Sunday, 29 March 2015

Summer time starts

Over the last three days Clare has been making steady progress and getting used to coping with her immobilised shoulder. The pain hasn't been too bad, but the anaesthetic after effects have been quite unpleasant - nausea, dizziness, fatigue - and we get the impression this could go on for some while. We've gone out for a short walk each day to get some fresh air, longer each time. Exercise makes all the difference. There have been emails, texts and phone calls to take her mind off the symptoms, not to mention the challenge of one handed typing.

Allan and Lynne visited yesterday afternoon and Lynne took charge of changing her wound dressing. It all looks good and healthy, testimony to the care taken by the surgical team. Owain came over from Bristol for a couple of hours in the evening, with a large bunch of flowers to cheer his mum. 

As I've also been feeling quite tired with extra tasks to perform, I made a point of putting the clocks forward in the early evening, rather than wait until it's my usual bed time, and end up losing an hour's sleep. It worked quite well, and I woke up more refreshed than I usually do on this particular weekend when summer time begins.

Clare didn't feel well enough to come so I went to church on my own, joining a congregation of over a hundred at St Luke's for the united Benefice service of the day. It was great to see so many children there with their parents, and to see two other retired clerics who help out in the parish, sitting in the congregation. The day was overcast. It rained and as a strong wind gusted, the usual procession from the hall next door, up the street and back to church was exchanged for an indoor circuit - the first time in his sixteen years as Vicar, said Fr Mark. Throughout the reading of St Mark's Passion, the ominous rumble of distant thunder could be heard. A sobering start to Semana Santa Cardiff.

Thinking of which, a brief search provided me with a link to the live broadcast stream of tonight's processions in Malaga courtesy of Onda Azul Malaga. Clare thinks I'm obsessional, but for the sight of all those people participating in such a massive and well organised social religious ritual is really inspirational. I can't be there now as I was last year, popping into the city on a crowded train at the end of a day's work, but I can do now what I discovered that I could do then, and watch on-screen whenever a visit was impracticable. Ah the marvels of modern technology!

Here's the link to the stream

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Surgical success so far

After I'd finished writing last night, I scanned my Twitter account before turning in, and found the first chilling report of the German Wings Airbus 320 black box voice record, indicating that one of the pilots had been locked out of the cockpit as the descent of the aircraft began. So unless the pilot locked in way unconscious or incapacitated, the crash was due to malicious intent. But what sort of malice? I fretted as I tried to sleep, thinking about the ramifications of discovering that the pilot was a secret jihadi, much more far reaching than if he was a loner, minded to do evil. What would morning bring? 

Well, morning meant another early rise and a trip to Llandough Hospital with Clare by seven for her shoulder repair job. I learned from the seven o'clock TV news as we arrived at the surgical unit reception area, that the pilot who locked himself in the cockpit  and caused the death of 149 others as well as his own, was a young German. It was a terrible kind of relief. It could have been even worse than it already is, if he'd been a non European or had an Arabic name. There'll be a lot more to come out regarding his motives in due course, and much breast beating. How could no-one have noticed his state of mind? etc etc.

For Clare it was third time lucky. Infection free, and no urgent jobs to push her back down the list, so we parted company just after eight. I recognised her surgeon Alex Roberts entering as I was leaving. I doubt if he recognised me, but I was pleased to know he'd arrived to get on with the job that his team were preparing for him to do and I wished him a good day in my heart. I killed time, going home, having lunch, returning to the hospital to check when I couldn't get through on the phone. By one she was out of theater and in the recovery ward, so I went for a drive to kill time until she was ready to go home, and by five I was cooking her a post-op meal.

Learning to cope with many routine everyday tasks with one shoulder bound up and an arm bound in a protective sling is all going to take her a good deal of time to get used to. There are all sorts of tasks I can do, but many essential ones which she must master left handed to be able to support herself and her recovery as best as possible.  By bed time she was already commenting critically on the clarity of the instruction leaflet provided by the surgical time. She's good at making better sense of things, so I imagine a re-write will be offered to them in appreciation of their excellent care.

The surgeon declared that her shoulder internally was 'a right mess', but that he'd been able to effect all the repairs he'd intended to carry out. She and he agreed that in the end it was a very good thing she'd persisted with the operation, even at a later stage than desirable for best effect. As Clare is pretty fit, recovery and rehabilitation, although demanding on her should be fairly straightforward. Altogether, well worth the risk. 

Before keyhole surgical technology, an operation like this would have had far more impact, and involved a week if not longer stay in hospital. To be in an out in half a day, able to recover in the comfort and security of one's own home is an amazing kind of progress. Yesterday I was listening to a radio programme about health service statistics, attempting to explain how the NHS got so much more done with fewer beds, and despite complaints about empty and closed wards which seem to beset the service in some places, the fact that in some areas beds are averagely occupied more than 100% a day. It's not damned lies type statistics, but an abstraction of the reality into numbers. There will be surgery days, when two patients will have keyhole procedures and recover using the same bed within the 24 hour defined period, so efficient is the use of resources. 

You only realise how impressive it is when you have the direct experience for yourself.


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Annunciation licensing at Llancarfan

For the second day running, yesterday I had a Eucharist in the morning at Saint Augustine's Penarth, followed by funeral at St David's Ely with burial at Western cemetery. A smaller and humbler affair today. In the evening I drove out to join colleagues and congregation at Llancarfan for the licensing of Fr Derek Belcher as the new priest in charge of three rural parishes, part of the South Vale group, that stretches down to Rhoose on the coast. 

The village was crowded with parked cars, and the beautifully floodlit church was full. Archbishop Barry preached well, reflecting on the power of words, a subject dear to my heart. A somewhat different order of service was used for the occasion, focussing as much on the dedication of God's people to be the church in mission in their local community. It used the 'Seven Sacred Spaces' typology drawing on imagery taken from monastic foundations, quite appropriate in this context, as Llancarfan was one of the early Celtic monastic centres of learning in Wales in the sixth century. This uses seven key places and words associated with them:

The Cell - place of personal Prayer
The Chapel - place of common Worship
The Chapter - place of Decision making
The Cloister - place of Meeting
The Garden - place of Work
The Refectory  - place of Sharing (hospitality)
The Library - place of Study

It's an appealing and commendable way of thinking about the nature of the church, what it is and what it does. It does however leave me with some measure of disquiet. There are at least two other important places in any monastic domain, which say a great deal about the nature of any and every Christian enterprise. The ones of most concern to me are

The Infirmary - place of healing. I think this speaks for itself.
The Workshop - where 'laborare est orare' (as St Benedict says), where wood may be fashioned into furniture, clay into pots, iron forged, chemicals refined for other uses, literature printed, icons painted, foodstuffs prepared and preserved, not to mention the digital modern equivalents.

Yes, the Garden is delineated as the place of work. Agriculture/husbandry are both important dimensions of human labour, albeit in partnership with God, who does the hard part, creating the environment and making things grow. Sure we intervene and tweak things creatively to improve productivity, but God gives the increase. The Workshop is a place where things are made from raw materials by human imagination and effort. Not to celebrate this dimension of the life of the church, let alone every individual member playing their part in the current labour market, (however they do that), I believe is a mistake, in a scheme that claims to represent all the endeavours of Christian discipleship.

It was in church, staring us in the face there. Mediaeval frescoes on the south west aisle wall, currently covered in scaffolding while conservation work is carried out on such historic treasures. It's not gardening! In fact, more of an effort to minimise intrusion by elements that could grow on those precious surfaces and further damage their content. That's a special form of creative labour, that might have offered a clue to the importance of presenting 'work' as an expression of what as Christians we're called to value most.

Oh yes, talking of sacred spaces, I didn't mention the kitchen, a sacred space for mission, where transmission of hospitable culture begins with creativity, equal to the role of the refectory in its significance. And what about the cemetery? Place of remembering past dimensions of community, and through its many messages, a place of comfort and reassurance for the future. How can we live and serve as witnesses of Christ, as if we existed without eternal hope?

It doesn't alliterate quite so well, but I'd rather settle for eleven sacred spaces ...

I can see it's more unwieldy to stretch the number of reflection and decision points by another four items, but undervaluing elements of life as disciples of Christ in mission could be misleading, or unintentionally make the enterprise seem less holistic than it is really meant to be.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A coincidence, a funeral and a tragedy

I celebrated the Eucharist at St James' Taff's Well this morning. We used the Church in Wales 1984 Prayer Book readings for Passion Sunday, which included the passage from 2 Corinthians 4 which begins  

"For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake." (2 Cor 4:5)

What a co-incidence! The first time I ever preached at St James, I was a student at St Michael's in 1968. This chapter was the second lesson at Evensong, and this was the text I quoted to begin my journey as a preacher. I enjoyed telling this to the congregation of nearly a dozen. I kept the sermon in my box of type-written texts for many years, until Clare was on a clearance mission prior to having loft insulation installed. I looked at some of my efforts, and found them rather embarrassing to read twenty odd years down the line. As by that time I'd started storing digital texts, I ditched all of them. But I do recall seeing the paper version of my first one, although not its content. Perhaps just as well. 

I returned home for lunch and was then picked up and delivered to St David's Ely to officiate at a funeral. One of West Cardiff's West Indian matriarchs had died, a grand lady from St Kitts, and the church was full, by her own daughter's reckoning, half of them were her descendents. She was buried in an American style casket, quite unusual for these parts in my experience. After the committal to a grave in Western Cemetery, a crew of mostly West Indian men got out their shovels and spades and filled in the grave in customary manner. As someone observed, the older rather than the younger men performed this ritual. I wondered why, but felt unable to ask.

News of the German Wings Airbus 320 crash with loss of 150 lives in the French Alps Maritime had just started to arrive before lunch. My funeral chauffeur used to be a commercial pilot, and so it was natural to discuss this en route. He agreed with media experts on how safe Airbuses are to fly, and how if need be, they can fly up to two hundred miles from altitude, gliding with little or no engine power by virtue of their design. In the absence of an explosion or decompression taking out the pilots, such a rapid descent would be hard to explain - unless it was a suicidal pilot act - he said grimly. This has happened in the past. Until 'black boxes' are retrieved and decoded, nothing can be known. It's going to be a worrying wait for thousands in the travel industry, as well as travellers. The whole world needs to know what happened, and given the problems to be faced in retrieving the wreckage, this may take some time. Meanwhile, all we can do is pray for the victims and those left behind.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Countryside discovery

We walked into town yesterday morning to buy some cushions at John Lewis. Clare found material to match the new front room curtains, and has been busy sewing covers this past few days. The result is pleasing to the eye. In the afternoon we walked our usual route across to Blackweir bridge into Bute Park for a cup of tea at Ty Haf before returning home. Then I drove out to Ely for a bereavement visit and prepare with the family the funeral service I'll be taking on Tuesday, one of two  I'll be taking this coming week.

This morning I drove to Llantriddyd church to celebrate the Eucharist. It's the first time in a month I've had Sunday duties to perform. Last time I was here, the snowdrops and crocuses were out. This time the churchyard was a sea of daffodils and primroses. There was a new grave too, the orgnist's husband having died and buried there recently. Bravely philosophically, she was back at the organ console about her normal duties, surrounded by caring loving friends and fellow worshippers.There was a congregation of twenty, quite remarkable for a small country church which isn't in a village.

From Llantriddyd I drove along the ridge road to Llancarfan for the second Eucharist of the morning, where the church is in the middle the village. There was a congregation of just a dozen. It's a church in which some mediaeval frescoes have been recovered from beneath layers of whitewash on the wall of the south aisle. There's scaffolding in place at the moment as conservation work is in progress. It's rather a nuisance, given that Fr Derek Belcher's induction service will take place here on Wednesday evening. The building is however more than double the size of Llantriddyd with a broad central aisle and choir, revealing its monastic past. As early as 650AD, St Cadoc founded the first monastery here. The centre of learning he established didn't survive the Norman invasion, but the church was rebuilt around 1200AD. It has few stained glass windows, so Spring sunshine lit the sanctuary and gave an added measure of serenity to the occasion.

Not knowing the area very well, I drove back by a different route south towards Barry, to explore the countryside, along lanes both broad and narrow lines with well trimmed hedges. The occasional view over a ridge revealed a rolling wrinkled landscape of small wooded valleys with upland fields of open pasture and occasional houses, all well spread out. The villages are tucked into the valleys, not easily visible from above, so it give the impression of being a slightly remote area, hidden behind the coastal plain of the Severn estuary, more so than the broader expanse of the Central and Western parts of the Vale of Glamorgan.  Once I found a main road back into Cardiff, I was surprised at how much traffic there was for a Sunday lunch time, and the last part of the journey home took me longer than expected, after those quiet country roads.

We went for another stroll around Thompson's Park in the afternoon, enjoying the lengthening hours of daylight and sunshine. The magnolia tree by the pond is now revealing its glorious blossom in the most exotic of colours.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Solar eclipse and tribute to an old friend

I woke up early to a bright sunny day, and joined the nation, waiting to see the promised eclipse of the sun. The media reportage was a little incohate, in that one was left with the impression it started all over Britain around twenty past eight. In Cardiff it started around twenty past nine. Both are true, if you're listening and watching the skies out in the Orkneys, the moon will be seen to pass that much earlier in front of the sun. But this point was not re-iterated clearly enough. 

Anyway, the sun rose in a cloudless sky, and best way I could find to view it was to dig out a strip of photo negative with a completely darkened frame at the end, and use just one eye. It worked fine, but best of all, I found that holding it up in front of a camera to take a picture also worked with a little practice and a lot of luck. This was my best shot, not long before maximum cover was reached, and the air noticeably chilled for a few minutes.
Several neighbours were out in their gardens watching, and discussing quietly what they were seeing. Then, just as the eclipse was ending, I received a phone call from Cocqueline Bell, daughter of my old friend Michael Bell from Geneva days, who died aged 90 in France-voisine last weekend. She asked if I could attend his funeral next Tuesday in Holy Trinity Geneva and speak about him. Such an honour to be asked, but impossible to do, as next week I'm already booked to do a Mass and a funeral on both Tuesday and Wednesday. But I promised that I'd write something for the occasion. 

This I was able to do before going into the CBS office for the afternoon. It was a pleasant task, as I had lovely memories of discussions with Michael, also waiting on school dinner tables with the Geneva Cuisine Scholaire, officiating at his marriage (aged 80) to his second wife Barbara, plus some lovely meals and lively conversation, fuelled by a variety of the best French wines available at any price, low or high. He was a conoisseur of value as well as taste, as buyer for a local wine buffs' co-operative organised by international civil servants.

The evening edition of 'Stargazing Live', with its images of the sun taken at different light wavelengths, as well as of the eclipse itself was an absorbing watch. Little time-lapse videos and still pictures of the moon's shadow crossing the planet, as seen from the space station were shown, most impressive.

The detailed composite image of the Orion constellation produced since yesterday's programme was also revealed. One of the presenters pointed out that every pixel of recorded light, received from the 75,000 photos received contributed to building the big picture, no matter how humble the equipment used. Prof Stephen Hawking contributed an image. They showed a photo of him at home with his telescope, a nice touch.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Happy encounters

Clare should have had her operation today, but postponement until next week means normal routine continues, and there are still office tasks to complete to ensure I can continue to do a few things from home that others won't need to pick up or worry about. On the way into the office I was greeted on St Mary Street by a Zimbabwean man who attended St John's when I was there. He was a refugee from the Mugabe regime who had a road accident and lost his memory, compounding his many problems. 

During the period when his identity and right to stay in Britain was being established, he was homeless and living on the streets, but still attended church, grateful for the fellowship and after service refreshments. Now he's settled with a room of his own in a community, possibly some kind of sheltered accommodation, although he didn't explain where. His English is limited, and I suspect he still suffers from those injuries of some seven years ago. He was cheerful, clean, well dressed, and remembered my name. Such a pleasant surprise.

On the way home, going in the reverse direction up St Mary Street, I bumped into Glenys and Bethan her grand daughter, lifelong St John's attenders, whom I haven't seen for eighteen months. Although I work next door to St John's I seldom have time or opportunity to go in there and meet people these days. I'd like to do that when I have a duty-free Sunday.

My attention was grabbed during an evening of otherwise dull and repetitive TV offerings by the BBC 2 Stargazing Live 2015 programme with Brian Cox and Dara O'Brien. It's like one of those 'Springwatch' natural history programmes that also make the most of the opportunity to open the eyes of TV watchers in a new way. It was superbly interesting and entertaining, and covered several astronomical subjects of current interest with enthusiasm and great clarity - a wonderful showcase for modern scientific adventures. It was as engaging a programme as editions of 'Tomorrow's World' were when I was a teenager.

I was taken with the appeal to viewers to send in digital photos of the constellation of Orion, which would then be processed using advanced photo stacking software into a composite hi-def image of that region of stars, to see what new information could be gleaned from the result. I remember Peter Hammond at St Andrews Fuengirola telling me about his use of photo stacking software to produce a quality image of the moon and Saturn, but crowd sourcing image data from TV viewers takes this concept to a completely different level. Must watch again tomorrow night, post eclipse.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Painful slip

I drove to Penarth again this morning to celebrate the Eucharist at St Augustine's for sixteen people. The Ignatian meditation group was meeting at Diana's at noon, so I got back in good time to attend and stay for lunch. Straight after this I walked to St Catherine's to officiate at a funeral service, followed by burial in Western cemetery. 

At the graveside an unusually heavy coffin needed all the strength of six bearers to negotiate a way over uneven ground and then into its just wide enough destination. Even so, two lost control of the webbing straps used for lowering into the grave, just at the end. It was hardly noticeable, but I got the impression that a couple of men came away with injuries. As is habitual, no interruption or fuss was made to distress mourners. It illustrates another aspect of the respect and consideration ordinary folk can show for each other in tough times.

I've been asked to stand in for two funerals next week, and two weekday Eucharists. I was asked for a couple other other services but had to say sorry, already taken. It doesn't happen all that often that I'm so busy these days, but it only takes a clergy illness, an interregnum or two, coupled with an unusual spike in the expected number of deaths, for the reduced number of working clergy to be left struggling to cope. Glad I'm fit and able to help.

I had an email this evening about a wedding blessing I'm tasked with performing in Nerja for a couple from Norway. It will be bi-lingual, English-Norwegian, one of ten lined up for me to do during my three month stay there.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Nothing is quite straightforward

Yesterday, CBS held a long awaited meeting to appoint a Business Crime Reduction Partnership Board Chair to carry the work forward. We set dates for its next meeting and for a stakeholder general meeting, neither of which I am going to be around to take part in, which is a pity, as I've overseen all the process from revising to constitution through to arranging meetings that never quite worked to allow us to make progress. Now I feel like the midwife who has to stop work because she's done her shift, but the labour is not complete and the baby still not delivered. Ah well, you do what you can.

I'm still having a lot of problems linking our domain names with the Google Sites servers, which for no sensible reason is still not recognising all our Welsh top level domain names. A price to be paid perhaps for being an early adopter.

Today, in preparation for her forthcoming shoulder op call the surgeon's secretary only to be told that it has to be postponed for a week due to recent an influx of urgent cases. We weren't prepared for this or its consquences. For several different reasons it's already two months overdue. With the passage of time the chances of success diminish. Will it be worth all the pain and hassle eventually?

I had an email from Peter in Fuengirola to say that Linda's hip replacement surgery had gone well. It was a frustratingly painful and long time coming for her. How she survived the year long interregnum as church warden and reader is a testimony to her courage and stubborn determination not to shirk her responsibilities in seeing an appointment made and everything running smooothly ad interim. Their new chaplain started last month, and only last week came news of an surgery date. A goodly period of rest and rehab will do her a world of good.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Refreshment Sunday

Neither Clare nor I felt up to the expected over domestication of mid Lent Sunday services, so we got up early and went to the eight o'clock at St Catherine's. While Clare went to the market, I walked to the Cathedral for the eleven o'clock Sung Eucharist, once more against the tidal flow of organised fun-runners. I was hoping to find the main Common Lectionary readings and themes were followed and not the 'pastoral' alternatives and wasn't disappointed. 

Haydn's Organ Mass was sung, Dean Gerwyn preached a well crafted poetic sermon on the Cross, referring to a couple of personal stories in a way that pointed to his theme, not to himself. There was a ceremony to clothe two new chorister, and commission two new choir leaders. The nave was fuller than my last visit, and I came away feeling quite uplifted and happy, strolling home in the sunshine. To cap it all, Owain cooked lunch for us, and we had a good chat before he left for Bristol and an early night before starting his new job tomorrow.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Skylarks on the Garth

Both Clare and I woke up earlier than usual for a Saturday morning, and decided to go out for a walk soon after breakfast. We drove up to Pentyrch and thence to the Garth, where it was less overcast than in town, just misty, and pretty cold out on the exposed hillside in the wind, but dry under foot. Later in the day when browsing to find out the age of the burial mound on top (4,000 years), I learned that that the Garth inspired the novel made into a film called 'The Englishman who went up a hill and came down a mountain', by local writer Christopher Monger, where it's called 'Ffynnon Garw'.

We heard our first skylarks of the year, a mating pair too. I got lucky with a photograph of one on the ground, and one in the air too, although this was not as detailed as I hoped for.
It was too chilly to stay out for long, so after a brisk walk we drove down to Llanerch Vineyard to have a very pleasant lunch. It was an occasion when several families were out together enjoying a 'Mother's Day' (as media and marketing now calls it) meal together. There were few voices to be heard without that distinctive mid-Glamorganshire accent of local ordinary people of the southern Valleys and Vale of Glamorgan. What I was brought up with. For me it added a little extra flavour to the occasion, as accents to be heard in Cardiff, not to mention languages (mainly Spanish and Welsh) apart from English, are quite different, whether demotic or educated in manner.

We went straight home after and slept away the afternoon to compensate for early rising. Then Owain arrived, fresh from the Wales-Ireland rugby game - he'd acquired a ticket at the eleventh hour, and was glad to have witnessed a splendid victory. He now wants to be coached in singing 'Mae hen wlad fy nhadau.' for the next time he goes. Kath texted me yesterday asking if I'd buy some flowers for Clare on her behalf, as we won't be seeing her tomorrow. Owain kindly did the errand for me when he went out to get her some flowers and a few goodies for supper. He cooked for us before going out to 'Ten Feet Tall / Undertone, the club in Church Street where he's dee-jaying tonight in support of someone called Mr Beatnick from London. He starts his new job on Monday, and wonders how long it will take him to get back into the routine of early starts, after a pleasant layoff of six weeks.

The BBC reported the unveiling of Ghandi's statue in a ceremony at Parliament Square this morning.
That's ol' Abe Lincoln in the background. I look forward to take a few photos of my own in due course, if sister June doesn't beat me to it.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Parliament Square's new arrival

Good news on the Today programme this morning. A statue of Mahatma Ghandi for Parliament Square in London. He's been one of my spiritual heroes since I was young and idealistic about changing the world. His way of non-violent action spoke so clearly of the alternative way of life that many of us were seeking albeit never quite finding. Just six weeks ago I was photographing all the statues in Parliament Square of political men that shaped the 19th and 20th centuries, effectively by force, whether this was a means they desired to use or not. Nelson Mandela was the newest addition to the Square, on the corner nearest Westminster Abbey and Methodist Central Hall. 

Where will they put Ghandiji? I started wondering. The BBC news page gave a picture of the statue being moved into place. Then I looked at my photos and identified the statue in the background as that of Benjamin Disraeli, clad in his finery as first Earl of Beaconsfield. Somewhat in contrast to the scantily clad Mahatma, portrayed as he was when staying among London's poor in 1931. Then I remembered seeing workmen re-fashioning a section of pavement in front of Disraeli. Not repairs, but rather creating a plinth for the nine foot bronze soon to be unveiled.

It's ironic that among many honoured statesmen and warriors there's now place for a non violent political activist. As he's dead and out of the way, it's not such a challenge to the status quo to include him. It can be regarded as a sign of our post-colonial liberalism as a nation. Most Brits are reconciled to loss of Empire, and no longer want the troubles that went with it. But as racism, xenophobia, poverty gap and other signs of social dysfunction still persist, it seems little was learned from Ghandi's life by the very establishment that has found a place for him in the bronze pantheon of Parliament square. Thankfully, many ordinary folk have learned the power of his methods of persuasion and this will continue to be an influence on politics in times to come.

On the way into work, I visited various photographic shops with the mounting device from the top of an old tripod in hand, to see if I could buy a replacement for the missing block that screws to the bottom of the camera. Two shops had none, Cameraland had a variety of the part for different tripod makes that I was hunting for, but none of them fitted. The tripod us useless without one, and this tripod is unusually lightweight. It also bears no brand name to help with a web search for the component. Disappointing.

I spent the afternoon preparing copies of documents for Monday's BCRP Board meeting, kick-starting a process that stalled last July in a meeting I didn't attend as I was out of the country. Top public service management types over the years have made much fuss about the absence of a working Board, but have done nothing to help make it happen. We survived and did the right thing without the support of a Board so far, but as everything now runs successfully, the effort must be made. CBS takes the lead, as I believe it's obliged to under the bizarre circumstances in which it was set up with a serious lack of interest or support from its key stakeholders. Problem is, everyone wants something for nothing, for little or no effort at all. Heaven help anyone who moans or criticises now!

I sneaked a look at our new website addresses and found they are not yet redirecting to our pages, so I must have done something wrong - but what? That's the problem. It's really too complex and jargon laden for me these days.

Thursday, 12 March 2015


This afternoon in the office I finally had time to finish the task of getting our new domain names verified for linkage with the two Google based websites I run for work purposes. It was a fiddly process, which took an age to figure out how to do with the help of the Cymru Domain Name service support guy, and I still made mistakes. It's not an easy process for anyone not fully versed in the jargon and routines required to make these things work, and they take a certain time to activate before they will work. 

I understand this level of scrupulosity is required to ensure nobody can misuse or otherwise hijack a domain name, but I don't have sufficient zeal or patience for the performance these days. I have a job convincing myself that such effort really matters to me any more. I've done it in the past, I have nothing to prove to myself or anyone else. Right now I feel too apprehensive to check if domain configuration has worked because if they don't, finding out where the error is will mean more bewilderment and time consumed on my part.

Consolation of the day, my clearance certificate arrived from the Disclosure and Barring service, which leads to an extension of my Europe diocesan Permission to Officiate for a further five years, in good time for my next spell in Nerja.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Letter from Romania

This morning a surprise letter arrived in the post from my Romanian doctor friend, Laura Ciobanu, announcing that she'll soon be visiting Cardiff again. Her message was written inside this card.
'Martie' is Romanian for March. In this month, the little painted chalk butterfly is meant to be hung on the first blossoming tree in one's garden, then brought indoors to bring Spring blessings in with it.  Such a delightful thought. The rosemary's been soldiering on all winter with some little blue flowers. We have a few buds, but it will be a few weeks before the apple blossom appears on our tiny tree. Let's hope most of it doesn't get swept away by the wind this year as happened last.

This afternoon we had a long and difficult meeting with representatives of other Business Crime Reduction Partnerships in South Wales. I was pretty tired when I got home, but cheered myself up reflecting on the season of Spring in scripture and writing it into my Lenten blog.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Information age issues

Yesterday morning, an email arrived saying that my verified identity documents had been received by diocese in Europe child protection officer, and that now I could complete the application on-line, through the Churches Agency for Safeguarding website, something of a change from the last time I applied five years ago. Thankfully, the process was simple and user friendly, and ended with a confirmation of reception registration number, allowing the enquiry to be tracked if needs be.

In the morning post was a set of application forms for the Church in Wales CRB check. The older paper process is still used by the Provincial child protection office. I believe the reason for this isn't that the Church is Wales lags behind in technological labour saving devices, but because the automated enquiry cannot be carried out in Welsh - something I noticed when I logged into the CAS website. A bilingual church has its own values and priorities to maintain, and this may require a different way of engaging with a necessary process.

I wrote in my Lenten blog on Sunday on clouds in scripture, and the contrast between the image of the 'cloud of unknowing' reflecting the common experience of how cloud obscures all we think we know, and the marketing image of the internet Cloud as the ultimate receptacle of information and knowledge. Such a remarkable change has occurred since I retired. The user friendliness of interactive services delivered by the internet has improved vastly, shopping, banking, video and audio entertainment, travel booking, tax payment, CRB checks increasingly 'just work'. 

Personal productivity tools which were once a necessity on everyone's PC can now be used freely from the internet, courtesy of Microsoft One Drive or Google Drive and other services providing data storage and apps. All depends upon having an internet connection and a device that can be used for access, and that's a different story to what it was a few years ago, with phones and tablets now as powerful as a desktop machine, albeit, not quite so easy as a proper sized physical keyboard. But, there are still limitations, not least confidence in the continuity of this vast and elaborate electronic construct.

While writing this my internet connection, twice as fast as when I retired, and still the cheapest offer from TalkTalk has temporarily disconnected half a dozen times, and then stalled the router altogether. Using my Chromebook on this occasion resulted in losing the final part of my text. Despite caution in copying and saving before rebooting stalled router and Chromebook, the fully saved text was nowhere to be found, and the internal SSD is certainly not full. It a clever Cloud device, but not that clever. I'm not clever for trusting it, knowing how flaky my connection can be.

Admittedly, much more is required of our channel of communication to the internet now than three years ago. Three computers, two tablets, three smartphones, the phone signal booster, and the YouView internet TV box could occasionally all be running at the same time, and their connected data streams competing to communicate with the world outside the house.

It's not long since we had only a third of that number of devices connected. That's bound to make a difference. However much basic and essential service capacity is improved, however much we benefit from them, it's likely that demand will continue to outstrip supply. If I pay extra for a faster service, what guarantee will there be of improvement, as more devices are made requiring on-line access? Connectivity limitations have consequences for all development. It will remain a political, economic and social issue until the next paradigm shift in global communication occurs.

We're being warned that technological development has bred an obsolescence in hardware and storage media which puts at risk vast amounts of early digital data because it becomes unreadable, either due to deterioration of the media, or the breakdown of irreplaceable equipment used to read it. In addition to this is the long standing issue of file format incompatibility bred by unhealthy business competitiveness between software producers. Universally readable file formats are now becoming more widespread in their acceptance, but this can still be problematic for reading historic data and documents, so there is a double risk of loss.

Written information about life in ancient times exists because of the way records were kept. Although a great deal has undoubtedly been lost over millennia, new investigative material keeps on turning up. Thanks to forensic archaeological techniques more is discovered about our past. Understood better than ever today is how vital good data about anything is. Data retention needs future proofing, so that our generation aren't dubbed the problem ancestors who, despite themselves were careless about how they kept records. Thankfully, there is growing collaboration in the effort to find long term solutions to these problems, and hopefully the historic impulse to competitiveness can be be transformed into a desire to excel for the common good, if not for the glory of God.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Late under the cloud

I drove out to Cowbridge this morning to take part in Fr Derek Belcher's retirement celebration Mass in persistent rain under low cloud. There was a long delay getting through traffic lights at the Grand Avenue crossroads in Ely because there were roadworks in either direction and only one lane out of four was open. When I arrived, I had to park well away from Holy Cross Church, down in the cattle market. When I arrived, I was bewildered to find that the service was well under way and had just reached the sermon. I should have been there with five minutes to spare, except that I had failed to register that the usual service time had been advanced by half an hour. I slipped into a full church and crept to a seat at the back, feeling very ashamed of myself.

It was a cheerful celebration, with an appreciative tribute from Fr Martin Reynolds who preached and a final presentation to Derek and Pam, followed by a big buffet reception in church. They'll be living at Llancarfan Vicarage in a 'house for duty' ministry from now on, so Derek's remarkable gifts will not be lost to the wider church community in the dicoese. There were quite a number of retired clerics present, so there was an opportunity to greet several former colleagues before stepping out into the rain, and driving home for a lunch of fresh venison sausages and roasted veg, cooked by Owain. About three, the cloud began to lift and break up and the sun shone, day ending on a brighter note.

Now two and a half weeks into my Lenten blog, I spent the evening reflecting and writing on the role clouds in scripture. Even mostly sunny Israel/Palestine has its share of grim weather to mention. Also I paid my car tax for the year via the DVLA website. It's has a very clear and simple user interface, as is the driving license renewal page, which I did a month ago. Excellent no nonsense stuff. The Government may have problems about its IT strategy and expenditure in some sectors, but the DVLA certainly isn't part of that.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Thomspon's Park crocuses

Friday evening Owain came to stay for the weekend. He joined us for supper and catch-up on his news before going out to see his friends. He's quite buoyant at the moment, having landed another job that will see him through the rest of this year with a digital media company in Bristol. He spent last weekend in Berlin, making music and relaxing with friends there, making the most of his free time before starting the new job.

We each got up in stages and had a lazy late lunch together. He then went off to catch up with more friends, while Clare and I went for a stroll in Thompson's Park, to enjoy the amazing display of crocuses now at their best.
I don't recall seeing so widespread and dense a proliferation of crocus blooms in this park previously. I imagine it's due to weather conditions on this place at some particular time when the bulbs are reawakening and dividing.
Many parents with young children were also out enjoying this moment of early Spring. The park has some patches of narcissi too. 
In a month from now the dominant colour above grass will be no longer blue but the yellow of the larger daffodils. Always for me, the sign of Eastertide.

On the park keeper's lodge is a notice board with selection of postcards from the early 1900s and 1930s re-printed for display. There's also a printed extract from a reminiscence of the park on summer afternoons in its early decades, when benefactor Charles Thompson was still alive and used to ride through the park on a white horse. He gave Cae Syr Dafydd, as it was then called, to the City in 1891. Later the park was renamed in his honour.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Credential check time and Borsetshire flood crisis

A lovely sunny day today, slightly warmer, yet not a good one for me. I received an email from the Diocese in Europe child protection officer about renewing my safeguarding credentials with the CRB now re-branded as the DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service), as a precondition of retaining my Permission to Officiate in Europe. This runs out in six months time, when it'll be five years already since it was first issued and there's a small question to be resolved as to how eight months in Spain non-continuous residence in two different government regions should be properly accounted for in. It's not my problem it's a matter of getting the right advice from the bureaucracy and acting on it.

Well, I have six months to get it sorted out. On checking my personal documents I realised my Llandaff diocesan DBS also needs renewal, so I sent an email reminder to Glenda at the R.B. Cathedral Road office to set that process running too. Like a passport and a driving license, it's a necessity for anyone with a mobile ministry, and a matter of pride to keep it up do date.

As I was reading through the application papers and trying to fill them in, I was visited twice by a migraine aura which stopped me working temporarily. Fortunately it isn't followed by an awful headache. It was a nuisance, but also a bit worrying, as I've never had two in a day before, and it's unclear what triggers it. The conditions for generating an aura seem consistent. It only happens when there's bright direct morning light and the sun is low in the sky, and I'm wearing reading specs. Once it happened during a flight over the Alps. Is there something about the pattern of light being received which is causing the visual disturbance? Possibly light that's polarised in a way the eye isn't used to coping with? If it happens again soon, a visit to the opticians will be my next appointment. It left me feeling somewhat disconcerted and grumpy.

Father Mark dropped by after lunch and countersigned my identity documents, so that I could get them off in the evening mail. Then I went into the office and worked for several hours, until I'd had enough. On my way home I went into John Lewis', and received a phone call from Martin. We chatted for about twenty minutes, and then I went on the bargain trail, unsuccessfully, as usual. Then I realised it was dark outside. I had a longer than usual wait for a bus and a longer than usual ride home, as the traffic congestion was terrible, probably due to a traffic stopping bus fire on Western Avenue, I'd heard report of earlier in the office.

I was home an hour late for supper, and had to listen to a double episode of the Archers on Catch up, having missed two nights running. This week has been very interesting and dramatic, all about flooding in Borsetshire. The Archers BBC website has innovatively displayed fictional information about the breaking news of this weather crisis, cleverly crafted to fit together with the storyline since Monday. Nicely done. iPlayer keeps improving and the waiting time between broadcast and re-run is now down to about half an hour. Very creditable indeed. The BBC's on-demand services are worth the license fee in their own right.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A long day

I drove to Penarth this morning to celebrate the Eucharist at St Augustine's for a dozen people. Among the congregation were the previous Dean of Llandaff, John Lewis and his wife Cynthia, now living in retirement locally. Looking happy and relaxed, John said how much he was enjoying "Holy idleness". The church is an imposing edifice by architect William Butterfield, finished in 1866 beautifully decorated in red and yellow patterned brick. It replaced a smaller building of 12th century origin which had fallen into disrepair. We've been there for a concert, but this is the first time I've taken a service here, with three more Lenten Wednesdays to follow.

As today is my sister Pauline's 86th birthday, so I drove to Bleadon Hill outside Weston super Mare to see her in the afternoon. Our three hours of conversation was punctuated by phone calls from her six grandchildren, so it was a joyous time to be with her. Then I drove to Bristol to see Amanda in hospital again, and then called in on James before heading for home. It was ten o'clock before I ate my supper.

I was delighted to hear news from Peter Sedgwick about his wife Jan's 'Point of Light' award from the Prime Minister, honouring the work she's done over the past six years in her 'Making Music, Changing Lives' young peoples' music education project, part of her ministry as Vicar of 'the Res' in Ely. It's just amazing how it's grown, unlocking the talent and enhancing the lives of families in Cardiff West. There was a lovely photo of her at Number Ten on Twitter too. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Ystrad Mynach chapelry

Confirmation has arrived of the acquisition of all our new Welsh domain names for CBS and the Crime Reduction Partnership. Heaven knows when I'll have time to work out how to get them redirecting to the actual websites. The past couple of days have been busy at work, preparing new publications and dealing with difficulties that arise - and there's always something, whether new or recurring to deal with that knocks the routine sideways.

A visit to Currys PC World on the way to work today led to the purchase of a couple of re-chargeable PNY power supplies small enough to be used for topping up a mobile phone on the move. Ashley relies heavily on his mobile phone, fielding many service calls during the day and may not have time to re-charge before the evening. Keeping a device in another pocket which delivers three full phone charges before it needs charging itself is well worth having, in fact he needs several - one for home, and one each for day and night work stations.

An email from sister June asking me about chapels in our home town of Ystrad Mynach set me thinking, and then searching on the web. She remembered the names of three, and I recalled another four, plus an historic Baptist church in Cefn Hengoed, on the ridge above and outside the village. I missed one entirely, the Gospel Hall, as it wasn't marked on Google maps. I remember there being one, but not where it was, and assumed it had disappeared. Remarkably, all of these buildings, which were active in our youth sixty-seventy years ago, along with Holy Trinity Parish Church, are still open for worship.

This is in stark contrast to many other Valleys towns of similar size, with many more chapels built in the era when coal was king. Where there might once have been a dozen, there's now but a half or a third still in use. I don't think Ystrad Mynach has any history of being extra devout. Perhaps it didn't have as many people with spare wealth to invest in religious status symbols that reinforced divisions and disputes in the local company - part of the sad history of Christianity in modern Wales.

I was delighted this evening to have a catch up Skype conversation with Claudine in Yangon, and hear about the scratch choir singing Welsh songs at the Myanmar British Embassy last Sunday. Such a small world.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant

We had a quiet Saturday, with a brief shopping excursion together into town, ending with tea in John Lewis'. I bought a couple of re-chargeable battery chargers in Currys, for Ashley to use on the move, since he uses his phone that much when he's away from the office, a backup charging solution is needed. It will be interesting to see how useful this is in practice. The France-Wales international was on TV in many shops and in all the pubs, which were rammed. The second half had just started when we got home, so I watched, something I rarely do. Glad Wales won, with St David's Day tomorrow

Before cooking the usual weekend paella for supper, I went through the process of ordering new .cymru and .wales domain names for CBS and the Business Crime Reduction Partnership to use, linked to websites old and new that I've built. Now there's patriotic for you now ... We've had just one domain name for the original CBS website, linked to our British Telecom Account. It worked until about nine months ago, when the weblink was interrupted for no apparent reason. BT wouldn't give us access to control the domain name which we owned, and getting it fixed by whoever is responsible in the right department is so complex and elusive we had better things to do than wait for ages on hold in phone queues to find them. Now we have a fresh start and with a new domain name providor, more control. Providing it all works as it's meant to. The new domains go live tomorrow.

This morning, I walked to Llandaff for the Cathedral Sung Eucharist at eleven, with a Schubert Mass in G and a favourite Purcell Anthem, 'Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts'. I went to switch off my phones as I arrived and notice an email from our Swiss friend Claudine working in Myanmar, announcing with astonishment that she's been roped in to sing some hymns in Welsh with an expat choir in Yangon for a celebration of St David's Day. I couldn't stop smiling about this during the service, plus the fact that I was sitting at the front of a nave bathed in sunlight. There must have been a hundred and fifty in church. This congregation has doubled in the past six months. 

Good liturgy in a simple, relaxed, solemn style with decent preaching and renewed choral leadership are commending the value of a traditional worship format in modern language. Sure, the majority of the congregation are older people, but there's an increasing number of older people in society as well as among church attenders. Many are thoughtful, and too discriminating to put up with dumbed down services. It's been hard enough for most of their lives to keep the faith in wayward times. They have many strengths and gift to bring to the church's mission. They need nourishment and inspiration to make sure they don't feel like strangers in their own place.

In town there was the usual St David's day parade, and the Welsh Guards were on parade in the Millennium Plaza, looking smart and sober in their winter greatcoats and busbies, according to the news photos. But both events co-incided with worship. As far as I'm concerned, if worship doesn't get priority, the rest of the celebration is sentiment and vanity.