Thursday, 31 March 2016

Laptop rescue saga

As the school is on holiday this week, the midweek Eucharist at St German's was a quiet affair in the Lady chapel, a welcome change after the intensity of last week. I went straight home afterwards and did some necessary food shopping, banking and parcel posting before lunch. Then I settled down to see if I could fix the broken Acer Aspire Core i3 laptop which Kath acquired from a fellow gym member and passed on to me to play with.

Normal booting caused it to crash and reboot, so I tried booting into 'Safe Mode' but without success. It got so far and then hung after a file check, displaying a desktop wallpaper but nothing else. Eventually the hard disk light went off, indicating there was no activity. I then modified the boot settings and tried a live version of Linux Mint on a USB flash drive. I was astonished at the speed with which it started, took full control of the hardware and gave me a fully functional machine. 

Linux showed the Windows file system was in place, seemingly uncorrupted. The name of the last user was evident, but data file folders had been emptied or never filled. I was able to email Kath with a status report, but nothing more than this. At least the hardware works.

Today, I took the funeral in St Paul's Grangetown of a well known local lady who'd lived in the same house for sixty years. The church was packed, and there was standing room only. St Paul's is a big church, impossible to heat properly. It was cold indoors, despite the sunshine streaming in. One of the granddaughters gave a moving and funny tribute, much of which was devoted to extracts from Gran's regular letters to her when she was in university. There were more smiles than tears. 

Among mourners were two relatives of the deceased whom I knew - one was Brian, Martin's father in law, the other was Tony Bishop who was city centre Police Inspector when Vicar of St John's. He retired around the same time as I did, and it's the first time we've met in five years. The Committal was in the South Glamorgan Crematorium, closer to Grangetown than Thornhill. We sang 'Amazing Grace' which in the crem hymn book had an extra verse that didn't appear in the service hymn sheet, a verse I don't recall singing before. Not everyone had brought their service sheets with them, so there was a little confusion which left people bemused, if smiling.

After a late lunch I went into the office with a few small jobs to complete, and then brought home with me the office copy of Windows 7 installation disks, to see if I could effect a system repair on the Acer. No luck. The DVD/CD drive certainly worked with other disks, but would not boot from the Windows installation disks, for reasons which I couldn't fathom. I was able to use one to create an ISO file and copy it to a flash drive, having had success with booting Linux from flash. This was a tricky process of trial and error to get right using only the resources of the Linux live flash version. No luck again. There seems to be enough of Windows operating system to block the use of anything other than a Windows backup taken from the Acer itself. Or else the CD firmware is rigged to prevent this. 

In the end, there's no alternative to getting rid of the offending operating system, and install Linux Mint. That little pleasure will have to wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

True fiction or fictional truth?

Sad to see the offspring depart at lunchtime today for a visit to Bristol to see Amanda and James, and then the journey home. The weather wasn't up to much, so I indulged in some more binge watching of TV series on iPlayer, started a couple of nights ago, when I was too wound up to go straight to sleep. This time, 'Line of Duty', another acclaimed cop drama series I've never heard of because I don't take any notice of media hype, but as the whole of Series 2 was available to watch, I thought I'd give it a try and found it compelling if tough watching. 

Everyone with a role in the action seems to be lying and deceiving about something, or has a history of having done so. Even the ostensible 'goodies' seem to have a darker side to them. The series portrays a Professional Standards team's anti-corruption investigations, and paints a bleak picture, inviting the audience to believe there is moral chaos at the heart of UK law enforcement behind the facade of due diligence and political correctness. Understandably, the Police didn't play any part in the creation of this series, although anyonmous bloggers and retired officers are said to have done so. 

Whether fact or fiction, or a mixture of both, it makes for uncomfortable watching, and makes me wonder how far this kind of drama does paint an authentic picture of life in post-Christian Britain.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Bank Holiday treat

We all rose late this morning, and after lunch, embarked on an outing to Southerndown for a brisk walk on the beach. On the way out of the city, there were long traffic queues of people going into town, for some afternoon's shopping maybe? The beach wasn't crowded, and the only rain shower came as we were making our way back to the car. 

After an early supper, we went to the Millennium Centre for the premiere performance of a musical called 'Only the Brave', telling the story of people, soldiers, spouses, and resistance members caught up in a key exploit of the D Day campaign in 1944, aiming to capture a strategic inland river crossing at Caen in Normandy. An unusual theme, which took nine years from conception to the Edinburgh Fringe festival first performance, and another eight years from that to a full stage musical destined for a West End theatre. Clare was not well enough to come with us, so our little row sadly had an empty seat. She would have loved this night out.

The stageing was superbly imaginative, the singing and movement brilliantly executed and the pacing of the two and a half hour show, with one interval never dragged, though the sound levels weren't as good as they needed to be in some early scenes. The music was reminiscent of 'Les Miserables', and to my mind the production was half an hour too long, and some of the song set pieces seemed superfluous or in need of editing down for better impact. But just to make something on this scale to work as well as it did on its first night was a credit to all involved. It was a moving tribute to the humanity of the people who gave their lives to liberate Europe from the tyranny of Nazism although not quite what I'd expected to be doing on an Easter Monday evening.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter persecution

I was glad of the quietness of Holy Saturday, to send out some Easter greetings, and prepare a homily for the Easter Vigil. The City's half marathon day created traffic problems for anyone going about their usual business during the day, so I was glad not to need to go out until after six. By that time, the roads were clear and transit to St Germans was easy.

Just fifteen of us gathered as the sun set, to kindle and bless the fire, process through the church with the Paschal Candle and proclaim Christ's resurrection. I took great pleasure in chanting the Exultet in the traditional manner. The acoustic of the building is very sympathetic to unaccompanied singing. It went well, thanks to the great team work of the servers and congregation members involved in the readings. It was gratifying that Hamid was there, having participated properly in the observances of Lent and Holy Week for the first time since his baptism.

I put all the house clocks forward, and enjoyed this week's interestingly complex episode of 'Follow the Money', offering a lay person's guide into the world of insider trading and dodgy corporate finance. Then, I made an effort to go to bed early enough to compensate for the loss of an hour. It's never easy to go to sleep however, but without the need to get up for an early service, this was less of a problem than it has been in the past, when the arrival of Summer Time clashes with Paschaltide.

There were over fifty of us for the Solemn Mass, blessing of the Easter Garden and procession, and the sun came in and out of the clouds brightening the interior of the church wonderfully.
After the service, we said goodbye to Hamid with a small card and a gift. He moves to Portsmouth to accommodation which isn't in a hostel, something he's been waiting for over many months. I'd promised to write him a letter of commendation so that a Portsmouth parish could be quickly appraised of the detail of his story, which is still difficult for him to express adequately given his limited English, but being so busy this past few days, I'd forgotten, and promised to take one to him later in the day.

Kath and Rhiannon arrived just at the same time as I arrived home, and Owain came an hour and a half later, having overslept due to the advancing of the clock, so we had our lunch rather later than usual. For Clare this was hardly the pleasant family weekend she was looking forward to, being stricken with a very nasty virus with complex symptoms. I had to hunt for a pharmacy still open, over the other side of town, to buy her some cough medicine before meeting Hamid to give him the promised letter. 

After we greeted each other, he told me that he'd just heard on the six o'clock news about the bombing of an Easter rally by Pakistani Christians in Lahore, with over sixty deaths. That's also in the Punjab, about four hours journey away from Rawalpindi, where he comes from. The Christian minority of the population in Pakistan is concentrated in the Punjab. I can only hope that the Home Office immigration court judges are fully appraised of the facts which convert deportees have to face if not granted leave to stay, and change their minds.

Tonight's final episode of 'The Night Manager' was an ingenious re-write of the original ending of the book, but disappointingly, I didn't spot the vignette appearance of Le Carre himself, Hitchcock style. Amazingly good telly drama. Fascinating how some top movie makers are now turning their hand to making TV serialised works instead of blockbuster movies. It must be hugely profitable, and it makes for high quality home entertainment as well.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Christ's Passion recalled

Out of the house by nine, driving to St German's for Stations of the Cross at ten. How good that the sun should shine to raise our spirits as we went about our penitential journey. There were twenty one of us. After each Station, the shutters enclosing each image were shut, the last act of preparation for the Liturgy of the Passion, following the stripping of the altars. Although small, I found it a surprisingly powerful gesture, narrowing the focus so that only the Gospel story in its fullness could be attended to. 

Afterwards, a drink and hot cross buns were provided in the church hall. For Hamid, all this was a first time experience, and he seemed to be absorbing it all thoughtfully. I joked with him that if another judge should ask for evidence of his British churchgoing, he need only mention hot cross buns after church on Good Friday. 

I then needed to prepare an address for the afternoon Liturgy of the Passion. There was so much traffic congestion on the drive home, I decided to use the bus to town and walk the second leg of the journey to ensure I wasn't delayed arriving for the second service at three.  It wasn't as bad later when made the return trip. The earlier rush may have been shoppers headed for city centre car parks. The surrounding infrastructure doesn't cope well with peak demand. Everyone suffers from a surge of shoppers, city centre workers or sports fans going to a match. The combination can be toxic. Tomorrow there's an half-marathon in town, an affair the City Council's Events Team has been preparing for in recent weeks. They occupy another section of our office premises, so it's hard not to notice.

There were seventeen of us for the Liturgy of the Passion at three. There was little time to brief each other about the service in detail. The serving team and I had to rely on each others' long experience to get us through in the restrained and dignified manner required by the occasion. 

For the first time in decades I didn't have copies of the Church in Wales Holy Week service book, devised in the early 1970s by the Liturgical Commission, and still useful, because it has texts of St Matthew's and St John's Passion scripted for voices and congregation. An adaptation of an ancient and traditional format, this made it possible to have a participatory congregational version of the Passion reading available for us with the minimum of effort every year. 

Without this resource, I had to sit down for half an hour and concentrate in order to render three large print copies into scripts using underlining only. It's too important an opportunity to disregard in my opinion. And, I must say, the readers made a good job of it. I led three hymns, singing unaccompanied, and this went well. In the afternoon sunshine, the church, emptied of worshippers, stripped of all its finery, reredos closed, images shrouded, looked austerely magnificent. Just waiting for what comes next.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Prayer Book reminiscences

This morning I celebrated the Maundy Thursday Eucharist at St John's Canton for a dozen people, thus setting the Parish clergy free to attend the Bishop's Chrism Mass at the Cathedral. This is an important occasion in the year for bonding between the bishops and their full time clerics, I'm happy to support them in this way, plus I get to use the 1984 Church in Wales equivalent of the Book of Common Prayer, the substance of which dates back to revision which began in 1966, just before I entered St Mike's. It's the traditional element of worship that defined my generation, one we moved away from in successive modernising revisions and return to for a sense of continuity. After a lifetime advocating modernisation and liturgical renewal, I still know it off by heart and enjoy being leading a congregation which is still at home with it.

As a student we studied the English Book of Common Prayer, the 'Urtext' of Anglicanism, translated first into Welsh in 1567. I got to use it once or twice a month in English for the first time after becoming priest in charge of St Paul with St Barnabas in Bristol in 1978. The other churches in the St Paul's area were already into modernising liturgical innovation when I arrived there, Advent 1975. Once I became Team Rector of Halesowen in 1989, I learned it by heart, having to use it weekly at the eight o'clock Communion, and other occasions. The classic register of liturgical English is as familiar to me as the modern. Likewise the language of the first post-Vatican II Missal of the Roman Church, from my days in an ecumenical university chaplaincy team over forty years ago. So many good experiences to give thanks for.

After lunch at home, I went into the office for a while before making my way on foot again over to St Germans for the evening Eucharist of the Lord's Supper. Having preached four times this week so far, ad extempore, I thought that I'd at least prepare some notes to contain my homily safely. After working on this for a quarter of an hour, MS Word crashed on me and the document eluded recovery - such an unusual occurrence, and I will read nothing into it - so I had to extend my extemporising run, although this was a little easier as I had done this in the morning Eucharist also. It's funny, I'm unused to feeling quite so unsafe when preaching. Trouble is, I'm far too used to vetting my own work before delivery.

The Eucharist was conducted with a full team of servers and catholic solemnity, with the sacrament in a monstrance for adoration for the Watch of the Passion at the end. This something I know is customary in some places, though not universally practised. It's certainly the first time I've ever had to do it, and I'm none the worse for that, although I felt tired afterwards, and left the others to set things straight after the stripping of the altars, and went straight home.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

School in church

Out of the house and on my way by car to St Germans's by nine this morning to prepare to welcome the whole of Tredegarville School to church for the specially devised Way of the Cross service instead of the usual weekday Mass. It was an opportunity to tell the whole story from Palm Sunday to Easter Day in a way that involved the children. Eight of them were involved in readings, and the whole school sang cheerfully some of their favourite songs. As we got to the Easter story, the sun broke through the clouds. As Angela is still off sick, the heating wasn't switched on as early as it usually is, so the church was chilly to start with, and the children kept outdoor jackets on. A brisk pace kept us going without too much discomfort. Let's hope that it gave them more to remember than the routine service attended.

After lunch, I went into the office to meet with Ashley for a discussion with a new enquiry about radio service use. At the moment the office is like a warehouse, with boxes of new radios everywhere, as the roll out of a planned upgrade gets under way. The high quality of our operation is much more important to improve than its rate of expansion. Our motto is 'expect the unexpected', and being ready for fresh challenges is important, and quite an adventure in many ways.

Since we were mentioned honourably in a Council Scrutiny committee report earlier this month, we seem to be getting noticed a little more than hitherto, though whether that will lead anywhere interesting is anybody's guess. Although RadioNet was started to support of the work of the Business Crime Reduction Partnership of Council, Police and City Centre Retailers, it's often felt as if we were regarded like an illegitimate offspring that unwittingly exposes the embarrassing family secrets. It it really beginning to change? I hope so.

There were eight of us for tonight's Eucharist, and we had an opportunity to congratulate Hamid, who, after six months of living in a squalid hostel has been offered a place of his won to live while he waits for his asylum appeal to be heard. I heard earlier in the week that the representations I made about the judgement against him have been registered with the Home Office, quite apart from any that Cardiff's Asylum Justice voluntary advocacy scheme may have made to petition for an appeal. I suspect that the first we'll hear of the success of a petition will be a date given for a hearing, or more ominously a deportation notification issued.

Meanwhile, Hamid can have a place of his own, but sadly for us it'll be in Portsmouth, and not in Cardiff, so keeping in touch will be a challenge, and we'll have to find him a new congregation to welcome and support him as he develops in Christian discipleship. Until he can give as a postcode for his new abode, we can't start searching to identify one.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Funeral contrast

The car arriving to take me to St Dyfrig and St Samson's for today's funeral arrived a little earlier than anticipated, just as I was about to sit down to lunch, so I abandoned the idea of eating, remembering the unexpected delays of yesterday's rendezvous, and was taken to the church with twenty minutes to spare and time to familiarise myself with the place and the way of carrying out the service. 

Only then did I realise that I'd walked out of the house in haste, and hadn't picked up the bag containing the photo and CD for the service. The funeral director was relaxed about my little crisis, and told me not to worry. Their driver took me back home at quite legal speeds all the way and competed the round trip in eighteen minutes. Very impressive road-craft, and to my surprise, the average journey time was exactly what Google Maps said it would be, when I was searching for the required address.

In total contrast to yesterday's service, there were half a dozen mourners, two church members and the funeral team present. Just two of the six children of the deceased attended, the family had broken up a long time ago, and lost touch. It's not infrequent in modern urban society that individuals who are aged and sick all but disappear from the society in which they lived and worked. It's understandable when people move around a great deal, and much sadder when their lives are spent in the same Parish where they were born and lived. The sun pushed back the clouds a little as we journeyed to Western Cemetery for the burial. I don't imagine there'll be many visitors to this man's grave in times to come.

After catching up on lunch, I relaxed and caught up on lost sleep - I've been going to bed too late quite lot recently and am no good on less than seven hours. Then I took the bus to town and walked to St German's again for the Mass of the day. Tonight, instead of a dozen there were four of us. It's not the first time in my experience that this Tuesday Holy Week evening service is poorly attended, and I've never figured out why. I preached ad extempore again and enjoyed doing so. 

There's just so much wealth of themes and issues to draw upon, the challenge is not to go on for too long. It doesn't help when the RCL (Revised Common Lectionary) Holy Week readings aren't identical each night this week as the ones in the Roman Catholic Weekday Lectionary, which I have used since 1975, when I was given a copy as a leaving present by the congregation of St Michael's Bartley Green in Birmingham, where I helped out during my free time as Chaplain in Birmingham University. For the most part the readings in the two lectionaries are almost identical. But every now and then, I get taken by surprise if I didn't checked in advance. At least today, I found out before I got to church!

Monday, 21 March 2016

Holy Week challenges

A car arrived for me in good time to get to St Mary's for today's funeral. On arrival, however, the area of Bute Street near St Mary's was very congested with parked cars and people. Getting into the church yard was gong to take a while, so I got out and walked the last hundred yards, conscious of losing time and needing to be fully briefed before starting. The lady who died was a regular church attender at St Mary's and had lived in Butetown all her life. About 300 people, attended, standing room only inside, and people in the porch and standing outside.

There wasn't enough time to do a full check of the service texts presented to me, and there'd been no time yesterday to prepare a full version of my own, so I had to navigate my way through the complete solemn ritual of a Requiem Mass from start to finish. The six strong serving team couldn't have been more helpful, but the lack of familiarity, and inability to find some of the required prayer texts meant  I had to improvise. This isn't usually a problem, but I felt as if I was struggling, even if that didn't come across. 

The only mistake I made was to miss out the last hymn, though this was no bad thing as we were running behind, so we sang it at the committal instead. Congestion outside the church and some heavy traffic en route to Thornhill meant that our time slot in their busy schedule was shrinking so we had barely ten minutes remaining in Briwnant chapel. It was enough for a brief, dignified conclusion, but more difficult to move the congregation away from the chapel entrance to the flower display area in time to let the next group of mourners enter. 

It's rare for there to be insufficient time between services. Planning by all involved is well thought out. Traffic conditions make a difference, generally catered for, but dealing with such large numbers in and around church is an unpredictable factor, even for a church like St Mary's with its history of big community funerals. Often at a Requiem, there may only be a few communicants, as most attending aren't churchgoers. On this occasion there were about fifty communicants and this adds extra time.

After lunch, I went to a flat in Granetown to meet the woman who had been arranging the funeral of her partner, whom she'd been caring for, as he was bed ridden for the past twenty years. She'd just finished writing some notes for a eulogy, and asked if I would speak about him on her behalf. She gave me a framed photo to place by his coffin in church and a CD with a song by Jim Reeves she wanted played. I shaped it into a suitable tribute to them both, given the circumstances, as soon as I got home. Then, I took the bus into town late in the afternoon and  walked across to St German's for the Mass of the Day.

Having spent time writing my Lent Blog postings in advance, to be on the safe side, knowing how easily days slip away almost un-noticed, I have already studied and reflected on the texts for the next few days, and made a conscious decision not to follow my usual habit of writing a sermon, but trusting myself to preach from scripture without notes. It carries the risk of going on too long and losing the thread. I have done this before and know that I can do it, but am always apprehensive about losing the audience. 

Praying extempore from the heart is easy, practice was needed to build confidence in the early years. Teaching and preaching both require careful preparation, yet need to come from the heart. This isn't about confidence though, it's about the risk of being led astray by one's own rhetoric, and, dare I say, by ones own unacknowledged illusions and negativity. A pulpit, like any other medium, can easily become a platform for delivering worthless or unworthy thoughts, nothing to do with God's word. Any time I've looked back at sermons I've preached over nearly fifty years, there have often been occasions which leave me thinking - I wouldn't say that now, would I?

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Palm Sunday Pastoralia

The sun shone, but it was too chilly to start this morning's Palm Sunday procession at St German's out in the churchyard garden, Palms were distributed and blessed in the hall. Then we walked briskly across to the garden before entering church and doing a couple of circuits before starting the Mass. Last weekend a volunteer team came and did a superb job cleaning and tidying the garden, which had become overgrown in recent years. Then Hilary and Peter came with some bedding plants to give a lovely touch of colour to the place. Such a great source of good cheer to the congregation, numbering fifty people today.

After the service there was a sixtieth birthday party luncheon for local locksmith and church stalwart Richard Hill, his family, friends and congregation members filling the hall. Sadly, being well aware of the excellent food being served, I could only stay long enough to say grace and call for the first toast before going home, conscious of the need to arrange a bereavement visit for tomorrow's funeral at St Mary's Bute Street. Fortunately, making contact proved easy. When I arrived at the son's house, where we were meeting, I was touched to discover that Mam's coffin was in one corner of the lounge, very traditional. It's such a rarity to see nowadays. I introduced myself to husband, son and daughter in law and explained what had happened, and from our conversation gleaned additional information to add into Fr David's notes passed on to me. Then I felt confident about doing justice to the occasion tomorrow.

Another impressive episode of 'The Night Manager' this evening on BBC Four, full of tension and surprises, setting the scene for next week's finale. Straight after it, a Spanish comedy film was showing, also on BBC Four. 'Los Amantes Viajeres' is a very Rabelaisian spoof on the American 'Airplane' film series. I had to stay up and watch it for Spanish homework, and it made me laugh out loud. Although I would have struggled without sub-titles, it was good to hear dialogue at a normal pace, and find I could identify about half of the words, even if that fell short of full comprehension.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Unexpected call of duty

A special Saturday morning treat today, a three hour TaiChi / ChiGung workshop in Penarth's Albert Road Methodist church hall, where I used to attend regular Thursday evening classes. The best thing of all was that Clare came to join me, first time ever. There were two dozen of us present, from all the different classes Christie runs so it was good to meet with some people I haven't seen for a year or so. Despite initial apprehension, Clare enjoyed the experience, so I'm hoping it won't be for the last time.

We had lunch afterwards in a Windsor Road arcade restaurant we hadn't visited before, with quite a diverse menu, and on our way home, we visited several home and garden stores to consider furniture for our recently paved back yard area, but found nothing suitable.

Later I had a call from our Area Dean Bob Capper asking if I could help out with some extra services, as Fr David Morris, priest in charge of Grangetown, has to take leave due to a sudden bereavement. It is further complicated by the fact that he has been managing the interregnum at St Mary's Butetown. So, I have taken on three additional funerals in the next ten days or so. As the first two are Monday and Tuesday, I will have to fit in home visits to make myself known and explain why I've come. It's nothing that I can't manage, even if this is the busiest time of year. I can console myself that I'm not having to prepare for annual meetings and reports or PCC elections, and just concentrate on caring for grieving people, against the backdrop of Holy Week services.

A new Danish crime drama began tonight on BBC Four, called 'Follow the Money', and although it begins with a detective investigating an accidental death on a wind-farm, it soon turns into a far bigger story about exploitation of migrant labour, corporate fraud and corruption in public life. It's promising to be another attention grabber.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Keeping track

In between routine tasks, I must have spent an hour on the phone this morning discussing forward plans with Ashley. We cover a lot of ground in these exchanges, and they are backed up by exchanges of text messages, which is just as well, since he is so busy we don't get much time face to face. Recently, I started tinkering with the Evernote app, which comes installed on phones and is there on some of our recent PCs as well, and have now started to use it in earnest to keep track of various issues we need to stay on top of. 

Having developed our office file system from scratch I navigate through it much easier than Ashley. He will sometimes call and ask me to find and email a file to him as he's too busy to hunt, or can't recall a near enough file name to benefit from available search facilities. I've realised lately that when I start a record on a particular subject in Evernote or OneNote, I can attach copies of relevant files to the note for easy access. I guess I tried software of this kind years ago but didn't stick with it because it was slow and crash prone. With faster internet speeds and search facilities, making Cloud storage that much easier and reliable, this kind of free-form database is much more of an asset. 

We've been using OneNote to keep notes on subscriber accounts since last autumn, as it was the first app to offer a solution to the limits of text entry into a highly structured database of user accounts. It's less resilient and more limited than Evernote in my opinion. If I could swap data to the latter easily, I think I would - something to look into when I have time on my hands, maybe? 

When eventually I did go into the office, mid afternoon, I called at the Central Square building site and took some photos on my way, interesting to see the ever deepening hole being excavated for a car park basement, on top of which two buildings will eventually sit, as a lorry dispatcher told me. There was one simply job to do, updating and preparing notification templates, drawing upon a file first created the purpose five years ago. It was a slow dull laborious task, which took me ages as I found it hard to retain focus on so many similar documents in which there was little to change. I didn't expect it to take me quite so long, and it was quarter to seven when I arrived home for supper.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Midweek ministry

Midweek 'class Mass' again yesterday morning at St German's, with one of the younger groups of children. I used the story of The Three Children and the Burning Fiery Furnace, and improvised a responsive version of the Song of the Three Children with them. They rose to the challenge very well. Some classes are more reluctant to rise to the occasion. It's my version of Godly Play!

The monthly Ignatian meditation group switched to our house at the last moment due to a domestic crisis for one of the members. A couple of other members were indisposed at the last moment, so we were just three, and I was asked to lead as soon as we were gathered. I too the Gospel passage for the day from John eight, with Jesus arguing with those Jews who would talk to him, but were not disciples. A difficult passage to envisage, let alone follow and meditate upon because of its nature, but I felt it would be a good passiontide challenge. Each of us struggled but had something to say in the end. It's not something that you can regard as 'success'. Learning comes in many guises, especially about difficult things.

I didn't go into the office to work later, but eventually worked from home. I say eventually, because I'd just got started, editing Monday's Board meeting minutes to include two documents mentioned, when the machine I was working on automatically rebooted, following a flashed pop-up warning too quick to read, then spent an hour installing a batch of updates. I was not well pleased with this singular act of dictatorship on the part of Microsoft. Any time you lose control of a device like that without being sure of the reason is cause for concern that security has been compromised. When will those well meaning controlling fools realise that they are undermining confidence in their own system? Give me Linux and Open Source any time. Pity I have to use Windows for work all the time.

This morning I went to St John's Canton to celebrate their midweek Eucharist for St Patrick's Day, having received a late evening email from Fr Phelim to ask if I could cover for him. It's nice to help in my local Parish as well as further afield so I always say yes if I can manage it. It's also nice to be able to walk to church, although a lingered too long at home and had to take the car this morning to be sure to arrive in good time. There were fourteen of us, and I'm there Maundy Thursday in the morning as well.

This evening, over to St German's for the last of our Lenten Stations of the Cross with Adoration. The whole school is coming over next Wednesday morning for a special edition of the Way of the Cross, featuring that calypso chorus from 'A man dies' which I learned as a student in Bristol back in 1963.

'Gentle Christ, wise and good
They nailed him to a cross of wood.
The Son of God, he came to save
With borrowed stable and borrowed grave.'

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Classic Car Funeral

Monday morning, I tidied the house, cooked lunch for Clare, then collected her from her train at half past midday. Later, a phone call from Kath revealed that Rhiannon had passed her Grade Three flute exam 'with merit', which she took the day Clare arrived. It's lovely to see her making good progress and following in her mother's footsteps. She was learning flute at Rhiannon's age, and still uses it to play occasional solos, as well as singing with their Latino band 'Sonrisa'. On one occasion, Rhiannon was out at a gig with them, and played a solo of her own, much to everyone's delight, and was perhaps less nervous about being on stage than in an examination studio. She just loves performing.

Tuesday morning, I took the car in for a belated MOT, as its tax is due for renewal by the end of the month. Then I walked over to Tredegarville School to touch base with the head teacher about their Holy Week school service in St German's and tell her the news about Fr Dean, one of the school's Foundation Governors. I walked from there to the CBS office and used our new on-line banking facility to pay out Ian's tax and salary for March, against a payslip provided by our accountants. 

Then I had a message to say the car was ready, and walked back to the garage to collect it, in good time to get to St German's, where the funeral of a man who was a friend of the previous incumbent, Fr Roy Doxsey was taking place. I'd invited him to join me in taking the service, such a rarity these days for two of us to share a funeral. David had been an engineer and classic car enthusiast. He'd owned and maintained the same MG Midget since he first bought it 45 years ago. His motoring friends turned up in their outstanding vehicles, XK120 and XK150 Jaguars, a Ford Cortina Mk 1, a Ford Capri, a Ford Escort RS2000, a MGB open top, a Triumph TR4, a Sunbeam Talbot saloon, and a couple more I cannot now remember. They reminded me of the collection of Dinky Toy models I'd had of such cars when I was a child. A dazzling display of old cars escorted the cortege from the church to the crem. He would have been delighted. My dear late departed brother in law Eddie would also have taken great pleasure in such a grand display.

I drove home to rest for a couple of hours before attending the evening's Tai Chi and Chi Gung classes. Just before I was due to leave, a lengthy phone call delayed me. Then, as I was rounding the corner into Romilly Crescent, a 61 bus into town was halted by the lights. Impulsively I started to run, although I knew it was most likely the bus would sail past me and the stop about a hundred yards further on. Fortunately, the driver responded to my gesticulations and compassionately halted, some thirty years away from the bus stop to let me on. This took ten minutes off my walk to St Mary's Hall, so I was only ten minutes late, if pleasantly breathless, and warmed up ready for the session.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Passiontide begins

This morning, all the sacred images in St German's were veiled in purple, and the purple rather than the optional red was the liturgical colour of the day. It looked dramatic. My personal preference, however, would be to keep the crosses and crucifixes unveiled as the sole focus of visual attention, rather than unveiling the cross alone on Good Friday afternoon, and the rest of the images at the Paschal Vigil. It's one of those historical anomalies which has never made much sense to me.

It was nevertheless quite an occasion for a news announcement. I was asked to read to the congregation at St German's a brief statement from the Diocese about the incumbent Fr Dean, whose leave from the Parish I've been covering. He has accepted a new appointment as Priest in charge of St Mary's, succeeding Fr Graham who retired at the end of January. Once he is inducted to St Mary's, the Parish of St German with St Saviour will formally be vacant. How long it will take to prepare a job description and recruit a new incumbent is unknown, but it will be a different kind of uncertainty, as both congregations will have things to do, but meanwhile they'll continue to be served by locum priests. 

Post Easter, I'll be there more sporadically because of planned holidays, and then returning to Spain for June and July, to support other congregations without their own regular pastor. It'll be two years for Nerja this autumn, and more than four for Costa Azahar. I hope it won't be quite so long for St German and St Saviour, as there are many capable lay people in both churches to keep things well organised and open for business. It's much more of a challenge in some European congregations to retain enough volunteers to cover everything that needs to be done for the enterprise to thrive healthily.

After lunch today, I walked over to Llandaff Fields with my DSLR to look for birds to photograph, as the weather continues to improve. This week at last, I've seen a pair of Great Tits and some Sparrows feeding at our bird table. There were pairs of song thrushes out in the Fields. I saw them, but didn't hear them singing as I did a couple of weekends ago.
Also I spotted a Great Tit starting a nest high up in a hollow in one of the great lime trees along the avenue that runs parallel to the river Taff. Then I caught some good pictures of a bird I didn't recognise, but on checking later, discovered was a Redwing.
This was a first sighting for me, and made it an altogether pleasant little outing.

In the evening, another tense episode of Le Carre's 'Night Manager' on telly, beautifully crafted with fine acting.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Exploring Atlantic Wharf

I spent a good part of Friday in the office, the Owain arrived early evening and we went out for a drink and brought home a very nice pizza for supper from 'La Cabrisella', a small Italian run place down on Cowbridge Road, and drank rather a lot of wine together while we talked. He stayed the night and then spent the day looking up friends and watching the rugby in a cup with friends.

The weather was good, so in the afternoon I made the effort to go into town, undecided about whether to catch a bus somewhere or walk to Penarth, but decided go and photograph some of the new buildings across the London-Paddington railway line, where the new Central Cardiff Enterprise Zone developing in the vicinity of the stylish if daftly named 'Smart Bridge' pedestrian railway crossing. 
Historically, this was an area of dockland industries and poor housing called 'Newtown', being one of the first areas of the city to expand with Irish migrant labourers in the early nineteenth century. There's no trace of its early history, as it was a poor area, and it has been built over several times since then. Only the name on map serves as a reminder of its story.  

Then, my eye drew me past newish Tyndall Street hotels, down Schooner Way, with the Novotel on the corner, interestingly combining old warehouse with new-build glass and steel.
There's now the huge Waterside residential area in the old dockyard terrain between Atlantic Wharf and Lloyd George Avenue, with new-build houses, attractively interlinked with canals flanked by footpaths. The ancient Glamorganshire canal, which still runs concealed across the city centre, still supplies water to this network. Many if not all of the waterways would originally transported goods off-loaded from ships in Atlantic wharf to warehouse storage nearby. All are lined in brick and stone and bridged strategically for use of residents. 
How much of the old has been restored and how much is new-build imitation is hard to tell. 
After twenty years trees and gardens have matured and the new domestic environment has established itself. It's very quiet, well quiet I suppose, because most people would be indoors despite the congenial weather watching Wales nearly catch up and beat England in their six nation rugby match. Nearly, but not quite. In the middle of the actual Atlantic Wharf waterfront, quite close to a Holiday Inn Express hotel is a large pub called 'The Wharf'.
It is an extensive adaptation of the shells of two fine nineteenth century industrial buildings, with bars, a restaurant, and function suites in one half and offices, sadly empty, in the other. Built by Cardiff's native brewery S A Brain, it's just been sold, as it has failed to make a hoped for profit, being less of a social hub for its upwardly and outwardly mobile local residents than was expected.

Other fine old brick built warehouse buildings in this area have been turned into apartments.
There are many empty offices too, and I wonder how the current expansion in the old 'Newtown' area, not to mention the Central Square development hopes to draw in new business. Such faith in progress, so easily shaken by downturns in the global economy. What's needed so much more than empty office space is affordable housing, for rent or for sale. The revenue may be smaller for any who invest, but in the long terms it is sustainable. Time and time again, get rick quick schemes provide sustainable for the few, at the expense of the many. When will be ever learn?

The final pair of episodes of 'Trapped' were on tonight. Compelling watching. All was resolved intelligibly, our small town detective hero was vindicated, but sadly walked away a lonely man at the end, with his dignity and self respect intact. We were spared the media mobbing and acclaim of the successful sluth. Great acting, so much done with looks and subtle facial expressions, caught by beautiful camera work, as much on the landscape as the actors. Will there be a sequel, I wonder?

Thursday, 10 March 2016

SIM satisfaction.

I celebrated Wednesday's 'class Mass' at St German's, then returned home and cooked lunch, before taking Clare to the train for Coventry. She's looking after Rhiannon over the weekend, while Kath and Anto are gigging far up north in Cumbria. Apart from a couple of hours watching episodes of Spooks and Happy Valley on catch up TV, the rest of the day was devoted either to Lent blog writing or preparing material for the office. Somehow, even when I have time to myself and only me to look after, I still end up getting to bed later than intended.

I woke and breakfasted earlier than usual this morning, and having had less sleep than I really needed, I spent the morning doing very little, quietly, with the occasional doze in the armchair thrown in. One nice thing about being retired is not feeling guilty about such treasured indolence. I spent the afternoon in the office, by way of a visit to the Central Square building site, to take more photos of the construction work on the foundations, now under way.

I chatted with a lorry dispatcher outside a gate on Wood Street. He told me proudly that he'd seen 143 lorries of excavated subsoil off-site the day before. These are big vehicles, and must be carrying a 20-30 tonne load, so that's about 3,000 tonnes a day. The basement car park will be four and a half metres below ground level, 150 by 250m surface area. The weather as pretty rotten lately, but I was surprised later to discover it's over three weeks since I last visited the site to snap the progress.

After a wasted trip to the bank failing to satisfy all the requirements for signatory changes to the BCRP Board account, I spent another hour and a half on MS Publisher in the office, the set off to St German's for Stations of the Cross at seven. On the way, I called in the EE shop in Grand Arcade to top up my personal PAYG phone, and was told that I needed to exchange my old Orange SIM card for an EE SIM card, as before too long it would cease to be functional, now that the merger of companies at technical and administrative levels is moving to completion. As I had ten minutes to spare, I waited around in the shop until a PAYG SIM could be issued and top up payment taken.

Since Orange UK became EE, about three years ago, I have been unable to log into my phone account to check balance or top up as the Orange site denied all knowledge of me and my phone number or email address, although I could still top up by other methods. Also my present phone, about two and a half years old, has always needed to acquire the network manually, except when I'm abroad, where an Orange SIM still works automatically.

As soon as I returned home after Stations of the Cross, I swapped the SIM cards and found it worked automatically first time, perfectly. Moreover, I was able to download the EE mobile phone app, to enable me to check my balance and top up on-line if I wish to do so. Nice to have the phone working properly at last.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

On line government admin

Monday was a quiet uneventful day, spent doing CBS office work at home. I also went on-line to renew my European Health Insurance Card (aka EHIC), and while the NHS website was accessible enough, I ran into trouble straight away. Using the email address EHIC staff used to notify me that me card was on the way five years ago, I put in a lost password request, and found that my email address wasn't recognised. I tried registering from scratch, again the email wasn't recognised, and the error message thrown up stated categorically that it wasn't a valid email address format.

Just as I was starting to get really grumpy out loud, one of fortnightly home cleaners said "I had that trouble too renewing my Dad's EHIC recently, but they did it over the phone for me, automatically." Finding the number on the website was no trouble. I was put through to a robotic answering device, the kind that normally makes me even grumpier, but this was quite exceptional! The clarity of the procedures and the accuracy of the voice recognition software astonished me, and within minutes I was promised delivery of a new card within seven days. If only the website promoted this as the only sensible and efficient alternative, instead of leaving a less than functional registration page in place.

My day was otherwise notable for finally getting around to emailing golden wedding anniversary invites with 'how to get there' maps for a couple of dozen people, near and far, that we know are coming. There should be around forty of us on August 6th.

Today I had to go into the CBS office, and register a new internet banking facility to manage the BCRP Board finances, since a bank card and a new security device had arrived and needed to be registered for account use. There were charges to pay in relation to the Crime Manager's salary, tax and National Insurance. I was dreading it, but delighted as I discovered how user friendly the HMRC web payment facilities are, and the job was quickly done.

I also needed to do some leaflet design using an ancient copy of MS Publisher, which I don't have installed conveniently at home at the moment. As we're now using some additional types of radio handset equipment, user guides need re-writing to accompany them. It is far less rare that I have recourse to this kind of work nowadays, and it takes longer than usual to remember how to make use of some of the available features. As a result I left the office for my double Chi Gung / Tai Chi class later than intended and was twenty minutes late entering the session, annoyed with myself for not baling out earlier and leaving the job unfinished.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Not Mothers' Day but ...

Appalled to hear BBC Radio Four 'Sunday' programme refer to 'Mothers' Day' this morning, actively contributing to the loss of indigenous religious culture this morning. Anywhere else apart from here in the UK, there is a Mothers' Day in May, with the same hype. What's the matter with them?
At St German's again. ready for the Mothering Sunday Eucharist, I was caught out by the discovery that I'd prepared my sermon around the wrong set of readings. Serves me right for not checking! So, after a brief read through, I improvised, and enjoyed the challenge, without going on too long. Cards, flowers and a votive candle were given out to the congregation before the final blessing, and people went over and placed them on the votive stand in front of Our Lady, remembering their own mothers, if they were no longer in this world to receive the flowers. It was quite moving.

Owain came over for lunch bringing flowers and chocolates for his mum, and afterwards we went for a stroll around Thompson's Park. A couple of large trees have been blown down during the recent gales. They will take some clearing up.
Crocuses and daffodils are out in abundance, however, and the wonderful magnolia buds are just starting to break into flower.
They look the same every year, but still I take pictures of them, and marvel at their silent beauty.

Another beautifully crafted episode of Le Carre's spy masterpiece 'The Night Manager' on TV in the evening. The very opposite of action packed 'Spooks', everything happens at a snail's pace, generating an atmosphere of tension and suspense, even though it mostly takes place in the colourful bright sunlight of Mallorca.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Coed Ely discovered

More time spent in the office yesterday, then out in the evening to St John's Canton for a concert in aid of Pedal Power, the local cycling charity. Two prolific and popular young Welsh singer songwriters performing under the name 'Brigyn' were the main act, and they were very good. Supporting them, however, was singer Heather Jones, one of the first generation singers of the modern Welsh popular song revival, with a career spanning fifty years. She's about the same age as Clare and I, but looking twenty years younger, with a voice that has the purity and beauty the distinguishes Joan Baez. 

She was rightly hailed as 'legendary' by the compere, with such a distinguished career behind her. She says she's now in semi- retirement. Her songs were all in Welsh but she spoke about her life in music as she introduced songs bilingually. When we spoke with her at the end of the concert she said that it was unusual for her to introduce her music bi-lingually. Raised an English speaker, she learned Welsh and kept Welsh speaking company from her school days onward in her life in music. What a wonderful performer, well known in Wales, but sadly not so well in the English speaking world of popular song.

Today, the weather was sunny if cold, perfect for a nice long walk. We drove out to Llantrisant, to the Ely river valley on the road to Tonyrefail, and then explored the walking paths of the 600ft wooded hill that rises to the west of the river, named Coed Ely, which means Ely wood. I was please to snap this Chiffchaff, just as it was taking off
We walked for a hour on the south side, then went for an excellent pub lunch at 'The Bear' in Llantrisant's main square. The pub is in fine fettle, but it's so sad to see that ancient hill town looking quite down at heel these days, with a number of empty shops - commercial life has drained away downhill to the Talbot Green retail park.

In the afternoon we returned to Coed Ely, having earlier found the north side car park, and we walked the forest trails for an hour or so, which occasionally gave us views north into the Valleys.
We walked right over the top to the south side, where trees give way to fields, with a view across the Severn Estuary fifteen miles away, as far as North Devon. Fortunately the rain didn't overtake us.
We returned home for tea and a nice relaxed evening, just right after some vigorous exercise. With a sermon already prepared yesterday, after cooking, I had time to watch 'Spooks' on catch-up, before it was time for the penultimate double episode of 'Trapped'. Despite its near black and white filmic environment, being shot mostly in extreme snowy weather, it holds the attention well, not only with its engaging plot line, but also with some fine acting on the part of all the principals. Altogether, a refreshing day off.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Life Passages

This afternoon we drove to Caerphilly to attend Jane's funeral at St Martin's church in the parish where I served my title over forty five years ago. The last time I was in this church was for the first Eucharist celebration of Sarah Rogers five and a half years ago. We arrived early and there was time to realise some of the changes that have taken place over the years. The Benefice of Eglwysiland and Caerphilly now embraces ancient Aber Valley Parish of Eglwysilan, with Senghenydd village. The Benefice population is about 37,000, five churches, served by three clergy. Caerphilly alone had three clergy three churches when I was there, and was about half its present population.

The back of the nave is now pew free, with a kitchen enclosure, chairs and tables for hospitality. Out in the churchyard, an area is being laid out and paved for car parking, a vital asset as St Martin's Road outside is usually full of parked cars along its length. We had to walk a quarter of a mile from where we found a space, to get to the church. Also I noticed several new stained glass windows, and a glass panelled vestry. All very nicely done.

Over sixty people were present for the funeral. Another family friend, Fr Derek Belcher officiated, with assistance from Team Rector Fr Mark Greenway-Robbins and Fr Kevin Cecil, a school friend of Martin's. I gave the eulogy for Jane, whom I'd known for forty eight years. She was a truly remarkable nonagenenarian who'd married at sixteen, been a munitions inspector during World War Two, and had several successful business careers, one as the Manager of Caerphilly's famed 1000 seater Double Diamond Club, and two in clothes retailing, while she brought up two teenage boys on her own, after having been deserted by a traumatised war hero husband.

The funeral was concluded the other side of Caerphilly Mountain at Thornhill Crematorium. I couldn't help but reflect on times I'd driven over the mountain to Thornhill, for the funerals of my parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, let alone for those of parishioners while I was curate, over the years since the crematorium first opened in 1953.

We went home, rather than go to the reception following, as it was back in Caerphilly. I needed to go to the office, prior to going to St German's for the evening's Stations of the the Cross. Co-incidentally, News arrived of the death of a contemporary from my theological student days, Jani Farrel-Roberts. Born as John Roberts, trained and ordained a Roman Catholic priest, married an Aussie social worker met while doing post graduate studies in London, fathered two children, before coming to a life crisis and going through the process of gender reassignment. 

Jani then worked as an investigative free lance writer and journalist, campaignng on land rights issues with Queensland Aboriginal communities. Unusually, the couple didn't split up while the children were little, as was recommended in those days. When they returned to the UK and lived in St Paul's Bristol, they stayed with us for a while, then rented the spare curate's house across the road from us. Their kids grew up with our kids for several years, and are still in touch. Having never sought official permission from the church hierarchy for any of her life changes, Jani disconnected from Christianity and found a spiritual home among neo-pagans, and exercised a Wyccan ministry as priestess, with poetic flair. 

The last few years of her life were marred by the aftermath of a debilitating stroke. As she moved from Wiltshire to Shropshire to be nearer her sister we lost touch. Sadly our commitments won't allow us to attend her funeral next week, one that promises to be pretty original, like that of our friend Moonyeen a couple of years ago. If Jani's biography is ever written, it'll make amazing reading for anyone who is interested in the demolition of sterotypes about ministry.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Preparing a farewell

After spending a good while speaking to someone on a British Telecom help-line yesterday, Ashley was able to re-start his phone restore from back-up routine. However, the phone signalled that all it wanted to do was complete a system update, and it's not clear this was ever properly completed. Each time the phone was re-started, it stalled in the initial procedure, whether due to a software or a mechanical failure was impossible to say, but it wasn't fit for purpose, so an exchange had to be arranged, with next day delivery. Of so stylish and sophisticated but not nearly as robust as needs be.

Mass at St German's with a school class again this morning, followed by some time with people in the old people's day centre in the hall afterwards. I distributed Mothering Sunday greetings cards. One old lady refused to accept a card, and declared resolutely "No thanks, I'm an atheist." There was no chance to ask why, as this was taking place during a lively Golden Oldies karaoke session. It was quite unexpected and made me wonder. A conversation I'd have enjoyed.

I went home for lunch and spent time editing the eulogy notes given to me by Martin and Byron to put into shape for delivery at the funeral of Jane their mother tomorrow. Then I had a call asking if I could help with making a CD of orchestral music for one off use during the entry and exit of the funeral cortege from the church. It's ages since I last did this, but I was pleased to discover how easy it now is to feed a digital music stream into the Open Source Audacity sound editing software. Easier than I remembered. When I came to make a CD however, I discovered that I was out of blank media, so had to walk to Tescos and buy a small pack to get the job done. Then to finish the day 'Spooks' on catch-up TV and New Tricks live.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

St David's day login crisis

On this St David's Day, I was invited to address a Mothers' Union branch meeting at St Martin's Roath and spoke about the role of women in the life of the church down the ages. The preparation for this took quite a while, partly because of the need to edit the text down to a sensible length, as I found there was plenty to write about, even at the superficial level of a historical overview. Eleven women were present and expressed appreciation for my effort afterwards over a cup of tea, and gave me one of their MU branch centenary souvenir mugs as a present.

One of those attending was Cecily, the widow of Archbishop Derrick Childs, welcomed me back into the Church in Wales as USPG Area Secretary. She is now in her nineties. and although frail, is still alert and interested. She found a certain notoriety as Archbishop's wife, due to the resemblance between her and Margaret Thatcher, in both looks and bearing. For this reason, thirty years on, she is still readily recognisable.

After the meeting, I went to the office for an hour, and installed the mug as a desktop pen container, as it's more of a decorative piece than a congenial drinking vessel. There was just one job to do, and the reason for it started early this morning, when I was alerted by email notification of a password change on the office email account.

When I checked with Ashley, it turned out that he'd started to have trouble with his brand new Samsung S6 login, and had changed the password, thinking that this was only to do with his phone, when it had a system wide impact. Whilst a password change was due, it was doubly inadvertant that in the confusion of the phone not responding as expected, he'd altered the password to one used for another account.

Anyway, we agreed a further password change, and then I set about implementing this on the devices with memorised passwords at home which I use to check email - two phones, two tablets and two computers, each with Chrome and Firefox on them. Eight changes in all. Then I had to make sure that office machine memorised passwords were also updated, to head off a panic in case there were log in issues when Ashley and I were out of reach.

Mission accomplished I headed home to get ready for my double class of Chi Gung and Tai Chi. How nice to be travelling homewards before the sun has set! It's still wintry cold, but the brighter evenings make all the difference to morale.