Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The cure for excess mental exercise

It's Michaelmass today. No opportunity to get to Mass, so the liturgical readings of the day had to suffice as food for the soul. The alternative Old Testament passage is from the story of Tobias and the Angel (in the deutero-canonical Book of Tobit). It's not about Michael, like the mainstream passage from Daniel, but about the Archangel Raphael, who ministers healing. It's quite a beautiful poetic passage, which I can't really say I've noticed before, perhaps because this was not a book I ever studied during training.

Another bereavement visit this morning, followed by several hours of work on preparing services and eulogy/obituaries on behalf of the families, as in neither case did anyone feel able to take on the task. Then I had to prepare for the Wednesday morning 'school Eucharist' at St German's, honouring the patron saint himself whose body arrived back in his native Auxerre on 1st October, after his death in Ravenna, sixteen centuries ago. A nine hour road journey today took sixty one days that long ago. 

Then I had to start work on a Harvest festival sermon for next Sunday afternoon when I preach at the lovely Patricio church, at the head of the Grwyny Valley in Monmouthshire's borderland. So, there was no time to spare to complete the painting job, and barely enough time to start preparing supper before I went to Chi Gung class. I felt pretty tired and stressed out, but the hour's workout was just what I needed to get me down out of my head and on to my feet.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Supermoon eclipse vigil

After some camera preparation earlier on, I woke up just after one, and dozed until the eclipse of the moon began, then went downstairs and took pictures from the front lawn in a dressing gown and pyjamas, it was just warm enough, at ten minute intervals until complete obscurity. 

Surprisingly my little Sony HX50 did me proud until this point. The 'blood moon' effect was hardly visible through the viewfinder at any zoom magnification, so I switched to the Alpha 55, with its TTL electronic viewfinder and captured a few images, though none turned out to be all that satisfactory. If I'd persevered with changing settings maybe I'd have got better results, but by this time I was getting tired, and returned to bed. 

I woke up again with the dawn twilight and glimpsed the moon from the bedroom window as it was just touching the horizon, brighter than I'd seen it when it was full and high in the sky earlier, or so it seemed. Too tired to make the effort to reach for a camera, but the memory remains vivid and rather wonderful. In fact the whole experience was rather wonderful. The naked eye sees so much more than the above average consumer camera. 

After breakfast we returned to Cardiff, Clare driving most of the way as I was somewhat worse for wear. We stopped to buy a picnic lunch at a service station outside Ross on Wye. The checkout guy noticed my cross and said "Tell me, does that cross mean you are a Christian?" "Yes, all my life and proud of it." I said. "Do you know about what's happening to Christians across the Middle East?" he asked. I assured him that I did, and we talked for a while until his next customer came to the till. He said he was from Lebanon, but not what kind of Lebanese he was. An exile, for certain, worried for kinsfolk and neighbours back home, no doubt, since his homeland of 4.8 million people has taken in a million Syrians.

A documentary photographer friend of Owain's has recently been working over in Lebanon, profoundly moved by what he witnessed. He returned feeling deeply ashamed of British Government attitude and policy towards suffering on this scale. Sending aid to refugees in places nearer to the land they left may seem like a well intended gesture aiming to make it easier to return when order is restored, but the pressures on a small country the size of Wales with over 50% more population than Wales to start with, are simply inhumane.

We got home early afternoon, and I set about painting the front garden railings and gate, boosted by warm bright sunshine. I was out of the house again to make a bereavement visit in Pentyrch at six, however. It related to one of two funerals I have Thursday this week. I learned about a man who'd died six months before he was expecting to receive a telegram from the Queen. He'd lived in the same house in Ely since it was built 93 years ago, in a street that has changed its name twice since he first moved in as a kid.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Sunday disruptions

An Eucharist to celebrate at St John's Canton this morning at eight, followed by a drive across town to St German's for an earlier than usual Sung Mass at nine thirty. Over the weekend the church is turned into a video recording studio for BBC's Songs of Praise. A series of artistes sing to camera against the aesthetic backdrop of one of Bodley's finest churches. 

The upheaval is disconcerting, and the re-scheduling of the service necessary to meet the programming demands. I was impressed at a full turnout of the thirty strong congregation, more accustomed to showing up at eleven - including two in wheelchairs. Everyone seemed philosophical about the disruption, seeing it as part of the effort needed to make their church known to the wider world.

The sacristy was full of recording equipment, furniture was displaced in the nave, and wiring trailed all through the sanctuary and high altar. It's the first time I recall ever having to step carefully over heavy cables while censing the altar during Mass. 

I heard that there had been problems overnight for the grossly underpaid lone security guard, from a gang of idle lads intent on making mischief, maybe with an eye to stealing the Beeb's mobile power generator parked outside. The guard was reluctant to call the Police in case this escalated into a real breach of the peace. It's a scandal that two weren't employed, as may be considered normal safe practice. No doubt if there were Police out and about, they'd be shepherding crowds of drunken revellers in the city centre a mile away. Locals gossip about a drug dealing ice cream van out in the evenings in this parish. Do the Police know or care?

After lunch, Clare and I drove up to Kenilworth, for another birthday supper with Kath, Anto and Rhiannon. She seems to have grown up a lot in the summer, what with leaving primary and starting secondary school last week. Now she's spending a couple of hours each school night conscientiously doing homework, and enjoying learning at a new level. I've given her my little travel laptop, all set up with Windows 10 and her own One Drive ready to use. Two weeks ago Owain took my Chromebook. I don't have that much need for travel kit at the moment, and am surprised to find how much I'm able to do with my Blackberry when I'm away from a desk. 

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Tedious work but family pleasure nevertheless

This morning was given over to Sunday sermon writing. Rachel sent a message to tell us she'd won a local song writing competition for the Verde Valley River Association festival in Arizona, and would get to perform this live on stage tomorrow. We're thrilled for her. She's had such a tough time of it lately moving house in difficult conditions with little help, but she's come through, nevertheless.

Afterwards I began to think about acquiring independent web hosting for the CBS RadioNet site. With just a little surfing, I found a decently priced basic package with Host.com, and signed up for it. Next step will be to transfer our pages there and get them to work, a job I haven't done in ten years, so will need to re-learn, if I want to keep the layout and design of our existing pages on Google Sites. The sheer difficulty I had trying to link up some new company domain names to Google web hosting, since the company has changed its web security frontiers, left me feeling that we'd be better served by a simple and more easily controllable resource. Here's hoping I can make this work! 

Satisfaction with my efforts at database migration quickly faded today when Julie found some transfer anomalies I hadn't noticed. She was very kind about it, but this puts complete transfer to Libre Office Base on hold for another week. It may not be a fatal error, but I have to re-visit the creation process once more from the data source with a CSV file error check and then re-build - probably the fifth time I've done this recently. Errors, while frustrating, provide experience in the use of the Base program, and that's valuable as I find my memory for new routines of an abstract nature quickly fades. By the time I left the office, I'd got as far as making a better complete data table. All that remains now is to finish the job recreating display forms.

Owain came over early evening for a supper outing to La Cuina, a local Catalan restaurant at the bottom of King's Road, in honour of Clare's birthday, which actually falls on Sunday. The food was excellent, and so was the wine, from the Lleida area. One of the people running the restaurant is a teacher who proposes to launch a Spanish conversation group shortly. I put my name down on her list. It's high time to make use of all that I've been pumping my head with daily for the past nine months, using the Duo Lingo Spanish app.

Afternoon in the Vale

This afternoon, we drove Owain out to Coed Hills near St Hilary in the Vale of Glamorgan where he'd been invited to a humanist wedding celebration outdoors in the grounds of the Coed Hills Rural Artspace. It's a mile from the nearest bus stop, and buses are infrequent, so we offered to give him a lift and pick him up afterwards. We then went to Dyffryn Gardens, had a picnic lunch, then spent a few hours strolling around the gorunds, enjoying the different seasonal look of areas both cultivated and natural. There's always something fresh to catch the eye there, so we never tire of visiting.

We returned to Coed Hills at the appointed time, but the wedding banquet was running late, so it was nearly seven by the time we departed with Owain. Yet, it was a pleasure just to sit in the parked car in a field listening and looking out for birds in the hedgerow in front of us. As we made our way back along the A48 to Cardiff, the Harvest 'supermoon' was in clear view above the horizon. I'd have loved an opportunity to stop and take a picture, but there was no place where I could both see the eastern horizon and safely park the car. Never mind, it's the 'blood moon' eclipse tomorrow night, provided I have the stamina to stay up.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

A peep over the fence

I went over to St German's again on foot this morning to celebrate the midweek Eucharist with a dozen communicants and the year four class of children from Tredegarville school. The children are amazingly quiet and well behaved, a tribute to the good nurturing the receive and high expectations of them on the part of their teachers. We kept a belated St Matthew's day, and I led them in a few short songs, although I'm not exactly sure if they do that on a regular basis any longer. Well, all I can do  is be myself and engage with them in the best possible way I know. On the way there a went into school at the end of morning assembly and met head teacher Emma for the first time. I'll need to have a planning meeting with her to arrange the Harvst Festival all-school service pretty soon.

On my walk back to the town centre I passed the former St James' church, now converted, or being converted into apartments. There's a tall grey hoarding right around the grounds. Whether it's just a security measure or an enclosure for a garden is difficult to say. It's certainly a good way of reducing the amount of rubbish that can be dumped there and protects the stained glass windows from further damage, but it doesn't look good, so I'm wondering if there's planning permission for this. Also there is nothing by way of a notice board or advertising hoarding to describe what's happening, if anything within the old church building. What was noticeable was the appearance of the two beautiful angels with censer bas reliefs surmounting the north porch entrance. Their stonework has been scrubbed clean and the doors renovated. I'd love to know what work is going on there now. I must ask when I am next in school.

After lunch, I spent the afternoon writing a circular email reading for distribution to RadioNet users, with news about the BCRP, also picking up the threads of the database migration job before going into the office. It took so long, I ended up not going in at all. It will be a relief to put this into action and get on with something else. I have more copy writing to do, and neglected website re-building to do or get done. There are things which I have 'left undone which I ought to have done' and now they are beginning to crowd in on me, with obligations to learn more new things I've been avoiding. I feel quite impatient with myself.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Back into routine

Feeling quite tired yesterday after a busy weekend, so had a lazy morning, catching up on uploading photos to Picasaweb. Already last week's active leisure time enjoyment recedes into the distance. I went into the office in the afternoon to complete preparations for the evening's BCRP Board meeting. Chairman Gerry arrived early and briefed us on recent meetings with various interested parties, giving me a head start on things he wanted to say to the Board. Very helpful, as I am the default scribe for the meeting. It was a lively meeting securing our plans for a Business Crime Manager appointment and an annual meeting with a timetable. More work for me in pushing forward the publicity element of who we are and what we do, to my mind rather neglected until now. Having an active and interested management board makes all the difference.

After another tired and lazy morning, I turned to my scribbled notes from yesterday's meeting and set to work on producing a coherent set of minutes. Three hours later, despite enduring a fifteen minute migraine aura which came and went without further consequences, the job was complete. I was quite surprised at how much detail I did recall, once I joined notes to emerging thoughts. Sometimes it seems that I forget minor details very quickly, but the reality is that things are slower to register, but can be recalled, given time. Just like an old hard drive with little empty space left. For the moment however, I can still turn out a decent job, providing I work hard enough.

This evening I rejoined the Chi Gung class in St Mary's Church Hall. It's a year since I last attended, and it did me a power of good. There were were a good mix of familiar and new faces, and Christie was on excellent inspiring form, gentling us all back into action. A perfect antidote to excess mental effort. It was dusk when I walked back home. How the nights are drawing in. The chill of autumn promotes brisk walking rather than a leisurely stroll.

Sunday, 20 September 2015


A nice sunny day for the journey back to Cardiff yesterday, with a stop in Rhyadyr for lunch at the Old Swan restaurant, where the men ate excellent sausage and mash and the women ate vegetarian lasagne. Mark and Saralee re-packed their belongings chez nous, and then we dropped them off at the Angel Hotel for their overnight stay and early departure, just after the roads had been re-opened to traffic and Westgate Street pubs overflowing with World Cup Rugby fans celebrating or drowning their sorrows after the game.

We had a quiet evening catching up after the week away. I watched the first episode of 'Beck', another Scandinavian crime drama series replete with interesting characters including the detective whose cases are portrayed. He's not as melancholic as dear old Wallander.

This morning I celebrated Mass first at St Saviour's Splott, and then at St German's. There was a child chorister at St Saviour's, and when we sang 'Lord of the Dance' at the end of the service, she danced on the spot all the way through. I wished others could have felt free to do the same. In coming weeks I am scheduled to do the St German's Wednesday morning Eucharist with a class of children from Tredegarville church school attending. One is a whole school Harvest Festival celebration. That'll be fun. It's time I re-visited the school and made the acquaintance of the new head teacher. I haven't been back since I left, five years ago. It'll be interesting to see how things have changed since then.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Yr Eifel and Nant Gwrtheyrn

Up behind the hamlet of Pistill, where we're staying is a collection of tall mountains, rising up out of the sea or the inland plain. Driving east on the B4417, ascending to the hill village of Llithfaen, we were able to take the upland road to a parking place from which we could hike up or around the twin peaked Yr Eifel (564m), either to visit the remains of a large Iron Age settlement on its eastern flank, or simply to follow the national coast path over Bwlch yr Eifel pass (350m), which we chose to do.

The summit was hardly visible due to cloud while we were there. For a while it covered the pass as well. I took the track up to the lower peak in the mist, with scant hope of reaching to top, but I did take a look at the exterior of the telecoms installation just below the peak, from professional curiosity. Sure enough it was owned by Aquiva, the infrastructure company that grants a license to use the CBS digital TETRA system. There was no phone signal up there, only on top of the pass, emanating from a cell relay some distance below, I suspect.

We walked back to the car park and had picnic lunch there, admiring the remarkable monument to the men who worked the three marble quarries of Nant Gwrtheyrn in the cliffs along the shore a thousand feet below us. With no haste and great care we descended the narrow road to Nant Gwrtheyrn village. Since the closure of the quarries the village has acquired a second life as a national center for Welsh language learning through residential course and conferences. Clare has wanted to visit here for years, and now she's seen for herself, wants to come and attend a conference here.

The two rows of quarry workers' cottages have been converted into conference accommodation. New classrooms are nearing completion adding to existing facilities. The village chapel has been restored and transformed into a meeting place and visitor centre, recounting the quarry's history. There's a new restaurant and cafe overlooking the sea, with fast and open wi-fi. A long golden beach, is only a short steep walk away. It's not so much a place of pride in Welsh language and culture as a place of delight and loving enthusiasm for it. Yet another place of pilgrimage to add to this week's itinerary. 

Although the summit of Yr Eifel remained in cloud all day, the sun shone down in the valley and on the shore below. I can't believe how fortunate we've been during our stay in here Llyn, connectivity excepted.

Considering how many people come from around Britain and the rest of the world to visit coastal Wales, it really is a scandal the extent to which it is deprived of fast broadband and 4G connectivity. It's not good enough to say it's too costly to upgrade per residential user, when there are millions of transient users who are paying for the service elsewhere in the country and have come to rely upon connected devices for informing themselves about everything, and keeping safely in touch when out and about. Ironic - they say you can get a 4G signal on top of Everest and Snowdon for that matter, but not in Nefyn or the tip of the Llyn Penisula. Perhaps the British Parliament or the Welsh Senedd should meet in Llyn for a week or so, and learn for themselves what others have to put up with.

It's forty five years today since I was ordained priest and ten years this month since I first started writing a blog. Surprised that I'm still going strong, as much in love with the Word and words as ever.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Snowdon walk

The day started cloudy. It felt as if rain might follow but the clouds were high and got higher, so we set out for Llanberis via Dyffryn Nantlle to show Mark and Saralee something of the slate industry landscape.

We stopped at the Trigonos centre to show them Plas Baladeulyn, where we stayed with Rachel last month, before ascending to Rhydd Du and thence to Llanberis.  We stopped for the second time this week in the vicinity of Caernarfon, where a 4G phone signal could be acquired. My work Blackberry showed its merit in supplying a transient wi-fi hotspot which the others could use to catch up on life back home in the USA, while I took a work phone call. It's quite rare to have to use this facility, given how frequently wi-fi is now available in public places, but such a blessing in time of need.

Mark and Saralee walked up to the half-way mark on the path to Snowdon summit. Clare and I were less ambitious this time, walking only a quarter of the way up before returning to Penceunant Isaf tea room for respite and a chat with Steffan our host while we waited for the others to rejoin us for tea.

Then we paid a brief visit to the National Slate Museum during its last half hour of opening for them to have a look around, before travelling back to Nefyn. It was a long journey but worth the effort, and once again the weather was kind to us all day, with only the briefest of showers on the mountainside.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Pilgrimage, ancient and modern

Today we drove to the far end of the Llyn Peninsula and walked in glorious sunshine on the coastal path opposite Ynys Enlli - Bardsey Island - such a wonderful gentle landscape of grassland, gorse and heather, tranquil, populated with grazing sheep and walkers like us. 

Outside the coastguard look out hut on the highest promontory of the hills surmounting the sea cliffs, Clare got chatting in Welsh to a couple visiting from Llanelli down south. He revealed that he was born in Llyn and moved south when he married a South Walian. When I asked him which village, he said "Pistill". Then he mentioned the name of Pen Isa'r Lon farm as his birthplace, the very house in which we're staying. He was much moved by the co-incidence. He remarked approvingly on the cross I always wear and said they attended a Pentecostal Church back home. We parted with warm handshakes and a photograph.

I made my way back to the car, in need of a drink of water, then walked down to where St Mary's well was indicated on signage and maps, in the fold of the terrain leading down to the water's edge. This was where ancient pilgrims made their way to take a boat across to visit Ynys Enlli, the isle of twenty thousand saints. The last part of the descent to the waterline has no steps and is quite rough, but just before the going got tough for someone like me walking in sandals, a spring of water breaks out of the cleft of grassy ground and trickles across the rocks into the sea. That's the well, no physical structure, just pure water, flowing from the ground. A place where salt and sweet water mix was always a place of wonder in ancient times. The sheer peacefulness of this wild yet gentle place remains awe inspiring.

On the steep climb back up from the spring, which for me involved chasing a single butterfly to photograph, I met a man descending, who stopped and asked me what I'd found below. I described the spring I'd located above the water's edge, and as we parted company, he expressed the hope that whatever he discovered he'd experience the grace to be found in the place - an unusual thing for a stranger to say, except perhaps in a place much visited by pilgrims walking in hope through the past millennium.

I met up with the others picnicking in the lee of a stone wall close to the car park, and after lunch we made our way down to Aberdaron, to visit the lovely church and village next to the beach, where the poet R S Thomas spent twenty years of his ministry and wrote some of the most spiritually profound poetry of the twentieth century. St Hywyn's Parish Church is currently having its roof renovated. It's open for visitors, but half of it is a building site. I was reminded of that year in St John's City Parish Church, when we succeeded in keeping the place open to visitors for the three months it took to repair and redecorate the building interior.

I bought a volume of R S Thomas' collected poems in the village store, to compensate for the absence of any volumes of his later than 1978, which was the last time I bought anything of his. Nourishment for years to come. I love his sparse style and vivid use of imagery. To my mind his work has a touch of the zen master about it. I found the others huddled outside a shop overlooking the beach, taking advantage of the free wi-fi signal to connect with the outside world. The wi-fi where we're staying is still ignoring us, cause of huge frustration to us, who normally take connectivity for granted.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Clynnog Fawr

Today we drove into Caernarfon, about half an hour away from Nefyn. We visited the Castle and had lunch in Jake's Cafe, just inside the old town walls. Before heading for home we crossed the river Arfon and walked along the shore, just after the high tide turned. I caught sight of a curlew landing to feed just thirty feet from the promenade, and was delighted to catch a few photos at relatively close range. It made my day.

On the return journey we stopped in the hamlet of Clynnog Fawr, which has an unusually large Parish Church, for this region, dating from 15-16th century. A spacious monastic collegiate church before the reformation, important for pilgrims because of its association with St Beuno, a founding father of Christian life in Gwynedd. In the sixth century he established a 'Clas' here, a small group of monks living and learning together, welcoming and teaching others. 

There's a separate chapel to the southwest of the church said to have once been a shrine and possibly Beuno's burial place, although other places like Pistill's ancient church also claim this honour. Several churches and associated hostels flourished along the route, in the mediaeval heyday of pilgrimages from Holywell on the eastern border of North Wales to Ynys Enlli, Bardsea island. 

These churches are in a fight for survival in our times of decline in traditional Christian faith, yet this route is still walked by latter day pilgrims and spiritual truth seekers, looking into the past of this beautiful numinous region to find inspiration and guidance for the future, whether they are committed church members or not.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Port Dinllaen

The local weather forecast for the week is a mix of cloud, rain and sunshine, rather changeable. It's hard to check regularly as this area suffers from lack of good connectivity, whether by landline or by mobile phone. The advertised wi-fi at our holiday let is non-existent, either too slow or too congested with other users to let us log on to the hotspot SSID displayed. It's rather frustrating, and reminds me of how it was in Aberteifi town when we holidayed there a couple of years ago.

It was a day to explore local shores, however, with more sunshine and blue skies than cloud. We drove to Morfa Nefyn the next village, and thence to nearby Porth Dinllaen beach car park, to walk on the coastal path along the peninsula through an impressively sited golf course, as far as we could go. There was a colony of a dozen or so cormorants inhabits the tiny offshore promontory of Carreg Ddu, offering some rewarding photos.

We returned along the shore path to the Ty Coch Inn for a superb pub lunch with local craft brewed ale. It's a secluded unspoilt hamlet right on the water's edge, with an interesting history. This and the neighbouring Nefyn bay were once home to herring fishing and fishing boat construction. A bid was made in the early nineteenth century to attract the main ferry to Ireland to this sheltered bay, but lost out to Holyhead, across the water in Anglesey. The Ty Coch pub and out-buildings were intended to  be a point of departure for travellers to Ireland, but the venture failed, leaving the peninsula as a rural backwater when fishing and boat building declined, until the arrival of the golf course, and modern tourism. 

A lovely day of walking, concluded with an excellent shared meal and conversation. We're taking turns to cook for each other.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

In the steps of St Beuno

Went to the Nefyn village store early to get some sugar and a Sunday newspaper, to learn of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the Labour leadership election. The tabloids disgraced themselves as ever with their expressions of ill-will in catchy headlines and copy. They've been sniping for weeks, aided and abetted by establishment politicians fearful of losing their grip on the reins of power. Thousands of people have ignored the messages projected by media moguls, to elect Corbyn. I don't much like all of his policies, but he is a decent straightforward man and a radical politician. The vote in his favour is an impressive act of contempt toward to powerful elite of manipulators who have controlled the British mass media for generations. Where do we go from here I wonder?

I found the Parish Church of Dewi Sant in the village, advertising an eleven o'clock service, so I returned for breakfast then came back with Clare to attend the service. It was led by the lay Reader and in the absence of the Vicar, it was Ministry of the Word with Communion by Extension. One priest looking after nine churches, and a group of churches struggling to come to terms with the need to re-shape its offering of services so that one priest and one active lay reader could cope. 

Before the service there was a report on recent meetings held to try and establish a new pattern of services and pastoral revision. Many things are as yet unresolved, people are reluctant to change their worship habits. Thankfully Bishop Andy is not enthusiastic about church closures, but rather looking for fresh ways to ensure they stay in use as assets to aid church growth. But there's no doubt that more ministerial support and leadership is required, even just to make effective change happen. Nine small worshipping groups in small communities in a large rural area that gets lots of visitors. It's a tough challenge indeed, as it is elsewhere across the Province.

After the service and a bit more shopping, we returned, then went for a walk along the coast path, as far as the lovely church of St Deiniol, foundation dating back to the time of the saint himself in the sixth century. This was one of several churches he founded in North Wales. It's on the old pilgrims' route to Ynys Enlli – Bardsey – the island of ten thousand saints, a the end of the peninsula. This was a popular enough route a thousand years ago, for there to be hospices in the area, serving both hale and hearty travellers and the sick. There was a lepers' hospice and the north side of the chancel has a lepers' window. 

The present building dates back to the 11-12th century, and has a beautiful round font carved with celtic knot work, that must be at least nine hundred years old, if not older, like the one in Patricio which I visited earlier in the year.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Journey to Nefyn

By ten this morning I'd picked up Saralee and Mark from their hotel. By eleven they'd decanted their essential week's luggage into our two small suitcases, to fit everything needed into the car boot. By eleven fifteen we were on our way up the A470 in decent travelling weather, making our way to Nefyn, on the north coast of Llyn. 

We stopped for a hearty pub lunch in Builth Wells, then for tea in Porthmadog harbour, did our food shopping in Lidl's on the outskirts and arrived forty minutes later than planned. This meant that the owner was leaving us late for a supper engagement and gave us hasty instructions to get us started. 

We failed to ask the wi-fi password, and found the weak and variable phone signal didn't aspire to 4G, and just occasionally in down-times offered to connect us to Irish BT services – on a clear day you can see the mountains of County Wicklow in Eire from our holiday house at Penisarlon farm on a hillside above the cliffs in the hamlet of Pistill a mile and a half east of Nefyn itself. 

The view was amazing, as the sun set through a sky alive with fast moving small clouds. What a great place to stay, with or without proper connectivity.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Night at the opera

Back to the office this morning to complete the commissioning of the new PC, trimming its desktop of all those surplus crapware program tiles, and installing Libre Office. I'd forgotten my flash drive with the installation files on it, and set about downloading them again, happily a speedy affair on our BT office broadband. Much to my surprise, when installation had started I discovered that I was in possession of the newest Libre Office version 5. I hadn't noticed any mention of this in my daily tech blog reading. I then had to update the other machines in the office, and later at home. Even if the improvements are relatively minor, it's always worthwhile. It's got a lot quicker and slicker in the past year, whilst retaining, thankfully a more familiar user interface. Some commentators regard it was 'old fashioned' compared with MS Office. It's not as eye catching, but it's far easier to use, as it draws on one's existing experience by being familiar to use and giving fewer puzzles to solve as you get to grips with it. For old users, that' s a great plus. I don't care if it works on a tablet or a phone. It works and works best where it's most needed, on proper static office hardware.   
I got away from the office in time to return for a late lunch, and worked at home until it was time to go to the Millennium Centre for Bellin's opera 'I Puritani'. I felt sure we'd seen it before, and racked my brains to remember where and when. The music seemed remotely familiar, also the performance setting, but less so the plot. Eventually I recalled we'd seen it in Geneva's Grand Theatre about twenty years ago, and it was an occasion when I'd fallen asleep, probably exhausted after a day of skiing. I made an effort not to doze of this time. Slowly it dawned on me that my poor recollection may have something to do with my dislike of the story-line – Bellini or his librettist's antipathetic perception of English seventeenth century protestants. Great entertainment for a mainly catholic early nineteenth century audience, maybe, but hollow and inaccurate viewed down the wrong end of the telescope of time. 

As ever, the chorus was superb and the lead performers impressive. The first scene and last scenes were set in the Lodge of an Ulster Orange Loyalist order in modern times. Those in between were set in Puritan times. The production was making a point about the contemporary social and political legacy of puritanism, but it lacked consistency, especially given the flawed nature of Bellini's plot line. The idea was messy and confusing, even if neatly delivered by WNO. It's sheer coincidence that this should be on stage just as the Northern Ireland Assembly Government staggers into crisis with DUP withdrawals from office over the alleged secret survival of the presumed disbanded IRA. I just hope WNO have no plans to take this on tour to Belfast in the foreseeable future.
We got home to a message announcing the safe arrival in Cardiff from Spain of our American friends Saralee and Mark. Tomorrow we're off to explore the Llyn Peninsula together for the week.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Database migration

This last few days I have been working in quiet moments on mastering the intricacies of the Libre Office Base module, the open source equivalent of MS Access, by a process of trial and error. My aim is to migrate CBS company data from MS Works to a more modern program able to run on Windows and Linux, and maybe even Mac machines, with data files compatible with successive upgrades. 

I can't say MS Works has ever let us down. It has run successfully on every version of Windows for the past 20 years in which I have installed it on each new machine I've bought, though not when I've run Linux on them as well. I live in dread of the unlucky chance of losing the last MS Works installation disk I acquired in 2002, and no longer be able to use it on new machines.
The first task was to edit out material for archiving, and add new material on subscribers' web accounts, all of which has emerged over the five years since I first set up the company database. Then I had to figure out how to bind the data with the program in a core database table, then how to devise presentation forms using the data. The help files were barely adequate, but with trial and error I had something to show for a dozen hours of effort, when I went to the office this afternoon. 

Julie's feedback gave me a few more ideas of what I needed to do before making the switch to the new Libre Office Base program. My other task was to set up the desktop PC ordered to replace the troublesome Acer. After registration and set up, taking the best part of an hour, it too turned out to have a Windows 8.1 operating system, and needed up grading to Windows 10. By the time this was under way, it was time to leave for home, yet again.
This evening the BBC Four Proms broadcast recording from last Saturday featured 'cellist Yo Yo Ma in a continuous performance of Bach's six 'cello suites. I listened to the podcast of these last Sunday with great pleasure and recollection of student days when we first listened to these, and engraved them on our memories. Watching the live performance was an added bonus. The music will echo in my mind for many days to come.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Colloge changes

Finally yesterday, the car exhaust repair was completed, at great expense, but it's great to have it back again outside the house, to use on those occasions when public transport won't work. 

This morning I had an appointment with the Dental Hygienist and drove to the Llandaff North surgery, in order to be able to return in time to then walk back to Llandaff for for catch up chat with Fr Mark Clavier, Vice Principal of St Mike's. Sadly he's leaving in the New Year to become Vice Principal of St Stephen's House in Oxford. Proposed policy changes for the future role of the College in Church in Wales ministerial formation imply a different sort of future for residential training than the one envisaged when Mark was appointed, before Peter Sedgwick retired. In such circumstances, Oxford makes him an offer he can't refuse, one which will make full use of his gifts. 

It's sad that the Church in Wales loses a gifted scholar and pastor with enterprise and imagination to bring to ministerial formation. Stephen Adams, another long standing staff member is also moving to Cowbridge after ten years at St Mikes. I wait with interest to see who will be appointed in their places, to implement the required changes.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

A feast of Bach

Without the car today, it was necessary to take a bus. I walked down to Cowbridge Road, and took a 13 as far as the old bus station. It couldn't go any further as there were road closures around the city centre, due to a 10k road run disrupting normal traffic. From there, it took me just twenty minutes to reach St Germans in good time. Bright sun shone into the church during the service. It's a great place to worship in good weather. Afterwards I had a lift home with a congregation member living nearby, so I got in for lunch at my usual Sunday time. Owain had just emerged from the shower after a long lie-in to recover from a late night, so we ate together before he left for Bristol.

Last night we missed Yo Yo Ma's performance of the six Bach 'Cello suites at the BBC Proms, but Clare found the repeat with her iPad, and we listened to it together. The sound levels weren't very satisfactory and I couldn't get the iPad to feed sound into our hi-fi system, much to my annoyance, so eventually I found the podcast on my phone, and played the second half of the recital at better volume over the hi-fi. Performing all six suites in one go is certainly a virtuoso tour de force for a sixty year old. His pace was quite brisk for many of the dances. I couldn't imagine moving at that pace, but it was impressive. I prefer Pablo Casals and Paul Tortelier versions, both more measured and lyrical, as befits Europeans for whom the nature of the folk melodies employed by Bach would be part of their deep cultural heritage.

Some of the pieces from the 'Cello suites have been transcribed for guitar and I few of them I have been trying to learn to play properly for the past fifty years, with scant success, though much love. In University days we got to know them well, as we bought the Casals Deutsche Grammophon records of Suites 1-4, and played them until we knew the off by heart. We either couldn't find or afford suites 5-6, so it's a delight to listen to them with fresh ears, barely acquainted with them. Our dear friend David Barker, a 'cellist, like my Dad and daughter Rachel, played to us selections from the suites as he was learning them. He died of cancer thirty years ago, and there are melodies here which I cannot hear without thinking of him. Often we sang folk music together in our youth, just for pleasure rather than performance. I still grieve his untimely death.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Bio-diverse Canton

This morning we visited The Apothecary shop at the bottom of Llandaff as Clare was in search of a particular herb tea. The owners have turned their , back room into a congenial little tea room, where you can try out many of the brews on sale in the shop and sample some fine looking vegetarian and vegan cakes made by small local providors. What an interesting idea. Clare picked up a leaflet about the open day being held at the nearby Chapter Arts Centre Community Garden, so we went over there to have a look around.
Chapter Arts centre, once a secondary school has a large open forecourt in front of the main building once a playground. Two thirds of it have been re-assigned from parking to an area with a series of raised flower beds with bushes, trees and an enormous variety of vegetable and flower plants. There are beehives out the back of the building and a greenhouse in one corner. It's worked by enthusiastic volunteers, and interestingly isn't managed in a regimented way. All kinds of plants grow together side by side, higgledy-piggledy rather than in neat rows. I guess the accent is on bio-diversity, and showing how what are thought of as weeds co-exist, as in the wild, with flowers and edible things. 

We paid to get it, as the Open Day is a charity fund raising event, and were treated to a free drink and a piece of home made cake. An accordeonist and a recorder player were duetting outside, playing folk dance tunes and promoting Pentreffest the annual folk music and dance festival to be held next month in the village of Rudry, the other side of Caerphilly Mountain from Cardiff. We brought home a pot of Chapter honey, utterly delicious. Urban honey benefits from an environment with cultivated gardens and parks presenting much greater floral diversity to bees than rural areas dominated by agrarian mono-culture. Nature's own subtle commentary on what we've done to the land.

Owain arrived in time for supper and a good chat before heading out for a late gig at Gwdihw in town. Before bed we watched the last episode of 'The Young Montalbano' for the second time around. Next Saturday I believe a new series of  Danish crimmie 'The Bridge' is set to begin, but we'll be up in the Llyn Peninsula with Mark and Saralee, over from Seattle from a European holiday, starting in Belguim, then going to Spain, and finally, with us to North Wales. If we have tell in the place we've hired, I doubt if it will get switched on, as there'll be so much to talk about. It's the best part of five years since we last saw Saralee.

Friday, 4 September 2015

A repair and replacement week

After celebrating the midweek Eucharist with ten people at St German's Wednesday morning, I took the car into Canton Quikfit depot to get something done about the exhaust, which sounds like a hole is developing. Later, I had a phone call to say it needed the catalyst replacing, and had to be ordered.  It was going to be expensive. Time to think. At 24 years old the car's scrap value is a hundred pounds, but it's mechanically in good nick and the bodywork surprisingly sound for a car of its age.

Clare's nephew and godson David had expressed an interest in the car's potential and having it when we've finished with it, during our East Anglian birthday party visit, as it would be a worthy candidate for restoration, or customizing for racing if one was so inclined, not that we'd want to take this course but we're minded to hand it on to him when we change cars. It has to be driveable when we do, as he lives in Scotland, so I decided there was no option but to go ahead, spend the money and keep the car for a while longer. 

Thursday afternoon there was another call to say that the catalyst's sensor was also irretrievable due to corrosion. More expense, and delay while the part is ordered. Today, a third call to say that a further pipe section has to be ordered. More cost, more delay until Monday, which means a car-less weekend. The only useable component of the exhaust remaining is the muffler section which Quikfit replaced several years ago. We don't use the car that much. It's only when it's not there at our beck and call that we notice.

Meanwhile, back at the office, the Acer desktop failed yet again to self-repair. It remains stuck in a loop after re-boot, with no error message to indicate the real problem. So, this afternoon I unplugged it, put it back in its packaging and returned to John Lewis'. Rather than a like for like replacement I've decided it's better to go for the HP equivalent, even if we have to wait a few days for one to arrive at the store. In the five weeks since it was purchased, I don't think we've had more than five days use out it. Most disappointing, and such a waste of time, all that machine minding while it pretended to repair itself.