. The result is satisfying. The old Acer desktop Vista PC can now deliver its file content ad lib over my home network to the laptop, thanks to the improved network efficiency of Windows 7, and my study work space looks that much freer as a result. Less clutter around the office and at home, a real win-win situation.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Mobile office work stations compared

When the weather is cold, grey and wet, days pass when there seems nothing much to do apart from routine domestic tasks. It's not pleasant enough to go out unless it's strictly necessary, and there's not much to do apart from read the news and feel listless. Thus passed Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday I went into the office to complete one of my outstanding tasks, and came home with a Microsoft RT Surface to investigate. It had been hanging around for ages doing nothing, as Sarah had acquired it but not found it user friendly, and had tucked away on the common workspace to be found a use or new user. I took the pass-code details, charged it and satisfied myself that it was working properly, and ending up taking it home. 

It's a neat solid device. It starts up quickly and has a decent enough touch screen. It is runs on an Nvidia Tegra chip, as does the Asus Transformer. Windows RT is a version of Windows 8 built for the hardware. It has a version of MS Office, linked to the One Drive cloud file system. This works well, and is easier to work with than the Google Chromebook equivalent. Both are intended to function primarily as mobile office devices for working on documents, spreadsheets, presentations etc. Only after two years of competing production are some Chromebooks acquiring a touchscreen. The Surface is twice the price however. What you pay is what you get. 

The Surface keyboard is one deal breaker, closely followed by limitations of having a single USB port and no card reader in contrast to Chromebooks. If Microsoft had more closely followed the Chromebook hardware specifications it might not have been such a disastrous market flop. As it is, Chromebook sales are growing healthily. Newer hardware designs are of a quality approaching that of the Surface. The Google User interface works reasonably well and has lots of good features, but it's ugly compared to Windows. And in the end, aesthetics as well as functionality make a wholesome working environment, Each has assets and shortcomings. The ideal mobile computing platform would be a blend of the best of both. Good though Android is as a third alternative, it hasn't got email or browser interfaces for touch screen use to the point where you don't lose a precious text draft through an accidental finger swipe. If I use an Android tablet to browse or send emails, I do so distrustfully as a result of bad experiences. 

The Chromebook will continue to travel with me, in preference to the others, as it's so quick to start for use. It's light and has a great keyboard. The awkwardness and relative unfamiliarity of Google's filing system and off-line web apps I can put up with. They'll improve if people moan at them enough.  

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Gloomy Sunday

The last time I walked to and from St Nicholas Kenilworth for the eight o'clock Communion service, two weeks ago, was in darkness. Today, all of Abbey Fields on the way to church was visible in the twilight before sunrise, which occurred as the Gospel of Christ's Baptism was being read. St Nicholas does have stained glass windows, but in the south aisle, there's more plain glass than decorative, so on a good weather day, the warmth and colour of the rising sun adds a fresh dimension of beauty to the interior of the church. About twenty of us attended, unusually more men than women, I noticed. A lady sitting in front of me greeted me after the service, remembering me from previous visits. A retired cleric celebrated, but the Vicar was at the door greeting people and handing out leaflets afterwards.

We had a long family breakfast, then I did some 'tech support' jobs on a couple of laptops, before we set off for Bristol to visit Amanda in the afternoon. It was already getting dark by the time we arrived there. After early sunshine, grey cloud descended and shrouded our journey, making the day seem even shorter. 

My resolve to get up earlier every day and enjoy all of the daylight on offer rarely holds up as my sleep pattern seems so variable these days in which life is less well structured by events. I hunger for more daylight hours at this time of year, or at least less gloom in this cloud laden land.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Contemplative play

I woke up at half past four this morning, still full of impressions from yesterday, so I got up and wrote for two hours before sinking back into deep sleep and waking up several hours later than usual.

Yesterday, after meeting with Phil and Rufus, we drove to Kenilworth to meet Rhiannon from school and take her to a dance event in a studio theatre in Coventry University's Ellen Terry building. By sheer co-incidence this was Rhiannon's second visit to the city centre of the day, as her class had been on a visit to the Cathedral and its museum, as part of their study of the Second World War. Kath and Anto had a Wriggledance gig in Oxford, but as she knew we were coming she arranged for us to go to this particular event which she was bound to miss.

One of the people making the show was Tim Rubidge, a friend of ours from nearly forty years ago, when he and three partners were forming a dance group and needing accommodation in Bristol. They were recommended to us by Jane Winearls, doyenne of the contemporary dance scene whom I met in my Birmingham days and worked with as a University chaplain. The four lived in attic servants' quarters atop our vast St Agnes Vicarage for two years. There were two bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, and a living room floor large enough to double as a dance studio. We all got on well, and I guess having dancers in the house influenced Katherine, then of nursery age, as she and Tim now share the same profession. She and he met up in Hexam last autumn during the Wriggledance tour, where Tim now lives. It was wonderful to see him after a quarter of a century, now a dance guru with white hair, not quite as athletic as he was in his youth, but still moving nicely.

The show was a work in progress, born of what participants call 'The Pneuma Project'. It's an extended creative reflection on the nature of pneuma = breath/life/spirit, improvisations in music and dance, in a given setting, lightly defined by its stage props - a curtain of white muslin cotton strips blown randomly by a fan offstage, lit occasionally with projected images of random curves and lines, painting light patterns on the curtain and on performers. Apart from this, the empty space with a few lights was occupied by dancers moving in response to the sounds being created by two instrumentalists.

Two accordion players began by walking slowly around the stage drawing air into their instruments and expelling it, resembling the sound of living breath for many minutes of silence, before moving making and developing the soundscape with musical notes. Tim first appeared moving slowly, carrying over his shoulder a long bare dry branch from a tree in perfect balance, an exercise in mindfulness setting the scene for unfolding improvised dance movements against the soundscape with no overall narrative to define the evolving whole, but driven by the dancers; response to their environment and to a lesser extent, each other.

The focussed stillness of the audience of about thirty, mostly dance students, was remarkably intense for the forty-five minutes of the performance. It was an amazing rich experiment in sound and movement in which time seemed to be suspended, or determined by the rhythm of breathing alone. Very much like being inside a meditation, though without the formal structure. Not quite dream-like, though full of a sense of mystery and wonder. A spiritual experience? Yes, but without the usual defining conceptual boundaries. Simply playing with silence and breath in whatever way emerged in that space and time. An expression of pure spiritual freedom born of trust in each other and trust in the process.

It was offered as a work in progress presented to an audience for the first time, therefore a learning experience for all involved. It was very much the kind of experiment I wish Christians and other religious adventurers could get into and work on to discover new depths in the living relationship between the Word and the Spirit.

Despite late rising we got Rhiannon out and ready for her youth theatre workshop in time, and picked her up from Warwick University Arts Centre afterwards. After a lazy dozy afternoon, Kath and Anto arrived triumphant from their penultimate Wriggledance tour gig, and we went out to supper at Zizzi's to celebrate Anto's birthday.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Over-stretched church

I drove over to Llanedeyrn this morning to meet Phil and Rufus for coffee and hear how they've both been getting on in ministry over the months since we last met. One is coping with a huge increase in his workload due to sickness among colleagues, the other is bracing himself for a future working alone in an extensive parochial area, as a result of the departure of his colleague, who will not be replaced. 

Both were experienced senior professionals before ordination and made a healthy transition into their new clerical lifestyle, but the church is far from healthy, or capable of coping with the drastic changes that have resulted from loss of members and decline in numbers of fully trained pastors to support them in the challenges of mission and ministry. I'm certain they were both honestly aware of what they have taken on in faith, but that doesn't mean to say that the different demands aren't going to have unexpected impacts on them over time. 

Each diocese of the Church in Wales is working away at re-organising and re-structuring its offer of ministry to its unique social and geographical setting, and striving to get the faithful remnant behind the effort. My concern is for frenetically busy front line clergy, who in such a period of upheaval cannot help but feel less than cared for by those above them. 

It's another variant of complaints I heard in the diocese in Europe, about poor communications and responses from the centre, inferring lack of interest, in effect too little genuine pastoral oversight and leadership. People can be very good about supporting each other locally, until there are disagreements, conflicts of interest and so on, and if the cohering vision which motivated chaplaincy development begins to fade, things can start to fall apart.

I know what it is to work hard and flat out, to get tired enough to teeter on the edge of burnout, whether from having too much to do, or from coping with the insecurity of not knowing what to do next. Each can be as enervating as the other. Without the certainty of the annual family holiday over many years, I feel sure I would have broken under the strain eventually, and often I was a totally exhausted misery on holiday, barely able to enjoy being in wonderful places together with people I love most.

Now in retirement I have freedom to continue in ministry and control demands made on me in a way I never could do when licensed and obligated to a pastorate, being able to help out in all kinds of situations is a great joy and privilege, but is there more I could do to support those on the front line of the church's present crisis, and maybe help plug the communications gap, I wonder.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Office and other achievements

I woke up early, preoccupied with thoughts of batch invoice generation for the annual round of CBS RadioNet subscription renewals, due to go out this week. With no distractions and a clear sharp mind, I tackled the much unloved job methodically and by breakfast time I had the datasets and merge templates working, ready for action, and uploaded to the CBS office OneDrive account. A cheering achievement to start the day.

Then, I took the remains of the old desk for re-cycling. It was quite a job getting all the bulky pieces in the car. The large heavy desktop will have to go on a separate journey. I returned to Staples to acquire an extra storage unit to occupy an empty space in the corner behind the new desk, and some tidy trays for desk draws in which to keep all the small fiddly things that accumulate in drawers that you can't think what to do with. 

After a couple hours, two folding crates and a large ice cream carton of little bits all from the old desk, were assigned a new home. Bookshelves were rearranged, archive material rarely if ever consulted was stored out of sight, and accessible shelf space made for all the things I regularly use. The desk surface area is now too small to be a dumping ground, and can only be used for its proper purpose, to support the use of a computer workstation.

Now there's enough real room for a second chair and my office desk chair, and hardly any clutter on the floor. Quite an achievement. I can even open the window fully for the first time. It's crazy what you put up with when you are too busy to stop and think about your working conditions. I guess that spending much of this year away in clergy houses that aren't oversized, yet have good sized well equipped office workspaces, has made me less tolerant of the cramped environment I've put up with since retirement.

With everything looking neat and tidy, it was time to re-install Linux Mint. A flawless operation in its own right, with additional software installations (Chrome and Audacity) following achieved with ease. Once more, no recourse to the Home partition back-up was necessary, though when I'd finished I realise that backing up hadn't included the newly digitized sound files of the Sinatra dream concert. Nevertheless, these played back perfectly because the upgrade had gone immaculately according to plan. Bravo Linux Mint for being so beautifully consistent.

With domestic jobs done, I was able to spend a couple of hours in the office putting finishing touches to the invoicing process with a discussion on the inevitable anomalies with Ashley and Julie. Then home in time a cook a paella for supper, and relax. Wonderful to feel good enough and have the energy to get so much done, and so satisfying.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Desk exchange

Today, I took Clare to the Heath hospital for an appointment, and browsed for bargains in Staples while I waited for her. My working habits have changed considerably this past few years, since I began using a smartphone and equally significant, a Chromebook. More routine tasks are achievable without needing to sit at a desk nowadays. Yet, I've been thinking of acquiring a higher resolution monitor, if not an all-in-one desktop PC to support viewing and editing photographs better. Browsing didn't get me far before I was summoned collect Clare and return for lunch, but it did get me thinking.

I still write sermons at a workstation because I need to print them, but create fewer documents that need printing, as so much more of my work is now done just on-line. I have little need of a better computer workstation when my existing one, running both Linux and Vista is adequate for my purposes. A better display is one possible improvement, and now I have to admit that faster broadband has become more desirable with so many internet connected devices in the house, as many as eight at a time calling upon the services of an existing standard set-up peaking at 100mb/sec, and these days often faltering. It's a few years since I upgraded Linux Mint, so this much I decided I should do first. This time I decided to back up my Home partititon first. It took many hours, so upgrading Mint from an installation disk which I made last week from a download has to wait.

Late afternoon a courier delivered the new office desk Clare ordered for me from Amazon. It's much smaller than the existing one, and will help give my home workplace a more spacious feel. But first, how to remove the existing desk from the study? The removal men carried it upstairs in one piece and it just squeezed into place before bookshelves were erected. Since then the shape of the landing at the top of the stairs has changed with adjustments to floor levels and a new corner linen cupboard. What went in won't come out in one piece.

I manhandled it out of the room, and was able to detach the very heavy desktop, but there wasn't enough room to manouvre the base, because of its size. So, reluctantly, sadly I had to cut it into manageably sized pieces to get it down the stairs. This desk is probably as old as I am constructed strongly enough to serve as an emergency air raid shelter, and last several lifetimes. Such a pity for it to come to such an end, but what else could I do, knowing we have no space to store it even for the few days it would take to find someone to take it away and re-use it. The remains will go to the tip tomorrow.

Then, with much loving support and organisational aid from Clare, I built the replacement desk from the flat pack kit. After four hours of physical labour altogether, I was satisfyingly tired. It is indeed tiny and flimsy in comparison to the old desk, and has half the amount of storage, so work has to be done on re-arranging office contents tomorrow.

Owain expressed shock and regret when I told him about the demise of the desk, protesting that it was a sort of family heirloom, as it had been among our domestic goods and chattels since before he was alive. For most of its time with us since it was originally bought second hand, it helped fill space in Vicarage offices with far larger rooms than any we now have. Sometimes, such desks stay where they are housed. At one time, both Clare and I had such large desks. Now both are gone. All part of the task of down-sizing as you get older. One day, I'm sure Owain will understand, and be grateful this wasn't a furniture headache he inherited.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Epiphany Day

Yesterday was such a grey chilly day, I missed the open sea and blue sky of the Mediterranean. I went the office for a couple of hours, then met with Clare and went shopping for a new phone for her, as the cntract, taken out for a new phone after her previous one was stolen in Taormina - two years ago already! After much agonising and a little persuasion, she settled for Samsung Galaxy Mini S III like mine only in white, as these are on offer at less than half the price I paid for mine sixteen months ago, with an EE sim-only contract.

Much of the evening was taken up with setting it up, with Clare learning as she went along, and much comforted to find that it works well indoors, since we received our EE signal booster box last Friday. There are so many configurable features on a smartphone that initial confusion is unavoidable, but by this morning, she was exploring and enjoying different features for herself, with just the occasional 'What does this mean?' about some arcane unfamiliar menu term.

The sun shone this morning, and there weren't many clouds around, a cheerful start to Three Kings Day was most welcome. A few days ago, I heard about a BBC2 radio programme which broadcasted a two hour compilation of live recordings of Frank Sinatra in concert. I listened and enjoyed, then recorded it on my old Minidisk player, to digitise and listen again when the download expires in iPlayer. It took me a while to remember how to operate the device, as it's years since I last used it. Digitising is now turning out to be something of a challenge, as I can't configure Audacity to play back what it's working on to ensure that I get the sound levels right. It's amazing what you forget it you don't use technical resources on a regular basis.

After an early supper I walked in the dark across Llandaff Fields to the Cathedral for the Solemn Eucharist of the Epiphany sung by the choir to Schubert's Mass in G. Amazing to think that the composer who wrote the 'Winterreise' lieder could also create such exultant spiritual sounds. But this says a lot about the complexity contained within every heart and life, I guess.

There were about fifty in the congregation, with thirty choir and servers present. No sermon tonight, just a quiet thoughtfully conducted service with the Cathedral beautifully lit internally and externally to offer that sense of being an ocean of light in winter darkness. Just perfect for the occasion. I slipped in through the side door as the altar procession arrived, so was able to slip into the choir without disruption. At the end, I slipped out into the darkness without staying to speak to anyone, savouring the hour of peaceful seclusion as I strode home across the fields, rejoicing in the Light no darkness can overcome.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Epiphany Sunday & Sinatra live

Ah! Sunday in the pew alongside my darling wife at St Catherines for the Epiphany Sunday Eucharist. Great! To my surprise we were asked to take the bread and wine to the altar at the Offertory. Oh dear didn't get it right. The collection follows, not precedes the Holy Gifts. 

It must be the first time I've got to do something that simple as one of the laos tou theu, in decades. For one as fussy as I am about appropriate good liturgy, this was a sobering experience of being on the other side of the altar rail - a bit like a man being asked to dance the girl's part. Girls are better than blokes at doing this, it must be said.

We walked to the Riverside Market after the service for our weekly outing to shop for organic veg. It was quite chilly. I was inadequately dressed and felt the cold. We concluded our expedition with a shared bowl of lentil soup to fortify our walk home. For lunch we each ate a delicious goat cheese and squash pastie, bought on our expedition.

Before the BBC4 evening news, 'Pick of the Week' featured an extract from a BBC2 New Year's Day programme showcasing Frank Sinatra's concert performances. Tonight, I found the programme on iPlayer Radio and enjoyed two hours worth of music in the American popular song genre. It was a superbly assembled playlist of Frankie, recorded singing to live audiences over a forty year period, 'curated', if that's the right word, by Barry Manilow, colleague and fan. Astonishing excellence on the part of the BEEB.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Study makeover

My study is full of stuff, kinda organised but never totally tidy, a work in progress ever since I retired. There's never been enough time or energy to spare for proper review. Clare has been more conscious of its shortcomings than I have, and has diplomatically suggested improvements over the past four years, but without chagrin whenever events have diverted the course of action elsewhere. In fact, the only 'improvement' since I moved in, four and three quarter years ago, was the acquirement of a decent adjustable height office chair last year.

Maybe spending so much time away from 'mission control' over the past year, and having less to do over the holiday season led to a longer than usual conversation about 'doing something' to improve the study as a work environment. As a result, yesterday I did some tricky furniture shifting in a narrow space, to re-locate a book case into a space where it didn't fit flush to the wall, but at least the difference this made was reason to be persuaded by Clare to go the next stop.

Today, working slowly and carefully together, we tackled the challenge of reducing the height of the bookcase by 5cm. This involved removing all the books to the spare room, wielding a saw in quite a narrow space, plus some inaccurately aligned hole drilling to get the bolts to fit the structure together again. 

Getting everything back in place once this was completed resulted in a tidier and more manageable arrangement of computer workstation cables.  I've now re-arranged some of the bookshelves to allow easy access to stuff used most requently, and banished archive file, never accessed from prominence to obscurity where they properly belong, until needed if ever. I'm pleased with the result, having made the effort to consider the use I make of the room that's mine.

The advent of mobile computing has changed the way I work over the past few years living mostly in Spain. My home workstation is a great tool for doing some things I do occasionally, beyond writing documents, sending emails and surfing the web. Compared to just few years ago, I can do most of what I need from a web connected computer anywhere, though not everything. Anything involving precision scanning, managing all my files, either in the cloud or on a physical device, I prefer to do from a single place of reference. My study. 

It's no good, however clever modern auto-sync programs are, I end up with puzzling file duplications, version control nightmares and document hunts owing their existence to the fact that I'm creating documents on half a dozen different devices and not always remembering to save them to places where I can be sure they will end up being sharable in a recognisable location. The format war between Microsft and Google hardly helps. Default use of one consistent universal file format on all devices and platforms would help. In reality, moving between Google and Microsoft cloud storage systems is a fiddle (what the hell is .gdoc Google? And why do I need it?). On principle, I use both, for the same as well as different purposes. After all, why should I entrust my digital life to a single mega-corporate, when two are offering me their free services? (Forget the Apple cult).

Anyway, my study is now more habitable than it used to be. A new, smaller desk has been ordered from Amazon. Once installed, my little room will offer much more space than before, and easier access to things I need most.

All thanks to Clare's persistence in making my study fit for purpose.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Year's end and beginning

Two days, laid low by an unpleasant cold, not leaving the house, keeping the shivers at bay. Nothing to do except machine minding while uploading to my MS OneDrive archive account photos taken in Spain during the past year. So many difference places and experiences, thousands of photos, several gigabytes worth, on a slow sometimes flaky connection. Still, if you've nothing else to do apart from feel poorly, it gives a sliver of purpose to useless days, when even watching telly is an effort.

Clare cooked a vegetable curry for our New Year's Eve 'St Sylvester' supper, and just before we sat down to eat, to my surprise, the worst symptoms of the cold suddenly abated, making the meal extra enjoyable. I had enough energy to watch telly afterwards, but most of the evening's offerings were of little interest, although I did dip into BBC Four's back to back repeats of programmes on the Swedish pop group Abba. I know their songs more from seeing 'Mamma Mia' on stage and on film several times, and from our kids playing them when they were young, far more than I do from being a fan at the time. I seem to have grown out of pop music when I discovered World Music, and expanded the interest in classical music acquired at home as a child.

By midnight, Clare was in bed, nursing her cold. The skies were briefly lit with fireworks. I went outside, but there was nobody about on the street to greet. Just silent parked cars with their red security lights advertising their unwelcoming status. There was no sound of partying coming from anywhere nearby. Nowadays I guess, far more go out to celebrate, either to local pubs, or to the city centre for the Calennig Nos Galan fiesta, or to a night club. Not my kind of scene.

I stood there thinking of how it was in childhood in Glen View, Ystrad Mynach, when older children or perhaps even a young collier with blackened face would knock on doors to greet people and be welcomed in with a drink and maybe a coin or two, for coming to let the New Year in. Then, there'd be at least some people out on the doorstep shouting their good wishes across to each other while they smoked a last cigarette before turning in. No cigarette for me, not even a glass of wine or a tot of spirit, to celebrate, just grateful to be on the mend again so soon.
Happily, a Eucharist in honour of the Name of Jesus was advertised for noon at St John's, a leisurely start to a Bank Holiday with all the shops except zealous convenience stores closed for business. I strolled down in good time and joined in worship with a dozen people assembled from the benefice congregations, led by Fr Phelim. Several people recognised and welcomed me warmly. Fr Phelim asked me to assist him with giving the chalice, as the regular lay assistants were absent. It's good to be home, and this is a good parish to be able to call home.

The rest of the day was a TV catch up day, having not felt up to watching much in the past week. There were two iPlayer episodes of Wallander I hadn't seen, and needed to catch before watching the last two later on in the evening. Then there was 'Despicable Me', the original movie, just as crazy funny as 'Despicable Me II' which I watched, wedged between my lovely grand daughters on Boxing Day. That's five an a half hours worth in one day. I must be crazy.