notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Saturday, January 16, 2010
On throwing up in the gutter and other great moments with Jim
The text of my tribute to Jim Hart, which I improvised around during my contribution to today's event at St Michael in the City, where around thirty or forty assorted folks from different parts of Jim's rich life gathered to remember him in word, image, prayer (including a Mourners' Kaddish) and song. The final act of a lovely short service arranged and led so sensitively by Mike Williams - The Dream of Glyndwr - moved me deeply, applying the words of the Welsh ur-hero to Jim's life and destiny, the whole thing was excellent.....
My friendship with Jim has developed over the past 15 years - since Jesus in the city (expand)... more recently taken the form of visits to his house and day trips out, usually in my car, to exotic locations within a day’s drive of here: Lancaster, Wakefield, Shrewsbury, Carlisle and Shap, the canals of Wigan and the cemeteries of North Manchester.
A typical day’s outing with Jim:
Turn up at his house - prompt, knowing that he’d be waiting for you, eager to get out and get going.
Exchange the firm handshake and almost immediately receive in both hands a bundle of papers pertaining to the day’s adventure - a map, customised by Jim with various notes written in the margins; an article culled from the London Review of Books or the Economist; one of Jim’s own pieces of writing, close-typed and printed out, illustrated by items from his massive photographic collection.
Set out - Jim remembering precisely where we left off our conversations last time we met, which may have been a couple of months ago, picking up, probing, and of course commenting plainly about whatever the subject matter of the moment was.
Pick up Dave in Old Swan where joviality and gentle joshing set in, me in the driving seat, Dave in the back but Jim very much in control: us two happy to let ourselves be guided by him.
Out of town on a route which soon deviates from the main roads. This phenomenon owes much, I’m sure, to Jim’s vast cycling and motorcycling experience, but equally much to his great capacity for poring over maps and being able to remember the smallest details of a road, a landscape, to be able to map the land in his mind whilst on the move, remarkably well.
It made for a more demanding drive for me - in his enthusiasm for the journey and his restless conversation Jim never seemed to notice how I got tired, weaving around farm roads for seven long hours - Dave did, I think. Jim hardly blinked either, on the day when a migrane had set in for me part way through the day and as I stopped the car at Millstead for Jim to get out I opened my door and threw up in the gutter. I looked up sheepishly and apologetically only to see Jim brandishing more of the usual familiar paperwork to leave for me to read and talk to him about next time.
But of course it also made for a fascinating day. Jim’s encyclopaedic knowledge of places - usually expressed in terms of the people’s history, the stories of the working people, their integrity and their oppression written in the stones of a place. Jim’s humour, Jim’s ability to get a conversation going with a whole range of people met along the way: people serving us bacon butties in roadside cafes, publicans and others propping up bars we lunched in, walkers, traffic wardens, shop staff, volunteers in civic buildings we ventured into, whose knowledge of their place would be severely tested up against Jim’s.
Some things I value so much about Jim:
His endless enthusiasm for learning. Not learning passed on to him by the academy, but learning on his own terms: learning from the books he chose to read - and what stimulating books they are, lining his living room and kitchen walls; learning from people, who he valued so much and listened to so hard that it was always testing, conversing with him, as he reminded you of precisely what you’d said on the subject last time you spoke: but so supportively. An autodidact - whose journey I relate to (expand).
His deep sense of justice - injustice - seeing things from the perspective of the poor, and making all sorts of connections. That enormous book of Sebastian Selgado photographs which Jim had propped up in his kitchen and which he studied, a photo a day, of workers struggling up makeshift ladders carrying stones by hand in vast Asian quarries, he’d bring to mind as we stood by a canal and Jim painted a picture of the Irish workers whose struggle to build that waterway was equally demanding, equally oppressive.
The time which he had for others: being willing to mentor people like me, taking great delight in sharing his world with other people and seeing their eyes light up with new insights and their energy for engaging with that subject sparked by what he’d said and done.
And his writing: at times deeply insightful, at times painfully provocative, very personal, hard to take. But unique and at times of great quality. Jim and I talked for a while about attempting to get reprinted some books which he regarded as classics of urban ministry - books by his formative heroes. I failed in my attempts to persuade him to make some of his stuff more openly available, probably online, but it was perhaps only his reluctance to get involved with the internet which stopped him, for he was otherwise always keen to disseminate his work and get people’s responses. Maybe we can work to remember Jim somehow in this way. If not then I know that those of us who have journeyed with him will always remember him in the places we’ve been together, chasing after the man whose restless enthusiasm and impatience kept him moving right till the end.
Others who contributed on the day - please feel free to add in your writing in the comments box or email me (see sidebar for email address)