Monday, 29 February 2016

Caerau Hill Fort visit

Our two local PCSOs turned up before Mass at St German's this morning, following through with their enquiries into last week's purse theft, hoping to get descriptions of the offender from two people who'd seen the man leaving on his bike. Afterwards, Hamid told me that his lawyers have until March 17th to lodge an appeal on his behalf.

In the hall after the service Hilary and Angela ran a dementia awareness training session for nearly twenty people. It was most informative and thought provoking. There are plans afoot to hold regular social meetings for carers and people living with dementia in 'Dementia Cafe' events at the day centre. The session certainly made me think about the different illness or injury paths that lead people to loss of memory in their lives, and understand how such a common affliction can be due to a great variety of different causes.

After a late lunch, I decided to visit Caerau Hill Fort with my camera and continue what I set out to explore last Monday. I took the bendy bus from Cowbridge Road to the top of Heol Trelai, and walked from there up Church Road, out of the housing estate and up the hillside, to where the hill fort and ruins of 13th century church and churchyard are situated. 

I was annoyed and exasperated to discover when I came to take a picture, that though I'd fully charged the camera, I'd forgotten to replace the memory card, and no longer carried a spare in my wallet. So I had to use my Samsung Galaxy smartphone camera instead. It meant having to learn how to use its touch screen controls, something I'd never bothered with before, and didn't particularly relish. The afternoon was dull. The photos I took of the ruins were adequate, but the general landscape shots lacked detail. Ah well, another return trip one of these days, I guess.

Much of the excess vegetation has lately been cleared from the mounds of the hill fort, making the site of one of Wales' most extensive iron age sites more accessible. The churchyard which is part of the site is fairly tidy, although one old tree had been badly burned in the recent past, and some monuments look dilapidated. The ruins of St Mary's church building have been made safe for visitors. Sad to think that this 13th century church, restored in the 19th century, then again in the early 1960's, only to be closed and de-consecrated in 1973, was stripped of its roof and secured in a ruinous state. 

Being on an isolated uninhabited hillside, the church has long been subject to vandalism, and thus unsustainable for modern use. It would be a great place for a hermitage. The problem is finding a rugged self-reliant hermit willing to take up residence relatively close to a big housing estate, with a busy by-pass road just below for a near neighbour. I wonder how many more remote ancient churches will end up ruinous before the twenty first century comes to its end?

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Digital providence

This afternoon, we went to Newport to call on Martin, whose mother Jane died during the week. We've known them both since I was first ordained and working in Caerphilly, forty six years ago, so there was much to reflect upon together after her long life.

On the way there, we called at Maplins, and bought a hard drive USB dock to send to Kath to use to retrieve stray file data from the hard drive of her defunct laptop, which hadn't been backed up lately. It seems she has insufficient OneDrive capacity for all her files, much of which are music or graphics and photos, so just to be sure nothing's lost, the drive needs time spent on scrupulous inspection.

For the most part, however, she was operating normally once the configuration of her new Acer was complete. The only missing piece in the restoration equation however, was Corel Draw. It had worked perfectly, installed on her old machine under Windows 7, and had been working since upgrade to Windows 10 but wouldn't install from scratch on the new machine, even though installing a 32bit program on a 64bit machine should not be a problem.

Yesterday afternoon in the office, I'd spent ages going through the diagnostic process and attempting a 32bit install in the manner which Windows 10 provides. This had worked last week for installing MS Office 2000. Corel Draw, however, has built in redundancy. Anto had similar problems with a costly multiple CD replicating device. It ran on an XP machine but not Windows 7. The company refused to provide new drivers for old hardware, so he kept running his XP machine until earlier this week, when Kath configured an unused Windows 7 PC to avoid reliability issues from an even older piece of kit. The XP machine will now be used only for CD printing. It runs Corel Draw, but oh so slowly!

Then serendipity threw up a surprise for Kath. Working out in the gym, she was chatting to someone about her computer woes, and mentioning her helpful geek of a father, when she was offered a Core i3 Acer laptop for her Dad to see if he could fix, by someone who'd decided to move over to a Mac rather than pay to repair a machine whose Windows 7 operating system had failed. The hardware seems to be working and if it is merely a software matter, I may be able to restore it to full use. Kath can install Corel Draw on it, and keep it on hand for whenever she needs to do some designing.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Match night

This morning, having driven Clare to Llandough for an appointment with her shoulder specialist, I went to St German's to attend the Cardiff Central MP 'surgery' being held in St German's church hall. Here I met and talked with her senior care worker Carl Cuss about Hamid's appeal rejection, in the hope that it might be possible to get some answers to unresolved issues arising from the tribunal and judgement against him. He expressed the view that some points raised in my briefing to Jo Stevens MP could be enquired about, so I returned home somewhat encouraged.

After lunch, I spent a few hours in the CBS office before returning home, as crowds were gathering for the evening's Wales v France Rugby international match. The bus stops in Westgate Street outside the stadium, now re-badged as the Principality (building society sponsored) Stadium, had just closed for the duration of the match. I arrived at the Cowbridge Road stop just missing a couple of different buses, and walked home briskly as it was too cold to stand around for long.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Arts support

Today, I spent the morning writing at home, and the afternoon in the office. While I was there I had a panic stricken call from Kath, saying that she'd just tipped some coffee over her computer, and there'd been a little spark ... exactly what happened to me last autumn. In just the same way, she could hear the hard drive still spinning, and the screen was blank, but she was unable to switch off the machine, and had to take out the battery. All are indications of a circuitry failure, dead by any other name. 

As it was her work machine, she was much distressed about what to do next. Thankfully most of her stuff is backed up to OneDrive, and a supplementary hard drive. Since she's a performing artist, running her Wriggledance children's theater project on a shoestring budget, I couldn't resist offering to pay for a new machine, and sent her off to Staples to buy the same model Acer E510 as I acquired for my sister June last autumn, confident that it has the speed, capacity and good keyboard, as well as a decent price. 

After work, I walked over to St German's for the Stations of the Cross. There were ten of us present again. As it was slightly warmer in church, we were able to sit together for slightly longer before the reserved sacrament in silent adoration for the fifteenth station of the Resurrection. I hope that in the coming weeks, it'll just just a little bit warmer, to enable us to sit for just a little longer. In this era of hyperactivity, places where silent adoration in a group is regularly practiced are fewer. Joining in with the Franciscan Missionary Sisters in Taormina for their daily Holy Hour before Vespers, when I was there three years ago, made a strong impression on me. It's not often there's an opportunity to share this with others, these days.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The other Figaro opera

After my Monday afternoon walk, I was less stiff and tired than I thought I might be, but nevertheless was glad not to have much to do before walking to Tuesday evening's Chi Gung and Tai Chi double class in St Mary's Church Hall. Today, by contrast, was busy with the St German's midweek school Mass, then the Ignatian meditation group at noon, followed by a funeral at Pidgeon's Chapel straight after, just down the road from where we were meeting.

Then in the evening, we went to the Millennium Centre for the Welsh National Opera's performance of Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro', definitely one of our favourite operas. I thought I'd be disappointed that it wasn't sung in Italian, but this particular English free rendering of the original is very good and gives added value to the comedy element, such that people laughed aloud more than they normally might. 

At the climax of the final scene, in a thoughtful and moving moment, the Contessa with a philandering husband, declares she has pardoned him, and speaks of forgiveness as calming troubled hearts. She who is most persistently betrayed. Just right for an evening in Lent, as thoughts turn to Christ's passion. Superb singing throughout. We came away feeling joyous and enlivened in spirit.

In the foyer beforehand we bumped into Peter and Mary Barnet fitting in a night at the opera in between a West Country visit and returning to their home in the Gower. Peter succeeded me as Team Rector of St Paul's in Bristol back in the eighties, and we've met up occasionally over the years since then. We also bumped into Bob and Mary Hardy, St John's bell ringers, attending an event in the concert hall. We've bumped into them at Dyffryn Gardens on a couple of occasions. Finally, we bumped into Dafydd Elis-Tomas in the interval. We usually meet each other walking to the Llandaff Fields bus stop, as their house is in a neighbouring street to ours. Sometimes we don't see a soul we know on our Millennium Centre visits for the opera. Tonight was a happy exception.

We decided not to book for the third in this season's trilogy of operas focusing on the character of Figaro, entitled 'Figaro gets a divorce', it's hard to imagine how something with such a depressingly post-modern theme could deliver delight in the way that Rossini and Mozart's offerings do. Just a bit too contrived a theme concept to my mind. There, exposing my age and my values. 

Monday, 22 February 2016

A soggy walk

A normal lazy slow late rising Monday morning, a spell  of writing, lunch, then dry enough afternoon weather conditions to get out for a walk at last. Clare had made other arrangements, so I decided on a trek that would be a little more demanding than usual. I walked east through Canton and up Cowbridge Road West until I could turn left at the Baptist church and head to Parc Trelai, the huge open space that once was Ely racecourse, and now hosts lots of hockey and football pitches. 

My aim was to go further west to where I could take the road up to Caerau hill fort and the ruins of St John's church. The promise of a distant underpass traversing the A4232 western by-pass road, lured me, taking me straight to the base of the long high ridge which flanks the valley in which Caerau housing estate is set. I had hoped to find a trail leading upwards and westwards from there, but had gone quite in the wrong direction, well away from my intended destination.

On an impulse, I chose what seemed like an easy climb, straight up, through the forest of young beech and alder tress. It was further and higher and occasionally more precarious than I'd anticipated, as the ground was still quite soggy. It was half an hour before I came across a track which allowed me to climb up to the edge of the woodland. From there, it was a matter of circumnavigating a series of large sodden fields, home to grazing cattle in better weather. My Blackberry SatNav showed me where I was, Leckwith Hill, with some accuracy, even then, I didn't realise that I was the wrong side of the A4232 to get to Caerau Hill fort. I'd not used a large enough map to orientate myself in the first place. Serves me right.

The place where I emerged from woodland was too distant from my planned destination to arrive there by any route before sunset, so it was a question of finding my way to a road that would take me off the hill-top and back home. Farm tracks took me through one farmyard with a large herd of cattle, still under cover, and past another which was boarded up. Both farms had older dwellings, now used for storage that were centuries old but now superceded by 20th century houses. The upland plateau has been farmed and grazed by animals since ancient times.

Just by the second farmhouse, I spotted signs for a walker's path, and decided to follow it, as the view from the stile showed a metalled road about a quarter of a mile away across fields, the turning for which I must have missed earlier. The fields were occupied by muddy looking sheep and the ground was saturated and churned up, so progress was very slow. I nearly lost a shoe several times, and went into the mud up to my ankles as well, so I was in a right messy state by the time I got to the road. This led me back up over the ridge, giving me a glimpse of Cardiff Bay Marina and Penarth in the distance, and dropped me down into the hamlet named after Leckwith Hill.

There was a conveniently placed bus stop on the main road, and I had to wait less that five minutes for one of the number 95 buses running between Penarth and Cardiff, via Llandough Hospital. I perched on a seat near the door, avoiding rubbing mud on to panels or seats. At the next stop, a woman of substantial build with bright eyes and a smile got on the bus. "You've been somewhere muddy then." she said, on seeing the state of my trousers. "An altercation with a field full of sheep." I said. "Ah yes," she replied, "I get like that twice a day."

The 95 bus dropped me off in Canton to walk the last half mile home. I guess that I walked about five miles in my little adventure. Now there's the clean up to do. Amazingly, my socks were wet and  muddy only above the ankle, from where I sank in too deep. The new Ecco walking shoes fit so well that nothing penetrated the neatly fitting edge. Quite a feat of good design and manufacture.

Tonight's episode of the X-Files was hilariously tongue in cheek, about a giant lizard like creature that was meant to be ravaging forest walkers at night - a 'were-lizard', who worked in a smartphone shop by day, and had existential identity crises every evening. Mulder by an imaginative feat of detection gets to interview him and discovers it's not what you presume. It's a lizard mutating into a man, after emerging unexpectedly from a 10,000 year hibernation cycle. And the local dog catcher is actually the serial killer. It's a great piece of satire on both the original X-Files, with a touch of CSI thrown in. It clashed with the last episode of Benidorm, which was equally a satirical if fond look at ex-pat holiday makers, but that was accessible on ITV+1, a great remedy for scheduling clashes. A great afternoon out and entertainment to follow.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Sneak thief

I arrived at St German's to celebrate Mass this morning, to learn that only moments before Angela's bag had been stolen from the back of the church, by a young man who'd entered just after she'd unlocked, and feigned to look around, and then snatched it when she deposited on a seat for a moment while attending to other things. He escaped on a bike, and was seen leaving by others arriving. Everyone was distressed, not just Angela. For me it brought back angry memories of the serial purse thief who hit St John's when I was Vicar there. Every time it happens, you think - if only ...

After the service, two policemen turned up, having heard the news. Angela having reported the crime was presumably busy cancelling her cards and getting her phone blocked. Her church keys were also taken, but thankfully, Richard, one of the church members, is a locksmith with a shop in Clifton Street, not far away. So, by the time we were already to depart for lunch, after coffee and a chat, both church and hall had been made secure again. What a heart break.

Again nasty weather, no opportunity to go out for an afternoon walk. I was most amused this morning to learn that I wasn't the only one complaining of fatigue and stiffness after the Stations of the Cross. In the evening the first episode of a film serialisation of John Le Carre's 'The Night Manager' had its first showing on BBC1. It was beautifully done, and the setting time shifted from the original 1990s to the present day. Given the continuing relevance of its look at the illegal arms trade, this is no bad thing. The great novelist himself was involved in making this development. The critics are beside themselves with excitement about it. Justifiably so, I'd say, on the basis of tonight's episode.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Theatrical news

Friday morning I had a bereavement visit to make for a funeral next Wednesday. I met the family in one a house on the main stretch of Cathedral Road, one of a few still family owned and occupied that hasn't been converted into flats, offices, clinics, a hotel or a care home. A nice reminder of how life used to be on this street of prestigious looking dwellings.

Clare arrived on the half past two train from Birmingham and I picked her up from the station, pleased to her news of Rhiannon's half term youth theatre workshop 'Playbox'. She was picked to play Titania, Shakespeare's fairy queen in an extract from Midsummer Night's Dream. She's twelve this weekend, unfamilar with Shakesperian language. With much intense work and a little help from Grandma de-coding texts, she did the necessary learning, and delivered an excellent performance last night, playing with other lead actors six years older than herself. We're thrilled to see her enjoy this so much, taking after her Mum and Grandma.

This morning I went to St Mary's Bute Street, now in interregnum due to Fr Graham's retirement, to celebrate Mass with seven people. It's a long while since I took any services there. Since my last visit, the nave seating has been replaced, and chairs are now arranged in a semi-circular pattern around the nave altar. It looks very good indeed, appearing somewhat more prosperous now than when Graham and I visited here as students on placement duties with The Samaritans forty nine years ago.

The weather had turned decidedly miserable, with lashing rain and wind that roared and buffeted the building during the service.  The prospect of an afternoon walk was dashed. More time to work on preparing the Lent blog, but feeling hemmed in all day. I watched the second double episode of BBC4's Icelandic crime serial drama 'Trapped'. It was good, but a bit slow. Nasty weather seems to be one the chief characters in this detective tale. Not the best viewing after a day indoors. A double episode of 'Benidorm' would have been more cheering.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Lent exercise

Wednesday morning I celebrated the Eucharist at St Germans with ten church members, no children this week as it's half term. Then I spent some time chatting with people in the day centre, before heading home to Newport to visit Martin. His 93 year old mother Jane was in hospital after a fall a week or so before Christmas and wasn't expected to survive, but she did, and last week was released so that she could be cared for at home, with appropriate support. A much happier arrangement for her, the family and the hospital, as she's not occupying a bed which could be put to better use for someone else who needed care they couldn't expect to have arranged for them at home.

Later, after I returned for lunch, I went into town and met Ashley in John Lewis' top floor restaurant for a sit-down with a cup of tea and a business planning chat, away from the office, and the inevitable work tasks we both get distracted by. It made a change for us.

We were both back in the office this morning for the monthly Radio Users Group meeting. I drove and parked in the basement, intending to spend the day in the office and then drive over to St German's for Stations of the Cross in the evening. Ian had asked for Microsoft Office to be installed on his machine, and I'd forgotten to bring in the disks with me, so I went home on the bus to collect them, and had lunch while I was there, before returning. 

I'm surprised every time by how long the installation process takes on newer machines, and wonder if having to install on a 64 bit machine a program designed 15 years ago to run on a 32 bit machine makes a difference. It seems to me that the CD drive doesn't run at such high speeds, as if it needs to take extra time to unpack and scan every item of really old software before installing. A two CD installation packet took the best part of an hour, but once installed it runs very quickly. 

There were nine of us for Stations of the Cross at St German's. Making the customary genuflection at each station was more taxing than I'd anticipated, as my dodgy left knee reminded me that the movement is not something I do very often. For years in church ritual I've favoured the deep Sarum bow over genuflection, to avoid clumsy movement and toppling over, and to protect the dodgy knee. I should have known better, giving unaccustomed exercise to underused and stiff muscles. The lousy weather this winter has meant that I've had less than enough regular exercise. I felt quite physically tired by the end, although undertaking this traditional form of Lenten devotion was refreshing to the soul.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Home alone

My turn to do the week's shopping yesterday, and buy food to cater for myself, as Clare will be up in Kenilworth looking after Rhiannon. In the afternoon, I went into town and met Ashley for a planning meeting in John Lewis' over a cup of tea, for a change. We're preparing very carefully for some developments in our radio network in the coming months that are likely to stretch us and keep us busy. The business is never routine for long without some new challenge to stimulate us.

In the evening I finally got around to responding to a request from Bishop Dominic, episcopal Visitor to Ty Mawr Convent to contribute to his enquiries, addressed to friends, associates and supporters about the life of the community and its relationship to the wider church. Having to write this was a pleasure, as it caused me to look back on the part played in my life by the Sisters and the place itself over the past forty years. I go there less often these days, but it's often in my thoughts and prayers. In fact, Ty Mawr been influential on my spiritual journey, sharing its hospitality, its beauty and the silence of its peace generously, all of which are things I cherish now, wherever I live.  

After breakfast this morning, I drove Clare to the station to take the train to spend a few days of half term week looking after Rhiannon in Kenilworth. The rest of the morning I spent in the office, preparing documents requested yesterday, which I found were never digitized for inclusion in our Cloud archive. Not an onerous task, once I'd located the hard copies, but hindered by finding that the HP scanner/printer wasn't installed on the PC I'm now using. I recall finding the location of the driver download when I configured my home PC to use an identical device recently, so it was easier than last time. I just had to learn how to use a new scanning app, to get the job done. The time taken just accumulates.

Having woken early, I had a siesta in the afternoon. I'd meant to go for a walk, but the sky clouded over, so I stayed in and worked on my Lent blog. I'm finding things to write about prayer based on texts in the Psalms, not surprisingly. I work on an idea I want to develop, and then find Psalm verses and other scripture texts gather around by a process akin to association of ideas. The process works itself out in a way that doesn't seem to need much planning, so there's an element of discovery and surprise I find most enjoyable.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Sunny Lent Sunday

It was a lovely cold bright morning, and the sunshine made the interior of St German's glow during the Sunday Mass. We began singing the Lenten Prose, from the back of the Old English hymnal. I haven't sung that for years. What a refreshing change. There was a delicious Parish lunch in the hall afterwards for about thirty people. I sat with Hamid, and slowly, deliberately we spoke about many things. This week he heard that his law firm has dumped his case, but he is not down cast, still full of trust that God has matters in hand, however things turn out for him. He's visiting the City URC Church Asylum Justice service tomorrow, as recommended by his lawyer. 

Later in the day, I emailed Mareika Arthur to see if I could find out who might be dealing with him on arrival, and I forwarded to her the briefing I'd written yesterday about Hamid's case to send to Jo Stevens, the local MP. It's a last ditch effort, but the least we can do. I regret not realising much earlier the finality of the hearing I attended as a witness, and only on reading the final judgement did the gaps in the argument made in his defence became apparent to me. I think his advocate was over-confident the points he'd made were sufficient to win the case. Is a rescue now possible I wonder?

I'd forgotten that Clare had gone over to Bristol to her monthly study group this afternoon, so I went out for a walk to the park and along the Taff to enjoy the sun, with my DSLR camera. The battery exhausted itself after six shots. It loses charge quicker these days and can only manage a third of the number of shots it used to between times, so I'll have to get a new one pretty soon, or a new camera body, as the present one looks and occasionally behaves tired. It's more than five years old now.

After supper, when Clare got home, there was nothing much on telly worth watching, so I caught up with the first two episodes on iPlayer of the new euro-crime drama 'Trapped', set in Iceland. All that darkness and snow, but quite an interesting small time police procedural piece, laced with a sense of chaos and uncontrollable events driven by dark forces. It's in colour, though it looks as if it's in black and white much of the time, because of all the snow. The hero cop is a big burly guy, a bit like Wallander Mark One with a beard, and I'm sure one if not more of the supporting actors also appeared in 'The Bridge'. At least it makes a change from a movie coloured mostly in black and orange.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Barber of Seville re-visited

After a relaxed day preparing for Sunday, a visit to the Millennium Centre for the new Welsh National Opera rendition of Rossini's 'Barber of Seville'. At the end of primary school, sixty years ago, the top class was taken from Ystrad Mynach to Cardiff's New Theatre for a WNO schools performance of this opera. I remember what fun it was, and although it was more than a decade before I went to another opera, the seeds for my life long devotion to this performing art were sown.

The Wales v Scotland rugby match was reaching half time when we got off the bus at the bottom end of Cathedral Road (due to road closures), and walked through busy streets to find the right bus stop to catch the number six 'Bay Car' we needed. Due to road closures, the route and stops for the six had been modified and there was a dearth of information. So, we ended up walking the rest of the way. As we'd left plenty of time, there was no panic about this, and we caught the second half of a string quartet performance in the foyer beforehand.

As is now so fashionable, the stage scenery was minimalist, and made clever use of mirrors, lights and translucent screens to frame the action. The ethos of the performance resembled that of a vaudeville farce, stylish, racy, and hilariously acted as well as brilliantly sung. It was sheer entertainment, played for laughs, almost mocking the romantic operatic genre, without losing the quality of the music or plot. Rarely have I laughed so much throughout. What a treat for the eve of Valentine's Day.

The contemporary English translation of the libretto is witty and funny, making it highly accessible to a much wider audience, but I missed hearing it in Italian. Some of the presto choruses are fiendishly hard to sing, regardless of the language, but English uttered rapidly sounds more percussive, like stuttering, less easy to understand. In contrast to the fluency of the Italian pronunciation better fits the excitement generated by the music. I wouldn't mind seeing it all over again. That's how much I enjoyed it.

At the bus stop afterwards, a merry Scotsman, celebrating his nation's narrow defeat commented loudly that I looked like Billy Conolly wearing my Basque Beret. Funny. The last spontaneous remark made to me in the street was from a Korean gentleman who told me he thought I looked like Sean Connery!

The city centre was crowded with people happily celebrating after the match. The number six dropped us by John Lewis' and there was a sixty one bus waiting for us when we arrived in Westgate Street, but it didn't leave for ten minutes. Road closures ended at eight, but buses are fewer and further between in the late evening, even on match days.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Registrar and Paymaster

I drove back to St German's this morning, to be sure of being there in good time for the wedding of Andy and Michelle. Sun shone through the clouds, and although it was chilly, it wasn't impossible for people to stand outside on the church forecourt before and after. The church was nicely full, and several people from the church day centre next door came over to take a look, as Andy is well known to the regulars as one of the local PCSOs, who makes a point of popping in for a chat regularly.

As expected, I was all nerves filling in the registers, and when the photographer arrived and asked for a briefing, I sent him away until I'd finished the job. I didn't want to squander any concentration I had. I had thought about what I wanted to preach, but didn't find time to write myself some notes, so I just improvised, and enjoyed weaving together threads of ideas I'd had about William Blake's 'Jerusalem', which we'd just sung, and the brief scripture reading from Mark nine, which concludes with 'Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.' I think the congregation was listening. It was a happy relaxed occasion, and afterwards I felt tired, as if I'd just had a good work-out. Perhaps I didn't sleep as long as usual. It's been a busy week too. Not exhausting, but I'm hoping next week will be easier, and allow me some down-time.

Home for lunch, then to the office for a couple of hours. The task of arranging salary payment for Ian, our Business Crime Manager, falls to me by default at the moment, as the procedure for adding bank signatories, so complex, is still incomplete. I went to our HSBC branch on Churchill Way and spoke to their business manager. I came away, having applied for a new bank card. The first one to be issued arrived just after I'd gone to Spain on locum duty. It wasn't collected, so it was re-absorbed by the system. I also applied for internet banking for the BCRP account. This will enable me to make salary payments electronically in future, but Ian's first salary payment was literally the cheque I gave him at the end of the afternoon. We have an excellent system whereby CBS accountants run a payroll account, and notify us monthly ahead of time what needs to be paid as salary, tax and social charges. Yet another thing I've done in retirement, I never did in my working life. It puts a different slant on what lifelong learning can mean.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Nightmares revisted

Another day of respite from rain, allowing me to walk down to St John's Canton and celebrate their mid week Eucharist with eight regulars. Then, after lunch, I was picked up and taken by car to Pidgeon's chapel for a funeral service. As the chief mourner was entering, I discovered that the person meant to be giving the eulogy had backed out. This really threw me into a minor panic, as I'd gleaned no more than an outline of the deceased's life in a rather reticent conversation at the meeting I'd had earlier in the week, so I was relying on someone else to tell his story.

It took me a few moments at the start of the service to get a grip on myself. I stumbled over the surname, having opened my service text at the first prayer, not at the title page. Even with forty plus years of experience of leading public worship behind me, I can still be tipped off balance. The sudden feeling of no longer being in full control is quite distressing and reminds me of the occasional nightmares I've had about leading worship throughout my ministry.

After the crematorium service, rather than go home, I was taken back into town and dropped off outside the Motorpoint Arena, so that I could spend an hour in the office before walking over to St German's to take a rehearsal for tomorrow's wedding. This will be the first full wedding at which I've officiated in five years. In many parishes nowadays, church weddings are few and far between, and as long as there is a Vicar, a retired priest rarely gets called upon to offer this service.

Wedding blessings in Spain are different, the marriage must be registered in a civil ceremony before the celebration to qualify. A church wedding in a British parish requires the officiating priest to act as registrar. I'm always a bit nervous until a ceremony starts and everyone stops fussing and relaxes. Then I can relax and enjoy doing what I love to do. But, filling in the registers beforehand was something I hated about weddings, as doing it consistently, with three copies of the register entry to write, made me tense and more error prone. Another of my professional nightmares.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Ash Wednesday

When I was switching off all the lights to go to bed last night, I noticed something was different about our hallway. The light emanating from the street looked much brighter, as if it had been floodlit. When I opened the door, I discovered, much to my surprise, for it was the first time since I'd shut the curtains at dusk that I'd looked outside, that we no longer had standard nauseous yellow street lights. Later Clare told me that she'd opened the curtains the previous morning when she arose from bed, to see a man with a hard hat in bucket lift passing by at bedroom window level, in between changing lighting units. "What if I'd been undressing?" she exclaimed. Anyway, we have brighter cleaner lower energy consumption street lighting at last. I'm delighted. Their greater luminosity is kinder on old eyes.

As there was no school service this evening, I was able to spend most of the day quietly at home until it was time to catch the bus to town and walk from there to St German's for Mass. It's preferable to do that for evening services, then I don't lose my parking place outside the house. Usually the twenty past six deposits me at the bottom of Westgate Street at half past, and the walk to church gets me there in good time for a seven o'clock start. Tonight there was a traffic queue across the Taff bridge and the lights at the junction were playing up. 

At twenty to seven I reckoned it would still take another ten minutes for the bus to get me to the stop I needed. So, explaining how late I now was, I begged the driver to let me off in between stops, while there was a lull in the inside lane traffic to allow me to reach the pavement safely, and I started to jog and walk alternately across the centre and along the Newport Road, the mile and a quarter distance to the church. I was amazed to reach there a couple of minutes before seven, not too breathless, and we only started a few minutes late. I didn't realise that I could still sustain that kind of pace. I think I shall take up jogging again.

There were twenty at the service, and afterwards, Angela drove me home. Hamid told us that he had not yet heard from his lawyers about whether they thought there were grounds for an appeal, but that he would be calling the lawyer tomorrow. We're all hoping for the best. He is just trusting in God to sort things out. But the Home Office legal 'experts' doesn't think he is sincere in the discovery of faith he has made. That makes me feel like an alien in my own country, like many other things happening these days.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Shrove Tuesday

The sun appeared through the clouds periodically this morning, the wind and rain was a much lighter than it has been for several days. Clare cooked a lentil dish for lunch, followed by traditional pancakes spread with Nutella for dessert. I finally left the house to attend my double session of Chi Gung and Tai Chi, back to back. Both classes were unusually poorly attended. I wondered if days of bad weather was deterring people from venturing out.

This morning the Lent blog went live with the first scheduled posting at 10.00. I'll schedule this time for each day's posting, to provide an element of consistency and rhythm. Even at the planning phase, I'm finding the exercise making clearer to me things about my own spiritual journey. I hope I can sustain my interest right through. Without that I cannot expect to interest others in what I want to say. You can find and read the Lent blog here.

Monday, 8 February 2016

High winds

A request from Fr Mark arrived over the weekend to take the funeral of a parishioner next Thursday. This morning, I made contact with the deceased's partner and arranged a meeting to discuss the service. It wasn't convenient to make a house visit, so funeral directors Pidgeon's kindly gave us a room to meet in at their place. 

I walked there as I had a couple of tasks to do on the way. It was raining and the wind was gusting sharply on times. It's odd to be hit by a sudden gust as you're walking, which blows just your leg off course in mid stride, without buffeting your whole body, and nearly causes you to trip. Spiro, the hairdresser, was standing in the road opposite his salon, watching a couple of roofers replacing tiles that had been ripped off the roof earlier. "They weren't keen to come out," he said, "but I insisted. With this wind I could lose the whole roof in a couple of hours."

Later, I braved the wind again and went to the CBS office to re-establish the spare computer for myself in the vacant workspace, and generate an invoice for a new RadioNet subscriber. Jobs done, I headed for the comfort of home, and an evening working on material for my daily Lenten blog on prayer, which I'll start tomorrow with an introductory posting. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Unexpected judgement

Yesterday was wet and windy all day and into the night. In the afternoon we went over to Bristol to visit Amanda and James for a few hours, and watched the final episode of 'Young Montalbano' in the evening. As ever it was beautifully crafted with fine acting and a teasingly complex story to keep track of. It was also very moving, as our hero sets about leaving his beloved Sicily to live in Genova with Livia, his lovely bride to be. It's such a struggle for him to let go of his work and his partners in solving crime. Sicily and its people substitute for the birth mother he lost in childhood. 

Then, just as he is about to leave, anti-Mafia prosecuting magistrate Giovanni Falconi is assassinated on his way from Palermo airport. It was a real watershed event for Sicily and all Italians, in real life, back in 1992, and the impact of this was well portrayed as Montalbano found himself driving around empty streets in fictional Vigata, empty because everyone was indoors glued to TV newscasts, just as the whole world was, during the 11th September attacks in 2001. It awakened memories for me of that hot afternoon in our Monte Carlo parsonage, when I idly switched on the news and couldn't tear myself away for hours. The story ends with Montalbano phoning Livia, and here say, despite herself, "You must stay." How often events external to our lives act to change our destinies, in fact as well as fiction.

The sun pushed its way through the clouds this morning, quite appropriate for Transfiguration Sunday in the Church in Wales Calendar. Before Mass began at St German's, Hamid told us his asylum appeal had been refused. He seemed less concerned about this than we did. Being forced to go home carries all sorts of risks to his safety, now he can be identified as a convert, but he'd get to see his wife and sons again after five years, despite this. 

After the service he showed us a lengthy document explaining the judgement issued. It contained factual errors, and some expressions of the judge's opinion, which to my mind, revealed an insufficient knowledge of evangelisation as an enterprise all Christians are involved in, not just authorised church representatives. Hamid's journey into Christian faith, was shaped by a number of encounters with lay people, some of them sustained. They helped him understand the message of the bible, and commit himself. This has been discounted, as justification for his conversion. He is officially regarded as insubstantial, insincere and unreliable in his motives for seeking asylum. 

I'm far from happy about this, though whether any of the deficiencies in the opinion expressed contradict points of law is not for me to judge. There will be a further appeal, I believe, and I will do whatever I can to ensure the process is better informed. 

The rain returned after lunch, making the prospect of a walk uncongenial, so I continued working on my preparations for this year's daily Lent blog on prayer, which will go live with in introduction on Shrove Tuesday.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Site Progress

I enjoyed a quiet morning at home. An email from Julie about some documents I couldn't locate didn't even mention the new PC she's working on. No news is good news. When I arrived in the office early afternoon, there were a few issues, however. Some file handling defaults needed changing. The .docx plug-in for Word, and Javascript for Libre Office Base had to be downloaded and installed to resume the status quo. 

Writing here about the complexities of setting up the key machine in the office system on which our administration depends gives me the basis of a proper check list to consult, if ever I have to repeat this again. Because our organisation has evolved, we've never had to make a batch purchase and installation of equipment. Everything is piecemeal, and used on the basis that as long as the user has confidence in it and it isn't broken, it stays in use. Like our seven year old Dell lazer printer.

Last night after I left, Ashley had quietly worked at sliding file cabinets around, setting up a table as the basis of a workspace for Ian, and moving several to create an enclosure for his workspace. There's now only a heavy cupboard and another cabinet to shift, and the new office area is complete. Monday, I'll have my hot-desking area back again.

Once the troubleshooting was done, I decided to quit the office while it was still light and walk over to Central Square to take some photos of the construction site from by usual vantage points. In the past 19 days since my last inspection, there's been lots of progress, despite all the rain. Portakabin units for site workers and managers have now all moved to the south east corner of the site, nearest the train station, and are two storeys high. The pile drilling machine has almost completed its tour of the new building perimeter, leaving a trail of steel rods protruding from a long trench of concrete, and excavators are now at work on sub-soil removal, presumably to create a basement. Interesting times.

After supper we settled down together to watch the Pixar cartoon movie called 'Up', and much enjoyed it. More of an elderly adult show than a family movie, with so many oldies jokes and references which make sense when you're past retirement and getting decrepit. I must say, however, that I do resonate with the dream of having adventures in old age, as often as possible. But there's nothing new about that in my life.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

More office chores

I celebrated the Eucharist for a dozen people at St John's Canton this morning, and later drove to the office to deliver and set up the new administrator's PC. Julie had the day off, which gave me time to sort it out properly. Making sure it was properly hooked up to the network drive for back up purposes took me longer than expected. The device has run faithfully for over three years, but I'd forgotten how to navigate around its file system, to check if the backup routine was working the way I'd set it up. 

Tracking down the printer drivers for the Dell network printer and the HP inkjet used to print off Safetynet files took much longer than expected. Longer than when I did this for Ashley's new office machine a few months ago, I feel sure. Windows 10 was fine at recognising both printers existed, but not automatically finding drivers, as the Dell is seven years old and the HP five. It's easy to get tricked by this and ending up wasting hours troubleshooting when it fails to print as required, so I had to make the effort to get it right.

I also had to identify and copy work material in progress from her old Desktop to the new one, as this is not included in the OneDrive file sync. I left her with the full AT extended keyboard she's used to rather than let her have the shiny new one, which has the laptop extended keyboard layout. I can give her the choice to change tomorrow, but I am aware how much of an impediment a different interface can be when you're getting started in the morning and under pressure, as we always are at CBS.

Fortunately the packaging for a similar machine had still not been disposed of, so I packed away the machine being retired, for safe keeping, until the rest of the office workspace has been re-arranged. Ian's arrival prompted us to request an expansion of the area we occupy to provide proper room and storage for him. This has taken a month to achieve, and shelving has now been shifted to give us an extra two feet of space along one five metre wall. Once our cabinets have been re-located, Ian will have a full sized desk of his own, and I'll get my old hot-desking workspace back. 

Getting Julie's new machine to the state where she can switch on and go to work ate up another four hours of time, more than I expected. That's ten hours from unpacking to being in place and fit for purpose. I was glad to get home again, and do some more work on preparing for my Lent project.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Tale of two offices

After the midweek Mass with Tredegarville school children at St German's, I stayed around and chatted with people in the thriving church hall Elderly People's Day Centre. It was pleasing to hear that ITV local news would be visiting to do a feature article this Friday, as a follow up to one a year ago, when the centre landed a substantial piece of funding to sustain the excellent work done there. There was a karaoke sing along in the main lounge with a couple of dozen participants having a good time, and a reflexologist was giving someone a treatment in the hall, while others not musically inclined relaxed and chatted over a cuppa. 

I stayed around because Area Dean Fr Bob Capper was due to make a visit to inspect church records and premises certificates, all part of the Archdeacon's visitation report. Thanks to Angela, the church administrator, all the essential documentation is systematically and accessibly filed. Bob expressed his admiration if not a little envy as well. Such a thorough and disciplined control of paperwork is rarely a strength for any cleric, even if this virtue is high on their wish-list. It's ages since we last had a chance to chat, the August before last, in fact. How time flies.

When he'd finished his inspection, we parted company and I headed for PC World on Newport Road to shop for a computer. Much more choice of machines there, but not of non-touchscreen devices. So, I drove across Cardiff to Culverhouse Cross, where there are still two stores, a Curry's and a PC World, but it was the same story in both. Back then to Western Avenue and Staples, where I found exactly what I'd been looking for, and at a reasonable price. It's a stylish 23" Core i3 HP Pavilion All in One PC with 8GB of RAM and a terabyte hard drive. Far more capacity and power than is really necessary to get the job done, but properly set up from scratch in the light of experience, it should see off recent troubles and be reliable for a good few years to come.

It took me six hours to set it up with additional software to resemble the existing office machine, so as to make it possible for Julie to continue working where she left off when she next comes in. It was yet another machine which had Windows 8.1 pre-installed, but at least on this occasion, as soon as it had completed the set up routine, it switched smoothly into update mode. I do resent the fact that there is no warning about delays involved in getting a new purchase into use. But at least it didn't have a sticker on it saying Windows 10 NOW - such a downright lie.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

More on connectivity

Monday afternoon, I went into town, and hunted for a new office PC, in John Lewis and PC world, but didn't find what I was looking for. All in One HP desktops with touch screens are now retail flavour of the month. We don't need the touch interface for work purposes. An hour in the office re-examining the Cloud file sync problem, revealed that as long as you log in with proper MS Account details every time rather than an alias username and password, there's no problem. When Windows Update requires a system re-start, logging in with an alias won't deliver synchronisation. There's no warning. Get into the habit of accessing using an alias, your files get saved on your machine and local network, but not in the Cloud. It's obvious, but not obvious. There are so many useless bells and whistles to annoy Windows users, but a helpfully placed notification here would lower resentment and blood pressure levels.

Tuesday, I was going to extend my hunt for a new office PC, but as I was about to leave, Mary, our neighbour came over and asked if I could come and check her PC, as something was stopping her from accessing her emails, and she thought she'd done something wrong. She has an old slowish XP machine and was exercise by the thought of having inadvertently disconnected it from the router, but wasn't sure how to check this. Physically it was fine. The error messages were all of the 'network not found' type, and compounded by a confusing browser install of AVG 'Safe Search', which detracted from the simple browser set up she was used to. The problem didn't show immediately until I re-booted the router. No broadband. After Clare joined us for a cup of tea, the red light on the router had turned blue again, and all was back to normal. Back at home, I learned about an inexplicable spate of BT broadband outages across the country during the day. Not linked to any cyber attack. Is the weather, sunspots or what?

Earlier in the day I spent a couple of hours thinking about doing another daily Lenten blog. Last year's was quite demanding to sustain but worth the bible study and mental exercise it entailed. This time, I'd like to write about the venture of prayer, especially bearing in mind that I'm currently working with a newly baptized Christian convert. He is coming to Lenten activity afresh, a first time experience, both of prayer and participation in Liturgy. I have to keep Hamid in mind as I write, even if his English is far from adequate to understand what I write. On a one to one basis ideas can be communicated more simply than they can in writing.

I enjoyed my double class of Chi Gung and Tai Chi this evening, and wasn't nearly as tired at the end of it. So much so, that I set up a new blog page and wrote for an hour, in readiness for the weeks to come.