Sunday, November 30, 2008

The new year begins

I love Advent Sunday, and the sense of a new beginning it conveys through the scriptures we read, the hymns and the prayers. We had a good turn out, around fifty adults and children for the Sung Eucharist, and by the end I felt filled with energy by the occasion, as opposed to drained - which makes a nice change.

Before the evening Carol service I took Communion to Hilda and Angela, patients in the Infirmary West Wing, and then went up to take Communion to Peggy in Cyncoed. It was dusk when I arrived and her house was in darkeness, but the front room curtains were opened and I guessed that as on other occasions when I'd calle din the afternoon, she'd gone to sleep by the fire. I was right and caught a glimpse of her through the sitting room curtains. I tapped the window and she awakened immediately, and then let me in. She's another Advent lover, and was delighted that I called. When I read to her the Gospel for the day (Mark 13:24-37) we both started smiling and ended up in laughter. It ends

Therefore, keep awake - for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

We were around eighty, counting those who left early, for the Advent Carol service. Philip's hard labour in putting up advertising signs for the latter interestingly brought in a dozen more young adults than we usually expect at such an event, all faces I'd not see before, and maybe just people passing through. But it's part of our vocation and mission as a church in the heart of the city to be there and welcome all who want to share in our worship, for whatever reason, as often or a seldom as they wish to come. Community grows among those who see the value of this kind of openness and sharing as a way of witness to the Good News of the One who comes.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Capturing the moment

A nice email this morning from The Church in Wales Press officer, Anna Morrell, flagging up that the Western Mail had published a supporting letter I wrote the day after last week's press launch of the 'Enough is Enough' campaign.

In this time of great caution over investment I am concerned that the dysfunctional social environment created by the binge drinking culture will deter Big Money players from moving businesses to the city region. Maybe saying it loud and often enough is the only way to get policy makers to think a little harder about the quality of life and social values which need to be embodied in the kind of public life we foster. This is not advocating repression or a neurotic puritanism, but rather recognising just how unhealthy any excessively consumptive lifestyle really is - and how bad for the business economy that can be.

The City Centre Churches Together group met tonight, and it was time to report back on all the recent developments around us. I took the video camera with me and recorded the ensemble all singing 'We wish you a Merry Christmas' and shouting 'Nadolig Llawen' together. Filming was a lot easier than getting everyone to sing and speak together, so the end result was a bit of a shambles really, but very good humoured and in the spirit of the moment. Now I've really got to set my mind to editing and web publishing this material.

If the BBC can't stream our stuff the the Big Screen, we can put it up on the web and point the world towards it. Watch this space ....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Faith and the civic agenda

We had another Faith Focus Group meeting yesterday, early evening, which for the first time brought to the table two Muslim women from the 'Women Connect First' organisation, which does great adult education work with black and ethnic minority women in the city. There was a discernable sense of delight in the meeting. We have Christian, Sikh and Hindu members, and now Muslim members, and have doubled the female representation in this 80% male group.

It was mostly a meeting to report on progress and setbacks in our publicity profile raising efforts. The Council being supportive, and the BBC failing to deliver streamed user generated video content to the big screen outside St David's Hall, as promised months ago. We agreed that it was most important to keep on making a video of photographic archive of faith community material that can be drawn upon for publicity uses in the coming year. An act of faith in the opportunities that will emerge, I guess.

There's some uncertainty about the groups future, some consideration being given higher up of bringing this focus group to an end. Members seem keen to continue to meet anyway, having found the opportunity to share on matters of common interest about public life worth the effort to maintain. Paul Mannings, our convener is convinced that group has already inputted enough of value to justify retaining it as part of a slimmed down Countdown process, right through. Well we have picked up on a few issues - notably toilets, and access to places of worship, street carers, and the place of faith groups in the public self image of the city's cultural diversity. Some of it elusive to start with, but not everything is cut and dried in something a complex as the life of an urban centre.

It's marvellous to see people of different faith convictions beginning to share a common interest in civic issues. I was reminded of the World Council of Churches missionary theological reportage back in the 1970's asserting that "the world (It's God's world) determines the agenda for mission". It turns out to be true as a basis for interfaith encounter as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cardiff's sense of place.

I attended an interesting workshop put on by Cardiff and Co in the Norwegian Church this afternoon, given by tourism consultant Angharad Wynne, on the subject 'A sense of Place'. She explored with us questions about what makes any place unique and special for those who visit it. Those working and living in the place may need a little exercising to focus in on how others coming in from outside experience a place in a way that makes it different from all others. Identifying this is important in any marketing strategy, and also significant in this globlised commercial culture where shops and shopping centres look the same and have much the same content in many part fo the planet.

Everyone needs a degree of familiarity in order to feel secure when they're away from home, but in order to make journeys to other places worthwhile and memorable, there has to be some sense of what is distinctive. That's the bit you tell your friends and gives them the incentive to follow in your footsteps.

This was an exercise in relation to St John's, which I did quickly and easily in my head, for we we have the evidence of visitor book comments about the beauty and peace of the building with its lovely stained glass and peacefulness in the heart of the city. We also have the evidence of people from far and wide queuing to consume home made soups, cakes and sandwiches, and welcomed by the friendly Tea Room volunteer teams, often being sent by friends, or bringing their friends to enjoy the place. We also get positive comments about the 'rogues gallery' of a century's images of former clerics, photos and art works over 200 years depicting the church from different angles. Absolutely unique. A great tourism asset, and missionary tool.

Trying to look at Cardiff objectively wasn't quite so easy. Many recent buildings looking much like others, shops like you'll find everywhere. But, the Bay Barrage has created a unique waterfront, and a new civic centre of landmark buildings, matching the Edwardian civic centre, and some of the city's Victorian buildings. The same is true of the new library, now gleaming bronze and blue in the winter sun. Memorable. SD2 is still under wraps. But when you've been around in the open topped bus and videoed them for posterity what other experience will linger?

How about, the singing during a match at the Millennium Stadium? How about a stroll through the arcades, the Castle, Bute Park? What about the municipally undervalued city market? Ashton's Fish stall? The City Arms. The Vulcan? Just a handful of places serve really indigenous food, and I'm not talking about 'chip alley', Caroline Street. All these were mentioned in discussion of the Cardiff sense of place. St John's too. But interestingly, Cardiff accent and lingo were mentioned, and also the spontaneous way in which people converse with strangers at bus stops, and are warm, friendly and helpful. Cardiff character - and it knows no ethnic divisions among the older generations. The younger tend to be more tribal. Hopefully they'll grow out of it.

Yes, the city's got a lot to distinguish it from others, as well as more of the ubiquitous sameness of modern trade. Getting the balance right is the big challenge.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What if 'Enough' was 'Too much' ?

I'm delighted to report that baby Jesus has been turned around in the outdoor nativity scene to face the Owain Glyndwr. The recumbent figure has wide open arms, to embrace the world, symbolically, in the old tradition of Christ child images. It's not exactly great art - at a cursory glance it looks as if the Babe of Bethlehem is stretched out sun bathing on top of a bird's nest. Maybe that will incite the curiosity of some. I'm also glad to report that the third king has shown up. No doubt I'll hear the story of the late arrival some time in the coming week.

Captain Eric Smith, bandmaster of the Grangetown Salvation Army Corps emailed me in response to my including him in an ecumenical round-robin announcing the 'Enough is Enough' campaign web-site sign up. "I couldn't sign up" he reported wryly; "There was no button to register a total abstainer." A healthy reminder that there are still plenty of people around, Christian as well as Muslim, for whom 'Enough' is 'Too Much'. It's not a fashionable position. It's a bit like conscientious objection to resolving conflict by violence. It asserts the principle that life can be lived pleasurably without this intoxicant. It's an implicit rejection of a type of consumerism, its massive industry and promotion of consumer lifestyle, on which the public coffers rely to balance the books, by taxation.

Just imagine what it would do to the economic crisis if suddenly the entire adult population renounced alcohol and stuck to their resolve. Imagine the juggling of accounts that Whitehall would have to engage in to cover lost revenue from customs and excise, increased expenditure on booze industry redundancies, decreased expenditure on public law & order, and A&E crisis management (although long term health issues would take generations to show savings because of damage to health working its way through the population already). Our lives for better and worse are so totally intertwined with alcohol in all its forms, that 'Enough' is as much as it is safe to advocate. Renunciation would, in its way, be admirably subversive of society if it ever caught on in a really big way.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Getting moderation on the social agenda

Today the Anglican Bishops and Chief Constables of Wales press launched a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers and cost to society of binge drinking. Wales is apparently the worst place in Europe for binge drinking. "Enough is Enough" is the slogan. The aim is to encourage people to drink moderately and responsibly, not to renounce booze altogether.

About seventy people gathered in the University Students' Union for the launch. We were addressed by Archbishop Barry, Barbara Wilding, Chief Constable of South Wales, Michael McCabe Chief A&E Consultant in Morriston Hospital, who spoke about the health dangers, and some measures to remedy the problem. Nick Newman of Cardiff's Licensed Victuallers Association bravely defended precautions taken by alcohol retailers, the President of the Students' Union spoke about responsible Union bar policy.

Wynford Ellis Owen, the new Chair of the Welsh Council on Alcohol and other Drugs too the platform last, with a moving and eloquent personal testimony, in which he spoke about his youthful alcohol abuse as a means to fill the spiritual vacuum in his life. He issued a quiet challenge to the church leaders present to work on filling the vacuum as well as trying to campaign on social issues. It was too quietly received for my comfort. I think he's right, but we've somehow lost the ability to address the widening gulf created by ideologues like Richard Dawkins and others, devaluing any common sense understanding of what authentic spirituality consists of.

The major common concern expressed was about supermarket cheap drink sales and the propensity people have for 'front-loading' themselves with alcohol before hitting town for a night out. We had a representative of Morrisons supermarket chain on our discussion table, who told us about their changes in alcohol retailing policy, designed to cut drastically this deadly kind of opportunism. The event launched the promotion of a website where people can register their commitment to moderate their drinking. It can viewed as a barometer of social concern, and people present were encouraged to sign up, and tell people in their networks to sign up so that the message of numbers expressing concern might speak for itself. It's if any readers in Wales want to sign up.

I had no misgivings about taking part in and giving practical support to this event, have lived with the clearing up after the mess of party nights and match days in the centre for the past six years. I was, however, disappointed that it wasn't made into as ecumenical and inter-faith event as possible. Anglicans may be (on a par with Catholics) the largest historic denomination in Wales, but the Evangelical Alliance umbrella covers equally as large a numerical combination of protestant, independent and pentecostal member communities, which are equally making their contribution on this matter.

It's also not a good idea that other faith communities weren't given opportunity to make visible the concerns some members express privately. It would have been a much more prolonged and difficult exercise to prepare - but lack of unanimity weakens the cause and risks division and disarray creeping in. We simply don't have the means to achieve this in the city, and on times I wonder if we ever will, without a major crisis creeping in to threaten us all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Imaging the Holy Land

A couple of friends are soon to visit the Holy Land, talking about it with them gave me the urge to re-visit the photos I took in Jerusalem and the West Bank during my ten week sabbatical there at the end of 2000. This drove me further to dig out my photo digitising scanner, and start transferring them to my computer. It's a little while since I've done any work on extending my digital archive of old photos, and what struck me was that even the best and cleanest of well stored negatives didn't produce as fine a quality (as opposed to size of ) image as a newer digital camera. The scanner can only reproduce what's on the surface of the film. Maybe it's better with highest quality negative, but it just made me realise what a powerful tool has been placed into ordinary peoples' hands by modern digital photography. Content of pictures and camera skill is as it ever was a matter for an individual to work at. It's easy to take high quality looking rubbish photos.

Anyway, it was a good experience to go through the 105 pictures I took and to recall places I'd visited and people I'd met. 105 photos in ten weeks, as opposed to the 300+ I'll take inside a week when travelling these days. Three rolls of film and development costs, that was what I could afford on sabbatical in 2000, I had to select my shots sparingly. I have more vivid images of Jerusalem in my head than I do on film.

Some of them, it might not have been prudent to take - soldiers shoving and kicking Palestinian peasant women out of the way as they passed on patrol through crowded street sellers in the holy city. The shopkeeper in West Jerusalem with a pistol in his waistband. Men with locks in civvies with rifles over their shoulders, queuing for buses.... the defiant image of a palm print on a wall of the via Dolorosa, made in the blood of a youngster who had been slain nearby - it gave the Red Hand of Ulster a significance I'd not thought of before.

I'd love to return there now. Three years of profligate digital snapping the transformation of the city centre has strengthened my confidence in looking and capturing a moment, knowing that deleting failures, and cropping badly framed stuff can help shape a collection of images that tell a greater story. My West Bank landscape pictures are not up to much. The Old City pictures are much better, except that there aren't enough of them to represent the daily visual feast I remember having. It makes me wonder - did I lose a roll of film or something? I must check back on my paper journal. 2000 was pre-blogging days. I keep on thinking, I must have taken more than this. But the experience was just so vivid, it lives with me still. I had little trouble recalling and putting captions on all the photos I worked with.

I've posted them on Google's Picasa site

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tentatively encouraging signs

For the past three Sundays since we re-scheduled the main Sunday Eucharist to 10.00am, the numbers attending have gone up by 25%, casual visitors and regulars, and this despite the rather confusing access arrangements while the street outside the entrance is being re-paved. The later hour is making it easier for people to travel in, and that'll be pleasing if it's sustained. I hope this won't lead to a falling our with Council enforcement people because church people will be half an hour later leaving the pedestrian zone in future. Until there's a marked improvement in public transport infrastructure around the city centre, there's no prospect of everyone abandoning their cars to come to church by bus.

Work finished yesterday in front of the West Tower, so the entrance was only out of commission for five days in all. We have seven bike racks installed around the north perimeter railings. One day I counted two bikes using them, a further three still using the railings - cyclists too lazy to walk the extra fifteen yards to use the appointed facility, so long pleaded for. I wonder what we can do that will change habits and deter people? Until we can, there's hardly any point in painting the railing only to see them ruined within days by abrasion from chained up bikes.

It was great to speak with Greg Tricker on the phone tonight, and share with him our appreciation of his art exhibition. He's wonderfully self-effacing about his work, allowing himself to absorb many different inspirations and impulses and gestate them before finally setting out on a period of creative production which even he finds surprising and nourishing to his spirit. How I'd love to afford to mount an exhibition of his work in St John's. Apparently, the opening ceremony was attended by a couple of French people associated with Lourdes, and now there's a possibility of taking the collection over there for a visit. If it happens, it will be marvellous.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Marian perceptions

We got up horribly early and took the Megabus to London, to visit our old friend Greg Tricker's latest exhibition of paintings at Piano Nobile gallery in Notting Hill. This time he's created a couple of dozen works, mostly paintings but also woodcuts and sculptures reflecting on the life of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes. We had an invite to the opening night on Wednesday, but were unable to attend. Sister Wendy Beckett OSB presided over the occasion, an indication of how well thought of is Greg's work. He's also published an illustrated book of this collection - his fourth, and from our point of view a must-have, an early Christmas present to each other.

It's a remarkable collection, with only a handful depicting Bernadette's life as a nun, or with any obvious ecclesiastical reference. Mostly Greg portrays her with great simplicity at home with the family in her local sub-Pyrenean community, in ways that are suffused with a sense of spirituality. His work may resemble naive mediaeval illustrations, but spending time with any of his pictures reveals great understanding and depth of engagement with his subject.

His depictions of Bernadette's encounters with Mary are far from standard Catholic ecclesiastical art. They show an intelligent enquiring young girl looking up into Our Lady's tranquil face. Many of the paintings have a pale blue tint or component - a kind of Marian signature or influence. But his painting of the discovery of the Lourdes healing spring is washed in green light, suggesting an encounter with the green goddess, not out of irreverence, but from a deep awareness of the universality of the imagery of the eternal feminine with which he has worked.

I like Greg's artistic vision of Mary far better than any of the standard 19th century images of the Immaculate Conception which I have seen in churches up and down France over the years. One of his key works is painted not on canvas, but on a small wooden door, complete with hinges and bolt, vivid in its colour, iconic in convention. Bernadette wears a pale blue head covering resembling but not quite a halo, but her face is gold. An image of transfigured beauty. This was used on the invitation sent out from the gallery - a real masterpiece. He knows how to inspire a sense of wonder in the depths of simplicity.

We took my sister June with us to Piano Nobile, both the venue and the artist were a fresh discovery for her. It was great to be able to share the experience with her, and to know that she too is much taken with the art works of one of our contemporaries, whose images are an eloquent testimony to his perception of the sacred in the ordinary.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The day the reindeer came

Today, being Guru Nanak's birthday, I went to the Tudor Road Gurdwara to see if it might be possible to film the Sikh community celebrating together. Half a dozen men were busy in the kitchen preparing for the Langar following worship, too busy really for this to be an opportune moment for them to agree, so they advised me to write to them so that they could arrange a better occasion.

I returned to County Hall to pick up the editing software disk that came with the video camera, and then back to church to get ready to welcome Santa's reindeer into the churchyard for their evening meal before going on show in Working Street, as a key attraction linked to the St David's Centre Santa's Grotto opening. Once more the magic of animals from the wild did its trick, and a huge queue of parents with children formed to take a peek at them. Many brought our their camera phones and snapped them while they were grazing in the churchyard. This year a grazing reindeer from last year's event is set to appear on the parish Christmas card. We're still awaiting the return of the proofs from the printer, so we couldn't cash in on the moment.

Fortunately it was a little warmer an evening than last year, if a little damper. The numbers passing through the reindeer pen seemed as many if not more than last year, and everyone was cheery. People may be bothered about the impact of recession on Christmas spending, but I suspect that St David's PR people have done their operations a great favour by not cutting back on this event. Good will is something we all need in times of anxiety. Talking of which ...

Without me realising, yesterday a team of Council workers installed a nativity scene in the north church tower garden. The proposal was made last year, but couldn't be followed through in time. This year, it's happened. Mind you, we only have one cow and two wise men, and no shepherds!
Apparently there's a bit of a shortage of two foot high outdoor-capable figures. So I'll be hunting round ... maybe a garden gnome of the right size would be capable of a makover? Talking of which ....

Long ago one of the effigies of the six knight guardians standing on top of the riddel poles of the sanctuary screen in the St John's chapel got stolen. While discussing the crib figures missing in church, I chanced to look up and realised that a sixth figure had reappeared, resembling the others in shape and colour, but slightly smaller. Closer inspection revealed it to be - a Cyberman from BBC's Dr Who, dressed in knightly garb. Well, St John's did host the filming of the Dr Who Christmas special two and a half years ago, and there is a trade in models of the characters. The figure has been up there for nearly two months. Nobody noticed, until a puzzled tourist mentioned it in the church visitors' book. A nice bit of ephemeral whimsey, devised by Pauline.

I must ask her if she can devise a spare king and a few shepherds for the outdoor nativity.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Recording good-will

Today I borrowed a video camera from the Council's chief projects design and development officer Tony Riches, who's been very helpful and taken an interest in our attempts to communicate with the public something of the rich life of the City centre's faith communities. I'll be using it to record clips of faith communities in action over the next month, especially to film seasonal greetings from faith groups in their places of worship. The first challenge is learning how to use it and get results worth editing.

It didn't take me too long to get to grips with it because it is a Sony Handycam and Sony products all tend to work with quite similar conventions.
I've used my digital camera to make short video clips before. This is the same thing, scaled up, improved quality and capacity to change focus and field of view.

Hmm - getting non shaky images without catching shoulder cramp when you can't find your tripod is a kind of zen challenge. So, I didn't get out of the house in time to see any of the evening's Christmas light switch-on ceremony, just down the road by the Law Courts. Instead I went straight to St Mary's to film the first memorial service held in Cardiff to remember homeless people who have died on the city's streets. It was a quiet thoughtfully prepared and moving event with about 45 people attending.

The church layout made it possible for me to film without being obtrusive, even if it did mean over reliance on the telephoto lens, with attendant shaky tendencies, to replace closeups. Seeing how deeply affected some of the young people present were by the opportunity the service offered them to remember friends and loved ones, made me wonder how sound-byte hungry media interviewers on occasions like this can approach people and ask how they are feeling and what it all means to them. The ritual itself says it all.

Now I have half an hour's film footage to edit, and none of the software tools I have for the purpose seem up to the task of HD video editing. Maybe I should have found out first how to switch to SD footage. Ah well, it's not a bad thing to have a new skill to master, as well as patience to acquire.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The impulse to trade

The Faith Focus Group last week encouraged me to go ahead with producing an inter-faith leaflet describing in an introductory way the various festive seasonal events celebrated by different faiths in the last couple of months of the year. I've been promised some funding support from the Saint David's Partnership to publish a good number of these, and the City Centre Management has helped out with a short initial print run, to permit me to get the leaflet out into the wild (well, into the Tourist information bureau, and the public libraries circulation network) before tomorrow's Christmas lights switch on.

There's a dearth of local interfaith information in Cardiff, so in addition to the faith trail website which I put together last month, I've now created another for this pupose, as yet un-named, but viewable here. I still have the task of recording some festive seasonal greetings from churches and other faith community members for broadcast on the BBC big screen outside St David's Hall. I sent off some video clips of last month's Diwali celebrations, plus some fine photographs for th e BBC team to use. However, I had a phone call to say that they couldn't at the moment get the feed channel to the big screen to work alongside the input from the main BBC news site. Will it happen at all? I have to presume it does and work to that end. Has the BBC promised more than it can deliver? We'll see.

I had an email of apology today from the outside broadcast team manager about Saturday morning's fiasco, despite my saying that no apology was required, only greater effort at consistency and better management when I wrote in to moan at them. The apology even promised to send me an interview fee which I neither expected nor asked for. Strange behaviour. If only they listened!

Only half a dozen people were present at the Retail Partnership Board meeting this morning. I guess everyone else is busy busting a gut with efforts to stave off the impact of the economic downturn. The meeting was full of gloomy impressions and scary rumours, which I refuse to propagate. I'd rather celebrate the defiant courage of those who just keep on keeping on, who refuse to cut and run now that thing are tough. I guess anyone at the interface between retailing and the public knows how things are unpredictable in times of boom and of bust. They are trained to be ready for anything. Success may come eventually simply from turning up for as long as you can. Paul Williams took us through the pre Christmas publicity campaign material, another superbly conceived job. 'Cardiff capital of shopping' is the strapline. Capital of optimism is how I see it. Why not dare the dark?

Just saying that made me think of the streets of Sarajevo, when I visited there twelve years ago now. Ruined buildings were either being repaired or their sites cleared, and where they had been cleared, people stood along the edge of the road, lined up selling whatever they had to passers by - mostly cigarettes, vegetables and a few small electrical goods as I recall, for whatever currency they could get. The impulse to trade is one of life's most vital signs.

We paused the meeting at eleven for the two minutes silence and Act of Remembrance. Ex-para Mark Knott, manager of Queen's Arcade, led us. It's one bit of the darkness that must never be disregarded.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Undiplomatic communicators

Yesterday afternoon, Philip rang from church to ask if I'd be willing to go down early to church today and be interviewed in the BBC Radio Wales booth, set up in St John Street, for the Match Day special programme. Wales are playing rugby against South Africa. A request from the producer had arrived at the office. It meant having to get up early to get may brain into gear and my body down to St John's by 9.15am, a bit of an effort on what's meant to be my 'day off' this week.

I arrived on time, but the BBC mobile studio looked abandoned, apart from having a security guard on duty. I asked if I was expected. Clearly not. He asked someone sitting at a console inside, who also looked non-plussed and said that the interview team had gone for their break. Just then a young lady turned up, and struggled to remember my name and looked not a little embarrassed.

"There's been a change of arrangements." she said.

"What does that mean?" said I.

She wouldn't come clean with me.

"Do you want me or not?" I asked.

She was vague.

"Are you very keen on rugby?" she asked.

"What's that got to do with it?" I said

I'm here because your producer rang up and asked for someone from the church to come and be interviewed yesterday and here I am, on my day off."

More discomfort.

"E-er, we tried to email you."

"What's wrong with my phone number?"

"We didn't have your home phone number."

"BBC Wales News has my home phone number and ring me if they are looking for a comment or an explanation about something."

"But that's a different department."

"So, what's the problem?"

"Our systems are incompatible."

"But you're the BBC. You have all that technology and your systems are incompatible!
My home phone number is in the public telephone directory."

With that I returned home exasperated, the start to my day off all messed up.

There was no email waiting when I logged on later. No message on the answering machine.
I recalled that previous outside broadcast producers rang me at home, also BBC engineers, occasionally needing access to an ISDN phone line terminal locked behind the church railings, used to provide a direct outside broadcast link to BBC Llandaff studios.

The fact is, these folk are great at finding you and communicating with you if they need you, and drop you when they don't. Changing demand of the moment is the general excuse. In reality much of live broadcasting is made up as it goes along, perhaps to the extent that insufficient attention goes into planning, or managing the team, so that courtesies of communication are forgotten or disregarded.

Now maybe they had second thoughts about using me, having heard the rumour that I'm not in love with the impact of stadium events on the cleanliness and well-being of our city centre. Maybe they were anxious that I might fail to talk idolatrously about our national sport, chill the atmosphere and cripple morale. Now that would be fair enough if they'd changed their minds. But just letting me turn up, to the embarrassment of their minions and annoyance of myself, is not what public service broadcasters should be doing with the Corporation's good name.

A few minutes on the radio now and then is one of those obligations that goes with my job, being an office holder in a public situation. I have no emotional investment in obliging. It's just the discourtesy of not making an effort to spare me a journey they invited me to make for their purposes which gives me concern about the values of the teams that do the broadcasting nowadays. Lord Reith must be spinning in his grave.

After lunch Clare and I finally got out of the house and went to the edge of Cardiff and climbed the Garth, just about the highest spot along the ridge for miles behind the city. It's a favourite walk, with its 4,000 year old burial mounds, close cropped springy turf and invigoratingly chill wind coming off the Severn Estuary. And all the while Wales were battling themselves to another glorious defeat against the Springboks - without my words 'on air'.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Hard of hearing?

After the Eucharist, I was out and about taking photographs, when I ran into Dick Geen, whose Council remit is Community Safety. He introduced me to his new colleague Tom. "Meet my new alligator." I thought he said. Well, I've heard heard of people with a security brief being described as rottweilers, but this was a new one on me, so I just smiled and shook hands. Dick said they were both on their way up to the Market to look at a location for a new security gate - one of the features of the new order of things in the city centre to enclose dark corners of service areas and put them out of reach of those with dark intentions in mind. It was a little while before the penny dropped. Tom is in charge of designing and procuring gates to enclose dark alleys. What Dick had actually said was "alley gat-er". Nice one.

No longer just Guy Fawkes' day

The news of an Obama victory in the US Presidential elections dominates everything, and quite naturally causes me to reflect on what I've witnessed in my lifetime - from the days of Martin Luther King and JFK, the liberation of Mandela in South Africa, and now a black president whose campaign has unified people across that great country. Rachel and Jasmine arrived in California from Canada this afternoon, excited to reach her new home in L.A. safe and sound. And on such an auspicious day. I confess that having her in the USA has been something of a fatherly worry for me, having found myself so much at odds with American culture and values for so long. Nothing much has yet changed, except that a majority of people have chosen to invest their aspirations and energies in the possibilities of change for the better. I hope this will give me less cause to feel anxious about the place where my granddaughter is going to spend her much of her childhood.

For me the marvellous thing about Obama is that he's more than a leader who can, with his mixed race and modest social origins, bridge the cultural divide. His poetic gift of speech is able to tell America's many stories in fresh ways that both unite and inspire for the common good.

I read Alistair Mackintosh's book 'Soil and Soul' while on holidays. He's a Scottish community activist, battling for decades on environmental and land rights issues with considerable influence and success, a voice for grass roots movements, and community rooted spirituality. Take a look at his website. He's an ex wee Free Quaker, from the Hebrides who thinks with stories. He's another possessing a great gift with words. His writing shows that poetry has the ability to put inspiration back into politics, because it feeds the heart and captures the essence of what the mind needs to take on board of any argument that delivers the goods. It's not just preachers who need to be poetic. The challenge to us preachers is to keep poetry and praxis together, or we are leading people up in the air and back to nowhere.

This day in UK has long been one to remember the treason of Guy Fawkes, and his attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Parliament was not the democracy in those days that it is now, but like many ancient institutions it was evolving. Who knows what such violence would have led to, had it succeeded? Half a century later there was another attempt at revolution with the abolition of the Monarchy and a Civil War which didn't change things radically enough to prevent the eventual restoration of the Monarchy. But at least collective lessons had been learned, so that Britain could then resist the attraction of a revolution, French style, and end up rejected by its own colonies as they for revolution, American style, plodding its own course through the centuries since to achieve comparable democracy by a different route.

President or Monarch? Election or inheritance? Head of State, steering the nation politically? Or representing continuity and values to which every political leader must aspire, else count themselves out of the action? Either way has its benefits and problems. In every case it depends upon the life and soul of the representative person, and how they stand up to the challenges of office.

In the case of a Presidential figure, the results are there for all to evaluate and that very fact is a pressure on the office holder's use of power. The wise Monarch sees leaders and policies come and go, but is there as an influential reminder of who we are as a nation and what we stand for. Ideals are embodied, not in political promises, however inspiring, but in a person representing tradition and culture rooted in its past, but open to the future by persuasion, without needing to resort to violence. Would Britain be quite as free and open as it is, if it had become a revolutionary republic? I doubt it.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Beginning year seven

For the annual blessing of the Royal British Legion's Garden of Crosses today, the weather was kind to us. For me this is the seventh time I've presided over this event. It was the first public service I had to perform after my induction as Incumbent on 28th October 2002. Here in the heart of Cardiff for six years already. How time flies!

Again we had two bands accompanying the service - the St Athan RAF voluntary band and the Welsh Pipe Band. I began the ceremony with a brief re-dedication of the two war memorial plaques which we removed from redundant St James' Church and installed in the north aisle war memorial chapel earlier in the year. This concluded with the entry procession of standards, two of which crossed over into the chapel for a ceremonial salute, which alone piper played a verse of 'Amazing Grace'. Simple but effective.

'We will remember them' on this occasion meant the extra job of removing two well fixed brass plaques from St James', storing them for over a year, and then applying for a Faculty to install them, conscious that such plaques from a bygone era are no longer favoured in modern aesthetics of church d├ęcor. Still, justice to be done, particularly at a time when the litany of names of those killed in current conflicts continues to lengthen.

Despite the organisers' lament that the number of veterans from different former conflicts is diminishing, there were still nearly 200 people present, many of them young. After the planting of crosses in the churchyard, the two bands retired into church and played together, just for pleasure before packing away their instruments. It's now the third time they've done this gig together. It makes the whole event something unique to the city centre, and very special.