Sunday, August 30, 2009

Citizen power

After a trip to Kenilworth to celebrate Kath's birthday Friday evening, and a return journey last night, I was doubly grateful not to have to preach this morning. Vanessa, St John's choir leader, spoke instead about her forthcoming trip to Kosovo, driving an aid convoy truck with Hope and Aid Direct. I was pleased to hear her introduction to a British voluntary charitable organisation I hadn't heard of before.

In comparison with the big NGOs at work in distributing aid in needy places internationally, Hope and Aid is a small player, but working in collaboration with the bigger agencies to target situations of particular need, delivering aid direct to families and small communities, offering special help with re-construction of facilities broken by conflict or disasters. For me this brought to mind the work of Sprofondo, an Italian organisation run by Don Renzo Scapolo, who took aid convoys into Sarajevo during the Bosnian war, and continued with aid and reconstruction work there subsequently.

I met Don Renzo a couple of times in Geneva, and later visited him in Sarajevo in 1997, when he was working on reclaiming for community use the buildings of a burnt down Catholic seminary bombed during the early weeks of the siege. He succeeded in galvanising large numbers of local people to clear out the rubble, excavating tools or any equipment apart from shovels, forks, axes and crowbars - a long and laborious task. Meeting him and visiting his projects in that war torn city, in the early days of its recovery was a privileged experience for me. I've told his story many times, (my photos are here) and felt secretly sad that such practical opportunities to be a peace-builder from the ruins upwards had never really come my way.

There is something very special about what I'd call the 'non-professional' aid organisations. Living in a place like Geneva for eight years made me very aware that working for aid agencies, may be vocational, but it is also a definite career path, often embarked upon with a targeted set of study choices made at university level to begin with, and a fair amount of competition to get the right experience and access to the career ladder. Well and good. There's a lot of need to be filled, when it comes to rebuilding industries, infrastructure, trade etc., but the bigger the organisation, the more it is obliged to move in a politically determined environment.

The great thing about small voluntary NGOs, also wanting to make a difference and help the needy, is that they can work constructively with a degree of independence of political pressures, because those who lead them work through personal networks of contacts. If my memory serves me well, Don Renzo worked with the ubiquitous Scout Movement in building bridges of support and humanitarian aid across the Adriatic from Italy to the Balkans.

Personal knowledge and experience at a grassroots level can be a stimulus to positive action - citizen action as opposed to political action. And not only can citizens succeed in reaching suffering people overlooked because unimportant t0 powerful elites with much needed help, the experience of taking on the task can prove life changing and educative to those who participate.

At St John's, we'll be looking forward to a full account of her journey from Vanessa when she returns.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trailers in town

For the second day in a row, the Royal Marines recruitment team had a huge mobile trailer outside the east end of the church, with a simulator machine mounted on it, as an 'experience' on offer to people interested in their promotion. Fortunately it was not really noisy in operation, and didn't distrub the calm of the church during worship. With classic incongruity, there was a green liveried City Council mobile trailer parked next it it, promoting free give-away mobile ash trays for smokers - part of an assault on our slovenly city. I was amused by the printed notie stuck on the side of the vehicle, announcing it to be the Council's 'mobile wheelie bin consultation trailer'. Now I know every bin is registered and has its own bar code, but I didn't realise they had rights to be heard as well ....

I popped into the city centre manager's office this afternoon, to catch up on the news. Things are moving fast around town with less than a month to go before the Big Opening season starts. Ever planning well ahead, Paul, asked if we were OK with having the outdoor nativity set in the tower garden again in the run up the Christmas. The answer of course is 'Certainly', despite last years's vandalism problem. This time the stable front will get that most modern of conveniences - perspex glazing - to hinder infant Jesus theft and other late night outrages with bottles and cans. Well, one can but try.

On the way home I went for a much needed haircut. In the course of conversation the barber told me of a small discovery made in town areas with garden areas which had originally been fenced off, then the enclosure was enhanced by planting privet hedges. Apparently this resulted in a plague of dumping rubbish bags over the hedge in the gardens. It was discovered that if there were only railings and no hedges, dumping did not occur to the same extent. The out of sight, out of mind philosophy, I guess. I must check and see if the churchyard gets any less rubbish dumped in it now that the bushes and trees have been extensively pruned.

With just a bit more free time than usual ,I'm greatly enjoying Hans Küng's book 'The beginning of all things' - Science and Religion - at the moment. It's a slow, read, because you have to stop and think about what he says, not least because he summarises ideas clearly, making them worth pondering on. His approach has for me shed some new light on the idea that atheism is a set of beliefs and commitments that are as fervently and religiously held as anything conventionally regarded as religion.

Küng points out that what most does humanity a disservice is the passion which holds to any set of beliefs exclusively, without taking into account what value other sets of beliefs might contribute to understanding life and making the most of it. Any kind of belief can all too easily become idolatrous, whether it's a matter of atheism or some version of 'true faith'. He searches for a higher truth that is in effect beyond belief as commonly understood. This makes good sense to me. Even if it is a challenge to conventional notions of orthodoxy, it concurs with what mysics of all faiths and none have sought to express down the ages.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Archbishop to tea

Archbishop Barry came to St John's this afternoon to launch the USPG photo exhibition, and have tea with those who'd turned up to welcome him, a dozen in all. It was a relaxed occasion for us all, and a chance for me to converse with others about pictures I'd selected for display. A superb and varied collection they are too. It was good to know others appreciated them as much as me. We are all amused that Archbishop Barry looked at a photograph of a man holding up a couple of fish, and said with a wry smile "That reminds me of the occasion when I was taken piranha fishing up the Amazon." I pointed out that he was without realising looking at a photo of an Amazonian fisherman taken from one of the display packs about the region. Pauline did us proud. Having agreed to do tea and biccies, we ended up being provided with scones, jam 'n cream, plus sandwiches. All of which made up for the rainy day outside. I wish it wouldn't rain when we have a special event.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What happened to the trees?

The demolition of the David Street car park to make way for the entrance road to the new St David centre parking is almost complete. I went around to take pictures this afternoon, and was shocked to discover that clearance of the site meant the taking down of the five trees which had been shielding the car park, on the side of the street opposite the Job Centre.(See here) The entire car park had been taken down without the trees being touched, which certainly gave me hope that they might be integrated into the new car park approach road, but no. They were simply ripped out by one of the demolition machines, judging by the damaged trunk sticking out above the fence like a broken tooth. (See here) It was a great disappointment.

To some architects and engineers trees are just decoration, no more than street furniture, to be deployed and disposed of at will, rather than living things to be respected and worked with as far as possible. All the cherry trees along the Hayes, suffered a similar fate during the demolition of Oxford House. Those were planted in large containers to inhibit their growth and curb the roots, so they could have been removed intact and redeployed with a little effort. No doubt cost is the mantra used to anaesthetise conscience against such a wanton act. Nature will find its own way of paying us back, sooner or later.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Uses for imagination

On my journeys to and from church during the day, I on noticed a small change had taken place recently in Greyfriars Road. There's a T-junction opposite the Hilton Main entrance, with a slip road that links it with Stuttgartstrasse. The slip road is flanked by shiny aluminium posts at approx 10ft intervals. Since I've been in Cardiff, there's arely been a time when either or both of the two posts nearest the left corner of the junction haven't been bent at an angle, knocked down or simply sheared off by the impact of an inattentive driver. This happens to none of the other posts on either side, just these two. It's been such a consitent annoyance it not hazard over the years, (especially when the posts have been damaged but unremoved) it suggests a design deficiency in the junction layout.

Well, for the time being at least, the problem has been solved. The post holes have been filled in with cement, so that they cannot be re-used. Will the junction layout be changed eventually? We'll wait and see. I'd love to know how much has been spent on replacing bent and broken posts this past seven years.

Much of my day was spent preparing materials for the USPG photo exhibition. All the pictures arrived on Saturday morning. After listening to 'The Archers', I returned to church to unpack and mount them, in the peace and quiet of the church behind locked doors, and under the setting sun. Quite an enjoyable and creative task, which gave me much satisfaction.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Green shoots, hidden wastelands?

Of the nine present at the eight o'clock service today, there was a young man from the Czech republic, and three young women from Paris, one of whom is here for a two month course in the University Chemistry department

After the end of the main Eucharist, we sang Happy Birthday to Dorothy, gave her a bunch of flowers and shared a cake. It's her ninetieth next week. Two visitors from Bavaria joined us, surprised and delighted to be drawn in to the happy family atmosphere. Visitor numbers are still well ahead of last summer. And this is months before the super new shopping centre gets under way.

Is it true that there are signs of an end to the recession? Well, maybe Cardiff's positive and well planned development policy means that it hasn't been quite so hard hit as other places. Or maybe the symptoms of recession are less visible, displaced into the Valleys and rural areas, where the job losses hit communities so much harder, given that they never recovered from the loss of coal and steel industries to start with.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Damnable publishing

Philip reminded me Thursday that we are down to the last five dozen copies of the illustrated church guide book, when he asked if there had been any progress made in commissioning a new edition. Ten thousand guide books were printed in the early nineties. The speed at which the stock has dwindled is proportionate to the rise in visitors. This has been considerable over the past year, despite the recession. I have had to double the number of information leaflets in seven languages, plus faith enquiry leaflets this year compared to last, due to the rate at which they have gone. Sixty may only last us a couple of weeks, so no time to waste.

Apart from going to church for the Eucharist, I spent most of the day working first a scanning in the text from the old guide book, for editing and updating, and then setting up MS Publisher to do layout with text, and my own church photographs. By midnight, I had a full working draft ready and went to sleep, satisfied that I'd broken the back of the looming problem, and that a few extra photos and some further size reduction, text amendments and error checking would enable progress to follow quickly. I was horrified this morning to discover that Publisher would not re-load my file for editing. I had my imperfect print ready first draft, but that was all.

I'd had the same problem with the painting exhibition invitation, and thought that was an accident, as it had never happened to me before. Now I realised I had a problem, a big problem. Publisher 2000 worked perfectly under Windows XP on my older slower computer, but on my brand new much faster Windows Vista driven machine, it may work faster, benefit from extra memory to handle files, produce the necesssary print ready output, but also produced an unreadable Publisher file needed for re-editing.

The only remedy was to rebuild the file from the components I'd prepared on my old machine, now being used at home by my son, a job which had to wait until after work on Friday evening, and took four hours. Fortunately, I was able to complete the task without difficulty. Now I will have to wait until my next visit to check if the new file will still load and be editable as it should be. Publisher is notorious for file incompatibility between its different versions, but I was quite unprepared for this hidden problem due to the quirks of running older programs on Windows Vista. No wonder this operating system is so widely hated, despite looking pretty and doing a few nice turns.

There are huge productivity advantages in using programs you're used to operating, and never need to consult the manual. Learning or being trained to use new improved versions takes time, and often it's not worth the effort for the limited use you make of available features anyway. The
next time I have time to spare, I shall train myself to use the Open Source desktop publishing program Scribus. Apart from being free to users, there's a support community on-line with troubleshooting advice available, and the program itself undergoes incremental upgrades. If anything gets broken in the process of improvement, users flag it up and modifications get made quicker than happens if a Microsoft product upgrade goes wonky - the difference between dealing with a voluntary community of practitioners who feel they have a stake in making an excellent useable product and a large business organisation in which communication takes time and issues of budget loom large.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

USPG revisited

After celebrating another lunchtime Mass for Father Roy Doxsey at St Germans yesterday, I took a coach up to London, and stopped overnight with my sister, prior to visiting USPG's headquarters in Dover Street, now on the top floor of the London School of Accountancy's building opposite Borough tube station. The objective of the visit was to finalise arrangements regarding the photo exhibition, chatting with the photo librarian, protographer Leah Gordon, who happened to be in at the time, and my old friend Elfed Hughes, now a senior staff member, whose enthusiasm for the photos sparked off my interest, during a chance meeting outside a restaurant opposite St John's one Sunday evening a few months ago.

This is the third headquarters building used by USPG which I have known in thirty years. During that time, it has downsized considerably. Now there are only three members of staff remaining who were there when I worked for the Society - all my age. The focussed commitment to partnership in mission exercised by USPG is as strong and constructive as ever, crossing over the divisions arising from failure to reach concensus between conservative Anglicans and others.

Although it has less resources to share than in previous generations, due to the decline in its revenue, and the massacre of its investments, it still manages a weighty contribution which is disproportionate to its size. Nowadays there's a huge amount of competition for charitable gifts from church people, and the charity 'product' skilfully marketed to attract sympathetic donations so that it's possible to feel bad very easily when overwhelmed with appeals.

To my mind USPG's USP (unique selling point) is that it has the wisdom and experience of an organisation that for 300 years has served Anglicanism and its mission, starting before it became a world wide communion of churches. It has the capacity and credibility to bridge the gulf driven into the church by the disagreements of others. It will always be a moral force to drive reconciliation, to keep people talking to each other about practical and spiritual matters. In a way, its a bit like the diplomatic service and the Foreign Office, always there, necessary, not overly in your face. And yet it's not an official branch of church governance (that would be a kiss of death), but a free and voluntary enterprise, deserving to be better valued and supported by all sides of the church.

I was pleased that London Transport was working well to enable me to get around, but didn't enjoy the huge, and often slow moving crowds. Now that I'm feeling somewhat fitter, I enjoy walking fast and energetically, which isn't much fun when the streets are busy. I was glad to get back on the coach for home, and enjoy a relaxed ride into the setting sun, amusing myself by taking a series of photos through the bus window of Berkshire and Wiltshire countryside, as the harvesting of summer crops nears its end, and the fields are littered with those surreal looking cylindrical bales of wrapped straw. Thirty three years ago I recall seeing those bales for the first time in Flanders fields, as we chugged south on a family holiday, all the way to Rome in a 602cc Citroen Dyane. We named the 'euro-dollops', for the benefit of the kids.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Paintings and pictures on show

After a successful launch on Thursday evening, Keith Hall's exhibition of paintings is attracting a steady stream of visitors, and so far, a dozen sales - proceeds to charity. I've taken photos of most of the paintings on display and posted them here for interest. He has a mastery of the impressionist style and use of colour, and his observant images capture far more than any but the greatest photographs can depict. Keith, with assistance from a few others, looks after the exhibition during church opening hours, making the church extra friendly and welcoming to visitors.

This week I shall be making the final preparation for an exhibition of photographs taken by Leah Gordon, a freelance documentary photographer who works for USPG. When Keith's paintings come down next weekend, thirty photographs will go up in their place, grouped around meditations I have written. The photos are usually presented in promotional displays which have been the backbone of the Society's public information campaigns for the past thirty or more years. However, their high quality merits them being looked at for their own sake, and to my mind, used for spiritual reflection and meditation, so this is an experiment, to show what can be achieved - one made easier by their portability and the ease with which modern photographic prints can be mounted for display, unlike the kit I had to lug around when I worked for USPG back in the middle eighties.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tying the knot - why the obstacle course?

Keith Dale's organ recital yesterday was well up to expectation, and he had an audience of a hundred and sixty, which pleased us all no end. Last night we supped together at an Italian restaurant down the Bay which had waiters singing to diners from the typical 'Two Tenors' repertoire, making eating great fun.

One of the waiters recognised me, and I him. It was a Stefan, young Romanian, who worshipped with us at St John's for several months while he settled in and looked for work locally. Now, here he was in fine fettle evidently, hard at work waiting on table, and delighted to welcome to his place, a priest who, together with the local congregation had welcomed him to the city. A lovely moment.

Keith returned to Geneva early this morning. We took him to the station and then drove up to the show-ground in Builth Wells to visit a Rock and Gem Fair, so that Clare could acquire some materials for her new pastime - making jewellery. We made the most of a day which was sunny with occasional showers. The countryside looked especially fresh in a thousand shades of green.

We came home via Llangorse Lake, busy with tourists plus a wedding party taking advantage of permission for a civil wedding ceremony in the (slightly) offshore island hut which reconstructs an ancient lake village site, where a celtic king of old was once based. A wild romantic setting for tying the knot.

While they were about their business, a swan with six big cygnets came ashore for a preening session just outside the ceremonial hut, evidently unaware that the place was reserved for nuptials. I wondered how this would affect the romantic photo opportunity following the nuptials, aware of just how jealous swans can be of their space and aggressive in defence of their brood. We didn't hang around to find out.

Earlier in the week on my trips in to church, I became aware of streams of well dressed people in festive mode heading towards City Hall at different times of day. Ordinarily this only happens when there are graduation ceremonies at St David's Hall. But now, finally the city register office re-location has taken place, to more dignified surroundings than the former office in Park Place. It is, no doubt, a move which clients will welcome.

This week I have had my first and only enquiry about a wedding at St John's for 2010. My response, apart from welcoming the enquirer's interest, had to be an explanation of the complexities of legal entitlement to marry in the city church and how this might be circumvented by the granting of legal licenses to wed, subject to particular conditions.

How hard this makes it to issue an attractive competitive offer that stands up against the consumer freedom provided by the secular state alternative. People want to wed in a way that offers dignity and meaning to their decision. And yes, the church is competing with the world of consumer values to offer a meaningful understanding about marriage to those wanting to tie the knot.

We can, like churches on the continent, offer to bless civil wedding ceremonies with a service in church, but cultural habits die hard. British couples want one ceremony not two. If the church can't or won't help them to make their day meaningful, the state obliges another way. Church rules of eligibility, plus traditional attitudes to social ritual get in the way. Custom itself is changing now that a wedding celebration can be devised and tailored to the ideas of the couple and/or their wedding 'arranger' with a civil ceremony attached to it in all sorts of 'nice' places, which have little if anything to say about the deep meaning and purpose of marriage expressed in Christian teaching.

Licenses to facilitate a church wedding for non-parish residents are an added expense nobody needs or wants. If people believe strongly they must have a church wedding, they make the effort to find a way. But there's little or no incentive for those searching for faith, or open enough to find meaning in the pastoral attentiveness a church wedding involves, if getting there is such an obstacle course. Sadly, this means many missed opportunities for Christian teaching and witness. No wonder the church is losing so much of its support base in ordinary community.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Success through failure

It was marvellous to welcome our friend Keith Dale, organist of Holz Trinity Church Geneva back to Cardiff today, to play an organ concert tomorrow lunchtime, as he has done annually since the organ was restored. He has a special affection for the instrument and has taken pains to devise a programme around compositions from the period in which the organ was constructed. He takes his work as an ambassador for music seriously, and always tells stories about composers as part of performing their works. I know tomorrow will be good.

This evening I had a meeting of the Street Carers Forum Representative Group at County Hall, and had to forsake my guest in a rush immedately after supper.

The meeting began painfully with the withdrawal of one of the key participant groups involved in attempts we've been making for the past nine months to forge a working partnership with the City Council in efforts to meet the needs of homeless and vulnerable people on city streets. This was an event a few people had worked hard to prevent for several months without success.

Call it a clash of cultures, a clash of values or a clash of priorities, it matters not. It represents a failure of Christian groups to live together with their differences, a betrayal of the Gospel as far as I was concerned. This left me angry and upset, though without justification, because the meeting continued with unanimity, without losing focus or sense of purpose, keen to carry through plans already agreed - and it concluded in record time.

Sometimes a little failure can concentrate the mind wonderfully.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Standing in for Fr Roy Doxsey at his lunchtime Eucharist today was the only thing in my diary, so I had free time to start commissioning my new computer this afternoon. First stage of tidying it up and getting it working my way, six hours. There'll be more to do, when I realise things I've not remembered to do, but that can wait. I'll need to spend a few hours tomorrow de-commissioning my old computer, for my son to take over. The machine he uses is horribly noisy and a few years older than the one he'll be getting. I'll be surprised if he doesn't find the switchover traumatic. He's a creature of habit, who only came to computer usage as a young adult. I'm amazed that over the past year he's taken to using Linux and open source tools on his computer, possibly because they are so much more stable and don't break down as often.

Sadly, many home computer users have become used to putting with the nightmare of instability and unpredictability, caused either by faulty broadband or poorly set up computer systems, and not being able to work out where the problem lies. This leaves them dependent on others, and never fully in charge of something they have invested lots of time and money acquiring and learning. I've seen that at close hand with my sister's problems, and wonder what could be done to make computers easier. They are so confusing when you come to them from scratch, and don't even have the vocabulary to describe components of the system. How confusing you learn when you try to do a problem diagnosis on the phone. The guys in the call centres certainly earn their keep, but better designed secure stable systems with learning processes to match would eliminate the need for half the crisis calls and the work they require in the first place.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Remembering the forgotten

After the Parish Eucharist today we welcomed the Burma Star Association for their annual service. The numbers of veterans able to attend dwindle with each succeeding year, and aren't made up for by attendance from family representatives, but as long as there's only alive, members of our congregation will loyally gather and remember with them. And, no doubt continue to do so beyond the death of the final participant in that campaign, not least because the Burma Star memorial window which graces the north aisle will remain as witness to that 'forgotten army' of World War Two.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Family outing

Today we held our annual Mission Fayre at Church to raise funds for USPG, with home made cakes and bric-a-brac, books and videos on sale, the church tower open for climbing and all tea room profit going to the cause. The Tea Room needed a washer-upper, so I spent three and a half hours at the sink, with only a few breathing spaces. We seemed to do well with customers, although the ringers staffing the tower reported fewer climers than usually expected. The crowds in town seemed a little thinner than usual too.

I stayed until two, then made a dash for the Millennium Centre to meet up with the family for the performance of 'The Sound of Music'. Rhiannon was a little tired but nevertheless enjoyed the spectacle and the music (she'd been fed the sound track coming down in the car with her parents). She spend the first half of the show on her mother's knee and the second half on mine - which gave me much contentment. She and her parents lead such busy lives, and mine is tied down to the Parish, so that I don't get as much opportunity for quality time with my grand daughter as I'd like. With a family meal and relaxed evening together following this was one of those happy exceptions.

It's either half a lifetime since I last saw 'The Sound of Music', either on stage or film, or I never saw it and only know the songs by absorption from my youth. I can't really remember. Visiting the whole thing afresh in the form of this high quality production proved to be both moving and inspiring, with its unfashionable strong moral and spiritual messages. The stage musical dates back to 1959 and the film to 1965, when its tone and values were decidely un-trendy, and yet everlastingly popular despite fashion - perhaps because it's an uplifting tale of faith, courage and integrity, all built on real life events.

Even though a story featuring a chorus of traditionally pious and wise nuns must seem decidedly strange in this post-modern world, it gives a glimpse into the world of Christian values, and what this demands of people confronted by the demands of power and authority, so often rooted in fear and conformity. Long may it flourish to remind a secular society that the world we re-make is greatly impoverished without spirituality that has deep religious roots.

I loved the promotional video street dance staged in Queen Street last month. It was another of the mass dance events organised to promote T-Mobile video phones, but also promoting the launch of the show in the Millennium Centre. It's a fun thing to watch, and must have been a nightmare to organise. If you haven't seen it, you can get it here.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Just tools

Many blokes have their tool shed, and invest a great deal of effort and money in maintaining and using what they collect. For 25 years I've been fascinated by electronic technology. I've learned about it, messed about with it, spent money on it. Unlike traditional mechanical tools, which change little in form, electronic kit has been changing contrantly in design, content, and pricing in the time I've taken an interest in it.

Today I bought a cut-price consumer bargain mini-PC, twice as powerful and capacious as my previous purchase, and at forty percent of the price I paid two and a half years ago. Did I need it? Probably not right away. Its smaller size will be beneficial when we have to downsize our accomodation next year. Being more powerful, it will enable me to edit video more smoothly, something I hadn't considered attempting a year ago. Its graphics capabilities are so improved as to make it possible and tolerable to watch BBC iPlayer offerings full-screen size without jerkiness. Digital TV on the desktop without the hassle, for things I can be bothered to watch. The purchase of a proper digital telly can wait until the Big Switch-over compels us. Now you can buy pocket sized high quality camcorders for a couple of hundred pounds - I have one on loan. It's proved so easy to get half decent results, I thought it might be worth the effort of learning how to edit footage properly.

Like so many other things that have caught my curiosity over the years, it turns out to be useful eventually, and in unexpected ways. Life might have turned out differently if I'd been able to learn traditional craft skills as easily. Now, I have to set aside some time to get the new machine functioning to my satisfaction, getting rid of rubbish manufacturers package with the machine which one never uses and occupies useful disk space, and installing programs I use because they are most fit for purpose - mostly free and Open Source Software, that continues to evolve and improve through the dialogue between product users and creators.

One of the big stories of technology has been the evolution of software design which is driven more by the desire for excellence in security and functionality than by creation of a viable product for market. Things that aren't always the best can nevertheless end up being popular and selling well. Computer users and consumers get into habits with the same old operating systems and software, and will put up with a third rate product rather than make the effort to learn to use something new that will improve their capability. Having begun with computers as a critical enquirer, I feel I'm lucky to have learned to look at things differently.

Viewing post

Yesterday being our 43rd wedding anniversary, we went out to dinner, trying out Milgi's on City Road, where Owain does some dee-jaying. It's a little younger and trendier than the sort of restaurant that immediately attracts our attention, but Owain recommended the food, with justification.

It's more of a cocktail bar with excellent cuisine. It has one wall mounted with a series of video screens, which host a variety of audo visual arts presentations. A bit distracting from conversation if you're rather close to them, as we inadvertently were, but on this occasion, exhibiting some intereresting material in the form of a twin cities photo slide show, of well known street characters in Cardiff, and in Tiblisi, Georgia, shot by a photographer who knows well how to engage with the subject.

Now at last I've seen an acceptable sized screen on which I could mount an exhibition of my own photos of the past three years of redevelopment work in the city center. I've promised myself I'd do an exhibition, and this method certainly seems to be the best, as long as the screen is adequately sized, but not so obtrusive as to capture attention and distract people from their rightful focus when they come into a church. Now where might I acquire something that expensive, on a temporary basis, I wonder?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Countdown continues

The last Countdown 2009 executive was cancelled because it was due to take place on the first day of the Ashes Test Match. I suspect some key council officials involved in the meeting were on a jolly that day. Needless to say, I failed to absorb the fact of cancellation, whether by inattention to a meesage received, or because I didn't receive one, so I turned up at County Hall, on time, and felt like a fool to be there when nobody else was. Ah well, this time, I was early and first there, but the meeting was in the diary, and everyone else turned up punctually.

The meeting reported back on the various issues and sticking points in making progress towards the launch targets set for the shopping centre and John Lewis department store. With so much still to put in place in relation to public transport, this inevitably dominated the agenda. I was able to make my final report on the Faith Focus Group's deliberations at the conclusion of its work, and make certain to announce and get noted the date of the formal celebration of the conclusion of the redevelopment work, planned at St John's for the evening of November 22nd.

This won't be my last Countdown meeting, as I am continuing to attend the transport and public realm sub-group, more as an observer than a contributor now, but also because I can give some feedback from the streets, with an interest in seeing everything work well, for the good of the city and its citizens.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Patient patience

A little good cheer today, with a final appointment at the Heath Hospital concerning my kidney stone, successfully discharged back in January. There was nothing unexprected to report from the path lab analysis of the stone. The dietary advice offered was 'moderation and balance in all things'. A satisfactory conclusion to one part of the story.

The occasion when the shifting stone first came to attention, was a heavy night time nose bleed over a year ago. The night-time nose bleeds still happen though less frequently, so the problem has not gone away. My GP requested an E.N.T. specialist examination last month. I've just had a letter acknowledging the request informing me that as a non-urgent request, it will be advanced to a waiting list, and eventually I'll be given an appointment date. Let's hope that the problem will also have sorted itself out in the meanwhile.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Our daily bread

Earlier in the week Philip and I had been discussing hymns for tomorrow. The post Communion prayer is a rendering of 'Strengthen for service Lord the hands that holy things have taken', so we agreed we'd sing it together instead of me saying it. I also proposed we use 'Let all mortal flesh keep silent' as an offertory (in its correct place, as evidenced by the Syrian Liturgy of St James). Both are attributed to Ephrem the Deacon, poet of Edessa in the decades after the Nicene Creed was written. His work became a special to me, and had me making a personal pilgrimage to Syria during the nineties. You'll find some photos I took on that journey here. So I decided I'd preach about Ephrem, and sermon preparation came quick and easy.

As a result I had free time on my hands this afternoon, so I decided I'd bake bread and make a pizza. It could be as long as five years since I last did this. Yet, it's such a pleasure to do. There was a time when, as a family we baked regularly, but we've gotten out of the habit, and our lives are poorer for that, despite the excellent fare available to us from the Farmers Market and several bakeries around town.

I realised as I set about the task that I needed quite a bit of reminding and refreshing of memory from Clare to steer away from disaster. Clearly, its a habit I need to get back into, in order to improve and diversify this matchless pleasure.

It occurs to me that it's Lammas Day today - Lammas = 'loaf mass', when by ancient custom a loaf baked from the first-fruit of the summer wheat harvest would be offered in thanksgiving at a special Eucharist, continuing such custom as was common place in biblical Judaism. But it wasn't something I could take into church on the morrow, what with the flour packets having 'best before' dates, suggesting that it was quite a while since the grains were committed to the mill in whatever country of origin - most likely last year's grain harvest. And that would be a bit of a sham really.

Clare has a grain mill, but grain is much more costly to buy and grind yourself than to buy as flour - supply and demand and the cost of packaging, transport and storage see to all that. We've never had a go at growing our own. It's small reminder of how dependent we are on the land and labours of others, whom we shall never get to know.