Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Connecting - mixed fortunes

I awoke at first light, despite retiring early. The building and surrounding apartment blocks were quiet until sunrise, around a quarter to eight. It'll take me a while to get used to being surrounded by a new palette of the sounds of human activity punctuating the day. Waking up early and hearing the changes reminded me of this.

Nerja chaplain's house had thin walls, and neighbours who were often absent, but when present, their noises were mainly nocturnal and early morning. In Vinaros, noises came from holidaying neighbours across the road, day and evening, but in the background. Silence dominated. Here sounds are more varied, remoter and occasionally sounds from apartments above and either side. Back in Meadow Street, it's mostly quiet. Neighbours either side are single women who are away a lot, and make little noise when at home. The differences add to life's interest.

Rosella collected me to go together to St George's in Malaga for the midweek Communion followed by a Chaplaincy Council meeting. Doreen, the Chaplaincy's self supporting priest celebrated Mass in honour of St Aidan. I enjoyed being there and receiving her ministry. That's a rarity for me these days. I didn't attend the Council, although I met members beforehand.

Instead, I stayed in the sacristy and took full advantage of a fast broadband office connection to upload photos from yesterday. This is impossible in the flat, given the limited connectivity a wifi mobile internet ( aka MID ) dongle provides. The device may not be working at its best in an apartment whose core metal frame may impede signal flow, but right now I am blogging from my Nexus tablet via this wifi MID.

As ever, the Blackberry Q10 does everything I ask of it.  It may be a bit small, but robustness and reliability count. I didn't swap it for a PRIV as I wasn't satisfied its design could take the same punishment as the Q10.

Last but not least, the Chaplain here, unlike my past two assignments, has a Huwawei Ascend P6 smart phone. It's a nice piece of kit and has a 4G sim, and like the Blackberry it works fine. Mobile devices win here. The chaplain's laptop and my Chromebook just don't work as expected even though they are so much easier to use.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Early journey

I woke up at twenty past five, breakfasted, and then headed to out to find a bus to get me into town for the six twenty T9 to the airport. This bus arrived several minutes late, but arrived at the airport dead on time. There we no queues, and by five past seven I was settling down for the half hour or so wait until my flight to Malaga was called. This left on time and arrived five minutes early. Cardiff was mild and sunny, Malaga decidedly humid at twenty eight degrees. After an exchange of phone calls, I met up with churchwarden Rosella, who then took me by car to the apartment in Rincon de la Victoria where I'll be staying for the next four weeks.

It's a well appointed second floor apartment in a block, surrounded by other apartment blocks, three hundred metres from the sea shore. After unpacking, I first walked down to the sea, and then back through the streets to find a supermarket to shop for food. I hadn't eaten since breakfast, and by then it was siesta time, rather than lunch time, so I made an effort to start my stay by cooking a proper meal, and then go out for a proper walk, which I did early evening.

The beach is of fine sand and runs right along this coast, one of the first areas of the Costal del Sol to be colonised by holidaymakers.  Nowadays, Rosella told me, it's also a dormitory town for commuters to Malaga, whose town centre is just half an hour away by bus. It's a densely packed urban environment, with a great variety of small stylish modern shops. Logistically this is a good place to be, as it's half way between St George's in Malaga, and Velez Malaga, where the other Sunday service is held.
In the first half of the twentieth century there was a railway line between Malaga and Velez Malaga, serving towns along the route where the sugar cane industry powered the local economy. In the sixties, as the industry declined, the line was closed, and eventually re-purposed as a coastal path.
To the west of Rincon is a rocky promontory with its coastal watch tower, and beneath it runs the first of a series of railway tunnels running through deep rocky cuttings. The path is well lit and is used by joggers and cyclists, as well as pedestrians out for their evening paseo. There are also fenced walking paths with lots of steps along the ridges on the sea side above the cuttings, right on the edge of the cliff, with the sea 15-20m below. The coastal views are just superb. 
The chaplaincy has a non-stipendiary priest who lives half way to Granada from Velez. She lives near Salinas, and looks after a third congregation there, as well as taking services in the other two. There are also two retired clerics who help out with Sunday services as well , on rotation. As it happens, all three are female, and the good news is that the Archbishop of Malaga is a man of ecumenical sympathies, unlike his conservative colleague in Tortosa.  He is well disposed towards clergy of different tradition and genders, who share in Christian ministry across a region of Spain with a large population of ex-patriates from all over Europe, not just Brits. A fifth of Spain's UK citizens live in Andalucia, over 60,000.

Malaga, I am already acquainted with, so having an opportunity to discover Rincon, means discovering another slice of life here in coastal Andalucia. I am most fortunate.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Sunday sadness, and an act of auto-kindness

Yesterday afternoon we drove to Bristol to see Amanda and James. He secured excellent results in his HND exams, and secured a place to do a Computer Science degree in UWE, the University of the West of England in Bristol. After being Amanda's carer for the past seven years, he is now moving out and into student accommodation. His departure from home at 20 makes it necessary for her care plan to be overhauled, possibly with a move into sheltered accommodation. This she looks forward to, as the house they presently live in, although adapted for a disabled person's life, is really unsuitable, since she now finds it impossible to use a chair lift to get upstairs. But, this is a difficult transition for them both to make, and some problems are unavoidable.

We returned home in time for supper, and, now there's a brief respite from Olympic TV broadcasts, BBC Four has gone back to showing a Saturday night Scandi crime drama. This week another episode of Beck, about religiously motivated anti-gay extremist violence, in which the team's police chief is murdered. Colleagues are deeply affected and work relentlessly to uncover a conspiracy. It's the team's maverick burnt-out sleuth who hunts down the perpetrator, then tortures him to extract a confession, before locking him a morgue cold storage unit and ringing colleagues to collect him.

It's quite a bizarre expression of vengeance, and clearly suspect abuse, for which he just gets a telling off from Beck. No effort is made to show any real life consequences of such an action. There are no scenes with the defendent's lawyer, no portrayal of how an entire police department could cover up the lawlessness of this cop's behaviour, even if it was in pursuit of justice. I've come to expect a less superficial portrayal of the Swedish police force than this 'successful' conclusion offered. This was too much like wild west frontier justice, not the human and sophisticated view of Sweden we usually get. 

This morning I celebrated the eight and ten thirty Eucharists at St Catherine's. Friday, Betty the church's oldest member died, just a few weeks short of her 95th birthday. She was baptized in the church and attended her entire life, serving as church warden several times. She was one of the first to greet Clare and I when we came to live in the Parish and worship locally. She was there greeting me when I went to celebrate these two services a fortnight ago. I think I may have been the one to give her Communion for the last time. The end of that week she was admitted to hospital, and died a week later.

At eight, I preached a short extempore sermon reflecting on her life and great capacity for hospitality, reflecting threads in both the Epistle and Gospel readings for the day. When I returned for breakfast I revised for the ten thirty, the sermon prepared to include these reflections. I also used some prayers from the funeral office, aware Betty's death was fresh news to most parishioners, some of whom may not be free to attend her funeral, any more than me, since I'll be in Malaga when it takes place. I felt this was the right thing to do, as I did in the Costa Azahar Sunday services when Janet died, knowing that many wouldn't attend her funeral. The church needs to make its own farewell and appreciation of much loved members who played key roles, setting the right tone for developing healthy congregational life. Shared mourning is as important as shared rejoicing in the life of prayer in common.

On return from Bristol last night, our car indicators stopped working, a blown fuse. The same happened in May 2014, and Kwikfit on Cowbridge Road came to the rescue. The problem was fixed within the day, although they had to research and sent out for the fuses for such an old car. So I rang up to ask if they could help, and how long it would take, and then I could arrange to leave the car with them, aware that Clare might need to pick it up after the Bank Holiday instead of me. When I explained to the guy I spoke to on the phone, he said "I think I've got some of those fuses in my took kit." So I went around there straight away, taking a route that would involve the least number of right turns across traffic, for safety's sake, to get there. Within minutes, the burned out item had been retrieved and replaced, and they refused to charge for doing so, like last time. Both of them expressed affection for our old Golf Mk II, "They go forever", was the consensus about this particular edition. So relieved to get that job done, and overjoyed at their kindness.

After lunch, we went for a walk across the fields and down through Bute Park, and had a cup of tea in 'The Secret Garden' cafe, still going strong. It drizzled while we were there, and on the way back. Washing left out on the line in our back garden, including my alb, and a jacket, was a little damper than it might otherwise have been if we'd been there to bring it in and avoid the rain. It was good to get out and walk, and it's been a while since we did that route together.

In the evening we watched the first Episode of the new series about the young queen Victoria, said to be based on researches into her extensive lifelong collection of personal journals amongst other things. Costume dramas aren't usually my thing, but I found this of great interest, even if the CGI versions of Buckingham Palace and other London landmarks in that period looked artificial, unless resemblance to colour picture book style imagery was a deliberate narrative ploy. Fortunately, the interiors were much more authentically depicted, and the acting was superb. Amusing to see Peter Firth as the Duke of Cumberland. I kept on thinking of him as Sir Harry Pearce in 'Spooks'.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Limits to Cloud confidence

This morning I wrote my Sunday sermon, tidied my office, and shredded some old documents. There are more to do, which no longer have relevance, as they are so old and not really interesting to anyone any longer. On a suggestion from Clare, I also started compiling a list of vital personal information on my digital life, and finances for others to use when I'm incapacitated or dead. Half way through, writing up this on my Chromebook, it occurred to me that, no matter how good Google Cloud security is, a digital document can still be found read by others, unless encrypted. The chances of this may be very remote, but there can be no such thing as 100% certain security, ever. Yet here was I, at the drafting stage, working on a computer with on-line storage, which, if my password was stolen could be found by someone else and my digital secrets hijacked. Not a good idea. 

I transferred to file to an external flash drive, then double deleted it from the Chromebook  system. When I went later to examine the file on an off-line computer, the data consisted only of information to connect to the deleted Cloud stored file. Caught out! Data lost. If only I'd first created a file on an off-line computer coupled to an external flash drive, this wouldn't have happened. Almost everything I do on computers I am prepared to entrust to secure on-line storage, except the digital keys to access it all. Putting everything on one piece of paper is the eventual answer, and making sure this is kept in a safe place to be found only on a need to know basis. Now I'll need to start again, though not today.

This afternoon I needed to go into the office again for a final planning session with Ashley before leaving for Spain. On the way there, I remembered I needed to buy some 'cargo shorts' and a dark short sleeved shirt. On impulse, I turned into the Edinbugh Woollen Mills shop on Working Street, and within minutes bought exactly what I needed. I don't much like shopping, as so often it involves agonising over an excessive variety of choices, so this was a fortunate impulse which saved me time and effort.  

Thursday, 25 August 2016

A place to call home

Before being collected to go to St John's Canton to officiate at a funeral, I spent the morning house sitting, as the last of the contractor's teams set about replacing the original cast iron gutters and down pipes with modern plastic ones. Our house is old, heavy gutters, however well fixed originally, can suffer from ageing. There is a risk of them detaching in bad weather and causing damage in a fall. The light plastic ones can also fall in a storm, but the impact would be much less. Thankfully these houses are not yet the subject of a conservation listing order. Whenever home improvements are made, extensions built, loft conversions installed, there's no uniform pattern imposed. Slowly the appearance of the street changes, and becomes much more varied than the measured uniformity of the original build, whose chief decorative feature is colourful brickwork patterns contrasting with grey Pennant sandstone.

Unfortunately for the workers, there was drizzling rain from lunchtime onwards, but they carried on anyway. The job couldn't be completed totally however, as scaffolding obstructed installation of the of the lowest gutter, though not its removal. It won't take long once the scaffolding is dismantled however. At five, I went into the office and spent the evening catching up on necessary company business which is needed before we can present BCRP finances to our accountant for vetting. Getting it all right is vital for the success of what we do, and there can be no cutting corners. I'm fairly confident that we paid sufficient attention to the detail, and that our financial planning is proving as good as it should be. Just as well, since this is the first year in which we have a full time employee to look after.

News of the latest Italian earthquake set me thinking. For millennia, the Italian peninsula has been geologically unstable. Yet, people have made their homes, built villages and towns in hill country and been afflicted by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions with terrible loss of life over millennia. It seems that the benefits of living in the place far outweigh the risks. Some may move to live in safer areas, but most don't, despite the struggle to rebuild homes and re-establish a devastated economy. Perhaps this can only happen because the sense of community with a sense of place is the greatest of human assets. 

This contrasts in many ways with the contemporary culture of mobility embracing millions of people, either out of necessity or from opportunity to live differently. The internet, so say, abolishes distance, and people build on-line communities of interest that embrace the world. Yet every website still has its Home Page. Everyone starts somewhere which can later be referred to. The trouble with excessive mobility is that many feel they don't really belong anywhere. They may think of themselves as digital nomads, but fail to understand that ancient nomadism revolved around a succession of special places to which a clan would resort with the passage of the seasons. A sense of belonging to the land is far more important than any sense we may have contrived of land as property someone can own. In the end, as the Psalmist says "The earth is the Lord's", and our place in is His gift.

A sense of belonging is essential to our sense of identity. Having moved around a great deal over my lifetime, my sense of being a Welsh Valleys boy, European, and a priest ordained for Llandaff diocese are important to who I think I am. Where I think I belong, where I come to rest, alive and dead, are however, issues yet to be resolved. "Here we have no abiding city.", as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews states. We've made a home and been at home in dozens of places over the years. Cardiff is the place in which we've been settled for longest, and we both love it, but I still can't help wondering where I truly belong and will finally settle and not want to go anywhere else. Not at a result of infirmity and need, but from fulfilment and content. Will I ever really setle down? It's all part of the great mystery of our existence, I guess.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Vale village discovery

Back to St German's again this morning, to celebrate the Feast of St Bartholemew for half a dozen, and then a chat with people in the day centre, before taking my leave of them until November. Bob Capper the Area Dean has already asked about my availability when I return, and I've told him that I'd be happy to resume at St German's through until the spring. That'll enable him to plan Advent and Christmas, and enable me to continue to feel useful.

After the service, Clare and I drove to Dinas Powis for lunch with Russell and Jacquie, out in their delightful garden. They have croaking frogs around their tiny pond, and a range of garden birds we used to see in Pontcanna, and butterflies too, but in recent years these have not made their homes in the back to back gardens distinguishing our kind of street. I believe this has something to do with overgrown trees being trimmed or felled, taking away old habitats, and garden sections being tidied or paved over. Which is what happens when a new tide of gentrification occurs in a neighbourhood. Over a quarter of the houses in our street have changed hands in the past couple of years. House prices are now four times what we paid twenty three years ago. It's not surprising that breaking into the housing market is so hard for young people. Expectations of house buyers are far higher nowadays. It means more money gets spent, sometimes unnecessarily, on improving properties to make them more saleable, inflating prices as a result.

On our return trip, we made a detour to visit the village of Michaelstone le Pit, and its 13th century church of the same name. One which I've never been to before. A decade ago there was talk about closing it, but it's still in use for worship, one of the churches of the Benefice of St Andrew's Major, and looks in good repair. Apparently former Senedd First Minister Rhodri Morgan lives locally. The building wasn't open to see inside but we could walk around the well kept churchyard, which has a modern extension to it on ground beneath the promontory on which the church sits. Interestingly the church possessed the only remaining triple decker pulpit in the Vale of Glamorgan. It's not large, but it is distinguished by having a tower with a gable ended roof at the nave crossing. I didn't have a camera capable of giving me a shot of the complete building, but my Blackberry phone camera produced these offerings.

Unusually this village, with its line of houses tucked into a wooded valley behind Leckwith Hill, has no through road connecting it with other ancient Vale villages further north. The metalled road stops at a gate enclosing an area of farmland. There are tracks across it, used by agricultural vehicles, but road access to the area is by means of another narrow winding road which climbs up the escarpment and wanders further up the valley before descending to Wenvoe. It's ancient hidden terrain, which has changed little over centuries, with its scattering of working farms, a few ancient farmhouses, and lots of sheep and cattle. I first discovered it last autumn on a muddy walk in search of a footpath to Caerau hill fort, in quite the wrong place. Seeing the village in its surroundings gives me a more complete mental map of area, for future walking expeditions.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Job satisfactions

I went to St German's this morning, to meet with a group from the STAR Community Centre in Splott, which was visiting various places of worship for the different religious faiths which have their meeting places in Splott and Adamsdown - Reformed Synagogue, Sikh and Hindu Temple, Mosque and Saint German's. My task was to give them a guided tour and speak about Catholic Christian worship and the story of Christian mission in the area since the 1880s. The group numbered only half a dozen. Few, if any of them were churchgoers, so I enjoyed giving them an introduction which explained how Saint German's comes to be a special place in this part of South East Cardiff.

Recently, Clare has been sorting out redundant stuff for disposal, and giving the kitchen cupboard a good clean. After lunch, we made a sortie by car to the Bessemer Close waste disposal and re-cycling centre, with some ancient pans and a defunct lawn mower, plus bags of garden waste, as we'd missed the early morning collection today. Then we went to the Shaw Trust charity shop in Cowbridge Road, to deliver some bags of clothes, a tricky job by car as there's little parking and the street is always congested with through traffic. It's a lot easier when there are two of us.

Then it was my turn to get busy. First, I had two lots of flight boarding passes to arrange for autumnal sorties to Spain. Having waited the requisite week since my airport panic visit, getting seat assigned on my outbound flight to Malaga next Tuesday was straightforward, but the booking system insisted I pay to have a seat assigned on the return flight, before it would issue me boarding passes for both. It refused to issue them for the outbound only. This was the flight I booked early in the year for going to Nerja this autumn, and then had to change flight dates to suit the month in Malaga instead. Making the changes cost me over a hundred euros. The original tickets booked had been printed off months ago, nothing extra to pay. The imposition of a seat booking charge on my return flight is to my mind sharp practise and most annoying.

After this I had some on-line banking to do. This works very well and gives a measure of confidence that it's secure to use, provided that computer security is kept completely up to date, of course. Then it was time to tackle this year's tax return. I noticed from looking at old ones that I'm four months earlier getting my affairs sufficiently in order to do the job this year. It's now eleven years since I started doing tax returns on-line. The HMRC site has much improved over the years. It's clear and informative, although it can be a little confusing if you just want to go direct to your tax return, as there is a great deal of helpful information as well as choices to wade through first. 

Clare found this a problem when she did her on-line return over the weekend. To avoid having to hunt, I searched through my records and found the URL of the personal tax log-in page, possibly an old one, but it still worked, after a delay and enabled me to get started. Thankfully it only took me a couple of hours to complete, as I was able to find all the necessary supporting documentation, following a tidy up earlier this year. Tax is horridly complex, but despite this HMRC's return pages work well. 

With this behind me, my 'To Do' list is now much shorter, and I feel pleased with the achievement.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Health check

This morning I visited my GP surgery for the periodic hypertension medication review which they do to keep an eye on my general health. The nurse weighs me takes a blood sample (usually with difficulty) and my blood pressure, which is always higher than when I take it at home. It may be my home machine is not as sensitive as the surgery's state of the art kit. The blood tests monitors for sugar, cholesterol and liver function. I learned recently that the latter is checked to see if prescribed medication is having side effects from long term use, over eight years in my case. So far so good.

Sugar is usually low as I consume little sweet stuff by choice of habit. This, plus changes in diet have led to weight loss, although exactly how much is hard to say, as I'm weighed with variable amounts of clothes on at each visit, and if I didn't insist on taking them off, shoes also. I check without clothes at home, to satisfy myself of progress. Now it seems I'm only 'slightly overweight'. I've noticed recently my blood pressure has been higher than usual, so this showed up as worryingly high in the surgery and that means a visit to the doctor before I go away. It's become an annual ritual, and has resulted in no change of medication so far. By the time I see him, it is unlikely to be quite as high. In fact, it dropped during the day, almost back to normal. 

Recently I've had a little 'grumbling' from small kidney stones, detected several years ago. They move a little, and for a while I am left feeling thick headed, as toxins don't filter out of the blood quite as efficiently, and my blood pressure goes up. Once the 'grumbling' stops, the blood pressure returns to normal and thick headedness goes away.  I've had no kidney discomfort all day, and my blood pressure is nearly what it should be, according to UK medical opinon. Not quite so bad if you're under a GP on the Continent, where slightly higher seems to be the accepted norm. Anyway, the more water I drink and regular exercise I get, things return to normal fairly quickly. I'm fitter now than for a long time, due to the amount of walking I do in Spain. I walk somewhat less here than I do there. A bad habit I need to break, a bad habit dependent on the weather, sad to say. I am most fortunate to be as fit and well as I mostly am, and as well as being grateful, I need to be sure to make the effort, at all times and seasons.

End of the afternoon, I went over to the University Optometry school and collected my first pair of prescription reading glasses for use with a computer. While I was n Spain I began to notice that in high contrast light situations my eyes were reacting unusually. I was seeing everything in what I can only describe as dappled light, as one ordinarily might experience looking at a river in sunlight. It was quite disconcerting at first, but I found that wearing my driving glasses helped. I discussed this with one of the team who said that it might be a consequence of too much computer screen time. They emit an extra amount of light at the blue end of the spectrum which strains they eyes. But, why recently and not years ago when I spent much more time working on computers? Then it occurred to me that in the past year, the three devices I most use all have brighter high resolution screens. Just working with the new specs for this evening had shown the difference they make.  

Work on the chimney stack removal slowed down during the second week, as only a few small jobs remained, like repairing the rendering immediately below the end ridge tile, where the stack had protruded, and sealing places where redundant flue outlets had been removed. The end ridge tile is a different colour and slightly smaller. It's made to metric rather than imperial measure standards, and the older matching ones are getting harder to find. It makes little difference, but it's part of the nearly 120 year old story of the house now.

Vibration from demolition work has opened new cracks in the rendering on our side, and caused some parting of rendered surface from brickwork. The wall surfaces are old,cracks may have been patched in its lifetime, perhaps as long as our lifetimes. The grey cement surface has never been painted. We've decided to see how well it withstands damp ingress over the winter, and then consider full repair and painting in white next spring. That'll help reflect more light into Clare's lovely green space.

This week the original cast iron guttering on our side will be replaced, depending on weather and workers. We've been told the end of August is a high demand time for days off in the building trade. 

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Celebration and commiseration

This morning I returned to St John's to celebrate the Eucharist, having left only twelve hours earlier, as we were invited to the engagement party of Martin and Andrew, two members of the congregation who are preparing for their Civil Partnership ceremony at the end of October. Sadly I'll still be in Spain on the date, so I was pleased to have this opportunity to give them my good wishes in person. The nave of the the church was lined with several rows of trestle tables for the buffer meal, and there must have been a hundred guests, many of them from the churches of the Benefice. A splendid occasion.

By nine o'clock this morning, the church was spic and span, and the bunting was being taken down. I'd have left the decoration there if I'd had the choice, as a reminder of the lovely evening of fellowship we had the night before, in which some of the twenty people in the congregation took part. Afterwards, I went on to Saint Luke's, leaving behind my sermon, which meant preaching from memory. When this happens I go slower, and worry about going on too long. Fortunately, I didn't notice anyone looking at their watches on this occasion. 

For a change today I had braised lamb, which Clare bought and kept in the freezer for either Owain or myself. I thought this was an occasion to open one of the special bottles of wine that we received as a Golden Wedding anniversary gift, a 2003 Anjou vin rouge. Drinking something this old is quite rare for me. The last I recall was a 1966 Medoc presented to us on our 30th Wedding anniversary back in our Geneva days. It's amazing that wines can keep their complex flavour and aroma for such a long time, if in gentler and more subtle way. Something to take time over. Half a bottle today, half tomorrow. Definitely not everyday wine drinking pleasure.

After drinking wine at lunchtime, I walked in the rain, late afternoon, rather than drive, to make a bereavement visit to a family in a new gated housing area opposite Leckwith Stadium. In his youth the deceased had been a naval rating on board the Royal Yacht 'Britannia'. I was shown photos of him standing tall in the background, escorting Princess Diana and Prince Charles on their honeymoon voyage. He didn't make a career in the Navy, but like many young men, the experience of those years and skills learned made him capable of earning a decent living in the wider world. A four year battle with cancer cut short his life. Sad that any grandchildren will never be able to hear him say "I was there on Britannia for the Royal Couple's honeymoon." But now Britannia has been retired, and the ship is no longer a household name for rising generations, this family story will take a little more explanation that it would have done at the end of the last millennium. 

I read an article recently about making use of manual settings on a DSLR camera, so this past couple of days, finally having understood the use of switch settings on lens and camera body, which I've avoided by staying on excellent Auto settings for the past four years, I've revisited old style manual SLR usage, taking flowers in the garden after the copious rain of the past few days. It'll take a while to regain the skill required to get the sharpest focus on an object when there are several possible points of focus within immediate range. On Auto, the lens is very sensitive to movement and makes minute refocusing adjustments, and I'm always conscious of the low level noise this makes when framing a picture, like background chatter. With Auto switched off, the camera is quiet. That's good for concentration, and you actually need more of it, to get the handheld shot you're after. Nice to get around to this at last.  

Friday, 19 August 2016

Faith and reservations

I attended the monthly RadioNet User Group meeting yesterday morning for the first time in months. I was amused in a discussion about beggars, that a police officer stated it was harder to deal with this problem in public places since bobbies on the beat were obliged to wear hi-viz jackets over their uniforms, as they could now be seen approaching, so offenders ran off before they could be confronted and reminded of the law. So many people wear hi-viz jackets in public these days. All kind of workers, security officials, groups of school children out and about. I've even seen street people in hi-viz jackets - a way of not standing out from the crowd? There wasn't much that required me to remain in the office after the meeting, so I returned and worked at home instead for the rest of the day. 

This morning I had an interesting exchange of emails with my cousin Dianne reflecting on the time in our youth when she, her brother and mother lived with my Grandfather. She shared her recollection of being around when I told my parents I was starting to explore my vocation to ordained ministry, and the domestic uproar this caused, as it went against all their expectations and ambition that I should become a scientist, as that was what I was studying in University. She'd have been 13-14 at the time. Her mum, my godmother, approved, so did her sisters. Their brothers were not so forthcoming, and later in life both were churchgoers. 

The family were nominal, irregularly attending members of the 'Church of England in Wales' as it would sometimes be referred to in those days. The women in our family were more devout than the men, and attended church more reguarly, as did my mother. The men were taken up with the glamour of modern Science and Progress, and didn't so easily find the time to take church seriously. After their initial disappointment, my father and grandfather came to terms with the change of direction in my life. Dad would occasionally come and hear me preach. After a series of life threatening heart incidents in later life, he began to rethink things and attended church services independently of hearing me preach. Grandpa retained his skepticism and kept church at a distance to the end, enamoured of the wonder and mystery of life, but distrustful of dogma. 

I recall him telling me when I was young that he'd locked horns with a Rector of Gelligaer and seen him off after an argument about religion. He didn't approve of my vocation, and tried passionately to dissuade me, but without rejecting me personally, despite early threats to do so. Maybe the fact that I stood my ground and didn't become too eccentric or overly pious as a result of my change of role played a part in this. At least this is what I'd like to think. The important thing for Dad and Grandpa seemed to be that I didn't become an otherworldly bible toting dogmatic fundamentalist. There were plenty around in Ystrad Mynach as I was growing up. I hope they were satisfied in the end.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Wednesday pastoralia

Midweek Mass at St German's again this morning, and a Spanish conversation with the most recent member of the congregation to become a regular worshipper. Enrique from El Salvador is indeed an asylum seeker escaping from the criminal gangs that dominate his homeland. Exactly what the reason for him needing to escape from there I couldn't gather, as my Spanish is still limited, but I think it may be to do with extortion rackets. His wife is dead and pequeño Enrique, his only child is with him. What a story he has to tell. So much for me to learn and pass on to the congregation, so little time. At the Communion, I remembered to give him communion in Spanish - Cuerpo de Crist, Sangre de Crist. To me, there is no more important moment to reach out to someone in their mother tongue. It's a way of voicing the essentially hospitable nature of the Lord's Sacrament.

I learned that Angela, the church administrator had recently fallen and been admitted to hospital with a possible fracture. So far so good. No broken bones identified, but she's still in pain, and the reason for this has yet to be established. Hopefully, she'll be discharged fairly soon. She's not to sort of person to enjoy hospital attention or inactivity for long.

Our local Ignatian meditation group meets today over lunchtime at Ruth's new Vicarage in Tonyrefail. So, Clare and I together with Diana, went together by car, for an hour of prayer and an hour of eating and talking together with others. It's usually a small group, but rich in wisdom and insight nevertheless, and I'm always glad of an opportunity to participate, although on this occasion I was asked to lead, the second time this year. Given the time I spend abroad these days, times of spiritual fellowship of this kind take on an added significance on my journey. Another cause for gratitude in my life.

After our return, I went to Chapter Arts Centre to collect our weekly delivery of organic veg from the Riverside Market Garden, then called in on Fr Phelim on the way back, to return his church keys and catch up with him. Earlier today he asked if I'd cover a funeral on his day off the week after next, just as Fr Mark arrives home from holidays. Glad naturally to be able to help in this way while I'm here in the Benefice.

Unfortunately, Church in Wales parishes are not yet at the stage where they can offer traditionally expected ministries to a wider community without regular help from retired clerics. Others, like me are happy to be useful and fill in the gaps, but it would be far better if there were lay people trained in bereavement ministry, also taking and arranging Anglican funeral services, to support their parish priests and share the burden of pastoral care in the community.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Ticket tribulations

Monday was a lazy day, not going far, not doing much, just enjoying summer idleness. Finishing work on making good the roof after chimney demolition has slowed right down. The weather is good enough for this not to matter.

Tuesday morning, I woke up early, thinking about September, travelling back to Malaga, and how I'd succeeded in changing my flights at great expense back at the end of June, but had not yet got around to re-checking my booking. Last time I visited the Vueling website, when I was in Spain, the change was registered, but it was unclear from information displayed that my booking for hold baggage had been carried forward with the changed flight. Ages ago, I resolved to check this out at Cardiff Airport when I got back, but done nothing about it.

I got up at seven, and decided to have another look at my flight booking on the Vueling website, just in case I was making a fuss about nothing. Horror of horrors, the website refused to recognise my booking reference and email address! Something very hard to cope with so early in the morning. In a mild state of panic, I dressed, breakfasted, and then got myself into town to pick up the airport bus. By just after eight I was at the Vueling departures check-in desk, but nobody was there!

I should have known better. The Vueling airport team isn't very big, and they multi-task. Once all the passengers for the 09.10 flight to Malaga are booked in, the staff make their way to the departure gate and see passengers on to the aircraft. The Alicante flight, on the days it runs, leaves later, so they have time to themselves in between. I asked a man at the Norwegian Air check-in desk next door how I may find someone and he directed me to a desk at the far end of the Departures area.

There I found a Swissport booking manager, to judge by his overhead display title, whose role was dealing with ticketing enquiries, for companies and flights out of Cardiff International. It means he has executive privileges to enter every travel company website admin back-end and can interrogate systems for needed information. Such a comforting asset for bewildered travellers, and a reassuringly efficient service!

I explained my problem as simply as I could, and within a couple of minutes, he confirmed that my two flights were registered for the dates and times changed, and that I had hold baggage booked. He gave me a printout to that effect. Failure to access my Vueling account was due to a simple error about which I should've known better. Mistaking 'O' for a zero in the booking reference. I must have taken this in last time I logged into the site, when I saw on-line the booking changes I'd made had taken effect. Exactly the same confusion I experienced in Vinaros, trying to register devices to the Vicarage router wi-fi.

How much grief and anxiety could be spared worldwide, by making sure that the distinction between a zero and an 'O' is made clearer in any displayed typeface in print, and on the web.

Fifteen minutes at the airport, then a shuttle bus back into Cardiff, and I was home again just after half past ten, after a few troubled hours on the move. Thank God for a free bus pass and an excellent transport schedule for journeys to the airport and around town! 

I still don't have a boarding pass. I don't need to pay extra for a designated seat, happy just to reach my destination wherever I'm placed on the flight. So, I have to wait until Tuesday next, when a seat will be assigned to me by default, and printing out my boarding pass will cost me nada.

Apart from this, an uneventful day ensued.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Remembering Penallta and Dyffryn Street

This morning I celebrated the eight o'clock for four faithful people at St Catherine's, picked up some croissants for breakfast from the Co-op, then returned to church later to celebrate the Sung Eucharist with two dozen others. That's half the regular congregation, but then it is August, and most of those with families are away on holiday at the moment. I was warned that on my last appearance at St Catherine's this month, Bank Holiday weekend, in two weeks time, numbers could be even smaller. Never mind, I thought, like swallows, the faithful will return. The regular pattern of attendance is now spread out over a year, more than a month or a quarter, as a result of what increased mobility makes freely possible for people, whether as single youngsters, young families, grandparents or fit and healthy ancients. Such a different world from the one in which we grew up.

My cousin Ros with whom I grew up, sent me via Facebook, a photo of Dyffryn Street, Ystrad Mynach, with Penallta Colliery buildings in the background. This photo was taken so early in the 20th century, (possibly 1905-10), that the house she grew up in, next door to our grandfather Kimber, had not yet been built. Absent from the photo also was a terrace in Penybryn, Gelligaer, up beyond the pit, known as the Forty Houses built, as was my childhood home in Glen View further down Penallta Road, by the Powell Dyffryn coal mining company for the families of coal miners.
 Also absent from the photo are spoil heaps along the hillside above the Cylla Brook, which ran down the valley into the Rhymney river, just below Ystrad Mynach town centre. Spoil heaps is what they are called in modern parlance. Mounds of rock and unusable coal shale, dumped in any available open space. To our generation they were 'coal tips' on whose lower slopes us kids would play on swings hung from big trees not yet overwhelmed by the assaults of dumping which today would be deemed illegal on environmental grounds. Cylla Brook, running past the end of my street, my mum called "The Black Brook", its natural sandstone silt overwhelmed by coal dust. 

After playing on the end of a swing, my favourite occupation was getting dirty, climbing the coal tip and hunting for carboniferous fossils in shale, every bit as wondrous as hunting for marine life in a seaside rock pool, thanks to Grandpa Kimber's knowledge of the ground from which he'd earned his living for decades. John Kimber Senior was a mine Under-Manager. It was the climax of his forty years as an engineering team leader, sinking mine shafts in dozens of locations across South Wales after his return from America, where he learned to be a steel erector, making structures go up in the sky not down into the ground. My love of landscape later in life developed out of that fascination he shared with me for that only ever partly visible underside of mother earth. 

This love grew only as I travelled beyond the Valleys of my childhood, and learned to connect above and below. I was drawn by the nature of my schooling to the investigative art of science, in Physics and Chemistry, rather than Geology, yet I recall, when asked in the sixth form how I envisaged my future, it was as being an explorer of lands unknown that caught my imagination. I was not keen on Geography, uninspired by the Geography teacher. In those days this was the sole gateway to studying earth sciences, but Chemistry just grabbed me - thanks to great inspiring teachers - albeit just for a few years.

Grandpa Kimber was most put out when I was drawn from the path of pure science by the discovery of Psychology, Philosophy and Theology, in that order, interestingly enough from my present viewpoint. He was mildly horrified by my embrace of something more than token erastian Anglicanism, and threatened to disown me. My father too was disconcerted and tried to dissuade me without success. I just didn't fit in with family expectations, but eventually they got used to it and were grudgingly proud of me being different, standing up and being counted. They were both distinctive individualists.

That photo of Penallta and Dyffryn Street predates all my childhood place memories. It prompted me to 'look to the rock from which you were hewn' as the prophet Isaiah puts it. Growing up in the valley below Penallta colliery is an experience that sowed many seeds within me, that have taken generations to come to fruit as part of the richness of the life I have enjoyed. Great cause for thanksgiving.

On quite a different domestic note, yesterday's mission to buy a new mechanical lawnmower was unsuccessful, so this afternoon, after a paella lunch, prepared by me while Clare was at Riverside Market, including beans from St Catherine's churchyard garden, bought after the service, we went to B'nQ, and acquired a replacement machine for mowing the back lawn. It's actually identical to the one that didn't survive an encounter with the metal tube for mounting the washing line. Not very robust, but what you pay is what you get, unfortunately.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Garden outing

A warm sunny day, and time for a summer excursion with a picnic to Dyffryn House and gardens. There were many cars parked outside, and lots of families walking about enjoying the place, though the place is so spacious that it doesn't feel crowded. Each season we return, the variety and the colours of garden sections change as layouts are varied or new sections restored to use. It's one gigantic labour of love for all the enthusiastic National Trust volunteers who work there in so many ways to support full time staff and raise necessary funds. 

Last weekend, at our Golden wedding celebration, my cousin Ros presented us with a plant voucher to spend at Caerphilly Garden centre, plus another voucher for Afternoon High Tea for two, so after a few hours in the sun at Dyffryn, we drove to Caerphilly, and were treated to an enormous tea, with scones, cake and sandwiches. Had we known it would be quite so splendid we wouldn't have bothered with the picnic lunch as well! We came away with an Everlasting Sweet Pea, which can grow up the edge of the trellis in Clare's very varied and colourful flowerbed.

There wasn't much of interest to watch on TV apart from Olympic sport. Whilst I'm delighted that all those hard working British athletes are doing so well, the broadcasts sap more attention and energy than a bi-lingual crime drama with subtitles to watch, pumped along as they are by hysterically excited commentators working so hard to earn their crust. I better liked the days of my youth when broadcast sport commentaries (with the exception of horse racing) were delivered for the most part with far less emotion and wasted words.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Jobs done and a story of a lost city

This morning I wrote my Sunday sermon, then at lunchtime I was collected and taken to St Luke's for the sculptor's funeral. There was a congregation of well over a hundred. I found a reading from Exodus to use, praising people gifted as artists and craftsmen. His son gave an affectionate tribute and told a funny story that combined his Dad's artistic prowess with his ingenuity as a practical joker. This involved him doing a lifelike lightning sketch of his brother on the plaster of a wall, and concealing it behind loose wallpaper about to be stripped for redecorating, then letting his brother discover it, as if by magic, and teasing him about the ominous nature of the appearance of the image from nowhere. After the interment at Thornhill, I was taken home. Then, after a cup of tea and the rest of my lunch I went to the office for the rest of the afternoon to tidy up financial records and catch up with Julie and Ashley. 

In the evening Clare and I watched a TV documentary on Channel Five, which I'd not seen before, about the recent discovery of a 3000 year old lost city of Pharoah Rameses II, called Pi-Ramesses. It had once been a major military base on the banks of a Nile tributary. Once the tributary silted up, a replacement city was rebuilt on a river bank thirty miles away. Stones and monuments from the first city were moved, possibly via irrigation canals, to use at the new site. Sand and soil eventually covered the original site and its previous history forgotten. It's been used for over two millennia for farming, but modern ground penetrating radar has revealed the extensive layout of the original built environment. Select trial excavations have confirmed the marine and military industrial character of the city, and provided work for archaeologists to explore in depth for years to come. Such a fascinating scientific detective story to learn about. 

Removal of the rear of house chimney stack has progressed well this past few days, partly due to the crumbling mortar between the bricks making it easy to remove, without needing much hammering to separate them. All the debris has been manhandled to the ground, as there wasn't enough space to erect a chute. The back lane is barely wide enough to remove debris by wheelbarrow as well, so it's not been an easy job, but by tea-time today tiles covered the space vacated by the chimney and the new piece of gable end wall has been rendered with cement. We have more work to be done on our side next week, with the replacement of ancient iron guttering.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Pastoral round resumed

It was lovely to return to St German's this morning, celebrate their midweek Mass and be reunited with people I got to know during my long stay locum there. Among the ten strong congregation was a man and his son I hadn't met before, and I was told they'd been attending twice weekly over past five weeks. I was told that they are staying at Linx House on Newport Road suggesting they are asylum seekers, but nobody knows much about them as they are Spanish speakers from El Salvador, with little English.

So, for the second time since returning home, I found myself with an opportunity to speak Spanish and not in a restaurant or a supermarket, and that gave me great pleasure. We were able to converse easily for a short while, and they were pleased for this small linguistic respite. James, a long standing church member, already took the initiative to acquire and prepare a special service card of the text of the Mass in Spanish, for them to use. My heart burst with pride, thinking of this hospitable gesture.

I stopped for a while and chatted with people in the church hall day centre. The electricity supply had cut out, due to the upgrading of 50 year old circuits in the caretaker's house next door. The staff were wondering how soon it would take to rectify, as they were in the middle of cooking lunch for a couple of dozen people, and discussing the procurement of meals from the local chippie, if it went on for much longer. It all happened without warning. I don't think anyone recalled how interconnected the hall and caretaker's house circuitry were after all that time.

I returned home to have lunch with Clare, and walked over to a house near St Luke's for a bereavement visit. James Done, the man whose funeral I've been asked to take was a local sculptor, renowned for statues of comedian Tommy Cooper in Caerphilly and boxer Johnny Owen in Merthyr Tydful. I was surprised to learn from his widow that he'd spent much of his creative life making high quality porcelain figurines for Wedgwood and Villeroy & Boch, even more surprised to learn he had no formal artistic training, except as an opera singer. I guess some people's work demonstrates unequivocally how gifted they are, so they don't need qualification. I imagine that St Luke's will be pretty crowded for the service on Friday.

People sometimes remark on how busy I seem to be, from what they read on this blog. But it's hard to describe the lengthy periods of idle leisure which punctuate flurries of activity. There's a bit more to do here at home than there was in Spain last month, and the change in activity as well as climate is enjoyable.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Travel marvels

Kath, Anto and Rhiannon drove Rachel and Jasmine to Birmingham International Airport for the first leg of her home run to Phoenix at five this morning. Their car journey continued south to Portsmouth for a ferry to Bilbao. From there they'll drive to Toledo on their way to Sta Pola for a well deserved three weeks holiday. The cost of the trip for the three of them is roughly equivalent to three peak time airfares plus holiday car hire, and gives them the advantage of enjoying stopovers in new Spanish cities each trip. We benefit from their photographs and visitor reports. Owain is off to Berlin to catch up with friends and colleagues there this coming weekend. No doubt we catch him up on Instagram.

While we were having breakfast, a team of scaffolders arrived to erect a structure in our and next door's garden to make access possible for work on the shared chimney stack at the end of the rear extension to adjoining houses. A few months ago we agreed with Sarah next door that it was time to demolish the chimney stack and re-make the roof gable end, as neither house has used the fireplaces since central heating was introduced, probably in the sixties. In addition, the stack is badly in need of pointing and may indeed be structurally unsafe, since it's letting the damp into both houses. It took the team just an hour and a half to complete the job. Demolition starts tomorrow.

In the afternoon I took Clare to the Heath Hospital to visit her opthalmology consultant. We were there a good two hours, with various tests, and discussions. Mr Rajkumar gave us lots of time for discussion of the findings. He's booked Clare in for two more surgical procedures to mitigate the impact of her glaucoma condition this autumn, unfortunately, I am booked to be away in Spain on duty at this time, but we don't yet know the dates. Once we do there are some plans to be made.

Around six we had a message from Rachel to say that she'd landed at Newark New Jersey, and was waiting for her connecting flight to Phoenix, expected to be an hour late. Just before bed, another message to say she was home, altogether about eighteen hours of travel, and she has to work tomorrow. Kath, Anto and Rhiannon land in Bilbao at breakfast time tomorrow after a good meal and a night's sleep on board. Their sea journey is less than a sixth of Rachel and Jasmine's. Amazing to consider how many weeks an ocean voyage and a rail journey across America would have taken a century ago. How quickly the human race has adapted socially, economically and politically to such mobility, and what extraordinary changes for better and for worse have come about as a result.

There are ten thousand Olympic athletes in Rio to compete at the moment. What an amazing feat of international logistics and co-operation to get them all there. The news is dominated by Olympic events right now. I am trying not to get sucked into spectatorship as the commentariat excels in endless trivia, sound bytes and snippets of heroic stories, not to mention statistics of every kind. This drains sport of any sustainable interest as far as I'm concerned. There's nothing much else worth watching on telly. It's a matter of hanging on until broadcast schedules normalise again.

I spent a couple of hours this evening digitising some of Clare's collection of old Colvill family photos. Her brother Eddie inherited them, but had not completed the job of digitising them before he died. Many are in quite good condition, dating back to the 1890s. Some are of Clare's father Francis, when he was a young marine engineer, working in the North East of England. He was nearly sixty when she was born. As a young merchant sailor he spent time ashore in Cardiff, and attended the farewell dinner given for Scott of the Antarctic at the Great Western Hotel, St Mary Street in Cardiff in June 1910 before he set sail on his ill-fated expedition in the Terra Nova. A couple of the photos show him in his dress uniform. This collection offers a tantalising window into the past, worth further research.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Unwarranted intruder

The house resumes its quiet and empty countenance now that the rest of the family has gone its separate ways. But there's cleaning, washing, re-stocking the larder, a funeral to prepare for and work routine to ease back into. I went in to the office in the afternoon, updated Libre Office on three computers there and delivered the spare Nexus tablet to Ian, which I prepared for new use at the end of last week. It took ages to do as it required five successive Android updates to complete before it was ready for use. 

Jasmine left a drawer full of clothes behind, so a Skype call was necessary to sort items for mailing to Arizona, and those to keep for next time. Late evening we had a call to say that Rachel and Kath had made a recording of our Golden Wedding anniversary tribute song. Then, within minutes the MP3 file was emailed and we were listening again. Such a wonderful souvenir, along with all the photos.

When I came to install the same Libre Office update on home computers, one completed routinely, but the other announced a warning about the installation file, issued by 'Bytefence', which I'd never heard of before. I checked the installed programs list and found a Bytefence app was installed there the day after I returned from Spain. How it got there, I have no idea. It didn't have my consent to be installed. I googled the name and found it was a known piece of Anti-Malware software, but some security critics noted that it plays around with default browser settings in manner that could leave a vulnerability to security exploits. It uninstalled easily. Doing this showed it had changed some default browser settings. How this came to install itself on my laptop without me knowing is something of a worry, as I didn't visit any sites that I don't use regularly. What am I missing?

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Family Sunday

I was awake again at dawn this morning, but the girls remained fast asleep in their tent. I thought I was due to celebrate the eight o'clock at St John's Canton, so Clare got up to come with me, to have the rest of the morning free with the family. We took with us our top table flower arrangement from yesterday, still fresh enough to place at the foot of the altar. In my sermon for the day I mentioned the fact that we chose the Transfiguration Feast as a day to get married, as an act of defiant hope made at the height of the Cold War, since it's also the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It loomed over us then as does global warming and terrorism today.

Fr Phelim was there at St John's, just opening up as we arrived. I'd read my duty schedule wrongly, but that didn't matter, as it gave us an opportunity to be together and worship, which doesn't happen very often. Then I did my assigned duties, celebrating the Eucharist at St John's, nine fifteen and St Luke's at the ten thirty. Then, another lunch out in the garden, followed by a family photograph, as we'd forgotten to take one yesterday.
Then we went for walk in Llandaff Fields at attempted to take another family photograph - only this time, not with my DSLR, as I'd forgotten to re-insert the SD card after transferring the first few photos, so Kath perched her iPhone on my camera tripod and took a photo of us all sitting on the grass.

Rachel and Jasmine were returning to Kenilworth with Kath, Anto and Rhiannon for the last two nights before flying to Arizona early in the morning from Birmingham International. Packing and taking leave of us seemed very hard to do, and we lingered for ages, making music around the piano. The bonds of family affection are so hard to relinquish, after such a rich, intense weekend of meeting a remembering. Parting is such sweet sorrow, but life must continue on its different paths, thankful for all we've shared, grateful to God for so many blessings, entrusting ourselves to who knows what next?

Saturday, 6 August 2016

The big day

At seven this morning Rhiannon and Jasmine emerged from their tent bedroom and invaded our bed for a cuddle, as their mothers did thirty five years ago. What a lovely way to begin our Golden Wedding anniversary day.

After breakfast, with a car full of party stuff, Clare and I drove to the Old Church Rooms community hall in Radyr, which we'd hired for our celebration. The key code we'd been given for the main door didn't work, so we had to call the caretaker to let us in. We arrived in time to welcome and brief the reputed Elgano caterering team, looking after us, and once this was done, we returned home to don our party clothes, just as the others were leaving with all the materials to decorate the hall festively.

Owain went directly to Radyr by train and joined the others there at the hall. Ann and Anneke came all the way by train from Felixstowe, also our university friend Nan arrived by train from Swindon, having been given a lift there by car from Devon. Nephew Nick came down from Edinburgh, via Exeter, where he went to see his mother Daphne, now in a care home nearby. The longest and most complex journey was nephew Julian, from Dubai to Cork to Bristol by various aircraft, then to Weston super Mare by car to pick up his mother, Pauline, my elder sister, who came with my niece Nicky. Sister June sadly felt unable to travel from London, given her limited mobility these days. None my father's siblings survive, just Mary the wife of the youngest, who also cannot travel distances these days. We are now the older generation, even if we don't feel it!

Friends came that we'd made over the years, my Best Man Mike and his wife Gail from university days sat at the top table with us. Graham, who was at St Mike's the same time as me and his wife Eleri whom I knew from SCM in those days. Martin, whom I prepared for baptism in my first curacy at St Andrew's Caerphilly and later became a priest, with his spouse Chris. 

From Birmingham student chaplaincy days, Angela with daughter Lydia and grand daughter Becky, a near neighour in Bournbrook Road. Her youngest two children grew up with ours. 

Richard, Curate in St Pauls when I arrived and his wife Jo. Jane, who lived in St Agnes Vicarage attic in our time, along with three dance colleagues making performances with her friend Charlie. Clare's friend Marion came, with her daughter Emily plus two of her eight grandchildren, Em was Kath's best friend in primary school. 

From Halesowen days, came former churchwarden Ken and his wife Joan now living in Devon where Ken is once more a churchwarden, plus retired local GP Richard and his wife Sue, whose daughter Pru made our marvellous golden anniversary cake.

There was nobody there from our Geneva days, nor from our time at St John's, although some sent cards. Our newest friend present was Diana from the Ignatian prayer group and her husband Peter.  All in all, with immediate family there were forty four of us. And
 the hall was alive with conversations, as a special playlist representing the sound track of our lives together played in the background.

Mike made a speech, and played us a piece of Bach he'd learned for the occasion on the hall's electric piano. As he said, Bach can sound good on any instrument. Kath presented us with a custom made photo album containing photos she'd acquired from family archives and other sources, covering every aspect of the fifty three years since we met. An amazing and delightful feat of editing. Then she with Rachel on guitar sang a song they'd jointly written celebrating the story of our life together, called 'Children of the Sixties'. They'd managed to write this and rehearse it in the few days they were together, and sing it so beautifully together. It was so touching.

By half past four, all our guests were leaving, and after tidying up, the family went home and continued to talk, eat and drink well until dusk, and the girls' bed-time. What a lovely happy big day.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Home gathering

Yesterday, Rachel drove to Thatcham Berkshire, to collect Jasmine from her other grandparents' home, and not long after I got back from the office, they arrived. It's amazing to see how much Jasmine has grown nine months. She'll be ten in November. She's learned how to crochet in school, and has already developed an eye for making things without needing a pattern. Within an hour of acquiring some wool from Clare, she'd crocheted an angel.

Today there were lots of preparations to make for our Golden Wedding anniversary party tomorrow, buying wine, flowers etc. Kath, Anto and Rhiannon arrived early evening, and we sat down together to a pasta supper which I'd cooked, out in the garden. Clare had borrowed a tent, and with Jasmine's help erected it on the lawn, to give our grand daughters their own special adventure place to sleep while the house was occupied by grown-ups. We talked, ate, drank too much, and later even made a little music. Things we always do when we gather. Owain joins us tomorrow.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

National Eisteddfod at Abergavenny

Yesterday was a day of catching up with Rachel and Clare, washing, updating computers after two months away. I also went into the office to catch up with Ashley, and be issued with a new Blackberry PRIV office mobile phone. It's another of these big Android phones, with the added bigness of a neat slide out keyboard. I'm not sure how I am going to get on with this. It goes with our BT business account package that we have upgrades every eighteen months whether or not this is really needed, and they don't do more of the same, so it means getting used to a new device whether you want to or not. 

Today, all tech stuff went on hold, as the three of us joined the Menter Iaith coach to go to the Welsh National Eisteddfod, held in Abergavenny for the first time in over a hundred years. The Maes was in the riverside meadow parkland, and was very busy indeed. Two hundred and fifty exhibitor spaces for business and charities were all taken up. Instead of the Pafilion Binc circus tent housing the main stage for concerts and competitions, a new simple aluminium boxy structure purpose built, accommodating an audience of two thousand, acoustically superior, and affording great views of the stage from every side.

I was passing by the churches' tent, just as Morning Prayer was about to start, so I stopped and joined in. Fr Mark Soady, the Vicar of St Mary's Priory church in the town shared in the service with two others I didn't recognise. Isaiah six was read and reflected upon in Welsh by a woman Minister, and I was able to follow most of what she said, about the love for stories, the Word of God and the calling to tell the Word. I was reminded of Welsh non-conformist preaching I occasionally heard in my youth. It's a key theme, in a culture with such a love for words. I used to think this was over emphasised, but the older I've got, and the more I've experienced the devaluation of of language as a dark negative force working against linguistic variety and creativity, the more I have entered into this side of my religious heritage. I don't think I was born to be a preacher or an orator, but life in ministry has made this a part of me and my calling to interpret the Gospel in whatever way opens up to share.

This year's other innovation was the introduction of bi-lingual signage and daily programme schedules. This has been met with misgivings by the 'Cymraeg yn unig' diehards, but it has meant that many more monoglot English speakers from both sides of Offa's dyke have come to visit, and, most imnportantly have been delighted by the experience. This must be one of the world's richest festivals of culture in terms of its variety of media and performances, and the age range of participants. There's no doubt that the Eisteddfod movement builds and nourishes a stronger sense of community and identity. 

The sense of place, and the value of each and every place in Wales, together with love for its many landscapes, encourages care for the environment. Waste management facilities across the site were well organised, and the litter picking team employed had almost no work to do. To be at an open air event with tens of thousands an hour eating takeaway food from disposable plates and drinking from paper cups or plastic bottles, and the ground is litter free, is a remarkable testimony to Eisteddfodwyr. Litter strewn streets after public events or beaches, or country picnic areas is symptomatic of the loss of shared values now plagues society, making life more insecure and less safe than it needs to be, for the health of all. 'Without a vision the people perish' said the writer of the Book of Proverbs. With a shared vision, people flourish. When will the world learn?

Monday, 1 August 2016

A difficult home journey

I was up early, running a load of washing, taking out the rubbish, cleaning the kitchen, as soon as I'd had breakfast and prepared a picnic to take with me. At eleven, Peter and Charlotte came around for the handover of house keys, and then take me to the station for the Barcelona train. It's an enjoyable journey as the line runs close to the sea along several sections. There was a delay of fifteen minutes at Salou, but I had plenty of time in hand to get the airport train. I'd quite forgotten, arriving at Terminal Two, that no Vueling flights leave from there. The company have an information booth but it was closed and flight indicator panels displayed no evidence of the airline's existence. 

I began to wonder if they'd gone bust and I'd not picked up on the news. I tried Googling on my Blackberry, but it was on strike, refusing to connect to a network, because the roaming contract extension expired yesterday night, so I sailed close to panicking. I asked a man with an official badge, and realised I'd forgotten about Terminal One being the base for Vueling flights. I quickly took the shuttle bus for the ten minute ride, and found a four hundred metre queue of people checking bags in at a row of twenty Vueling desks. Thankfully I still had time in hand before check-in was meant to start for the Cardiff flight. I showed my ticket to the queue manager and was allowed to join it. With almost all of the check-in desks running, the queue moved quickly. As I moved, it built up behind me again. Going through security was even quicker, and then I had a full two hours to wait for the flight to be called.

Terminal One has a vast roof and glass outer walls giving views of the airport in each direction, and this encloses half a dozen boarding areas, misleadingly called 'gates'. Each 'gate' has a score of actual boarding access points. In the middle of this is huge shopping mall. Straight after security, there's passport control, then you're led down an escalator into the shopping mall. You walk through this to get to 'gates' A B and C, but D and E gate signage is less frequent and more obscure. I had to walk around the entire mall and re-check, before realising access to D and E 'gates' was obtained by going back up the escalator and walking to a separate corridor a kilometre long, containing fifteen boarding access points in a row. The terminal was designed with high passenger capacity in mind, and although it's clearly busy with summer traffic, while I was waiting it seemed quite empty most of the time. 

The flight left on time and arrived five minutes early. Once we crossed the Pyrenees there was cloud all the way, unbroken until the plane was on its landing run. Aberthaw power station as the first thing visible in an hour and half of flying. It had been raining hard for two hours, Ashley reported, when he rang me in  baggage reclaim. My case arrived soaking wet, suggesting that no protective cover had been used on the short journey from plane to conveyor belt. Thankfully, I had rainwear tucked away in my rucksack, where its sole purpose to date has been as a cushion to protect my laptop.

On the airport shuttle was a Spanish family, coming for a short holiday in Cardiff, trying to decipher their computer generated itinerary. I plucked up my courage and spoke to them in Spanish. I too had trouble with their itinerary, which suggested they take a bus from outside the Philharmonic (now closed) to get to the Travelodge at the Friary in Greyfriars Road, fine except that the itinerary didn't say "Take any bus", but mentioned only the fact that this was the T4 bus stop - destination Newtown, and not about the appear on the bus indicator board any time before tomorrow. I took them to the stop once we'd been dropped off in Custom House Street, and the next bus heading for the Kingsway was fifteen minutes away, and the weary kids were beginning to complain, so I proposed a taxi, took them around to the station, explained to a driver what they wanted, and then made my way back to Westgate Street, where I didn't have to wait long for a 64. Needless to say, given the puddle strewn pavements, my case was very wet by the time I reached home, and dampness was penetrating clothes, though fortunately not any of my books. What a welcome back to Wet Wales!