Friday, February 08, 2008

A Lenten afternoon traveller's tale

Cardiff's student radio channel interviewed me about the Lent course before I'd get done to breakfast this morning. The diocesan webmaster emailed appreciation of the news article, and this alerted me to the fact that the Beeb had run up a web page item overnight. Best of all, this page gave the church website address. The question then was if this would have any impact on the attendance at the lecture, after the Midday Eucharist.

Well, there were fifteen people there, five of whom I didn't recognise. All the others were St John's regulars. I managed to put a page counter on the church website, so I must resist the temptation of visiting the site to look at the number of hits - after all, I may be the only visitor!

After the lecture Clare and I took ourselves out of town on the newly re-opened rail link from Cardiff to Ebbw Vale. No passenger trains have run there since 1968, but the line has been re-opened just this week to assist in economic regeneration. The train was full, and there was a happy buzz of conversation, appreciative of this new amenity.

The town centre station has yet to be opened, so the train stopped in Victoria, the next post-industrial hamlet, a mile and a half down the valley. A free shuttle bus waited to transport passengers up to the town centre. However, the driver could not get the bus to move, due to a fault in the automatic door closure mechanism, which locked the drive mechanism of the bus. So after several abortive start attempts, we got off and began walking.

At the first roundabout, 300 yards further on, the bus overtook us, beeping, then stopped to pick us up. The cheery face of the gentleman gesticulating to us from the open door of the bus urging us to hurry up and jump on turned out to be that of Richard Fenwick, the Dean of Monmouth! Neither of us had recognised each other out of context, getting off the train, nor on the bus - we were ordained the same days in 1969 and 1970. He too was talking time out to explore the new rail service.

He told us that when he'd gone to the front to enquire of the bus driver, the bus had started, and stayed started as long as he stood there. A check revealed there was a sensor underneath the wheelchair ramp which closed the circuit to allow the bus to run only when correctly shut. However, the ramp had taken too much weight and its frame slightly distorted, sufficient to close correctly, but insufficient to activate the sensor. So, thanks to the Dean, we ascended to Ebbw Vale, rocking with laughter about this new 'missionary' door-keeping role for the clergy.

A stroll down the wide main street, took us through the remains of an open air market, which was nice. There were several inviting teashops and cafes, and we settled for Sidoli's - famous for ice cream in South Wales. Richard came in and we all had tea together. He told us that after we descended, the bus was persuaded to continue its way by placing a twopenny piece on top of the sensor before lowering the ramp. Then we returned and waited for the shuttle to reappear and connect us with the train, hoping not to have to miss one and walk, as dark began to fall.

I'm glad we made the effort. We've resolved to travel on all the other valley lines in the coming weeks. We're looking at the possibility of places to settle when we retire, raising the question of living outside the capital on a good communications route where we don't need a car. It has to be beautful, and I long for a place with a view of mountains or forests. But where that will be, we don't know.

House prices in the upper reaches of the Ebbw valley, indeed, in all the Valleys are a fraction of city prices. There's some beautiful scenery, but apart from landscaping old colliery sites and demolishing the steel works, the process of renewal is in early stages with a huge amount to do. Ebbw Vale, despite such modern building as has been achieved, still looks in places as if it has stood still for fifty years. The Garden Festival nearly twenty years ago improved roads and brought some new business, but not enough to have a major impact. The difference between here and Cardiff is very noticeable. It's not fair.

After the descent to Cardiff, an evening visit to St Teilo's church for their Patronal Festival Eucharist, at which I preached to a congregation of about twenty people. Afterwards we ate cake and drank Bucks Fizz or plain water, and toasted the memory of our Celtic ancestor in faith. In his day, Ebbw Vale would have been dense oak forest with few if any inhabitants apart from wild animals, a great place for a hermitage. It has a slightly deserted feel now, despite its population. I guess that's like many other industrial towns from which the heart has been ripped out, by other people's economic strategies.

What would Teilo have made of all this, I wonder? Silly question. He wasn't a townie. Apart from Christ and the Gospel, all we have in common with him is that we do a fair bit of travelling, and don't confine ourselves permanently to one place.

1 comment:

Fr Edward said...

Hi Keith,

Many thanks for your positive comments on my blog left last month. Could not agree with you more about Ebbw Vale where I taught for 7 years. Glad you think that the work of a curate was as difficult as 40 years ago as many seem to think that curates have it far to easy these days! So I dont know what they had to put up with. Have listen to the first two talks on the podcast. What a fantastic idea!

Take care

Edward