Saturday, December 20, 2008

O Radix Jesse

Yesterday started well enough with both Fr Roy Doxsey and I arriving at Tredegarville school in plenty of time to set things up for the end of term school Eucharist. It was when we took out places at the altar to begin the service in fron of the assembled school that things unravelled. I'd sent the order of service to school for photocopying in an emailed .pdf file as I have done many times before. This time, however, it had been incorrectly photocopied and the pages were so much out of order that it was un-followable, and this threw us both. It took what seemee like an age, probably ten minutes to reduce two copies to single pages, number and staple them back together in order to obtain one fair copy for Roy to lead the service from.

Meanwhile, the children and staff were wonderful, and some children sang nicely until we were sorted. The moral of the story is - always be sure to deliver a hard copy well in advance, with full copying instructions appended, or risk the worst. Everything went smoothly once we were ready. Staff and children know most of the texts used off by heart anyway, but the leadership needed to be fully in control of the ordering of components or everything falls apart. As clergy we use a lot of familiar texts, and even the seasonal texts are hardly unfamiliar, but when combined into a special service, there has to be a clear navigational map or else ... ! It sheds a new light on why God's first creative act in the first chapter of Genesis is to bring order to the watery chaos.

Much chastened by the experience, I went on from school to St John's for the noon Eucharist, followed by the 'quiet' wedding of a couple, new to Cardiff, and without any friends or family in their adopted city to support them, apart from their toddler son. The groom was from the Caribbean and the bride from Eastern Europe. I arranged for a couple of members of the church congregation to act as witnesses. Another couple of members also attended. Pauline hunted down a bottle of bubbly and some goodies, so that we could toast their health after the service. They were not expecting this and were a little overwhelmed at the unsolicited attention. For them getting married was a time commitment that had to be inserted into their busy business day, processing internet sale orders. They are working hard together to make a new life, and marriage was a part of this endeavour for them. A brave move. And we wanted to encourage them, be their church substitute family. It just seemed so natural to those who rallied around. I felt very proud of our 'little flock'.

The BBC rang up and asked for a brief interview for their tea-time radio programme. They had a reporter with portable studio gear plugged into the landline they installed decades ago in one of the small churchyard enclosures at the east end. I found him standing in the enclosure, furnished with a brolly in case it rained, feeding live interviews occasionally into the studio. Nick, the chair of Cardiff Licensed Victuallers Association was about to be interviewed when I arrived to check things out. Like so many others, he expressed his sympathy and concern about the crib vandalism. This, and the ransacking of Santa's Grotto on Churchill Way on Wednesday night has touched a raw nerve. Mothers at school this morning were talking about their childrens' dissappointment at the prospect of not seeing Santa. Happily, all those involved in running the Grotto succeeded in getting things up and running again the following day. The good news takes longer to percolate through however, because of the emotional fog raised by the bad news.

Both these assaults on places in the public realm were aimed at things concerning the world of the child. Whoever the culprits are, their actions were calculated to cause outrage and reveals something about them. Anyone whose actions threaten, injure or deprive children, whether in the real or virtual worlds - destroying images of childhood is akin to destructive effect of images of children being abused - is projecting their own experience of childhood suffering on to others. They must be stopped. They also need help.

After my brief interview, I returned home for supper. I was pleased to discover the the switch from Tesco to Talktalk broadband had gone seamlessly, and that I now have a faster service for less total outlay. The only thing I am not impressed with is the alliance of Talk Talk with AOL for webmail services, with its busy crowded inelegant home page, and inability to download mail to my third party email client, Thunderbird. Helpful instructions to download mail using Outlook Express are provided, but the forums carry complaints that this only works inconsistently, which ties one to webmail and the constant nagging and flashing of adverts and superfluous news bytes accompanying. No doubt, this subsidises the cost of the service. It's a service I can do without. I'll stick with Google Mail, which doesn't flash at you and is nag free.

At ten o'clock, I went back into the drizzle soaked city centre to see how Black Friday was working out for the police and ambulance services. " 'PC rain' is on our team tonight" said Inspector Tony Bishop, grinning broadly when I passed him on the Kingsway. Queues outside clubs seemed to be quite short, and there were few outdoor drinkers. Those standing in the damp were either queuing for taxis or puffing at cigarettes. There were lots of police and their vehicles in evidence, and several ambulances on standby. I was impressed at the fiery demeanour of a diminutive young Woman Police Officer, who charged across the road shouting a 'cease and desist' order at a man who had unzipped his flies in order to urinate in a doorway. He was a good head taller than her, and standing two steps above her at the time. His compliance was meek and hurried. There were too many other policemen standing within earshot, watching, to plead his incontinence.

The St John's Ambulance HQ under the Stadium was not especially busy, so the atmosphere was relaxed and cordial. I was greeted like one of the family, undeservingly - I don't give nearly enough quality time to supporting the first aid teams. They are a marvellous bunch, and so good with people and their ailments, injuries, for the most part alcohol related on a night like this. People in fights, people poisoned by the sheer volume of drinks consumed, losing control of all bodily functions, as someone so dryly puts it while mopping up. One of the ambulance teams coming in from St Mary Street for a cuppa said that there were already queues outside A&E up at the Heath Hospital - presumably from those around the city making their own ways there.

It was quarter to one when I finally wound my way home through streets. Pubs were closed and cleaning up, but the clubs were still going strong. The hour after they close, things will get busy again and the casualties surge. Gaggles of men or women were wandering between venues. A notable number of them were in sodden Santa outfits. Most guys were in shirt sleeves, and the girls bulging out of standard skimpy attire. Superman was on his mobile in a shop doorway, and a legionary strode passed me as I went into Greyfriars. One of the big selling fashion outlets was brightly lit up and taking deliveries from a huge van. In front of an empty shop next door, a team were doling out soup and sympathy to passers by. A down and out with a dog was stationed in close proximity to Lloyds' cash machines, taking advantage of the fact that the police presence was focussed a few blocks away.

Another night of 'leisure' in the life of a city.

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