The celebrations of the centenary of the birth of Roald Dahl begin this week in Cardiff. I noticed when I left the house this morning that a special Roald Dahl team – the men dressed in grey suits and brown shoes, the women in pretty dresses, armed with stripy red and yellow umbrellas – were putting up a ‘Roald Dahl was here’ plaque on an adjacent wall. Dahl once went to school next door, but next door is now someone’s house. The Chinese takeaway on the high street here in Llandaff is also now festooned with sweet jars in the front window, reminding us of Mrs Pratchett and her sweetshop and what lighthearted mischief the young Dahl got up to when he popped in to buy gobstoppers. The Dahl stories are a joyful read. They show that joy that can come out of any situation. Our days can be sprinkled with joy.
Charles Bridge lies at the heart of Prague and is the city’s main icon. Millions of people have traversed it – the summer season sees a cramming of tourists upon it. The bridge evokes a strong Christian tradition in the city, what with the statues of the crucifix and other martyrs along this famous overpass. I went to a nearby exhibition on King Charles IV who commissioned the bridge back in the fourteenth century. He was a wise and holy ruler, best personifying the title of Holy Roman Emperor. The Czech king built bridges really, bringing a sense of togetherness to people. He relied on diplomatic tact rather than the tactics of war for advancement in human affairs. The world needs wise leaders.
The United Kingdom is about to make the biggest decision since going to war against Nazi Germany in 1939. This referendum on Thursday is not just about Britain, it is about the whole world. In Llandudno in 1948 Winston Churchill called an Union of Europe a ‘majestic circle’ worth building to secure peace. To this end the EU has been an immense success (even though we did not sign up to it immediately), challenged only more recently by the double external threat of crisis in the Middle East and the 2008 economic meltdown whose origin was in the United States. Despite these threats the 66-year-old EU remains a synonym for peace. Like a good long-term investment it is worth sticking to. I’m in: are EU’in?
The 80-day ‘Coleridge in Wales’ tour is underway. The Ancient Mariner ship disembarked from Penarth Marina on its short journey to Cardiff Bay. A small gathering of the faithful and the curious gathered together for a short act of worship before it left. As the organiser of the event (in the centre of the photo) Richard Parry remarked, the poem Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge provokes us to think about the place of symbols in our culture and what meaning there might be behind them. The death of the Albatross in the poem marks the darker side of humanity, a mean-spirited action. The wind surrounding the albatross is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit which ‘loved the bird who loved the man who shot him with his bow’. A Pentecostal thought. There will be many other thoughts as the Coleridge team of enthusiasts makes its way around Wales.
Today is Europe Day. It marks the 66th anniversary of the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community, the first step in European integration after the tumult of the Second World War. In about 45 days’ time we will go to the polling stations (again) to give the UK’s verdict on whether we should stay in or leave the EU. This is a colossal decision to make. We are given a stark choice: yes or no. Of course this is a pity, because it doesn’t obviously allow for the view that we could help to change Europe, which is most unlikely to happen if we are outside the EU rather than inside it. There are really three options: “yes”, because I am more or less happy with the EU; “yes”, because we have the chance to reform the EU; or “no” because there is more in it for us if we go our separate way. Of course even these options present a limited framework for decision-making, because many of us will be voting purely from the perspective of national interest. What is in it for everybody else if we leave? Have we thought about unintended consequences – if Europe unravels as a result of us leaving, is this actually good for us? We need the full breadth of debate in the next forty days.
The marvellous story of multicultural cuisine along City Road in Cardiff is now being extended with much excitement up Crwys Road. We were in the ‘Hellenic Eatery’. We are enjoying a trinity of dips: tzatziki, hummus and taramasalata. Just saying these words is enriching. Here we are with my daughter’s South Korean friend eating Greek food in the Welsh capital. It’s cosmopolitan Cardiff.
I was in London over the festive period and I visited lots of museums as usual. There’s no time for shopping! One of the exhibitions that stood out were a series of paintings by Frank Auerbach at the National Tate. I have never seen an artist apply paint so heavily on the canvas, an inch thick almost in places. Auerbach’s subjects might seem rather drab – his landscapes feature merely some unfamiliar buildings in the lesser known London suburb of Mornington Crescent. They might seem insignificant compared to great city vistas taken in by Monet, let’s say. But the richness of the paintings fully make up for this. They remind me of the great appreciation of life in a normal everyday situation.