Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A St David’s Day worth remembering

How annoying for Ash Wednesday to fall on St David’s day, March 1st, as it must do every once in a while. Sensibly, our Roman Catholic neighbours in St David’s Cathedral kept the feast the day before on Shrove Tuesday. The Church in Wales calendar, stuck by its convention of keeping the feast the day after, the second day of the Lenten fast – silly really. An example of how rule bound and unimaginative Anglicans can sometimes be. Secular Wales and Cardiff commerce simply ignored the first day of Lent altogether and kept St David’s day with much pomp, ceremony and promotional psazz.

The Craft market, that comes at Christmas and midsummer, took up residence along St John’s Churchyard railings for the few days either side of St David’s Day, and there was a stages with bands and performances going on somewhere, I didn’t get to see. We woke up to a light covering of snow on our emerging daffodils. It was cold, but soon the sun was out. Quite memorable really.

The Queen came to open our new Senedd building, housing the debating chamber and committee rooms of the Welsh Assembly. Clare and I went down to view the inside last week and were much impressed by Richard Rogers’ simple light and airy design, with stunning views across the Bay. And in its context, next to the Millennium Centre Opera House and the Victorian Pier head building, it looks great. It’s built with sustainability in mind, and heated by geothermal energy. Expensive? Sure thing, but worth it, to have a striking building that really makes an effort to embody the values of a participatory democracy. I hope Her Majesty was pleased with the building.

Quite apart from the Queen’s visit, it was also a big day for the Army, to mark the merger of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, The Royal Regiment of Wales and The Royal Welsh Regiment into one new body to be called the Royal Welsh. A drumhead service of dedication had been planned to take place close the new Senedd building in the Oval Basin, a much used open air arena made from in a filled-in dock. However, uncertain weather predictions required a fallback venue be organised. At the end of last week I was contacted by the County protocol office to ask if St John’s could be used. I met with the officers charged with organising the service, and they made their preparations. Then, the day before, I received a phone call to say that the Army had been offered free use of St David’s Hall for the event – in fact, a much better option because it can seat four or five times what St John’s can contain.

Much appreciation was expressed for our readiness to assist and I was invited to attend the ceremony and the Civic lunch and tea that went with it. Since it was Ash Wednesday, I declined, but went to watch the Mayor and the Colonel of the new regiment take the salute at the first march-past of the combined forces after a quick snack lunch at home, before going on to share with Jenny in doing an Ash Wednesday service for the children of Tredegarville school.

Preparing for this school service necessitated me going down to the church late Tuesday evening, and setting out seating, moveable pews and stacking chairs to accommodate 250 people, single-handed. Not much fun, but there aren’t any able bodied people to call upon to do such vital caretaking operations. Two days later, I am still stiff from humping heavy pews around. It’s cheaper than going to the gym, I suppose.

The children were all a bit high from the snow, and from having their traditional St David’s day school Eisteddfod that morning. (not even the school seemed to care that the Church in Wales had transferred St David to the next day). However they sang the few familiar songs we used very cheerily, and were very attentive for Jenny’s story. Such a pleasure to see their bemused faces when signing their heads with a cross in ashes. They take it on trust, but whether they really understand what it’s all about apart from it being something special we do on this day, I have my doubts, despite Jenny’s outstandingly accessible way of speaking about the importance of this first day of Lent.

We finished just in time to allow me to get a lift over to St David’s Hall for the re-located drumhead service. However, Jenny’s car was blocked in by a van whose owner was nowhere to be found, and I was obliged to jog the three quarters of a mile to the St David’s Hall instead and got there breathless, just before the service started. Not bad, considering I am still limping from an ankle injury back in January.

The drumhead service was a impressive display of military ceremony and formal Establishment type worship, diplomatically put together. The chaplain general preached and said all the expected things, although it was notable that he emphasised the importance of the moral struggle, and higher values in the complex scenarios presented to modern soldiery. The Colonel also spoke very well. It was a bit like having two sermons. All the soldiers of the regiments were there, plus families and friends and members of veterans associations. A real family gathering, followed by a bun fight and beer for the troops in City Hall.

After the service, I made my way home, and finished my preparation for a short PCC meeting later on. Then it was back down to City Hall for a Conservation Advisory Group meeting at 6.15 in a committee room, with the background sound of revelling squaddies finishing off their little tea party. There’s was lots on the agenda but we got through it all in just and hour, which meant I was able to get up to Saint Michael’s for the Parish Ash Wednesday Eucharist and Ashing ceremony in good time.

The heating hadn’t switched on, the church was cold, so worship had a brisk pace about it – just as well with a PCC meeting to finish the day. We gave ourselves half an hour, and dealt with just one item of business properly, and I was home by ten past nine, finally to eat my evening meal cold.

An unusually full day, capped by the pleasure of a full page of pictures and story about the restoration of several stained glass windows at St John’s, which have been boarded up due to vandalism since last June. Haskins’ the glaziers from Kingswood, Bristol took a couple of buckets loads of glass fragments away in the middle of last June, and eight months later, here they are again, good as new. What skill! The first window was re-installed last Thursday, and the second on Tuesday. Monday evening I phoned Lauren Turner at the South Wales Echo, who did a good report on the vandalism, and told her the good news. She did an excellent job, not only celebrating the glazier’s art and craft, but plugging the fact that we are now fundraising for new window guards.

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