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

    Friday, May 30, 2003
    From Eglington Terrace Youth Hostel, Edinburgh
    I would go on - especially I would quote probably extensively from the two books I've discovered this week from the Edinburgh-based Pocketbook series; one a book of poems from Scots insider/outsiders and the other a book of people's dreams for a new Scottish Parliament (published on a wave of cultural activity in the fateful year 2000). But I won't, tonight, because I'm in the lobby of Eglington Terrace Youth Hostel and I fear disturbing my snoring roommates upstairs, rummaging for said tomes. Plus, shortly I'll be joining them (roommates and tomes) for a good night's kip.

    It's my Edinburgh break from semi-rural bliss at Crinan. Good holiday. Here though, for an Iona Community get-together; which is good too. More, on all of this, no doubt, next week.
    Saturday, May 24, 2003
    not so soft in Crinan

    Last blog for a few days. I'm off to Crinan tomorrow. And today I celebrate because when searching on 'Crinan Kilmartin' I discovered not.so.soft dot com, website of Meg Pickard, closely related to Jan, who's featured on these pages a few times (here, for instance). It's a wealth of good writing, poetry and gorgeous photographs, many of them of that part of Scotland we love so much. If you check in here while I'm away and want to get an idea where I am, then go and see - on not.so.soft dot com's picture pages. They're a treat for the eyes.

    [Note, Jan 2004: notsosoft.com ceased to exist later in 2003; but Meg is still very much online at meish.org, and her picture pages are thankfully fully restored there.]
    Friday, May 23, 2003
    All mapped out
    Some clarification from a press release I discovered on the Ordnance Survey website today. It's not quite the situation the Telegraph article suggested. The contentious issue is around 'where a former place of worship has a new secular use but has no landmark architectural features Ð and is therefore of little or no help for navigation Ð [in this case] the building will not be highlighted with [a plain cross] symbol.' In other words, carpet warehouses, sheltered housing and arts centres in ecclesiastical shells won't appear as churches on the map. 'This has been our policy for many years and will not change,' say the OS. Well, you might have told us...

    But they have been listening to punters' points of view recently. Because the Church Times recently reported,
      Rumours that the single cross might be dropped as a symbol have raised concerns about the loss of Christian heritage, the demise of the church as a valued landmark, and the significance of the three major religions. [OS] chief press officer, Scott Sinclair said no decision had yet been made.

      "Our duty has to be with the people who use the maps," he said. "The plain-cross symbol is not something we're just going to lose, because we understand the sensitivity. We're consulting our user groups, and expect to reach a decision in the next few weeks."
    That was on 4 April. The OS Press Release was dated 14 May, and it reports that future OS 1:25,000 scale Explorer maps will still feature symbols for redundant places of worship with a tower, a spire, a minaret or dome, which have not been given new uses. If I'm reading this right, that still means the plain-cross symbol is under threat of extinction. Not sure how much this matters... I shall squint at my Explorer maps with more earnest than usual while on holiday over the next couple of weeks.

    Thursday, May 22, 2003
    Who we are and how we tread
    Pete Winn got quite angry at Jay Griffiths when I shared the contents of Tuesday's blog with him. It's all too easy to slag off the church in such arguments, he felt. And anyway, she's writing from a cosy middle-class position which would probably baulk at some of the expressions of 'carnival' we see on our city streets each Saturday night.

    This made me think that the opposition Griffiths sets up lacks necessary complexity. Actually the church and carnival have gone together, do go together, more than she recognises. In ways which Williams was getting at, and in (ah, that expression again), psycho-geographical ways too. Thus, I surprise myself by agreeing with an opinion article in The Telegraph, which rants at the decision of the Ordnance Survey to remove out-of-use churches from their maps of England.

    It seems the reason the OS have decided to do this is because these churches are of no 'navigational significance'. Presumably this means that if car drivers don't need to use them as landmarks to get to their destinations, they're obsolete. As the op-ed writer Kevin Myers correctly notes, many map features fall into this category - castles, Roman roads, for example. The loss is in relation to the role maps play in helping us relate, on quite profound levels, to the landscape:
      Over the centuries, [maps] have become two-dimensional accounts of the landscape, a narrative of about the people who once lived here: the mill which is no longer a mill, the tumulus, the rath, the henge, the old coach-bridge which has been by-passed, and which no longer serves as bridge. ...

      Maps allow a small communion with history, with habits and mores which are long gone: but they have left footprints in the landscape, and in those representations of the landscape which we calls maps, and which only a barbarian would not think worthy of retaining.
    He's right. For the OS sees fit to keep on including hill forts and ancient monuments on its maps, which give the reader an inkling of the spiritual, social inheritance he or she is tracking when walking that area; and that is to the credit of the OS and the enhancement of the reader's sensibilities. Churches may be less used, less 'useful' today but they too are signs in rock and stone, of things too rich to dismiss too readily - things about who we are and how we tread.

    Wednesday, May 21, 2003
    Stacking up
    Holiday reading stacking up nicely after a post-kid's club visit to Borders, and a rummage around the piles of neglected mags and books I've put to one side over recent months. Reading in Crinan will be as follows: Wanderlust, Respect, Bragg, The Idler, Resurgence, Hot Press and especially, given the place I'll be in, Kilmartin - a guide to Scotland's richest prehistoric landscape and a few back issues of the soon-to-be-very-untimely-defunct 3rd Stone. Roll on the weekend!
    Tuesday, May 20, 2003
    On carnival and pageantry
    The fairground trucks rolled onto the park opposite today; preparing for another Bank Holiday weekend. Maddened by the hairdryer tones of a scooter which three roustabouts were riding ceaselessly around the park, I sat down to The Ecologist and discovered an article by Jay Griffiths (writer of Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time) 'Rejoicing in the irrepressible and uncontrollable resurgence of carnival' in our time. She writes:
      Carnivals are one example of what IÕd call the Ôpolitics of timeÕ. They reverse the norm, inverting the established status quo in the spirit of the Ôlords of misruleÕ who traditionally toppled the conventional rulers during the midwinter festival. The powers-that-be have always been nervous about that subversive beastie carnival; consider the UKÕs (black) Notting Hill Carnival, which has been so jumpily and aggressively controlled by (white) police.

      Britain once had hundreds of carnivals: blessing-of-the-mead days, hare-pie-scrambling days, mischief nights and cakes-and-ale ceremonies, hobby-horse days, horn-dance days and cock-squoiling days Ð each area tootling to its own festive tune. Many of these carnivals served an important political purpose, upholding common peopleÕs rights Ð rights of access, land use, gleaning or wood gathering. The common people had a common time for celebrating common rights on common land. But these customs were effectively crushed by one thing: enclosure. Once the literal commons were stolen, the metaphoric common time disappeared.
    She's doubtless correct in pointing out that 'Christianity sniffed out the earthy politics of carnival.
      'Missionaries outlawed the Native American potlatches, and banned traditional festivals from Burma to Borneo. In Australia, Aboriginal peoples had held corroborees Ð festivals vital for the life of the land and which ÔsustainedÕ the dreamtime Ð but these were forbidden by both church and state. Christianity destroyed what earth-based festivals it could, tried to co-opt those it could not Ð tried to turn festival into pageantry that exaggerated the powers of priests.'
    Pageantry, she says, waxes strong today.
      'Think Royal MayorÕs Show, openings of Parliament or BushÕs cheer-leading in the US. Militaristic and hierarchical, frequently royalist, nationalist and church-based, pageantry is the enemy of carnival time. ... Carnival reverses hierarchy, mocking those in power. Pageantry exaggerates social dominance; servile to genealogy, its coats of arms are all snob-rampant. Pageant is ceremony organised from the top down, rather than the Ôbottoms-upÕ celebration of carnival; it is based in capital cities not localities.
    This is awkward reading for one wrapped-up in pageantry these days, yet appreciative of the resurgence of Carnival , 'profoundly political, streamer-fluttering and transformative; vulgar, mercurial, raucous, loud, rude as hell with bells on'. I enjoyed, for instance being on the March 22 anti-war demo; I love the energy of grassroots activism when it emerges in creative ways.

    Trying to find something redeeming in my tradition to align with this celebration of the pagan, I find it in an article from The Times, Christians 'greedy and bored' says Williams:
      Members of the Western Church exhibit boredom, greed and indifference, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

      Dr Rowan William says that too many people are ÒhereditaryÓ Christians who have inherited their belief from their forebears as if it were Òsomething obviousÓ.

      Western Christians must recapture a sense of joy and wonder in the nature of God and to learn from countries where faith is newer and more vibrant to recapture the Òexpectant joy of ChristÓ, he says.
    He doesn't quite go in for sun-dancing but does '(urge) the Church to learn from the Orthodox Church, which describes the Eucharist as Òlife, light and fireÓ. Dr Williams says: ÒIt all feels rather different from a little piece of bread.Ó
      When the sense of being astonished by God has fallen away, he continues, Òwe look at one another with boredom and anxiety rather than with the expectant joy of Christ.

      "And we look, of course, at the world around us with boredom, greed, indifference, exploitation or whatever, and we donÕt look at it first and foremost as the Earth God wanted.Ó'
    Well, that's a start. As even Jay Griffiths may agree.

    Monday, May 19, 2003
    Spent some of today in a meeting where representatives of the probation service and the police met together with representatives of the church to talk about child abuse issues. Some insights, and much celebration that this cross-fertilisation was taking place at all. Only a decade ago agencies kept their own counsel; now it's considered essential, and felt to be valuable, for people from various disciplines to bring their expertise and experience together to find creative solutions to society's problems.

    It could go further though. Though good, much of the language and thinking in these disciplines is dry, sober and technical. I look forward to another decade when such gatherings will be attended by probation, police, priests ... and poets ...
    Sunday, May 18, 2003
    Tea Total
    Big laugh today as, after three years in this game, I finally got a "More tea, vicar?" quip into a sermon. In fact the whole sermon was about tea. I even brewed up while I was talking. Tea Total, I called it. A hopefully entertaining way to get through something about trade rules on our (belated) Christian Aid Sunday.
    Saturday, May 17, 2003
    Banksy and co
    Great idea - Guerilla Parenting - whose website declares,

    Do your children respect the hours of hard work that you invest in them? No! Children exploit their parents in much the same way that McDonalds corporation exploits the poor and weak people of Canada's rainforests. It's time to take matters into your own hands and force the little ---- to behave properly. The time for calm exhortations and promises of extra cartoon time is over. Use our stencils to decorate your neighborhood with messages that will make your kids behave and stop treating the place like a goddamned amusement park. It's for their own good. Warning: Police may confuse your activities with illegal grafitti vandalism.

    Linked to this via Jonny Baker's ever resource-full blog. He's in trouble with one punter who's taken him to task for promoting "vandalism of public or private property as an act of worship". Easy to mock such conservatism - but plainly graffiti can be a costly nuisance. However, it's also a people's art, always has been from those cave paintings thru' hillside chalk horses thru' John 3:16 at football grounds, to Banksy's weapons of mass disruption. Banksy says, A wall is just as good a place to publish as anywhere else, and where there's a good or creative ethic, as there is in his stuff and Guerilla Parenting, for example, and when it's enhancing otherwise anonymous or ugly places, it's not a bad idea at all.

    (My all time favourite is still 'The Pies, The Pies' on the last bridge over the M57 approaching Switch Island. What's yours?)
    Friday, May 16, 2003
    Today the world - tomorrow the pub!
    Despite introducing himself as a Man U supporter with the usual arrogant traits associated with that particular leisure pursuit (witness, if you must, his comments on my blog last Sunday) I think I shall grow to like Hedge Hughes and his ogblog. He's one among many "who fell off the back of the bus and couldn't/didn't get back on - the bus being the church." and who (down the pub most often it seems) "are still wanting to work out our faith in awe and wonder (aka fear and trembling)".

    Ogblog relates to the word 'openground', which "says it best for us right now":
      "openground has meaning for us - meaning we will elaborate on and continue to explore using this blog - and we suspect that it will have meaning for others who sit at the roadside having also fallen off the bus - maybe it's time to go public - today the pub - tomorrow the world!"
    Well, I'm in a similar place except I think I may have witlessly fallen onto it and the bumpy journey's making me queasy. Right now, worn out after lots of human interaction (morning prayer, school visits, funeral gatherings), I'd really like to be able to say, today the world - tomorrow the pub!
    Thursday, May 15, 2003
    An ABC of L8?
    Started storming ideas for a possible Toxteth-and-Wavertree arts event next year, at the monthly clergy 'chapter' meeting this morning. So much diversity - bound to be as so many different sorts of churches are represented on this nevertheless talkative, open, supportive group. My instinct is to go the Common Ground route.

    Common Ground exist to encourage local communities to celebrate local distinctiveness - that which is special or unique to a particular place:
      When you have lived or worked in a place for a long time you may cease to notice it unless something happens to jolt you. It might be the sun glinting on a stone wall revealing the fossils in it, discovering that the street name cheap indicates a market place which explains the wide pavements, the felling of an ancient and much loved tree which makes you look more closely at the remaining mature trees in the place.
    Over the past decade or so Common Ground have championed all sorts of creative projects across the country, such as Parish Maps and Field Days. I'm struck by another of their ideas, creating an ABC of your area:
      The ABC will be a record of how we think now, what our places mean to us and what they comprise.

      It can be used to good effect:

      As a celebration of the place. As with Parish Maps, an ABC should be a starting point for local action. It should attract local media attention and inspire others to become involved, decide how to channel this interest before your ABC is launched.

      To promote locally distinctive produce, created in the area to benefit the local economy.

      Every home should have one. The ABC is important for awareness raising, encourage those who have no time to be involved to order one.

      A framed copy should be hung in the community centre, Council Chamber, local pub, on the Parish Notice Board.
    An ABC of L8, compiled by residents, old, young, across the cultures - would be interesting reading. Creating it - or a Parish Map, or some other celebration of local distinctiveness -would be a fascinating process.

    Wednesday, May 14, 2003
    Celtic night
    That old George MacLeod story came alive again tonight, on a workshop I was leading on Celtic Christian spirituality:
      A boy threw a stone at a stained glass window of the Incarnation. It nicked out the "E" in the word 'HIGHEST' in the text, 'GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST.' Thus, till unfortunately it was mended, it read, 'GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGH ST'.
    Enjoyable, sharing verses from the Carmina Gadelica with folks who'd never heard anything so simultaneously earthy and other-worldly; and inviting them to see how they'd possibly fit them into their own lives.

    We ended with 'Liverpool Hope', which isn't an advert for a local university college, but a localised adaptation of something the Late Late Service produced a decade ago, which moved us tonight as it always will, with a heavenly vision for this grimy place:

      I saw a vision:
      it was last Thursday at eleven o'clock in the morning.
      I was standing at the top of Brownlow Hill, looking down over the city
      and the cold, blue autumn sky broke open over my head
      and the Spirit of God breathed on my eyes and my eyes were opened:
      I saw Liverpool, the holy city, coming down out of heaven
      shining like a rare jewel, sparkling like clear water in the eye of the sun
      and all the sickness was gone from the city
      and there were no more suburbs and schemes
      no difference between Grassendale and Granby
      I saw the Mersey running with the water of life,
      as bright as crystal,
      as clear as glass
      the children of Liverpool swimming in it

      And the Spirit showed me the tree of life
      growing in Sefton Park

      I looked out and there were no more homeless people
      there were no women working the streets
      there were no more junkies up the closes
      HIV and AIDS were things of the past
      there were no more racist attacks
      no more attacks on gay people
      no more rapists
      no more stabbings
      no more Protestants and Catholics
      no more IRA graffiti, no more Orange marches
      because there was no more hate
      and I saw women walking safe at nights
      and the men were full of passion and gentleness
      and none of the children were ever abused
      because the people's sex was full of justice and joy.

      I saw an old woman throw back her head
      and laugh like a young girl
      and when the sky closed back her laughter rang in my head
      for days and days
      and would not go away.
      This is what I saw, looking across to the Liver Buildings,
      looking up from the city of death
      and I knew then that there would be a day of resurrection
      and I believe that there will be a day of resurrection.
    Adapted from 'The Prophet's Speech', in Words From The Late Late Service, Glasgow 1993
    Tuesday, May 13, 2003
    New Search
    I've changed my search engine today. The other one was ok, but Google's better. You still have to do EDIT-FIND on the archives pages to locate the fine detail once you've completed the search.
    Monday, May 12, 2003
    All or Nothing
    In Mike Leigh's All or Nothing Phil (Timothy Spall) is searching for respect. It takes a combination of an unexpectedly precious conversation with a customer in his cab, and the shock of finding his young son in Intensive Care with a heart attack, to bring his long-time insecurities to the surface.

    The brilliantly-observed story concludes with a resolution of sorts, between him and his tidy, long-suffering wife, and the other family members as they struggle, for the first time ever, to find ways to express their care for each other. Before that it'd always been a struggle just to get by.
      The conclusion to a seemingly pessimistic film is a hard-won affirmation.
    - wrote the Observer's Philip French:
      Unlike Ken Loach, Leigh doesn't appear to hold society and capitalism responsible for his characters' misery. What they lack - or perceive themselves to lack - is love, tenderness and understanding. Simple to the point of naivety perhaps, but an opinion shared by The Beatles and Philip Larkin.
    I watched this film tonight. And I saw nothing simple about the characters in this comedy of bad manners; rather, great insight into the stuff that goes on in the lives of cab drivers, checkout women, care assistants, council-estate layabouts, everyone, all the time. Perceptive. Respectful. Mike Leigh.
    Sunday, May 11, 2003
    Desktop Maybe
    The pleasure of being introduced to Desktop Davey on Everton's new website hardly compensated for the deep, deep, disappointment of losing out on European football after a fine performance against Man Utd and their diligent referee Mike Riley. Regained perspective whilst stood outside St Gabriels on 'car watch' duty with Mark, one of Liverpool Diocese's five West Ham clergy fans... their grief far deeper than ours. But - final blow on a bitter day - Desktop Davey doesn't work on Macs. I shall cry myself to sleep.
    Saturday, May 10, 2003
    Moyes was good at Old Trafford last night, letting us see brief glimpses into his motivation and philosophy. The most telling statement he made was in answer to a question about what motivated him. "Fear," he said, "fear of failure, fear of losing...." I think that's probably the other side of the coin on which is printed 'driven by need for success', and whilst feeling cautious about that it's evident that when people with rare talent channel such drives (Alex Ferguson the prime present example, and perhaps Tony Blair too) the effect on their chosen 'project' can be wonderful, transformational. It's worked with Everton under Moyes so far.

    The other thing he said which really struck me was about how he deals with people. For he's obviously very, very adept at that, what they call in football a great 'man manager'. The important thing, he says, is to deal with people, all people, equally, "with respect." That word again. Heard it this morning too, on a conference about nurturing Christians. It's a core principle of any valid relational activity.

    It seems to me that Moyes works hard at cultivating an attitude of respect for all. He must have discovered its value on the mean streets of Glasgow as a youngster, he has learned it on his hard journey through the lower leagues, respecting journeymen colleagues at down-at-heel clubs, he's cultivated it at the feet of acknowledged masters such as Ferguson and Robson, whom he's studied closely. And he showed it to four giddy scousers hassling him for autographs and photographs last night, one of them in a royal-blue clerical shirt, ahem.

    Respect. It's the subject of a book I've been reading all too slowly since last month. I must get through it. From all sorts of angles, it's obviously key.
    Friday, May 09, 2003
    Whirl-Mart glides into town
    Excellent! I've just discovered that The Church of Stop Shopping are due into Liverpool next week. With Reverend Billy (who once led his congregation and a gospel choir into Starbucks for an impromptu sermon on the evils of the transnational bean and hormone-injected milk), Whirl-Mart, a silent trolley procession which mesmerizes shoppers, and My DadÕs Strip Club, an absurdist look at subliminal messages spelled out in supermarket receipts. It says here. Can't wait.

    Thursday, May 08, 2003
    Blue mood
    Donned the new Everton kit, just launched today. Made in Bulgaria. Hmmmmm...

    And so I'm clearing out some of my old kits to send on to the Radio Five Live Shirt Amnesty (they're sending them to fans in South Africa, "where our teams' replica kits are prized - and prohibitively expensive - things"). Getting my Everton-blue clerical shirt ready for tomorrow night's fund-raising dinner in aid of Score sports chaplaincy organisation, at Old Trafford with guest speaker David Moyes. Gearing up for the final game of the season, Sunday, Man U at Goodison. And then the long, still, silent, summer when nothing happens except the raising of hopes and renewing of dreams for August. COYB...
    Wednesday, May 07, 2003
    Good skin #2
    Another highlight of the week, albeit didn't happen to me. But nevertheless, it's good to read that Ken Clare's back in work....

    Good skins
    Wine theme continues from yesterday. Today town is full of 'charismatic Anglican' church people at The Adelphi for the National Church Leaders' Conference 2003. Organised by 'New Wine', "this conference is always a significant time in the lives of those who attend," their website says. "It's a time to meet other church leaders, receive encouragement and be re-envisioned."

    The Adelphi is a temple to former commercial glories, now faded and eclipsed by shining new hotels on the city's prestigious waterfront. But let's hope that on their two-day stay there, these good folk get all they came for. I popped in for a Ridley Hall reunion. Seemed like half the class of 2000 were on this conference. New Wine ain't my cup of tea, but cappuccino with some valued old college people was just right for a midweek afternoon. I don't think it re-envisioned me but our hour round a table at next-door Caesar's Palace will be a highlight of the week.
    Tuesday, May 06, 2003
    Happily half-cut as I write, after an evening educating the adult confirmation class as to the significance of Holy Communion. In all honesty, after having shared two or three glasses with them, I think that most of these folk were already fully aware of the significance of red wine....
    Monday, May 05, 2003
    The sea and how you see it

    Felt queasy this morning (too much wine perhaps, last night). But walked all the way into town, it being a blustery bank holiday. When it came to the decision whether to follow the thousands down to the river for the Battle of the Atlantic commemorations, my queasiness increased.

    Deep unease in my stomach about turning up at the Albert Dock to coo at warships from eight different countries moored out in the Mersey. Something to do with being drawn by the scale and strength of those vessels while having a lingering awareness of their purpose - death and destruction.

    Unable to reconcile all this I did my usual Monday shop in Probe (for new Blur, old Half Man Half Biscuit and cheap Sub Pop compilation) and then found myself unexpectedly back in the realm of the sea, thumbing through the current Reporters Sans Frontieres publication in W.H.Smiths.

    RSF campaign for press freedom worldwide, and fundraise by publishing two glossy magazines each year, each one devoted to the work of a photojournalist. This one features the work of marine photographer Philip Plisson, who has devoted most of his life to studying the sea, the Navy and seafarers. Setting sail from French Brittany's picturesque port of TrinitŽ-sur-Mer, he usually prepares his photographic reports aboard his custom-built cruiser, P�cheur d'Images ("Image Catcher"), or from a helicopter. His work is so consistently excellent that in 1991 the French Minister of Defence, "mindful of the need to preserve the memory of significant historical events", awarded him the illustrious title of "Painter of the French Department of the Navy".

    Plisson captures the seas in all their moods, the people of the seas in all their struggles and conquests, the crafts they use in all their strength or vulnerability, sea creatures in all their beauty. One of the most striking pictures in this collection is of a dolphin playing in the wash just beneath the stern of a massive ocean-going vessel as it powers through the waters. The picture, in its wonder and terror, invites more queasiness in me, with my weak stomach. Plisson sees it this way: "The vessel's stern seems to beam benignly down upon the dolphin's aquatic antics."

    Sunday, May 04, 2003
    Buster and Stab Up - Ska freedom
    Hush up.
    Now the court is in session, will you please stand.
    First allow me to reintroduce myself.
    My name is Judge Dread, otherwise called Judge Four-Hundred Years.
    I am the very same judge who put down those sentences on you,
    Five hundred years and five hundred lashes,
    But have lately
    Been getting letters, phonecalls,
    And the Probation Officer has recommended
    That I be a little more lenient with you
    Because you are showing signs of reform.
    Well, I have seen to be in agreement
    And have brought for you today
    To celebrate your freedom
    Your Probation Officer.
    And your Probation Officer is none other
    Than Mister Jools Holland .....

    Absolute genius on Later last night, from Ska pioneer Prince Buster, performing Barrister Pardon, one of his Judge Dread songs, vignettes of Jamaican social relations over a chorus of upbeat horns playing a slowed New Orleans-style shuffle. With Jools on keyboards, when Buster as Õthe judgeÕ pronounced freedom, insisting, ÒI want to see you danceÓ, the resultant rhythm set the whole studio swinging in celebration. Glorious.

    And timely. Because it melded so well with my impressions of another courtroom scene, wonderfully described by Darcus Howe in this weekÕs New Statesman, from his last visit to Trinidad. ItÕs so good and full of grace IÕm just going to reproduce it here, unaltered.
      So much of the news in Trinidad is about crime and punishment. Everybody screams for blood and incarceration, even of children, but sometimes mercy intervenes unexpectedly. The last time I was there, a couple of months ago, I visited a magistrates' court with a friend. His youngest son, "Boy Boy", had relieved a woman of a gold chain and was charged with robbery.

      Waiting for the case to be called, we saw a young man in the dock charged with possession of an offensive weapon - a meat cleaver. The prosecutor said that his alias was "Stab Up". At the magistrate's request, Stab Up, who said he carried the meat cleaver in self-defence, demonstrated how he concealed it at his waist. He constantly shuffled around and adjusted his trousers. This discomfort had attracted the suspicion of the police.

      "Stab Up," said the magistrate, "tell me why I should not send you to prison forthwith."

      "Sir," came the reply, "I could sing. I could sing real good. I go make it big as a singer if yuh give me a chance."

      "You could sing?"

      "Yes, sir. I have some demo tapes and I take them to a record producer who tell me I good, I real good. I could make the big time. Gimme a chance nuh, sir. Is only one chance I want."

      "You say you could sing? Then sing for me."

      Stab Up rolled his shoulders, lifted his head to the ceiling, closed his eyes as the entire courtroom hung in suspense. And Stab Up sang.

      A mellifluous voice filled the air. His diction and his phrasing were perfect. Soon the corridor close to the courtroom was packed and Stab Up rendered the song a cappella, his hand close to his mouth as though he were holding a microphone. When he reached for the high note, he bent his right knee and hit a magnificent pitch. He took his final bow.

      The magistrate's face was wreathed in smiles. He clapped and a thunderous ovation exploded about the courtroom. Stab Up's eyes were darting all around. The magistrate told the defendant that normally he would have sent him to prison for 18 months. He knew, he said, that he would be pilloried in the press for setting Stab Up free, but he was prepared to take the chance.

      Stab Up got two years' probation. I doubt he could reach those heights ever again. He saw bars as he sang - and they weren't musical ones.

    Saturday, May 03, 2003
    The blessing of water
    In this month's Resurgence Brian Goodwin addresses the world problem of accelerated environmental decline through overuse of oil resources. And offers this thought in response: "The alternative that science provides comes through the blessing of water". I'm struck by that as I prepare for tomorrow's baptisms.

    Goodwin refers to the school-class chemistry which teaches us that hydrogen burns with oxygen to produce water and energy. Notes that Presidents, neglecting half of this formula, have opted to control energy with damaging and potentially catastrophic effects. And continues:
      The little formula ... contains all the answers. You start with water and you end with water, pure and unpolluting. Use the sun's energy via solar panels, wind, wave and hydroelectric power to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. Then use the hydrogen to drive industry, cars and other means of transport. The science and technology is all there, and the countries that develop this industrial potential will lead to the recovery from the recession that is now deepening.
    The blessing of water. To anoint our newborn children into a world of bounty for all. A spiritual science which celebrates the profoundest quality of life.
    Friday, May 02, 2003
    Pic of the Month
    Just put up my Pic of the Month. It's a cartoony departure.
    Thursday, May 01, 2003
    Jim gives it the Vees
    "Of course, the main reason they built the Anglican Cathedral was to do this to the Catholics," Jim Hart said, extending his arms and flicking his fingers in enthusiastic v-signs. Jim's historical analysis lacks subtlety, but doubtless carries some truth.

    He once wrote a book called Liverpool: the history we'd like to forget. They don't stock it in the Cathedral shop, but it meant a lot to the inhabitants of the North End of the city who compiled it with Jim during a Lent course. Because it provoked some honest, hard memories. Houses of prayer built on slave trade money, protestant sermons about "The Scum of Ireland", that sort of thing.

    "We [began] by mourning and at the end looking for vision," his Introduction says. "If we face our past honestly we shall not regret its passing so much. The grass and ruins will become our hope and opportunity for a better Liverpool to arise."

    It's the same school of thought which produces articles in the North End's Scottie Press ('Britain's Longest-Running Community Newspaper'), celebrating Kitty Wilkinson, a pioneer of public health, without regretting the passing of the wash-houses she established in Liverpool and throughout the UK.

    Jim's never fitted comfortably into conventional structures but he sat very comfortably in my living room this morning. Perhaps five years after we last sat down together like this, it was good to renew acquaintance with yet another champion of thinking-outside-the-box. I got to know him when I started community work in L8 - he took me on a very long walk around Toxteth, demonstrating an encyclopaedic knowledge of the place's geography and people, and an enthusiasm for working out what it means to be an urban Christian.

    He's devoted many years to resourcing similarly-enthused people in this city and others, he's had many arguments and run-ins with the establishment, and been through deep crises of faith. He's heading on towards 70 now but still rides around on his vast BMW motorbike and writes prolifically. Next venture for Jim - getting his stuff on the web. The establishment might not like it. But it'll be so good for the people.