Sunday, 30 April 2017

Baptism without borders

After this morning's Solemn Mass at St German's, I had another baptism to perform. This time there were two children, a boy of about eight and a girl of about eleven, children of two familiar of Czech Roma people. I remember baptizing the infant of a Czech Roma family on Christmas morning in St James', ten years ago, in the early days when they arrived and settled in and around Cardiff, taking menial food processing jobs to support themselves, and having an easier life of hard work than they would have back home, where they often suffer discrimination. 

I don't know if these families were related to my original one but it was lovely to see a group of ex-pats dressed up in festive attire, making a real effort to have a memorable family celebration - certainly one that the children would find easy to remember in later life. Whilst they spoke Czech among themselves, it was clear most of them spoke English, the younger ones certainly with a measure of pride. After a preliminary briefing by James, everyone joined in the liturgical responses with loud enthusiasm, bright eyed, attentive and smiling. I invited them to say the Lord's Prayer in their mother tongue - some of the younger ones seemed keener to show they could read English from the service sheet with confidence, but when I began, many of the older family members did pray in Czech. In different ways, both were affirming their sense of belonging - to family, to tradition, to this new place they found themselves in.

So often when large family groups come for a christening, it's hard to retain everyone's attention. People talk among themselves and behave in a distracted manner, even if they are trying to behave well. For so many Brits today, being inside a church for an act of worship is an rare experience, alien to them, so they don't know how to behave. Thank heavens there are still people who, no matter what the reason, want to bring their offspring to the font.

The highlight of the rest of the day was watching the final episode of 'Line of Duty'. While I was fairly confident that I'd worked out 'whodunit' when it got under way, the path by which the conclusion was reached was grippingly tense, and required much concentration to keep up with, due to the twists and turns woven into the plot. Brilliantly acted, brilliantly written, and the Twittersphere erupted with praise within minutes of it ending. 

I also managed to watch, during the course of the evening, the first of Alex Polizzi's travel series 'Spectacular Spain', featuring glimpses of Barcelona, Valencia and Benidorm. She even visited Isola Tabarca off Sta Pola, recognisable to us from our visits there. Mind you, to sail to Tabarca from Puerto de Sta Pola, home to one of Spain's biggest fishing fleets without so much as mentioning this, and nearby flamingo inhabited salinas is incomprehensible to me. And not to give viewers a ride through Benidorm and environs, but focus on a game of ex-pat bowls, undervalued the reason why it's such a popular resort all year round.

Polizzi's a charming enthusiastic presenter, but the selection of features relating to each place was a bit quirky and 'pot-pourri', hardly giving a typical impression of such lovely places and leaving a lot to be desired. How I'd love to have a crack at a series of programmes like this one, with the aim of bringing out more of the visual delights and key features of the environment and its rich rich history. 

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Spring chicks and artworks

A lazy Saturday morning, with just a sermon to write, then lunch in the sun in the garden. Clare had heard from artist friend Fran Whiteside that Llanover Hall community arts centre in Romilly Road was hosting an art exhibition featuring work by some of the people who teach classes there. As it opened today, with a little ceremony by ex-First Minister Rhodri Morgan, we thought we go over and take a look. The vernissage party was in full swing by the time we arrived and Rhodri had gone, but we enjoyed looking at what was on display, and chatting to a few people. Fran's contribution to the exhibition was a remarkable work reminding me of the style of William Blake. It's called 'The Divine Wisdom', and here's the photo of it which Fran sent me.
I must be careful to chose the right words here. Use of the word 'iconic' has been debased and misued in recent decades. Moreover, Fran is a practitioner of Byzantine 'icon writing', as it's called in Eastern Orthodox, producing very beautiful traditional sacred images, fit for use in any place of prayer and worship. The above is equally the fruit of study and meditation, and its very title would be familiar to an Eastern Christian, but it's the fruit of a occidental contemplative eye. Marvellous.

Also in the exhibition was a painting of  railway station platform which I immediately recognised, but couldn't identify until I looked at the label - it was Treherbert station, end of the Cwm Rhondda line. I stood in exactly the same place as the artist on a visit there nine years ago, and taken a photo. In the background is a pyramidal shaped tabletop mountain, which according to locals is a global rarity, Phil Watkins the artist told me. Here's my photo, and after it, courtesy of Phil, a photo of his oil painting,
I love the misty atmosphere in this painting. It'd be hard to take a photograph which equals this.
 After this we went for a walk around Pontcanna Fields. We bumped into Jan and Peter walking their new dog. I don't think I have seen either of them since Peter retired last year, so it was good to catch up, and share appreciation of the new episcopal appointment. We spotted a Mallard family on the east bank of the river Taff a few hundred metres down from Blackweir Bridge, parents and six tiny chicks, moving so swiftly as they paddled against the flow to keep up with each other, that it wasn't easy to distinguish them, or get decent photos at full lens length with the Sony HX300. This was about the best of the bunch.
I sent this to Peter later, who responded, saying that Jan had been wondering if or when any chicks would be seen on the this year. They walk their dog in the Fields a couple of times each day. Amazing really, this is the first time we've met there, when I also walk along the Taff several times a week. In the evening, I didn't fancy watching the BBC Four scandi-noir offering, preferring to continue with another episode of Inspector Borowski. There are eleven in the series - over half way now.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Another funeral, another outing

This morning, another funeral at St German's, another full church, another occasion to put my digital sound workaround through its paces. The fact that it worked fine wasn't as important to me as whether I can officiate in a calm and relaxed manner and operate the devices without feeling under pressure. Sure it's always possible to involve someone else to work the sound system, but the acid test is operating on one's own. It doesn't happen to me here in St German's, but I recall times in the past when I've had to cope single handed with a church funeral - 'Be Prepared' - old Boy Scout motto still holds good for me.

At the crematorium there was a music and photo presentation of the life of the deceased during the brief committal ceremony, appreciated by all present, from the reactions to it. The display screens used are positioned well enough for the congregation, but not for the officiating minister who is left looking at a sharp uncomfortable angle, once positioned, close to the front row of mourners. I mentioned this to the crematorium manager, who just happened to be on duty this afternoon. She thanked me for my feedback and said that the Bereavement Services team was reviewing the layout prior to refurbishing the chapel. The last makeover happened in 2000 at the time the smaller Briwnant chapel was added to give more capacity, so it was all new to me when I returned to work in Cardiff in 2002. The video screens were added around the time I retired, if my memory serves me well.

I was home again in time for lunch, and then went to Motorpoint to collect Ashley for another trip to the RadioNet suppliers in Chepstow. Once again we had pleasant weather for the journey, and despite it being a Bank Holiday weekend, little delay either way. In the evenings this week I continue to watch episodes of 'Inspector Borowski', learning new things as I go about life and social issues in Germany today. Apart from visiting Connie and Udo three years ago and Leipzig in November 1989, we've spent little time there since we were first married, as our connection with Clare's teenage pen friend faded away. All that would change if Owain were ever to move to Berlin to work. Still, in the meanwhile, it's comforting to discover that with a little concentration spoken German still makes some sense to me.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Habemus episcopam

Naturally, there's been a fair amount of speculation this past few uncertain weeks about when we'd hear of the appointment of a new Bishop of Llandaff. I'd discussed this on the phone and by text message with my friend Martin, last night, and was quite surprised mid morning to receive from him a text that was simply the name of someone I didn't know 'June Osborne', but before I could get around to asking him why, I had to leave for the midweek Eucharist at St John's. Over a cup of coffee after the service, I looked at Twitter on my phone, and realised this is the name of our new Bishop, just announced. What a surprise! Given the disappointment surrounding the failed episcopal election and painful controversy over the way the Bench of Bishops dealt with the aftermath, their choice was quite unexpected. 

She is one of the CofE's senior and most gifted cathedral Deans not to have been made a Bishop, just like Jeffery John, asked for by Llandaff electors, but ruled out of further consideration by the Bench. Both have contributed significantly to Anglican debate on faith and sexuality during their careers. Back in 1989, she was commissioned to produce a report for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York when she was an Oxbridge college chaplain. Today the Osborne Report would be regarded as respectable liberal mainstream, but back then, it was distinguished because it was suppressed, generating its own kind of controversy at the time. It wasn't finally published until 2012. To some in the higher echelons of today's Established CofE, she would perhaps still be regarded as too liberal to be Bishop material. But not it seems, too liberal for appointment to the diocese of Llandaff. 

Appointing a female Bishop will no doubt precipitate a crisis of faith for traditionalists of evangelical and anglo-catholic conviction, but for the majority, hopefully, this is hardly a problem, and the fact that she comes to the diocese with such a good reputation as an inspiring church leader is most encouraging. Let's hope and pray that she can connect well with those electors whose hopes were dashed, who were left feeling hurt, frustrated and disregarded by the way the final decision was reached.

After lunch I had a GP appointment, to try and figure out the reason for a late night reaction last Sunday evening to something I'd eaten earlier in the day. It was very similar to the incident I had on a Sunday morning after breakfast when I was serving the Malaga chaplaincy last September, a sudden rise in blood pressure, pulse and temperature, lasting about half an hour and diminishing as quickly as it arrived, leaving no after-effect, apart from concern, as if my body had eliminated a poison. 

Anyway, the doctor didn't think it was an allergic reaction, as this tends to happen soon after eating something the body doesn't like. So, a few blood tests and another ECG were ordered, so see what, if anything, has changed in my metabolism. The more I thought about it, the one thing that was different about the day's food was, unusually I'd eaten nuts at each meal, peanut butter for breakfast, walnuts with cheese for dessert after lunch, the last of my birthday Simnel cake for tea with almond based marzipan. None of these affect me normally, but I started to wonder if my ageing digestive was reacting to being overwhelmed with an excess of nuts, though not with the usual form of indigestion.

I remember being told by an acupuncturist several years ago that the digestive system weakens with age, can cope with less and works slower. I can't complain, it's stood me well for three score years and ten, plus. Time to review accepted healthy eating habits, just in case I'm overlooking something that's less than beneficial.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Digital workaround

A Mass to celebrate with the children from Tredegarville and a lunchtime funeral at St German's today. There wasn't enough time in between them to return home, so I spent extra time in the Day Centre, as well as preparing for the funeral. 

As is often the case these days, we're asked by bereaved families if it's OK to have secular recorded music for the entry and exit from church, usually meaning some kind of pop music. We're happy to go along with that, even if there are often problems playing music from CDs incompatible with twenty five year old CD players installed as part of the church's sound system. Sometimes people bring their own devices, other times it's up to us to see what we can do with material provided. 

On this occasion, I was emailed three separate MP3 files to use. There was no way to attach a digital to the St German's PA system, but I figured out a work-around solution using wireless microphones and the Sony portable CD playing device I gave Clare for Christmas. As well as playing standard CDs this will also play other digital media CDs created on a computer from downloads. Reluctant to put this to the test for a first outing, given the physical problems of controlling it whilst officiating at the service, played the MP3 files from my Nexus Tablet - all visible to switch to on a single screen. A cable from the headphone jack to the line-in socket on the back of the portable CD player produced a good quality of sound, which could be distributed around the church by the PA system's amplifier and loudspeakers.

Setting the sound levels just right and distortion free was easy, with a little patient attention to detail, and best of all, I could keep the tablet close at hand without it attracting attention. All I had to ensure then was that batteries powering microphones and tablet were fully charged for the half hour of use in the service. I was particularly pleased with the rendering of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Pie Jesu', set at the right level to take advantage of St German's beautifully pure acoustic. With everything easily under my control, I was able to relax and give my my best, without feeling I was juggling bits and pieces.

We were treated to a shower of hail as we were leaving church, but the weather was quite different at Thornhill just four miles away when we arrived for the interment. It was cloudy, but sunny and bright, which made it possible for mourners to linger and chat in a relaxed way when it was all over. Later I had an appreciative text message from on behalf of the family the son of the deceased. Pleased to know it helped them. Sometimes, whatever effort you make, nothing seems to help alleviate the burden of loss for people at that time, but making the effort when people are suffering is what counts in the end.


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Borowski in veiw

I spent this morning in St Michael's College with a group of other retired clergy with permissions to officiate in the diocese, at a Safeguarding training session, run by the Provincial Safeguarding team. It is and should be requirement for us to ensure we're well briefed about those really sensitive pastoral issues one comes across from time to time. This was prompted by recent legislation changes regarding responsibility for reporting potentially abusive situations and how this should be undertaken, but it still relies on pastoral awareness, common sense and discernment to know if action is required. And that's not often easy, if as a visiting priest you're not fully acquainted with the people and their context. It was a good and refreshing experience nevertheless.

I returned home for lunch, and afterwards walked into town to shop for some small items. I rang Ashley and then we met in John Lewis' top floor restaurant for a cup of tea and scone, for a catch-up before returning home to cook supper and eat it with Clare when she returned from her choir rehearsal. Then an hour watching an episode of 'Inspector Borowski' on the All Four streaming site. I'm about a third of my way through a 'box set' package of episodes of european TV series, branded as 'Walter Presents'. I like this website, as it's easy to use, swift and reliable, also it's as easy to pause and resume viewing for a few minutes or a few days.

As for Inspector Borowski, he's a sympathetic character, and like so many heroes of detective fiction he is middle aged, workaholic, getting over a broken marriage and with difficult offspring. Each episode, as well as telling the story of a nasty serious crime, shows something of his everyday life and work, and his social context, in a relaxed and quite amusing way. Having said that, the most recent episode I watched was just hilarious, portraying his eccentric boss taking refuge with Borowski during a marital crisis, and a very young looking female recruit to his team who is streets ahead of everyone else in her ability to analyse and research a case, mature beyond her years. How he manages to take this in his stride in his dominantly men's world, with gentle respect and appreciation, give an insight into what positive male leadership can look like today.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Leisurely Spring Sunday

I could have done with more sleep, being tired after yesterday's walk, and it seemed to take me ages to wake up fully. Thankfully I didn't have an early service today, just the St German's Parish Mass at eleven. Afterwards, Area Dean Fr Stewart Lisk to chair the Parish Easter Vestry meeting. There was no requirement for me to stay on for this, so I returned home, earlier than usual for lunch. Angela was there in her role as Parish administrator, just three weeks after returning from hospital with a repaired shoulder strapped up, completely organised and ready to play her part in the meeting. 

She told me beforehand that she was now getting on well enough to dismiss the twice daily carer assigned to help her to wash and dress. She recounted how the carer expressed concern to Marisa, Angela's daughter, as she thought Angela was 'confused'. The carer insisted she'd been there for her since January well before the accident, whereas in reality she'd been visiting for two weeks. That illustrates, I guess, how much pressure people are under in the caring profession. Angela is a sharp and organised as ever, and hasn't lost her sense of humour either.

As it was sunny and warm, we were able to eat out in the back garden, which is looking lovely at the moment. Our apple tree has lots of blossom on it this year, and so far no rain or cold wind to dislodge it, like last year. Then, overcome by tiredness, the rest of the day was devoted to somnolent inactivity rather than strolling in the park, until it was time for the penultimate episode of 'Line of Duty'. This continues to be a compelling watch as the determination of the unpopular police anti-corruption team, is pitted against continued resistance to the exposure of a web of lies, falsified evidence, snooping and office intrigue. It's superb British police drama, but does tend to make you wonder how far art reflects life.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Bay watch

After preparing my sermon for tomorrow and an early lunch, Clare and I walked along the Taff Trail down to the Bay wetland area, enjoying the Spring warmth, bluebells and cherry blossom. We saw a few pairs of Great Crested Grebes in the wetland area. We saw one couple performing mating rituals, posing to each other, displaying the full extent of their head plumage and elongating their necks. We saw one bird disengage, dive and bring to the surface something in its beak, which it then presented to the other. I thought it might be a fish, but on checking later with a decent bird book, learned that it was fishing for strands of seaweed to offer. 

Being a good fifty meters offshore, my photos were taken almost at full length zoom with my HX300 so the quality and composition wasn't wonderful. Clare remarked that I'd have been better off taking video. Funny, all my Sony cameras make a good job of this, but it never occurs to me to use the built in facility. But I still enjoy the challenge of old school 'hunt 'n shoot'. This is one of the better shots.
We had tea in the Millennium Centre, then caught buses to take us back to Pontcanna, as we were both quite tired after a four and a half mile walk. Later, after supper I watched the third in the  Danish series 'Department Q'. This time an investigation into the disappearance of children from families of Christian religious sects, due to a murderous psychopath convinced he was an agent of the devil with a mission to destroy the faith of true believers by making them helpless witnesses of unspeakable suffering of innocent children. 

It was pretty nasty stuff, but it gave me cause for thought. One of the detective heroes is a practising Muslim. The other is an atheist who claims to hold no belief in God or anything metaphysical. His only conviction is that justice must be pursued regardless of the cost to himself or others, and that no crime victim should go without redress. The conversation is fragmentary and disjointed like the characters themselves. The atheist nearly loses his own life to rescue two kidnapped children, and it's the Muslim who finally catches the perpetrator, and drowns him in the sea in a life or death struggle with the diabolical killer.

Earlier in the film there were images of the religious sect practicing full immersion baptism in church so these resonated with that of the killer drowning as he resisted subjugation and arrest. It reminded me of parents speaking about babies crying at the font when they have water poured over them, as 'crying the devil out'. The film auteur plays with religious themes and symbols, raising the question of whether the existence of evil is more tangible and oddly credible than that of goodness. 

The atheist survives, his unbelief intact, just grateful to see children restored to their widowed mother. It's the religious man who is compelled to use lethal force at close quarters to stop the perpetrator's violence in its tracks, aware of the trail of death left behind him in a hospital. Experiences which will impact upon this kind, gentle and devout man. It's the kind of paradox which is not at all foreign to those who serve in security forces or the military, while the rest of us remain, for the most part unaffected. I what would Kierkegaad, that 'melancholy Dane' have made of this, I wonder?

Friday, 21 April 2017

Easter reunion

I wasn't called on to celebrate at St John's yesterday, as there are no weekday services in Easter week, to free the Parish clergy to take time off, so I had a lazy morning, with a walk around the park in the afternoon, without taking a rubbish collecting bag with me, for a change. I collected and binned half a dozen bottles and cans during my hour's walk anyway, but the park was unusually tidy after the Easter weekend and bank holiday.

I drove over to Ely for a bereavement visit at six, relating to the first of two funerals I'll be taking in St German's next week. Unusually, both are for people in their sixties, i.e. just a bit younger than me. Most of those I do are of people ten to twenty years older than me, as the average lifespan has risen so much during my lifetime in ministry.

I went to St John's city Parish Church for the midday Eucharist this morning, and a lunch date with my Romanian friend Dr. Laura Ciobanu, on a flying visit to see old friends and colleagues in Cardiff. I missed the bus that would have taken me there in time for the start of the service, and sat quietly in the nave, resisting the temptation (and the invitation of the Vicar) to make a disruptive late entry. It's better sometimes just to sit quietly and receive in silence.

Laura and I ate and chatted in the church tea room, re-branded 'The TeaSpot' these days. I'm glad to see it's open regularly again, with new volunteer teams. Vicar Sarah Rowland Jones and Curate Rhian Lineker shared the service, as Sarah's voice was cracking up after a busy few weeks. She recruited me to take a midweek Eucharist on her behalf when both of them are away in the first week of May. That'll be nice. Many of those still attending were regulars when I was the Vicar there - already seven years ago at the end of this month. It's always a pleasure to go there and be greeted by friends, old like me.

It's good to see there's been an exhibition of prints on themes taken from the Stations of the Cross in the north aisle exhibition area these past few weeks by local artist Wendy Batey Roberts. The aisle also still hosts a charity card shop in November and December, and church social events. Getting rid of old redundant chairs to clear the space and keep it free of clutter during my time was well worth the effort, though the credit for taking the initiative and maintaining the area clutter free belongs to organist Phil Thomas. The cleared north aisle came in handy for storing organ pipes during the period when the Father Willis instrument was being restored to its early glory, It's still going strong and the monthly Friday organ recitals continue, with healthy audiences.

After parting company with Laura at three, I wondered around the shops aimlessly for a while, then headed home for tea and a dull evening in front of the telly.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Meditating the Emmaus journey

This morning I went to St German's to celebrate the midweek Mass. No school children with us today, so it was in the Lady Chapel, quiet and reflective. After a quick cup of coffee and a chat about funeral arrangements for next week - I have two at St German's, one Wednesday and another Friday - I returned home to collect Clare and Diana to drive to Ruth's place in Tonyrefail for the Ignatian meditation group. Co-incidentally, the scriptural passage we used was the Road to Emmaus resurrection story, which was the Gospel for the day I'd read and reflected upon earlier. It was good to spend further time pondering over it. 

My imagination was attracted to constructing the conversation between Jesus and the travellers, how he'd have started from what they told him about events in Jerusalem, but brought them naturally around to seeing how what happened could be understood from scriptures they were familiar with by weaving it into the conversation as he listened to them pour out their puzzled hearts. It was rewarding, along with table talk with friends over lunch.

We drove back, I had a snooze for a while, then walked to the bank to deposit a cheque, and popped in to Stavros Constantinou's Salon next door for a belated hair-cut before returning home. Before I could do more than answer a few emails, it was time to cook supper. Later we watched the latest 'Benidorm' episode, always good for a doze of knockabout comedy, double entendres and sometimes ribald jokery. This Costa Blanca holiday resort is such a popular venue among Brits. Its portrayal of an all inclusive holiday hotel is affectionately mocking, and does well with its touching happy endings. Truly comedic. Straight after this we caught part 2 of this week's Hinterland, specialising in tragic and dark endings. An odd contrast, just before bed, come to think of it.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Geeky downtime

A lie-in followed by an idle day was just what I needed. I frittered time away attempting to convert an old Memory Stick Duo into a bootable Fedora Linux live medium in a USB card reader. A couple of days ago, I downloaded the latest Fedora ISO, both 32 and 64 bit versions to start with, aiming to try out on live the five year old Acer Core i3 laptop bequeathed me by Kath, currently running Linux Mint rather sweetly. 

I reformatted the Memory Stick and used a Mint utility to install the ISO on it. Neither 32 nor 64 bit versions worked. With trial and error, I realised Fedora's ISO wasn't happy loaded on a FAT16 or FAT32 filesystem. I reformatted to EXT4 filesystem, and the 32 bit ISO proved bootable. I must have a go at the 64 bit version eventually, to see if it will work on this old Core i3 machine. Being able to run any live version this way proved satisfying. I like the way Fedora's Gnome user interface works, and its reasonable performance under the circumstances. So then, I attempted a full installation of Fedora, not on the Acer's hard drive, as I didn't want to mess up Mint, but on the spare hard drive I've had sitting in a USB dock, since I retrieved it from the deceased Dell XPS.

Everything worked fairly well eventually, although Fedora's Anaconda installer bewildered me when it came to assigning full disk space, as I didn't really understand what it was asking me to do, as the drive in question was already partitioned ready for a Linux install, though not in a way Fedora was prepared to make sense of. Deleting the drive partitions and leaving Anaconda to do the rest worked, however, and in the end I was in possession of a bootable USB hard drive. It seems a little slow running to me, but maybe if physically installed in the machine, it would perform better. On the other hand, Gnome is not a lightweight user interface, compared to Mate on Linux Mint. Well, we'll see, when I next have an opportunity to tinker.

At teatime, I went out to Chapter to return two weeks worth of canvas carry bags for our organic veggie order, due tomorrow, then walked to the NatWest ATM on Cowbridge Road, to draw some money out. Since the start of the Triduum, I've had neither time nor opportunity for litter picking. On this journey of just over a mile, I picked up forty four pieces of litter. The forecourt area in front of the bank boasts a generous wheelchair ramp. There was an amazing amount of litter, paper cups, fag packets, a few cans and bottles, paper and plastic in this area, I admit that I wondered when it was last cleaned. But, as this is private property, not public realm, I made no effort to pick anything up. I tweeted about the mess instead, in the hope someone will notice.

After supper, a telly free evening, for a change. Plenty to read and think about, with Teresa May calling a General Election in the hope of increasing support for her brexit intransigence. I keep wondering what the possibility is of the electorate expressing concern and displeasure at the entirely foreseeable consequences of the referendum, and a government unable to agree, announce and implement a coherent strategy, by voting them out of office. A rainbow coalition of opposition parties might succeed in bringing Britain back from the brink, but that would be a miracle of co-operation beyond belief as the campaigning begins. But in these days of social media, six weeks is a very long time in politics, and many things can can, both for better and for worse.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Bank holiday outing

After a late breakfast, we drove to Cold Knap beach car park, west of Barry, then climbed from there up to the Coast Path and followed it to Porthkerry Country Park, about a mile along the coast. We had a coffee there, and were able to walk back along the beach, as the tide had gone out sufficiently to make it possible. By this time is was getting on for two, so we drove to a Co-op store on College Road Barry, and picnicked on sandwiches bought there before driving Owain to Cardiff Central station to catch a train back to Bristol. 

We then drove to Homebase on Newport Road, to get some plant nutrient and a new weighing scales, as ours died last week, after decades of use. We also called at Curry's digital, so that I could browse the new acquisitions and sale stock, and buy a Bluetooth mouse to use with one of my PCs with a dearth of USB ports. At ten quid it's worth the effort of finding out if using a Bluetooth  connection regularly is as good as should be.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Keeping the feast

I was grateful for a little longer in bed than usual this morning, as I didn't have an early service before going to St German's, especially as I had a sermon to prepare before retiring to bed after midnight. We were thirty five in church for the Solemn Mass of Easter Day. Such a low attendance is to be expected until word gets around about the arrival of a new Parish Priest, and the establishment of a relationship between a new pastor and the local community. It was, in any case, a joyous celebrations, not lacking in enthusiasm at all.

After Mass, a crowd of more than sixty arrived for the baptism of Skyla, whose mother brought her to church on a Sunday within a day of her birth, several weeks ago. Great-Grandma is a regular attender at church, so Skyla's first appearance was a special moment for the congregation, and her mum kept on bringing her subsequently. I returned home feeling full of the new life of Easter.

Owain came over to join us for lunch and to stay overnight. We had Paschal Lamb, and a lovely bottle of Bourgogne Pinot Noir, one of our favourites. After several hours of idleness following lunch, we had a walk around Llandaff Fields, and later enjoyed the latest twists and turns in this week's episode of 'Line of Duty' on TV before bed.

I'm pleased with myself that for the four main Masses of the Triduum I wrote fresh new sermons, without any need to re-visit stuff in my archives. I'm amazed at how insight comes, thought it may not be a coincidence that the given liturgies of each day have been supported by experienced teams of servers, making it possible for me not to have to divert energy into forms of worship, being comfortable with what the others involved were also comfortable with. Being able to produce an original sermon for the occasions is related to not having to worry about the rest of the service.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

A low key start to Paschal festivity

This morning we drove over to Bristol to visit Amanda. It was marvellous to see her in good form, in spite of her physical disability. She'd cooked a delicious quiche for lunch. No wonder her everyday carers enjoy working with her and admire her efforts to remain as creative and independent as she can. The last few years of coming to terms with her limitations have been really difficult for her, but what I find amazing is the way she's re-engaged with her Christian faith, tackling a Lenten study programme, and she's receiving Communion monthly, thanks to the Parish clergy of St Stephen's Southmead.

We get back home with time to spare, for me to prepare for the Easter Vigil at St German's and travel there. I was annoyed to drive along Cowbridge Road East to the junction with Cathedral Road, only  to find that transit of the the city centre via Stuttgartstrasse was blocked by road closures. I was obliged to make a U-turn and drive south around the city centre to get to Adamsdown. Fine. I know the route. But what about any out-of-town driver unused to negotiating their way around the city centre due to closures occasioned by sporting events in town? 

All that was required of the team implementing road closures was a Diversion notice at the previous junction with Neville Street, to avoid traffic chaos at the next intersection. Not a big ask, but sadly typical of the disregard for those having to cope with disruption caused by sporting road closures. The municipal alibi is that these events are good for the economy, but no account is ever presented publicly on the cost to the economy from pollution, traffic disruption and shoppers deterred from entering the centre any time there's a match on whether they're aware of this in advance or not.

Anyway I had allowed plenty of time to get to St German's, as I usually do. We were just eighteen for the Vigil. I can remember being less than half that number when I was at St John's city parish church. It's not a popular service. Perhaps most potential attenders are simply too busy getting ready for Easter to make the effort. Unless you're a member of an Orthodox Christian congregation. For them, this is one of the year's greatest events. And this year unusually our dates of Easter co-incide. Will we ever agreed on a common date for Easter I wonder.

I arrived after home after the start of the BBC Four episode of 'Department Q', an altogether dark and violent affair, pointing the finger at pathological behaviour among the ranks of those who are rich and powerful. It's not an unusual theme in contemporary drama,  but social reality seems to catch up on fiction somewhat more slowly.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Good Friday food for thought

When I got home last night, I parked the car in one of the few available spaces still left in the street. For the first three days of this week, getting in at eight, there were none left and I had to leave it across the main road in Greenfield Avenue. The space was almost too small, but I parked the car with less than a hand span of space front and rear. Clare was watching from the bedroom window and remarked on the feat. I'm not sure how I did it without touching or shunting the cars hemming me in. I decided to leave it there in case I had early morning hand eye co-ordination trouble trying to remove it for the drive over to St German's, and went by bus instead, taking advantage of more frequent services along Cowbridge Road, to drop me in town by half past nine, in good time to walk the second leg to church by ten to ten. I met St John's City Parish Church organist Philip Thomas on the bus, looking well and still playing there regularly. Our paths cross rarely these days.

I decided that I would offer a little improvised reflection at each of the Stations of the Cross today, now that I've got back into the pattern of conducting them and feel more relaxed about it. It's something that I recall other priests doing back in my youth, but not something I've ever done in a traditional framework. I wondered if I'd either dry up, or be too garrulous, but once I'd made a start, it came easily. I enjoyed this little experiment and a few of the sixteen people present expressed their appreciation and found it relevant to their experience. What more could I ask for?

We had coffee and hot cross buns in the church hall afterwards. Then I sat in the Lady Chapel, said the Office of Readings and Midday Prayer and enjoyed an hour of quiet (including a meditative snooze) before it was time for the afternoon Liturgy of the Passion, again with a full serving team. We had no organist to accompany the hymns, and I led unaccompanied singing. It sounds so effective in this church and enhances this solemn occasion. The dialogue Passion reading edited by James, the member of the congregation who read the narrator part, was a refreshing success, worth his effort. I hope it will get used again in future. He'd edited out the attributive statements i.e. all the 'He said..' mentions in the text. This causes it to flow more freely with greater dramatic intensity. With a natural tendency to visualise what I hear spoken, the Passion reading felt a little like watching a soft focus film with voice-over. It's extraordinary how the mind processes what it receives.

All went well until we moved to the High Altar for Communion. I discovered the reserved sacrament was not in the aumbry, looked puzzled and stepped back. When I was asked what was the matter, I said spontaneously "He is not here.", and thought what a strange thing that was to say on Good Friday. Then I went and checked in the Lady Altar aumbry, and it too was empty. At the end of last night's vigil, the Sacrament had been put in the sacristy safe, but nobody was aware of this, least of all me. Soon we were back on track, eighten of us communicated and we concluded after the final prayers singing 'When I survey the wondrous cross'. No Good Friday would be complete without it.

I walked back to the city centre and caught a 61 bus home, suitably tired and hungry, glad to have no further commitments, just time to relax and reflect. On Channel Five in the evening was a two hour long documentary called 'The Last Days of Jesus', presenting recent historical research into the political and social background of the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus, and proposing interesting and quite plausible theories about the timing of key events leading up to the Lord's Passion, being spread out over a six month period rather than three days, during which there was a major power shift in Rome which had ramifications for the political status quo in Palestine, a way of stating that Jesus was a victim of rapidly changing events in terms of the balance of power, which deprived him of popular support and drove him into the hands of his religious enemies.

Scholars interviewed expressed the conviction that nobody knows who the authors of the four Gospels were, and that they were all written late in the first century, and in a way that was self censoring in relation to the powers that be, and so don't give us a full account of the  historical record, which is in any case pretty incomplete. The question of whether John's Gospel is an eye-witness record, or at least had its origins in one man's personal eye-witness accounts, was not considered. And there, to my mind stands the un-addressed question when it comes to building a picture of available evidence about what occurred, and how Jesus understood his mission and the part played in it by the country's overlords. It may be time for me to bring myself a bit more up to date on contemporary New Testament study.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Maundy Thursday teamwork

I walked to the Eucharist at St John's this morning, picking up fourteen piece of litter on the way there, and dumping the bag in a litter bin outside Tesco's, nearly making myself late, as this move invovled a diversion. I went not because I'd been asked to officiate, but to take the opportunity to join worship as a member of the congregation, as Fr Phelim was celebrating. There were twice the number of people present compared to the usual Thursday service, which was good, and afterwards Fr Phelim and I were able to talk about his plans for the coming month, his final one in Canton Benefice.

I spent a quiet afternoon at home, preparing a sermon for the evening Mass, and drove St St German's for a half past seven start. There were twenty six of us, including a full serving team of five. The sun had set by the time we came to the Lord's Supper, and this encouraged me to slow down and recite the Eucharistic prayer more reflectively and slowly than usual. I hope people didn't mind. I noticed that the congregation still said the Lord's Prayer at the habitual brisk pace. It's not easy for a whole community to slow down together and think about the words. Maybe it takes years. I know how quickly I can speed up on some occasions.

The Lady Chapel was bedecked with greenery and flowers for the Vigil which followed. A friend of Fr Roy's who is a trainee florist had volunteered to do floral arrangements to cover the Triduum, and had paid for them as well. They looked magnificent, and will look great in the sunlight on Easter morning - please let there be sunlight, lots of it! After the singing of Pange Lingua during the procession with the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose, I said a few appropriate devotional interspersed with Taize chants, which it seems quite a few members of the congregation are familiar with, though not all, as it ever was. 

I discovered that I was redundant when it came to the stripping of the altars. The servers just got on and did it with quiet devout efficiency, and summoned me discretely to join them for the concluding closure of the doors of the high altar reredos, prodding them doors shut using a long up-ended candle snuffer. I cannot ever remember a Maundy Thursday when I haven't been obliged to give the lead in stripping the altars, or do it all myself. The history of sacred team work in St German's goes back many decades, and makes it so easy, indeed luxurious for any priest to work with. It's something I remember when I work, so often nearly on my own when I'm abroad.

Home, the relax for an hour with a TV programme, then start on a Good Friday sermon for the Liturgy of the Passion tomorrow afternoon. Thankfully it came together easily, though I would have preferred to finish and go to bed earlier.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Holy Week Wednesday

We took advantage of a free day to drive back to the National Botanic Garden for a second visit on the same ticket, as you can return any time within the same week. Saturday was quiet, today the place was busy with lots of young families enjoying leisure activities geared for the school holidays. I guess on Saturdays, parents either took their kids to the beach or went shopping. Today, it was cloudy with occasionally sunny breaks, and perhaps a little too cold for paddling and sandcastles. It was lovely to hear crowds of children having fun, enjoying the open air, exploring the play park or the hay bale maze.

We followed one of the walking trails up the east facing side of the valley, and walked for nearly two hours before returning to the site restaurant for lunch. At different stages along marked routes there are interpretation panels explaining the sustainable organic cattle farming that takes place on the Botanic Garden estate lands and what this does to restore wildlife to the region, which has been suppressed in many other places by modern farming practices. We walked a short circuit of meadow and woodland rich with flowers and birds after lunch, and sat for a while enjoying the big walled garden before we headed back to Cardiff in good time for evening commitments.

Clare came with me as far as the town centre when I drove to St German's for the evening Mass. She was on her way to a performance of Bach's St John's Passion in St David's Hall. There were ten of us for Mass this evening. Purely by chance, as I started the car, the radio was tuned to Radio 3, and the first half of the performance Clare was listening to in situ was just coming to an end. I listened to the second half when I got home, while chatting to Rachel in a belated birthday greeting call. It was good to catch up with her latest musical news. And now, another attempt at an early night, bed!

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Holy Week Tuesday

Seventy two years old today, and feeling grateful to be fit and active, blood pressure notwithstanding. After a lazy start to the day, I spent a long time on the phone with my sisters - Pauline 88 and June 82 - still their younger brother, with lots of memories to share. Then I drove to Dinas Powis to collect Clare from her study group, and then go to B&Q at Culverhouse Cross to buy compost and bedding plants. 

As we approached the junction at which one turns off into the superstore's car park, a car crash happened about 20 metres in front of us. I didn't see the collision, only the immediate aftermath. One car stopped in the land ahead of me with pieces falling off its front end, and another car in the adjacent lane a few metres further on with a smashed rear end, including its rear window. A woman emerged from the car carrying a child in a safety seat, heading for the central reservation where the other car was, rather than the roadside. It seemed nobody was injured, just very distressed. At that moment, I didn't see there was anything I could do to help except drive very carefully around the cars and out of the incident zone, to make way for police and emergency services to arrive, and relieve the congestion.

Thankfully, that busy area is well covered by Police traffic cameras, and I knew the incident would have been picked up on very quickly, perhaps even before a 999 call was received. We heard sirens about ten minutes later. By the time we emerged from the store, an ambulance was on the scene, as well as a police car, and traffic was moving past the incident zone. The stretch of the A48 from Culverhouse into town is almost always busy, and the speed limit is mostly 40mph, and mostly monitored by radar controlling cameras. I think this is rather too high for the traffic flow through a built up area, and tend to stay at 30mph as a precaution, but there's no guarantee that someone behind overtaking won't misjudge their position and rear-end my car, but I'm grateful it's not happened to me so far.

After a late lunch, I visited Fr Mark our Vicar to go over the outline plans for the coming months, when I'm here and able to help him out, after Fr Phelim moves to St German's. Until there's a new bishop, the thought of a replacement parish priest is not on the agenda, the same as Fr Phelim's licensing. It's a most unfortunate consequence of the failed election process and subsequently stalled appointment by the Bench of Bishops. It may be nothing will happen now until after the Church in Wales' Easter meeting of the Governing Body in Easter Week. Under the circumstances, the bishops may feel the need to report back publicly on all that's happened in the full glare of the publicity surrounding events. Well, we'll see. The Church in Wales is in uncharted waters. There have been failed electoral processes followed by episcopal appointments in the past, but not in a world where social media and citizen journalism have powerfully voiced concerns over accountability.

When I returned home, Mary from across the road came over bringing scones for tea. Clare had bought a chocolate cake as an interim birthday cake. I get the official one on Sunday - an Eastertide Simnel Cake, one of my all time favourites. After an early supper I drove over to St German's to celebrate the evening Mass of the day, for half a dozen. Then, an hour's telly, and bed earlier than usual, to make up for early rising these past few days.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Holy Week Monday

Having previously missed out on getting a 'book on the day' GP appointment by telephoning for one at eight o'clock, I walked to the surgery and waited for the doors to open, to get a 10.00am slot, to learn about findings from what was, in my opinion, an unsatisfactory 24 hours spent with a blood pressure monitoring device, during which it made many more efforts to take readings at odd times when it wasn't programmed to. 

After breakfast I returned to meet another doctor, not the one who'd commissioned the use of the device, and got the usual lecture about my systolic reading being too high, which I knew anyway, as it's been like that for years. He urged me to accept extra medication to treat the condition 'aggressively' to get that reading down, to avoid a fatal stroke or heart attack, and was evidently displeased when I questioned the value of the readings provided by the device.

I was surprised to learn that I've been on blood pressure medication for eleven years, since that fateful year when the closure of St James' Tredegarville church became inevitable, and I was left to pick up all the piece and dispose of the contents prior to sale, one of the most stressful times of my entire life. 

In all those years, I have never had chest pains, headaches, seizures of any kind, nor dizzy spells, nor the kind of physical symptoms associated with so called 'mini-strokes', only an occasional nose bleed. One or two early hypertension drug trials, not to mention statins did give me unpleasant side effects, and I had to insist on trying something else instead. I know my blood pressure is high, and have done everything I can to get it down naturally, weight loss, alcohol reduction, diet and exercise, relaxation. Little has changed. I'm a decade older, and blood pressure tends to go up anyway as you get older. You can't win. Nosotros somos todos mortales, like it or not. So why the big worry? 

The contemporary epidemic of longevity is resulting in a major medical, social and economic crisis. Doctors furrow their brows and write notes about problem patients no doubt, if you challenge their world view that more must to be done to prolong lives drawing to a close. Can they cope with the idea that life is a gift to be cherished and eventually relinquished naturally, not a mechanism to be maintained as long as possible? 

To be fair, it's not a digital equation. A stroke or a coronary, even if untreated may not end life but prolong it, with lengthy and expensive treatment and years of infirmity. So, reducing the risk is reducing the medical bill, maybe. The statistics are very complex, so risks and costs will, in any case vary, from person to person. Having a decent conversation about this range of issues with medics working hard to deliver a service in limited time slots is impossible. At least I can debate with myself in this blog.

Anyway, I conceded to a month's trial of a supplementary medication before I next leave for Spain, to get some idea if I'd have adverse reactions to the drug, before leaving the country. Our local pharmacy is opposite the surgery now, so I submitted the prescription immediately and had a interesting and quite reassuring conversation with the pharmacist. He's engaged on a research project into hypertension medication, and needed an opportunity to discuss with me the drugs I've taken for the past decade, as I'm a regular customer. Now it's a question of getting on with the new regime of pills, and seeing whether or not it makes any difference.

Meanwhile, back on the streets, I collected forty four items of litter walking to the surgery and back. The haul included several beer glasses carried away by drinkers and dumped some distance from the pub in question. Considering I walked the same route to church at eight o'clock yesterday collecting just ten items, the increase represents mainly Sunday leisure time consumption. Later I went to Pontcanna Fields, and collected a staggering eighty one pieces of litter, mostly from one large football pitch area. One particularly telling indication of the culprits was a line of half a dozen Lucozade Sports energy drinks just behind one pitch touchline, plus the plastic packaging which had held bottles together prior to sale. I try to avoid feelings of outrage at this defilement of public space by careless self-centred people whatever their age. I just feel a lot better when I can rest my eyes on a cleaned up sea of green.

At the end of the morning I had a call from Ashley to take him to Chepstow again, as a follow up from last Friday's visit. I picked him up from the CBS office with another batch of radios for inspection, and we went there and back again in three hours. Getting home from the office took far longer than I would normally expect. Traffic going out of two at four thirty was very slow moving. After an early supper I set off across town again for the evening Mass at St German's, and thankfully the roads were clearer and traffic was free flowing again. There were half a dozen of us at worship, and once more, I enjoyed expounding the scriptural texts freely and spontaneously, rather than preaching a prepared homily. It's not because I didn't have time to write one, but more that I wanted to explore spending time on the texts in situ with a small group of faithful people I know quite well. Will it make a difference?

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Palm Sunday and crime fiction

Up bright and early to celebrate the eight o'clock Eucharist at St Catherine's, and Clare came too, so she could have the rest of the morning free to go to Riverside Market, and prepare lunch for an early afternoon visit to her study group in Bristol. I went on to St German's to celebrate Mass. Being Palm Sunday, we began with the blessing of Palms in the church's walled garden, and processed from there into the building. The sun shone and a wren tweeted a commentary during the the Palm Gospel reading. Again the sun streamed into the church wonderfully throughout the service.

Beforehand and afterwards, we had visits from people asking for baptism in the coming weeks. There are seven to baptise in four separate services, and all these will fall to me, as they'll happen before Fr Phelim is licensed and starts working full time in the Parish. I've done more while on different locum duty stints in St German's over the past five years, than I did in eight full years at St John's. There have been more this past years than previously, and the reason for that is not apparent. I wonder if it's a sign of resurgent interest in tradition and custom, after a long period of disinterest. It's certainly not unusual for faith concerns to wax and wane, and skip a generation.

I fully intended to go out for a walk after lunch, but indolence got the better of me, so I didn't. After a few phone calls and emails, I dozed off for a while, and then Clare was home again. I watched an NCIS episode not previously seen, while waiting for 'Line of Duty', which made compelling watching, with a shock ending yet again. So many twists and turns you don't see coming.

My regular diet of crime fiction watching when I have nothing better to do, has made me wonder lately about the significance of the character portrayal of crime investigators.

So many of them are mavericks, some are team players, sort of, but with brilliant bosses, as in the CSI and NCIS series, where the nature of leadership and its qualities is part of what's being explored. In other series, sleuths are sad people, loners, struggling socially, in pain, but all of them have the ability to think outside the box, to see and read evidence differently from others, obsessive as well as brave in chasing the truth, no matter how costly to themselves or others.

These seem like heroic cultural figures in the so called ‘age of reason and scientific evidence’, for they expose weaknesses and disabilities in the way well meaning people and those with vested interests in the status quo interpret, if not select evidence to work with, to suit themselves. The idea that the truth is out there, but hidden. Searching for the truth involves discipline, pain and self sacrifice, also intuition and inspiration as well as experience, learning and skill. Truth may not be what it seems at first sight. This is important, not just in forensic science, and law enforcement, but also in politics and commerce. Recent episodes of 'Line of Duty' and 'Follow the Money', both about uncovering corruption in policing and in the financial world, have made me think about the personal costliness of pursuing the truth.

If I may dare stretch the point, this is equally important in terms of religious truth too, filled as religion can be with hypocrisy, lies, bigotry and manipulation. Some say that’s all there is to religion, yet, there are outstanding people who see truth and reality beyond the superficial crap, who want to take us where we don’t think the evidence leads. The best and most inspiring spiritual and religious leaders and teachers resemble the maverick crime busting heroes I’m thinking of. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy the genre so much, even when it's weird and wonderful, or just super nasty. These detectives may be odd characters, and downright unholy in many aspects of their lives, yet they feel compelled to sacrifice themselves to uncover the truth the evidence really points to. 

There's something comparable to the story of Jesus in this, as it unfolds on Palm Sunday and during Holy Week, when we're reminded that the revelation of God in the midst of outrageous human iniquity and injustice occurs in a context of law enforcement and political expediency, secular and religious.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

An afternoon in the Garden (National Botanic)

We took advantage of a free sunny day to drive west this morning along the A48 and the M4 to visit the Welsh National Botanic Garden at Llanarthne. It's hard to believe we last visited six years ago, time has just flown by. Most of the early daffodils are now dying back, but later blossoming varieties are in full flower, and primroses are out in force, all offering patches of yellow differently shaded to the grass cover of the terrain. 

Many trees are in blossom, but leaves are still tiny, and for the most part, branches still have that bare wintry look about them. Despite cut-backs n public spending, the place looks well maintained and cared for, thanks to a host of devoted volunteers, as well as paid staff, no doubt. On such a lovely day, we thought the number of visitors would be greater that it seemed to be. Garden visitor numbers seem to be increasing across the country. I'd forgotten that the RHS show was taking place in Cardiff this weekend, however.

One notable addition to the landscape is a collection of giant hardwood tree trunks from Ghana's rain forests, each with histories and names as distinctive as their shapes. These are set in the ground on the south east flank of the giant domed greenhouse. They resemble giant artworks sculpted intricately from wood coloured elephant grey since the bark was stripped from it, leaving it to dry outdoors. They will stay were they've been installed for a very long time, as the wood is very durable, and not always susceptible to degradation by rainwater. There are photos here

I took a number of close-up photos of birds feeding off crumbs dropped from tables in the outdoor courtyard of the restaurant, also of vividly coloured tropical butterflies, kept in the large green house in a corner of the double walled kitchen garden. The greenhouse was there previously, although I don't recall seeing or photographing any butterflies at that time. There are photos here. 

We returned in time to cook supper and relax, before watching the latest Scandi Noir crime drama on BBC Four, Department Q. Sister June says it's part of a series re-run, so I reckon I may have been out of the country when it was last aired. It was complex, 'cold case' story, rather implausible, although I loved the maverick investigators. One character is a devout muslim, probably meant to be Syrian or Iraqui called Assad. That made me smile, being a direct assault on stereotyping Muslims and middle eastern names. A liberal effort to compensate for fallout from the blasphemous cartoon episode maybe?

Friday, 7 April 2017

Another Friday outing

Back again to St German's for a midday Mass followed by Lent lunch in the hall afterwards. A mother with her three year old daughter came in during lunch to arrange a baptism for next month. I think we now have six candidates for baptism between now and the end of May, a cheerful Eastertide prospect.

Afterwards, I collected Ashley from Motorpoint Arena, we drove to Chepstow to the RadioNet supplier's HQ for a troubleshooting session with a batch of radios with an annoying minor problem. The kind of thing that happens with an enormously complex and sophisticated system. Not impossible to fix, but needing painstaking attention. I fell into unexpected conversation there about Lenten fasting tradition with Claudia, one of PMR's admin staff, who is Romanian Orthodox. She was wondering if Western custom was as demanding and difficult to sustain as what she had experienced when she was young back home. The simple answer - 'No, not at all' 

On the way out of from the centre, there was a build up of traffic due to a road block due to emergency services being in action, trying to persuade some sad soul not to jump off a high building. We made a detour right around Splott and Tremorfa, as many others did. The schools were were coming out, and the traffic moved very slowly, so getting out to the motorway lost us the best part of an hour. It meant the necessary work on all the radios couldn't be completed, so I may have to return on Monday to pick them up, ready for issue late afternoon. I don't mind doing trips like this occasionally to help out, even though I'm not otherwise active in running the company any more.

It was almost seven by the time I returned home, just in time for the Archers, which had a particularly dramatic conclusion to keep listeners curious over the weekend. Later, I watched the final episode of 'The Team', multi-lingual euro crime on More Four. My second dose of high class multi-lingual entertainment in twenty four hours - marvellous! Again, no walk so no litter picking today.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Ministry in-between times

I drove to St John's to celebrate the Eucharist this morning, once again having left it too late to walk there in time. There were nine of us present. I've noticed how numbers tail off somewhat through Lent and pick up again for Holy Week and Easter. What I believe happens is that warmer longer days encourage some people to travel more than they have over the winter months. Palm Sunday weekend in Wales, is like All Saints tide in Europe. People visit graves of family members, tidy them up and leave flowers. These days fewer folk live so close to places they grew up in or still have relatives in. It's all part of the changing pattern of life today.

During Lent, Bishop David has been giving special Lent talks on Mission and Ministry at churches in various parts of the diocese. I believe they have been well attended, and well received. I've been most fortunate to receive copies of his addresses after they've been delivered, and much enjoyed reading them, as opportunity arose. His style is conversational, anecdotal and poetic, using stories with great effect to put his core points across, and is often laced with humour and incisive wit. I can well imagine hearing his Yorkshire voice when reading his text and often find myself laughing aloud, and moved to reflect on his deep spiritual insight.

Sadly on Easter Day Bishop David's ministry in the diocese ends. He has devoted himself to being a teacher and pastor during the episcopal vacancy, providing a focus and support for the faithful while ruling himself out of being promoted as a candidate for the role of diocesan Bishop. He has certainly fulfilled his role with great integrity, dignity and humility. How hard it must be for him, especially when people love the way he ministers, and maybe say. "Why can't you be our new Bishop?" That's not easy to handle, as I know from personal experience when ministering as an interim priest abroad, as people appreciative of being 'properly' looked after are prone to say "Why can't you stay?" And that's because many have no idea how much it takes to work full time, and don't seem to realise that I'm past retirement age, older than I seem to be. John the Baptist's words "He must increase while I must decrease" often come to mind, whoever the incoming pastor might be, eventually. 

It seems possible that there'll be no announcement of an appointment before he leaves unless there's a surprise awaiting us all next week. Then Llandaff diocese will truly be 'like sheep without a shepherd'. In the absence of a new leader to set the tone, unite and inspire everyone, all the routines of church will will continue, but not much by way of innovation or change can happen, because of the top-down nature of church leadership which Anglicans doggedly cling to.

I cooked supper for us early, then drove over to St German's for the Stations of the Cross at seven. There were just four of us, but I still felt it was worthwhile, praying with Church Wardens Richard and Peter plus Peter's wife Hilary, bringing the future of the Parish to God in prayer. Earlier in the day the whole of Tredegarville School had been in church for a special Passiontide/Easter celebration of Mass, at which Fr Phelim presided, at my suggestion, so that he could be introduced to the children, while I covered the usual Thursday service back in Canton Benefice. We're still awaiting a licensing date for him, and may have to wait until a new Bishop has been appointed for a date to be set in his/her diary. Things drag on painfully after such a long wait for the people of Splott and Adamsdown to have their new priest-in-charge.

Later in the evening I watched the first two episodes of the bilingual production of 'Hinterland' on BBC iPlayer. We watched the all-Welsh version on S4C six months ago. Now BBC Wales is showing the bilingual version, and in months to come it will appear on all networks. It was worth watching again, to see how skilfully the use of Welsh and English is interwoven in the script, reflecting real everyday life in mid and north Wales.

No walking today, so no litter picking.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

A new arrival and a litter storm

As usual, I went to St German's to celebrate the midweek Mass. This morning, it was just half a dozen of us in the Lady Chapel. Tomorrow the whole school will come in for a Lent-East celebration, which I persuaded Fr Phelim to do, so that he has an opportunity to introduce himself to the whole school, as it will be a key context for his new ministry to people in its Adamsdown and Splott catchment area. He will be moving house after Easter, and licensed in May, presuming we have a new Bishop by then.

After the service, PCSO Andy, his wife Michelle and their eleven day old daughter Millie, snug in her carry cot, called into the church so we could chat about the Christening. Actually it's going to be two Christenings, a Michelle expressed an interest in being Baptized when I officiated at the wedding a year ago. Once she became pregnant, she decided to wait until after the birth. I was so delighted when she emailed me to announce Millie's arrival and discuss dates. I discussed this with Fr Phelim, and he's happy for me to see this through with them, for continuity. With Andy working in the community, he'll get to know the family as time goes by.

Women in the church Day Centre were delighted to welcome Andy and Michelle's baby, and several of them gave Millie a cuddle while mum and dad were chatting with Father. I settled for giving her a first blessing, there in the church hall, before taking my leave of them, and drove home smiling to myself. It was a lovely morning.

I got home at noon. Clare suggested a walk and a picnic, to we went over to Blackweir and followed the Taff up-stream to Llandaff North, calling into Tesco's superstore for some sandwiches and a drink. Contrary to habit, and partly so we didn't have to hang around to be served, I used a robotic check-out, and got very annoyed with it, as it wouldn't scan some items submitted, and nagged me about using the wretched 'bagging area' for purchases - butt of jokes in stand up comedy. 

It turned out I'd used the one on my left side instead of the right. I was not aware of signage indicating which area belonged to which till. If you're left handed like me, it doesn't come as naturally to pass goods from left to right as it does from right to left. A big directional arrow over the till would have helped. For a few moments I felt helplessly stupid, annoyed with myself and the world. An assistant tried to help me, but presumed I was having trouble getting started rather than being stuck half way through purchasing, only making matters worse, until I rebuffed her and got a telling off from Clare. 

We continued following the riverside path on the Gabalfa side, stopping for a picnic half way, and turning round in Llandaff North village after stopping for a drink at Coffi Cwtch on the High Street. Along this stretch of riverside I was surprised how few litter bins there were until we reached Hailey Park, which had several. For a change, however, there wasn't much to pick up in this stretch, half a dozen pieces. By the time we walked back down river, over Blackweir Bridge and across Pontcanna Fields to home, I'd picked up another seven times as much.

This is Varsity Sports Week in Cardiff, and students from the three Universities are out on the streets and in the parks in force, wearing supporters tee shirts, getting drunk and being rowdy as some do. But worst of all on a sunny day like today, groups sit out on the sports fields for picnics and/or drinking sessions, and leave their rubbish behind. At just one abandoned party site, I picked up ten bottles and cans, and there were half a dozen other groups scattered across the playing fields still enjoying the air and drinking. Heaven knows what it will look like tomorrow. I collected a total of fifty items of litter out walking today. 

Our parks are well maintained and supplied with litter bins that are well used though rarely full. Some people just walk away and leave their cans, bottles, cups and food wrappers behind. What kind of social education or training are young sports people and their fans getting, that they can exhibit such disregard for an environment they share with people of all ages? In the days of military conscription, many men who regarded themselves as having learned next to nothing as they grew up, were subjected to what would be regarded nowadays as harsh and rigorous training, and education for self reliance and disciplined living. They learned how maintain high standards, to look after themselves and take care of their environment, or suffer if they didn't. Society may no longer feel military conscription is necessary or relevant, but it hasn't replaced that kind of disciplined personal formation for adult life in any consistent way that makes responsible citizens out of individualistic adolescents. More's the pity. 

What sort of mess of a world is little Millie going to grow up in?

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

New moves

I slept well, and inevitably ached a little after seven hours sitting on a coach, and my surprise jog from train to bus station yesterday. After lunch, I took Clare to her opthalmology appointment at the Heath hospital, then walked around Pontcanna Fields to exercise stiff legs for an hour, before cooking supper early, so I could eat before Tai Chi class. During the walk, I collected twenty pieces of litter, which made up for yesterday, when I only picked up three piece on my way to and from the coach station.

We worked on some familiar moves during the session, as part of learning a twenty four step sequence of Tai Chi form, an abridged version of the Short Form. The class has been working on this for a few months. Even though I knew most of the individual moves, the differences in order made it quite challenging trying to observe and follow. Learning this will help keep my wits sharp, for sure.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Tech service London expedition

Out of the house by twenty to eight, and walking to Sophia Gardens to get the eight fifteen coach to London, on another warm and sunny morning. The coach arrived, but the designated driver was stuck in traffic on his way to work, so we set out twenty minutes late. We were most fortunate to have a clear run and made up the time, arriving at noon. Although I hadn't slept well, I didn't drop off to sleep as I usually do on this journey. Thanks to the coach's wi-fi, I passed the time reading the news and sending emails from my phone.

This time, June was in better shape, getting out and about again, she'd shopped for a ready meal curries to share for lunch, so before getting down to work, we ate and caught up on the latest news. Afterwards an inspection of her computer revealed that updates were working properly and nothing was amiss, but there was something of a puzzle. All I needed to do was update her Libre Office installation. It's very quick loading on her speedy machine. 

When June bought her new ten inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, she'd sought setup help in the shop. This proved not possible at the first step of registering the device using her Gmail account, for no apparent reason. She tried several different possible passwords without success. Yet, she had no problem accessing emails on her computer, using the password it had first been set up with, some time ago. Truth to tell, she'd not signed out of the account for a long time, so had never encountered any problem. 

I requested a new password from Google, according to June's wishes and we both made a note of it. I was able to guide her through the tablet set up and basic usage stages, but couldn't give her longer to explain how to change settings, so she'll have to play with it herself and learn by doing. I may be daunting, as a touchscreen quite so sensitive takes a while to get used to, especially when its default screen time-out setting is too brief for someone who learns carefully and stops to ponder before action. 

In Wandsworth Borough a discount taxi fare card system operates for elderly and disabled people, to ensure they can afford to get to medical appointments, which can often require patients to travel some distance and awkward routes. June had failed to register this card with the web booking service run by a Taxi company on behalf of Wandsworth Council. With the discount card was a leaflet instructing the card holder how to register and use it to book at taxi in advance. 

I followed the same registration instructions as June had, and also failed to compete the task. It was a rather strange requirement, that according to the given instructions, one should register the number of the card issued to the holder, and use as a password, the local phone number printed on the back of the actual Taxi Card, which was that of the company running the scheme. A bit like issuing a bank card and printing its PIN number on the back of it, I thought to myself. Anyway, we sent the company an email and auto-response said June would hear from them in a day or so. What can be wrong here?

I left June a half past six and was on a train for London Victoria at twenty to seven. Only then did I check my ticket and realise the coach was at seven not half past! What a fool. The train arrived at nine minutes to seven, and I ran through the station, up and across Buckingham Palace Road, hoping and praying my legs and lungs would hold out, arriving with two minutes to spare, relieved and triumphant. That's done my physical confidence a power of good, even if I pay for this with stiffness tomorrow. 

The coach arrived on time at ten fifteen. Again, I didn't fall asleep during the journey. It must be Spring energy buoying me up at the moment. I walked home in twenty minutes, had supper, then we listened to a recording of Kath and Anto's band 'Sonrisa' being interviewed and playing two of their songs on BBC local Radio Coventry & Warwickshire, a delightful conclusion to a successful day out.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Parking puzzle

Up early on this bright sunny Passion Sunday morning, walking down to St John's Canton to celebrate the eight o'clock Eucharist with ordinand Sam and three others. I picked up nine items of litter in transit, and there were more that were too wet to handle, still drying from overnight rain. There's always more.

Then, on after breakfast to St German's for the Solemn Mass. Numbers were down there as well, but we did welcome a visitor from Germany who comes over at least once a year to stay with friends and joins us for worship. With the sun flooding the building with bright morning light, leading worship was particularly uplifting.

Feeling rather tired after lunch, following yesterday's workshop and walk, I went by car to the coach station in Sophia Gardens to buy a coach ticket for tomorrow's trip to London to see sister June. I found a parking space easily, and was stopped by a puzzled visiting motorist querying if the Pay 'n Display parking regime extended to the road outside the enclosed car park. I couldn't see a notice nearby. It was only when I walked fifty metres towards the ticket office that I saw one.

I hadn't seen the ticket machine serving this zone as it was located across the road and inside a bus-only lane leading into the coach parking and passenger pick up area. A rather unsafe location for pedestrians, to say the least. It was thirty metres away from the zone it served, and from afar it was hard to determine its purpose with no accompanying sign board or information panel. It looked like it had been put there as an afterthought, or was a job abandoned half complete. By the time I'd fully taken this in, I reached the booking office, and as there wasn't a queue, I was back in my car and driving out, in the same amount of time as it would have taken me to get a ticket from a machine in the car park.

The rest of the day we spent at home, quiet and uneventful except for another remarkable episode of 'Line of Duty' which boasted a twelve minute police interrogation sequence, economical in movement and camera angles, with continuous dialogue, possibly shot entirely in one take, producing a peculiarly intense and claustrophobic atmosphere, like a stage performance. Great telly.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Saturday a workshop and a financial drama

I drove to Penarth this morning for a morning's Tai Chi workshop for regular class members in Albert Road church hall. It was a refreshing and stimulating session, and good to meet with several long standing Tai Chi players whom I've got to know over the fifteen years I've been attending Christie's classes. Clare met me afterwards and we walked up to Penarth Head, then down to the pier to have coffee and sandwiches for an al fresco lunch before walking for a while on the beach and then back to where the car was parked. The sun shone and there was cool fresh breeze, a most enjoyable couple of hours after the workshop. I picked up fourteen items of rubbish, mostly from the beach, in the course of the day.

We were surprised at how relatively few people were out walking the promenade or on the beach or the pier given the fine weather. Clare wanted to call at IKEA in Grangetown to buy some curtain material on the way home. When we arrived the IKEA car park was almost completely full, suggesting that the store would be just as full with crowds of weekend shoppers, so we drove out again without stopping and returned for tea. We were out of buns, cakes and biscuits, so I walked to the Coop and bought some hot cross buns. By the time I returned, Clare had made some spicy bun dough and was preparing hot cross buns of her own for next time. Always better than shop bought ones, if you have time to make them.

The last two episodes of 'Follow the Money' were screened on BBC Four in the evening, in which all was satisfactorily resolved and a major financial crisis involving the catastrophic devaluation of the Danish Kroner was averted by our investigative hero doing a secret deal with a powerful British financial 'robber baron'. The baddies got their come-uppance, the selfish and foolishly ambitious were chastened, and survivors returned to family life grateful for a break from all the nastiness. A happy ending, sort of, with just enough key characters making it to the end to make possible a  third series, maybe. 

In one scene, financial crisis was precipitated by speculators betting on a devaluation of the Kroner, which the very powerful had deemed to be over-valued, and used a series of corrupt and illegal initiatives to bring about their aim of profiting from this movement. I found the words "The Kroner is over-valued" chilling, as it mirrored opinions voiced in the media by leading British financiers about the pound in the wake of the brexit vote. It makes me wonder to what extend this kind of strategic financial corruption may have been a driving force in getting euro-skeptics and their media backers to mount an anti-EU campaign riddled with lies and fake news. Anyway, this was well crafted and worth watching throughout, and was good in how it conveyed the human impact of financial crisis on the micro as well as macro level.