Sunday, August 31, 2008

Crime averted

It was very noticeable this morning at 7h45, that the street sweeping team had not yet passed through the city centre, for whatever reason. I think they passed during the 8h00 Eucharist, to judge by the noises outside. To see the untreated streets in such a state is a reminder of what we have gotten used to in the past decade or so of fast food consumption, since most of the rubbish on the streets is branded fast food containers. When will the city decide this is unacceptable, and introduce preventative measures?

As we started the Parish Eucharist this morning, I noticed one of our local 'street people' - someone who has asked me for money in the past - slip in to one of the back pews. That's a first, I thought to myself. Moments later, as we were singing the first hymn, I heard raised voices, and then when I moved forward to the lectern, I saw that he had disappeared.

After the service, one of our welcomers told me she had seen him put his hand into the bag of a young woman who had arrived just before him, and he was in the process of removing her purse. She moved very rapidly, caught hold of his wrist to make him let go of the purse, and then saw him off the premises rapidly. The young lady in question was a bit shaken, but undeterred, and received Communion clutching her bag. She was one of three young women here from Bombay on placement with Tesco's H.R. area department, being trained up for the new company being opened in India using Tesco's management methods. The other two returned last month.

She told me she was on her way home in the coming week, and asked for prayers. She also said that she had taken the opportunity while here to visit different churches and discover what it was like in British churches. Ours, she said, is the only church she'd returned to a second time, much taken with its beauty and friendliness. Let's hope she wasn't too disconcerted by local knavery - although in all liklehood, Bombay with its much larger scale of contrast between wealth and poverty not much different to Cardiff.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Musical success

It was marvellous to see and hear two Welsh choirs as finalists in the 'Last Choir Standing' show, which has generated so much public interest. My sister June has been urging me to watch for some time, and only tonight did I finally get around to it.

For local choir 'Only men aloud' to have won was a double delight. We had them for one of our charity fund raising events last year in the run-up to Christmas, and I was most impressed with their excellence and their style, if not a little surprised to see their routine with walking canes done in a church. Still, it's always good to have something top quality in church, to have people doing their very best, and giving pleasure to a large audience. Now they have the entire nation as an audience. No doubt we shall be witnessing a few more musical surprises from them too.

It's interesting, and probably an indication of the end of summer that in the past week we've had three booking enquiries about events from outside bodies in the run-up to Christmas. Already we are close to have as many extra events as we can support with our limited resources. Good to have the time to prepare well for them.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A communications opportunity

This afternoon I attended a meeting of the Countdown 2009 Communications Focus Group, which began to lay plans for a succession of monthly publicity outputs over the coming year, to draw attention to the initiatives being undertaken in a range of ways to bring the city centre redevelopment to a timely fulfilment in Autumn 2009, when all the new buildings are open and in use.

It was suggested that the Faith Focus Group take the December publicity slot.

This is quite fortuitous, and will be an opportunity for the various faith communities of the city centre to raise their public profile as contributors to the whole - something we've been asking for over several years and now it's time to deliver - a real challenge.

As the conversation evolved, my mind was spinning around the strap-line 'Celebrating the season of good-will', something nice and general that applies in a dickensian fashion to the wider general public, not just to members of faith communities. But what we are able to do is give a bit more substance than sentiment to the idea.

It will be up to us to devise a programme of events that span our organisations under a common banner, through the month. I would also like to see the forerunner of piece of publicity, maybe a modest exhibition which showcases the 'offer' made by city centre churches. One way or another this is likely to keep me busy having ideas and prodding others to deliver to time ... hmm, three months to December by my reckoning.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Millennium Centre Gig

The plane tree outside church seems to have settled in OK, and looks healthy - I suspect it will grow quicker than anticipated. It may not be touching the church before I retire, but I wouldn't be surprised if I live long enough to be able to say "I told you so." to the successors of present councillors and officers who won't by then have a clue of what I'm talking about. At least the 'Echo' archive has an article expressing my worries. I'm most grateful for that.

Kath, Anto and Rhiannon arrived at lunchtime today, with Liz and Chris, all staying the weekend but primarily visiting Cardiff to play a gig on the Tesco Stage at the Millennium Centre.

Cardiff Bay was very busy with the Harbour Festival on. With so many people around, a fair audience was guaranteed. It was a superb event and I felt very proud of my artistic offspring and her band - Lament. I took lots of photos and several videos during the performance which Kath has now posted here on You Tube. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tree planting in St John Street

By the time I arrived for the midday Eucharist, the large mobile crane and the articulated lorry bearing a 30ft Plane tree were parked in St John Street and being made ready for action. After the service I returned to the street with my camera to record the event for posterity. Most of the time it rained, which I suppose, was fine for the tree. The results are the most recent pictures posted here .

During the hour it took to plant the tree, all sorts of public officials passed by to inspect. Councillors, city centre management team, community police officers, the senior planner responsible - and quite unrepentant. "You've wished a problem on those those who'll come after us" I said. "What don't you want to see trees in the city centre?" He asked. "Certainly." I replied, "in suitable places. Did you consult CADW about the advisability of planting so close to a grade one listed building." "No, we were not obliged to", was the reply. "What price partnership working?" I asked. No response.

He didn't hang around long enough in the drizzle to overhear passers-by commenting spontaneously on the proximity of the tree to the church wall. Those who worry about public order are wondering how long it will be before booze sodden idiots are climbing the tree, swinging on and breaking off branches, while the poor creature is still young and vulnerable.

This is the first of fifty odd trees to be planted around the city centre. I also learned this morning that the sandy soil with which the tree is to be surrounded has come from .... Holland. A tree with its own carbon footprint! All we needed was a tall conifer in a large pot, which could be moveable if it grew out too far. It would have looked great decorated in winter.

The new street lights installed still burn 24 hours a day - they can't yet be switched off because they are not wired into the control mechanism yet. Money no object around here. The one nearest the tree has an attachment just below the lamp. Today I learned that this is a CCTV camera mounting. For the present it will be able to see through the leaf canopy, but once the tree has grown, the camera will end up hidden by leaves, and only able to see in a westerly direction - and catch all the yobbos lobbing pub beer glasses from the Glyndwr into the north churchyard - I wish. So clever.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Beware the Council juggernaut

The paving on St John Street, except for the final central section, is all but complete - that is, with the exception of an irregularly shaped space adjacent to the post box which has been tarmacked over since the surrounding area was completed. Today, a large hole was excavated there, ready to receive a tree. An English plane tree. Like the ones next to the Old Library on the Hayes. Trees that can grow to a hundred feet high with a canopy of equal width, as indeed they have done in that space around the Hayes Island snack bar, during the late 20th century, largely hiding the fine Victorian facade of the building. St John Street is just about to acquire such a tree, located only 25 feet from the corner of the church.

I took photographs and voiced my concern to the guys doing the excavation, whose attitude was - don't worry we'll all be dead before that tree becomes a problem - fine, said I, but what about sustainability, what about not leaving a mess for our descendants to deal with? They took the point and admitted that maybe the tree pit was a bit close to the church. But, they had their orders and that was that. No questions asked.

When I saw the artists impression of St John Street 'improvements' some five years ago, it never occurred to me that anyone in their right mind would risk placing a tree with such growth potential so close to a Grade One Listed Building. I don't recall seeing more than an artist's impression, though no doubt there were endless plans available for anyone with time, and far sighted enough, to trawl through on display in City Hall. Tree roots could one day undermine boundary and building, walls. Leaves will overwhelm the gutters on the roof and the ground, once it grows really big, a generation or so from now. It will cause extra maintenance problems on the 'non-public realm' side of the fence, i.e. in the churchyard, imposing an additional financial burden upon the church.

I don't suppose it occurred to anyone enthused of this plan that in an area where most of the rainwater will run away from the roots, in gutters to drains, that the only ground soaking up rainwater within the vicinity of the tree will be a strip of adjacent churchyard. That same churchyard from which, four years ago we had to remove a flowering cherry tree large enough to give us problems with gutter clearance and water ingress. Time will tell what the tree roots make of the proposed barrier to be installed on the church side to prevent damage to retaining wall and foundations. Leaves blocking drains will be with us again sooner rather than later. I'm not confident that we can expect any sympathy or help from the council, to cope with a burden their plans impose upon us.

It was only a fortnight ago that I became curious about the tarmac patch, and queried it with the city project engineers, to discover what was planned. They regarded it as unquestionable, a fait accompli in the timetable of 'task and finish'. I took up the issue with the city planners and project leadership, asking if it would be possible to move the tree location by another fifteen feet in order to minimise the impact on their building. My concerns were dismissed as if trifling, with the assertion that it's too late now, why didn't you spot this when it was all first proposed five years ago?

Well, I didn't know as much then as I know now, about planning and development processes. That's something I've had to learn on the job. I've spent much of the past five years trying to rouse church people out of apathy and despair at ever getting a decent amount of attention and concern from city planners and bureaucrats on many issues of concern. It's half the reason why I maintain this blog.

Five years ago, church attention was taken up with getting city bureaucrats to resolve outstanding problems to enable the granting of a lease for a new south churchyard path, then ensuring that they got the Faculty they needed to do the job. Nobody else was scrutinising detailed plans with the church's interests in mind. So we've lost out, in a situation where there shouldn't be any winners or losers among contributors to the common good of the city.

It is a fact of recent history, as I mentioned in my post of 7th August, that religious communities have been ignored and devalued by local government in their vision of the city. It's why I took on and saw through the Spiritual Capital research project to highlight this problem. Such attitudes make this 'their city', not 'our city' in the broadest sense, and how many of them live their everyday lives away from work with the results of their decision making?

It makes a joke of the creation of a 'Faith Focus Group' as part of the Countdown 2009 effort to get the city full open on track, if the one modest intervention to be volunteered from a member of the group on an issue that might have an unforeseen impact is dismissed out of hand. As another city centre worker commented on the redevelopment game : "It's, yet again, another incorrect decision. When all have left, the problems will begin".

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Burma Star veterans remember

After the Parish Eucharist today, we welcomed veterans of the Burma Star Association for their annual commemoration service, with their Chaplain Revd. Bill Barlow delivering, yet again a fine sermon to give us all food for thought. Numbers attending overall were about forty, including a dozen members of the choir and congregation. I learned over lunch afterwards that the Swansea branch (represented at the service by half a dozen people and their branch standard), is shortly to be disbanded and their standard laid up in the Swansea's Garrison Church. How long, I wonder before the Cardiff and Vale branch also decides to call it a day?

On this occasion last year, Phyllis Burns, the wife of the branch secretary had her purse stolen as she was sitting waiting for the service to start. It was a terrible shock to everyone. Two days later, Wally her husband died. He was still active, but ailing right to the last. The impact of this crime on him undoubtedly hastened his death. Does the smug thief have any idea of the consequences of the crime committed? Phyllis was there with us today, looking better than the last time I saw her. She announced that she is shortly off to a family wedding in Australia. While he is stoical about losing her husband, in his mid-eighties after a decade of ill-health you can bet your life that she'll be missing him all the way there and back.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Compare and contrast

This evening, in my role as Chaplain I attended an emergency general meeting of the members of the United Services Mess, which is facing a financial crisis that could lead to closure. The committee had to report that they were compelled to make their much valued Steward redundant, as a result of plummeting revenues, caused by poor attendance. In order to save the Mess - now in its hundredth year, many changes will have to be made in the way the place is run, subscriptions will have to increase, membership qualifications will have to be broadened - not least where women service personnel are concerned.

The committee has an ambition to do more with voluntary help from members, as happens in lots of service clubs. But for the Mess this represents a significant change in culture and ethos, plus it requires the diplomatic skills of those experienced in handling volunteers. This is where the inclusion of women, with their strong collaborative culture could be most beneficial. Not that the women do all the work, but that their powers of organisation and persuasion, which function differently from masculine models, be allowed to make a contribution that involved everyone in re-creating what is in many ways a strong community based around shared experience of service life.

The Mess building is a problem given that it has no lift, and a substantial number of ageing members. Equipping it for today's access requirements is a big financial challenge for a small private organisation. Restriction on vehicle access in the neighbourhood is also having an impact on the use of the place by both clientele and those servicing the events taking place there. It's the kind of issue that hardly figures in urban planning discussions dominated by the grandiose ambitons of the big economic players. Yet, places like the Mess are part of what gives the City its convivial characteristics for people across the generations. When the redevelopment work is finished, and if the hundreds of apartments are populated with the predicted mix of yuppies and grey panthers, they could well be a different kind of clientele interested in the Mess. But for the moment, only drastic measures will ensure survival. Otherwise the centenary dinner next January could well be the Mess's final act.

It's interesting the reflect upon the differences of fortune between the Church and the Mess, viewing both of them as 'small businesses' as understood in contemporary terms, especially as the voluntary enterprise of women selling tea and cakes to the public predominates in the economic health of St John's, whereas an all-male preserve selling mainly beer and occasional meals to a select clientèle strives and is now failing to compete with scores of places with the same kind of 'retail offer'. What the Mess must discover how to do better is to make the most of itself as a place where military history and culture is cherished, in an environment that brings something unique to the City's social scene.

It was good today to welcome for a return visit and organ concert, Keith Dale, the director of music at Holy Trinity Church Geneva. A hundred people came to the lunchtime recital at St John's. The numbers have built up to their former level very quickly following the six month interruption due to the re-decoration of the nave. All this is due to the energy invested in the 'Cardiff Organ Events' promotion of recitals in the city centre, spearheaded by our own indefatigable Organist and Curator Philip Thomas. Everyone comments favourably on how beautiful the church now looks. I take pride in telling everyone who comments that the £100,000 cost of the work was afforded due to funds raised by Tea Room volunteers over a seven year period.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Rain fails to stop play

I spent this afternoon looking after Rhiannon in a very wet corner of the Leamington Spa shopping centre, where her mum and dad were playing a marathon gig with their band 'Lament' from 11.00-4.00, as part of a local festival. They had a gazebo in the corner of a courtyard opposite two coffee shops side by side, to contain and protect all five band members and their equipment. It was a tight fit, and rained for four of the five hours they played, but they went on, quite undaunted, and produced some amazingly tight and exciting music. Some of their new songs I hadn't heard before, so it was quite a special occasion, having a little time with my lovely grand-daughter, with mum and dad making music in the rain in the background.

Clare rang up from the Eistedfod Maes, back in Cardiff, where she'd been attending competitions and the closing ceremony. She was full of the excitement of the occasion, and in the background, I could hear over the phone Pontarddulais Male Voice choir singing spontaneously together in the rain, in the modest area of the field devoted to fast food and beer.

Well, none of massive volume of rain that Cardiff can seemingly throw at any major event served to dampen the spirits, or diminish the attendance. 150,000 were hoped for, nearly 157,000 showed up over the week. And to cap it all, the Bardic Chair was awarded to a female poet for only the second time in the history of the Gorsedd. It's seventy years since the Chair was last awarded in a National Eisteddfod in Cardiff. On two previous occasions an Eisteddfod was held in the city, no entry was deemed good enough. So, if a woman can break the Cardiff Eisteddfod jinx, what might a woman do for the jinxed Anglican episcopate?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Market activity

This past few days the scaffolding and enclosure that has contained the work being done to restore O'Neill's pub after the fire has come down on schedule. There's still equipment and a skip to be moved, and probably lots of internal work to be completed, but it looks as if the street will now be clear for the completion of the re-paving. The area in front of the market entrance is currently being done, and cleverly managed to enable people to use the entrance safely while work goes on either side of the walkway. Once this is done, the pathway across the churchyard will be next to be re-paved. I wonder if excavation will bring any surprises? Probably not, since it was first dug out and laid in 1892. The brass grave markers will go when re-laying takes place, but all the original numbers, displayed on the original map of the path will be inscribed in granite, and the brass markers will eventually become an exhibit in Cardiff's new history museum.

It will be interesting to see how quickly old Cardiffians pick up on this change, and what sort of comment it generates. Certainly, inscribed granite will be more durable than a fresh set of brass numbers plumbed into the stone, offering a target for a certain kind of local handyman who can buy tools with which to prise them out of the paving from a market stall, as they've bought tools to prise open collection boxes and liberate bicycles chained up. There's really no control over what people do with tools they can source locally - like the smash and grab guys in Castle Arcade last year, who bough a couple of sledge hammers for the job at B&Q (conveniently leaving on the labels, and assisting in their detection by B&Q CCTV. I don't think market CCTV is that all embracing.

It was gratifying to learn today that last Saturday's Mission Fayre raised £1,300 for USPG's work, despite the worries expressed that business was slow. That's more than last year, and more than I expected, since we're supposed to be in recession. It hasn't stopped people wanting to be generous and willing to work hard for a good cause, however.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

New publication : The Church in the Centre of the City

A parcel greeted me on the doorstep when I returned from delivering Clare to the nearest point to the East gate of the Eisteddfod Maes for an evening concert. It contained a copy of the book of essays edited by Prof Paul Ballard entitled 'The Church in the Centre of the City', assembled as one of the follow-ups to the ground breaking national City Centre Mission conference held at Aberdare Hall in September 2005. It's a sterling piece of work, which should serve as a handbook for anyone wanting to work in any city centre church in the next few decades.

This is a book which needed to be written in the seventies, but at that time attention was being given for the first time to the nature of Christian witness and mission in the inner-city residential areas, leading to the publication of the 'Faith in the City' report in 1981. That was during my time in the St Paul's area in Bristol, and I was fully involved in the creative process going on in inner-city parishes all over Britain that preceded and accompanied the publication that historic document. The focus of urban poverty and racial injustice was utterly vital and very timely.

However this urgent concern meant that scant attention was given to the equally pressing issue of how churches should be doing mission in the central business districts of cities, where all the economic and political decision making takes place. Even then it was taking place with less and less interest in any useful contribution churches might make. Less and less concern was shown by denominations in taking part in the debates of the time through their missionary presence in city churches. If they were able to stay open, they tended, with exceptions, to maintain a largely pastoral, self maintaining agenda, and so became marginal to the policy shaping processes which determine the economic and social life of our city centres.

My time here at St John's, trying to re-engage on behalf of the church, and motivate others to engage in this process has been challenging, to say the least, with little success, because religion has been allowed to slip off the social agenda of civil society, except in the most token ways - civic services and ceremonies etc - where it can shape very little at all. The absence of any kind of religious building or imagery from the city's official publications is prima facie evidence of the way that local government processes have disregarded the city's own religious history and present culture, and this at a period when it has become much more interesting and diverse with the variety of faith communities it contains. I'm pleased I was able to bring the Spiritual Capital reseach project to a successful completion. What happens next is altogether a different concern. However valuable it may be to some readers, it falls on deaf if not hostile ears for many in government, officers and members, reluctant to have their comfort zones challenged or interfered with by voices they've got used to disregarding.

I'd like anyone interested in the city and its politics, or in city mission to read 'The Church in the entre of the city'. I'll restrict myself to one good quote from an essay by Huw Thomas of Cardiff University's School of City and Regional Planning called 'Power in the City : How to get things done', as it rings true to my experience. He refers to a national policy document on planning for town centres in which

"... the government emphasises the creating of town and city centres that have the appropriate kinds of facilities and activities in them .... Naturally, the advice states the kinds of activities that centres might be expected to contain. Shops and offices are mentioned often. So is housing, increasingly promoted as part of so-called mixed use developments. Leisure is also regarded as an important activity in town and city centres, especially as part of the 'evening and night time economy'. But churches, and places of worship of any kind, are not mentioned at all ..... it doesn't oppose churches and church activity. But it ignores, and hence devalues the idea of there being a spiritual dimension to the city centre."

I'd say that was my experience too. Rather late in the day, there is some attempt to re-dress this oversight on the part of central government policy - otherwise there wouldn't have been any money for the Spiritual Capital Research project. But it's a bit like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Quite apart from any attempts believers might want to make to promote adherence to their faith, they are now faced with the challenge to making or maintaining sacred space itself as an essential dimension of the living heart of the city. As long as they keep the rules, any preacher can claim a pitch in the public realm and have his or her say. Keeping a place of worship functional, as part of a safe zone dedicated to peace and quiet is a constant challenge. If it isn't being invaded by parasites and predators who want to take advantage of others when their guard is down, it's being invaded by noise, or choked by litter. The devaluing of 'God's acre' starts with ill thought out policy handed down, and is very difficult to put into reverse. no matter how zealous the efforts of the faithful. Will the tide turn? Or will the long slide into anarchy and violence as the hall-mark of spiritually devalued cities continue relentlessly?

Read the book and make up your own mind. You can get it from Epworth press, and no doubt, from the newly re-opened 'Churches Together Bookshop' in City URC Windsor Place.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Communicating what?

I heard a bit of a moan earlier about the lack of information available at Cardiff Central Station, to direct travellers to the Eisteddfod. Before returning home I went there to check the facts. Sure enough there was one poster with sufficient information opposite the main ticket barrier exit, just a bit bigger than a news billboard - but none by the other two exits to the main entrance hall.

Outside, on the perimeter fence, either side of the passageway through the bus station a copy of the same poster was displayed, with an additional poster each side with supporting directions to the appropriate bus stops. Well and good, except that all displays were English only. No bi-lingual signs, nothing with the Eisteddfod logo on it. None of the colour displays associated with the Cardiff Festival, just plain English, black and white.

Funny, I thought bi-lingualism was not only part of our culture here in the Capital city, but also a legal requirement. What a welcome to Cardiff! What a poor impression of civic pride in ownership towards one of Europe's largest and oldest cultural festivals. The city centre developers (from London) are doing better than that these days, keeping the world in the picture. This is not exactly what you'd expect from a self confident world class city.

On the 'Maes'

Clare was up and out very early, to log in and collect her steward's vest and take her place in the big pink tent, the 'Pabell Bink', that serves as a 3,000 seater auditorium. Today was my first opportunity to visit the Eisteddfod, so I went over and joined her on the Maes at lunchtime, for a bit to eat and a wander around the site, which is about a third of a mile square, with a village of tents and other structures arranged in a grid street pattern, as one might find at any big show ground event, all dominated by the huge circus-type 'Pabell Bink'.

Apart from the watering holes and the eating places, and the broadcasting places, and the ranks of enterprises show-casing their produce, from harps to sustainable houses, there are performance spaces, an art gallery, and a wide range of governmental, NGO and voluntary organisations with a public presence. A whole industry of public relations, diplomacy, wheeling and dealing, happening in Welsh and in English. A place to do business, to meet friends, to have fun and relax. Above all a place to compete more for the joy of doing something well than for the glory of beating others. Everyone who takes part gets their 'da iawn'. The atmosphere is warm, happy, friendly, and marvellously confident without a hint of arrogance. The people of Wales in their element, on their own terms.

I couldn't help noticing how clean it was everywhere - in contrast to the Big Weekend venue where there was enough fast food litter to merit a rare comment in the 'Western Mail' report. But I couldn't help noticing people using the bins, (plenty of them) and I saw a waitress taking time out to pick up some rubbish that had blown on to the floor away from the area she was minding. People taking pride in their environment. Pontcanna fields look good at the height of summer - all those tall trees and thick grass. The people who come to the Eisteddfod like it that way.

I had to go into town to meet a couple about a wedding at tea-time Beyond the Maes perimeter, on the town side, I crossed the open field heading for the cycle path beside the Taff where a squad of soldiers were out doing fitness exercises. In one corner of an otherwise clean field, an empty plastic bag, a food box and half a dozen paper napkins scattered in the grass. stood out like a sore thumb. Coming away from the Maes, feeling proud, the sight filled me with disgust and anger. Some people don't have any pride, in themselves or their city. I gathered up the litter, and had to walk all the way down the trail, and cross the footbridge into Bute Park before I found a bin to deposit the bag - oh yes, and for the record, it was all 'Chicken Cottage' branded. Makes a change from KFC, Macdonalds and Burger King branded disposables. Curse them all for the plagues they inflict upon civilisation.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Eisteddfod Sunday

When I got home from church this morning, Archbishop Barry was on Radio Cymru, preaching at the ecumenical eisteddfod service, fresh back from Lambeth. The Western Mail published the English translation of his address in the centrefold of yesterday's edition, which is much to be appreciated. His Welsh speaking is very clear and easy to follow, especially if you've read the English and have the gist of it. Clare was over on the Maes practicing for some event she was singing at, and Artie had gone off with a friend on a visit to the Llynfi and Neath Valleys, so I was left to cook myself a pasta lunch and enjoy listening to the Boss, and wondering what he and the other Bishops had made of the Lambeth experience.

After four services during the day, I didn't fancy trekking over to the Maes for the evening's Gymanfa Ganu, so we watched it on telly instead (with subtitles) - a most impressive event it was too. One of the hymns had been written by Y Parch Denzil John, Minister of Tabernacl, just down the street from us at St John's. He was called out by the conductor to be congratulated, along with the composer of the new hymn tune used with it. A very good piece of work indeed.
And a neat example of the meaning of Spiritual Capital in our context.

Reflecting on the research project work recently completed. Although we referred to the whole Welsh church cultural scene in Cardiff, it's apity we didn't go into it in any depth. Cardiff's Welsh chapels are still real cultural powerhouses and centres of excellence, and the Capital's music scene is very well represented at the Eisteddfod.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Polyvalent weekend

A sunny day for the Annual Mission Fayre, bringing a steady trickle of people through the church throughout the day, to browse the stalls, buy cakes, drink tea, climb the tower. Over 165 people ascended. One man surprised his girlfriend by proposing marriage to her up top. He'd been in touch enquiring about opportunities a couple of times. Bob Hardy, tower captain, was on hand with his camera to snap the moment. What fun!

It was quite a day for the City also, with the Big Weekend open air concert in front of City Hall, and a big fun-fair in and among the civic centre buildings. Of course, it meant far less car parking was available than usual. The fair site was entirely surrounded by Heras fencing for security purposes, with strict controls banning alcohol within the cordon, and lots of safety stewards mingling with the crowd to restrain the disruptive elements, and help create a safe family atmosphere. Just watching some rides, the way they throw people around in an atmosphere of very loud music is nerve rattling enough. This is the first year for some time when I didn't bother to walk through the site a few times and chat with people I know, ambulancemen, stewards, police etc. It was annoying enough to be compelled to take the detour right around the security cordon in order to get home. My word, I am becoming a grumpy old man!

However, I did enjoy watching the passage of the Carnival procession, with its hosts of drummers and dancers, swaying up St Mary Street, past the Castle, up the Kingsway and on to the site of the Big Weekend concert. It may not be as ambitious as Notting Hill, but it really is a credit to its organisers. Next weekend South Wales' Hare Krishna monks will be doing their own Chariot Festival Parade, following the same route, but concluding with a fête in Bute Park.

Meanwhile, over in Pontcanna fields, the National Eisteddfod opened in style. Clare received her A level Welsh certificate in a special ceremony for Dysgwyr (learners), and spent the day there with our friend Artie, who's visiting us again from Paris, and trying (as a good linguist should) to get her head around Welsh pronunciation - what an initiation! Across the Taff, in Blackweir fields area of Bute Park, there's a huge caravan park for visitors to the Eisteddfod. It's said there's be 150,000 visitors to the Maes (the Eisteddfod territory, where it all happens) during this week long event. I suspect there are thousands on the camp-site(s). What's amazing is how little of the noise of all this gets out into the surrounding area - unlike so many other events, dominated by over-amplified public address systems - especially when you consider how big an event this is, so close to the heart of the city. Such a wholesome contrast to all the 'popular consumer' stuff inflicted on the civic centre.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Green troubles now

The paving around the north side of the church is almost complete, and people are able to sit and drink outside the 'Owain Glyndwr' no longer enclosed in a corridor of Heras fencing. Close to the post box, now back in service again, over by the north churchyard wall, there's a large circle of tarmac, rather than pristine paving. It's a sign that something else is going to happen on that spot. But what, I wondered. So I checked with the project engineer who knows everything.

The tarmac is temporary cover for an area that will be excavated to take a tree, a large tree, an English Plane tree, like the ones outside the library that grow as tall as the building and shed tons of leaves in the autumn. The centre of the hole is about fifteen feet from the churchyard wall. A plane tree can grow roots as wide as it is tall, so it won't be many years before the roots are causing damage to the church boundary, and who knows what else, as the north aisle and Herbert Chapel are only a couple of additional feet inside the railing.

And then there's the additional cost of clearing the leaves that fall into the churchyard and on to the roof, blocking the gutters, causing floods. The Herert Chapel still needs repair from the water damage caused when its gutters were blocked by leaves from a flowering cheery tree which took us tow years to get permission to remove. It had surprised everyone by growing to twice its anticipated girth in a few years. It wasn't enclosed in a concrete container either, like the trees on the Hayes uprooted during demolition. The constraint of their physical environment kept the sizes manageable in their setting. Something like that would be prefereable for whatever kind of tree gets planted in the vicinity of the church.

Now, I'll have to find out, after the Big Weekend, whom to talk to about this business, to see if it's possible to head off a disaster in the making, possibly for my successor, given the growth rate of trees in an environment where there are no competitors, judging by the cherry tree experience.