Monday, February 26, 2007

Ashes and images

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I don't much like Mondays, because Sunday generally leaves me feeling wiped out. For me it's recovery day,starting with an unashamed lie-in plain and simple. I have 'God on Mondays' in the afternoon during term time, and I need not to feel jaded for that. Not this week, after half term holiday however. This week, an early start. A nine fifteen whole school assembly to celebrate Ash Wednesday five days late, with a simple ceremony of ashing for teachers and children, together with Fr Roy Doxsey, my colleague and neighbouring pastor in Adamsdown.

Some of the younger children looked a bit uncertain and apprehensive during the ashing. The older ones, who have experienced it before and are well instructed, were happy to follow their teachers' example. It made me wonder if this was altogether the right thing to be doing with a whole school group. I think I need to do some 'educational' homework on the age of reception for activities like this, which, when all is said and done, are a bit arcane by the side of other ceremonies we perform.

Later I took my camera with me to do a circuit of the building sites in the centre, continuing my photo-logging of progress made. A week after the car park closures, people are still driving in to try and access them, still unaware that the new replacement ones have opened. I wonder if the promised signage has turned up?

Talking of signage, the expanse of hoarding surrounding the churchyard renovation site was due to be covered with blown up versions of children's drawings on an anti-litter theme for the duration of the work. After a month of them being up, the hoardings are still clear blue paint - even the town's graffiti squad seem to be stricken with indolence. I received two different emails last week promising the posters would be up there today. At four thirty, the hoardings were still blue.

I'm impressed at the co-ordinated progress being made by both demolition and construction teams, not to mention the good morale and confident pleasure in the faces of some of the workers I've met. The people doing the community liaison and public relations side of events just don't seem to be able to deliver as efficiently. They're nice people, but often seem to be anxious, let down by others in the chain of command. Some people higher in the pecking order seem not so interested in pursuit of excellence, in keeping would be future shoppers on-side, as they are in building shops. Strange really.

One nice thing, I bumped into Peter Blake the official site photographer for Bovis Construction, kitted out with hard hat and florescent jacket, and free to access all areas with supervision. We compared notes about our pleasure in all the visual elements of a big engineering project, and joked about our different roles. I told him how jealous I was of his photo opportunities, also about my photo-blog.
He said he wasn't web-publishing. I hope he gets the opportunity to do something similar with his pictures, so that they don't just end up being seen as d├ęcor on a shareholders' report. What's going on behind the blue hoardings needs to be valued more widely.

Scores of people and machines are now at work under the skies come rain or shine - vital stages in wealth creation, not mention social engineering. The brown soil, the bright colours of the equipment, and the backdrop of buildings all add up to some unusual beauty, even surrealistic, sinister de-constructive images of demolition are food for thought. I look at them, and see complex human creativity on a big scale, designers, engineers, team workers, and a public interface with the city about its business - taxi drivers, deliverymen, business 'suits', porters, hawkers, stall holders, druggies furtively looking to score, mums dragging kids around, newspaper vendors, old men sipping from styrofoam cup at the Hayes Island snack bar - people all relating to each other - workers and those like me watching others work, trying to uphold its value by looking, photographing and thinking about what it all means.

Is this what contemplative life in the heart of this city is all about?

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