Friday, 27 February 2015

Mobile Office after the Opera

How cheering to wake up to a sunny day after yesterday's rain. Although it's cold, there's just a hint of Spring, with daffodils starting to blossom, along with crocuses and snowdrops. The morning slipped by writing my Lent blog before it was time to go to the office for a couple of hours. I came home early, as we had tickets for Humperdink's opera 'Hansel & Gretel', last seen in the WMC WNO performance of 13th June 2008, according to my pre-retirement blog 'Edge of the Centre' on that day.

Clare was still feeling unwell with her op-stopping sore throat. Despite our efforts to find someone to use her ticket, I ended up going on my own. The story is familiar enough, and the presentation of the first act I did recall, but the other three acts seemed not to have lodged themselves firmly in my visual memory, making something of a surprise for me. I can only think that the opera didn't make much of an impact on me when I saw it last. Maybe a consequence of being preoccupied with work worries. Now I am retired, I find I can take more in and savour it better. Is that perhaps why opera audiences tend to made up predominantly of grey and white headed people. 

The music, from the same era as Wagner, is relatively easy listening compared to Wagner, but nevertheless rich and melodic with tunes that I did remember hearing before in performance, quite apart from the opera itself. It was beautifully sung, with two female lead singers, a children's choir on stage in the final act, a funny pantomime dame of a witch,  most enjoyable, although sad not to be able to share the experience with Clare.

Ashley and I conversed by phone while I was waiting for the sixty one bus home. He asked if I could send him a Board member registration file to print off and hand out as soon as I got back. With a few more minutes to wait before the bus came, I thought I'd try and do this on my Blackberry, hunting down the file on the office One Drive account and emailing it. I was astonished at how easy this was to do, both because of the speed of the 4G connection, the clarity of the phone's display of the file system and a really good workable keypad. 

This is the kind of relevant performance which has over years earned global respect for RIM. Such a shame they had bad luck with the Z10 recently and lost market share. I grew to hate my previous Blackberry Bold because of its feeble keyboard and small display, although once it had been state of the art, and connectivity was always reliable. The Q10 hardware shines in comparison to both. Let's see what RIM will come up with next.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Operation on hold

Up at the crack of dawn to take Clare into Llandough Hospital for her shoulder repair operation. It was pouring with rain, utterly horrid. We were only there long enough to check in and for Clare to meet the anaesthetist. He didn't like the look of her sore throat, and sent her home. She's had misgivings about the desirability of the op over the past few months that she's been having physiotherapy and resuming regular swimming and gym sessions. Apprehension turned to relief. She'll be given another surgery date sooner or later, but with the passage of time, already ten and a half months, the success of the operation is increasingly less certain. So she'll probably say no when the time comes, after all. 

After breakfast, she went back to her jewellery making with enthusiasm, and then to the gym. I had my second funeral of the week mid-morning, a straight visit to the Vale Crematorium, for a small group of mourners, none of whom said Amen to any of the prayers. It was a bit like being back in protestant Switzerland. After lunch, back at home, I went to bed and slept sweetly for an hour, rather than fight the lingering fatigue of such early rising. Then, fresh as a daisy, I went to the office for the afternoon, with more crime database entries to record, and Board admin to complete. Almost every evening now I spend more time writing than I do watching telly. It's far more satisfactory when there's little showing that I am seriously keen to watch.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Meeting down the Bay

I went to the midweek Eucharist at St Catherine's this morning, celebrated by Fr Phelim, who once more invited me to assist him with the chalice at Communion. Then, a visit to the bank to deposit a cheque, followed by a haircut at Constantinou's next door. 

I always enjoy my time with the boss as he snips away and tells daft jokes. Today when I arrived he offered me a chunk of cold, savoury Greek sausage to eat, as he was snacking in between clients, and pleased to share the good things of life. I prefer to let my hair grow long when I'm away, rather than visit a different local gents barber.

After a quick lunch, a trip on the number six bus down the Bay with Ashley to County Hall for an early afternoon meeting to discuss our plans for the next development phase of CBS, which I've been working on now for several weeks. It was a good meeting confirming that we can obtain facts and figures to help us redesign our offer to subscribers, encouragement that means we are going in the right direction.

On the way back to the office we got off the bus at the stop outside John Lewis' and popped into the store to look for new equipment, Ashley was accosted by one of their loss prevention personnel to examine one of their radios, and I headed back to the office, stopping on the way to buy a pair of shoes in Clarke's grand Arcade shop. Not the kind of thing I do very often. At the end of our work session I made my way to Westgate Street to get the sixty-one bus home and noticed how much lighter it was on Ash Wednesday, a week ago. That's one of the nicer features of Lent, and generally the clocks go forward an hour by the time it's Easter.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Getting straight

During breakfast yesterday morning, a prolonged hailstorm made us sit up and take notice. In the afternoon I had a funeral service to take at Pidgeon's chapel of rest, which was packed with mourners. Someone arrived, as my driver put it, "Wearing Her Majesty's jewellery" accompanied by two guards. Other mourners were evidently pleased to see him there.  Being of the 'tough on crime' opinion, my driver didn't approve of this brief expensive outing. I said I couldn't imagine anything more likely to cause a costly disruption inside than a prisoner upset by bereavement and absence from the farewell to a loved one. Even treating someone humanely can have a pragmatic side to it. We arrived at the crematorium in yet another hailstorm. And sun shone through the clouds on the way home.

Before supper, I drove out to through the evening traffic to Caerau for a bereavement visit in relation to another funeral I've been asked to do this week. The parish clergy are busy at the moment due to a sharp increase in deaths, perhaps due to the vagaries of the season's weather. I'm glad to help out and ease the pressure. Visiting people in their homes, listening to them talk about their life with the departed person, being trusted to help them with an appropriate service, is always a privilege.

Today, I drove to Newport for a session with Kay, to sort out the problems caused by a poor driving seat in the car. Despite re-enforcing it with strategically placed cushions, I can't drive for more than an hour before neck muscles threaten to go into spasm, and the symptoms will then persist for days, because the constraints of the saggy seat shape twisting my pelvis out of alignment. A new seat might cost as much as the car is worth. It works beautifully for a twenty year old vehicle. Sooner or later we must get a replacement, but ideally I'd like it to stop working first. At the moment it stops me from working as intended. It's good to have a therapist who can remedy the problem and help me understand better how to prevent ill effects prolonging themselves.

Kay, I discovered was also a Blackberry user. She'd greatly enjoyed her Z10, as I had done, but hers had recently died. She'd been given a replacement, whose first action was to update the operating system taking several hours. When it came to re-start it on completion of the update, it too died, and she was awaiting the delivery of a third, as she was tied by contract to that model. Such a nice phone, so sad it was fatally flawed. BT wouldn't issue me with a new Z10 but replaced it with a Q10, as they'd stopped issuing the Z10 altogether. A disastrous blow for RIM's new flagship model. If they'd been able to get the build quality right, it would have been a real market changer for them.

After lunch I took Clare to the opthalmology clinic at the Heath Hospital for a post-op check up. Her consultant declared himself pleased with the progress she's made in the three months since surgery. Mission accomplished, I went into the office to meet Ashley and confer on the new pricing strategy, which we've been working on for the past few days, as we have a meeting with others to discuss this tomorrow.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Sunday birthday with a touch of Mexico

Clare and I were up bright and early to walk over to St Nicholas' Parish Church for the eight o'clock Communion service together with about thirty others. When we got back, Clare cooked pancakes for breakfast. Rhiannon came down and opened her presents. Then at lunch-time her guests arrived, eight girls of her own age, for an afternoon of pizza, popcorn (made by Auntie Rachel's popcorn machine), and a movie on DVD. 

After the movie the girls were presented with a couple of piñata in the shape of brightly coloured donkeys to break open for the sweets and trinkets inside. I've never come across this custom before, but it originated in Mexico, then spread to Europe via Spain and Italy. Augustinian missionary friars adapted a Mayan game for catchetical purposes, making a breakable pottery container in the form of a seven pointed star to represent the seven deadly sins, in need of breaking attachment to, and yielding sweet rewards to those who could name them and remove them. 

The game took place originally on the first Sunday in Lent, a remarkable coincidence since that's what today is in the church's calendar, as well as being Rhiannon's eleventh birthday.
The custom has lost its religious significance, much as Christmas crackers and Easter eggs have, but breaking apart papier mache containers which now come in all shapes, sizes and themes proved a great way for the girls to let off steam after a couple of hours of sitting and chatting, which is what it seemed they most wanted to do even throughout the film, until this moment.

The climax of the party was a fine chocolate birthday cake, brought out to singing and cheers. The party required a great deal of parental background work and much organisation to succeed. By five, all the guests had departed, the house was more or less clean and tidy again and it was time for us to get on the road for home.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Birthday weekend

Following a request to take a funeral from Father Mark, I made a bereavement visit yesterday morning, then prepared the service, ready for Monday. Then I went to the CBS office to get my newsletter efforts from last night checked and ready for emailing out before the end of the afternoon. The print version will have to wait until Monday to be produced.

This morning we drove to Kenilworth to celebrate Rhiannon's eleventh birthday. We were meant to look after her in the evening, but Kath and Anto's gig was cancelled at the last minute, so we had extra family time together. We played Monopoly again, naturally, and after supper watched the hilarious cartoon movie 'Cloud and Raining Meatballs', originally a childrens' book satirising America's food consumer culture, whilst mocking every other kind of film scenario and visual cliche imaginable. Very clever, as it makes the film as funny and entertaining for adults as for children.

When we arrived, my Blackberry announced it was going to do an operating system update, taking several hours, for which it needed to be plugged in while downloading 1.5 gigabytes of data and installed it. This passed without incident, but I was mildly irritated by the small changes to the look and feel of the user interface. For a while it'll mean that it can't be used habitually. Extra apps will need to be re-installed, and changes adapted to, some of which I'm not sure of, like the dominance of the 'Reply All' button, making it too easy to make unintended responses to the wrong people, also the pop-up delete button on a new email notification. It fades in seconds, but is too easy to tap unintentionally before a message has been read or its content registered. Not good for impulsive or careless users.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Publisher revived

Another Eucharist to celebrate this morning at St John's in Canton, followed by a cup of coffee with the congregation afterwards. I learned from the lady sitting next to me that she and her husband have an autumn time-share in Nerja close to where the chaplain's residence is located. Such a small world. 

After lunch, I had a meeting at the CBS office, which left me with some ideas in need of following up. I came home at the end of the day with a new assignment to work on, re-shaping some of my articles on the business for a fresh edition of our 'CBS Network' magazine. I could hardly believe when I checked that it's two years and three months since the last issue.

My various Spanish sojourns didn't stop me working remotely, but did deprive me of the version of MS Publisher I've used for over ten years. I have a fair amount of experience in preparing material with it, and am not keen on having to acquire new software when the old works so well, nor apply myself to un-necessarily re-learning skills I already have with an existing program. It's hugely annoying that different versions of Publisher are file incompatible. It would have been hard to switch work in progress from one machine with Publisher to another.

By the time I stopped to conclude the day in prayer, just one piece remained to finish and insert. I was pleased with my work but so stimulated by the mental effort that I don't expect to get to sleep any time soon.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Ash Wednesday

The beginning of Lent, and wondering what I should do lately, has led me to the idea of working on a daily reflection/meditation in a separate blog, drawing upon images or pictures which catch attention and make me think. Yesterday's outing to Patricio brought me face to face with a work of sculptor Frank Roper which I hadn't seen before. Roper did some marvelous works for churches, including a lovely crucifix in the Herbert Chapel at St John's. His style of working in cast metal is distinctive. I sensed it was one of his works before I could find the attribution on the back of a church postcard.

Anyway, I set up the blog, and then spent a great deal of time wondering what image might strike me as worth reflecting upon to get started. After a quiet morning at home working, I went to the monthly Ignatian meditation session at Diana's house. There were seven of us, the best attendance for ages, in spite of this being a busy day for the three clergy in the group. During the silence, one image kept on presenting itself for attention. You can find the result on the blog posting here.

I went into the CBS office for a couple of hours in the afternoon, though there wasn't much to do except look up information and pass it on by phone, so I wrote a sermon before going home to get the car to drive out to Tongwynlais and celebrate the Ashing Eucharist of the day with ten others. I'm wondering what I'm going to learn in the weeks ahead, and whether it will help me sense the direction in which my ministry is meant to be moving now.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Faith in such a beautiful place

Yesterday afternoon I took a camera out with me, and on my way into the office I took some photos on the Hayes to provide me with some decent quality material to edit for use on the new website I'm building at the moment. It wasn't quite as easy to get what I wanted as I thought it would be, knowing that I'd be changing the proportions of the picture, and needing to get people and iconic buildings into it as well. Nothing like a challenge, and the nice thing about digital photograph, is that I can return and try again if I'm not satisfied with the finished product.

Today was somewhat different. A visit to Chris, one of my former St Mike's students, now working as a country parish priest with a group of three mediaeval churches to look after on the edge of Gwent's Black Mountain border country. He lives in the hamlet of Llangenny, population 100 with church and working pub, and a stream running through it that has trout and where salmon return to breed. A delightful place, and lively for such a small place.

He drove me up the Grwyney valley to show me the ancient church at Patricio, on a high hillside overlooking the upper reaches of the valley, and mountains beyond. The ruins of Llantony Abbey are eight miles away, but Patricio is special in its own right. There's been a place of worship here for a thousand years, to judge by the age of the font, and the present building originates in the 12th century but was elaborated subsequently, down to Elizabethan times. It has 15th century chancel screen and rood loft intact, and three ancient stone altars still in place, having survived reformation iconoclasm in this remote place, five miles away in the mountains above Llangenny.
It's dedicated to Merthyr Issui, the celtic Saint Issui hermit and martyr whose dates are unknown. Only fragments of his story survive. There's a holy well in the hillside below the church, and a hermit would have lived close by and ministered to passing travellers. One murdered him. The well still flows with spring water. Its little walled enclosure and surrounding trees are littered with an odd collection of votive offerings - ribbons, money, drinking vessels, new-age trinkets. Local Boy Scouts visit annually for a tidy up session and to clear the spring of silt. 
Attached to the church west wall is a separate chapel with a mediaeval stone altar, a squint window looking into the church and a modern statue of St Issui by Llandaff sculptor Frank Roper in an ancient niche. This may have been built as a shrine chapel to house his bones after the church itself was built.
This has been a place of popular pilgrimage for centuries, and attracts many hill walkers who take their leisure in this part of the world. All the surrounding land is still being worked by sheep farmers and breathes an air of being lovingly cared for. The views of this place and the views from this place make it one of Wales' hidden treasures. Chris is very happy to have this as one of his churches, not least because it has a lively congregation and many visitors, people who evidently feel the effort of getting there, either by foot or by care is well worthwhile.
Chris' wife Wendy joined us for lunch at home. It was great to see how happy they both are with their new life and all the opportunities it presents them for sharing faith in such a beautiful place. 
More photos you can find here.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Transfiguration Sunday and opera matinee

I arrived at Llantriddyd church before any of the congregation this morning. Amazingly the church is still left open for people to visit, so I had a little time to take photos of the sixteenth century chest tomb of Sir Anthony Mansell and his wife Elizabeth, with the wall monument behind it in memory of her mother and father, John and Elizabeth Basset. It dominates the north chancel wall, eliminating the possibility of ever having choir stalls on that side. Although the reformation banished chantry priests and chapels, it couldn't eradicate the custom of burying people in church and erecting monuments that advertised their status as prominent people, so that they were difficult to forget.
The monuments of the walls are interesting, not least because of the length of the inscriptions they contain, reading fulsomely, like newspaper obituaries. Public prayer for the dead may have been suppressed, but there were always other strategies for remembering loved ones.
It's a jewel of a building, with a transfiguration scene in the East Window, a happy coincidence as this Sunday before Lent is now known as Transfiguration Sunday.

The church is still off-grid, and has but two calor gas heaters to stand close to for respite. It was cold, very cold indeed, and it took me an hour to warm up again after the service. It was nevertheless a lovely place to lead worship. The chalice I used was Elizabethan, dating back to 1876, and still in regular use. It's very similar to the one I used on a single occasion ten years ago at St John's City Parish church, when it was brought out chiefly for an exhibition of church silverware during the centenary celebrations of the city. Standing at the altar, back to the congregation in that small space, lit only by candles and weak winter sun, I felt as if time was standing still, which century was I in?

After the service I drove to St Catherines to collect Clare to go to the Riverside Market, sharing the last ten minutes of the service with her, and chatting with Fr Mark, whom I haven't seen since Christmas. He's very busy these days.

In the afternoon we met with Martin and Chris at the Millennium Centre to watch the WNO perform Mozart's 'Magic Flute'. The singing was delightful, and a good English version of the libretto made it doubly enjoyable. We know the music very well, as we have CD of the highlights, which has been played many times over, although that's in German. It was a nice change not to have to look up at the surtitles to keep up with the nuances of the tale and the music. And everybody laughs in the right place without delay. We were in the front row, as usual, and I couldn't help notice that Lothar Koenig conducted from memory with just a couple of pages of typewritten notes for reference. He really seemed to be enjoying himself, and as ever the orchestra, like the singers was on top form.

We've seen this production before, so say, inspired by Magritte's artwork. It's an amusing idea, but for me it doesn't quite work. Many of the supporting cast wear bright orange coloured overcoats, with matching umbrellas and bowler hats. The dominance of the colour orange reminds me of a certain mobile phone's branding colour, distracting me with the thought that this might be some clever form of sponsorship. In that respect, the colour distracts from the rest of the performance.

Martin and Chris came home with us for supper afterwards. It was lovely to have uninterrupted time together, just to relax, eat and chat. When we visit them at home, their place is always lively and busy with people coming and going, making demands of them both, so we treasure moments like this.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Vale vineyard hunt

Another afternoon spent on building the new website in the office on Friday, with the sound of rain hammering on the roof while we worked. No question of going out and taking photographs. That will have to wait a while longer

This afternoon we went out to Dyffryn Gardens for a walk in the last hour before it closed. Skinny looking crocuses and snowdrops are out, and the first daffodil shoots are just breaking ground. Most of the flower beds look bare, clean and tidy, ready for the first planting of the season. 

We went on from there along the A48 to find out how to get to Llantriddyd, where I'm engaged to celebrate the Eucharist and preach tomorrow. We took a wrong turning, which led us down a narrow lane to Llancarfan, then back to our destination by a round about route. Llantriddyd church is 12th century, restored in the 19th, set in a churchyard bedecked with snowdrops. My friend Derek Belcher is to become priest in charge of this grouping of parishes when he retires from Cowbridge benefice next month.
Next to the churchyard is the ruin of a mediaeval mansion, one of the Aubrey family's historic possessions, abandoned since the early nineteenth century.
There are a few houses in the vicinity, but these are mostly hidden by trees, so the church presents a solitary demeanour. Before the construction of the A48 the road past the church would have linked Beaupre Castle near Cowbridge and St Hilary with Bonvilston - all place names connected with Norman settlements in the Vale.

From there, we headed north in search of Llanerch Vineyard, near Hensol Castle and the village of Pendoylan, on a mission to see if we could make an advance booking for a family meal to celebrate jointly our 70th birthdays at a time when all the children can make it. It's much nearer the M4 than the A48. Although well signposted across country between the two, it seemed to take us ages to get there in the fading afternoon light. We were delighted with what we found there, and that booking a table for the last week in July presented no problems either.

Mission accomplished, we returned home to complete the day with a paella, and the last couple of gut wrenching episodes of 'Engrenages', aka 'Spiral', past paced, full of twists and turns, maintaining the tension right to the last frame. I like the fact that I can understand much of it, even though it's mostly Parisian French you hear. I follow the subtitles to make sure I don't miss anything, but as with 'Inspector Montalbano' episodes, hearing the original dialogue is a great bonus to entering into the emotions of the drama.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Picture hunting

We had a visit from our trusty gas fitter this morning, to perform the annual service and safety check on our water and central heating boiler. God to know that it's safe to have around, especially as it sits in the corner of the room which I use for a study. 

I've rearranged the study furniture yet again this week and feel even more pleased with the result, as I can now open the window fully, and have enough space to sit on a chair that's not at my desk and survey the garden. Great for bird-watching, if ever any of the small garden birds return. There's been a real dearth of them since several trees in neighbouring gardens got taken down or pruned last year. Theses days, what we see mostly are crows, pigeons and gulls. Robins and sparrows visit more rarely than they used to.

I spent a productive afternoon in the CBS office, working on a new website for the Business Crime Reduction Partnership. It must be nearly five years since I last built a website using the Google Sites facility, and it took me a little while to refresh my memory and find my way around the web app.

In the process of getting started I took a photo from the office window with my phone of the Central Market and St John's. The quality wasn't good enough for permanent use, and there weren't many people out shopping to make it fit for purpose, but playing around with size and shape was a useful exercise to get me started. Then I hunted in my vast archive of city centre photos, and found one that was suitable, taken on a busy day on the Hayes.

When I looked closer, I realised there was a line of security fences in the background on the right hand side, some of which, though not all of which could be cropped out of the picture. It was over five years old. If I'd looked closer I might also have noticed that some of the shop fronts have changed since then. It was a simple reminder of how even a modern city centre with 'iconic' buildings doesn't stay looking the same for long, and that's entirely discounting the ephemeral events that can temporarily change the look and feel of the place from week to week. Catching views of the place in a period of limited but normal activity is what's needed for a web page, unless it's one to be updated week on week, and that's high maintenance for a modest set of information providing static pages.

I shall simply have to take a camera in with my and shoot some new ones, the next time there's a decent sunny day.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Winter wait

Monday and Tuesday, I didn't leave the house once, it was just too cold, overcast and grey even to venture out with a camera to find new subjects to explore. I just pottered around doing nothing important, scanning old photo negatives, re-installing an ancient edition of Photoshop on the big laptop which now serves as my office work station - still getting used to it. I had to rediscover how to increase virtual memory in Windows. It's so long since I last had to do this. I even sat and read a proper book for the first time in ages. Nothing to go out for really. I feel that I'm lack a sense of purpose, some creative project to give me focus at the moment. It's back to the same question - what should I be doing next?

Today was better. We had a visit from a green energy consultant in the morning, to survey the house with a view to installing renewable energy sources, either solar panels or heat pump. He was a very honest straightforward and capable engineer, and confirmed after spending a short time in the garden looking up at the roof, what I had expected. Even with the most efficient of technologies the roof and upper walls of the house spend too much time of any day in the shade, winter or summer, to make an investment cost effective even in the very long term. The orientation of the terrace, and the fact that we are right in the middle of the terrace, leaves us short of light levels worth exploiting. How sad!

Then an afternoon spent in the CBS office with several tasks to complete, and getting them all done. That felt much more satisfactory. Clare told me she'd heard back reassuringly from the surgeon about post op recovery time, freeing me to book a flight for my next assignment of locum duty in Nerja, Costa del Sol, in the third week of April. Thankfully, Vueling flights from Cardiff are operational again this year, and I was able to book seats at a good price, leaving and returning at civilized times of day, all of which makes coming and going that much easier. It's nice to have some prolonged blue sky and decent light to look forward to. 

I enjoyed Winter when we lived in Geneva. Even when it Lac Leman was under low cloud at near freezing temperatures for weeks on end, blue skies were but half an hour's drive away on the ridges of the Jura behind where we lived, and that drive was worth making several times a week. British winter darkness and weather makes me turn in on myself to no constructive purpose. I find  myself looking at sunrise and sunset times almost every day at the moment.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

No subtitles on radio

Saturday morning, I drove to Kenilworth to look after Rhiannon, while Kath and Anto went to do a gig with their band 'Sonrisa' down in Hampshire, driving home in the early hours of the morning. Rhiannon received Monopoly among her Christmas gifts and is now a keen player, so we spent the afternoon playing the game. After supper of fish and chips we watched a TV game show and several episodes of 'Last of the Summer Wine', contentedly snuggled up on the sofa together, while she constructed virtual houses on her iPad. Clare emailed to say she's been given a date for her shoulder operation at last, the 26th February. Now we can start planning ahead once more.

Today, on a cold and frosty morning, I walked to the eight o'clock Communion service at St Nicholas' Parish Church. Since I was last here a fortnight ago, snowdrops have come out fully in the churchyard, pristine white in early light.
It's not a good photo, as it's taken with my phone which only performs decently in good lighting conditions, but it gives an impression.

After breakfast, Rhiannon and I played Monopoly again for a couple of hours, then I drove home with the sun in my face, listening to Choral Evensong from St Paul's Cathedral on Radio Three, with an amazing, hard to sing contemporary setting of the Latin Magnificat text by Giles Swayne. All well and good, but the complexity of the music made the words hard to hear and understand.

I rejoice in the creative adventure that is a feature of 20th and 21st century church music. I love the fact that we can use Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German, French and various kinds of English in our acts of worship, but there's still a streak of reformation soul in me that wants things to be understood in our mother tongue as well. Not least for the sake of those hearing these texts being sung for the first time.  A broadcast on TV or the web could stream a readable text easily enough. With Radio music there are no subtitles. Now there's a challenge!

We watched an interesting late evening programme called 'Finding Shakespeare' in which Lenny Henry spoke about discovering Shakespeare in adult life, acting on stage for the first time in 'Othello' and recently in  'Comedy of Errors'. Schooling had left him with the idea that Shakespeare belonged to elitist high-brow culture, not relevant to a working class black kid. As an adult he worked his way over six years through an O.U. degree in English literature, which gave him a different appreciation of texts that were aimed at all levels of people in a mixed society, from this he made his first venture into the world of straight theatre, after the best part of thirty years on the comedy stage. A fascinating insight into the way education has contributed to the stratification of society and culture.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Laptop giveaway

Wednesday we drove to Bishopston in Bristol to visit Marion, an old family friend from our St Paul's days, whom Clare has renewed contact with in recent years. The purpose of our visit was to give her a much loved old laptop, still working well, for sending emails and surfing the web. As she's still very much a beginner in computer use,  so there was no point in making a big dent in her savings when her needs are limited, and she's not yet certain how well she'll get on with the technology as a late starter.

I configured for a seven year old HP Pavilion 15" laptop running Linux Mint KDE sweetly and made it as simple as possible to work with. There was just one problem, establishing a wi-fi connection from her apartment. Although close to the communal area of her housing complex where the router serving residents and their guests is based, the signal wouldn't reach. It was always a bit slow establishing a connection at home, but in this environment it seemed impossible to attach to the network. 

Fortunately, just in case of problems, I packed the much travelled HP Pavilion 11.3" Windows 7 netbook, bought when I retired. It's crossed the Atlantic twice, once to Canada and once with Rachel to Arizona. It's been to Sicily, Spain and Switzerland with me. Rachel returned it at Christmas once she'd acquired a replacement Mac. It runs on mains as the battery is dead, but it too runs sweetly. It wouldn't connect in Marion's place either, but when we went to the communal area, it did. Being so much smaller, it occupied less space on Marion's small desk. I created a User area for her and deleted old data, packed the big laptop to take home, leaving Marion with a big grin and a learning curve ahead of her. There are other Windows users among her neighbours who can help if she has problems, so I don't expect too many tech support phone calls.

We then drove to Southmead to see Amanda and James. When he and I were chatting he told me that his five year old Sony laptop, whose broken screen I'd replaced two years ago, had a broken screen once more. He also told me that he was getting curious about learning Linux, which is what I'd expect eventually from a lad doing computer studies in HE College. The big 15" HP laptop was just perfect and at the right moment. His main use of his Sony laptop was skyping friends while gaming on-line. I showed him how to access the package manager, download and install Skype for Linux, and set him off on a new learning curve, which will fit in well with what he's presently engaged with.

I returned home, feeling that that I'd made progress in returning working old machines to useful service. I have one more to off-load, another HP laptop, nine years old, slow but still running Linux a lot faster than it ever ran Windows XP. I should find a home for this one too.

Thursday was less eventful. A visit to the office to prepare and upload material to the DISC database, then a conversation with Ashley, continued later in a phone call, all about the next stage in planning CBS finances. The outcome of this was several hours spent drafting a new policy document, and bed after midnight, though not before I'd taken a picture of the waning moon with my recently acquired second hand Minolta 'beer can' lens, leaning out of the spare bedroom window in the freezing cold. I couldn't think of a better antidote to the effect of spending hours staring at a small screen.

Oh dear, I'm becoming a moon bore.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Capital Outing

Yesterday was unremarkable, just the usual routines of food shopping, a trip to the office to work on some outstanding documents, plus the acquisition of a Tesco Mobile PAYG SIM card for my sister's new phone. It was another cold clear night, with a bright almost full moon that tempted me outdoors trying to get pictures of the almost full moon with a halo and Venus nearby.
When I checked EarthSky, one of the astronomy websites I googled to fnd out about what planets are visible tonight, I discovered no fewer than five planets are visible at the same time this month.

This morning I caught the nine fifteen coach to London, for the preview of old friend Greg Tricker's new exhibition of paintings meditating on Cetic stories, partly myth and legend, partly hagiography, about St Bride, possibly aka St Brigid at the Piano Nobile gallery in Holland Park. As this wasn't to open until the evening, I had plenty of time to visit my sister and deliver her new phone. It turned out that she had an unmissable hospital appointment, so all I could do was use the front door key she gave me ages ago to let myself into the house lobby, and leave the package in her mailbox.

I returned to Victoria, and walked from there down to Westminster bridge, calling in briefly at the diocesan office in Tufton Street to pick up a copy of the current prayer calendar. I took pictures of the statuary in Parliament Square and Whitehall, including the new memorial honouring the women who served in the world wars. A nice piece of work, even if it did require a change of culture and ethos to shape the consensus behind its commissioning.

I had a cup of coffee in Methodist Central Hall, and also visited Westminster Cathedral, to enjoy this great sacred space. After spending time in Spain visiting wonderful church buildings I feel as if I have an extra layer of familiarity with Catholic churches are those who frequent them. Westminster Cathedral is quite an unique building, a Victorian edifice in the Byzantine rather than Gothic manner. It's quite reserved in decoration, yet gives you the same sense as being in an ancient Italian or Sicilan basilica. A wonderful place for liturgy too, but the lunchtime mass was over long before I got there.

An a whim, instead of taking the bus or the Tube to Holland Park, I walked to Pall Mall, then across  Hyde Park towards Notting Hill as the sun was setting. There seemed to be more wild geese foraging than people, and the people were mostly cycling or running, at the end of their working days I guess. It started to rain as I neared my destination so I took refuge in a book shop until it was time for the opening of the exhibition. Greg was there, looking stylish and delighted to greet friends and clientele turning up as invited guests. Bishop Richard Harries was one of them and he gave a brief introductory speech before Greg spoke. Last year Richard Harries produced a book called 'Images of Christ in Modern Art' and Greg is one of the artists whose work he writes about.

I love Greg's work. It embraces a richness of colour and simplicity of form. His human figures are sparsely drawn, though never abstract or fragmented. The eyes are like those in a Byzantine icon which look at you, yet gaze beyond you at the same time in way that is most moving.
You could imagine yourself standing there within the picture, in them or with the subject portrayed, You too could look upon the infinite and live. In this sense, his works are aids to contemplation rooted in classic incarnational spirituality.

The subject of his paintings is often set alone in a minimal landscape or else in a domestic scene like a hearth, a cowshed or a village street among companions. His use of colours, one moment bright and intense the next ethereal and subtle, is what gives each work its uniqueness, conveying a mood or feeling of awe and wonder. 

I've seen hundreds of his works of art over the years, and there's a similarity, in the imagery and symbols he makes use of. It seems to me a self imposed limitation of form, in the same way that the Byzantine iconogaphist constrains subject matter and content. But rather than producing icons that all have a similar appearance and hue, if not content, Greg's exploration of his chosen range of materials takes place primarily through his varied use of colour, texture and surfaces painted upon. This very vibrancy of expression fuels meditation on the image and its meaning.

This is his seventh exhibition at Piano-Nobile. I think I've seen four of his, three here and one in Gloucester Cathedral. He's also exhibited in Peterborough, Salisbury, Westminster and Rheims Cathedrals. The coach back home left a nine, and the M4 was bathed in the light of the full moon as we headed for the Severn Bridge and returned to Wales. It was quarter to one by the time I'd walked the last mile through empty streets and reached the house, sore footed, having walked seven more or more earlier in the day. But, it was well worth a wintry outing to London to see the continued flourishing of an old friend's mystical creativity.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Candlemass weekend

We went to St Catherine's for the Family Eucharist and Christingle service to celebrate Candlemass. Children made and distributed the Christingle oranges, lit during the talk after the Gospel but they  seemed detached in the 'childrens area' of the north aisle, on the edge of the usual choral service. Much work goes into preparing events like this, but to my mind they don't quite succeed in achieving their objective. Revision of liturgical texts and music is not enough. The shape of the environment where the 'family' of the church assembles for worship also matters. Holding the liturgy of the Word in a social space more amenable to informality, then moving to the sanctuary to pray around the Lord's table might work, but can be hard to manage with a large congregation. What can be easy to achieve in a modern multi-purpose church centre or a huge minster, can be hard to do satisfactorily in a Victorian legacy building.

We walked to the Riverside market after the service, enjoying the sunshine, though it was chilly, and I only really warmed up by the end of the return trip. We went out again for another walk after lunch, across Llandaff Fields to the Cathedral for Evensong, attracted by the prospect of Candlemass Eve music. We were not disappointed. Straight after the service, a baptism party arrived, the seventh liturgical engagement of the day for the clergy and staff. 

It's much harder to make baptism a regular part of a Cathedral service as happens in many parishes. There's such a tight Sunday schedule and big congregations. Occasional offices are attended by many people who would never normally attend a church service. This carries particular challenges for the conduct of a relevant, dignified ritual that parents and other family members will find meaningful. 

As we climbed the hill from the Cathedral to Llandaff village to have tea at Jaspers, a car pulled up and a young man man got out, looked around and asked "Where's the Cathedral?" It would be unfair to allege this is symptomatic of a poor church public profile when we've raised several generations of people biblically illiterate and ignorant about the church and its historic relationship to culture and community. 

In a world daily bombarded with all that's new, it's not hard to overlook what's always been there. I recall from my time at St John's occasions when elderly Cardiffians came in, declaring that they'd shopped in the market opposite all their lives and never set foot in the church before. It points out the importance of the ministry of welcome, and being open to every opportunity to make places of worship friendly and accessible in communicating their purpose and meaning to the world. I still wonder what I could have done better.