Tuesday, 31 May 2016

My reasons for voting Remain

Bank holiday Monday passed uneventfully, as neither of us felt inclined to travel far and face the prospect of busy roads and crowded beaches. There'll be enough of that when we go to Nerja next week. We just walked up the Taff to Llandaff in the afternoon for tea, and back again. Now, leaves on the trees are fully out and the grasslands alongside the river carpeted with buttercups and daisies. Already the aconite and bluebells have gone, though here and there the aroma of wild garlic is still pervasive in the warm air. The tree canopy is alive with birdsong - thrushes, blackbirds, robins, tits, wrens, starlings. This is British Spring at its best, even though it seems late arriving after a spell of colder than expected weather.

Tuesday morning my referendum postal vote arrived, and was quickly filled in and dropped in the post box on by way to a bereavement visit in the afternoon. This was for me a moment of sacred duty. I voted to remain in the EU. Despite annoyances with the European Commission, its vast unelected bureaucracy and the seeming ridiculousness and irrelevance of some of its legislation, I still think the experimental process of governing such a complex entity as Europe should be trusted.

Getting it right may take a century, but constant multi-layered thought and discussion about what best serves to ensure the peace, security, welfare of millions is utterly preferable to armed conflict and insurrection. Born in the spring when the Nazi Third Reich was defeated, I was nurtured on the idea of a new european peace and unity from my youth. Britain's isolation, any further curtailment of our country's accountability to its neighbours in the community of nations, cannot, I believe, in the long term be beneficial. Why abandon a work of democracy in progress, without precedent in history?

Remaining may have consequences we aren't comfortable with and need to take issue with, but the objective of continent wide peace and security is worth striving for. The only thing that really worries me is the underlying presumption by both Brexiters and Remainers that economic growth and increased prosperity are to be somehow eternally guaranteed by one strategy or another. We don't know what the future holds whether prosperity or adversity, but facing whatever lies ahead together, not separately, is to my mind the greatest asset we can have.

I had a message from Hamid to say that he's not been successful in finding anyone to give him legal support. Nobody down in Portsmouth seems interested in taking up his case, and tomorrow he gets evicted and loses support payment. What's going to happen to him then, neither he nor I have any idea. It seems he's been in touch with the Red Cross refugee and asylum seeker organisation there, but this hasn't yet promised any outcome. With such poor English, he is going to be vulnerable out there on the streets. He's received no notification of collection for deportation and I wonder how well that is going to be coordinated after a Bank Holiday weekend. It's a worrying time for all who have his interests at heart.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Wallander redux

Glad to return to St German's for this morning's Solemn Mass, and to invite the congregation to pray for Hamid, as he is to be stripped of all support prior to deportation this Wednesday. People are very fond of him, and much troubled by the news. After the service I had a visit from a lady who is asking for a church wedding blessing this coming Friday. A hasty civil wedding had been organised ten years ago, when she was diagnosed with cancer, just in case. She's cancer free now and the family has survived other tribulations too, so there's much to celebrate and thank God for. 

I don't think she's a regular churchgoer any more, although she lives just around the corner from the church, but like many others, such good-will and gratitude is evident, and she knows where to come to give thanks. Fr Mark has asked me to do a funeral on Thursday, of a lady who could see St John's Canton from the front gate of the family home. Even though it's not a funeral in church, a sense of connection to the church and its ministry locally still persists. These modest local bonds of affection and sense of place still have potential in helping the church to reach out to the community it is planted in to serve.

Despite the good weather, neither of us felt inclined to go far after lunch. Clare enjoyed her garden and I completed my labour of love, editing and uploading photos. The job's completed now, and you can find them posted

Day five photos here

Day six photos here

Day seven photos here

At least now they're in a place where I can study them and reflect on the journey through history, with so many layers to it. The tour guides were marvellous, and naturally, perhaps, emphasised the grand European public figures, royalty, musicians, artists and the suchlike. I would like to have heard about the landscape and ecosystems, wealth creating trade, agriculture, industry and science that made life possible for all those top layer people. But maybe that would have required a two week voyage!

I noticed a new series of the English made series of 'Wallander' crime stories airing on BBC 1 tonight, starring Kenneth Branagh. As this had started last week, I watched the first on iPlayer, then the next one live. It's well produced and acted, no doubt, but still leaves me feeling that it doesn't quite capture the Scandinavian ethos, despite being set in the same western Sweden landscape as all the previous series. 

Not hearing any Swedish spoken feels incongruous. After years of scanning English subtitles and hearing the original dialogue, I may not have learned much Swedish, but voice and gesture convey more than words. In fact having the whole thing all in English made it feel, well, more foreign than usual. In fact, the Swedish originals are never short of English, or Danish phrases in the mix, as that is the nature of discourse in a linguistically diverse society, part of what gives it richness and colour.

What gives this series an interesting edge is Branagh's interpretation of Wallander as early onset Alzheimers disease starts to impact upon his work. It can't be the same as Krister Hendricksson's portrayal, as their personalities are different, but therein lies power of the impression made. Seeing this story re-enacted by different men in separate series and languages brings home a painful tragic reality affecting millions today worldwide.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Enjoying the results

A long and refreshing night's sleep, and at last I seem to be getting over the cumulative tiredness of a series of night's sleep on the cruise, broken by curiosity more than anything else. It was a lovely sunny day, the garden looks gorgeous, so Clare spent as much time as she could sitting outside enjoying her own special work of art.

Apart from writing a sermon and updating my diary with duties assigned to me over coming months, I edited and uploaded another two days worth of photos. 

Day three pictures can be found here

Day four pictures are here

I'm finding a lot of pleasure just reviewing our week's travels and looking more closely at so many things noticed and captured in the moment, on the move. I'm pleased with my newly acquired Sony HX300 camera too. The long reach of its zoom, and a proper viewfinder allow me to satisfy my visual curiosity and produce the kind of results I want. No wonderful wildlife shots so far however, many birds glimpsed along the Danube were too far away to capture satisfactorily from a moving ship. But there will opportunities soon, no doubt.

Tonight a new eight part crime movie series on BBC Four in French called 'La disparucion'. Its filmic style differs from the Nordic Noir genre. Different too from the powerful film series 'Engrenages', in being set in Lyon for a change, not Paris. I found the French clear and easy enough to follow, noting the discrepancies between what was said and how it was translated into subtitles. The Parisian argot of the other series is much harder to decode. This movie is also in full colour, not in that stylish mix of black and white, and occasional tinted scenes that gives Engrenages its gritty style and character. Very promising so far.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Catching up time

After spending Wednesday morning slowly waking up and adjusting to being back home, getting the week's food shopping done, I retrieved the car from the Vicarage front yard, where it was lodged while were away to make space in the ever crowded street, then took Ashley our radio suppliers in Chepstow. In the evening I started editing and uploading photos from the first day of our cruise. There's a link to them here.

Thursday morning, I joined the congregation at St John's Canton for the Corpus Christi Eucharist, before going into work, and starting the job of sorting out radio handset equipment returned to CBS after the great frequency switchover two weeks ago. It's a matter of sorting and boxing for storage six different components from ten dozen sets, already at end of their expected life before the changeover. Accessories can be recycled but not the radios themselves, unless someone needs dummy handsets to  use in a film production. It'll take a while before the office is rid of boxes and tidy again. Then we did made another trip to Chepstow to finish what we'd started yesterday. Once again in the evening, more editing and uploading the photos of the second day of our cruise. You'll find Day 2 here.

Today, more time spent in the office, continuing the slow tasking of dismantling kit, disentangling cables of various sorts collected in haste and simply needing patience to sort out. It's a humdrum sort of task, but a calming one which I welcome after so much fresh input and stimulus recently. 

No photo work tonight, as Clare had tickets for a concert at the new Welsh Language Centre in the Old Library, the building where CBS was based last year. Veteran singer song writers Heather Jones and Meic Stefens were performing their own music and singing some songs together, as they had originally done forty years ago in the group 'Bara Menin'. 

Both are in their seventies now, voices as strong as ever, and still full of passion and enthusiasm for their bardic role, as leaders of Welsh language popular song, it's a better way to describe them than 'iconic'. There were well over a hundred people there, of all generations, singing along affectionately with familiar ballads. Sadly I know none of the lyrics and just a few of the tunes, but I greatly appreciated their musicianship.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Turbulent homecoming

As our flight was later in the afternoon, we had a free morning free to look at Budapest and for us that meant going on foot, first to visit the amazing covered market, three times the size of Cardiff market, with and upper floor almost entirely dedicated to embroidered garments, tablecloths, and a variety of other hand-crafted souvenir goods including decorated eggs and Russian dolls. It was an amazing red and yellow brick nineteenth century building, materials and colouring traditionally used in municipal properties in the city.

Then we walked to the Dohanyi Street Synagogue, in what was the Jewish Quarter, said to be the second largest in the world. Interestingly enough, although not a municipal building it used the same building materials. Its design is unique and unequivocally distinct because of its use of the Star of David motif. It was designed by the city's best Catholic architect, who had never done a synagogue before. He visited Spain to get ideas, and drew inspiration from Mozarabic architecture, so it has a passing resemblance to a mosque. Hungarian Judaic tradition is also sui generis, belonging neither to Orthodox nor Reform nor Liberal stream. The building reinforces this originality. 

There was not enough time for the visits and guided tours on offer, but I was happy to walk around and take some pictures from outside, as its substantial presence in this city which also has a Calvinistic Reformed Church presence and churches since the 17th century. This community was also persecuted under the militantly Catholic Hapsburg dynasty, though accepted fully in a liberal ecumenical secular era.

After a final lunch on board we drove to the airport under darkened skies, punctured by lightening flashes. While we were waiting to board the heavens opened. Flights were for a while prevented from departing or arriving, so ours was initially delayed half an hour. As we went to board we got wind of a gate change, but the information displayed when the flight was called showed no status change. We walked across the 'tarmac' to the gate area for budget flights housed in a large shed. 

The walkway is sheltered but caged in with wire on one side, so rain blew in. Some of our party were walking back saying "Gate B15", so we all turned around half way and returned. A cursory glance across the loading area suggested the previous flight had not yet left. Two earlier Ryanair flights were loading and about to go. We never got to find out whether Gate B15 was like, as when we reached the place in the main terminal building, it was deserted, and there was no indication the flight had been re-located here. The display panels were still at status quo. Then an announcement over the tannoy stated it was Gate B2, so the crowd turned around and headed back. At least by this time the previous Gate B2 flight was getting ready to leave, and another Ryanair flight was landing, having been diverted until the storm abated, I suspect.

While we were passing through the terminal waiting area for the second time, I picked up strains of the last 'Sturm und Drang' movement of Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' being played on an old piano. These community artefacts are turning up in the most surprising places. The last time I saw one played was outside King's College in Cambridge, last summer. The musician was a young woman. She was reading the music from a smartphone, being held by a friend who was scrolling the page display for her. It was amazing, playful and appropriate for this turbulent moment. Some travellers smiled. Others still worse that 'confused.com' face, as I overheard another passenger remark.

This time, we made it into the departure shed through an ankle deep lake of water. The torrential rain, only just abating had overwhelmed the drains, and many boarded with wet feet, no amused. People had to moan at Ryanair, as they often do, but this was a straightforward Budapest airport management team issue, unprepared for contingency, unable to update the flight information panels or make announcements fast enough to meet the need. One simple holding announcement stating that all was on hold as scheduling was being disrupted by the weather, would have covered this at the outset. Ah well, next time. We have to get used to more 'extreme weather events' in the mildest of climates, and beef up contingency plans right across society. Or make things worse, most costly to fix.

Once on board the flight went smoothly, and arrived just an hour late. We seemed to be surrounded by travellers subdued, still recovering from a long weekend of boozy partying, for which Budapest is now renowned. I wonder if they'll all be in work tomorrow? I know I will. 

By ten thirty were were back home, looking at the thankfully slim pile of mail. When I switched on my phone I had a WhatsApp message from Hamid, stating that his asylum appeal was rejected as it had been submitted two weeks late, and his solicitor was no longer answering his calls. He had also received notice to quit his accommodation and withdrawal of his subsistence allowance from the end of this month. Will he be detained and deported before this date, or just left homeless and destitute, because of more administrative chaos in an administration system not fit for purpose for serving displaced people in our crisis ridden times.

After the last few days of revisiting Nazi era history history, travelling the Danube, it's tempting to worry that history is repeating itself. Austria has just elected a left leaning Green party president in a close run-off with a far right candidate. Just. What if it had gone the other way?

Monday, 23 May 2016

On the Danube - Budapest conclusion

Sunlight streamed into the cabin as I woke up. When I looked out of the window, the sun was just fully above the far horizon, immediately in from of that was the top wall of the last of eight locks ascended and descended during our 1,100 kilometre voyage. Immediately the descent began as the lock emptied, and at five thirty in the morning, we set out on the last stretch of the Danube past Esztragom to Budapest for our final day. After much much dozing and eventual breakfast, relaxed and enjoyed the river, looking forward to a lunchtime arrival.

After we'd eaten we were taken on a guided coach tour of the city. There is such a lot to see and for the guide to tell about. It was all a bit overwhelming. Photographing the sights from a passing bus in narrow streets with a fair about of bright sunlight creating reflections on the windows was very frustrating. There were no opportunities to stop, get out and look, but flagged up one thing I want to see tomorrow - the second largest synagogue in the world, in Mozarabic style architecture for some strange reason. It contains a museum and holocaust memorial as well.

The coach tour ended up on the older Buda side of the Danube, where the royal palace is located and a substantial collection of old town buildings from the fourteenth to twentieth century. It is now designated as a World Heritage site, and at any given moment in time deluged with visitors like us, wanting to take advantage of the panoramic view of Pest below, on the other side of the Danube.

We only had an hour after the coach tour to walk the streets and get some idea of what the old town contained. It was just enough to walk the length of the place, drink a rather nice Hungarian beer, reminiscent of amber ale, and return to the coach stop. I missed the royal palaces altogether, but have had enough of grandeur on the trip so far to last me a long while.

After supper, we were entertained on board by performance from a gipsy trio and four dancers. It was an exuberant affair, with much percussive thigh and boot slapping to the music, and high jumps and loud shouts. There was a stick dance, and a somebody in the audience 'volunteered' me to take part. I was handed a metre long wooden rod, and caught a splinter in my finger, which started to bleed as we started the stick dancing routine. I grabbed a paper serviette from the table to suppress the bleeding, and completed my embarrassing moment with as much aplomb as I could muster.

A lady sitting close to us discreetly handed me a tiny plaster for which I was most grateful. Later I I had to pull out a splinter out of the wound, but no great damage was done. It could have been worse, but I couldn't help thinking that it was a bit careless of the performer to have engaged a member of the audience without at least a little equipment safety check. This crossed my mind as I have been so aware of just how strict and consistent every single safety check make by crew and staff has been on this cruise. Nothing is left to chance. But outside performers are another matter.

Ah well, home tomorrow. We a late afternoon flight I have a morning to visit the synagogue. If I can find it on foot.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

On the Danube - Vienna

We arrived at Handelskai in Vienna about half past seven, later than I'd expected, so there was no question getting away by taxi to the eight o'clock at Christchurch Anglican church the other side of the city centre. Disappointing, but unavoidable. After breakfast we were collected by coach and driven first around the central ring road, built in the 19th century under Emperor Franz-Josef, along the route of the mediaeval walls, which were demolished to make way for the road and for grand houses alongside. We were dropped off near the remarkable renaissance era Rathaus, and given a guided tour of the area in which the main public buildings, parks, gardens and old town streets and churches are situated.

In the main commercial thoroughfare, Graben, is a towering ornate gilded baroque sculpture. It represents the Holy Trinity. A nice coincidence to be confronted with this on Trinity Sunday. The tour ended outside St Stephen's Cathedral in the heart of the old town centre, a huge ornate gothic building of the 15th century, and we parted company as quickly as possible and joined the crowds attending the main mass of the day inside. The service had started at ten, and intercession were being offered. The Eucharistic prayer was sung in Latin, by the three con-celebrants, one of whom had a distinctively English or American sounding accent.

There was an orchestra, or maybe just drums and trumpets, plus a choir with soloists for a setting of the Mass of the Holy Spirit composed by a near contemporary of Bach, one Johan Joseph Fux. Very uplifting, and a welcome surprise to us, deprived as we were of an opportunity to attend an Anglican Sunday liturgy. I noticed seven candles on the high altar, evidence of a Bishop presiding, and indeed the man at the back of the procession going out at the end was wearing a purple biretta, quite old fashioned these days, to see that.

Afterwards we found ourselves a place where we could drink coffee and eat strudel. Clare tried the apricot and I tried the apple. I mistakenly ordered Vanilla Sauce, aka custard, for both of us, and ended up eating both lots. The we walked some more streets and ended up visiting Vienna's Jewish museum. It was an unexpected find in a side street, and both of us decided on impulse that this was something we'd prefer to see, even if it meant curtailing sightseeing.

The museum we visited displays the extensive historical research done on Jewish community life in Vienna since the end of the World War Two - survivors returned from concentration camps and a larger number of Displaced Persons driven out of communist lands in the Balkans and Central Asia, who ended up taking refuge in the city. Many were poorly treated and exploited. There was little or no interest in the persecution they had endured and they were denied the same civil rights as others. American occupation forces however protected them and helped those who wanted to go to Israel the United States, or elsewhere. Denial of the the plight of Jewish people persisted in Austria until the sixties and only after the Waldheim affair did measures to redress the injustices begin to take shape, and sit still continues.

On an upper story there is a developing collection of exhibits relating to Jewish life in Vienna from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. It's not substantial as it might be because the Nazis destroyed the previous Jewish history museum entirely, though research on recovery continues. There are also two contemporary historical exhibitions of an entirely original and different nature.

One is in a separate location we didn't visit and concerns the cultural life of the area in Vienna known as the Prater, the Viennese entertainment district with predominantly Jewish run clubs and theatres, that were avant garde in their day. Most of this disappeared during the Nazi era of persecution, along with several synagogue buildings. We saw the 'Stars of David' exhibition which is about Jewish people in radio, TV and film, writing and creating music as emigres in the United States. It was a huge eye opening multi-media celebration of Jews in show business, well worth seeing in its own right. I hope this goes on tour. I'd love to see it in Britain.

For me the entire experience made me think about how easily its possible for decent citizens to slip into denial when confronted by the plight of oppressed people. With so many needy people begging for refuge in Europe and UK at the moment, especially unaccompanied children, some of them lone survivors of families wiped out by war, some other wise upstanding citizens make excuses for inaction, others by xenophobia, anti-semitism or islamophobic behaviour. The moral voice of conscience can too easily get drowned by falsehood and anxiety. Migrants and refugees generally give back far more than they get to their host society, once they are entrusted with freedom and responsibility. And when this doesn't happen, everyone is at risk.

We had lunch in the Vienna Woods restaurant, and then visited the Skt Peter u Paulus Kirche at the end of Goldschmiedgasse, where we found an orchestra and the organ playing to a packed house. I'd have loved to stay longer, but was in search of photos and left after five pleasurable minutes of music in a fine baroque church, acoustically perfect for hearing baroque music. I found the church of the Minorites open - not what it seems - this is a Franciscan Order of Friars Minor church, of mediaeval origin. My next port of call was the Rathaus, to get a photo, and the huge imposing Burg Theatre opposite. This was enough in the time available. I then needed to head back, find Clare and go back with her to the ship on the shuttle bus provided, rich with impressions of a remarkable city centre.

After a brief siesta and supper, passengers were treated to an hour's concert by the Ars Mundi string quartet, an all female group that has been playing together twenty years. Music of Mozart, Haydn, Strauss Senior and Junior were on the bill. Their rendering of the Blue Danube suite and the Radzetsky March at the end were a fitting climax to a day of discovery of the beauty and the darker side of this key European city. So much to think about, as we cruise the last leg of our journey back to our starting point in Budapest.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

On the Danube - the turning point

After another overnight journey that included passing through several locks, I'm not sure how many as I went in and out of sleep, we docked in the centre of Linz in the half light before dawn. At first sight it seemed as if we were moored outside a large industrial warehouse, dark and forbidding with an unusual shape. When the sun had risen properly, the building emerged from obscurity revealing dark grey cinder block walls clad with thick glass that was decorated with the name that gave the identity of the building. 

The writing was indeed on the wall, tens of thousands of times over 'LENTOSKUNSTMUSEUM' the city's new gallery of modern art. It had the countenance of a warehouse, because it is a place of cultural storage as much as display. It does what is says on the outside yet gives no idea of its real content. The building itself is a work of modern art, or, you might say, an artful modern work.

Last night before bed we decided that we didn't fancy a two hour coach journey each way to visit Salzburg, rated as Austria's most beautiful city. A few hours brief visit would be likley to afford more tiredness than satisfaction, so we decided to skip the tour and explore Linz instead. The view from the top deck was attractive enough, and it turned out to be a most enjoyable day, exploring the old town centre, with many fine sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings in great condition, plus some magnificent churches.

The 19th century composer Anton Bruckner was the city organist here, and composed liturgical works that were used in the churches. The astronomer Johannes Kepler worked here in the offices of the Land administration, and we found the house he lived in, quite near to the ship, in a side street. There's a 16th century Old Cathedral, plus a 19th century New Cathedral, said to be the largest church in Austria accommodating 20,000 people standing. It is indeed a fine Gothic revival building in contrast to the other baroque and renaissance churches of the city centre, indicative of the industrial wealth of the region, generated by heavy industy, downstrean. 

In the oldest quarter, an extensive international arts and crafts fair was going on, just this one day of the year, with much to attract the eye. In the main square, where the old 16th century Rathaus now serves amongst other things as a tourist centre, a huge Flohmarkt was being held, a giant outdoor jumble sale and bric a brac fair, where the vendors were as interesting and varied a crowd as a assortment of goods on sale. So much activity, so much to see. So glad we stayed.

On the way from the boat we looked into a Jesuit church and found that the Ember Day mass, for a congregation of over thirty,  had just reached the post Sanctus prayers. We stayed and prayed. I found it very moving to join in saying the Vater Unser, which I half remembered in German, having learned it at the time of our visits from Halesowen to Leipzig back in 1989. Such a blessed gift of a moment. The new Cathedral contained a memorial to the conscientious objector and martyr Franz Jagerstatter, beheaded by the Nazis for refusing to be drafted as a combatant in 1943. There was also a photo of his wife, who had only died at great age several years ago. Lovely that she was also being honoured in this way.

In the main entrance door, a wooden panel is set, dated 1936, testimony to the relationship of the established church to the regime of the time, compliant for the most part, despite the prophetic voice of martyr Franz Jagerstatter, not celebrated then as he is now. Underneath the plaque is a modern metal plaque stating the older one remains as a reminder of how things once were, adding that the 2006 Austrian Bishops conference had stared unequivocally that the church would not now endorse any totalitarian regime, but support only those who would govern by democratic and egalitarian values. Thank God for that. Lessons have been learned. All we have to do now is set our own house fully in order. A labour of Hercules.

After lunch on the ship, I walked across the Danube bridge out into the suburbs aiming to  find a way to the top of the hill overlooking Linz. I found a path which took me past a huge high school that had once been a boys seminary, and up through fields of long grass and woodland. I found a discreetly placed German military cemetery just in the woods, and starting beyond it, a Kreuzweg leading up the very steep hill, with stations of the cross built in pairs. Half way up in a clearing in the woods I found a well maintained shrine dedicated to St Hubert, patron saint of huntsmen. A few hundred metres short of the summit, I took the wrong choice of path, which led me around the contour, through an elite woodland housing estate to the point where it intersected with a tramway that runs from the town centre to the summit. Conscious of deadlines, I headed downhill rather than go to the summit. In any case I didn't have enough change for a ticket machine, which didn't accept notes or cards.

The walk down wasn't as steep, but much longer. I must have walked ten kilometres by the time I got back to the ship, tired and footsore, but I was most for the remarkable perspective of the city and its surrounding which my two and a half hour walk had afforded me.

As soon as a Salzberg trippers were all back on board, the boat left, a quarter of an hour early. It's a good 12-13 hour trip  downstream to Vienna overnight, with all those locks to negotiate!

Friday, 20 May 2016

On the Danube - third leg

We woke up this morning with the MV Jane Austen moored at the landing place in the village of Durnstein in the Wachau Valley. It was originally a wine growing area in which the 19th century philloxera plague wiped out the vines. In order to survive the farmers switched to cultivating apricot trees instead and developed a new industry making brandy, liqueur and schnapps from its abundant apricot crops. Winemaking resumed eventually, and now the region has a double reputation for its spirits and its high quality white wine.

The population is quite small, perhaps a thousand people, but the settlement goes back beyond the middle ages when a castle was built on a high promontory 312 metres above the Danube, with an outer wall dropping down the steep mountainside and encircling the village below. King Richard the Lionheart was held captive here for about six months, and legend has it that his whereabouts were discovered by his faithful friend Blondel who tracked him down to this place. On the walk up from the village to the castle, much is made of the story in multi-lingual interpretation panels, and there is even a portal with a recorded music installation, on the path just below the remains of the castle gatehouse.

On the way up, I learned that a man called David Sambruck in our walking party with family and friends was from Cardiff, and that we'd met a decade ago, attending the City Centre Improvement Group which went on during the city centre redevelopment. He was with the Council's Waste Management team until he retired, and we discovered a shared passion for green issues, recycling, alternative energy, and the frowned upon by family pursuit of collecting stray litter in public spaces and taking it to the nearest bin. Nice to know someone other than me gets the 'Oh you're embarassing' reproach when we're out  walking or picnicking.

Walking to the top and taking photos, plus stopping for a chat while we caught our breath on the steep climb took most of our time ashore, and was very well worth it for the amazing views of the valley below. After the descent, I had a look around the village and found a cemetery by the parish church with a funeral chapel and crypt with an ossuary containing the bones of soldiers whose bodies were collected following a battle named after the village during the Napoleonic war in 1805. It's not far from here apparently. Bones collected were sorted into neat batches for storage, like spare parts in a warehouse, very impersonal. On a corner opposite the town hall, were military memorials from both sides - the Austrian-Russian coalition and Napoleon's army, erected in an altogether different era of European community and peace.

Clare and I got separated on the climb to the castle when I stopped to chat with David, but we were re-united in the main street, moments before I received her worried text. We had a brief look at the courtyard entrance to the small Benedictine Abbey, but didn't have enough time to pay the entrance fee and visit properly. It's a distinctive building its facades and outer walls painted in pale yellow and its tall ornate baroque tower painted in powder blue, visible from afar when on the river.

With twenty minutes to spare we headed for the ship, just five minutes walk from the village, and then had time to stop at a quayside bar for a small beer, before boarding to eat lunch while the ship slipped her moorings and headed upstream again for Melk, a couple of hours' of sailing away, for our second stop of the day, to visit a very grand Benedictine Abbey, founded nearly 950 years ago.

The Abbey is very visible from the Danube sitting above the town of Melk. Once the Danube ran at the base of the promontory on which the Abbey was built, but in the last few centuries a change of course for the river has grown a lengthy wooded island with a narrow water channel nearest the town and Abbey, and the river landing stages are now on the far side. You can walk up from the landing stage to the Abbey, but the preferred way of managing visitors - half a million a year, I heard it said - is for them to be taken up by coach and deposited in a parking area above the Abbey precinct, and the you walk down to the welcome area with a find view over the town and one part of the Abbey gardens.

Hospitality is a key precept of monastic life after worship and learning, and every aspect of making visitors welcome has been carefully thought through and developed with huge investment from the revenue of visitor admission fees and monastic agricultural lands, The Abbey markets its own fine wines, both white and red, also liqueurs. In addition the Abbey runs, in a major section of its own buildings, a low cost fee paying co-educational high school for mainly local children. There are thirty monks, half of whom serve in parishes of the region, plus this hugely sophisticated modern and diverse social enterprise employing five hundred people. Yet, at its heart is expresses, in a most authentic way, the meaning of living a good and wholesome life, as interpreted by the sixth century Rule of St Benedict. 

We were most impressed, not only by the young woman who was our tour guide, but also by the visitor centre taking us through a millennium of Benedictine history in this place, not only in displays of religious artwork and artefacts of the kind one would expect to find in a monastery, but also some imaginative contributions from contemporary artists interpreting the significance of the Rule, and the 'Life and work' spirituality it expresses for a secular world. A very powerful piece of multi-media evangelism and witness for today's church.

It rained on us a little when we had to cross the terrace overlooking the town and the Danube. The first time this week. We were shown the great monastic library with a collection of eighty thousand books, ancient and modern - the oldest being eleventh century. The Abbey, we heard, had to sell its Gutenberg Bible first edition to Yale University to fund roof repairs and renovation. The monks had hosted a meeting of Nobel Prize winning scholars a few years ago, gathered there to reflect on science and spirituality. Amazing stories, and an amazing place, now listed as a World Heritage Site. I wonder what St Benedict makes of all this prestige? Albeit his disciples have done him proud down the centuries.

Back then to the ship for supper and cast off for the overnight journey to Linz, the closest we will get to the German border, not for from Berechtestgarten, Hitler's mountain top retreat. One of his last futile dreams had been to retire eventually to Linz, level most of the city, and 'modernise' it with Teutonic style architecture, a failure for which the world can be grateful.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

On the Danube - second leg

Niether of us woke up to glimpse the locks during the night. Around four I woke up to discover we were no longer moving. The ship was moored along the riverbank in central Bratislava, and by seven thirty we were up and breakfasting, then ashore and ascending to the old royal castle which overlooks a city just a bit bigger than Cardiff, at eight thirty, in a Noddy Train.

The castle was ancient but when occupied by Napoleonic forces in the early nineteenth century, it was accidentally burned down, and remained a ruin for 150 years. Oddly enough its restoration was a project undertaken in the latter years of the Communist era - one of the few good things they did, our guide quipped. Actually, to the casual visitor, it feels rather dull and soul-less. Perhaps it only comes to life when there's a big event there. Apparently there has been a trading settlement in this place since the Celts came from the east in pre-Roman times. The view from the terrace of this high promontory is remarkable. Across the Danube a few kilometres to the west is Austria, to the east lies Hungary. 

This was a frontier town of some significance during the Cold War, and during the second world war when it was under Nazi rule. The names of Kyril and Methodius, apostles to the Slavs, are honoured here, as this was one of their early evangelisation successes and the language is Slavic, quite different from Hungarian, which is of Turcic linguistic origin, I believe. Orthodoxy represented the first chapter of Christian life and faith here, and this is still reflected in the Byzantine type cross in the red white and blue flag of Slovakia. The Papacy however, keen to extend its sphere of influence, both political and spiritual, eastward after the 1084 Great Schism, made disreputable efforts to proselytise and suppress Orthodoxy religion in favour of its own brand. It's only really in the twentieth century, with the movement of peoples in Europe, that Orthodoxy has established a minority presence again in a region, which to all intents and purposes, is strongly western facing.

Anyway, we rode back down to the edge of the old town in the Noddy train, but decided not to go on the guided walking tour, but to explore at our own pace and on our own terms an area with a rich and varied architectural history, reflecting its mercantile history. We visited the elegant 14th century Cathedral of St Martin, in which thirteen royal coronations had taken place over the centuries of Hapsburg imperial rule. It was crowded with tourists, who were all quite and quite well behaved, perhaps in awe of the beauty of the place illuminated with tall brightly coloured stained glass windows which caught the morning sun.

We found ourselves a very stylish Kaffehaus in the characteristic fashion we've seen in other european cities, with dark wooden panels, paintings and even mosaics on the wall, so atmospheric, that we sat and drank inside, rather than out of the street, savouring the occasion. From there it was just ten minutes to walk back to the ship in good time for lunch, and another departure as we were eating for a long haul journey across to the other side of Austria, along the canal which runs right through Vienna, with a major lock before sunset, and others to follow.

The river banks along its entire length are forested and lined with walls constructed of large rocks, like coastal sea defences. The Danube along its entire 3,000km length is flood prone as it runs across extensive plains in each country it passes through, so preventative measures are an essential form of international co-operation. The canalisation of the Vienna urban area has been vital for the development of the city over the past two centuries. On the northern and western side of the canal the various buildings of the United Nations commissions house in Vienna are located in their own special urban area, and a number of these show some quite innovative examples of contemporary architecture, a bit like the city of London. It was supper when we passed through, and I had to content myself with the knowledge that there'd be a return journey for another photo opportunity. I just hope it's not dark when we arrive and the way back to Budapest.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Danube bound - first leg

Neither of us was finally ready to leave until after lunch on Tuesday, both of us apprehensive about this new adventure, something different for both of us. A taxi collected us after lunch and took us to start our train and bus trip to Bristol airport. A delay on final leg of the journey between Filton Abbey Wood and Temple Mead stations increased apprehension, but we were checked in for the Ryanair flight by six, with a good hour and a half to spare before boarding the flight to Budapest. We landed at eleven fifteen CET, and by the time we’d retrieved our luggage and boarded a bus to take us to where MV Jane Austen was moored in the Danube, it was half past midnight when we arrived. 

We were greeted with sandwiches and a drink, so it was nearly half past one before we got to bed. The view of floodlit Buda and the Danube from our cabin, just above water level was enchanting, but as it was late, it wasn't long before most of the lights were switch off, so there were few decent opportunities for photographing. At two the cruise ship began its engines and slowly made its way upstream through the suburbs and into open countryside. Glimpses of the night time riverside were enough to make it hard to settle down to sleep, and after four hours it was first light, and even harder to stay in bed, with so much to photograph.

At six thirty we docked at Esztergom, Hungary’s ancient capital, and still the see of the country’s equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s about 45 miles by river from Budapest, and the Danube passes through some beautiful mountain scenery whose deciduous forests run right down to the water’s edge. There are several small towns and villages along the way, but for the most part, there are no roads or railway lines visible along the water’s edge.

After breakfast, we walked into the older part of town, close to the landing stage, then up the steep hill to visit the huge Renaissance Cathedral, with one of the largest domes in Europe, some 70 metres high internally. It was already busy with visiting tour groups, many of whom had come in coaches which were parked in the grand square with its imposing buildings, just outside the walls encircling protectively what at one time would have been the Archbishop's castle. There was a wonderful view from the terrace at the west end of the cathedral, overlooking the great bend in the Danube. 

We learned in a talk given earlier that the opposite bank of the river wasn't Hungary but the Republic of Slovakia, formed when Czecosolvakia divided peaceably in the early 1990s after several years of arguing about a common post USSR future. Over the water is Euro-land. The Czeck Republic kept the Koruna (Crown), Hungary keeps the Florint, although the Euro is also acceptable currency, especially for visitors, except you get your change in Florints! The Florint is another antique sort of currency, like the old Italian Lira and Greek Drachma, with lots of zeroes after the numbers that matter most.

There were fine churches, museums and other places of interest to visit in the town, but after such a short night's sleep we were too tired to contemplate doing more, so we had a drink in a snack bar in the castle grounds, then walked back down to the ship ahead of the tour group that had ascended by road train, here called a 'Noddy train' from their toy like appearance. As we were eating lunch, the ship slipped its moorings and headed up river towards Bratislava, capital of the Slovak Republic, currently looking forward to hosting the next turn in the Presidency of the European Commission, with its influx of bureaucrats and special diplomatic and business events. 

We sailed for the rest of the day and were still going steadily into the night negotiating several locks, of which only one was in daylight hours. We were to tired to keep a night time sightseeing vigil, and that was that.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Getting going

Owain and I had breakfast together Sunday morning before he left for Bristol. Then I went to celebrate Mass at St German's. We heard that the interregnum is to start officially on 8th July when Fr Dean will be licensed for ministry at St Mary's. Then the search for a new priest will begin in earnest. I just hope and pray it won't take too long. Peter and Hilary were just back from a cruise through the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean, with stories to tell of their long journey. And there was me wondering how I'd cope with a week on the Danube! 

I returned, cooked lunch, and spent the afternoon editing, sorting, uploading photos and writing before Clare arrived home from Kenilworth. Anything to avoid last minute packing. The most of Monday was taken up with preparation and packing for the cruise including a haircut. I didn't go into the office or tackle anything last minute to do with work. I just wanted to concentrate on getting completely out of the routine preoccupations that structure my life in order focus being really ready for a new travel experience. It's nto so easy to do things outside my comfort zone these days, another sign of ageing.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Cruise kit

I decided to break in the new sandals by going to Penarth today, I walked to the Leckwith retail area to get a bus, and ended up running the last 100 yards, as a suitable bus was queued behind cars at the Sloper road traffic lights. I got a few bemused looks from passengers, and an oversized passenger my age commented with amazement about how fit I was. I run with apprehension that I will become breathless, or my legs turn to lead, or I trip over on these little sprints, and am relieved to get away with it. Not what I'd call fit. Although there were times past when I was overweight that I couldn't have done that. Losing  a couple of stone has been very good for me, losing another stone is proving to be much harder. If I did there'd be no excuse for not returning to jogging.

I had a panini and a cuppa for lunch on the pier, took some photos, and as the tide was in, walked back to Cardiff Bay over Penarth Head and across the barrage, busy with crowds of people taking the air, enjoying the sunshine. I'd taken a top coat as it was cold when I left, but mid afternoon I had to carry it looped over the shoulder strap of my camera bag, it was so warm. A number six Bay Car bus arrived just as I reached the Dr Who Experience centre, so I took it into the city centre, and went shopping for a new camera - another camera, yes another camera. 

I want something to take on the cruise with me that is as range capable as my DSLR with telephoto lens, but lighter and handier in use. I've had my eye on a Sony HX400 since it first came out last year, as it has a 50x zoom lens, more reach than my much used HX50 with only 30x zoom. Being on a river boat for eight days, I am anticipating there'll be as many interesting if slightly remote details I'd like to record as well as magnificent big vistas, especially wildlife. Anyway, there were no HX400s in stock, but there was a refurbished HX300 at £189 - quite a bargain! And I think it will be a lot easy to control for those long zoom shots without need for monopod or tripod support, to my mind, these are unnecessary clutter when travelling. So often, interesting things glimpsed need quick responses and sharp shooting, and a lighter camera with a real viewfinder too, should make a little difference on the journey.

Owain came over for supper and an evening of chat over a bottle of Nuit St Georges Village he'd acquired from Lidl's, a really refined Bourgogne Pinot Noir, a favourite favourite of ours since our Geneva years, until the Genevois Pinot Noir began to be produced with much improved quality and lost its rough edges. I wonder what the Genevois equivalent to Gemischter Satz might be?

Friday, 13 May 2016

Syncing and sandals

This morning, I took Clare to catch a train to take her to Coventry and a weekend looking after Rhiannon, while Kath and Anto travel north and east into Lincolnshire for the last of their back to back Rural Touring gigs with Sonrisa. She's now added Instagram to the band's Twitter account, and posts photos from the towns the visit, and when they're setting up. Good publicity, naturally, but also a pleasure for the family to see where they are working away. 

I stayed at home for much of the day, as there was nothing much I could contribute to the radio distribution now in full swing, until there's a pile of equipment receipts to supply more information to key into the new database. The efforts of the last few days intense concentration left me feeling quite drained and in need of respite. And there was still the OneDrive sync problem to puzzle over. It was late afternoon when the penny finally dropped, and I was running the same routine on my home computer. As ever it was was something trivial and quite misleading. The file being worked on, ostensibly within a web browser, was downloading and being opened from the hard drive and saved to 'Downloads'. Thanks to the speediness of the particular machine in use, this routine could be done without noticing where exactly the file was opening and saving from. On a slower machine this was visible.

I went down to the office and found no fewer than eight copies of the data file in 'Downloads', the result of repeated attempts by both Julie and I to ascertain how the update was not taking place as expected. Just one of them was slightly larger than the others, the first downloaded version worked on fully up to date. What a relief! Restoring this to its proper place on 'OneDrive' was trivial, as was texting Julie a brief explanation of what neither of us had noticed or understood. So we learn the hard way that while some files can easily open and close and be worked on in a browser, others cannot. The expectation isn't transferable, and the necessary cautious alertness easily forgotten if you're distracted or in a hurry.

While I was out in town, I bought a pair of Ecco sandals, having had such a comfortable experience with their walking shoes, bought a a couple of months ago. They fitted like a glove. When I went to Nerja on locum duty this time last year, I forgot to pack sandals and bought a chunky comfortable pair for a decent price in a town shoe shop. I started wearing them again a few weeks ago, once the weather warmed up enough, but discovered very soon that the hollow interior of both heels had caved in, and I was traipsing dirt in the house that had been caught in the cavities. They weren't yet uncomfortable to notice the failure for any other reason, but they had to be consigned to the bin, along with another older pair whose heel bases had collapsed rendering them unwearable, which had until now not been thrown out. A third pair also emerged that was unbroken, but they weren't comfortable enough for distance walking, only for popping down the beach. So I was pleased to be pushed into making the effort to acquire a really durable sturdy pair, which could last me several years, for a change.

In the evening, I watched with special interest the programme on Vienna in Rick Stein's 'Long Weekends' series. As a fan of Mediterranean cuisine, I find it all a bit too much 'mean & two veg' for my liking. Nor do the cake and chocolate side of things appeal that much. The white wine is much praised however, Weiner Gemischter Satz, grown on 700 hectares of land within the city's boundaries, made with several grape varieties planted and grown in a mixture in the same field rather than separately and then blended. This relies on the terroir as the French call it, the soil and the setting of vineyard, rather than the character of the grapes. No doubt centuries of experience in choosing the right varietals to take advantage of soil qualities makes for a praiseworthy product. It's something to look forward to.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The big switch-over

Tuesday, more time in the office working on the inventory database for all our new equipment, now being readies for issue over the coming weekend. Our long term equipment replacement plan has been in place for a couple of years, and it's been beneficial to us, as a not for profit enterprise that the expected 4-5 year lifespan of our radio handsets has been extended, thanks to many careful users, to seven years. The government, however, has reassigned our operating frequencies to the roll-out of smart metering, and given us replacement frequencies, so our oldest radios turn into useless scrap when the original transmitter switches over to a new one, soon to be installed. 

Fortunately, our unused stocks and newer ones issued can work on different frequencies, and this has reduced significantly the acquisition of extra replacements needed. Organising the switch-over is something we've been preparing for a long time, and thanks to good housekeeping it won't cause us a financial crisis either. The challenge will be co-ordinating the front line volunteers to get the job done without interrupting the use of the network. My small part in all this is simply keeping track of equipment stocks as they arrive and are processed, and there can be 6-7 components to unite  and register before each handset, fully charged, ready for action, is fit to issue. In an office workspace temporarily inundated with hundreds of items of packaging of different sizes, this is something of a nightmare, and quite stressful. I certainly was glad of a Chi Gung session in the evening.

Same again Wednesday, except that I went into the office early by car, before going to St German's for the midweek 'class Mass', to retrieve and replace some handsets left on charge overnight, and log them into the inventory database. After church I returned to the office and spent the next eleven hours charging and logging radios, not sure how long any of this would take, given that very few arrived fully charged and most were two thirds empty. On average, high capacity long life batteries of the kind we use take around three hours to charge. We were running eighteen chargers at a time, and by the time I left two thirds of those to be issued were charged and recorded.

Today, Gary, one of our Board members joined Julie, Ashley and I, completing the detail task of assembling all the replacement equipment for issue. In the afternoon, Gary drove Ashley around the city centre issuing equipment, instructing and making test transmissions. Thus, the great switch over began! After lunch, I had an engagement to speak to the St Augustine's Mothers' Union group in Penarth, which took me away from the action for a couple of hours. There were thirty people there, including a couple of men who are members, and during the meeting the new Vicar Fr Mark was also admitted as a branch member. Sadly I didn't get to meet him apart from an introductory handshake as he left the meeting almost as soon as I'd finished. I hope that doesn't mean I went on for too long.

Back in the office, Julie had continued the work of inventory data building in my absence, only to discover, after several hours of intermittent additions, that nothing new was being saved to the OneDrive account. She'd opened the file direct from the cloud account and it appeared to behave normally. She thought she'd saved in the routine manner when closing the program, but the time displayed in the browser version of OneDrive, was four hours earlier. The browser version is usually more reliable than the version sync'd from the computer's hard drive, which not infrequently takes time to update, even on the fastest machine in the office. 

This is not the first time we've had this kind of issue with OneDrive. I now need to do some hard thinking about an alternative. Once upon a time we used Google Drive, although its quirky dealing with documents is not an easy thing for lifelog MS Word or Excel users to get used to. But, I guess there'd be no harm in using it for uploading critical data files for storage only. I'd just need to test this out for reliability and ease of access before inflicting the change on other users. Just the sort of additional hassle we didn't need right now. By the time I got home, late for supper again, I was drained and exhausted. All this, and preparing for the Danube Cruise makes me feel my age.

But nobody can say my life is dull, can they?

Monday, 9 May 2016

A Linux play day

This morning, we visited Ryanair's website, checked in, reserved seats for our Budapest flights and obtained boarding passes for both directions. There was a small office job to be done, sending out a few notifications, and then I set about tinkering with the spare laptop I acquired through Kath, on which I'd installed Linux Mint efffectively, except that there seems to be no way of controlling screen brightness. 

With little else to do, I tried several different installs in succession with limited success partly as versions used were a couple of years old, and the update repository links didn't work, having been superceded by those supplying newer versions. Ah well, lessons learned. In the end, I downloaded the latest ISO of Mint 17.3 and copied it on to a SD card to boot from. It wouldn't boot when the card was inserted in the laptop card reading slot, showing that the motherboard wasn't designed to make this device recognisable as bootable.

In my collection of computer accessories, I had an USB flash card reader, so old it was powered from an additional USB cable. THe computer immediately recognised it, much to my delight, and now the old laptop sports the most recent version of Mint, plus my favourite software add-ons. The screen doesn't glare quite so much, but I haven't found a way to control this through the operating system software. The keyboard brightness control, through left and right cursor keys, doesn't seem to work, even though the volume control, through the up and down cursor keys, does work. I'm pleased with the outcome, nevertheless.

The other redundant laptop, which used to be Kath's bequeathed to me last Christmas, also runs Linux well. It's currently on loan to Mary across the road at the moment, who is trying it out as an alternative to giving up her Windows XP desktop machine and getting something up to date. Her needs are limited to email, flight booking and occasional surfing. She doesn't much enjoy having to cope with dubious spam emails and the endlessly helpful anti-virus pop up messages generated trying to be helpful but ending up being confusing. 

Windows 10 is far from an attractive alternative. Although much safer, it's not short of confusing pop-ups, occasional unexplained long delays while it updates, plus a user interface that is far less helpful than it thinks it is, changing the look and feel of so much for no good reason. For an older person with a long history of struggling with XP usage anyway, what can be done?

Last week, after a brief trouble shooting session, I asked Mary if I could set up the extra laptop with her needs in mind, to borrow and use when she wants to, and see if she finds it poses less problems for her. I have read occasional articles asserting that if basic needs can be met without complication or incident, a user who is unfamiliar and unconcerned about how Linus works, may just use it and feel no reason to go back. Well, if it's true, I may yet find a home for this spare spare laptop.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Another Parish vacancy

Saturday was a quiet uneventful day, Rhiannon didn't get up until eleven, then after a late late breakfast, she cleaned out her rabbit hutches diligently. Later we walked into town and had a coffee in Costa's, and then bought a pizza for supper. There was nothing to watch together on telly, so she sat with her iPad watching one thing and I with my Nexus watching another. Sign of the times I guess.

This morning I went to the eight o'clock Holy Communion service at St Nicholas Parish Church. The service was taken by an retired locum priest, wearing unusually a surplice, scarf and hood. Quite a while since I've seen this attire, as the incumbent hitherto wore alb and stole. I learned that the incumbent Canon Richard Awre has retired, as we prayed for guidance in the matter of the appointment of a successor. Come to think of it, he wasn't celebrating last time I was here. When I checked on-line, I learned that he'd finished last September, so the parish has been in interregnum for eight months. Everywhere now, vacancies get longer and larger busier parishes can be difficult to fill due to the shortage of suitably experienced candidates. Another sign of the times. Still, there were two dozen worshippers present, as there were previously.

Walking back from church down the long avenue of lime trees from the church to the main road, with the sun shining through the still small unfolding leaves, to the sound of birdsong across Abbey Fields was utterly exquisite, and well worth the effort of rising for the early service.

Kath and Anto arrived home safely from their gig tour around two in the morning, and took time to surface, as did Rhiannon, but we had a pleasant long breakfast catch-up chat when they did. Rhiannon went off to town as soon as she awakened, to meet with her friends for coffee and chat. After a snack lunch I set off for home, arriving just after five, and ate the meal Clare had set aside for me at lunchtime. She arrived back from her study group in Bristol at six, and we passed the evening, thinking about our Danube cruise in just nine days from now, and some of the practicalities to be sorted out before we leave, like currencies, and reserving our seats on the plane.

I was very annoyed to discover that on our Ryanair flight to and from Budapest, we have to pay almost £25 to reserve particular seats in order to obtain both boarding passes in advance, something I consider essential, rather than have to rely on someone printing out boarding passes for our return, at whatever additional cost, once we are over there which is what happens if you accept automatic seat assignment by default, when you don't pay to reserve. No doubt Ryanair has its justifications for doing things this way, likewise Riviera Travel, which books the flights. I wouldn't willingly fly Ryanair, after my previous experience flying to Reus in 2012. I wonder how many other hidden extras we'll end up paying for on this trip?

Friday, 6 May 2016

Pocket sized alternative

This morning I set out to drive to Kenilworth, first visiting the place in Cyncoed where Laura has been staying throughout the years of her visits to Cardiff. She made friends with Sheila, a patient who had attended one of her clinics and she ended up staying with her, and receiving wonderful support in her effort to speak English fluently, so important for a doctor wanting to put patients at ease. We'd never met before, although there are people we know in common, so we chatted and drank coffee for over an hour before I finally set out. 

My mission had simply been to drop off with Sheila a small gift for Laura, who was out for the day, that I'd been unable to purchase before our lunch together on Wednesday. Yesterday I purchased a pocket sized English Book of Common Prayer to give to her, from the Churches Together Bookshop in Windsor Place. I knew that Laura was familiar with the works of Shakespeare, and wanted her to know one of the most formative documents in the history of our language and culture. As an educated Orthodox Christian she can read with an additional level of understanding texts embodying the generosity and breadth of Anglican tradition.

When I was young and zealous about liturgical reform and innovation, the 1662 BCP was the old family house of prayer from which I like many others longed to escape into something more modern and fully expressive of the classic inheritance of church teaching about worship and spirituality. Now after thirty years of creativity in the church, we have many volumes of diverse liturgical texts, more than enough options on offer, and digital databases of texts that can be compiled into leaflets for seasonal usage. 

All this takes up a lot of cupboard space, or else consumes a lot of resources in regular production runs. A far cry from a small pocket book of a bible, and an equally small prayer book, to carry in the other pocket, for use on all occasions, which stood the world in good stead for four and a half centuries, despite its limitations. Sure, I can have all those texts presented to me now on my phone, even lighter and smaller, but a book doesn't ever need re-charging, or paying additional usage fees to download new material on the go.  

Sure, the BCP doesn't voice some elements of Christian doctrine and spirituality as adequately as I'd like it too, and some necessary correctives in 20th century conservative revisions of the Prayer Book counter my reservations, but for the most part, it achieves what it set out to do, and offers everyone who can read a simple and direct access to the core texts and framework of worship and orthodox Christian doctrine. In practice there have always been users who keep strictly to the letter of its liturgies, and those who have seen fit to elaborate, in the manner of its performance and the personal devotion that goes with it. 

A book for most occasions in life and for all seasons, it is rooted in scripture and the common elements of liturgical worship which Eastern and Western, Protestant and Catholic expressions of Christianity have in common. Early text revisions showed how easily unresolved theological debate could make the Prayer Book an ideological battleground. Its imposition by the Crown in a set form at the time of Elizabeth I enforced compromise - get used to it, live with it, see what you make of it over time. This was discarded under Puritan rule then restored in 1662, along with the monarchy.

Its use continued to thrive also among American and other episcopalians dissociated from monarchy. Although its early acceptance was imposed, the sheer practical merits of the concept commended itself to free acceptance by new generations of users. It may be a cultural antique, but it still represents an important benchmark for English language and culture, and in a way that still challenges us in an era that tends to be over verbose, and which cannot deliver us a genuine modern language pocket sized alternative.

Anyway, the journey to Kenilworth went smoothly. The Worcestershire countryside was particularly beautiful with blossom adorning the trees and giant fields, bright yellow with oilseed rape flowers. I stopped to take a few photos, as I had time spare before Rhiannon was due home from school. The sickly aroma of the rape flowers was almost overwhelming, and reminded me of funeral parlours and crematoria.

It was good to welcome Rhiannon home from school, make her some scrambled eggs and hear about her day, before escorting her across the road to her old school for a drama workshop at six. After she returned, I found that there was a broadcast tribute to Prince on BBC3, celebrating his great gift as a song writer by assembling from the video archive clips of other artists singing his songs, some of which they made famous rather than he. An enjoyable cross generational hour in front of the TV.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Ascension and Election day

There were fifteen of us for the Ascension day Eucharist at St John's this morning. I enjoyed being able to walk down to church in the sunshine. The really cold weather seems to be passing, and it seems more like spring at last. The colours generated by bursting young leaves are just amazing to see. After lunch I spent a few hours in the office, putting an accounts sheet in order, and adding to the inventory database I created last week. There's a long way to go however, to get everything in order before it's all distributed to users. Then there were minutes and agenda to prepare and issue for the next BCRP Board meeting. I won't be able to attend as it takes place the evening before we leave on our Danube cruise, but I am confident the meeting will be in good hands with Julie as scribe.

Voting for the Welsh Assembly Government takes place today, amongst other things, so the news seems to be a relentless grind of political chatter of no consequence. We voted postally a couple of weeks ago, so there was no outing to a polling station after tea for us, just a quiet evening, editing photos of the Central Square redevelopment and uploading them. You'll find the collection here.  I've been taking photos from just three or four vantage points around the site, so many of them appear much the same, apart from weather changes and equipment movements. Over six months, however, looking carefully at the centre of the pictures you see the ground level dropping piecemeal.

The huge 7 metre basement area excavation is nearly finished now, and the cleared ground is becoming a forest of reinforced concrete rods, prior to the introduction of the steel beams for the framework of the buildings. It's amazing the speed at which half a million tons for earth and stones has been dug out and removed from this area since January, regardless of the weather too. Very impressive organisation in the midst of a busy area of town.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Orthodox friendship

As the car was still in the garage being repaired, I had to take the bus into town and walk to St Germans for the 10.00 Mass. No school class there this week, so it was a quiet affair for the regulars in the Lady Chapel. After chatting in the day centre for a while, I caught the 45 bus from Newport Road back into town and was pleased to find it stopped outside the Westgate Hotel. Then I only had to cross the road wait a few minutes to board a 61 bus, to go home leave my bag, then get back on another bus into town to take me to St John's, where I'd arranged to meet for lunch with Dr Laura Ciobanu, making her annual visit to Cardiff from Bucharest, as she has done every year since we first met at St John's on Good Friday eleven years ago.

We discovered that a Eucharist was just about to start so we joined the congregation, all old friends from times past who greeted us warmly. Sarah invited me to join her at the alter to administer the chalice at Communion. Standing there in prayer with her, it was as if time had stood still, even though it's now six years last week since my farewell service at the same altar. St John's is still the place I feel I come home to in Cardiff and the place I go away from, on locum assignments near and far away. Not that I feel I define myself as being the ex-Vicar of St John's City Parish Church Cardiff, but rather that it represents the kind of open hearted catholic Anglican missionary spirit that runs in my blood.

We ate and chatted in the tea room for a two hours after the service. Laura brought me seven intricately decorated Easter eggs as a gift from home. She told me that her kindergarten teacher, now in her late eighties decorates these in the intricate traditional patterns of the region where she still lives in North West Romania, and set her a large batch to share, so I am blessed and delighted. This is Easter week in the Romanian Orthodox church so I enjoyed greeting her with Cristos inviat! Adevarat inviat!

When we parted company, I went to the office for a while before heading home. Father Mark emailed and asked if I'd like to celebrate the Ascension Day Eucharist at the other St John's (Canton), to which I readily agreed, as the St German's evening Eucharist is going to be covered by another priest, due to a mix up over my availability dates. It's getting a bit confusing now, as we're here for a while, then not here, then back again. I have to keep a close eye on the diary - I'm nowadays far more reliant on my digital Google calendar and its notifications on my phones than I ever was on a paper diary. It's a good thing really, as I'm less likely to miss appointments than I used to be.


Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Unhappy meal

This bank holiday Monday morning, I walked into town, as the crowds slowly began to drive in and queue for city centre shopping car parks. I needed to visit the office to retrieve a file which was meant to sync to OneDrive, but once more failed to. Microsoft puts more effort into driving people to rely on cloud based storage without being able to provide necessary total reliability. For years I carried all I needed to work on around with me on a flash drive. I've rather got out of the habit this past year, but the inconsistency of syncing operations on OneDrive, on which we rely so heavily for work, are causing me to re-think. Oddly enough, Google Drive never seems to present any problems, although it's helpful or otherwise insistence of converting everything in and out of Gdrive format for editing and sharing is rather annoying when all you want to do is work with your chosen tools in your own work setting in your own way.

Once in the office, I got drawn into entering data on recent acquisitions into our newest database, and testing a barcode scanning application that I'm hoping will ease the task at little cost. Then before I knw it, Clare was calling, wondering when I'd be back for lunch. Hours slip by very quickly in the fact of a pile of detail to be attended to.

After lunch we drove to Bristol to see Amanda and James. Her new wifi printer has failed to work since the batch of replacement inks purchased with the equipment are not recognised as present by the machine. The inks are genuine enough, but it's as if the sensor meant to recognise them isn't working. It's going to be difficult getting this sorted, as they don't have the means to get to the nearest branch of PC World to sort it out. Frustrating and very disappointing.

As we were approaching the Seven Bridge on the drive home, I suddenly noticed that the car engine was overheating, and stopped underneath the junction with the M49 to see what was wrong. I wasn't yet another leak, but apparently no fluid was passing through the radiator, suggesting either a blockage or a radiator thermostat stuck in the shut position - probably a legacy of using radiator sealant compound to cope with previous leak problems which eventually turned into a head gasket rupture. Once the engine had cooled enough, we drove over the bridge to Magor services, and called Green Flag services for help. In an hour a mechanic arrived from Abergavenny, confirming my tentative diagnosis. Then we had another hour to wait for a tow truck collect us, arriving from Stroud, on the way home to Newport,. 

We'd promised ourselves fish and chips for supper, for a change, and the only resemblance to this to be found was a McDonald's 'Happy Meal' from the one fast food outlet still open late in the service area. A little bag of over salted dry stick-like frites and another bag containing three fish fingers. Another bag contained a couple of plastic kids toys. The frites would have make a Belgian lose the will to live. Why on earth? A children's meal was the only way it was possible to obtain a few small pieces of fish. The plastic toys pulled apart into to sections, one of which was the right size for a small child to get in its mouth, swallow and choke on. Incredible! It has to rate as one of the worst and most ill conceived meals I've ever had. It may even have been the first time I've ever eaten McDonald's style and it'll certainly be the last. Next time I'll go hungry.

By just after eleven we were home safely, enjoying a little cheese and a glass of wine before bed. It's rather strange to think that on my third journey to and from Bristol in a row there have been problems with the car's cooling system. Last week we went to Monmouth without any cause for concern, plus trips around down in traffic. Let's hope that this'll be the last occurrence, or else it'll be time to say goodbye to our beloved ancient Golf.

I drove the car across town to N.G. Motors our VW service garage in Splott this morning, hoping that the car wouldn't overheat on the way. Almost every traffic light was red, so I switched off the engine while I waited. It was just up to normal temperature by the time I arrived and handed it over. Then a walk into town, during which I discovered that the Lidl store on Tyndall street which offers a handy place to shop on my way back, has been demolished, and the adjacent land cleared for new buildings, one of which will be a new improved Lidl, to open by the end of this year. I wonder what the neighbouring buildings on the site will be?