Saturday, 31 December 2016

St Sylvester's Day

What a pleasant surprise to learn this morning that Jan Gould, Vicar of 'The Res' Glan Ely is awarded the British Empire Medal in the New Year Honours list recognising her amazing musical work with children and young people in the locality and city in the Making Music Changing Lives project. It is modelled on 'La Sistema', the Venezuelan music education project among poor people, which has been going for a quarter of a century and touched half a million lives. Jan and her co-workers have shown this way of working translates well from third world to first world. At a time when state funding for the arts and music education falls prey to economic austerity, it shows what voluntary community enterprise can achieve.

Clare returned from shopping with a bag of Seville bitter oranges, which have just arrived in our local greengrocer's shop. By tea time, the first batch was done. I went out to get my regular prescription medication, only to discover the local pharmacy re-located during the week to a former delicatessen store opposite our GP surgery in King's Road. After Clare had done her recipe calculations, another expedition was needed for some lemons and a few more oranges to make up the right weight for the number of empty jars to hand. 

While we were out, I bought a new cover for my Samsung J3, having given the one I bought last week in the shop on the corner of Severn Road to Owain. When Clare gets her J3, I'll be in the same shop again to get one for her. The shop is, I believe, run by a local Pakistani family, always helpful, cheery and polite. Posted at the side of the doorway is a notice apologizing for regular Friday lunchtime closure. The shop is generally open long hours, why bother? It's a simple statement reflecting the fact that attendance at Friday Prayers is built into their trading norms. The local mosque is a couple of hundred yards up the side street from the shop. I have the highest regard for that. Nobody should have to apologise for living their faith in work or out of it.

Today is New Year's Eve, or St Sylvester, as it's known in much of Europe, after the early church Pope commemorated on this day in the Latin rite Calendar (John Wycliff, translator, in Anglicanism). People tend to dine out on St Sylvester, as they also tend to dine our ot feast at home on Christmas Eve across the Channel, rather than Christmas Day. Anyway, Clare fancied dining out this evening, so we went to Stefano's for an Italian meal fairly early, in order to be back in good time, just in case the children started calling us early before going out to see the New Year in. Which they did. Connectivity is not so good tonight, whether talking to Andalusia or to Arizona. All the world is wanting to call up and greet someone, around the clock from sunset to sunrise, whatever time zone that may be in.

The noise of Fireworks has been punctuating the air all evening. We've both tired enough to go to bed and not bother to see the New Year in, rather sleep off the horrible old one. But how to get to sleep with all that random noise in the background? It's hard to imagine what 2017 might bring, but vital to be ready for anything, in a spirit of good-will, compassion and helpfulness, resisting the indulgent greedy, selfish spirit of the age. I wonder how I might be able to make some difference for the better, and not be part of the problem, for as long as I'm fit and able? Having finally moved on from CBS after nearly seven years, I start 2017, looking for a fresh challenge to awaken my energy and imagination, before I become totally addicted to a soporific lifestyle.

Friday, 30 December 2016

New Year Honour

Another quiet day, pottering around, nothing special to do, apart from printing off my Sunday sermon and hunting down some photos I'd taken of an orchid given to Clare last year, which flowered again for the best part of six months this year also, and has only recently dropped its last dried blossom. Nothing showed on either of my Picasa photos albums, so I'd not bothered to upload them at the time. So I had to sift through my collection of SD cards, used but not re-cycled. Well, storage is so cheap nowadays, it means I can always revert to the originals, even if the majority are somewhere in the Cloud. It paid off, in this case, although it did take me a while, as I have SD cards used by four different cameras over the past four years alone, and none of them indicate the one used, until now. It's a way a whiling away the time when there's nothing better to do.

Just before sunset I went for my usual 5km walk to Blackweir Bridge around a section of Pontcanna fields. My injured knee seems almost back to normal now, and I maintained a brisk pace, covering the course in 45 minutes. The knee didn't swell afterwards, and the pain was minimal compared to the way it was in the first week of recovery when I walked this route before Christmas.

I cooked sausages for supper, veggie ones for Clare and high quality pork ones for me, also a spicy sauce we could share, and some veggies. We sat and watched an episode of Inspector George Gently afterwards, which had xenophobia and racism as its theme, set against the context of Enoch Powell's infamous 'rivers of blood' speech. The world we live in is much more ethically and culturally diverse these days, yet the same intolerance prevails, the same desire to roll the clock back to some fantasy era of pure Englishness. Britain is much wealthier than in the sixties, yet the same wide gulf between rich and poor and the same struggle to grow confidence economically in changing times exists now as it did then. Much change in some ways, while in other ways, no change at all.

In this evening's news, Wales's finest international opera star Bryn Terfel receives a knighthood in the Queen's New Year Honours list. It's justly deserved. His musical life and work is an inspiration and an encouragement to so many people, far and wide.

Ardderchog a Llongyfarchiadau Syr Bryn!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Family on the move

Today it was Kath, Anto and Rhiannon's turn to head south and in their case, to Seville for a four day New Year weekend break. It was our turn to head back to Wales. Slowly, we all packed and the house was made fit to return to. Packing didn't take me long, so I spent an hour or so preparing a sermon for Sunday. After a left-overs lunch, we squeezed the luggage and five of us into the Golf and drove to Birmingham Airport to drop them off for their late afternoon Monarch flight to Malaga. We drove around the M42 and down the M5 and into the sunset along the M50. We were home by half past five, aware that by then they'd  boarded and flown over us on the first stage of their flight.

Clare made a curry for supper, with chick peas for her and a portion of goose meat for me, which made a pleasant change. By the time we'd listened to the Archers, they'd landed. We watched Charlie Brooker's coarse political satirisation of the major British 2016 events together. His lack of optimism about anything makes me feel distinctly un-optimistic about the future of British comedy.'New Tricks' was about a murder in an old people's home, and that was much funnier, albeit in a different way.

As I was about the shut down for the night I was delighted to see some photos posted on Instagram by Kath, showing them enjoying the night air in Malaga's Calle Molina Lario, the old town's prestige brand shopping street, spectacularly decorated with festive illuminations, featuring a 200m long arcade of white light arches, decorated with moons and stars in different colours. It made me wish I was there with them. It's a mild 12C there tonight. They're off to Seville on the slower train tomorrow. Extra time on board to enjoy the changing winter landscape of Andalusia.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Faith resurgence in the Middle East despite the odds

After a morning of family togetherness and lunch, Rhiannon went off to see a friend and Kath drove Owain, Clare and I out into rural Warwickshire, to take advantage of the sunshine and walk along the towpath of the Grand Union Canal, from the Hatton flight of locks - there are 21 of them. First we walked southwards for fourteen locks, then returned to our starting point and walked up four of the remaining ones to the tea shop for a drink. It was quite cold with bright sunshine, but the weather was perfect for a brisk walk.

Then we drove Owain to Coventry station to get a train into Birmingham to take him to Bristol, before returning for a Kath cooked pizza supper. Rachel rang from Arizona and Kath in addition to cooking printed off the boarding passes for their flight to Malaga tomorrow. They are spending four days in Seville for New Year. I admit I'm a little jealous as I haven't yet been there.

Having tweeted a moan about my perceptions of weakness in the Windows 10 auto update system, after my experience of the past couple of days of getting Kath's computer back to normal, I've had a response, and further exchanges with their support crew, presuming it's not a robot responding to my messages. Interesting.

Holy Innocents' Day today, and I was much taken by a photo posted on Facebook of a Christmas Day Mass taking place in a ruined roofless church in Aleppo. I can't be certain, but if the accompanying photos are anything go by, I recognised it as being close to a convent I stayed in when I visited Syria in 1994, possibly a Greek Catholic church. The photo, taken from the western gallery or maybe a tower, reveals two thirds of the nave filled with beams and masonry from the church roof.

The south east end of nave and aisle are clear, also the sanctuary. Three clergy stand at the altar and the rest of the clear space is crammed with worshippers, regardless of the health and safety risks, just a few days into the end of hostilities in that sector. Amazingly an illuminated star with a comet tail, of the type almost universally used in street decorations, is suspended by its power cables from north to south balconies. So simple, but a powerful statement about Christian witness re-emerging after years of terror and conflict.

The star over the place where the Christ child was born, stood over a land violently occupied, policed by soldiers, the Holy Family's transient refuge hardly a fit place for any child to come into the world. A few people viewing this photo left sad comments or 'emojis'. But, did they notice the star? Did they make the connection? Some risk-taking handyman acquired, and put that star into place over the ruined nave. Some person or group of people made the connection with Bethlehem, made the effort to defy powerlessness and despair, by raising this symbol of hope and faith in Christmas lights. In any other setting it might look tacky and sentimental, but not here, not now.

The church in Aleppo is back doing what it has done for 20 centuries, no matter how great the evil or terrible the circumstances. This is a time for joy, even more than concern, for it's a sign that the faith has been kept under the worst of circumstances. It's also a continuation of the story in the making by churches in towns liberated from ISIS in recent months in Iraqi Kurdistan and elsewhere in Syria. Despite hundreds of thousands of Christians being murdered, deported or displaced from the Middle Eastern homelands over the past decade, there are still faithful remnants flourishing whenever they have the opportunity to celebrate their faith, and for this, God be praised.

I am again reminded of the probably apocryphal tale of the rabinic court in Auschwitz which put God on trial for genocide, and ended up pronouncing the Almighty guilty, deserving of death. After a long silent pause, one of the elders said: "Let us pray.", and life under their own death sentence continued. No matter how incomprehensible and sometimes savage divine providence seems to be, the humblest don't give up, but keep on worshipping God, as they strive to endure in order to recreate and renew life in all its fullness.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The feasting continues

The three of us drove to Kenilworth on Boxing Day, to spend a couple of days together with Kath, Anto and Rhiannon. Another day of feasting ensured, this time sharing a whole salmon, some good wines and cheeses, not to mention exuberant conversation. We didn't manage to get out for a family walk, as we ate a late lunch, though Kath and I took a brisk walk to Sainsbury's before it closed early, so see if it was possible to purchase a micro SD card. Rhiannon received a small Sony videocam as a present, but the product isn't sold with a memory card, so nothing can be recorded without it. Keen to build her enthusiasm and familiarity with the device, I suggest we go and hunt for one, even though almost all shops were shut, The relevant shelf was empty, but on another discount clearance shelf we found a handful of 64GB high speed cards at half price, making our brisk walk in chill evening air worthwhile. After much eating and drinking, we were all in bed by midnight.

Today, a late rising holiday breakfast day, then a brisk lunchtime stroll across Abbey Fields to Kenilworth Castle and over fields beyond to the north-west, busy with holiday-time walkers. The lake is still partly frozen, with hundreds of gulls standing on the ice. Most of the Mallards and Moorhens were in the open water at the east end, where they tend to congregate to be fed by humans, throughout the year. I got a few good shots of a Heron, plus one of a Moorhen roosting on the bare branch of a tree overhanging the water, something I've not seen before. I got a couple of good photos of a large bird of prey, which had been feeding on the ground and then perched on a fence. I couldn't put a name to it. That needs investigation with a birdie book at home.

On the return trip we stopped at a tea room near the castle for a drink and a snack. Before leaving, a joint of lamb had been committed to the over for a six hour slow roast at low cooking temperature, and this was consumed by the men at supper, along with more excellent wines and cheeses. After this, we watched the video movie 'Elf', which we watched together last year at Christmas, a favourite family Christmas movie.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas ease

Christmas morning is usually a struggle against tiredness to get started after several busy days and short night's sleep, but with a ten o'clock Mass with carols at St German's this morning, I rose just before nine, fresh and relaxed, and was on my way there in good time,

There were fifteen of us for the service including a lady from London who was staying at the Holland House Hotel on a holiday excursion, ten minutes walk away from church. The occasion was made memorable due to the Advent wreath catching fire just as the Eucharistic prayer began. As people rose in response to the crisis and the fire extinguisher was retrieved from next to the crib, I stopped at the end of the common Preface, continuing as soon as the blaze was subdued. Luckily the stand with the wreath on was not in a place from which fire could have easily spread elsewhere. One thing I did learn however was how easily 'oasis' blocks used by flower arrangers can melt down under the influence of a candle flame.

I was back home again by half past eleven, before Clare and Owain arrived from St Catherine's, and got on with preparing vegetables for cooking. Owain took charge of roasting the goose, and Clare master minded the table arrangements, starter and pudding. We were eating lunch by just after two, in a leisurely way, and then opened presents around the Christmas tree whose candles we forgot to light. A rather strange thing, but then it was a little strange just being three of us instead of the whole family. We Skyped Rachel in Arizona, then Kath, Anto and Rhiannon, spending Christmas day with Anto's sister Viv in Northampton. 

Later we watched 'The desolation of Smaug' in the movie trilogy based on J R R Tolkein's 'The Hobbit'. It was an interesting portrayal of the story, but to my mind there was too much spectacular violence the scenes of elves and dwarfs battling with orcs. It served no purpose other than to lengthen an already long film, and inflate the income of CGI designers and programme.

Cardiff Christmas Eve

A quiet day of preparation, writing the third of my Christmas sermons and printing them off ready. But I still hadn't got something special to give to Clare instead of that new phone. After lunch I went hunting in town, and found something I was happy enough to give. It was a great relief. The mood on the street was quietly cheery. It's the two 'black' Fridays before Christmas when the office and works parties take place and the streets are a sea of inebriation.

I called into St John city Parish Church, hoping to greet Sarah the Vicar, but she was occupied with a congregation in a German carol service - a very nice touch indeed, considering that streets around St John's are occupied by the stalls of a German style Christmas market. The public address system along Working Street, where there are are series of bars and eateries, was pumping out jazzy versions of Christmas pop songs. I couldn't resist singing aloud as a strolled through. 

On Castle Street, a dad was taking a photo of his two kids flanking Cardiff's post box painted gold in honour of our local Olympic winner. I paused until the snap was completed, to smile at the kids, and hear the mum speak French to her husband. Probably having a holiday break with us in Cardiff. This prompted me to wish them "Bonne fête de Noel' as I went on my way, feeling glad that we're so much a European city nowadays, something which Brexit politics and mindset will not be able to take away.

There were just over thirty of us for the six o'clock Vigil Mass at St German's. In a moment's distraction I succeeded in reading the Gospel for Advent four - the Matthean birth narrative, instead of one of the stories from Luke or from John's Prologue. I realised not long after I'd started, but decided just to keep going to the end. It was embarrassing because the correct reading was on the service sheet in people's hands, and I was reading from the Gospel book. It only took a moment to explain that the mistake made didn't mean the lesson had to be re-read, as my sermon involved working through the story meant to be read and making points about it. I wasn't on my best form. After the Eucharistic Prayer, I performed the Fraction (Breaking of the Bread) before instead of after the Lord Prayer - the way it's done in the old Church in Wales 1984 - not what I was using!

At the end, I learned from an older woman who has started attending in the past few months, and on this occasion was accompanied by her daughter, that they come from Albania. I didn't ask if she was Orthodox or Roman Catholic, but having recently learned that the roots of the seemingly obscure Albanian language are in ancient Greek, I wished her happy Christmas in (modern) Greek, and drew a smile. I love their natural and un-selfconscious expressions of piety. She's evidently comfortable in St German's, where nobody stares at you for expressing love for God, even if a majority express themselves in a reserved manner, apart from exuberant singing and smiling.

The roads were empty as I drove home, shops were shut and many of the pubs and club it seems were quiet or closing early as well. Urban bliss now, as the place exhausts itself of festivity after a couple of months of marketed anticipation. Owain had arrived by the time I got home, and there was enough time for supper together, and a little relaxation before returning to St German's by eleven for Midnight Mass. Again, we were just over thirty people, enthusiastically embracing the moment. This time, despite the hour, my concentration held throughout, and there were no more errors.

I drove home just after one, listening to the end of Midnight Mass on Radio Four. The house was quiet, Clare and Owain, already asleep. I mulled some wine for a nightcap, but had to settle for a chocolate biscuits, as there were no mince pies out. They were still hidden in the depths of the freezer. These days Santa has no need to call at Meadow Street.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Phone market madness

Yesterday, I stood in for Fr Mark again, celebrating the midweek Eucharist at St John's. Visiting for the first time was Sarah Harris, the new diocesan Community Mental Health Chaplain, who started work recently. She's visiting Parishes, to get to know her 'workplace', and be known by people in them. It's a pioneering ministry indeed, and a challenge to know how to go about it. One of the impressive things about churches these days, however, is the way some host groups involved with the care and concern of people suffering with different kinds of health issues, and outside of the NHS altogether. Great to think she's not starting from scatch.

Clare and I met in town this afternoon, to take her to the EE shop to buy her a new phone as part of her Christmas present. Last Friday I bought myself a new Samasung Galaxy J3, and Clare decided she liked the look and feel of it. She has been overspending on a contract in excess of her light use, and decided to switch to a PAYG contract like mine. With no need for a work phone these days, I'm a relatively light domestic user, and find PAYG flexibile options suit me well. Clare arranged to switch her account, but it won's start until mid-January, but it seems a good idea to see if she could get the same deal as I got on a new phone. 

Not so, it turned out, even though she is switching to PAYG, having spent more money than me on phone bills over the past year, the price for a SIM free phone to use with an existing contract account was still 25% more than I paid for mine. This made no sense to me whatsoever, despite the attempt of the rather rude young salesman to explain away the ridiculous price differential. In the end, we left the shop and decided to defer the phone purchase until the new year, when Clare's PAYG arrangement starts, unless there's an even better deal in the post Christmas sales. 

Disappointed at failing to obtain a phone as a present I visited several phone shops to compare prices, and was astonished to discover how wide is the prices range for a SIM free phone, or a phone locked but able to take a SIM only contract account with a particular service provider, a difference of a third to a half of the cost of the phone. Ah well, we live and learn. Now I have to find another present for Clare, just when I thought everything was settled.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

St Thomas conundrum and a remarkable movie

I drove to St German's this morning to celebrate a quiet midweek Mass for eight people. It's the shortest day, but significant though it may be as a turning point in the year, there's nothing in the liturgy of the day that reflects the natural order, apart from the ancient antiphon to the Magnificat.

O Rising Sun, you are the splendour of eternal light and the sun of justice.
Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

Before the Revised Calendar and Lectionary came in, the shortest day was marked by being the feast of St Thomas the Apostle. I found myself wondering why his celebration should have been placed today, even though it has been relocated nowadays on the third of July.

I returned home straight away, as people in the day centre I normally drop in on after Mass were getting ready to be taken to another social centre for (pre) Christmas lunch. I returned and cooked lunch for us instead of supper, as we had tickets for an early evening showing of Clint Eastwood's latest film 'Sully' at Chapter Arts Centre.

The film was a marvellously detailed account of the dramatic landing of an Airbus 320 jet airliner on the river Hudson in January 2009, which saved the lives of all 155 people on board, and approached it from an unusual angle, focusing on the proceeds of the Air Transportation Safety Board's enquiry into the pilot's reason for ditching the plane, when he was within a few minutes flying time of two airfields. Recklessness and poor judgement was being alleged, despite the public acclamation of pilot Chesley Sullenberger as a hero. The enquiry made much use of computer simulations to prosecute this case, but in the end, detailed examination of the evidence revealed that the pilot's training and experienced quick judgement of the situation, outstripped the best guesses of artificial intelligence and data input.

This was a marvellous frame of reference for looking at the event itself in flashbacks, marvellously reproduced through use of Computer Graphic Imagery of the film's setting, based on original news footage, together with live actors. There was a much tension in the enquiry sequences as there was in the re-play of the incident itself. Sully found the portrayal of himself as a hero hard to cope with, as he is highly conscious and reliant on teamwork from the whole crew to make the best of a bad situation. It is an admirable movie. I hope it wins lots of awards, and is shown on telly in the not too distant future.

As we were leaving Chapter we bumped into Fr John Webber, who was enjoying a quiet pint and a read in his local. Co-incidentally, he'd posted on Facebook earlier an image he'd taken forty years ago of the shrine church at the site of St Thomas' martyrdom in southern India, so I asked him if he knew why his traditional feast day was today. In Indian Christian tradition, taken from that of the East Syrian church of ancient times, Thomas the Apostle was said to have been killed in 72AD on this day. Why shift to July? I asked if he knew. Apparently Thomas is considered to important an observation to get lost in the immediate run up to Christmas, so he is now commemorated just after midsummer instead on a day which features in another ancient church martyrology as the date he was killed. As an erstwhile parish priest of a church in Bangladesh dedicated to St Thomas, Fr John is unconvinced of the need for this relocation. I bet Syrian Christians still observe this traditional Advent feast day. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Losing Lionel

Today's news has been full of tributes to Rabbi Lionel Blue, who died yesterday. as well as being a well regarded radio broadcaster and writer for the past forty years, he was also a teacher of theology and Jewish spirituality. So it was highly fitting that one of his rabinic students should have broadcast a 'Thought for the Day' tribute on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, as he was a regular contributor over many years to that programme, especially on Monday mornings, where his blend of good cherry, funny insights and spiritual wisdom really had you laughing and pondering as you went about your daily tasks. 

He had some lovely things to say about his relationship with Jesus, about whom he had learned from evangelical students in Oxford as an undergraduate. Jesus, that unique and original Jewish character, who inspired Lionel to be himself, to find himself in ministry as a rabbi, and as an overtly gay man with much to say about the real nature of unconditional and faithful love in human relationships of all kind.

His name first became known to us in the early seventies through a paperback cook book, one of several to carry his name, this one called 'A taste of heaven'. He taught generations of people, believers and unbelievers alike, to lighten up, relax and enjoy life's goodness, while taking all its hassles in one's stride, muddling through wherever necessary. What a lovely person. What a great life, whose wisdom made a quiet difference to so many of his contemporaries.

In recent years, due to age and infirmity he broadcasted less and less often, but his funny remarks and profound reflections about the nature of old age, decline, grief, and feebleness revealed that there was no diminishment in his ability to seek and find the glory of God in any imaginable situation, and convey that essential reassurance affirmed in the poetry of the Song of Songs: 

'Many waters cannot quench love. Love is stronger than death'. 

Monday, 19 December 2016

Keyboard anomalies

An early start this morning, to attend the funeral at Thornhill Crematorium of the husband of a former colleague of Clare's. The Fountain Community choir had been asked to sing a couple of choral items. As it was rush hour we left early, forgetting that there's less of a rush now school terms are over, so we arrived half an hour before most people. 

The priest officiating was Canon Peter Collins of St David's Cathedral, an ex-colleague from my time at St John's, as the deceased was a Catholic. The Briwnant Chapel was filled to overflowing, as more people turned out than anticipated. It's not often that I attend funerals at which I'm not officiating, and get to see other clerics at work. It gives me cause to reflect on my ministry to the bereaved.

My right knee is still giving me trouble, although the treatment I had last week has made a difference, but Kay warned me that full recovery would take time and could still be painful. Stitting still for any period of time stiffens the knee considerably, and the only remedy is to get out and walk slowly and carefully until the muscles warm up and the stiffness subsides. So, after lunch, I walked for over an hour around Llandaff Fields, and then down to the phone shop on Cowbridge Road to buy a cover for my new Samsung J3, which I'm very pleased with. Its very slimness led me to feel that it could be vulnerable if dropped, and needed a protective case.

In the evening, with nothing of interest on telly, yet again, I switched on my new Acer E3-112 as it still needed a few configuration tweaks. When you sign in on a new computer with a MS OneDrive i/d, it configures some of the Windows 10 settings according to the last collection of settings backed up to the Cloud. This presumes identical machine setups are in use, and in my case this is not so. 

The last Windows device I set up for myself was my HP mini desktop, using an Swiss keyboard, useful for writing letters in French or German. These settings were shared with the new laptop, giving me the option of a Swiss keyboard by default, or an English keyboard option. Once I'd figured out what was going on, it was easy to change the specific setting. I've come across this before, as I've been in other situations where sharing of computer settings doesn't quite work first time due to differences in keyboard settings. I wonder why this anomaly hasn't been noticed and remedied before.

By the time I'd finished sorting this out, a succession of automatic updates was under way, including the big Anniversary Update from last summer. It took a couple of hours. My computer bargain was a shop demonstrator model which hadn't been attached to the internet since it was set up, so it hadn't ever been updated. So it's often a long wait until you have a properly functioning machine. That's the price to be paid for bargain purchases.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Dramatic climaxes

Having decided to go over to Bristol and visit Amanda yesterday afternoon, we left early and diverted from the M4 on to the A48 after Newport, for a leisurely drive through a favourite part of Gwent, for a pub lunch at the Groeswen Inn, near Penhow. It made a pleasant change to a routine journey. Amanda was in good spirits, and getting used to a different routine, now that James is away at University and living in a student flat on the UWE Fishponds campus. 

We drove home after dark, and although the weather conditions were reasonable, I didn't enjoy driving, as road traffic out of Bristol north goes rather quicker at night than I've been used to recently, driving in Spain in the dark. Urban and rural road speed limits there are lower, and having adjusted to that, it's not so easy to revert. I think we're be better off with lower speed limits here around all towns and villages for safety, noise and pollution reasons, even though it would mean a bit culture change for the majority of motorists.

We were back in time for late supper before watching the last episode of 'Modus'. All in all, this BBC Four Scandi-crime drama offering disappointed - a plot that was somewhat implausible, leading actors lacking in sparkle and presence. But then, portraying a crime psychologist mother of two or a divorced cop must be hard going when similar roles have been well filled in other series by those who excel at 'character' parts. Also, there were too many lingering nightscape shots of Uppsala, which was, I believe, the mise-en-scène. We've seen clever photography in semi-darkness a bit too often in recent years for that sort of landscape to play much of a part in creating a mood for the occasion. Unlike 'Y Gwyll', on tomorrow night (final series episode), where the Cambrian coast and mountain scenery inland does contribute to generating the mood, and making the series so superbly watchable. 

I was on duty at St Catherine's for the eight o'clock again this morning, and at St German's at eleven. On my way to the latter, I drove via the municipal waste and re-cycling centre in Hadfield Road, to get rid of seven bin bags of thick foam, the remnants of a dismantled mattress from the bed that James used to sleep in. He doesn't have or drive a car, and Bristol Council rubbish collection makes pre-disposal demands which are difficult for a disabled person living alone to meet. The bags filled the back seats of the car and the boot. Leaving them outside the house until collection day would not have guaranteed their removal. Some things are deemed by public service officials to be 'too hard', whether in reality they are or not. Government and public services can force citizens to care about much that's considered in the public interest, but the obligation to care for disadvantaged people doesn't always work as well as the law advocates.

The last episode of  'Y Gwyll' on S4C was indeed masterly drama. Dialogue was sparse, but a great deal was achieved through acutely observed actors' faces reacting to things they'd just learned - the power of the unsaid drawn out by the camera. And the landscape, mostly in grey wintry daylight, made its own statement about rural poverty and neglect, speaking about a region left behind after previous industrial and social upheavals, subsisting on agriculture and tourism. It's not the whole story of rural mid and north Wales by any means, but it does reflect the series title in English - 'Hinterland'. 

The final shot, after DCI Matthias had seen justice done by the victims of child abuse by a top policeman, was a coup de grace, as the cop himself, stands lonely, on the beach at Aberystwyth, looking at photos of his estranged family, so painfully sad after a moment of professional triumph which leaves him satisfied but quite unmoved. Will there be another series, with EC funding cut-backs likely in the future? Thankfully the multiple plot lines in the series of all three serials shown this past couple of years have reached a resolution. The only unresolved issues concern the lives of main characters, that I for one have developed a sense of concern for. Such a sense of emotional involvement in fictional says a great deal about about the high quality of story telling running through this home produced series. Well done Wales, very well done!

Friday, 16 December 2016

Overdue phone upgrade

Another visit to St German's this morning to assist in funeral arrangements for Angela Brown, who grew up as a member of the congregation and was married there nearly forty years ago. Her brother Fr Chris Lea is Curate in Caerau with Ely parish. My task was to make sure everything was in place for Angela's parish priest, another Chris, Fr Chris Burr of Lisvane, to officiate at the funeral office and preside at the requiem Eucharist, part of the service. There was yet another Chris, Canon Chris Clark an old family friend also taking part in the service plus former Vicar Fr Roy Doxey, and several more clergy in the congregation of over 180 as well.

Often, on occasions like this a quarter of the congregation will take communion, but on this occasion it was more like two thirds, as a great number of fellow church members from Lisvane and other parts of the city, who knew Angela attended as well. The home team of servers and stewards did her proud. Although a moving and sad occasion, the worshipping community was charged with consoling warmth and affection. It's amazing the way St German's and its core community generates a relaxed atmosphere for a congregation of 30-40 on the regular basis, yet can scale up with ease and respond to having 200 or 500 in church. Essentially the regular members love what they do, and this in its turn influences all who turn up and join in. For once I had a background role, and enjoyed just being part of the crew.

I returned home for a late lunch then walked into town, having decided to buy a new phone. My three year old Samsung Galaxy III Mini feels comparatively sluggish, now I'm not using the Blackberry Q10 I had for work purposes. I've passed over several opportunities for a new phone after the 18-24 month renewal cycle, not approving of early redundancy which new technological innovation pushes consumers towards. Tending to be a late adopter, I hang on to working products as long as seems useful to do so. Now I use my personal phone a lot more, the difference is noticeable between a 5 year old and a 3 year old phone. Following a recommendation from Owain, I bought a Samsung Galaxy J3, for just £85 from the EE shop on Queen Street. That's almost half the price he paid for the same phone six months ago. It's amazing how quickly phone prices tumble when new ones come out. Some 'state of the art' phone features, I just don't need. Owain says the phone camera is not good, but that's no bother to me, as I prefer a proper pocket camera with real knobs and buttons rather than a device with only touchscreen controls.

I was delighted by the way the J3 copied my installed apps and email messages and phone numbers from the old one, leaving me only to log in or re-register some of them. The only thngs that wasn't copied across were SMS messages. So, I back them up from the old phone to my PC using Samsung Kies software only to find that Kies refused to play with the new phone, requiring me to use an app called 'Smart Switch', which I also had installed, to connect with the phone. Thankfully this automatically found the text message backup just made, and transferred the content to the J3. It took me a while to achieve this. After all, it's not that often I have to do this, so I forget how to. Now the new phone is running, nothing is lost, apart from a few hours figuring it all out. Not that it matters. There was nothing on telly worth watching this evening anyway.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Advent giving way to Christmas

Father Mark our Vicar asked me if I'd stand in for him at this morning's 10.30am Eucharist at St John's, which I was happy to do, and to stop for a chat and a cuppa after the service. Best of all, I was able to buy some jars of home made marmalade, from the church's permanent fund raising stall, as our stocks ran out months ago. Our local greengrocer says he expects his annual import of bitter organic oranges from a supplier near Seville, to arrive just after Christmas. Last year, we were late buying, so stocks were nearly finished, hence we were unable to make a year's supply in one go.

It was too dreary and wet to venture out for an afternoon walk, so I made an effort to make a digital card to accompany the annual newsletter, which will go out by email to another fifty people in addition to the cards posted yesterday. I found an icon of the Nativity I liked, and some words from an Orthodox hymn that matched it.

After an early supper we drove out to Russell and Jacquie's house in Dinas Powis for their annual Christmas soiree of readings, and carols around a candle-lit tree, reflecting on the meaning of the incornation. It was a gathering mainly of well behaved careful adults, so with the usual precautions, the tree posed a minimal health and safety risk to participants. The main risk was from over indulging in delicious treats provided afterwards. About twenty people came, most of them associated with Cardiff Steiner school in various ways, many of them old friends. It was an enjoyable evening, rather more thoughtful than the average Christmas party, I'm glad to say.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Shopping around

I drove to St German's for the midweek Mass this morning and celebrated the memory of St John of the Cross, a suitable saint for this Advent season of waiting, given the part played in his spiritual teaching to longing for God and divine love. Afterwards I stopped for coffee in the church hall day centre, and met with PCSO Andy. It's the first time since I officiated at his wedding to Michelle back in the spring this year. He told me that they are expecting a baby this spring, and are planning a Christening at Saint Germans in early summer. As he's well known to parishioners, this is a celebration many people will be delighted about, me included, especially if I'm able to be involved in it.

Afterwards, I drove out to PC World to browse for bargains, but didn't see any. A young man took me through his sales routine for choosing a mobile phone. I think he underestimated my understanding of all the devices on offer, exactly what I wanted and why. He was so keen to promote state of the art stuff that he had difficulty in grasping my critical remarks relating to my actual needs and requirements for a purchase. Newest isn't always as good as tried and tested, or the issue of how much actual learning or adaptation is required to use a device as efficiently, if not more so than my existing one. 

I don't need a phone with a nano SIM cards fitting an adaptor tray on the phone. They are difficult to handle if you ever have to swap SIM cards. Taking it into a shop to do that when you could do it for yourself matters to me. Also having a removable battery, rather than one sealed into the case, currently fashionable and guaranteed to make the phone redundant after a year or so of heavy use. Young sales personnel may not need to use the word 'sustainable' as part of their sales patter, but it's part of what I need to know before investing time and energy in new kit.

After PC World, I went to Staples, which has put sales tickets on all its display stock since I was last in the store. I succumbed to the temptation to buy a 11.5" Acer Aspire E11 laptop at half the asking price. At £153, it's the cheapest Windows PC I've ever bought, and is small and light enough to take with me on my travels. It's not very powerful, but its specification is adequate enough for things I need to do when I'm away.

The machine wasn't factory reset when I took it from the store, and I had a problem setting up my own user area, as the ostensibly deleted demonstrator user account control mechanism was still functioning, and it took a trip back to the store to learn that it had no password. It works fine, except the the log-in screen still throws a Staples error message, although it logs in to my user account with administrator privileges as expected. If that doesn't clear with us, I'll have to factory reset it myself. Come to think of it, that's the first time I've not had to register the operating system from scratch, so I may be obliged to revisit this if I have any more hassles with it.

I cooked a prawn and mushroom risotto for supper instead of a paella, to finish off a bottle of white wine taking space in the fridge. I was quite pleased with the result. Then we sat and watched telly for a few hours before turning in later than intended. As ever.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Radio theatre, news channels and newsfeeds

Having completed the purchase of Christmas cards and stamps, and printing copies of our annual round robin letter last week, I finally summoned the energy to finish the job with several hours of assembly production line labour. It was made more onerous than usual by having envelopes of an anomalous size and shape, which required the letter be folded four times in order to fit instead of the usual two. It takes that little extra time to do four tidy folds, so the job took longer than usual. Note to self: check envelope sizes against letter page size next year!

After lunch I drove to Newport for my osteo appointment with Kay. It did me a world of good, and taught me a thing or to about how a minor knee injury had also given me hip joint problems as well. Niggling pains I've had lately in my pelvis and hip joint have been related to stress caused down in the knee joint by collisions with furniture. I'm walking more normally now, and the knee joint inflammation is subsiding. I need to be careful for a few days, a little more mindful long term of how I walk, and strive to be less clumsy moving about in enclosed spaces! I'm still trying to change habits of a lifetime.

The weather was miserably wet for the drive there and back, and traffic heavy. This deterred me from doing any shopping or social visits on the way home, and I was just lucky enough to get one of the last available parking spaces in the street at five o'clock. Demand for spaces is far greater than supply for much of the time, and this is noticeable particularly in poor weather, for reasons I don't understand.

I spent the evening listening to several different audio dramas on Radio Four iPlayer. In one way it's less demanding than watching TV or iPlayer video, which I often do these days, as much if not more than watching live TV. Radio drama requires careful listening and stimulates the imagination, and that demands a different kind of attentiveness, which I find enjoyable and quite relaxing. Entire evenings can pass by without there being anything worth watching on TV, not even the news, if I've heard it a few times during the day. 

Often morning news is a reprise of thing learned from Twitter posts the night before. There may be added interviews and comment, but these tend to pad out content more often than they add content. So called 24 hour news channels repeat large batches of content around the clock, but on-line news feeds stream fresh content, adding comment to existing content in a way that evolves as a story evolves in real time. How news delivery has changed with the evolution of digital media! And we've changed with it. The world has changed too, but not necessarily for the better, when the farewell messages of besieged Aleppo residents are broadcast on social media, and then on news channels, as they await extermination in the final onslaught to secure Syrian military control of that doomed city. And the wider world seems helpless to intervene and bring an end to this brutal show of force. These events, and their broadcast to the world will return to haunt us all in times to come.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Wobbly web and wobbly knee

I woke up at half past five and couldn't get back to sleep, so I wrote for an hour or so until Clare came down, and then we had breakfast together. Still felling tired, I trying going back to bed, but our cleaners came and I couldn't settle. Clare's computer wouldn't attach to the internet, so her computer needed a little troubleshooting. Thankfully it wasn't the problem plaguing thousands at the moment, but a clash between the Wifi and Ethernet devices, which were both on at the same time. A flawed Windows 10 update has left some router marques not working consistently. Sister June emailed to say she hadn't been able to access mail for ages, until this weekend just gone, and that may well be an instance of this upgrade problem, as she has really fast broadband and a dual router set up that I'm not familiar with. So I can't help wondering if her posh router is one that's been suffering from Windows 10 upgrade-itis. 

Thank heavens for a Chromebook, and Android phones, as neither is likely to be affected by this bug, which seems to leave the actual PC unable to play consistently with certain makes of router, and not the other way around, if I've understood properly. I read reports about this on Saturday. Certain TalkTalk issued routers also seem affected, as their help service tweeted about it today, drawing public attention to an article on their website. Meanwhile, Microsoft is being quite tight-lipped about it, and how long before a remedy will be issued. These days MS performs operating system updates automatically, unless the operating system is configured to change nothing without user consent. They don't say what's being fixed in each update, so there's no way of users knowing which update needs to be uninstalled to root out the problem. It's totalitarian madness.

After lunch, Clare went swimming, and I went out to meet colleague Fr Chris for a coffee and chat in Cafe Castan, before making my way to the Natural Health clinic for a MacTimony chiro apporintment with Kay, so work on a painful knee problem which has emerged in recent days, the result of several unfortunate collisions with low lying furniture, hitting me in the same place. Unfortunately,  I was a week early. I hadn't read the confirmatory email I receive properly, so grateful I'd been to get an early appointment locally. Well, after limping unsteadily home, I secured another appointment for tomorrow, and I have to drive to Newport for that. I'll be glad to get some help in sorting this problem out. Feeling wobbly in one leg is a sensation I have found most disconcerting, an unwelcome taste of old age.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Thoughts on MInistry Sunday

Another early start this morning, as I was asked to cover the 8.00am Eucharist at St Catherine's, another traditional Book of Common Prayer start to the day, only this time the 1984 Church in Wales revision, another liturgy I know off by heart. Clare came too, so we there walked together in the pre-dawn twilight. By the time I reached the altar for the Offertory, the sun had risen enough to shine in through the churchyard trees, and light up the brickwork in the north west corner of the church. Lovely. There were seven of us for the service. I read Archbishop Barry's Ministry Sunday letter, his last before he retires in February, commending the new Ministry Area strategy for the Church in Wales and all this will mean for the vocations of both lay and ordained people as it develops. 

With fewer than ever clergy doing more of the same, in a world where more and more technical management skills and experience are required on top of pastoral and spiritual gifts, it's difficult to see at this stage exactly how responsibility for the whole life and mission of the church is going to be shared between laity and clergy in ways that are not already happening. Maybe at this stage it's a matter of muddling through, adjusting, making better efforts to communicate better and build effective personal relationships, not just trusting that every stakeholder lay person or cleric is happy to be organised and work in a way that's different from that is habitual to them. 

In my experience a community will rally around and grow through tackling a cause or project which everyone recognises as a key issue around which to rally and muster resources. Adapting buildings to cater for changing need is one thing, restoring beloved places of worship in crisis is another, reaching out to identifiable needy groups of people is another, social and natural environmental concern is yet another. What's more difficult, when it comes to working together in genuine missionary enterprise, isn't practical responses to material need, but the spiritual dimensions of life.

Without a vision the people perish (Prov 29:18), immediately comes to mind. Every changing scene of life, every new experience, Christians are challenged yet again to return to Scripture and Tradition, and seek new understanding about how the life of faith engages afresh with reality, not just as individuals but as a community sharing thoughts and insights about the meaning of life and our relationship with God as a fresh stimulus to creative imagination.

The appeal of Christian faith to heart, mind and will has been profoundly weakened by ideologies emerging from secular materialistic thought, so that now Christian faith is dismissed as unworthy of consideration by perhaps a majority of people, who, if they have any religious or spiritual inclinations at all, prefer the DIY approach and make it up as they go along, their individualism unchallenged. Populism, be it religious, social or political may be a kind of reaction against that, but a disciplined challenge to the truth and validity of either from Christian thinking has very limited impact. Believers have a great deal to learn from the failure of the church to commend its faith to a greater audience, and a need to re-engage differently in persuasive argument for the adoption of Christian life and faith.  

Those who take the lead in matters of ministry teach and remind the church of its calling and purpose, but they are also learners, who need enable others to think for themselves, imagine and share their ideas and insights. That means taking time to listen, for them, for the whole community. Whatever practical preparation we make for anything we do is only as good as the quality of preparation we put into it, together. And that's so hard when we're so busy with so much to be done. In retirement I now look back and think about things I could have spent more time on and done better. Now I have spare time, wondering what to do with it is what exercises me most, for now.

Thankfully, after several hours of battery charging, the car started without difficulty. Why it discharged when it's not that old, is another issue to keep an eye on. Anyway, I got to St German's nice and early and enjoyed chatting with people arriving for the service. Churchwarden Peter read out Archbishop Barry's Ministry letter, and I preached about it. To my mind, St German's is a church community that is ready to face a changing future in a ministry area, as they have learned to work hard together to sustain its community facing activities, as well as buildings and worship for several years, this has continued throughout its extended period of life without a regular parish priest. I hope a new priest will be able to recognise this and build upon it, whenever one is appointed, and hopefully sooner, if a new ministry area in the 'southern arc' of Cardiff's parishes is to be realised.

After lunch, Clare went off to her final concert rehearsal, and I followed her to the Fountain Steiner School in Llandaff North a couple of hours later for the later afternoon performance. The school hall was full of families, and the choir was drawn from teachers, parents nd friends of the school. They'd spent the term rehearsing a selection of pieces from Benjamin Britten's 'Ceremony of Carols', quite a tough challenging work to develop from scratch in over three months, but I know how much Clare has enjoyed it, and is now enjoying singing lessons, taken to improve her vocal technique. I wouldn't mind joining the choir, except that it means on Tuesdays, clashing with Chi Gung, and I'm looking forward to re-starting that in the New Year.

I took my Sony HX50 with me, perched on a high window sill, pressed the video record button and left it to its own devices during the Britten, reckoning this might produce a helpful piece of feedback for the conductor to consider later. I was delighted with the result, as the sound is really quite good as well as the video footage. There was a man sitting in front of me who also had a camera and took a few stills. It turned out that inside his smart leather camera case was an identical HX50!

After supper we relaxed together, watching the movie 'Paddington', for the first time, laughing aloud at its mild satirization of British bourgeois life, while at the same time it packs a hard hitting message about the inclusiveness, diversity and welcoming foreign migrants deemed by the author and producer of the film to be characteristic of the British way of life. Nothing could be more timely. It could do with being shown on one channel or another every night at the moment, just to spite the tabloid media. 

This was followed by the penultimate episode of 'Gwyll', which rather shifted gear half way through, going from being slowly paced with a hint of menace, to chain of incidents in which our heroes start to join the dots and make an intelligible picture of the toxic affair of the children's home which has been the cause of so many tragic lives lost, throughout all three sets of episodes of this memorable Celtic noir movie series. I'm left wondering if the producers planned them all in advance, given the difficulties in funding attached to projects of this nature, or whether it evolved following the big international success of the first series. It's been a great credit to the Welsh language creative industry, and S4C. One can only hope we'll see new ventures in future.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Musical memories

After a late breakfast, Owain went off to see friends before returning to Bristol. Clare and I got ready to go to the Millennium Centre for lunch, before a matinee performance of Cole Porter's classic musical comedy 'Kiss me Kate'. It was raining, and likely keep raining for the rest of the day, so we decided to drive there by car. The car wouldn't start, so we had to abandon the car and wait for a 61 bus. The next one was late arriving and very crowded. We were the only two allowed on at the stop. Sheer luck. We only had to wait a few minutes for the number 6 Bay Car bus in town. 

The city centre was heaving with damp shoppers. When we got there, the Millennium centre was also pretty crowded with damp people. I think there may have been other events on besides 'Kiss me Kate'. We had to queue for ten minutes to get sandwiches for lunch, and it was difficult to find a place to sit and eat them. It was amazingly busy, but despite the minor inconvenience, it's good to realise how well used the place is.

I doubt if any Broadway musical production could have surpassed this one. Fine singing, brilliant solo and ensemble dancing, engaging comedy, and a wonderful stylish relationship between performers and audience, so evocative of fifties vaudeville. I can't remember when I last saw a live performance or a movie, it's so long ago, but several of the big songs I knew well. My mother had a compendium of sheet music songs from the show. She would play the piano accompaniment while my sister June sang, and occasionally it would just be Mum singing. It was a lovely moment of escapist romance in the front room of our three bedroomed miner's terrace dwelling in Ystrad Mynach. It's a fond memory I have of childhood, even though it causes me to feel sadness as well as pleasure when I hear the music again. I don't know why this should be.

I was fortunate enough to be raised in a household that loved to sing and play music together. When our children were young our home was the same. Clare still sings and plays piano, but I've lost the taste for it in recent years, I'm ashamed to say, and don't understand why. After my mother had a stroke, she did make an effort to resume playing, but found it dauntingly difficult, and so the house fell silent, and the sound of live music was replaced by that of the radio. Perhaps I too am daunted by the difficulty of moving from perpetually practising music to performing it, and the feeling I have no audience to work at performing for. I just have to be grateful there's still an audience for my preaching and leadership of worship. I hope our offspring will never give up performing, or wanting to find an audience to perform to. It's a great treasure to relish.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Advent time out

Thursday slipped by with nothing remarkable happening. Perhaps this is what happens when you don't have a project or a work plan, and at the moment, I have neither. I'm not resting, or putting my life on hold, but waiting to recognise and respond to whatever comes towards me next in life. I refuse to think that all I can do, having reached three score years and ten, is to wait for rigor mortis. 

Retirement from regular employment with a modest pension for security simply set me free to work in new ways, as I have come to appreciate over the past six and a half years. Finding priestly things to do is never a problem, but this doesn't occupy the whole of my life. It's time now for me to move on and do something different. What this is, I don't yet know. It's strange territory to inhabit, and in a way this is just right for the season of Advent, a time of waiting that offers us an opportunity to see everything in our lives in a different light.

Today, having finalised my Sunday sermon, and done some digital tidying - the best way I can describe making my archived stuff intelligible and accessible - I walked the longer route through Bute Park and back, and saw a dozen Magpies gathered in the same area of grass. I believe the collective noun is 'charm of magpies'. Can't  think why, but am pleased to see so many in our City Centre parkland. The same is true for Crows, Gulls, Pigeons, but also, surprisingly enough, Tits. Walking down the tree lined path to Blackweir bridge, I saw a family of a dozen long tailed tits, plus a few others, working their way quickly through each tree in turn, searching for insects, so quickly that I couldn't get photos of them despite bare branches stripped of leaves. I also saw two pairs of Jays, also too quick for me. Even so, it's a delight to know that there are still so many birds in our wintry parkland.

Owain came over from Bristol to have supper and spend the night. We drank good wine and talked until late on politics and culture and social vision, as well as career matters. I feel very blessed that we still have so much to talk about. I have so much to learn from him.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

How green is my Valley now!

Yesterday's carol service for the whole of Tredegarville school was the last occasion of this term for children to worship in St German's. There'll be no more 'class Masses' until mid January when Spring term gets under way. Eight of the regulars were there for the  midweek celebration of the Eucharist this morning, eastward facing in the Lady Chapel. Afterwards I chatted with people in the day centre for a while before heading back home for lunch. 

The rest of the day was uneventful and pretty inactive, apart from a brisk walk to Tesco's after preparing supper. Clare was out rehearsing for her Sunday concert until after eight. After eating together, I watched the first of a documentary series being re-run on BBC Four, about the river Taff and its post industrial regeneration. It's a superb series, part of which I have seen before. It was lovely to hear people being interviewed who spoke with the unique local accent in the area where I grew up. The 21st century story of the river's revival as a natural habitat, after half a century of ecological death by industrial pollution, is such a positive story for our time.

As I was growing up the state of the river, with its banks of alien silt from deep underground, brought to the surface and distributed throughout river systems due to ubiquitous coal mining washeries, was part of my earliest memories of outdoor play. I remember my mother's anxious warning, not to go near 'that black brook' which flowed off the mountainside through Ystrad Mynach, down to the river Rhymney on the floor of our valley. Coal dust, however you acquired it, made your clothes very dirty, so heaven help you if you fell into the river. Now the tributaries and the main valley rivers are alive again with healthy vegetation, birds and fish. The grief of elders who lived through the heyday of mining regretting the environmental cost has been turned to joy and pride.

At the end of my first year in University, I had a summer internship in the local National Coal Board science lab on the edge of our village. One of my tasks was to accompany a member of staff who toured streams and rivers in the area collecting water samples. These were then subjected to routine tests for toxins from coal tips, to monitor the impact of coal waste dumping. I think this was where my interest in the environment really began. In those days, when the pits were still producing coal and dumping waste incessantly, the valleys were bleak places, made ugly by industry. 

I went off to University in Bristol, and found an urban environment with clean countryside not too far away much more appealing. So, I grew in determination not to return to the valleys of my birth. Even so, I did return to Cardiff to train for ministry, and served my first curacy in Caerphilly, in a mining housing estate, though, mercifully in a setting where hillsides were green and free of coal tips. Then, ministry took me to one urban area after another for thirty years. Only in the past fourteen years since returning to serve in Britain, has the transformation of the environment after the closure of the pits made a strong impression on me. I watched this evening's programme with great pride and joy, as so much of the landscape it portrayed is now familiar.

It leaves me wondering. Natural beauty was such an important element of my experience of young life, despite the industrialisation of the valleys. Had the landscape not been despoiled when I was growing up, would I have been less tempted to escape and seek a new way of life and new experiences elsewhere?

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

First carol service of the season

After scraping a couple of days worth of frost from the car, I  drove home from Kenilworth yesterday, and didn't do much for the rest of the day, apart from walking into the city centre for exercise. It's cold in Cardiff too, as cold as Kenilworth was over the weekend. Cold weather seems to have more of an impact on me these days, not just because I'm still acclimatising after time spent in Spain, but I think it's because in losing weight, I have shed a layer of body fat, and now need to dress up more than I used to. I didn't have enough energy to walk in both directions, so caught the bus home as the sun was about to set to avoid getting too chilled. Even in a warm house this winter, I soon feel the chill when the central heating goes off.

This morning, Clare needed the car, so I left for St German's just after half past eight, to take a bus to the centre and walk there. Traffic going into town was moving very slowly, several city buses failed to show up on schedule, and after fifteen minutes it was one of the out of town buses that appeared first, and joined the traffic queue for the centre. Half way down Cathedral Road, a large builder's lorry was parked on the wrong side of the road, causing an obstruction. I couldn't see whether this belonged to a scaffolding work team or if it was parked to pick up a builder's skip, but whatever it was dramatically constricted traffic flow, as outbound traffic can also be pretty busy at this time of day.

It's not the first time this has happened on rush hour journeys. I don't understand why Council's traffic management doesn't issue regulations banning large vehicles from parking or delivering on arterial roads during peak traffic periods, not least to mitigate pollution caused by stop-start motoring, and help make journey planning more predictable for people doing business that involves going into or through the city centre. I'd argue this is needed, as it's not unusual for these large vehicles to be double parked as kerbside parking spaces are already fully occupied. 

Anyway, the bus eventually deposited me in Greyfriars at ten past nine, and a fifteen minute brisk walk got me to St Germans with just a few minutes to spare. Tredegarville school children, teachers and many parents were there for their annual carol service, and the place was a-buzz with anticipation. All I had to do was welcome people and say an opening prayer. As St Nicholas day is today, I told them all briefly that he was saint who inspired Father Christmas to be kind and generous to children. So much better than debunking the myth, as I understand some clergy are prone to do if they get the chance. Kids will find out the truth about Santa soon enough as they grow up, but it's important to affirm that the tradition of generosity and kindness goes way back, and is what matters most.

The service was structured like a Nine Lessons and carols, with much simplified bidding prayer and bible readings, with a nativity tableau at the end. The singing of the whole school, as well as that of rehearsed groups was superbly uplifting, a great tribute to the school's hard working teachers and the wonderful esprit de corps that characterises it. I think everybody's favourite was chorus of two dozen angels in white chiffon, doing a hip hop rap version of Gloria in Excelsis, with waving arms and hand clapping. Afterwards a parent whose family is Greek came over to chat and thanked me for mentioning St Nicholas, since today is Cardiff's St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church's patronal festival. I was pleased that I was able to remember to say Καλά Χριστούγεννα' (Happy Christmas) as we parted. It's many years since I last had the opportunity to use that greeting!

I chatted with a few people over a coffee provided by the school Parents Association afterwards, then walked back into the centre, lingering in the shops for a while before catching a 61 for home. Then finally, I got around to buying stamps and printing off labels and Christmas newsletters. There's still a few days to go before the posting deadline, so I wasn't in any hurry to set up an assembly line and finish the job in one go. That can wait for another day. The evening was spent idling in front of the telly instead.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

A St Nicholas Sunday

I woke up early and was out of the house, on my way to Kenilworth's St Nicholas' Parish Church before sunrise this morning to attend the eight o'clock Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion service. It's a refreshing change not to need a book, having memorised it back in my days of BCP early Sunday Communion services in Halesowen, nearly thirty years ago. I was delighted to learn that the Parish now has a new incumbent, the Revd Stella Bailey, inducted on 11th October. 

As this is the Sunday nearest the Parish patronal festival, she started, preaching about St Nicholas, then moved into speaking about the extent of people trafficking, the broad modern designation for slavery of all kinds. She got there by citing a story about St Nicholas secretly providing a dowry for the three daughters of a poor man, about to sell them, as he was unable to afford to keep them and the rest of his family. It's something still happens today, we were reminded. A wholesome remedy against Santa sentiment. Invigorating stuff for a frosty Advent morning,

Rhiannon enjoyed her weekend lie-in, and I cooked us lunch. She then suggested an afternoon walk, and we tramped across the Abbey fields, white with frost, past the lake, where Mallards and a solitary Moorhen were coping with the largely frozen waters, to Kenilworth Castle. Its dark sandstone walls became almost incandescent, lit up by the setting sun - a lovely moment. Then we walked into the town for drinks and a cake in Costa Coffee, a favourite Rhiannon place to go and chat. She told me all about school and the subjects she likes most. She's lucky enough to be taking Spanish and French this year. Her school is in the throes of becoming an academy, she told me, unsure what this would mean, apart from a more prestigious status at this point. Yes indeed, we'll see. I'm not sure either.

Kath and Anto arrived home from their gig in Bournemouth just before eight. I'd already decided that I wouldn't drive back to Cardiff in the dark, as the temperature had dropped below zero, so Rhiannon and eventually Kath and Anto after they'd eaten, watched 'I'm a celebrity ...' together before turning in. I watched the fourth episode of S4C's 'Y Gwyll' (Hinterland) on my tablet. Impressive as ever and far more unmissable. 'Fraid I have no time for any of these celebrity programmes. I'd rather listen to the shipping forecast instead.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

School R.E. a question for today

Fine weather for a drive to Kenilworth yesterday morning, arriving just in time for lunch, and some catch-up time with Kath and Anto. I'm here for the weekend to look after Rhiannon, while Mum and Dad go down to Bournemouth for a couple of Sunday performances of their show 'The Colour of Me'. leaving me to provide meals and keep an interested eye on my delightful 12 year old grand-daughter. 

Last night we walked out together to Kenilworth old town, where the Christmas lights were switched on with the arrival of Santa's sleigh, not to mention the local police paddy wagon. There were several stalls selling mulled wine and snacks, and the shops up the old High Street were open late. The most unusual feature was a roadside enclosure where a man had his collection of ferrets on show, and he was running ferret races through long sections of drainpipe. A ferret handling photo opportunity for some, sheer mystery to others.  

Rhiannon is at the age where she likes spending lots of time in her bedroom, communicating with her friends on social media, and listening to music on her dad's old iPhone, but she enjoys meals together, even breakfast/ After lunch today, we walked into town together, then she went off to meet a friend at a coffee shop, and I sent to a greengrocer's shop to get some garlic. She returned at sunset, and went back to her room, while I cooked supper, which we ate together.

She was asked to do Religious Education homework on the question 'Why are you a Christian?' but was left to her own devices to interpret it and respond. I'm not sure if this question was meant to be addressed to a third party, or to herself. There are so many ways in which it could be answered. I offered her a few ideas about possible approaches, but I felt she was rather bemused by the question.

Maybe in this middle class area of middle England with a couple of local church primary schools, more than the national average of two out of ten people are baptized, as opposed the average of seven out of ten when I was born. What is the common understanding of 'Christian' as an adjective these days? Someone baptized? Someone who attends church? Someone who adheres to a certain established moral code and conventions of moral behaviour, but isn't necessarily baptised or a churchgoer? It seems that children have been introduced to other religions in the classroom. 

This is predominantly a 'white highlands' area, although multi-cultural Coventry is only a few miles away, so there may only be a small minority of people of different faiths attending school. It's right and proper to introuduce pluralism and cultural diversity. Hopefully it won't be at the expense of the historic legacy of religious faith which has shaped British society and our entire environment over the past two millennia.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Question of treatment

As it was bitterly cold and there was fog in the air, I drove to this morning's dental appointment rather than walk. There was only one lost filling to replace, otherwise my teeth are in good shape. I paid just over forty pounds for a check-up and a replacement filling. A notice displayed in the reception area say that patients must pay in advance for any planned scheme of repair work arising from a check-up. 

This can be very expensive indeed, more than some patients can lay their hands on there and then, so they need to go away and think about how they can afford it. But, the proposed costed plan itself only lasts six weeks, and they must return and pay up front within that time frame, or be obliged to go through and pay for another checkup for the same or a revised estimate to be applicable.

Modern dentistry is high tech, effective and expensive. Registered NHS patients only get to pay a proportion of treatment costs. Those on benefits get completely free treatment. The economics of modern health care are complex and difficult, and it seems well nigh impossible for health authorities not to run out of money to achieve their aims. We pay for dentistry through taxation, and most of us have to pay also through the charges levied on treatment. 

The same could also happen in future for medical treatment. Recently we've been hearing in the news about JAMs (=people Just About Managing.) Those in this category not on benefits may find themselves unable to afford treatment and having to forego necessary repairs, maybe medical treatment generally. Such progress has been made in health care and medicine over the past century, but at an increasingly great price. Where will it all end?

After the dentists, I went into town and met Fr Rufus for lunch at Cafe Zest, and heard about the way his ministry has been developing in the most positive way, since we last met, the best part of a year ago. It was great to hear someone so enthusiastic and delighted with the response to his work, in a broader context where ministers' moral is low as a result of catastrophic decline in church membership. Monmouth diocese has reduced its clergy numbers from 130 to 46 in recent years, and coping with the demands of radical change is proving hard for many.

Then I returned to Pontcanna to meet with Fr Chris Lee at Cafe Castan on Llandaff FIelds, to discuss the funeral of his sister who died last weekend. It's going to be held at St German's. I've already been asked to conduct it, and as there are several other clergy who also wish to be involved, some advance planning will be needed to enable everyone who wants to can take part.

After an early supper, Clare and I went to Chapter Arts Centre, where mulled wine and mince pies had been laid on for subscribers of Chapter Friends. It was strange to realise when we were there that there that out of hundreds of people there for various evening activities, there was only one person I knew and nobody else I even I recognised from the neighbourhood or the churches. Perhaps that's because I haven't really been around that much over recent years, or simply an indication of the size of the area served and the eclectic constituency of Chapter Friends. It's typical of urban living, I guess, but not really the most congenial experiences to start this so-called season of good-will.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Red light St Andrew's day

I had one of those 'red light' starts to the day, it was red traffic lights all the way there and almost all the way back. I was crossing town as usual on a Wednesday morning to reach St German's for the St Andrew's Day 'Class Mass' the last of the series of this term with Tredegarville school children. Next Tuesday, the whole school will be in church for their service lessons and carols, and the midweek Mass will be a more staid and muted affair in the Lady chapel.

After the service, before heading for the dentists in Llandaff North for a check up. I headed back home to Pontcanna to collect a spare 'phone battery, as mine was nearly dead and I was going to be out for the afternoon. The traffic through Llandaff itself was slow, more red lights, and I made it by the skin of my teeth, only to discover that my appointment is tomorrow at the same time. 

Then I headed for Newport, a little earlier than expected to visit Martin for a lovely afternoon of catch-up, after my time away. I meet a couple of young Iranian asylum seekers he's befriended lately, meeting them through Karim, the Farsi speaking Afghan live-in support worker who helps Martin and Chris to look after Andrew and Robert, their foster sons. It's is the most hospitable of homes I have ever had the pleasure to know, open to women and men of all ages, all abilities, and nations, needy and privileged alike. A wonderful practical domestic expression of the highest human and Christian ideals. I come away feeling inspired, uplifted, and glad they are such long standing friends.

While I was there, I introduced Martin to Google Blogger, and showed him how to start an account of his own. As an experienced priest and journalist, he wants to write some reflections on the news and mass media and how present things, as observed from a Christian perspective. It's several years since I last introduced anyone to the use of Blogger. Its user interface has changed, and my ability to use it has changed a little, though not much. I've not done anything to develop my blogs or enhance the sites I use, being too busy with content, so it took me a while to tune myself in to the essential procedures. This wasn't made any easier by working on a Macbook, something I haven't tried for years. It's irritatingly different for a Windows and Linux/Android/Chrome user in in-grained habits, but we got to first base in the end. I look forward to when he starts writing and publishing. I'm sure it won't be dull!

I left just at sunset, and after a cloudless day all over South Wales the entire western half of the horizon was fringed with colour, grading from russet to orange and yellow merging into pale clear blue, an exquisite sight. Such a pity I was in no position to stop and gaze in the evening rush hour traffic. At least on this home run, there were fewer red lights.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Walk in the dark

Another quiet uneventful morning, and with nothing better to do I stewed some vegetables with butter beans and a Welsh made chorizo sausage, ready for supper. Then when Clare returned from her study group, she cooked a deliciously tasty soup, using a delicata squash from last week's organic veg box, plus one red onion. The squash resembles a small marrow but it has a special flavour of its own. This was the first time we'd come across it, and hopefully, not the last. 

Mid-afternoon, I walked into town just for exercise, in defiance of the chilly weather that makes me want to hibernate. The sun was low in the sky and all the Christmas lights were already on, giving me an opportunity to take a photo tour of the city centre to record them. It'll be interesting to compare these with previous batches of photos taken in the streets at this time of year, to see how things have changed.

I walked back along the Taff Trail, on the west bank, as the Bute Park side shuts before sunset. As it's unlit this was less than easy with a steady flow of bicycling commuters in both directions leaving me feeling a little vulnerable in the dark. Thankfully most cyclists these days go for bright LED lights, on their helmets or on handlebars, making it easier to spot pedestrians, though not all. I wasn't forced off the path at any stage, but obliged to walk right on the edge, just in case. I could have walked on well lit pavements by two different routes, but slow moving rush hour road traffic pollution makes for another kind of hazard to be avoided. Traffic congestion seems to have got much worse over the past couple of years. Much as I like giving where we do in Pontcanna, I honestly wish we lived a little way out in the country, but we're unlikely to move again, now we're so settled.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Chance encounter

After a lazy uneventful morning, in which the only unusual thing I did was paying our domestic water rate bill on-line, I made an effort to get out of the house to enjoy blue sky and afternoon sunshine and hunt for wildlife with my camera along the east bank of the Taff. As I approached Blackweir bridge, I was hailed by a neighbour, who was walking along with a friend, who greeted me as if he too had recognised me. But I doubt if he would have done had he not been told who I was. We'd not seen each other for fifty three years. 

Roger Hacker was a classmate in Pengam Grammar school, a sixth form Chemistry student as I was. After A levels I went off to study in Bristol Uni, and he'd taken a job selling ice cream for a year, while he waited to go to Aberystwyth Uni. We'd never seen each other since the results were announced. He'd emigrated to Canada, spent his career there in teaching, then eventually moved to Australia to teach, and that's where his he and his family now live, although he also retains his links with Wales through a family house in the Gower. What an amazing coincidence to have just bumped into them like that, when I'd wandered down to the river across the playing fields for a change, rather than by the usual path. 

Life is full of surprises, I mused to myself as I walked on. There was a Cormorant keeping watch on top of the pillar from which Blackweir bridge is suspended. It's not a nesting place, but is a safe place to roost and enjoy the sun. Sometimes two birds are up there. Beneath the east bank below the weir a heron surveyed the swirling waters hopefully. I got within ten metres of it before being seen, but wasn't quick enough to get a photo as it spread its magnificent slate grey wings and fled downstream.

In places there are still bright yellow leaves attached to trees, even some that are still pale green, all looking luminescent in the low afternoon sun. Squirrels are very active in the woods, both at ground level and jumping between trees or bushes as they forage for food to store for winter. I spotted one of the Jays that inhabit both banks of the stretch of river by the SWALEC stadium, but in the only photo I obtained the bird's head was perfectly obscured by a leaf not yet fallen. The photos are never as good as I hope they'll be, but it's fun to try.

I walked for over two hours in a chilly breeze, so I walked to the Tesco superstore and then to Staples to browse for bargains and get warm again before heading for home, by crossing the Taff in order to walk down the long tree lined avenue bisecting Llandaff Fields from north to south. The sun was just reaching the horizon by this time, and there were snatches of birdsong, blackbirds and tits plus others I didn't recognise. Sometimes huge flocks of starlings occupy these trees whistling and chattering among themselves. Other times, you hear a solitary thrush or several blackbirds announcing themselves to each other in song at this time of day. Maybe it was too cold, or I was a little early, but although birds were making noises, it was hardly a delighful song-fest this evening.

How fortunate we are to have such a large stretch of well managed parkland with wild areas plus a fine clean river running through it, as a defining feature of the city centre environment. The main shopping streets were decorated for the festive season early this month. One notable addition is a group of four wire metal sculptures of reindeer, painted gold and covered with lights. Quite tasteful really, in stark contrast to the alternative to a traditional Christmas tree, a plastic conical structure said to be 40 feet high, whose gold coloured surface is meant to represent a host of golden baubles. Spectacularly tacky, and meeting with general disapproval from people on social media. It's on hire for £10k per year for three years, according to the Western Mail. What an embarrassing disaster, when seasonal decorations are, for the most part, pleasing to the eye.