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

    Tuesday, December 31, 2002
    Picture of the Month
    Another new year's eve may have brought a full-blown Review of the Year. But it's been a people day and it's not over yet so instead a quick update / post - of the first Picture of the Month of 2003. Happy New Year!
    Monday, December 30, 2002
    Margaret and Eric
    I don't know how old Margaret is. She's an established octogenarian, that's for sure. But she's a regular fixture on the St Luke's annual post-Christmas walk, as I am. And although at times she needs a bit of assistance - there was the time she had to be carried across a ford, for example - she's marvellously fit really, still cycling around Crosby, still a swimmer.

    And so there we were today, Margaret and I, sitting together on the coach having completed a satisfying little walk on a surprisingly dry day, around some headland near Grange-over-Sands. As Margaret regained her breath we were making what I thought was small talk until she dropped something massive into it.
      J: "That was an interesting walk..."
      M: "I wouldn't say interesting ... more, er ..."
      J: "Challenging?"
      M: "Challenging. Yes. But following Jesus is challenging, isn't it?"
    Well, I, the professional religious was caught off guard by this. I'd forgotten that I was following Jesus; I'd just been following the guy with the map. But .. yes.. yes .. yes ..! It may read like a banal statement, but coming from a woman of great substance it sounded profound to me. It opened my eyes. Taught me something about the source of her great energy, for one thing.

    Margaret had been for many years, part of a great double act. Her husband, Eric, was a straightforward man, humble but gifted, self-taught, self-read in many subjects, whose greatest gift was of encouragement via letter-writing. Over our post-walk pub meal a few of us reminisced about the letters we'd received from Eric over the years. Often long and rambling but always packed full of words designed to infuse the recipient with good faith, self-worth, etc. I carry round with me a quote from one of Eric's letters. It originated from another, almost equally great man of letters, Plato: "Be neither an enemy of men, nor ideas". I cherish these people.
    Sunday, December 29, 2002
    M.I.L.K. of human kindness
    "Without the human community, one single being cannot survive" - the Dalai Lama as quoted in Friendship, a book in the M.I.L.K. (Moments, Intimacy, Laughter, Kinship) series which Linda bought me for Christmas. It's a lovely selection of pictures from all around the world portraying many aspects of friendship; entertaining and enriching like the picture here, of two elderly friends protecting their noses from the sun on South Beach, Miami.

    It's the sort of book to turn to when sated with words, worn out with activity, maybe disheartened by some human behaviour, for refreshment and renewal. Turned to it this evening after a week of activity and people work, and a day spent mostly in church ending with the delightful little Christingle service where children's faces light up the Georgian building by standing around the walls holding their tiny candles. Some good M.I.L.K.-like images to be seen there.
    Cookson - Rooney, wit and enthusiasm
    Bizarrely, my 2002 began and ended watching nil-nil draws involving Bolton Wanderers. The first, accompanying family to anfield, a dire game which was my nephew's first-ever, so notable for that only. Today, the Wayne Rooney show at Goodison Park. He did so, so much to thrill us, to warm our hearts, all but score. Which is the point of a striker. But despite that, we're on a high again tonight.

    I wonder how Paul Cookson is doing with his Everton project. My favourite Everton-Greenbelt-poet friend was commissioned by a publisher to do a diary of the 2002/3 Everton season, ie, write a poem for every game. The one he did during Greenbelt weekend was less about the game (Spurs, 2-2), and more about the terrible events in Soham unravelling at that time - footy in proper perspective. He's got a real good subject to work with now - Rooooonaldo!!! - and I can't wait to see how the wit and enthusiasm Paul expresses with his pen, match the wit and enthusiasm the Everton wonderkid displays on the park. Poetry. Yeah.
    Friday, December 27, 2002
    Desert Island Din
    I haven't listened to all of Rowan Williams' interview on Desert Island Discs which was repeated this morning, though I've taped it for future mellow in-car listening. And while I like so, so much of what the man has to say - it's shrewd, wise, insightful, spiritual - I suspect, however, our musical tastes diverge sharply.

    Rowan's essential listening on his desert island would be Bach's Solo Cello Suite Number 1 in G Major performed by Yuli Turovsky. Last night I did the seasonal thing by putting a tape together of some of my fav. selections. As I list some of them here I'm picturing poor Rowan covering his ears....
      The Fall - Hit The North
      David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust
      Bob Dylan - Subterranean Homesick Blues
      The Creatures - Take Mine
      Led Zeppelin - Nobody's Fault But Mine
      Captain Beefheart - Gimme Dat Harp Boy
      Bob Mould - One Good Reason
      Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit
      Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - 2 Kindsa Love
      Royal Trux - Follow the Winner
      The Smiths - What Difference Does it Make?
      The Verve - Lucky Man
      Mike Scott - Bring Them All In
      White Stripes - Hello Operator
      Elvis Costello - Tear Off Your Own head (It's a Doll Revolution)
      Sonic Youth - Death Valley '69
      Patti Smith - Spell (Alan Ginsberg's Prologue to Howl)
      P.J. Harvey - This Mess We're In (featuring Thom Yorke)
      Kristin Hersh - Me and My Charms
      Wire - The Art of Stopping
      Spiritualised - Come Together
    There were probably others but I can't remember. R'n'R does that to one's brain. I love it. Sue Lawley - call me.

    Thursday, December 26, 2002
    Funny kind of Christmas
    Funny kind of Christmas this year, due to losing Uncle Douglas last week. This morning rather than waking to play around with new toys (ie, hear cds and read books) I've written Doug's funeral address. Celebrations this year are out of the frame. Still, oddly, tomorrow's farewell at Rochdale Crem will bring some fractured parts of our family together who don't often otherwise meet at this season. And hopefully the footy this afternoon will help restore some equilibrium to the shape of the holiday.
    Wednesday, December 25, 2002
    Christmas Eve Midnight sermon
    Well, in the end I didn't preach about angels after all. I went with the shepherds, basking in the reflected glory of God. Regular readers will notice some material from previous blogs in the end result. It seemed to hit the right spot. And that's nice, at one of the year's most challenging, interesting services, to a congregation of unknown or partially-remembered faces. That's bedtime for me now. Happy Christmas one and all.
    Tuesday, December 24, 2002
    This forty-something world
      Susan had an accident
      Reverted back to age sixteen
      Went down to the youth club
      In a mirror looked and started to scream

      A similar thing happened to me
      When I was of the age thirteen
      Reflection held a picture of
      a man of two hundred and three

      And it was ....
      All in all .... safe and warm
      safe and warm


      The reflection held
      I now looked a whole lot better
      To keep crumbs off the floor
      Sophisticated ....
    Mark E. Smith does it again. The words he growls in The Fall vs. 2003 - Susan vs. Youthclub fit my mood so well, in the light of last night's annual reunion of friends from teenage years.

    According to a recent article in The Independent, Smith is 44. And like him, boy, we've also grown up. While there was plenty of laughter and enjoyable trivia in last night's conversations there was also a lot of life - in all its (often painful) fullness. Breakups, bereavements, the particular struggles of parenthood, featured alongside discussions of second marriages, career turn-rounds, hopes and fears for uncertain futures, and for one guy, the astonishing intervention of a life-changing partnership at an age he'd become resigned to grey batchelorhood.

    The youth club used to be safe and warm for us when we were aged sixteen. Life's been risky since, and still is. Good to share the changes and chances of this now-forty-something world, with these valued friends, even if only once a year.
    Monday, December 23, 2002
    Returned from Bury to a mountain of welcome Christmas cards and curates' 2002 circulars. Stuart Penny writes, have you put your poetry online? Well, hell, no, there's a thought. A job for the new year perhaps. But here's a seasonal one to be going on with:
      O Sonic Word
      Atom-deep and universe-wide
      Spinner of planets
      Wise wizard of the spectral sky
      Is it really you who walks here?

      Life's sculptor
      Artist of the powerful hand
      Painter of rainbows
      True author of fantastic dawn
      Is it really you who walks here?

      Is it really you who walks here -
      Fond brother of the broken-down
      Champion of children
      Tenacious teller of tumultuous

      Is it really you who walks here -
      Orchestrator of history
      Our bloody hero
      O grasper of the nettle of death
      Our One God

      Is it really you who walks here?

      (November 1992)
    Sunday, December 22, 2002
    Punk nativity
    Excellent! Unwittingly, I created the opportunity today to turn the annual church nativity PUNK! The idea was around a meditation on the baby Jesus' nappy and the phrase, "where are you pinning your hopes this Christmas?" On Wayne Rooney to score the winner at Anfiled this afternoon (which, in retrospect, he very very nearly did)? On Stephen Gerrard (who ought to have been sent off for violent conduct)? On winning the lottery? Or, like Mary after she'd thought about the angel's words awhile, on Jesus?

    To provide the congregation the opportunity to demonstrate that they had chosen to pin their hopes on Jesus, I sent out two baskets, lined with nappy linen and full of safety pins, inviting each person to take a pin if that was indeed their intention.

    Ade, he of the spiked-up, bleached hair, who doesn't come to church that often, sat in the middle of the congregation thinking about this, and when the pins reached him he took one, and promptly pinned it THROUGH HIS EAR. Ladies around him had to be rescued from fainting. Tonight, I'm told by those close to him, he's still walking around proudly wearing it.

    The really impressive thing about Ade's gesture was that he'd done some theology around it. He'd reasoned that as we're created flesh and blood in God's image and Jesus was flesh and blood it would be most appropriate to attach the pin through flesh rather than leave it loosely hanging from a lapel. He may only be an occasional churchgoer but he'd taken it seriously and worked damn hard at it today. Wonderful.
    Saturday, December 21, 2002
    I'm loving angels instead
    Writing the Christmas Eve midnight sermon is one of the more challenging tasks of the season. Talking in a bigger, more diverse congregation than usual, it's the one sermon of the year for some folks there. Ought to be special for their sake. I'd hoped to complete the task today but I'm nowhere near.

    I'm onside with the shepherds and exploring the theme of listening to angels, provoked by a refrain in Cloth for the Cradle: WE SUSPECT ANGELS / AND DISBELIEVE GOOD NEWS. Do we?

    So I've been on a journey of discovery, beginning with Antony Gormley's wonderful Angel of the North and the book (Making an Angel) which tells the story of its construction, with excellent meditations and observations by the likes of Iain Sinclair, Beatrice Campbell and Gormley himself. I then flew off into the angel-filled world of William Blake and somehow took in Robbie Williams en-route to a piece in this month's Planet in which photographer Bernard Mitchell goes in search of angels beginning, aptly, in the Angel pub, Llanidloes.

    They're everywhere, angels. Just need to make sense of what they're on about.
    Friday, December 20, 2002
    Le Monde diplomatique
    During the 1997 General Election campaign I had an interesting couple of days hosting a visit to Toxteth, where I was a community worker, of two international journalists. We visited a range of community organisations and church groups, wandered around the area breaking off for numerous conversations with local people, and the result was an informed, thoughtful and balanced piece on the conditions of life in one of the country's poorer areas, of the community's fears and future hopes.

    The journalists weren't from a British broadsheet, nor from Radio Four or Channel Four, none of whom, to my knowledge at the time ventured into Liverpool 8. They were from Le Monde. Our liaisons with locals required a translator (fortunately a French-speaking friend was on hand for that), and the published article was, obviously, also in French. This impressed me - a foreign-language publication concerned to test the state of Britain's people not by focussing narrowly on 'marginal' (middle-English) seats as so many of our journalists did, but to hear the views of the truly 'marginalised'. A big difference in perspective. I'm a great believer that truth is best found on the edges, amongst those on the receiving end of policy. So Le Monde's methods get my vote.

    Thus, today, my everlasting thirst for perspective and addiction to print journalism saw a new publication float gracefully from letterbox to doormat. The physically lightweight but in every other way, authoritative Le Monde diplomatique. It's Le Monde's monthly round-up of international affairs, in English. Tonight, the first free evening of the week I've spent with that journal.

    What have I learned so far? That Afghanistan is still deeply unstable and full of largely impotent American troops, (this is really summarising) that Iran is likely to become the new Iraq in 2003 with its clear nuclear capacity, deep insight into the state of Iraq's Ba'ath party and plenty about how the US is manipulating the UN into positions that contradict its own mandate and flout all the rules of international law....

    Interesting to compare and contrast these leftist / 'independent' views with the Economist's The World in 2003, where the analyses are often fairly similar but the conclusions are based less on global ethics and more on the requirements of military-industrial realpolitic. If I were to ask the guy on the street in L8 to comment on that, he'd probably say, "Well, what do you expect?" Which may have saved me a fiver (The Economist) or £36 (Le Monde sub), but would have undermined the quiet thrill of opening envelopes, mining for truth, diving for pearls.
    Thursday, December 19, 2002
    Bowled over
    A day full, very full, of end-of-term Christmas events came to a pretty satisfying conclusion at the Boys Brigade's annual visit to the Hollywood Bowl. After a dismal first round I managed to get the ton up in the second. All that activity over now, only one thought remains; after seeing the way my bowling shoes got sprayed after use - tonight I really must change my socks...
    Wednesday, December 18, 2002
    Time the trickster
    Caught up today in the odd tricks time plays around death. The verger and I, remembering a sometimes frosty woman, a gifted speaker, a committed competitor, shared a simple ceremony as we poured Eileen's ashes into a hole cut through a layer of frosty grass this morning. I watched my words rising in the air on my visible breath, just as prayers ought to do. A micro-moment, but Eileen's final one.

    This afternoon, a ceremony of tears and song, clergy-heavy and throbbing with people as a congregation stood still in shock together to remember Pam, who'd had ill-health all her brief-ish life but who went very unexpectedly last week. She and we all thought it was just a bad bout of flu. The service was a major moment, a celebration of a significant community figure. The church became an intense vessel containing the whole community's shock, sadness, fondness, love combined; rocking, unstable.

    And throughout the day, the oddest time washed around by returning thoughts of Douglas and his family, who are my family too. My last remaining paternal uncle died today. We're a small family, just got smaller. Time collides with memories, hopes, regrets, all manner of emotions at news like that. In death, time becomes a trickster, stands still, speeds up, moves backwards, freeze-frames. Holds us.
    Tuesday, December 17, 2002
    Pedestrian Culture
    Walking. That's something which is doubly good, because it's good for the physical environment and it's good for the mental environment too. I like to think so, anyway, because I'm a bit of a walker.

    I'm not as much of a walker as 'Captain' Robert Barclay Allardic who in 1806 successfully betted that he could walk one mile in each of 1000 successive hours. The London public rewarded him with 16,000 guineas, 320 times the average annual wage (read about him here).

    I'm not as deliberate a walker as Iain Sinclair (read about him here), who specialises in what Wilfried Hou Je Bek calls 'constrained walking'. I love the way he describes Sinclair's methods:
      For his Lights out for the Territory Sinclair walked large scale V's, X's and circles juxtaposed over the city's street grid. The gonzo reports of these strolls are supplemented by a wide range of unbelievable obscure facts that are the product of Sinclair's habit of having read every second hand book that was ever on sale in greater London for the last 20 years. While making his way through the city, the scenery of streets, buildings, unexpected encounters and crowds evoke memories from Sinclair's past and from books long forgotten of ever having read them. Sinclair adds his psyche in the geography and after this stream of thought canalised into his highly compressed, information dense, style we have got the most perfect of psychogeographical writers at work today.
    I may be a flaneur, depending on the definition. Walter Benjamin said,
      "The fl‰neur is the stroller, the pedestrian who finds delight and pleasure in ambling contentedly and unhurriedly through the city."
    Ok so far, but then he continues:
      "To promenade without purpose is the highest ambition of the fl‰neur. Walking in the city is its own reward. ... an intoxication comes over the man who walks long and aimlessly through the streets. With each step, the walk takes on greater moment"
    Ah. Hou Je Bek calls fl‰neurs 'slackers' and suggests that rather than being the radicals they fancied themselves to be, they "were stoned out of their heads from hashish. It was under the influence of this drugs that they took so long to go nowhere and found so much hilarious interest in even the most boring aspects of things."

    However, there is a tradition of radical walking which Benjamin and others like to affirm. And I do like to think that sometimes I'm a radical walker, akin to those described by Donna Landry in her interesting essay, erm, Radical Walking, those who over the years have trampled Britain's byways and highways on protest marches, or in search of poetic inspiration, risking association with vagrants and poachers - those who "together constitute a society based on the twin principles of freedom of movement and freedom of speech." She suggests, for example, that "Iain SinclairÕs walk round the M25 signifies, among other things, a radical pedestrianising of territory otherwise abandoned to motorised aggro."

    Today, walking round the parish on a route which, plotted later on the map, is vaguely heart-shaped, these things happened to me:
      I met a dog-walker, a middle-aged man carrying a backpack with a picture of a Wild West cowboy stitched onto it. He was singing lustily;

      I noted that the charity shop was holding a one-day-only half price clothes sale but declined to go in;

      I relished the painful freedom in realising, passing outside Woolworths looking in at the tempting shelf of new cds, that I'd left my money at home.

      I discovered that the parishioners I visited have painted their house in the deepest, bloodiest red imaginable. But failed to discover why;

      I thought of various people who would otherwise not have been in mind, simply by passing by their streets;

      I got invited into a party at the Blind Club and emerged with pockets full of tangerines.
    And so it went on. Not much of this would have happened had I not been walking. Pedestrian culture - it's good.
    Monday, December 16, 2002
    Get a life!
    Fiona's favourite put-down always was "Get a life!" At Ridley Hall, this line successfully debunked much pretentious theologising; pompous irritants were rapidly despatched with that denunciation ringing in their ears. She didn't suffer fools and she was a breath of fresh air in an atmosphere which was sometimes just that bit too precious to be healthy.

    We hadn't spoken for over a year and the arrival of my Christmas card on her doormat today prompted a good catch-up phone call. Which put paid to the theologising I was about to do around the mental environment, having surfed around a bit with various web situationists and psychogeographers. Fiona's done it again. Broke through the ether. Prompted raw conversation in real-time. The blog can wait. I got a life.
    Sunday, December 15, 2002
    Socket to me
    Yesterday it was young skateboarding evangelists (Anna Vines, Matt Edge and Jen Brewin, pictured here). Today it's Socket. Click on their link and you're transported into the world of a rookie rock band, five sixteen-year-olds, whose drummer is the youngest son of one of my Ridley Hall peers.

    There's no audio on the Socket website but their influences reveal that this lot are probably very loud'n'proud. "This band is great fun! Gigs galore, thats what we're here for!" Tom writes on his personal page, and credits Mum, Dad, music teachers, girlfriend and God with thanks.

    When I was sixteen nice Christian boys were told, for the sake of our souls, to avoid R'n'R at all costs. Unless it was Cliff singing 'Miss you nights'. Had it existed then, skateboarding would probably have had dire eternal consequences too. Hallelujah - (to quote the Happy Mondays) - we've progressed.
    Saturday, December 14, 2002
    Cruel Comedy and the Mental Environment
    I wanted there to be something profound in The Face's 2002 Review. There wasn't really. An article on Swansea's surf evangelists who are getting a lot of media at the moment, and bless them. The mag carries lots of Jesus imagery but little depth. The one feature which drew me was titled 'Cruel Comedy'. Its thesis is that we have become sated by empty celebrity TV. The popularity of comedies such as The Office, Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights and I'm Alan Partridge is because, by contrast to, say, PopStars, they are about the struggles of everyday people we can relate to:
      ... the quiet, ordinary desperation of Tim, Dawn and David Brent holds ... power. They're not going to be plucked from their everyday drudgery and made into stars. They have to resign themselves to their fates or fight tooth and nail for a dirty scrap of happiness. Like the rest of us. So, even if we're laughing at them, it's the uneasy relief of escaping from the relentless torrent of success and celebrity that makes it so compelling.
    Now, Adbusters magazine has taken this much further. In fact, they've built a movement on the concept of the mental environment. In the same way as in the eighties we became increasingly aware of the decline of our physical environment, Adbusters say that in the nineties it became clearer that our mental environment was 'no less in crisis':
      20 million North Americans diagnosed with clinical depression; another 20 million suffering anxiety disorders; antidepressants now a $10-billion-a-year business; commercial messages everywhere the eye can rest - from the banana in the supermarket to the booster-rockets of the space shuttle, to product placement in the movie you're watching to escape it all.
    Our weariess with 'celebrity' as described in The Face is another sign of our present condition. Adbusters organise campaigns such as Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week to try help people restore their mental equilibrium in the face of gigantic media forces. With its almost defiant celebration of the ordinary, 'Cruel Comedy' may unwittingly be having similar effects.
    Friday, December 13, 2002
    A13 Trunk Road to the Sea
    I can't believe it. Billy Bragg has emailed me today to tell me that he's approaching twenty-five years in the music business. To celebrate he's put out a compilation of singles released by Riff Raff, Billy's first, punk-inspired band.

    Well, time marches on but timeless music doesn't. As proven by the continuing performance on his tour dates of the 1978 Bragg classic A13 (Trunk Road to the Sea). It's the Essex version of Route 66 and still the only acceptable end to any Bragg stage appearance.
      If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness
      Take the A road, the okay road that's the best
      Go motorin' on the A13

      If you're looking for a thrill that's new
      Take in Fords, Dartford Tunnel and the river too
      Go motorin' on the A13

      It starts down in Wapping
      There ain't no stopping
      By-pass Barking and straight through Dagenham
      Down to Grays Thurrock
      And rather near Basildon
      Pitsea, Thundersley, Hadleigh, Leigh-On-Sea,
      Chalkwell, Prittlewell
      Southend's the end

      If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness
      Take the A road, the okay road that's the best
      Go motorin' on the A13
    Twenty-five years hence I hope to be there seeing Bill and Wiggy still putting this song out onstage. Tonight I pay homage to the man who was the prime popular provider of pertinent political protest throughout those dark Thatcher years, and for that, Bill, as well as your songs, I'll be forever grateful.
    Thursday, December 12, 2002
    McChurch musings
    At this mornings clergy 'chapter' meeting I had my first opportunity to formally share my Corrymeela experiences and thoughts with folks from home. It was good, prompted some good discussion, some honest reflection, as ever some fine wisdom from the experienced heads around the room. More on that as time goes on.

    And the subjects I raised segued well into conversations about the usual business of parish and diocesan life and again, there was some good theologising around issues such as the imposition of 'managerial modernity' on the church, subject of Religion, Theology and the Human Sciences by Richard H. Roberts, who lectured on it in Liverpool last week:

    "The culture of managerial modernity has spread through education, health and social services and has been welcomed by the churches," Roberts says.

    He sets out to show "why many people today feel themselves to be oppressed by systems of management that seem to leave them no option but to conform", and he seeks "to challenge and outflank such seamless, oppressive modernity, through reconfiguration of the religious and spiritual field."

    My copy's in the post. Looking forward to grappling with that. Clergy 'chapters' may be where the Hells Angels got their idea from, they can be quite subversive gatherings ....
    Wednesday, December 11, 2002
    It never stops
    Ah, the satisfaction of despatching one hundred Christmas cards into the postbox this evening. Bye bye gummed envelopes, hello mouthwash. And love, much love and regards to folk I've not had much communication with for a year (unless they've been reading this and not letting on about it).

    But - oh, no, the realisation that there's more cards to write. Someone mentioned a name this evening and I groaned, oh, no, there's another I'd forgotten. Thank God for Greenbelt: how often over the years have I had cause to say that - this year it's because my last-minute order of 30 of their Christmas cards arrived just in time to help me deal with these late additions to my list. And they're great cards too, I think. If I forget you, dear reader, then click here and meditate on what ought to have been....
    Tuesday, December 10, 2002
    Think Bigger
    On this cold, cold evening I'm mindful of those few nights I've spent in winters past, chatting with rough sleepers, giving out blankets, hot drinks and ciggies to those who wanted them. My life's presently too comfortable to entertain such costly behaviour. So I'm glad to have been provoked by The Big Issue's Think Bigger campaign, the one which turns the problem of homelessness on its head, saying (at length, but worth repeating in full):
      Are you mad? See those huddled figures? They're people. We may not be suffering hallucinations ourselves. But we do seem to be able to wipe significant objects entirely from our visual field. It seems many of us don't consider homeless people to be significant objects. Maybe we've developed some form of homeless-phobia. Recognise any of these symptoms? Irritation, anxiousness, inability to empathise, even paranoia - where you imagine homeless people have screwed their lives up, lost their loved ones, and given up all their worldly possessions in order to take you for a ride. Doesn't that qualify as delusional? If it's not quite classifiable behaviour, it certainly highlights an imbalance in reasoning. Here's another. There are less than a thousand official rough sleepers in Great Britain's major cities. Nothing compared to the fifty-six million more fortunate individuals who ignore them every day. Even when you add those in households regarded as temporary accommodation (including bed & breakfast hostels, overnight shelters and missions), it's still a great deal less than one percent of our total population. The truth is there are far more people suffering from homelessness in this country than there are homeless people. We just need to admit it to ourselves. That's where The Big Issue can help. We provide support for mental illness, addiction, sexual abuse, training, education & re-accommodation. A source of hope both for the homeless and those with a problem with the homeless. It's said that in confronting any problem the first step is the hardest. So take heart. The fact that you're still reading is step one.
    Maybe it's the nature of Cherie Blair's speech tonight that's brought this on, but it does seem like it's time to get deep down and personal where politics is concerned, such as returning to serious engagement with street people or perhaps (as their latest mailing is asking me to do today) joining in CAAT's 'Site Unseen' campaign in 2003, "a series of protests at 40 sites belonging to BAE Systems or its subsidiaries, alongside local public meetings to raise awareness about the arms trade and how we can work together at national and at local levels to end it". Or (also on my desk today), CAP's 'Lent Challenge', which is to "reduce your disposable income to the equivalent of the Minimum Wage for the six weeks of Lent". Over 70 people took part last year and CAP are looking to increase that to over 200 this year.

    The new Archbishop of Canterbury seems to want to get deep down and personal with these issues too: "What would you say if, in your parish, there was a large firm producing armaments, and they were threatened with closure unless they got a big foreign contract? How do you find your way through that one?" he asks rhetorically in the current Church Times: "You may well be someone with strong commitment about the arms trade [as I am]; but I'm also someone with strong commitments about unemployment." Thinking bigger ... can make life more interesting.
    Monday, December 09, 2002
    About a Boy
    One of the unforeseen pleasures of getting ordained was receiving unusual gifts from kind and thoughtful friends. What do you buy someone who previously showed many of the signs of being a normal balanced human being and friend on the occasion of their being incorporated into the oddest and most ancient of institutions, wrapped up willingly in very strange dress?

    The answers were wonderful, a real range of things, from religious art to kitchenware, and one of my favourites was the book About a Boy, which Angela got me, if I remember rightly, simply because she'd found it a good read and thought I would too. It was the first of many books given me that day, which I read, and loved it.

    Well, last night I finally got round to seeing the film, on video, and loved that too. It's wonderful watching Will making the journey from being a laddish 38-year-old with the philosophy, "Man is an island, and I am Ibiza", to a guy celebrating Christmas with a housefull of kids, friends, potential partner-for-life. It's a journey which he makes via a series of disasterous attempts to get off with single mothers by posing as a single father, under the influence of an odd but engrossing friendship with a 12-year-old son of one of those mums (one Will has no interest in at all).

    Writer Nick Hornby can do no wrong for me. Not just because of the fantastic climax to the perfect footy book Fever Pitch which describes one of my favourite-ever football moments, Arsenal snatching the 1989 league championship from Liverpool with a last-minute goal at Anfield. But also because he seems to get it pretty much right about blokes, because without being 'new mannish' or sentimental about it, he delves pretty deep.

    Funny, watching the film last night drew me back to the reflections I wrote on getting ordained, after that day at the Cathedral. And it seems I came to the same conclusion as Hornby - the 'island' thing is mistaken: individuals - even folk as individual as priests - are nevertheless in community, need to be, have to be, can't avoid it, must embrace it.
    Sunday, December 08, 2002
    Self-platitude is the torment of a nefarious pariah
    It's getting near Christmas. I know this because I've just been on the phone to various relatives and my young cousin and his dad are warming up for all those seasonal gatherings by playing a home-made parlour game. They've dusted off a box of magnetic word fridge magnets which I bought David when he was perhaps nine years old, mistakenly opting for the genius edition which was perhaps a bit advanced for him at the time. So only today, years later has that particular gift come into its own. Roars of laughter as they decide that the best sentence they've so far come up with is: "Self-platitude is the torment of a nefarious pariah". There's probably hours of theological reflection in that. I shall leave it for others to do it.
    Saturday, December 07, 2002
    Sheer poetry
    Today I wrote four talks. In advance of tomorrow and next week. So it's no surprise I felt exhausted by mid-afternoon. That and willing on Everton to equalise against Chelsea. Whether it was the task in hand, or the wonder of the Everton renaissance that inspired it, I don't know, but I felt moved to dust off something I wrote while at Ridley Hall: The Role of Poetry in Worship. It began as an idea in Janet Henderson's mind, and ended up as an article published in Anvil. I've put it on the website today as it's a bit of an inspiration. Especially when it's tempting, through tiredness, to get too prosaic.

    (In passing, I also note with feigned horror and some satisfaction that the 'New Photographs" on Ridley Hall's website are actually ones all taken in our year, including two featuring yours truly, one in which we all seem to be rockin' in chapel. Look at Pete Sainsbury's hands working that keyboard...)
    Friday, December 06, 2002
    Christmas Card reminiscing

    Mmmm... I've got too used to stamps and envelopes being 'pre-stickied'. This year's Christmas Cards from Survival International come with old-style gummed envelopes. Remember them. Leave a taste in your mouth. Might gum your teeth together if you don't converse for a while. How primitive.... Ahem.

    Spent the afternoon doing the annual deed. Nice to look at envelopes bearing names of folk once in everyday contact, now in obscure corners of the world like Kent. To think about them awhile. It's been a big year for many of my 'peers' as we all turned forty. Some of them are grown-up enough to be bringing their adolescent offspring to the match with them these days. Some of them are sad enough to have signed up to Friends Reunited (I know because I looked). And all of them have either less hair, or more in places previously uncharted. Starting to go a bit around the edges if you (rudely) look at them too closely. But they'll always be teenagers to me...
    Thursday, December 05, 2002
    On Eno
      I am:
      a mammal
      a father
      a European
      a heterosexual
      an artist
      a son
      an inventor
      an Anglo-Saxon
      an uncle
      a celebrity
      a masturbator
      a cook
      a gardener
      a husband
      a musician
      a company director
      an employer
      a teacher
      a wine-lover
      a cyclist
      a non-driver
      a pragmatist
      a producer
      a writer
      a computer user
      a Caucasian
      an interviewee
      a grumbler
      a 'drifting clarifier'
    Thats how Brian Eno describes himself in his 1995 diary, A Year with Swollen Appendices. It's one of the best books on music and creativity I've ever read.

    Late last night there was a good little documentary about Eno, which I've just watched. In it, others try to describe Eno: "One of the most important voices in Britain," says Bono, for example.

    Stopping to think about just how influential Eno has been over the past twenty-five years or more, would be a whole evening's pursuit. He made Roxy Music something more than their 'ordinary' glam-rock peers: "My contribution was to do with threading in some of the stranger sonic and conceptual experiments that were going on in experimental music, trying to make those part of what could be done."

    He collaborated with David Bowie, David Byrne, Robert Fripp, and classical and experimental composers. And most famously he dragged U2 away from a career recycling thumping stadium classics into unforseen arenas of sonic adventure.

    The programme also underlined how massively influential Eno has been on the emerging ambient scene: after all, he was one of the 'inventors' of ambient and continues to inspire its practitioners today: "It's not just music," says Sally Rogers of Ibizan house celebrities A Man Called Adam, "it's - every sound is music". And Mixmaster Morris credits Eno with making it possible for the studio engineer to become the 'star', one of the first to pioneer putting them on stage, "the studio boffin in public". And he's done all this quite quietly, willing to be in the background. Rather like his music.

    I know that my music collection would be pitiful without Eno's contributions. Which makes one thing surprising to me. All week I've been listening to the newly-released Adventures: The Wire 20 1982-2002. It's a 3-cd collection of some of the landmark 'experimental' music of the past twenty years. But I don't think Eno's featured at all. Perhaps that's because he's too mainstream for The Wire, whose David Toop said in the documentary, "Eno had a different idea about how to take this music to bigger audiences". Maybe they completely overlooked him by mistake, simply because he's so ubiquitous. Everywhere and nowhere. Seems to sum him up quite well.
    Wednesday, December 04, 2002
    Gun lobby
    I thought there'd been a lot of police activity around here last night. Turns out that Raymond Craven was killed and two others injured in a shooting at The Thatched House, a pub just across the park from here. I'm astonished that I didn't know till hours later, amazed at how close it is possible to be to events yet remain in ignorance about them.

    It's the third fatal shooting in the thirty months I've been here. Not a terrible total but not good either. Three too many. And besides the loss of a young man, 27, what haunts me about this parish episode is a thought re-surfacing from my time in Northern Ireland. In a survey, many of Belfast's working men felt that the Churches were responsible for the continuation of the strife in the province: "[Their] failure to dialogue with the paramilitaries was felt to have aggravated the violence in the past and caused further alienation" (from Belfast: Faith in the City )

    I know it's impossible to be everywhere, know everyone and everything, even after thirty years in a parish. But there's something in this criticism. Who is the church for? Where does it choose to locate itself, culturally? Will it get involved in the struggles on the street? It's not really my idea of a pleasant night out, standing in the way of bullets in The Thatched House, but choosing to neglect the Raymond Cravens of our parishes won't help them any.
    Tuesday, December 03, 2002
    Lord Alderdyce: Building Respect
    A timely Liverpool Foundation for Citizenship Roscoe Lecture this evening. Timely for me, as the speaker was John (Lord) Alderdice, Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The only one of the Assembly members still in post while the suspension continues, Alderdice is planning for resumption, working away hopefully, while in Downing Street today many of the other Assembly leaders were in discussion about how that may happen.

    A Speaker has, of course, to be neutral and especially on public speaking engagements. But his address wasn't bland: Building a Civil Society: Reflections from Northern Ireland. At its core was the assertion that while a strong civil society is essential, and Northern Ireland enjoys a wealth of civil involvement from its non-governmental organisations, it is also deeply important to encourage citizens to get involved in electoral politics, for more people of quality to move forward as representatives of the people. Even at a time where it seems that the 'power' which politicians hold is drifting away from them to the NGOs and the marketplace.

    But the main thing I think I'll take from his talk was a phrase he repeated often - "Building Respect". Again, you'd expect a Speaker to affirm this value, but it's always welcome to hear it. He told an IRA man's story, of how as a sixteen year old he was a car enthusiast very keen on getting work as a mechanic, of how he went to a local garage and explained his enthusiasm to the owner, explained his willingness to work hard, to learn, to offer good faithful service. The owner's response chilled him and changed the direction of his life: "There's no way you will ever work here - because you're a Catholic." Lord Alderdice said that the humiliation and rejection that boy felt that day set him on the path towards terrorism, and he asked us to consider how different the outcome would have been if that garage owner had treated him with respect - how different for the boy, for the people who died as a result of his terrorist activity, for the owner's own humanity.

    Host David Alton underlined the message afterwards - if we learn to respect others, even those to whom we are bitterly opposed, then we can begin to build the sort of dialogue which enables civil society to come.

    Afterwards I spoke to Colin Parry, father of Tim, who died in the 1993 Warrington bombing. His project, Children For Peace, has recently opened a centre for peace education in Warrington. I'll be making a date to pop in there soon.
    Monday, December 02, 2002
    What good poetry does
      God knows how I adore life
      When the wind turns on the shore lies another day
      I cannot ask for more
      And when the timebell blows my heart
      and I have scored another day
      Well nobody made this war of mine
    These words open Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man - Out of Season which I bought from Probe today. Perfect mood music for impending winter, beautiful with it. (Beth does have her own website but it seems to be down at the moment).

    I spent the morning with other poetry. As a member of the Iona Community's Publications committee I had a stack of papers awaiting me on return from Ireland, and I waded through them after breakfast. Waded - well, it's only my opinion but some of them seemed to lead into quicksand, I had a sinking feeling reading them.

    However, most of them offered journeys through clear, refreshing waters. Particularly those supplied by Jan Sutch Pickard who has published a number of titles of an inspirational nature (including one of Advent Readings, with Brian Woodcock), and who at Corrymeela for the Ecumenical Spirituality weekend rustled up a wonderful prayer-poem in a free hour in the Croi (Corrymeela's special underground space, meaning 'heart'). When Jan read it to us later, a small part of me envied her achievement. But much more of me was grateful for it. That's what good poetry does.
    Sunday, December 01, 2002
    Gyda buddugoliaeth arall yn y bag

    From the Irish to the Welsh for a change .. I had four email exchanges with entirely new people yesterday, which was nice. One was from Wyn ap Gwilym from Cowbois, a t-shirt company based in Bala who I've blogged about before. Which was how Wyn found me. He wanted to know how I'd found them. And in the exchange which followed we established that where I fancy myself as a bit of a celt on the quiet, he has a Liverpool background. Funny, that. Or perhaps not, considering Liverpool was the 'capital' of Wales, population-wise, in the nineteenth century till Cardiff started to grow.

    Anyway, their latest t-shirts look great; designed in celebration of the Welsh footy team who are doing very well just now. As they put it, "Gyda buddugoliaeth arall yn y bag [jargon!] - mae Cowbois dros y lleuad ac newydd lansio cyfres o grysa newydd Ôi ddathlu perfformiadau diweddara ein t”m cenedlaethol", that is, "With another three points in the bag - Cowbois are over the moona and have launched a range of new shirts Ôas a tribute to recent performances by our national team!" Check 'em out.