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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, February 05, 2004
    Happiness is a U-turn
    I drove past Mendips twice within five minutes today. Not on a Lennon pilgrimage; on the lookout for the entrance to a retirement home I was visiting two doors away. Menlove Avenue's one of those unforgiving roads, a dual carriageway where traffic forces you to drive fast and if you miss your turn, to have to do a major U'e to get back where you wannabe. Many Lennon pilgrims must get caught out that way. And then they have to do another U'e to go round the corner to Strawberry Fields.

    Nowt remarkable about Mendips. Scouse suburbia, semi-detached Woolton with a view of the woods opposite, birds singing, vehicles thudding past between town and airport, or en route to well-to-do parts of Cheshire some Woolton folk would aspire to. Nothing shoddy about Mendips either. Nice place to live. Inner-city aspirants end up in this area. Quality of life is fine.

    Did Lennon's surroundings inspire his art? an interviewer asked Yoko on the occasion of the public opening of the house last year. She wanted to say yes - which would easily justify her investment in the place - but her instinctive answer was, "No, it came from inside him." Which is probably closer to the truth.

    Closest to the truth about what nurtured Lennon's art is probably the way Aunt Mimi brought him up, in a straightforward middle-class, firm but supportive way; She's not a girl who misses much / Do do do do do do do do, oh yeah.

    But the house played a part, brutally through formative experiences like twice seeing family members killed on that fast road outside - vehicles were fewer and slower in the fifties, but no less deadly. And gently, I'd assume, because it's the sort of place of light, space and calm which helps creative minds flourish.

    Interesting watching that BBC2 programme about The National Trust to see how much effort they and Yoko put into conserving this place. The BBC had a snobby NT objector on the programme who sneered at the project and said, incorrectly, "This isn't what the National Trust was set up to do." The programme faithfully recorded his colleagues' sheer hard work on Mendips and Yoko's commitment, with hotel-leisure developers closing in on a purchase, that this place would be kept as a shrine: "Better a shrine than a ruin," as she sagely put it. I tried to let that man's elitist abusiveness wash over me but I'm afraid I failed. The arrogant get. I need a fix cos I'm going down.

    The great thing about Mendips is that it isn't 'great' at all. The great thing about preserving it for the nation is that it serves as a tribute to ordinary, decent folk like Mimi, to households struck by everyday tragedy, warmed by companionship and love, and to bedroom dreamers like Lennon without whose wit, daft wisdom and guileless invention the nation would be far less 'great' than it is.