Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A new angle on progress

On my way around the city centre redevelopment site today, in search of new photographic perspectives, I found myself climbing the stairs of the sole remaining multi-storey car park that hasn't been demolished, in Mary-Ann Street. I don't know why I didn't ever think of doing it before, as I soon discovered that it offers a grandstand view of areas I have been photographing regularly since the beginning of the year. If offers a view of the whole site westwards, close to the remains of the 'New' library, and the huge multi-screen cinema that has pagoda-like pretensions with upturned roof edges as if it was beamed in from another continent.

Apart from finding fresh views I ran into the Safety Officer for Cuddys, the demolition contractor, who was up on the roof with his video camera, logging the scene for the firm. He told me with satisfaction that over the past six months there had been only one non-serious accident on this vast, dangerous looking site. He also remarked with pride that the demolition of the car park sited within three metres of the cinema had taken place with only two cracked windows on the neighbouring building as collateral damage. Now that's something I reckon is worthy of pride, looking at the hundreds of photos I've taken of Cuddy's monster machines munching away at steel and concrete. It's a tribute to the skill of their drivers, who truly deserve their 'significant' wages.

I had wondered why the last wall and end section of the Library was still standing when the rest had been taken down without interruption. It turns out that the final stretch overlooks the ramp which serves as a service entrance to the St David's One shopping centre, in use 24 hours a day. The external wall is clad with heavy stone panelling which cannot be allowed to fall and demolish the ramp. So, very careful preparation has to be made to guarantee that when the walls come down they are sure to fall in the opposite direction. Nothing can be left to chance when the impact on business in the main shopping centre is so critical.

One last thing. That tree growing next to the outer east wall of the Tredegar Street car part, which survived through to the levelling of the entire site, offering first its blossom and now its bright green leaves to the delight of all passers by, is doomed. It sits inside the line of walls soon the be built and will have to be removed. It could have been trashed ages ago I guess, but something in the hearts of all those demolition site workers has left it in place as long as possible. Hopefully when it goes it will be lifted out carefully and given a home somewhere else, even if it's in the garden of one of those involved in site clearance.

There is also the last remaining flowering cherry tree on the Hayes, still tucked in at the base of the last remaining stump of Oxford House. Will it stay? Unlikely. But I did learn from my conversation that its roots are contained within a structure that make its removal and its transplantation possible. Let's hope someone responsible at the other side of the site knows this. The rest of the trees on the Hayes were grubbed out unceremoniously and dumped - something which scandalised me when I noticed this in an early photographic foray.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Meetings that matter - God on Mondays

Having run 'God on Mondays' successfully for the past eighteen months in partnership with a clerical colleague, I honestly wondered how I might continue to sustain something worth attending, now that I am working on my own. When we started, Jenny organised others from St James' to provide refreshments. This looked as if it might stop when we moved pastoral operations into the school, but it didn't. Julie, one of the school mums, a regular participant since the beginning, baptized at the 'God on Mondays' service this time last year, offered to help organise refreshments, and has ended up taking charge of it. She enjoys doing it and that just gives me so much pleasure.

But, how to continue without the worship becoming literally a one man band? For me one of the best things about 'God on Mondays' was working with a female colleague. The complementary partnership of a man and a woman offering worship and teaching is just a great way of breaking the institutionalised mould of expectations - and it goes down well with people.

I put my problem to the teaching staff by posing the question of sustainability. If far too much depended on me, then it might fail if I got sick. Could anybody help? The answer wasn't long in coming. Kelly, one of the class teachers, responsible for Computers in the school curriculum, and thus someone I'd already got to know as Governor interested in these matters, offered her help. She's an evangelical Christian, actively involved in her own church community, and therefore not a newcomer to leading worship.

After an initial conversation and a planning session for the term, we re-started 'God on Mondays' this afternoon, with Kelly leading worship and me telling the story of the Road to Emmaus, and playing the guitar, as usual. It all went very well, and quite surprisingly to me, Kelly admitted her nervousness afterwards, despite her being a confident class teacher, at home with the kids. Well, I guess that was quite a new role for her. Such courage to be prepared to have a go at it.

It was a most encouraging new beginning, and not only for this reason.

Among those attending 'God on Mondays' today was the familiar face of a woman I had seen before, and mentioned in a previous posting, standing beneath the underpass by City Hall, quietly simply proclaiming the essential Gospel message to passers by. In recent weeks, she's also come into St John's to pray, after her sessions in the subway. Last Monday she was in school, collecting a grandchild. This week she and the grandchild joined us for 'God on Mondays' It was delightful, seeing her piece together the fact that I was the guy riding through the underpass on the bike who smiled at her; the same who was there in St John's dressed up and going through these rituals that 'Church' people do; The same man behind a guitar in the school with the kids. Small world.

Across all the different 'cultural' paths we devise for ourselves, meetings happen between people who treasure the same essential things in life, things which unite us, no matter how different our origins, our interests, our struggle to make life meaningful. At the end of the day these are meetings that matter, to thank God for at the end of the day.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The meaning of icons

The equally distinctive eighties octagonal glass pyramid that tops the atrium of the former 'New Library' along with one length of external wall is all that remains of that edifice. The atrium has been stripped of its outer panelling, changing its colour from silvery white to pale blue, the colour of the thermal insulation beneath almost the colour of today's sky. Since yesterday one quarter of the octagonal top has been taken down. I guess by tomorrow lunchtime, when the guys knock off for the weekend, another distinctive townscape feature will be only a matter of photographic record. But will anybody remember them? Are there any stories attached to them that made them in a real since 'iconic'.
I hate the use of the word 'iconic' applied to any fancy edifice whose image PR people and politicians propose as representative of the thriving status of a city or an institution. I hear our poorly educated young graduate professionals talk about 'iconic' images. How oxymoronic can you get? Icons are pictures telling stories, usually sacred stories. There's little sacred about the modern vanities that 'iconic images' promote. But stories do give places and their distinctive edifices meaning approaching the 'iconic' - they earn the right to be regarded thus with the passage of time, rather than because somebody with cash or political clout decides it must be like that.
So are there, I wonder, any stories that might have attached some symbolic meaning to these two disappeared images from Cardiff's townscape. There have been many a moan from passers-by about the disappearance of these buildings so recently erected in the memories of most older Cardiffians, but I'm not aware of any protest campaigns to try and save them. Did they really matter to nobody? Or is it that people learned not to care when the original eighteenth and nineteenth century tenement buildings in the city centre fell to the developers' ambitions.
It's also important not to forget that there's nothing new in what happened to 'our heritage' in the city centre during the 1970s. My Grandmother lived in an old tenement building not far from the city market where the family had a stall in the 1880s. This was pulled down in the 1890s to make way for the final expansion stage of the venerable David Morgan department store, currently being recycled as prestigious expensive apartments and posh retail outlets.

Plus ca change!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Not with a bang but a whimper

Lately, I've been out almost daily with the camera capturing changes in the cityscape, as the final stages of the SD2 demolition work draw nearer, then publishing them on the church website. Last week the Western Mail ran an article on my project, but I still haven't seen it. For once, none of the congregation have saved me a copy, as they usually do. So I'm not even sure if the journalist included the website address, which to my mind was the whole point of the exercise.
At the very last remaining corner of the Oxford House building the distinctive, very sixties 'modern' ironwork and glass brick lantern top began to list over the weekend, as the supporting structure was progressively eaten away by the huge 'lobster claw' demolition machine. It was still there last night when I left at four, but at this morning's Retail Partnership Board meeting, the chair, David Hughes Lewis, reported that it had disappeared overnight. Apparently it was taken down just after I'd gone home with a camera full of pictures last night. Taken down without ceremony. An icon that has outlived its usefulness. No even anyone cheering or booing as with Saddam's statue in Baghdad. I have published a shot of the crumpled lantern ironwork sitting on top of of a fifteen foot high pile of concrete rubble. It's still discernable, if you know what you're expecting to pick out in all that visual chaos, but so insignificant now it's not on the skyline.
It's rather strange to think that it's just gone from public view to the scrapheap with hardly a mention. Did anyone take a photo? If so, I'd be very jealous. Why? Because it's part of the story I want to tell, I guess.
The cherry tree just underneath the safety cladding at the foot of the building over which this lantern presided is now thick with pink blossom, and surrounded by white plastic shrouds that protect passers by from small flying particles. The tree is glorious, its setting is as bizarre as one of those expensive art installations that involve parcelling up public buildings. I remember seeing a park full of trees in winter thus wrapped, not against the cold, but to draw attention to their shapes (on the theory "you don't know what you've got till it's gone"?). Daft, but it made me think, as I watched the buildings to be demolished having shrouds up over them - like those to be executed .... defiant or otherwise.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Holy Week

On the first five days of Holy Week, we had an average of a dozen people altogether attending two daily Eucharists, one at noon and one in the evening with a short address less than in previous years when people from all the congregations of Central Cardiff Parish gathered together to observe Holy Week. I can only hope that the daily Holy Week attendance in Cathays with their new priest was sufficient to show an overall increase in the total numbers attending. In the end that's all that matters, as many people as possible sharing in the re-telling of Christ's Passion.

The pattern of numbers attending our Good Friday Three Hours vigil at the Cross was identical to previous years - forty at the first hour, thirty at the second and fifty at the third, overall around seventy people passing through. It's quite consistent, even the same familiar faces of parishioners, and others from around the city who come because they always come to St John's on Good Friday, plus, inevitably a handful of visitors, this year notably young Asians - there are quite a few Christians around in Cardiff, from South India, working in advanced computer programming.

One thing that was very special for me was the appearance of Lynne at the last hour of the Vigil. She was one of the handful who came up and venerated the Cross. I've been preparing her for Baptism for the past two months, although our conversations about this go back into the end of last year. After some discussion, she opted to be Baptized at the Easter Vigil, rather than wait until a Confirmation service some time around Pentecost. I was delighted with this, as an Easter Vigil Baptism is something of a rarity these days.

Saturday evening, a dozen of us gathered at St John's, and settled down to wait in quiet until it was dusk, about half an hour. We kindled the Easter fire out in the porch, and processed into the darkened church with the Paschal Candle. There being so few of us, we stood in a circle around the Candle for the proclamation. Then, after the Epistle and Gospel only (we left out the multitude of OT lessons, in favour of the time of silence together), we circled the font in darkness, holding our candles for the declaration and renewal of baptismal vows, before taking Lynne through the waters and presenting her with a huge baptismal candle to keep. The look of light in her eyes as she stepped down from the font was unmistakable, something I've only ever seen in the eyes of adults and children old enough to know what's happening. It doesn't belong to this world. I think it explains why the writer of Hebrews could use the metaphor 'enlightenment' to refer to Baptism.

A very special Easter gift.

Easter Sunday morning was a joyous occasion with around sixty people attending, and a party to follow in honour of Percy's eightieth birthday. After Evensong, I worked out I'd taken twenty services and given eighteen addresses (seven during the Three Hours) over the past eight days. In a city parish one has to cater for both the core community, who tend to want to gather in the evenings, after work hours, and the 'passing trade' of people visiting the city centre during work hours. It has to be both, and it's a tough assignment for one person single handed. Amazingly, the virus that has been pulling me down for the past three weeks, only made life unpleasant, it didn't knock me out. So I survived. This time.

Monday, April 02, 2007

April Fool

There was a big football match on at the Millennium Stadium, and today was Palm Sunday. The early gathering crowds were from Bristol and Doncaster, forty thousand of them, more than had been originally anticipated. The consequence of this was that a Palm Sunday afternoon march through the city centre, proposed by the Ely Council of Churches, inviting all the churches of Cardiff to join in, had to be cancelled at short notice. It would have been possible, with the crowds being in the stadium for the match at the time of the march and service outside St John's at the end, but the prospect of people rallying for the march having no buses to come in on, or having to park miles out because of the visitors from out of town, was enough discouragement to lead to cancellation.

When first asked about the idea of a march, I'd consulted my events timetable and mentioned there was a match this day. But the organisers had been told by the police that the march could go ahead anyway. The police didn't tell the city centre management of their 'giving permission', I did. And to be fair, Paul, the city centre manager, told me that he didn't think that it would be impossible for the two events to go on side by side. However, we're all so dependent on transport to allow us to schedule participation in an event like this into the rest of our busy lives, that most of us wouldn't have the time or the energy to walk across the city into the centre - at the most four miles - to take part. It's a sign of the times. I'm not sure what it reads.

Our numbers were down 20% in the morning, and I undertook to say Evensong alone if returning match crowds made it impossible for people to come in and join me. In the event there were a dozen people with me, and town was almost clear when I rode through on my bike to church.

Later in the evening, I decided to re-cycle a redundant external hard disk by installing a Linux distribution on it. I made the mistake of listening to Radio 4 while I did this. An interesting programme about slavery and the foundation of Sierra Leone. At a crucial moment, I got distracted in my task by the radio programme and destroyed the content of my computer's main hard disk - my new machine, only two months old! Even its recovery partition was unrepairable. I've had hard disks die on me before, but never made such a monumental irrecoverable error.

Thankfully I had most of my data backed up, and only lost a handful of stuff since my most recent backup about eight days ago. But one way or another, quite a shock, and a sobering experience. It made me realise just how much the arrangement of one's little chunk of cyberspace becomes an extension of ones working mind, so to speak. Suddenly it's no longer there. A small taste of bereavement to accompany Holy Week.

Speaking of which, I have noon and 7.30pm Eucharist Monday to Thursday, and the Three Hours of Friday. I wiped the disk just hours after finishing my seven Good Friday addresses, before backing them up. April Fool indeed.

Posted from my faithful lappy, later, after much sleep loss.