Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Accompanying Travellers

Yesterday was a quiet uneventful day, apart from an afternoon walk in the rain to St Catherine's to open up for a group of women who wanted to arrange flowers and decorate for the funeral of a fourteen year old girl from a Traveller family. They used mainly pink flowers and pink ribbon for bows on pew ends, giving the church a festive appearance as if for a wedding. It took a couple of hours to complete, but when they'd finished, the church looked beautiful. Much thought had been given to preparing the place, and to planning the service, as I discovered over the past week of making arrangements with a young cousin of the deceased in charge of making everything happen. He was impressively well organised.

This morning, I was picked up and driven across town to the Shirenewton Caravan park, the home base for the Traveller community in the Wentloog coastal plain east of Cardiff, to join the family vigil over the girl's white casket and pray with them. The park was crowded with cars, vans, and several lorries carrying floral tributes. Over a hundred people of all ages gathered outside the family home waiting in silence while I prayed inside. Then I was asked to pray with those gathered outside, before the casket was closed and brought outside by six young bearers, brothers and cousins all smartly dressed in grey, wearing matching pink ties. Other male mourners also wore pink ties. We walked with the casket through the site to the hearse at the main gate, a slow 250 metres, for the six young bearers going bravely all the way without respite. I was ferried back to St Catherine's ahead of the cortege, to make sure all was ready. Already mourners were arriving from places other than the park. By midday about three hundred people were in church, and we were able to start on time. 

Dominic, one of our Parish placement students joined me in taking the service, sharing the readings and prayers, and we had a choir of five to sing the hymns, as the congregation was unused to singing hymns in church, we were told. I read a brief eulogy prepared by a family member, plus a couple of moving thoughtful poems written for the occasion by a family member. A couple of thoughtfully chosen Country and Western songs were played on a portable karaoke machine, which produced the only awkward anomaly in the service. The device was being controlled from a smartphone. On two occasions the signal dropped, and when control was re-established it broadcast a loud digital 'Connected' message, during the the readings. Fortunately Dominic had enough presence of mind not to be distracted. It was definitely a Keep Calm and Carry on' moment. 

Afterwards, when we arrived a Western Cemetery ahead of the cortege the place was already crowded with mourners. Another group from further afield, had gone there directly, perhaps aware of the large number that would be attending church. The route taken by the cortege passed outside Ty Gwyn special school which the girl had attended since she was three. I was told that pupils had created a special 'photo wall' in remembrance of their departed classmate. Such an outpouring of love for the child by family and community in every way. It was a privilege to play a small part in this with them.

While we waited for the cortege to arrive, we sheltered from the drizzle in the cemetery manager's office and donned our robes there. He told us that he's now responsible for four Council run cemeteries across the city, and has to oversee interments in them all, which must present problems sometimes. The work team preparing for burials is a quarter of the size now that it was a decade ago, and probably not as strong, as workers enlisted when they were a lot younger come up towards retirement and may not be able to do the job physically as they used to. Redeploying them can be problematic, even more so when the pool of manual workers employed has been drastically reduced by budget cuts.

As many as five hundred people were around the grave for the interment. Doves and balloons were released, after the Committal, and many pink flowers were cast into the grave along with pink ties, shed by gentlemen mourners present. The mourners themselves filled in the grave once the formalities were over. We didn't stay for that, as we could have been there another hour in the drizzle to no good purpose. The crowd was quiet and orderly, occupied with comforting and supporting each other, having played our part, there was nothing more we could offer. Many children were present, quiet and well behaved standing with their parents or siblings, no fidgeting or messing about, used to being included. 

It struck me throughout how remarkable this gathering of people was. Despite the weather, regardless of appearances, I felt I could have been in a crowd at a public event in Spain. Clare made an insightful comment when I mentioned this to her later. "Isn't this a community used to living a great deal more of their lives together in the open air?" It's a community which sticks to its traditions, and treasures its distinctiveness, even as it evolves its way of life in response to new challenges to earn a living. Some still move around, though many now live more settled domestic lives, except in the world of work that still calls for them to move around and be active outdoors.

It's been a memorable day of thought provoking experience, another first for me after forty eight years of public ministry. 

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Congregational choreography

Up at first light, to be sure of getting out of the house to walk to St Nicholas' Kenilworth for the eight o'clock Communion service for the feast of Candlemas, which is being observed in the CofE today. It's next week in the Church in Wales calendar. Interestingly the 'Sunday Worship' smartphone app gives Candlemas readings as an alternative for this week and next, as the fortieth day of Christmastide is this Thursday, so it can be observed in anticipation or retrospectively. It keeps us on our toes, I guess.

The Reverend Stella, a confident and outgoing priest, seemed a little tentative about keeping two dozen eight o'clockers on their toes, when at the start of the service she asked communicants to approach the rail and fill it from left to right, instead of the other way round. Exit from the high altar through a side chapel is to the right, and this simple logical measure could possibly serve to decongest the area before the sanctuary, so long as people standing in the choir stayed put until there was a pause in the flow from the rail. 

Habits formed over decades of routine worship are not easy to change. Success depends on people's ability to hear and obey one week, remember the next, and so on. It presupposes a degree of awareness of others which is going to vary depending on who's in the congregation, and who follows whom up to the rail. Having a steward place to direct worshippers may or may not be helpful, depending on their experience and tactfulness. Giving choreographic directions to a congregation isn't easy at the best of times. I sympathised with the Vicar's nervousness, something I recall well when trying to do something differently during my life in charge of a Parish. 

The change seemed to work as proposed. Perhaps there'd been a survey or a discussion leading to this? It's such a small thing, but an early, said service in an English Parish church is a model of respect and good manners. Participants, whether they are complete strangers or have known each other at church for a lifetime, give each other space and silence to be completely inward, engaged with the liturgy as much or as little as they desire. The peace is exchanged, as it has been for some years at St Nicholas', done briefly with warmth, courtesy and few words. I wish it were the same at every church service.

I enjoy the early morning walk to church here as the sun rises. The Reverend Stella preaches a modest length, well prepared sermon. Early birds don't get Liturgy Lite. Talking of which, on my way up the avenue of lime trees to the church, I saw several thrushes on the ground, plus a pair of blackbirds, one with a worm in its beak just tugged out of the ground. I haven't seen that since family camping days.

The house was quiet for a good hour or more after I returned, before the family awoke and came down for breakfast, well brunch. Then it was time for me to head back to Wales, as early afternoon they were going to Coventry to meet a student film crew, making a music video to accompany one of the songs on Sonrisa's forthcoming album, being crafted by Anto and the band in the attic sound studio above their house. It rained all the way back to Cardiff, but the roads weren't crowded.

Looking at news and photos on Facebook later, I was reminded that this afternoon was Archbishop Barry's farewell at Llandaff Cathedral. The place was packed with clergy and representatives from all over the diocese. Even if I'd been able to get home in time, I doubt if there'd have been a free space for me, and I wasn't aware in advance of how I might get one. Some time ago I decided to settle for sending him a personal letter of appreciation and farewell. He'll certainly remain in my prayers as he makes the transition from being a very public servant of the church to private citizen who happens to be a retired priest. May God bless and prosper him in his new way of life.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

House hunting in the dark

I had most of today free, as Rhiannon was out socialising with her friends, and was invited for a pizza supper. It meant I was free to take a long walk into the countryside, across Abbey Fields and beyond the castle, further along on the Millennium footpath we took for our Christmas family outing. On the way I took some photos of little gulls and moorhens contending with the ice at one end of the lake, and got a good close up of the heron on guard in the same position as I snapped it seven weeks ago. 

On the return leg, I followed a metalled country lane back to the edge of Kenilworth. In a couple of places the periodic sound of gunshot issue from woodland, but particularly on the approach to the main road, as there are several coppices overlooking a ponds. Beaters with gun dogs were at work, with a few hunters pursuing wildfowl. One dog was dragging a Canada Goose away to cover, with a young handler struggling to wrestle away the dead bird. So strange, all this within a couple of hundred metres of suburban houses. 

I had some shopping to do before returning and walked into town. Altogether I walked five and a half miles. My knee was fine, but my ankle hurt more than expected. Recovering from the one seems to have highlighted a problem with the other. I cooked and ate lunch eventually at four. At five, Kath rang to say they were on their way back from Stockton on Tees and should arrive by eight. She accepted my offer to prepare a meal for them, so I cooked again.

At six I had a message summoning me to collect Rhiannon. I found the street without difficulty, but then found it hard to identify the house, if they had house numbers. The number sequence, seemed erratic. I called Rhiannon to explain, but she didn't answer. Then Kath rang, worried because Rhiannon texted her to say I hadn't arrived. After explaining to Kath, I texted Rhiannon to explain. She sent a message describing where the house was, but her identifying landmark feature wasn't visible in the dark. Then she phoned me and I spoke to her friend's Dad. 

Fortunately, I'd stopped just 50m down, over the road from the house, within range of the postcode indicator on Google maps. Despite street lights, it was in shadow. By this time, her friend's dad saw my car stopped, but couldn't initially identify it from afar, as orange sodium street lamps mask some colours. He walked her across the road and were soon on our way home, half an hour late. If only street name panels with numbers and direction indicators were the norm here in the UK, as they are in some European countries. 

Kath and Anto were fortunate to have a clear home run and arrived earlier than  expected. After a bad night in a Premier Inn with faulty heating unit noises all night and scarcity of towels, both were tired and went to bed early, just after Rhiannon.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Death in the family

As I was packing for my weekend visit to Kenilworth, I had an email from sister June to tell me that our Auntie Ivy had died in the Heath Hospital aged 104 having outlived her eldest son Gareth by two years and three months. She was married to my father's nearest younger sibling Roy, who died just before world war two ended, leaving her with two young sons to raise. She subsequently remarried and had sixty years together with her second husband Bill. Of my parents generation, only Auntie Mary remains alive, and at great age, she's in a nursing home near Warwick.

It seems Ivy had a stroke about ten days ago. Her younger son Alan returned from Nice and kept vigil with her in hospital. Her passing marks the end of an era. Sixty five years ago I first visited their house in Cadoxton, Barry, a memory that remains vivid, of my cousin practising the piano, of a fish tank containing pet terrapins, and Barry's golden sandy seashore. It was a thirty mile train journey to Barry from Ystrad Mynach. Strange to say, I can't remember if we visited for the day or stayed there. In those early years before post-war reconstruction got going, Barry was striving hard to pick up as a holiday resort. It seemed a cleaner and brighter place than grey Ystrad Mynach with its permanent film of coal dust over everything and acrid smoke in the air. I can remember wishing that we went to Barry more often than we ever did. 

Sister June and Alan have remained friends and stayed in contact with each other throughout their lives, so he was in touch with her by phone while his mother was in hospital. I emailed several cousins, phoned sister Pauline  with the news, and sent a message of condolence to Alan himself, before setting out for Kenilworth finally, at midday.

There was no early deadline so I drove at a leisurely pace, listening to lunchtime programmes on the radio, munching a couple of sandwiches, rather than stopping to eat. I had an hour or so with Kath and Anto before Rhiannon returned from school, ready for the respite of the weekend. We had a meal together before Kath and Anto set off for the three and a half hour drive up the A46 and M1 to get to Stockton on Tees, where their two performances take place tomorrow.

Rhiannon went to her drama group for an hour after supper, in St Nicholas' school across the road from home, the one she used to attend. For me, a quiet evening for me, mostly on my own, as Rhiannon just wanted to relax in her room, sending messages to her friends on her tablet, as one expects a teenage girl to do nowadays, only surfacing to request a toasted bagel before turning in for the night. Another quiet day for me tomorrow, as she has plans to got out with her friends during the day. It's important just to be there for her as and when needed. In the meanwhile, I get an opportunity to relax and re-charge my batteries.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Tight parking

Instead of walking to St John's to celebrate their midweek Eucharist this morning, I took the car, so that afterwards I could take it to Qwik-Fit, two streets away to get a dud sidelight bulb replaced, prior to my trip to Kenilworth tomorrow. I had to park in a tight space on the street outside the garage, the Golf manages this very well indeed, given the patience to execute a manoeuvre involving many turns of the steering wheel. 

The mechanic who fetched the car from the street and drove it into the service bay complemented me, and said that he'd not attempted the reverse procedure to get the car out of the space, but simply opened the door of the car in front, disengaged the hand brake and pushed it forward far enough for him to drive out easily. I assume the other car awaited collection, or a service, one for which he had keys, or it was unlocked. We laughed together about this. It didn't take long to replace the dud bulb. The guys remember the car from other occasions I've gone there over the past year. I suspect it may be one of the few 25 year old cars they deal with, and one which mechanics are fond of, for its robust durable qualities.

After lunch, more work on funeral preparation for next week, and a visit to members of a bereaved family in the former family home within walking distance, in the Parish, where their matriarch had lived for most of her life, until her last few weeks in hospital. This will be my fifth funeral in three weeks. I returned to cook supper, having promised to email a copy of the order of service to look over. I sat down after supper for the excellent 'Winterwatch' wildlife programme on BBC2. I saw it through, and nodded off during the next programme, and woke up after midnight, realising I hadn't emailed the text. I'd already made a start on it earlier, so it didn't take too long to finish and send. I just hope the 'send' timestamp isn't noticed, and the recipients assume from that I must be working extra hard, when in reality, I'm prone to nod off.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Conversion, St Paul, and the open church

Back at St German's again this morning for the midweek 'class Mass', with a dozen communicants and two dozen children, telling the children the story of St Paul's conversion. Today's his feast day. The horrid catarrh bug I've been harbouring since the weekend made it a bit of a struggle to give of my best, as singing wasn't easy and my nose kept running. 

Afterwards a young woman came into church and sat quietly in the nave. I greeted her as I was leaving, and she asked if it was OK to come in and just pray. I told her she was welcome whenever she found the church was open for services or housework, as it's there for everybody. She told me that her interest in spirituality had grown in recent years since she'd learned about Buddhist meditation. What this did was to kindle her interest in Christian faith, as she knew she'd been baptized as a child. I think she'd taken a break from her work in a nearby hostel for the homeless.

We chatted for a while about journeying in faith, and I reassured her she'd always be welcome just to come sit and enjoy the peace and beauty without needing to join in a service, unless she felt she wanted to. How many people's path to conversion down the ages, have started like this, waiting in silence in a peaceful empty church? I wonder.

After this cheering encounter, I made my way home, to lie low for the rest of the day, in the hope of seeing off this miserable ailment. I have two funerals booked for the coming week and a further one for the following, once a date can be settled upon. With Fr Mark still on leave, there are extra duties to cover in February now, so taking care of myself and not overdoing it has to be a priority when I'm not working.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Funeral oversight

Yesterday, the beginnings of a head cold laid me low and kept me indoors. This morning a funeral at St German's got me out of the house and in church by ten, functional, but needing to make an effort to give of my best. As has become almost obligatory these days, the family arranged hymns with the funeral director and had a special service leaflet printed. Normally, this is not a problem, even if the choice of hymns is tiresomely repetitive, and not what I'd have chosen if consulted for suggestions. 

The arrangements made by a bereaved family are usually made in a priest's absence if a funeral being planned is not of a regular church member.  The choice of an officiating minister may not have been considered by the next of kin, but rather left to the funeral director to phone around and find someone who's free, if they don't get lucky first time, asking the local Vicar. Often there's no opportunity for a full discussion, so arrangements are often presented to a cleric as a fait accompli. It's a fact of life and death in a city these days, something that has to be worked with, rather than fought against.

On this occasion, I was completely caught out. The second hymn choice as 'Ava Maria' (literally) and when I received the notification sheet from the funeral arranger, I took this to be a reference to a well known Marian hymn which appears in popular modern hymnals, rather than the classic text sung as an anthem to a melody either by Gounod or Schubert. Either way, I was mistaken. The leaflet printed the text of what I took to be a Marian devotional poem I'd never seen before, whose lengthy verse and metrical structure made it unlikely to find music that would make it singable.

After a quick discussion with Brian our organist, we agreed that hymn books should be given out to the congregation, to sing a Marian hymn which was less unlikely to be familiar, and I would read the un-singable text as well. We explained this to the chief mourners, who seemed somewhat bemused by the issue, possibly because they were in any case totally unfamiliar with all hymnody and just going the motions of doing what was recommended for such an occasion. They were at ease with this idea and so we proceeded. The poem wasn't easy to sight read. It didn't represent a high point in artistry with words. I hope I gave it my best effort, given how thick headed I felt due to the cold. In the end, all was well, and after the burial at Thornhill, several people expressed their appreciation, which was a relief.

It's extremely rare for me to get caught out like this. If only I'd spotted the possible anomaly and then checked it out during the bereavement visit. But by that time, text checking and printing had already taken place, as I understood. But whoever in the family had checked may have thought it all looked correct without any understanding of the content. I've never had this happen dealing with wedding arrangements. 

Admittedly, wedding preparation takes far longer. It's often discussed with a wedding planner, and then submitted to the officiating minister for approval, so anomalies can more easily be spotted. At funerals, there are often quirky choices of accompanying music, but only occasionally of hymns. It's astonishing that so many funeral requests still come to clergy, even in the face of competition from humanist, non-religious celebrants. There's rarely enough time to do the pastoral occasion justice, as the period between death and funeral, albeit increasingly lengthy these days, is so busy for those responsible for arrangements. Even so, in future I will be sure to double check the hymns arranged, with the next of kin, in person, just in case.

I was home again in time for lunch. Clare had cooked a curry, as we were to eat our main meal in the middle of the day, rather than the evening. Later I went on errands to Post Office and bank before heading into town to walk back home again through Bute Park. All morning and right through the funeral, Cardiff was shrouded in low level mist, so it was gratifying that the sky was clear while I was out walking, just as the sun was setting and birds were making their evensong. Some I could identify, but others were intriguingly unfamiliar. I have a lot more still to learn about the denizens of our city parks. 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

The mystery of change

I was on duty in Catherine's again this chilly morning celebrating the eight o'clock Eucharist with five others, and then after breakfast made my way to St German's via Lidl's in East Tyndal Street, so that I didn't have to call in there later on my way home. Thirty of us celebrated St Agnes Day in style, and it gave me an opportunity to recall the work of the parish mission outreach centres set up right across the southern arc of Cardiff Bay during its period of rapid population growth and industrial expansion in the nineteenth century. 

Contemporary parishes have far fewer resources or wealthy patrons nowadays, to undertake so many ambitious community projects, more than a dozen in new areas of artisan dwellings. Today churches may still take the right kind of initiative, focusing on current areas of need and social vulnerability, but in partnership with local government and big voluntary agencies more often than not. It's a much more difficult task to bring to fruit. It's a great achievement that St German's parish hall can function as an elderly persons' day centre during the week, offering different services to people in the locality and further afield. This represents decades of imaginative hard work.

After the Mass there was a delicious three course festive lunch attended by thirty people in the parish hall, which I stayed for, a real church family affair. I was delighted Father Roy came along and joined us, as it gave us an opportunity to catch up on the news. He's still very much part of the church family here despite being retired nearly five years.

Someone asked me over lunch if I'd been at the Cathedral yesterday for Jo Penberthy's consecration as Bishop for St David's diocese. I had to admit that I knew it was going to happen, but didn't know when, until I saw photos on Facebook yesterday afternoon. All too often these days, momentous events in the life of the church flow past without me noticing. There's not much a retired cleric can contribute, without any voting franchise, power or responsibility, apart from blessing and approving good things when they happen. 

I suppose I might notice if anything seriously retrograde happened in the affairs of the church. There are always going to be minor set-backs. I remain stubbornly convinced that the evolution of the church in faithful response to the changing environment in each succeeding era will continue at its own pace, the pace the Holy Spirit sets. In my lifetime, a paradigm shift took place in relation to the participation of women in ordained ministry. I wonder if we're in the throes of turmoil leading up to another paradigm shift and change of consensus about the nature of the church, ministry and authority? One which can take us in new directions in seeking to realise the reign of God over humankind.  

There'll always be some believers who sincerely believe they have the whole truth and nothing but the truth before God. They'll cling to it and fight for it naturally, and risk becoming prisoners to their own sense of truth. I believe in the possibility of absolute truth, that all may get glimpses of it from time to time. I also believe the totality of truth is veiled from us, utterly mysterious, only as knowable as God permits us to be conscious of it. I believe we're explorers on a journey in which reality and truth keep on being revealed only as much as we're capable of receiving and using to grow in relation to God. 

All this, I believe, because of what God did for us through Jesus and the gift of the Spirit. We question what we know and trust of divine revelation, we question ourselves as the questioners too. It's how we get ourselves beyond illusion to the place of unknowing where the mystery of being and God awaits us.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

St Agnes postponed

I went to St John's Canton this morning to offer a 10.30 Eucharist, relocated from its usual venue at St Luke's as the heating there is broken. There was a coffee morning going on at the other end of the church and nobody turned up to worship, so I prayed and read the Liturgy of the Word on my own, which I was quite happy to do. It's St Agnes Day today, but I'll be celebrating it tomorrow in any case.

Afterwards, Clare and I took advantage of another day of sunshine and went for a long walk around the park. I half recognised up to a dozen different kinds of birdsong, which was encouraging. I spotted a wren and a robin, and photographed a heron on the Bute Park river bank, and two large cormorants perched on different stones in the river, eyes fixed, like the heron on the water beneath them, hunting for fish, possibly salmon on the move to their spawning ground up-river. Strangely, yesterday, I heard and saw few birds apart from the ubiquitous crows, magpies and pigeons. Yet, the weather was the same as today. Getting to know the riverside parkland as wildlife habitat requires lots of walks and observation in the same locations time and time again, to build up a proper picture and understand it. It's nice to have much more time to look these days.

The rest of the day was uneventful and the evening spent watching the rubbish TV. The only thing of interest I found to read was an article about how groups of academics and computer geeks in the USA have been working around to clock to download and archive the content of American government Environmental protection agency data, before the new President takes office, suspecting that he will act to suppress volumes of published scientific data which confirms climate change. Trump is a declared denier and skeptic, who looks set to relegate climate change action to the bottom of his priority list. In other tech news, on his first day in office with executive power, the tech media are already reporting that US government web information on environmental and climate issues is no longer accessible. This is a worrying sign of dangerous times to come. If the truth is meant to set us free, suppressing the truth is surely meant to enslave us. But, as Trump sows, so will he reap. Suppress the facts and they could well return and cause your fall eventually.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Inauguration Day avoidance

I had a meeting arranged this morning at St Catherine's with members of a bereaved family, to prepare for a funeral there in ten days time. When I went to unlock and let them in, I realised that none of the keys on the bunch I'd been given fitted the lock. I had to apologise, and go looking for the correct key. An hour later, we met again and start again. The family asked for a choir to sing at the service, as they thought nobody in the congregation would want to. On a working weekday, this is a difficult request to respond to. Children in choirs are at school, and many church choir singers will beat work, otherwise busy in retirement with a kinds of assignment. After last night's concert experience I looked at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama website and saw they have a variety of singers and musicians for hire. So I suggested the family approach the College administrator to see what might be possible.

It's a reflection of the times we live in that there aren't enough people active in church music making to ask if they could be free to fulfil a request like this, for which four to six people would be needed. We are fortunate to have a musical centre of excellence in the city. Yesterday, the funeral director I rode home with from Thornhill Crematorium, praised the contribution made to a funeral he'd conducted of a young harpist from the College. I hope their musicians will be able to help us on this occasion.

After the meeting I returned home and prepared the funeral service and emailed it to a family member, for information, and wrote a sermon for Sunday. At St German's, we'll be observing St Agnes Day, as the Parish once had a mission church dedicated to her, and still has a chapel with a St Agnes altar with an image of her, which will take pride of place in the nave during the Mass. It's a celebration that also means a lot to me, as my first incumbency in the St Paul's Area of East Bristol made me Vicar of St Agnes Church. This parish was founded as a mission to the artisan community by Clifton College on the other smarter side of the city, which served as a centre for education and community service of great distinction in the late Victorian era. 

There's a similarity between the inhabitants of that part of Bristol and Adamsdown in the same period of history. Virgin martyrs honoured in the ancient Roman Canon of the Mass became, appeared in the dedications used in the outreach centres of the late Victorian church, as exemplars and role models of courage, dignity and faith, perhaps specifically directed to poor downtrodden women settlers in urban squalor, to encourage them to value themselves in God's eyes, and strive to make something good of their lives. And this was happening in the period that saw the rise of the suffragette movement.

For most of the day I avoided the news, and went for a longish walk around the park, enjoying the blue sky and sunshine, even more pleasant now sunset is nearly an hour later than it was before Christmas. I had no desire to watch the American Presidential Inauguration, being robbed of its inner worth and dignity by a man who has such contempt for the record of his predecessor and those of a host of wise and experienced people whose lifelong work has been in public service. They may not have been that successful at solving all of the many complex social and economic problems which have best the world over the past ten years of recession, but that's no reason to pour contempt upon them or dishonour them. Trump too will be judged by his record, and who knows what his disruptive unpredictable approach to governance might achieve for better or for worse in the coming years. God help America to survive with integrity and justice all that follows from here.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Double duty, then respite

Back to St German's for the Wednesday school Mass, with a class that seems more eager than others to sing at the service. After coffee and a chat in the Day Centre, I had to return home and arrange another bereavement visit, for a funeral on the thirty-first of this month, passed on to me by Fr Phelim. This one, will be that of a young girl who died unexpectedly of a winter bad chest. It's usually people my age and older who succumb to 'the pensioners' friend', except when there's a major epidemic, from which God preserve us. This will doubtless come as a shock to the extended family, and they'll need plenty of time to prepare, so the sooner I can make contact the better. By lunchtime, I had secured a rendezvous for Friday morning at St Catherine's.

Thursday morning, a walk to St John's Canton to celebrate their midweek Eucharist, then a return home to await collection an hour later to return to St John's to officiate at a funeral. This was followed by a journey to Thornhill for the burial, then an hour in the Crem waiting room until my second funeral office of the day was due to start. I used the free time to complete my Duo Lingo daily exercise, as best I could given the flaky signal, and was quite surprised, given the distractions, to get 100% again, eleven days after the last time. I thought the set of exercises were easier than others lately. Difficulty levels in the exercises seem to vary, but so does my ability to avoid typos, memory and attention lapses.

I was home again by five and eating an early supper prepared by Clare, so we could leave early and walk across the Taff to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Clare is a supporting 'Friend' of the College, and gets concert information and ticket concessions. This evening, we heard a performance from an excellent and classy jazz ensemble - piano, bass, drums, alto sax - music students playing standards from the 'cool' era of the fifties and sixties, in a manner of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. This kind of is part of the musical sound track of my early adolescence. I'm familiar enough with the music to know it almost off by heart, to know that they were exploring this music with fresh positive energy. It wasn't just faithful reproduction, it was proper jazz, and had me smiling from ear to ear.

Then we had a solo recital from a brilliant pianist, playing pieces by Debussy, Liszt and Chopin with great sensitivity and passion, making full use of a fine concert instrument, plumbing the depths of its finest subtle sounds in quiet pieces as well as its rich energy in the stormy dramatic moments. I found myself reflecting of the different emotional energies of these contrasting kinds of music for the first time and maybe that's a result of being in a smallish recital room with excellent an acoustic, making for an intimate direct experience of hearing music without the meditation of electronic amplification. The jazz spoke of the delight of playful adventure with simple melody, harmony, rhythm. The classical pieces in all their variety and length, explored the range and depth of powerful emotion, from contemplative awareness to passionate grief and anger. All this comes from the music as much as from the performer, and maybe somewhat from the hearer as well.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Urban parking presures

Monday morning, I had to drive over to Adamsdown for a bereavement visit. I had intended to refuel the car over the weekend, but my usual refuelling stop  was closed for renovation, and after that I forgot to look for another, and I noticed the car's fuel gauge was almost on empty after choosing a route across town on which there were no filling stations. After a circuit of Splott and Adamsdown, I went to the one on Newport Road, just in the nick of time. 

Then, I had to hunt for a parking pace close to the house I was visiting, and discovered that every street for half a mile was subject to the restriction of parking permits for residents only. There was plenty of space, as many residents would have drive to work, but if a traffic warden showed up in my absence, I'd get fined or even clamped. Fortunately, after parking briefly on the pavement outside my destination, my hosts let me drive into the gated yard behind their apartment block. Better late than never! 

Tuesday lunchtime, I drove Clare to another appointment at the Heath. Due to traffic queues, I had to drop her off to walk the last quarter of a mile, while I joined vehicles crawling around the hospital ring road. The main visitor car park had a 'Full' notice outside, whether this was true or not - cars were still entering and leaving I noticed, not even the most basic modern technology was available displaying the number of empty spaces for hopeful drivers entering to compete over, so I left the campus to look for a parking place in the Gabalfa area adjacent to the hospital on the opposite side of the A48 ring road. This too is a parking permits for residents only zone, with many empty spaces, so the best thing to do was drive home. I couldn't join Clare for her half hour appointment, nor could I let her know, as I'd left my phone on charge. I was back only ten minutes when she let me know she'd finished, in response to my belated text message.

I hate having to use a car in town, but sometimes, like today and yesterday, it was unavoidable. Across the city the demand for parking spaces exceeds supply. Our street resisted the imposition of parking permits, residents preferring to take their chances when it comes to securing a parking space. With quite a mobile group of residents this works, sort of, although any night arriving home after dark it's pretty certain I'll have to hunt for a space several hundred yards from home. We have more cars than houses, with less available space than an average side street because of space was taken, decades ago, to narrow the entrance with two oversized islands, housing trees. There's enough room for an extra 4-6 cars to park safely on them, whenever we get to parking overflow and regular space is used, but people end up getting parking fines. Regulated parking means that spaces empty during the day can't be occupied by anyone else on a casual basis, without risking a fine. A much smarter solution is needed that this if only to reduce congestion from drivers circulating slowly looking for a usable empty space.

Sometimes, I just wish we lived somewhere rural, where there's plenty of space to park on demand, but to do so would entail having to use a car to get anywhere at all, more than I ever want to. I wonder, if it would be cheaper to give up car ownership, and use just taxis and public transport when necessary, long before age and infirmity obliges us to.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Weekend wildlife

Apart from sermon preparation, a quiet uneventful Saturday gave us an opportunity to take a good long walk together around Bute Park, and then some catch-up telly watching. Today started with a walk to St John's to celebrate the eight o'clock Eucharist with half a dozen faithful, and then after breakfast, the drive to St German's to celebrate the eleven o'clock Mass. A couple arrived before we started to ask about having their second child baptised, like the first, in St German's next month. They stayed on for most of the service, letting their first-born enjoy the company of a couple of other tinies, grandchildren of a couple of our regulars, in the children's corner. It's not easy to organise yourself around church attendance when you have two pre-school age children. I hope they'll feel comfortable about coming and joining us again, apart from the next Christening.

After this, I called at the newly rebuilt Lidl store on East Tyndall Street to get a few items we needed. I was there last year, just before it closed for rebuilding, following the acquisition of a plot of land next door, for an extended car park. The new building is a third bigger than the original, and has an in-store bakery, like the ones in Europe. It's well stocked, and on a Sunday lunchtime, the enlarged car park was almost full. It's an expertly planned and realised commercial project serving the inner city district of Newtown undergoing rapid redevelopment with office blocks on industrial wasteland.

It was almost two o'clock by the time I reached home, as outgoing traffic on Cathedral Road was unusually heavy for a Sunday. Clare had already eaten, and was preparing to go to her monthly study group meeting in Bristol, so I had a quiet time on my own. I watched a repeat of a remarkable BBC nature documentary called 'Spy in the Wild' in which robot look-alikes of wild animals equipped with cameras provide extraordinary close up video footage of a variety of different animals. It's the first of five in a series. Marvellous unmissable watching.

I felt I needed a respite from routine exercise today, as recently I've had what I've come to recognise as tell tale signs of kidney stones acting up. No pain, but just feeling less sharp and clear than usual, with a muzzy head, rather than a headache. Today, my head was clear, but the distinct niggling pain in my left kidney told me the stone is on the move again. It's happened before and will happen again before it gives me big trouble.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Farewell letter

This morning, despite feeling under the weather, for no reason I can understand, there was work to do. A funeral office to prepare for next Thursday, a sermon for Sunday, and the monthly diocesan Ad Clerum to be read, containing Archbishop Barry's touching farewell letter to his clergy before he steps down next month. Retirement for him must look very different now from what he might have imagined or planned just a couple of years ago, since his wife Hilary died, and he himself has just come through cancer surgery. Everyone hopes and prays that he'll have some time left to re-discover the blessings of life in all its beauty and simplicity after so many of his later years being devoted to high office with a national public profile. He has served the Church in Wales wonderfully well, and led the faithful in facing up to the challenges of change and decline with intelligence, integrity and courage. Such distinguished exemplary leadership.

I had intended to go to Martin Jones' funeral in St Woolos Cathedral this morning, but didn't feel up to the drive. Only after lunch did I begin to feel like my usual self.  Later, I took advantage of the improvement in the condition of my knee, to get some fresh air, walking into town to Motorpoint Arena via the covered market and back, a distance of over 6km. I visited the new speciality cheese stall in the market, called the Cheese Pantry, selling goat and sheep cheese made in Britain. Jolly good they are too. I do hope this venture will be successful. It's a great addition to a new generation of high quality food stalls which are so good for its reputation as a must visit venue for 'foodies'. All the market needs now is a high class restaurant on-site to showcase these products. 

The visit to Motorpoint took me to the Lodge, to retrieve the Blackberry, no longer of use to CBS, as it was already redundant, replaced automatically by BT with another phone last spring. I find it amazing that equipment gets automatically upgraded, even when it's working well. Redundancy is an accepted accountancy policy. Equipment is devalued over just three years, when its working life could be three times that or longer. It's very wasteful, something I've long disapproved of and resisted. I've been given the Blackberry, because it will last a good while longer. As its connectivity is so good when I'm abroad I plan to get a PAYG SIM account with a euro account to use with it when I'm next away.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Moonlight walk

I walked to St John's this morning to celebrate their midweek Eucharist. After the service I bought two jars of chutney from the home preserves table to take home. We have dozens of jars of new marmalade, a couple of jars of last year's Clare found hidden among the remaining jars of last year's batch of jam, but none of last year's chutney, as the little that was made was eaten long ago. 

After lunch, I drove over to Llanrumney to visit a bereaved family. Next Thursday, I have two funerals following each other at Thornhill in the afternoon, the first a burial, following a service at St John's Canton, and the second one a service in the Briwnant chapel before cremation.

During the day, a chilling wind arrived and by early evening under a clear sky lit by the full moon, there was frost then a sprinkling of snow, but the wind then abated, no more snow fell, and the temperature hovered around two degrees. Quite late in the evening, Clare fancied a walk, so we went out for a brisk moonlight stroll in Llandaff Fields. I couldn't resist taking a camera with me for a few hand-held night shots. It's ages since I last used a camera at night, and had to rely on auto settings, although I found that my custom program settings were still in place on the Sony Alpha 55 I took with me.

When we returned, I took the camera out into the moonlit back yard for a couple of moon shots and to try and capture reflections of the moon on a frozen puddle on the cover over the garden table and chairs. After a few unsuccessful efforts, I mounted the camera on my tripod, setting it up in the dark with some difficulty to get the right angle, took shots using the timer to avoid trigger vibration, and long exposures. The moon shots, using my previous exposure settings were as good as they could be, and the photos of the frosted surface reflecting moonlight were interesting. Although well dressed against the cold, I was  thoroughly cold by the time I finished, but it was worth it.


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Hospital journeys

Once more, up bright and early, after a short night's sleep yesterday, to deliver Clare to the Heath hospital for a seven thirty appointment for her eye operation. I went home, to await her call to collect her and soon fell asleep on the sofa for a couple of hours, after saying Morning Prayer. Then, I walked to the bank, where I received a call to tell me she was ready. Fortunately there was no queue, so I returned for the car, and by one o'clock, had collected her and was cooking her scrambled eggs for lunch at home. She couldn't be left alone for her first day after surgery, just in case, so I didn't go out. In between cooking meals, there were phone calls to be made arranging three meetings with bereaved families for whom I am officiating at funerals in the next fortnight. These came my way as Fr Mark is on leave.

Then, another early start today, to take Clare to an eight o'clock follow up appointment at the Heath hospital. It was to be a shorter one, so I stayed with her, and we were on our way back home shortly after eight thirty. I was interested to observe the increase in the volume of traffic between starting at seven and at seven thirty. On the return trip it was even more noticeable, with ten minute slow moving traffic queue from the hospital exit slip road to the Gabalfa flyover. Something I rarely see. Having dropped Clare off, I headed for St German's to celebrate Mass in good time, as morning traffic across the town centre around nine thirty is always slow moving. Today, it was exacerbated further by the introduction of lane closures on Newport Road, for work to be done on the central reservation, in both directions.

There were fourteen adults and thirty school children for the midweek Mass. Among the visitors on this occasion was a 94 year old lady whose family had attended St German's in the 20s and 30s, when she was a child. There was much delighted animated conversation between her and 94 year old Gwyneth, who has been a regular worshipper at the church her entire life. I was amazed to discover that our visitor is the mother of Canon Ruth Moverley, one of the first women to be ordained priest in Llandaff diocese, whom we know through the Ignatian Prayer group.

Her mum was proud of the fact that last week Ruth had presided over the recent 20th anniversary celebration of the ordination of women to the priesthood in a special Eucharist in Llandaff Cathedral, and justifiably so. It's lovely to think that St German's has figured in the lives of both women and men called to the priesthood, regardless of the fact that it has been served by celibate male clergy for the first 120 years of its history. When Fr Phelim becomes priest-in-charge, he'll be their first incumbent to be married with children, a change which most will regard as a welcome change.

After lunch I walked to the first of my three bereavement visits, organised yesterday, in a street the other side of Thompson's Park. I was asked to deliver the eulogy, and returned home with biographical notes provided by the widower. I assembled them into a text I'd be happy to deliver, then walked back again to pop a copy of it through the door. By that time it was dark and the as good as full moon was rising over the hill in the park, apparently it'll be completely full just before dawn tomorrow. Tonight the sky is clear, so Cardiff gets the full benefit of beautiful moonlight. A wondrous sight, as ever.

On my walks this past few days I have been trying out a simple pedometer app on my phone, as I was unsatisfied with the accuracy of Google fit. So far, I'm pleased with the results it delivers.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Another Windows troubleshooting mission

An early start today, with the alarm going off just after six, and after a suitable breakfast, out of the house by twenty to seven, walking to the National Express coach station in Sophia Gardens for the seven fifteen coach to London to see my sister June and fix her computer. On my way down Cathedral Road, with relatively little traffic around, I was delighted to hear singing, first a wren, then a robin, then a blackbird, then a starling, and then thrush. All in the trees and garden bushes along one of Cardiff's main arterial roads into the city centre. What a lovely surprise to start the day!

The coach fleet has been upgraded since I last took the journey a year ago. Seats are better upholstered, if a bit narrow for me, and there's more legroom. Best of all, there's free wi-fi, which allows one to receive and send emails, also to surf the net, though not to use social media apps, it appears, probably because they gobble up too much data. Some video streaming is possible via a Sky app, and e-magazines are available to read, but not much to interest me. 

I slept on and off, and browsed a little, and the journey seemed to go much quicker than usual, despite arriving about forty minutes late because of traffic congestion around Newport and beyond the Severn bridge on the approach to North Bristol. Google kept issuing notifications of traffic delays throughout the journey, and it was possible to follow the trip on the Maps app in 'real time'. If you're not driving, this is quite interesting as you get to put names to the hamlets and villages along the M4 corridor which do not appear in motorway exit signage. Then if you're curious, you can Google further info about them. This time last year, on a trip like this, I would have been struggling to do office tasks on my Blackberry in response to a crisis phone call from Ashley, or prepare a document draft on a policy change. This was a much more relaxing and leisurely an outing.

I arrived at June's place at half past midday, having done some shopping for her on my way from coach to Victoria train station. June's laptop is identical to Kath's, and as soon as I switched it on and examined it, the same problem problem presented itself. A broken network configuration, meant that there had been no updates since 9th November, and the anti-virus software was also out of date. It was a matter of re-setting the network software from the command prompt window, with the recommended single line of code, rebooting the machine and forcing it to update everything immediately, a process that took about an hour, all told. 

This was a lot more straightforward than with Kath's machine, as in her case the update mechanism was broken, and it took ages just to find out how to repair it. Would I have been able to remember how I did the full repair two weeks later? Glad I didn't have to put that to the test.  Being risk averse, I'd brought with me the little Acer Aspire E11 I bought recently, to leave for June's use, while I took the other one back home to sort out. But that wasn't necessary. After lunch, I spent some more time, removing some of the useless redundant software, installing and using CCleaner to keep her Acer ES1-521 running as well as it can. So, hopefully there'll be no more problems, unless Microsoft does something equally as stupid and dangerous to render its flagship software system unfit for purpose again. I wonder how many millions of hours have been wasted and money expended by individuals and businesses unable to sort out critical technical problems forced upon them for themselves?

My sister starting using a home computer of her own fifteen years after retirement, and that was ten years ago this year. She gets along reasonably well with surfing, emailing, writing and printing off letters, scanning documents, shifting photos from camera to computer, but finds changes in the user interface, layout and terminology imposed by Windows quite baffling and dis-empowering. I wish that I had introduced her to Linux at the outset, where it is possible to choose your own user interface and modify layout until you get it the way you want it, then stick to it through all the necessary updating processes that improve the work the software needed to do in the background, to keep users safe and stable. Too late for that now however! 

I am pleased, however, that she gets on well with Libre Office, as I never put MS Word on her first laptop. So, she has benefited from having basically the same user interface throughout the decade, as its appearance changes have been cosmetic and minor. I'm glad to see reports that the next Libre Office will replicate the ribbon tool bar familiar with many users of recent iterations of MS Word, and that it will be optional - if only Microsoft would make optional appearances available easily, without fuss and palaver.

My trip home took just three hours and ten minutes, as the traffic on the streets of West London was relatively light, so it only took about half an hour to get as far as Heston services, when it can take twice as long when things are really busy. Despite spending seven hours of the way in coach seats, my gammy leg didn't stiffen up too much, so the twenty minute walk home wasn't an effort. With 'mission accomplished' I arrived with a sense of modest satisfaction, and devoured the welcome late supper Clare had left for me. She retired to bed early, in anticipation of early rising tomorrow to attend the Heath Hospital for her next eye operation. 

Sunday, 8 January 2017

A special announcement on a special day

An early start to the day, with a celebration of the eight o'clock at St Catherine's. There were ten of us present, including Clare. Then, after a second breakfast, the Sunday Mass at St Germans, with three dozen people, remembering Hamid's baptism on this day at St German's last year. He still hasn't been deported, and is living with his sister's family in Perry Bar, regularly attending St John's Parish church. They seem to have come to terms with his journey of faith, so different from theirs. Later on Facebook there were photos of Hamid in church at St John's this morning, being blessed by the Vicar during the Mass of the Baptism of Christ. That certainly brought a smile to my face.

At the end of the service, Area Dean, Canon Bob Capper arrived to deliver the announcement of a new incumbent for the Parish of St German & St Saviour. Fr Phelim O'Hare, our local Team Vicar here in Canton Benefice. It's a great appointment. He's a very experienced priest, and having worked in his earlier ministry in Belfast, he has experience of a similar kind of urban community environment. This will serve him well. When he starts his new ministry, I'll have worked myself out of a (locum) job for the third time in the past four years. I'm likely be helping out somewhat more in Canton Benefice when the vacancy starts, right on my doorstep. Even so, there are still three vacancies in Spain where I've done locum duty, still to be filled, so the opportunities to continue in this kind of ministry won't disappear any time soon.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Long walk between shops

Another late and lazy Saturday morning, time to complete downloading and then uploading to our Golden Wedding Anniversary web album the series of photos emailed to me by Richard Johnson over the past few late nights. He's a late bird, as I am, and we talk about computers and Linux in our email exchanges, one of the few regular users I know. 

Just after an early lunch, Clare was collected by taxi,  for an afternoon at the University School of Optometry, where she had agreed to let her eye condition be examined by different post graduate students, as part of their training. With a free afternoon, and a couple of small shopping errands, one in Canton and one in Gabalfa, I went out on a long walk connecting the two. First, down Llandaff Road to the Apothecary Shop, then along Cowbridge Road East, over the Taff River bridge and into the Castle grounds. The weather was mild and the rain stayed away, but there was a slight mist in the air, letting you know it was winter. Bute Park was busy with people walking dogs or shepherding children, taking advantage of a break in the wet weather. We're so fortunate to have this resource, right at the heart of the city. 

I walked out at the far end of Bute Park, and along the trail that leads to the retail zone, that is home to Staples, my second port of call, to buy another flash drive so I can experiment with doing a system back up, something I've not done so far with Windows 10 on any of my machines. These no longer seem to come with a separate partition for system backup/restore files. It stands to reason that a drive failure could make it impossible to perform a system restoration from a partition on the same hard disk. Yet hard drives may well outlast the usefulness of a computer in an ordinary domestic context, and maybe most offices too. Pre-installing operating system software and not setting up a recovery partition saves manufacturing costs, making for cheaper mass market pricing. 

Users get nagged about making their own system backup these days, but it's not easy. Even when using a separate hard drive, this process has a reputation for failing, and requires a certain measure of experience and confidence. I suspect many people don't bother, if not forget to, like me. I have not been motivated by anything other and wanting to learn how to do so. Any Windows operating system which fails on a machine of mine will simply get replaced by Linux, sooner or later. Anyway, I got a 32GB flash drive for just £6.99, the January sales are on with a vengeance now, shelves to be cleared to make way for new stock, with threatened price increases due to the weaker pound. Pity there's no longer anything I need.

Clare called to say she was home, just as I got to Staples, so I got back as quickly as I could, my poor knee performing better than yesterday. When I arrived, Google Fit told me that I'd done 7.2km and exceeded (for the first time) the 10,000 steps daily target, and by 10%, in a hundred minutes walk. I was pleased with that, but it's not something I'll have enough time to repeat every day. I was pretty tired and sore footed, too tired to go out to Fr Roy's 'at home' as intended this evening. I had to settle for taking it easy, preparing a sermon, investigating backup image making. The two good crime series on telly were both repeats of episodes seen a couple of times already. It gets easier and easier to spend an entire evening without feeling compelled to switch it on.

What I did discover about Google Fit, when later in the evening I looked at the day's data on first the phone and then the tablet was that only the walking time elapsed was correct and the same on both devices. The distance walked, on the phone was half what it had shown when I'd stopped walking earlier, and on the tablet, a tenth of the amount. Both devices had been in the same location all the evening, and only the tablet moved, very occasionally. Very odd behaviour indeed. I wonder why? Perhaps the GPS tracking gets muddled inside a house where it may be masked. Or not quite as smart an app as it seems?

Friday, 6 January 2017

Epiphany Day

I slept well, but having woken up early, went back to sleep again, listening to the news on the radio, and was still in bed when Clare left to go swimming. Some minutes later, she returned to retrieve her house key, rang the doorbell, but I wasn't awakened by the doorbell, so she had to borrow the spare house key kept by one of our neighbours. I'd had nine hours sleep by the time a got up for breakfast, and tree tidying, fortunately with no appointments or deadlines to meet.

After lunch, I walked into town, and visit the temporary National Express coach station in Sofia Gardens to renew my discount card and book a ticket for a day trip to London on Monday, to see my sister June now that she's nearly recovered from the nasty long drawn out cold she didn't want me to catch from her. Actually there's more risk of me catching a cold or 'flu on public transport. It's difficult to steer clear of all ailments at this time of year. I've been very lucky so far.

From there, I walked into Queen Street, looked in a few shops and eventually headed for St German's to celebrate the Mass of Epiphany day at six. I didn't want to take the car and risk getting stuck in the Friday evening rush hour traffic, and walking is what I need to do. Even so, that 10,000 steps a day target set by Google Fit is still eluding me.

There were sixteen of the regulars for Mass, and no organist, so I led the singing of two hymns and the Ordinary of the Mass unaccompanied. Although we'd set out with the idea of it being just a Low Mass, as there were a couple of servers, we decided to have incense, and then I decided to launch the singing. It's something I've not done much of at St German's, except at the Wednesday school Mass, but I used to do it regularly for a Solemn Weekday Mass at St Agnes. People sang well and heartily, as all the music was familiar. 

What was remarkable was to sing in that environment without benefit of organ. When it's switched on but not in use, though it's not noisy, the low level sound of pumped air is there in the background. Switched off, the pure beauty of the building's acoustic is more noticeable, and the reverberation just perfect for unaccompanied singing. No wonder it's a favoured venue for broadcast recording and choral concerts. I think everyone sang their best tonight because we could all hear the difference. We must do this again - what am I saying? We'll have to do it again, as the organ will be out of action for some weeks in Lent (a most suitable season for this), to install a new organ bellows. That will be an opportunity to make a different kind of joyful noise unto the Lord.

Angela brought me home by car, to be welcomed by a big dish of veggies and pasta prepared by Clare for supper, and there was time to watch an action movie, 'The Taking of Pelham 123' on Channel 4, one I'd not seen before, with lots of high speed rushing around and violence, with insane baddies. Another melodrama in which frenetic New York townscapes and NYPD incompetent driving (or is it rubbish cars with bad handling?) clog up the dramatic thread, and dialogue which struggles to work amid all the sound and fury. I don't know why I bothered really.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Twelfth Night

Up early and out of the house before nine I drove to St Dyfrig and St Samson's church in Grangetown and was fortunate not to encounter heavy traffic. I arrived in good time to say Mass for a couple of regulars, standing in for Fr David, on leave today. Then I returned to St John's, Canton for the regular Thursday 10.30am Eucharist, which I'm looking after this month as Fr Mark is on leave. 

Thankfully the first service was 2004 Church in Wales rite with readings for the 12th day of Christmas, and the second was 1984 Church in Wales, with a repeat of the readings from last Sunday, for the Holy Name of Jesus. It's good to be challenged by liturgical variety, to stay in focus prayerfully and not let the taking of services become routine or automatic. Different readings also bring their own stimulus to reflection with the congregation, and this I greatly enjoy.

Not long after I returned home, Martin and Chris dropped in to see us. They were invited to a lunch party for Chris' uncle at the Cameo Club, in Pontcanna Street and had been dropped off early, so they chose to come and see us rather than hang out in a cafe for an hour. It was lovely just to have time with them quietly on our own, as so often when we visit them there's a house full of people, and lots going on.

After lunch I went out and walked my usual course again, and some extra. Even so, reaching the set daily target of 10,000 steps eluded me again. I felt I'd walked as much as I could before my dodgy knee started complaining. The daily improvement hasn't been great in this week of trying to get back to regular exercise after Christmas idleness. I probably need another osteo treatment.

At tea time, we finished off the remains of the Christmas cake. Kath let us know that they'd arrived home from Spain, and later we chatted on the phone. We had a quiet evening together, watching telly, and Clare took time carefully to remove and pack away all the decorations from the tree. My job tomorrow morning will be to return it to the back yard, in its tub. Despite dropping some needles, it doesn't seem to have been killed off by a couple of weeks indoors, though it clearly prefers being out in the cold damp air. Then I'll have clear up behind me. The past fortnight has simply flown by.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Tracking myself

Yesterday was cold and slipped by unremarkably. It was sunset before I ventured out for some exercise so instead of my usual routine walk, I circumnavigated Thompson's Park - literally - it shuts at half past three at this time of year, so I walked right around the periphery instead, a distance of just over half a kilometre, according to the Google Fit app which I installed on my phone for curiosity. I'm not really sure how accurate it really is, now how it's possible to check this, nor have a read any reviews yet, but it's interesting to see what it does record, nevertheless.

There were ten of us at St German's for Mass I celebrated this morning, after a brief chat with people in the day centre, I headed for home to await a call to collect Clare from the dentist's. A visit was needed after the crow capping one of her molars came out during a meal on Boxing day. Alas, it was too late to save the tooth, as part of it detached with the crown itself, so she needed an extraction. She's going to be vulnerable to infection for the next few days. This is especially bad news as her next eye operation is due next Tuesday, so she'll need to be scrupulously careful with her wounded gum until then.

Today was somewhat warmer, so I went earlier for my afternoon walk on the course I've set myself, using Google Fit. I was disappointed to find that the distance logged was less then my guesstimate, although it did seem to log time elapsed and steps walked correctly. I'm not up to the recommended basic of 10,000 steps a day yet, but as my knee improves, so will the target be easier to reach.

I was delighted to receive several photographs taken at our Golden Wedding celebration last August from our old friend Richard Johnson. It was good to see the occasion through the eyes of another person and recall what a wonderful meeting of family and friends we had that day.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Bank holiday Penarth

A bright sunny day with clear skies, if a little chilly, but worth making the effort to get out of the house for a walk, so we went to Penarth by bus. It was colder than we'd anticipated while we were waiting for the 92 bus in Wood Street, so we bought a warm snack from Gregg's to keep us going. We walked from Penarth town centre, down through Alexandra Park to the promenade, then along the busy clifftop path to the point where it becomes a track through trees, and the Coast Path proper. That was as far as I could manage, as my leg started playing up as we walked down the steep slope through the park. I may not have been warmed up enough, and had a few unpleasant unexpected joint pains to deal with until we reached a level surface. Yet, no trouble walking uphill. It's a strange affliction, and may suggest that a nerve is getting pinched as the knee joint slowly gets back to normal.

We stopped in Cioni's clifftop snack bar for another warming drink. I wasn't precise enough in ordering a coffee, and was served with a capuchino sloppily made with instant coffee powder that didn't fully dissolve. That's the first time I've had a milky coffee in several years. Instant black coffee is just about tolerable. I can't imagine now how I put up with milky coffee for so many decades of my life, when the unadulterated taste is so good. But it's said that your taste buds change as you get older - for better and for worse.

On way back, I noticed for the first time a gateway and lodge leading to a linear park about 30 meters above and behind the promenade, a traffic free alternative, frequented by far fewer walkers, offering a good elevated view of the shore below. This is Windsor Park, and it links up with Alexandra Park at the north east end. Amazing to think that in the many years we've been visiting Penarth, we've never noticed this feature before. Both the Marie Curie and Holm Towers hospices are located on the road above Windsor Park, and both have back gates providing access for still mobile residents and visitors. It's an impressive apect of their location, a way in which this marvellous coastal townscape ministers to its most special sojourners.

Buses running today, as Bank Holiday, were supposed to be on the Sunday timetable, but it didn't work out like that where buses out of Cardiff to the Vale of Glamorgan were concerned. There was an early football match at Cardiff City stadium, causing traffic chaos with immediate impact on Penarth buses. We had to wait three quarters of an hour for ours, and the temperature was dropping below 4C, as the sun bathed the street in shadow. We managed to get warm once we were on the bus, but soon got chilly waiting ten minutes for a local bus to get us back to Pontcanna. A cup of tea and a couple of mince pies proved a perfect remedy, plus a hot curry, which I cooked for supper later. There'll be frost tonight.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

New Year hospitality received

We stayed up to see the New Year in, and watched the fireworks display at Cardiff Castle from the attic window. What surprised us was the number of fireworks set off across the city around midnight and for half an hour afterwards. New Year's fireworks are not unexpected here, but the scale and widespread nature of their adoption all over the city, to judge by the bangs and flashes near and far, this time was still a surprise. More people seem to have money to burn, or are showing reckless contempt for the inevitable increase of austerity in the present political and economic climate.

I was glad of the opportunity of a lie in, although I still woke up at my usual time, oddly ten past seven, just before the central heating comes on, which is puzzling. But I did manage to doze until a quarter to nine. On my way out to Mass St Germans, I dropped Clare off at St John's for the Canton Benefice United Parish Eucharist. There were thirty of us for the service. On arrival I discovered that I had left my printed address behind. I had to remember what I'd decided to preach about and improvise, taking the risk of going on too long and repeating myself. Thankfully, despite it being New Year's day, I didn't see anyone yawning, or looking at their watches.

We were invited to lunch with Martin, Chris and the boys in Newport, so I returned home, collected Clare and drove over there for a two o'clock start. It was Karim's thirtieth birthday. He's a live-in carer helping to look after their fostered lads Andrew and Robert. He invited several of his friends to join us as well, so we met several new family friends. The meal was excellent and the company was good. It was altogether a delightful experience.

During Advent, Martin and Chis opened their home to an old friend of Martin's from College years, who was about to die with little immediate family to support him. His own partner had died several years ago, so he was facing his end alone in a hospice. So Martin and Chris offered him a place to die with friends, which he willingly accepted. He had to be hospitalised with a spontaneously broken bone before Christmas, but was returned to their care a few days later, and died last Thursday, 'fortified by the rites of the Church', as the traditional saying goes. Although an intense and difficult time, it was an experience which Martin said left him feeling greatly blessed.

We returned home in time for the Archers, and later sat and watched a programme of extracts from the television shows of Morecombe and Wise, which were so much part of our young family life, forty odd years ago. And we laughed as much now as we did then. The humour is playful and crazy in the best tradition of music hall and movie comedy. There's very little that ever matches their act to be seen on TV today, so much of which is coarse, crude and over reliant on the bawdy and offensive. On times satire seems to be cruel of the sake of showing how cruel it's possible to be. It's more embarrassing than it is funny, and expression of rage in the face of impotence. Gentle ridicule of human pretensions is a more powerful and sometimes subversive way to challenge the pretentiousness of the status quo than all the anger and nastiness that sullies our screens these days.