Thursday, January 31, 2008

An un-refusable offer

A City Centre Churches Together meeting tonight.

Because I didn't look in my dairy before leaving the house, I turned up at Tabernacl, instead of Ebeneser, and felt a right idiot turning up late, but less of an idiot when the next late arrival turned out to have done the same thing.

For once, there was something different for me to report. The City Council's progress chasing exercise under the title 'Countdown 2009', aiming to co-ordinate the multitude of different aspects to the city centre redevelopment process ensuring everyone touched by it is in the know, has decided to have a Faith Communities Focus Group. Hopefully this will be a channel for useful two way communication. I've been asked to chair it. Those who've asked don't know how useless a chair-person I really am, swinging between tyranny and anarchy. Hopefully, if this group gets as far as meeting, I'll be able to pass the mantle to someone more capable and effective than myself.

It's just good that someone somewhere in the corridor(s) of power realises they've got nothing to lose and maybe something to gain from keeping the churches in the picture.

About time too.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Midweek Masses

On my way into school to take an assembly this morning, taking my usual route to avoid queues at traffic lights, I noticed, parked outside City Hall, an articulated lorry stacked with rolls of fresh turf, for re-laying the lawn where the Winter Wonderland extravaganza was sited from November until after Twelfth Night. It's really the first day it's been possible to start re-surfacing work, because of the poor weather - that's three weeks of it. But today, the sun shone. At first sight the rolls of turn neatly arranged, reminded me of the steel coils from rolling mills that get shipped around the country on the same kind of lorries.

I told the children the story about Christ's presentation in the Temple. They were all so quiet and attentive, such a credit to their teachers. Chris, my student on Parish placement was with me again following the break in his study programme. He served and read at the 'class Mass' at St Germans straight after the assembly, for which I was grateful, as I'd forgotten my reading glasses. The sun streamed into the church, and once more the eighteen children and three staff present were relaxed and quiet, hopefully savouring the moment, in a day of busy activity.

Chris and I then went home for a quick cuppa before walking in to St John's for the noon Eucharist. There were eight of us, including a man who took me aside afterwards and unburdened himself to me for half an hour. He was troubled by a encounter with a church based counsellor in Newport, who seemed unable to affirm the strong real faith he had, but insisted he wasn't a 'real' Christian unless he was, well - I'd say, able to utter whatever magical formula it is that convinces those inspecting you that you're saved. He'd gone seeking help and advice, and come away in distress. I did my best to reassure him by reminding him that we all have experience of taking our car in for repair to a mechanic who creates more problems than he solves. Religion's not much different, sorry to say.

Afterwards, there was just enough time to drop off a CBS file at Southgate House, and then head to City URC for David Lee's second lecture, all about images of God in the Old Testament. I had to skip lunch to get there on time, and only just made the beginning. It was a refreshing and enjoyable couple of hours listening and discussion. After a couple of unsettled days, I was glad to get home and relax, by cooking myself a venison dish, with a small steak Clare obtained for me at the Sunday market. I stewed it in fruit juice with onions, carrots and a parsnip, making the whole disk both sweet and spicy by the time I'd added all the condiments, experimentally, as I usually do.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Knowing when enough is enough

Either indigestion or quiet worry woke me up and half past three, wondering about whether I'd done enough to put the affairs of Cardiff Business Safe in sufficient good order to hand over the auditor. I ended up donning my dressing gown and descending to the study, and working until five, before I was both satisfied and drowsy enough to resume sleep.

In those quiet focussed moments I decided this is the moment to quit as Company Secretary having done as much as lies within my competence to sort out the problems caused by a year of administrative neglect. So, before I went back to be, I emailed one of the Directors to let him know to start recruiting someone fresh to help out. Clare was pleased when I told her at breakfast time.

I was due to meet the accountant at eleven, but he rang and postponed the meeting until Thursday, so I took the necessary dossier over to his office in Pontnewydd straight away, so that I could draw a line under my decision and keep to it, rather than have another Board meeting to attend. There's still plenty of other business stuff to be done in my life.

I returned home to meet a couple with a one year old boy, wanting both to get married and have the lad Christened. Working out how to manage two such family events in the course of a few days will be interesting!

Then the phone started ringing as news about my resignation reached others also closely involved. By the time I'd finished I was already an hour late for a trip out to Wenvoe to visit Sue and Peter, and sort out the 2007 window guard fund-raising account, ready for audit. Thankfully, it was a nice straightforward job, accompanied by good conversation, tea and sandwiches. Quite a change from the Company stuff I've been trying unsuccessfully to get straight with a huge dearth of correct information for the past three months.

The most I can say is that the latter experience has given me some new insights into the demands of work within the business realm, and I am grateful for that. It is after all, part of my job to try and understand these things and reflect on them for the benefit of the church and others.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Spiritual Capital project - snail's pace

After a fairly routine Sunday, it turned out to be a busier than usual Monday, with a meeting about Cardiff Business Safe at lunchtime, followed by the re-start of 'God on Mondays' in school. Then it was back home to prepare for the first steering group meeting of the Spiritual Capital research project since November. The research workers seem to have been at a standstill, or at least there's been little visible sign of progress over two months.

The rate of return hovers around 35%, and despite the chasing up I've done, the returns are disproportionately low in Anglican responses. That's part of the data too. People will complain if this is reported, see it as a criticism, knocking the church, but the facts are there to be read as people will. The biggest 'fact' is the poor state of morale. Another of our worries is the lack of responses from Muslim communities, probably a sign of suspicion. Also it's possible that the questionnaires were received by people who really didn't know what to do with them, unable to understand the objective. The same could also be said for the churches that didn't respond.

After the meeting, I had to dress for dinner hurriedly and make my way on foot to the County Club, for a supper to honour Hazel Lewis, PA to two successive Priors of St John's Wales. It was an excellent occasion, at which both former and present Prior spoke warmly and praised Hazel's excellent organisational skills. It's good that a Christian charity should make an effort to value people in support roles that to some would seem unglamorous and insignificant - but in reality, nothing could be done without them, the grandest most imaginative plan would not even end up on paper.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Birdsong at eventide

I woke up before first light and got up and wrote some letters, as I had things on my mind. When Clare went off to Monmouth for her 'Ysgol un dydd', at eight thirty, I went back to bed and fell asleep, to be wakened late morning by my sister June on the phone. We talked for ages, and it was lunchtime when I finally dressed. A very lazy day off.

Mid afternoon I went out for a walk up the Taff Trail to Tesco's for a newpaper, to get some exercise. I lingered a while and when I returned it was sunset. The first mile of footpath linking Cathays with the Excelsior business park where Tesco's is sited has a wide strip of trees and bushes bordering the parkland which is the other side of the river. I was simply astonished at the size and variety of the bird population there.

First in the tall conifers behind the supermarket a massive colony of starlings, all talking at the same time. Then a collection of thrushes who seemed to be arguing and hurling extrordinary musical sounds at each other like duelling jazz musicians. Then, there was a sprinkling of ever melodious blackbirds and finches, and finally a few tits. Then, about a hundred yards before the path and the road all but converged, no birdsong at all. It's as if the birds were avoiding getting too close to the roar of traffic on North Road where their voices might not be heard. And, all throughout that exquisite mile of sound, a view through the trees, across the river of a sunset with red and black clouds in the sky. Thrilling.

I must do that walk more often.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Days when nothing seems to work

A visit to the University this morning to review progress on gathering and processing Spiritual Capital survey data. Really there seems to have been no progress in January, apart from the receipt of half a dozen more questionnaires. The supplementary 'Ask Cardiff' questionnaire reports will be received mid-Feb. We'll close the process at the same time to permit analysis to start on a fixed target body of data. It looks as if we have a return rate of over 33%, taking into account the returned mails. The spread of responses is still a bit thin where Anglicans are concerned however, but that's all part of the picture, I guess. At least this morning we've fixed a date for a closing conference, 21st May. Two months late. My plan had the project completed entirely by 31st March.

After the midday Eucharist, I visited the city centre management office a third time this week to check for mail. The Bank has finally sent us some of the statement I ordered. Companies House has issued the CBS directors with another threatening letter, and told us on the phone that our 2006 submission has been rejected yet again, although I've not yet been informed of the reason. Their process finds one fault at a time and rejects documents, rather than inspecting the lot in one go and giving a complete picture, so it's a perpetual guessing game - will I get it right this time? So inefficient and unhelpful to the client, who has to pay for every document submission and live under threat of dire punishment. I used to think fundamentalist religion was bad, but this legal monster is a daunting beast. Sometimes I wonder.

I know they have a job to do and have to regulate very complex and often dodgy dealings, but the difficulties of procedures which relate equally to giant corporations as to small businesses is that those with limited resources and know how struggle. I better understand better now why Anto is reluctant to register his profitable little enterprise at Companies House, and relies on hard work and good housekeeping alone to earn his keep and pay the mortgage. It's less risky to pay your way and expand carefully, without debt, than it is to get caught in the jaws of banks and government bureaucracy.

Clare left a box of choccies on my computer in honour of Santes Dwynwyn's Day - the Welsh equivalent of Saint Valentine. I hadn't registered. According to the Church in Wales Calendar today's the Conversion of St Paul.

Checked my blood pressure before bed, and it's still up. Stress? For sure, chocolates notwithstanding.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

An appointment, a ceremony and a stroll

The doctor this morning wrinkled his brow at the rise in my blood pressure, which was 'normal' last visit - and I've had a holiday since. We both said "Job stress?" Not good, and I have to take note of that. He said, not for the first time : "Have you thought about working half time? Is it possible in your line of work?" I tried to explain that the appointment of Vicar in our system doesn't admit such a notion. Clerical incumbency is an all or nothing role - just like you can't be slightly pregnant or half married. There are other kinds of church jobs, even job shares, but changing how spiritual leaders are deployed among parishes is not on the review agenda, apart from assigning care of several separate communities to a single pastor when there aren't enough to go around. If there's simply too much to do (which for anxious or zealous clergy there always is), you have to learn to do less, or die if you don't succeed. Team-work, mutual support amongst clergy seems beyond us, whether by inclination or by lack of policy.

I've tried to change my lifestyle over the past year. This is such an interesting environment in which to work, so many opportunities and challenges that it's hard not to attempt too much. It seems my body is not coping with as well as it should with this, no matter what I may think, no matter how much I may be appreciating what my work presents. Well, the doctor still insists on a monthly visit from me now, and I comply. I don't want to go back to where I was eighteen months ago, and I don't want to become a liability. Sad really that the church only understands all or nothing. Maybe too many alternatives is too costly.

After the midday Eucharist I attended the annual Holocaust Memorial ceremony in City Hall. Canon Peter Collins was there representing the Archbishop of Cardiff. I didn't see anyone there representing our Bishop. I get an invitation in my own right, and Fr Stuart Lisk who runs the event is an Anglican, but it's not really the same. I wonder nowadays if civic leaders and religious leaders ever really have opportunity to meet properly as a group with the welfare of the city in mind - or is it all now to be done through surrogates. If they do, I suppose I should know, but I don't, and never hear it commented upon.

For once the weather was decent enough for Clare and I to take an affernoon walk up the Taff Trail to Llandaff weir. The river was in full spate after all the recent rain, and the dank riverside air smelled of carbolic - a hint of tolerable pollution? I reflected that the Rhone flowing out of Lac Leman in the centre of Geneva doesn't smell like that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mental and spiritual refreshment

Started the morning with a school assembly on Jesus the Healer at Tredegarville, then celebrated the regular ten o'clock Mass at St Germans attended by a class of year three children. As the nave altar had not been put in place, we used a lovely vaulted side chapel. Seventeen children and three staff, plus another ten parishioners all squeezed in. The atmosphere was wonderful and the children so naturally quiet and attentive. It was a real pleasure. I then popped in to see Father Roy, recovering from minor surgery yesterday. He was strapped up and in pain, but full of smiles and delighted to have that little ordeal behind him.

Then I went home for a brief spell before heading to church for the midday Eucharist, re-starting after my holiday break, with two new people present. One just never knows who will turn up when the church makes its open invitation.

After lunch, I attended the the second of Archdeacon David Lee's lectures for the City URC adult education programme, called Radical Orthodoxy. He reviewed two centuries history of the rise of secular society. It was beautifully presented, and lively discussion followed. A dozen of us were there, all over 60's, and a complete ecumenical mix, which was excellent, give how very hard the churches find it to organise a single prayer event over and above the ecumenical supper we had last week, to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A symptom of the sad decline of interest on the part of church communities in anything outside of their own field of view.

The lecture stimulated me to return home and continue working on the Lent Lecture series I started writing while I was in Switzerland. I also propose to publish these on a website I'm developing for the purpose of making new material available to a wider audience. David has expressed willingness to allow me to publish his material also, and I have other local creative thinkers in mind as well. I'm calling the site FutureFaith. Early access to it is found here. I'll buy a proper domain name for the site, if I can get more people interested in contributing to it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Retail reporting

Attended the City Centre Retail Partnership board met this morning. We listened to reports about Christmas trading and heard about slow trading early in the month with a last minute burst of activity, a pattern reported across the country. Internet retailing accounts for a larger share of the market year after year, but when it gets to last minute buying and uncertainties over deliveries of mail, real shopping centres still attract customers needing to spend. The overall volume of trade less diminished than might have been the case. The media publicity campaign seems to have been successful in this respect, and despite the lousy November-December weather the ice rink and Santa's grotto attractions still did very well indeed. A positive outcome to a lot of very hard work in keeping Cardiff a desirable place to visit, but definite signs of the economic slow-down, to make everyone wonder what coming years will bring.

We hear news that the redvelopment is well on schedule, such that the John Lewis store and the new library bulding, which had its top-out ceremony last week, will be handed over by the construction companies for fitting out, towards the end of this year. The ground floor of the library will have three swanky restaurants, and these could well be open first, maybe in time for Christmas 2008. We'll see.

At the end of the meeting I had the opportunity to report on Cardiff Business Safe, and the changeover of security radio systems occasioned by the final collapse of Cardiff Chamber of Commerce whose entry into receivership was announced as I was going on holiday. The difficulties we've had in managing the affairs of CBSLtd. are all tied in with the demise of the Chamber, and with the inability of the City government officials to recognise that CBS would also need support, as it's impossible for any organisation to exist in a vacuum.

To my horror I found that the solicitors we asked to regularise our position with Companies House had only done half a job, leaving me to chase for signatures and make another, hopefully final visit to complete the unfinished business of 2006, before getting 2007 affairs up to speed after this meeting. Thankfully, CBSLtd. is not a big organisation, not too complex to cope with once things are unravelled and in order. The down side, as with any small organisation, is access to the expertise and resources needed to ensure success in detail. I fund it very worrying that basic administrative support for an organisation that arranges security communication for the city centre ended up neglected and disregarded. It was important to appraise the Retail Partnership of the problems and reassure them of the prospect of better things to come.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Damp Sunday

I understand that it has rained here every day for nearly three weeks. Although the church roof doesn't leak, the dampness has taken has taken its toll. As it's been milder the church heating system has been on less frequently, and the longer it's off, the more chance there is for condensation to prevent the boiler from firing automatically - so was unusually cold and dank in church first thing this morning. In turn this affected all the photocopier paper, jamming the machine and making it impossible to print the weekly bulletin.

It's about time the Church in Wales produced a three year lectionary book and put an end to the need to produce so much photocopied paper week by week. Publisher Kevin Mayhew has a hymn book, which also includes all the Sunday readings in the three year lectionary. Pity we don't need a new hymn book. If we did there's be just the right volume to purchase, even if it is a bit on the large side in comparison with the little pocket book BCP with hymns ancient and modern which proliferated a century ago when 50% of the population attended church and volume production of such neat commodities was profitable, along with big family Bibles. Somehow downloadable files on a PDA or mobile phone don't quite have the same durable quality.

It's been pretty windy as well as wet recently, which explains the poor turnout at church. It's not the sort of weather that endears itself to the old, the frail or those shepherding kids around, so Cardiff's streets were fairly quiet. In fact, they look pretty bare now that Winter Wonderland, Santa's Grotto, and the new street lights have all been packed up and put into storage for another year. There's a sea of mud in front of City Hall where the main attractions stood. It will be a little while yet before the weather is kind enough to permit re-laying of the turf.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Church as work place

While I was away work started on the redecoration of St John's church interior, starting with the south aisles and choir vestry. This entails sealing off the organ and organ chamber to prevent the ingress of dust, and then the covering of all internal furnishings and floors with a robust protective cover before erecting two storeys of scaffolding necessary to access the highest sections of wall and windows. It's such a complex task that inevitably preparation over-ran, so we were not able to open the church for a Eucharist yesterday. But today was business as usual.

Not only was the Tea-Room carrying on as usual, but the rest of the nave was open for tourists and candle-lighters alike. When I entered for the service I was impressed to see that the builders had erected a chipboard tunnel through the works area to link the south porch and vestry block with the nave, so that people can pass safely through the area where work is being done.

I couldn't have asked for more to ensure that the church stays faithful to its commitment to be open to visitors as far as it possibly can, even under most difficult circumstances. The best touch of all, to my mind, is that the outermost layer of protection is a screening of transparent plastic filling each of the southern arches of the nave from floor to ceiling.

It's a good way to enhance site security, since it would be possible to spot anyone hiding in there and up to no good. More importanly from my point of view it means that the entire work site is visible from the nave, offering a subject of interest to visitors, saving a lot of additional explanations, in a way bringing the world of everyday physical labour right into the place where prayer is offered for the life and work of the city.

I would relish having a large screen in church where we could display the SD2 webcam images for visitors of what is going on down the street, just out of sight from church.

There were half the usual number for the service. This is understandable given that the church has been closed for the preparation work this week, and the weather has been very poor, but I'm sure it won't take long for things to get back to normal, with all our regulars taking an interest in work in progress.

I spent the afternoon over at Southgate House with members of the city centre management team, getting up to speed on developments in the city centre since I went on holiday, and catching up on matters concerning Cardiff Business Safe as preparations are made for an all new security radio network to be put into place at the end of this month, hopefully embracing both day and night-time economies in future.

This is necessitated by the news which arrived just as I went on leave that Cardiff Chamber of Commerce (which ran the night radio network) was going into receivership. For such a large professional enterprise to run out of funds is a remarkably rare occurrence, and largley due to a fatally flawed partnership made with ELWA the mismanaged quango which went bust. Finally that collapse has taken CCC with it. Discussion is now under way about what can replace it, with speculation about a South Wales CCC. But is bigger really better? It's hard enough to manage the affairs of a city, let alone a region.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Back to the workface

After two weeks away, there was mail to answer, paper and electronic. That took all morning. After lunch, a journey up to Thornhill Church Centre for a meeting of the City government's Vision Board for a couple of hours of listening and learning about various projects that seek to address broad based concerns in a multi-disciplinary and multi-agency. It's a bit abstract and I struggle with these session on times, although they can be a mine of information about the way Cardiff is developing.

Best of all today was the opening address by Pastor Paul Hocking who described how the community development project around which Thornhill church grew up from nothing over twenty five years, has evolved from being a successful entirely voluntary run enterprise to being a partnership between them and local government in developing resources for the locality. Paul didn't pull his punches in speaking about the difficulties of establishing a basis of communication and collaboration with local government because of the different management cultures, values and expectations. Yet, the success of this project is evidence of what is possible with persistence. From my point of view here is a fine model of an authentic missionary congregation focussed on serving all those who live in the locality. Admirable and very hard to achieve.

The City Centre Churches Together had its annual dinner at Spiro's this evening with about fifty people present. People from the different churches are always pleased to see each other and be together in the same room, but generally prefer to sit with members of their own congregation rather than with 'friends' from other churches. I guess we don't have enough time to socialise with each other in the normal run of church activities, to get to the point where we're happy to circulate with others we know less well. A sign of the times, I guess. Peter Noble, Moderator of the URC in Wales was guest speaker. His theme was ecumenism and the need to value each other's differences as part of the richness of God's gift to us of each other. He's right. However, he didn't propose to us a means to overcome inertia and engage with each other in dialogue about how we might do mission together. I think it takes a pretty big crisis, afflicting everyone equally, to get us to rise to any challenge to fidelity in this distrubingly comfortable age of ours.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Return to Blighty

Up at seven, at the airport and checked in by eight. Flight departed on time at 10h10. Shuttle bus from Bristol Airport to Temple Meads Station was timely and gave me only a ten minute wait for a train to Cardiff, where Clare met me after a shopping expedition, and we were able to go home together and have lunch, then start unpacking and catching up on all that's happened while I've been away - notably the start of redecorating the church interior, a job requiring much scaffolding, temporary closures and protective plastic sheeting. The next few months will not be fun. But, we've been putting this job off for ages, and now is the time to get on with it.

It was comforting to download all my snowy photos and take a quick look at them, to soften the impact of getting back to work, and remind me what a great time I had, even if I did have to wind myself up to get going in the face of the post Christmas inertia that descends upon me after a demanding December.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


After a slow start to the day and a couple of hours transcribing stuff I wrote longhand up at Bullet using Claudine's Mac, I took the RER shuttle train into the city for a few hours of sightseeing with my camera. A seven Franc (£3.20) ticket allows you to use buses, trams and train (and maybe also waterbus, I'm not sure) in the two central zones all day, which is a superb bargain, given the frequency of all means of transport and the ease of getting around that this provides.

I started with a visit to our old favourite department store Placette (now renamed Manor), to have a drink in the top floor restaurant, where records DVDs and hi tech equipment are also sold. There was nothing new there, no mouthwatering sale bargains. In fact the computers are much the same price as UK. What is amazing is that half of this large fifth floor of retail space is given over electronic goods and nicely prepared and presented edible fast food.

I settled for a beer, out on the balcony - now netted in, to prevent the birds from flying through the restaurant and perching on the food counters, as they have done for at least the past decade in my knowledge. Did the Health and Safety police suddenly get heavy I wondered? I still noticed one cheeky little sparrow hopping around picking up crumbs from the balcony floor, having slipped through the net in a corner I guess - coming up five floors of escalator space and getting through the automatic doors would have been a bit too unlikley a feat of adventure.

I took a bus over the the south side of the town, across the Rhone where it flows west out of Lac Leman, and then a tram along the rue de Marche, then retraced my steps, making for the quayside next to the Jardin des Anglais to take pictures of the famous fountain in full flow, making rainbow arcs in the midday sun. Then I walked over the Pont du Rhone and up past Holy Trinity, my old church, to the main station to take a tram along the north side, out to the Place des Nations to take some daylight photos of the 'broken chair' sculpture.

The re-installation ceremony of the chair was used as a propaganda exercise to highlight the international agreement being forged against the use of cluster bombs, which have a similar legacy to landmines. Getting my own photos of this in its new location was really the objective of going into town. Early last year I was telling a public art procurement specialist working for the city about the 'broken chair' and surprised he'd not heard of it. When I searched for a photo to send him I could only find old miniscule pictures on a Geneva news website, so I was keen to have some of my own, as I think it is a significant work of political art, as well as a popular one.

Mission accomplished, I returned to Meyrin and picked up a car to drive out to Divonne and spend the afternoon with Julia and Philippe. This was followed by supper with dear friends from Holy Trinity days whose daughter and son-in-law I had not seen together (I think) since I did their wedding ten years ago. As well as being medical doctors, both are recent recipients of PhDs for socio-medical research. It was a happy re-union, with stimulating conversation and much laughter. A lovely conclusion to my winter leave.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Wet Geneva day

I awoke to see ground frost outside, which was great for letting the dogs run around the garden for a while before and after their 7.00am feed. As the morning wore on it got warmer and began to rain, turning the garden back to damp mud, which meant keeping the dogs in to avoid getting them utterly unmanageably filthy, and the house with them.

I ventured out into the late morning town traffic to deliver a document file to the UNICEF office for Claudine, but was not able to because the recipient was out and the security guard un-obliging. Can't say I blame him. Security is all he does and it's big tie business in a place like Geneva where every international organisation's public face is a potential target, if not for terror, for protests by someone or another. If there was a proper receptionist in the interior to whom I might have handed something to pass on, they weren't visible from the outer lobby. You needed a proper reason to get past the guard through the automatic glass door, And in Geneva you don't get a security clearance pass without first depositing your passport or identity document. It's been like this at least since the early nineties when we first moved here. At least the armed guards and barbed wire that were commonplace during the Balkan crisis in the nineties are no longer a visible sign of the nervousness felt in the city through the proximity (two hours flight) of a major conflict zone. Geneva is always well prepared against trouble, but likes to do security in quite a low key way whenever it can.

Keith's flight from Zurich was cancelled, so I picked him up an hour later than expected from the airport. Then after a late lunch I made a second successful attempt to deliver the document file, just as rush hour was starting, and in the dark and rain. I was qite please with myself for negotiating all the traffic, especially as traffic priorities and road layouts have all changed since the rearrangement of the Place des Nations. The great grassed open space which stood before the Palais de Nations main entrance is now a sea of white marble and fountains - beloved, apparently, of small children on hot summer days.

Since I was last here a year ago, all the construction work has been completed and the famous 'broken chair' sculpture, tribute to the victims of land-mines, has been returned to the Place. There was a public outcry at the proposal not to re-install it and the city fathers behaved sensibly. In my view it's not placed quite rightly in relation to the proportions of the vast sea of marble, nearer to the Palais end of the Place. But, this visual awkwardness actually adds to the sense of disturbance which this giant wooden edifice of a chair with half a front leg torn away conveys. It's a piece of great power, rather than just the eccentric puzzle it appears to be when you don't know what it's purpose is. Art, context and interpretation are inseparable here.

Out to supper this evening with with four very dear friends, all active members of Geneva's Holy Trinity congregation. It's hard to realise that it's seven years since we moved away, at this time of year. I'm sorry that I didn't keep a journal during the first five years. It would be interesting to look back over that period in the sort of detail that a regular blogging discipline offers, to see how things have changed, how I have changed.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Lord's day at Divonne les Bains

I took Claudine by car to the airport at seven. She was back by eight to collect something she'd forgotten, and have another cup of tea, as her flight had been delayed by an hour.

I took her back to the airport at nine as I made my way out to Divonne for the Anglican morning service held in the Temple de Divonne. There's a brand new noticeboard advertising both the Culte and the Anglican services. The église reformée cannot manage weekly services as they have one pastor for half a dozen churches in the Pays de Gex. They are delighted to share their building and see it used for worship weekly by Anglicans.

The church comfortably holds about sixty, and was over half full. My friend Julia who is their pastor and non-stipendiary priest took the service, and La Côte Chaplain Paul Holly preached. I was pleased to be able to recognise half the faces of people there and even more pleased that there was a new half I didn't know, representing the slow process of building a new worshiping community in a new and unusual context.

This 'church plant' has grown out of the Gingins community I used to serve on the côte Vaudois, since I left. I feel immensely proud of all that they achieved without me.

Now I am back in Meyrin, on my own enjoying a quiet time with the dogs, who are amazingly well behaved, considering ....

Saturday, January 12, 2008


There was a good fifteen centimetre's snow on the ground by the time we got up, and it was sill snowing. The local snowplough had already passed once and did so again while we prepared breakfast. This was reassuring as we had a steep hill to descend to reach the main road. After breakfast, we had an hours cleaning up and tidying to do, then paid the bill and took our leave. Th descent was not difficult, and snow turned into sleet by the time we reached the plain below.

After lunch in a restaurant in part of an imposing fin de siècle building next to Yverdon station, I said farewell to my good friends Valdo and Ann-Lise, and took the 13h57 to Geneva, where Claudine met me at the airport station. This was my fourth holiday trip on one of the new Swiss 'pendolino' type high speed trains, and a most pleasurable experience in every way. Claudine and her husband Keith live only five minutes ride away from the airport. This is often my last port of call before returning to the UK. I'm here now for four nights, and have time to catch up on more old friends around Geneva.

Claudine is off to the States in the morning. Keith returns from the States Monday afternoon. I stay here alone, save for their two dogs, eight months old, only half grown, already each is the size of a grown labrador. This will be my first experience of dog handling, and Claudine is giving me a crash course before she leaves.

Last day

Another day of beautiful weather, and another ski outing on the same piste as yesterday, although not quite so far, only nine kilometres, so we weren't quite so tired when we got back for lunch. Valdo returned home to fetch the car, as we were forewarned of snow during the night, which would have meant a difficult trip to fetch us down for Valdo's utterly patient wife. He returned by nightfall, and I prepared a 'last supper', using all the ingredients we had left, leaving us with only an excess of fruit to carry back to Baulmes with us. Late evenings this week, I've taken the opportunity to do some writing in preparation for Lent, and found the quite and relaxation stimulating to thought. I've written five of six addresses, and hardly noticed the effort. It must be all the oxygen and exercise. Half way through writing the fifth, I looked out the the window and realised that the far off snow clouds had swiftly moved in under the cover of dark, and already the bare grass patches beyond the terrace of our apartment (set into the hillside) were white with an inch of snow. Enchanting!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Winter sun

During the night, yesterday's mist cleared. Dawn was another spectacle of awe and wonder, with first light striking alpine peaks fifty miles to the south of us, as the crow flies. Valdo was up and out early in search of bread, and having obatined for a us a pain torsade (a kind of hard crusty baguette made with strong white whole-meal flour), he took himself and his skis off on mission of piste inspection before we had breakfast. By eleven we were both out enjoying the bright sunshine and slightly warmer temperatures, covering the same course as we had previously. We returned for a late lunch. I was relieved not to have fallen, as my shoulder was still hurting, though not so bad as to immobilise me.

After eating we strolled down the pedestrian path alongside the piste to les Rasses, which was very quiet at the end of an afternoon during a not too popular week for visitors. We stopped to appreciate the view from the terraace of the Grand Hotel des Rasses an imposing post war building with impressive, shall we say expensive views to the south. It looked as if it was open, though seemed deserted upon inspection. There was just one guest on a third floor balcony, out inspecting the view of sundown over the alps, as we were in the garden below. We watched the distant peaks turn from white to gold as the sun inched towards the horizon, ten turned for home as the temperature plummeted and ground underfoot quickly became icy.

A perfect sunny winter's ay at 1,200 metres altitude.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Bad weather

Rain and dense mist today. So we stayed in. For me this was necessary anyway as I slept bad due to shoulder pain. Nothing broken or torn, but badly bruised and that certain feeling I've had before that my upper vertebrae are slightly out of alignment and causing pain elsewhere. That means a trip to the osteopath when I get back.

My cyclist's legs are coping well with the exercise, but my upper body feels very weak, so I'll have to do something to remedy that when I return. I don't want to end up one of those old guys who fall over and can't raise themselves up again because their shoulder and arm muscles aren't strong enough. How easily that can happen in our workaday world with aids and comforts galore.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

First outing

Valdo returned on the first train from Baulmes and then the bus from Ste Croix, while I was still attempting to wake up a second time, having risen before dawn to try and capture the awesomely clear view with my camera lens, and failed. After breakfast we were early out on the piste by ten o'clock, with a ground temperature of around minus four.

Under clear blue skies, conditions were perfect, and out first outing was eleven kilometres, and we both paid with exhuastion for our enthusiasm, and slept after lunch. I fell and landed hard on my shoulder going at speed, quite relaxed on a long icy gradient,  hitting an unavoidable dip in the smooth icy trace which sent me flying. It didn't spoil the pleasure of the outing, however, but after our siesta and a stroll around a quiet frosty village, we settled for a quiet evening of doing very little. Much needed.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Arrival Bullet (VD)

Mid morning, took the Post Bus to Nyon to catch the train to Yverdon where Valdo met me with the car, all kitted up with skiing gear, ready for the trip to to the Balcon des Alpes, from 400m metres to 1200 metres, to Bullet, overlooking lac Neuchatel. This is a small agricultural village a few kilometres from the start of the ski de fond (and ski alpin) piste at Les Rasses, itself and outlying suburb of St Croix, a former watchmaking industrial town at the end of the railway line from Yverdon in the valley below. This is our third winter break together up here, but the first time for us to hire an apartment, so that Valdo can get a complete break from home just 12km and 700 metres below us at Baulmes.

Our accommodation is the spacious middle floor of a maison fermière in the village, with a small  working dairy farm, just the opposite side of the steep street on which we're located. Our hosts are a retired cheminot and his wife, so kind and hospitable.

The place is immaculate and well appointed, and can sleep five. We booked it as a marvellous last minute bargain, due to an indifferent weather forecast cancellation. It's warm and we have all mod cons. One shopping trip to the Coop in Ste Croix, on the way in, has set us up for the next five days. I do the cooking on these trips, as a recreational pleasure, and Valdo doesn't complain! 

Having unloaded, we went for a walk to inspect the pistes, and found that a) they could be easily accessed from a five minute uphill walk, and b) they were unbroken ad in good condition despite the amount of grass and rock visible here and there off-piste.

Inspection over, Valdo departed for home to deposit the car, leaving me to enjoy an night's solitude with clear starry skies overhead to gaze at and attempt to take atmospheric photos of with little success.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Epiphany Day

Attended Mass at St Imier Catholic church this morning. The bells of the protestant parish church, the Collegiale began ringing at 9h30 for a 9h45 start, and then the Catholic bells started ringing at 9h45 for a 10h00 start, so the air was alive with clanging sounds for the best part of hlf an hour on this quiet damp winter morning.

There were about a hundred people in church, thirty of them, middle aged and upwards in the choir. The priest was a tall winsome young man, hardly thirty years old, defying the general trend towards ancient clergy in the Western European Roman church, with an even younger parish catechist (I suppose) preaching comprehensively, though not too long, on the mystery of the day. It was a real pleasure to 'hear' Mass in French again.

Then, I said farewell to friends and the Vallon de St Imier and the Jura Bernois and headed seventy miles west to Nyon by train (two changes, perfectly timed), where Jean Paul met me and took me back up into the Jura (Vaudois) to stay the night and catch up on all our concerns in common, in the lovely village of St George. Such a please to have time together with him and his wife Sally, who are environmental conservation professions, working in their turn for WWF and the IUCN, to two major international NGOs striving to save the planet.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

On skis and cheese

Yesterday, my first day back in Switzerland since the summer, after a long night's sleep and brunch, Laura handed me the car keys and asked me to ferry Camilla and her friend Lucia up the southern side of the Valley for their afternoon ski/surf outing. I was pleased to find that I hadn't forgotten how to drive on the other side of the road any more than I'd forgotten how to speak French. Sometimes back in Cardiff I find myself wondering about things like this. Part of getting old I suppose. Laura and I then went north up the valley side for a ski-de-fond session at Mont Soleil. Conditions were excellent.

The rolling landscape of the long plateau which is sandwiched between steeper mountain crests on both French and Swiss sides is a mix of pine forest and summer pasture land. Much excellent local cheese starts with cows grazing up here in warmer days than today. Farming has diversified however, taking advantage of the winds to generate electricity. I counted at least half a dozen wind turbines as we followed the piste an eleven kilometer round trip. There may have been more in fact, as I got a little confused when the piste took us both around and through an assembly of these new eco-landmarks. 

I was pleased to complete the outing without falling once, or being utterly exhausted. I felt rather cautious at first with the hernia operation just four months behind me, but soon I found that both confidence and control was as good if not better than this time last year when I was unbeknowingly nursing the injury. All I need to do now is work on improving my stamina.

Laura and Daniel had an evening choir rehearsal, so I was left in charge of the ham and split pea soup, and manufactured some mince pies with pastry left by Laura with some home made mincemeat. I was quite pleased with my efforts, and they were appreciated by both the family and choir members who returned to eat afterwards.

Supper was most enjoyable, as the choir members are a diverse and interesting bunch, including a several scientists, a farmer's wife and a pastor. If found myself sitting next to two guys who are Mac users and into Linux - 'Linuxiens' as they are called in French. As ever problem solving gets discussed whenever Linux is enthused over. It's great but imperfect, but users are keen to share knoweledge. One guy was having problems with a virtual machine installation on his Mac, and found help in a forum posting from an Italian. Not much problem as automatic translations are available on the web - except that they can be as hilarious as they are informative on times.

At one moment the discussion turned to the price of milk, as much a topic here with increased feed prices as it is in the U.K. The husband of the farmer's wife accompanied her for supper, and spoke interestingly about the economic situation. A great moment of hilarity ensued when the subject of milk processing arose, and how different qualities of milk products were dealt with. At the top end are the 'grand cru' special cheese. At the bottom end, the agricultural co-operativer 'milk-lake' products, sold to the French for processing into cheese disparagingly described as 'Gruyère d'Emmental'.  

It was an altogether stimulating evening, and not easy to get to sleep after both the physical and mental exertions of the day. 

I awoke late, to find that it had rained in the night. Not much chance of skiing today, just a damp stroll around town, and a quiet afternoon to catch up on myself.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Getting there

Having volunteered to take Owain to Cardiff airport for his flight to Alicante to join Clare and the other for a few days, I had to get up earlier than usual. Inevitably this led to me going to bed later, but despite a short night of sleep, I was able to deliver him in good time, then return home for breakfast and a final tidy up,before setting off for Bristol airport for my flight to Switzerland. Arriving early meant quite a long wait, but I managed to catch up on an hour's worth of sleep, just dozing in the departure lounge, and another half hour on the 'plane. 

The skies were overcast until just north of the French Jura, and amazingly the descent along the length of Lac Léman from Lausanne to Geneva was under blue skies, spectacular as ever. We arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule, which enabled me to catch an earlier inter-city pendolino train to Neuchatel, as night fell, and then upwards to La Chaux de Fonds on a second local train. There was snow along the trackside as we climbed, a small but pleasing thing to observe. With a third change I arrived in St Imier just after seven. I always enjoy riding on Swiss trains. Expensive though the fares are, they are punctual, clean, and the staff always courteous and helpful. Worth the money.

Laura and her family gave me a warm welcome, and we supped on raclette. A real Swiss homecoming!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

On the move - overcoming inertia

Getting myself organised to travel I something I don't enjoy, and tend to leave until the last minute, unlike Clare who gets the suitcase out and debates with herself what she's going to take several days beforehand. I have to be under pressure of departure to get my act together. It was a bit of a shock to be refused travel insurance because of being on blood pressure pills. It's the sort of thing that doesn't cross your mind, until it happens to you or someone close to you. Millions are kept stable and relatively active by standard medication régimes, but pay more to be insured. There's no discount.

I rang Medicover and got the most daunting and long recorded message that I ended up ringing off frustrated before the 'Press button number ...' part of the routine started. Their website was far better. Again lots of words to read, but a tightly structured unambiguous interrogation process which delivered me the necessary travel insurance certificates in under ten minutes. The Medicover website delivers its services as efficiently as the EasyJet site does, but without the special promotions and nags. Fortunately, I booked my flight early enough to benefit from low priced fares. The travel insurance at £3.70 a day for two weeks cost a pound less than the flight!

I have to be philosophical about the added expense. Last year I booked the flight a little later and paid double this year's price for the privilege. That cost was still a third of the £300 I paid on my first trip to Geneva in 1992, in the world just before EasyJet and the Internet. So many economic and social changes over the past fifteen years. It's amazing to look back, but even more amazing to look forward, as technological and medical achievements forge ahead.

Must go and get some curre
ncy now, but for how long will this be necessary? I wonder.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Money to burn - and to what end?

Well that was something - two firework displays, one next to city hall, where the festive stage is set up, and another in the Castle grounds, even more spectacular. Both amazing, beautiful, costly and, like it or not, polluting the environment - exploding tons of chemicals in the local atmosphere, and noisy enough to awaken every baby and dog for miles around. And this is happening in cities all over the country, the continent, the planet. At what cost?

Great mass entertainment, over so soon. For what that spectacle cost Cardiff, a good six figure sum no doubt, the City could fund its own local hard drug re-habilitation programme that would help end the misery of scores of people who are, frankly, an embarrassment to the pretensions of our Proud Capital City streets. Our priorities, as a species aren't governed by morality.

But what can I do, apart from curse the dark? - as the saying goes.

In newspaper colour supplements and on the Web, I often see headlines advising of 'fifty places to visit before you die', or fifty things to do/experience before you die'.

Some writers and commentators admit to mortality, that life has a timescale to it. I bet most of them are forty somethings - after half-way you have to start admitting the game of life is up, sooner or later. But, all those '
things to do' ? What does anything matter if you're still anxious about yourself or the world?

You can have seen everything worth paying to see, every wonder, and still not be at peace with yourself, afraid to die because you have unfinished business that promises to seal your existence in dark personal torment. (
Let's leave God out of this - we make our own torment far too effectively to require divine intervention for this end.)

Rather than fulfilment by achieving everything on those 'to-do' lists, I'd settle for something simpler - who do I want to
be before I die?

When life is over, it's over. There's no going back. Even if there was any truth in the notion of re-incarnation it could not be a repeat of a life we once had. The uniqueness of time takes care of that. Who
I am, or who I am becoming - to put some vitality into it - when my life in the flesh concludes, declares what I long for, not only in time but above and beyond time, eternally.

What I want to be
forever - and why be ashamed of such an unfashionable notion? - is my true self, a person complete in relationship to my Creator, the source of my being, knowing and known - a true child of the Author of being itself.

Unfortunately I have a long 'to-do' list of vanities, illusions, dysfunctions and pretensions to be rid of first, in order to get started on the path of becoming how I was meant to be.

Please lend me a little time, Lord.