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

    Sunday, August 31, 2003
    Pic of the month
    Brief blog in a day of many services; Pic of the Month is up. It had to be Cheltenham. Check it out here
    Saturday, August 30, 2003
    The taste of wine
    Driving through high moorland towns,
    Places I don't know and am not known
    I feel the taste of wine in my throat
    And sense belonging

    Wearing the shirt of a shamed soccer team,
    Battered and humbled today,
    I feel the taste of wine in my throat
    And sense proportion

    Speeding in a metal shell
    Under the sky but not of it,
    I feel the taste of wine in my throat
    And sense connection

    Home to an empty house
    No phone calls, no emails, quiet,
    I feel the taste of wine in my throat
    And sense community

    (At Marna's in Burnley tonight for an Iona Community meeting, which ended, as always, with communion; a good corrective after derby day defeat)
    Friday, August 29, 2003
    London led by a Child
    A great Blake resource from The Tate led me to this picture today, London led by a Child:
      I see London, blind & age-bent begging through the streets
      Of Babylon, led by a child, his tears run down his beard.
    After Bragg on Monday I'm still into Blake as prophet. After last night's blackout Blake's grim vision of a failing capital city seems oddly appropriate. Question: who is that little child? Or what does that little child represent?

    Thursday, August 28, 2003
    K Foundation Burn A Million Quid
    At the end of the Brit Awards 1992, a stunned audience heard top pop act KLF announce that they had left the music business. A freshly slaughtered sheep was laid at the entrance to the post-awards party, with a tag reading: 'I died for ewe. Bon appetit.' The Guardian reported, "They had been presented with the coveted gong for best group, then immediately dissolved themselves." Then, on 23 August 1994, Bill Drummond and his partner Jimmy Cauty travelled to the Isle of Jura and, before a sceptical invited audience, ritually burned £1 million - in notes - of their own cash.

    I've just read K Foundation Burn A Million Quid. The story of the burning and what happened next, as they toured the home movie of the burning around the UK's village halls, arts centres, prisons, schools, mental health drop-in centres, anarchist societies, craft fayres, and even Republic Square Belgrade, asking the audience, "Why did we do it?"

    It's fascinating. But inconclusive. I feel numbed by it, because I'm no closer to forming an opinion about what they did and why. On the one hand I'm overawed by the symbolism of the gesture in a money-possessed society, and so can go along with Jayne (Casey?) of Liverpool, who is quoted as saying, "This is the most important statement of the late 20th century." On the other hand I feel I ought to be siding with the Catholic sisters who want to know why the K Foundation didn't throw their money the way of their charities.

    I'm fascinated by the Serbian audience who asked, "Why is £1 million so important to you? It is a meaningless figure to us" ... "In Yugoslavia nobody ever dreamt of wealth because it was never an option."

    I'm drawn by the interpretations of those who see magick in this act, like Mark Barrett of Scotland:
      You had the experience of perpetrating this act which clearly exists outside of the right/wrong, good/bad continuum. It seems that it has an alchemical quality ... an energy which has at sometime been transformed into the symbolic form money has ... by applying heat, extraordinary energies are released.
    But I can also appreciate the firey reaction of the punter (unnamed) who expressed a more concise opinion of Drummond and Cauty: "Wankers."

    It's a fascinating book and it does raise many, many questions about money and its hold on us, our rights and responsibilities in a money-led world, the possibilities of a money-less world. It's got scores of stills from the movie of the act (which took 63 minutes to complete). And is punctuated by the angst-ridden memoirs of K Foundation roadie turned cameraman Gimpo, Drummond and Cauty's greatly discomfited companion on this adventure who eventually did a runner before their final act - which was to shove all remaining traces of the K Foundation into a Nissan Bluebird and send it plummeting 600 feet off Cape Wrath, Scotland, on 11 November 1995.
    Wednesday, August 27, 2003
    Soul Space photos

    Roy's been busy. He's one of the Soul Space team at Greenbelt and today has set up an MSN website to show off his photos of the festival and of our space in particular. Check it out.
    Bill at a crossroads
    Billy Bragg held his forefingers together in an 'X' shape before the Greenbelt crowd on Monday, and said, "I knew from the beginning that our paths would cross eventually."

    It looked like a benediction but it wasn't: it was an acknowledgement that 'socialism of the heart' and social-justice Christianity share common concerns, around which it's natural for their devotees to come together. So Christian Aid's Trade Justice campaign got Billy to Greenbelt and, in the words of a hardcore BB fan on the Billy Bragg Forum, he was "on absolutely top form".

    I think it was the most 'political' set I've heard him play; most of the songs were from that side of his repertoire, designed for a crowd in campaigning, world-changing mood. It brought out the complexity in his work, as even the more intimate songs he chose for Greenbelt, are forged in the heat of social struggle. Because that's how people's lives are: the young woman in 'Levi Stubbs Tears' ran away from home in her mother's best coat / She was married before she was even entitled to vote. Woody Guthrie's 'She Came Along to Me' welcomes the end of male-domination, in society as in the home, as a sign of things to come:
      And all creeds and kinds and colors
      of us are blending
      Till I suppose ten million years from now
      we'll all be just alike
      Same color, same size, working together
      And maybe we'll have all of the fascists
      out of the way by then
    As in any Bragg gig, he had the punters laughing (from the opening number, 'Sexuality' to which he gave an ironic twist about the Bishop of Reading affair), he dealt with heckers with inventive wit, he was full of explanation and presence and purpose. As in most Bragg gigs he was well-received, perhaps more than the average gig. It may have been the emotion in me, standing in a festival which has become a life-giving community for me, before a guy whose art has kept me alive, too, over many years of struggle, but I think he seemed struck by the warm welcome he got and by the audience's appreciation of his impassioned set.

    BB's path may have only just crossed with GB's. I've been on both of those paths for many years, both have run parallel for me. In the image Bill presented when he held his fingers together I guess I've always been at the centre, the hub. Which was why Monday night's gig was so special for me.
      Mixing Pop and Politics he asks me what the use is
      I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses
    - Bill sings; to which he might now add, mixing spirituality too. There was no tension between any of these at this seminal gig. That's why William Blake's presence was so welcome as Bill closed the show by opening his arms to invite us to join him, acapella, in the most heartfelt rendition of 'Jerusalem' I've ever had the joy to hear.

    "Sing it with the question-marks," says Bill:
      And did those feet in ancient time
      Walk upon England's mountains green?
      And was the Holy Lamb of God
      On England's pleasant pastures seen?
      And did the Countenance Divine
      Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
      And was Jerusalem builded here
      Amongst these dark satanic mills?

      Bring me my bow of burning gold
      Bring me my arrows of desire
      Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
      Bring me my Chariot of Fire.
      I will not cease from mental fight
      Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
      Till we have built Jerusalem
      In England's green and pleasant land.
    Saturday, August 23, 2003
    Check out Greenbelt
    I'm at Greenbelt. Cheltenham is sunny with people and lively with music, arts, creativity and skateboarders, busy and lovely. The good people in the new media venue have given me free internet use for the weekend. So, while I'll be too busy elsewhere to use it too often, when I do (as I just did today) I'll be blogging there till Tuesday.
    Thursday, August 21, 2003
    Fling the cow
    While I'm off to the home of National Hunt racin', I may not be bloggin' so much. You may like to fill in the time by tryin' a bit of cow flingin'.
    Wednesday, August 20, 2003
    Sense: Greenbelt
    Greenbelt has no mirrors - we see through glass doors darkly. Help us to give up what we don't like when we look at ourselves, to embrace the wonders hidden, latent, inside us.

    Greenbelt has no ceiling - we walk beneath God's great sky. Help us to unclench our anxious, frightened souls, to open up to the universe and all who walk alongside us here.

    Greenbelt has no air conditioning - we inhale the odours of food vans and our tentmates' socks. Help us to accept the unsavoury, to learn grace through the differences which challenge us.

    Greenbelt has no volume control switch - our ears take in musical collisions, amplified talks, other people's conversations. Help us to welcome new sounds, to be excited by new ideas, to learn to really listen, to hear God through it all.

    Greenbelt has no dietary restrictions - we share food with each other, regardless of dogmas, theologies, teams supported, eye makeup or clothes. Help us rejoice in the holy wonder of sharing with strangers, help us revel in the joyous creativity involved in making friends.

    [Written for the Greenbelt blog and copied here. The festival is just 48 hours away.]
    Tuesday, August 19, 2003
    The Who sell out
    Have The Who sold out?
      "People try to put us down" - well, thousands will pay forty quid for a ticket to see then at the Albert Hall, so they're hardly unpopular;
      "Just because we get around" - they don't get around much these days; the odd charity gig, and on stage they don't get around like they used to;
      "Talkin' 'bout my generation" - this is an old criticism, a cheap jibe, but what generation precisely, granddads?
    The bit which grated most in a recent Who charity gig I'd taped and watched tonight, was them singing "Hope I die before I get old". The charity is the Teenage Cancer Trust. Young people denied the luxury of making such a grand statement, old sods whose 'hope' had faded too. (John Entwistle himself died a year ago. He was 57.)

    Have the Who sold out? It's a non-question because life's too precious to quibble about such things. The Who Sell Out - they acknowledged / lampooned the process of 'selling out' on their 1967 album of that name.

    What counts is that after all this time there's still great power in the music. It's sung by granddads but it is still young people's music, songs for people searching for identity ("Who are you?"), battling for integrity ("Meet the new boss, same as the old boss"), yearning for genuine emotions, meaningful relations ("See me, feel me, touch me, heal me").

    Bone-tired of spending my days soaking in the griefs and anxieties of others, of acting 'together' whilst feeling as ripped-up and inadequate as everyone else, I welcomed The Who tonight, blasting through We Won't Get Fooled Again. Like they think there'll be no tomorrow. As there may well not be, for the young people for whom they're raising funds ......
      Listening to you I get the music.
      Gazing at you I get the heat.
      Following you I climb the mountain.
      I get excitement at your feet!
      Right behind you I see the millions.
      On you I see the glory.
      From you I get opinions.
      From you I get the story.
      Listening to you I get the music.
      Gazing at you I get the heat.
      Following you I climb the mountain.
      I get excitement at your feet!
    Monday, August 18, 2003
    Good cause
    A day when so many publications tumble through my letterbox that once again I'm forced to consider that I take too many to read, and question whether my money ought to be redirected away from one or two, to other causes. Inside Resurgence (which is uniquely good and will keep my support), a leaflet to persuade me where I might redirect some funds: to Peaceworkers UK, a charity set up to increase the amount of people involved in conflict prevention, management and resolution. And to strengthen the quality of such work. They say,
      We are doing this by developing and running training courses to prepare people for practical work in conflict areas, developing assessment standards for ensuring the quality of personnel working in this field, setting up a register of qualified personnel available in the UK, by promoting the establishment of a UK Civilian Peace Service and supporting similar international efforts in this field.
    In their leaflet there's a Sussex council executive who spent six months as Municipal Administrator for Gilogovc, Kosovo in 1999-2000, a Norfolk potter who provided support to nonviolent resistance to occupation in Palestine, 2002-3, folk from London and Bristol who've been in Colombia with human rights defeders, and Bosnia as election observers. And so on. Work worth supporting, methinks.

    But what gives to make this happen? I hate to say this but I may give up my sub to Le Monde Diplomatique - English version. Not because of the quality of the writing - it's excellent, and you don't get such perspectives in the mainstream press. But because of the quality of the print - it's printed on airmail-thin paper and I find it physically hard to read. Can always keep up with it online instead.
    Sunday, August 17, 2003
    On Michael
    Michael Corlett, aged seven, deceased, has made waves throughout the city through his illness. Click here to see the Echo article published last night as a tribute to him.
    Saturday, August 16, 2003
    Event in the Tate
    So glad for time off after the trauma of two child funerals in three days. And a rare opportunity to catch up with Tate Liverpool (closed on my usual day off, Mondays). Drawn to the odd English landscapes of Paul Nash, who painted in the first half of the twentieth century, covering two world wars and developing a series of distinctively abstract, surreal English pastoral visions. Odd combination of modernism and mysticism.

    This major exhibition featured such a range of Nash's work it's hard to pick out a highlight. But one work, and probably a relatively 'minor' one, particularly caught my eye: Event on the Downs, 1934.

    This comes from the period of Nash's work where he focussed on what the exhibition calls the Landscapes of the Megaliths, the stones of Avebury and Stonehenge with their 'magical and primitive presence'. This is what Nash sees here, in the old chalk rocks and ancient tracks, the wizened tree trunk on the hilltop, the rolling downs, the sea.

    What struck me was a question. What, precisely, is the Event on the Downs to which the artist refers? Is it the imminent collision of that cloud into that cliff, its climatic effects? Is it the coming together of those two roads? Or their diversifying? Is it something in that old wood, which seems latent, waiting, able to act in the landscape because of the ancient wisdom it contains (Nash revered trees, saw them as persons)? Or is it to do with that odd spherical object which is either a Yin-Yang symbol, or a tennis ball (or perhaps both?)

    I don't know. But it took me a long time to pull away from this picture this afternoon. Guess that's one thing about good art. It engages you.
    Friday, August 15, 2003
    Blog for God
    The Church Times published my article on blogging today. Can't find it on their website, however. Maybe it'll appear in archives eventually. Meantime here's my original version, slightly different from that published today. If you're reading this through having first read that, welcome!!
    Thursday, August 14, 2003
    My handbag's on fire!
    Dot and Stan like going to Bosham on their hols. They tell me it's a lovely little seaside town near Chichester. Long way from here. There are a lot of Dot and Stan stories because they're a great double act - Stan a Scouse wag, ever-joking, Dot prim and proper and always scandalised when primness and propriety are not observed. And, in Bosham, the heatwave produced a fantastic Dot and Stan story. Dot told it today with a relish which suggested that she can, on occasion, enjoy things not being as they should be, when they provide good entertainment...

    There they were, sat in deckchairs by the sea (in Bosham, the sea comes right up close to the houses). Stan slouched reading the paper, no doubt rehearsing in his mind, wry comments about the day's news to share with folks in the guest house later on; Dot upright, engrossed in a book. The sun beating down on them. Bosham shimmering in the heat. When suddenly Dot looks down, sees smoke rising and screams: "Stan, my handbag's on fire!"

    Which it was. Stan reacted quickly, saying, "That's our holiday money!", saved the cash but not in time to save the bag, which had a big hole burned out of the leather. No obvious explanation; just the heat.

    My handbag's on fire. Dot doesn't tell funny stories often. When she does, she picks the good ones.
    Wednesday, August 13, 2003
    Scouse surrealism
      Saw myself through another's eyes
      What did I see to my surprise
      Nuts and bolts and rows of shops
      Black Crow nights n' chimney tops
      And one too many sad songs
    In The Coral's new album, some fine examples of Scouse surrealism. In a long line stretching from way before I am the Walrus, The Coral have got it good, this messin' about with words thing we love so much here, this stretching of images, scrunching them up and reopening them like crazy origami.

    Why do Scousers like playing with words so much? Dunno; maybe being port folk, formed through the ebb and flow of people, used to hearing different languages, taking on the inflections and emphases of a million passers-by, returning from far reaches dazzled and inspired by the world's stories. Or maybe it's the chemical air we breathe that causes it... Whatever - there's beauty here:
      Jewels and pearls
      And all the wonders of the world
      Mean nothing until I return
      In time for tea
      Sat on my settee
      Lost in my memories
      You still make me believe
    Tuesday, August 12, 2003
    Up in arms
    Lots of fuss just now about the news of a Briton arrested in 'terror missile' sting (to quote BBC news). It's good that here's at least one arms deal which won't be going through.

    But the arms trade continues apace. In a recent CAAT briefing, research showed that the UK has exported arms and military equipment to 20 countries engaged in serious conflicts around the world since 1997: "Whilst these may be the worst example of the UK's proliferation of weaponry around the globe, unfortunately it is just the tip of the iceberg," CAAT assert.

    Their latest magazine reports on a proposal made at June's G8 meeting of world leaders, by Brazilian President 'Lula' da Silva, to tackle poverty and international security together by establishing a global hunger fund. One way of paying for this could be to tax the international arms trade.

    This is not a new idea and economists such as Strathclyde University's Anthony Clunies-Ross have published detailed proposals along these lines (download his report here). It's credible and appeals to a silly old layman like me because it's also ethical. But the G8 sidelined it and the media failed to report it.

    This will not stop CAAT, of course, who will keep the arms debate going. Next up, a week of activities around the Defence Systems & Equipment International, Europe's largest arms fair, DSEi 2003, in London's Docklands, 9-12 September.
    Monday, August 11, 2003
    Thinking about benches
    Reading about Kirsty MacColl today in City journal, as Goldsmith's College are offering a scholarship in her name. The singer died in a swimming accident three years ago, and on 12 August 2001 fans erected a memorial bench to her in Soho Square, London.

    Seems a fitting memorial. MacColl celebrated the place in a song on Titanic Days called Soho Square, "a place where lovers often meet, a place of awkward and sometimes illicit encounters", as the City article describes it. A bench is a good choice (rather than a statue or fountain, for example) because from benches, watchful people observe life, on benches conversations take place. And Kirsty MacColl was an acute observer of life, city life, her songs caringly express the rise and fall of lovers' conversations. "She was a storyteller in the sense that Walter Benjamin meant it, i.e. those whose 'counsel, woven into the fabric of real life, is wisdom'." (City, quoting Benjamin's Illuminations) Which is why it's fitting that her name will support students of 'culture, globalisation and the city' in their research.

    All this got me thinking about benches. My favourite recent bench was one I discovered halfway up the steep climb into the wooded hills above Crinan Harbour. It's on a bend, where the trees clear and the view down to the harbour opens up into a wonderful panorama sweeping across the Sound of Jura, taking in the small isles of Scarba, Luing, Shuna, and Mull beyond. That bench is the gift of a local woman who evidently enjoyed that walk so much that she wanted to share her love of that view by offering grateful travellers the use of that wonderfully-positioned seat for generations to come.

    If I were to choose a bench for myself, where would it be? Perhaps on the promenade at Llandudno. This could be a real sign of my age, but since being a teenager cycling or motorbiking to that destination I've always loved sitting there, breathing in the good air and that generous open Irish Sea view. Or closer to home, I'd love a bench on top of Everton Heights, this city's best vantage point. Looking out from a bench here, the buildings of the city tumble together beneath your feet, almost spilling into the Mersey, and in the distance the Irish Sea again features. So close to the minutae of the city's life, it's a place for breathing in the bigger picture.
    Sunday, August 10, 2003
    My knees
    They are knobbly and hairy and have frightened many postmen (and the occasional postwoman) delivering early-morning parcels over the years. The right one is scarred from various accidents falling-off motorbikes. They never, ever, usually see the sun. My knees.

    But today I'm so grateful for a purchase I made on holiday - an end-of-line bargain at the Hawkshead shop, Ripstop 2-in-1 Trousers. The sheer joy of getting home hot'n'sticky, unzipping these things and revealing me knees to the air. One of the few pleasures this heatwave has held for me.
    Friday, August 08, 2003
    Nunc dimittis (The Song of Simeon)
      Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace:
      your word has been fulfilled.
      My own eyes have seen the salvation
      which you have prepared in the sight of every people;
      A light to reveal you to the nations
      and the glory of your people Israel.
    How this could be a comfort to a couple who've just lost their seven-year-old son, I don't know. But it was, today. It was.
    Thursday, August 07, 2003
    The English and the sea
    Taking sanctuary on the settee from life's ebbs and flows, having half-drowned in grief and loss today, I find myself journeying with Eliza Carthy's Anglicana. "This album is an expression of Englishness as I feel it," she writes. "no border checkpoints, nobody pushed out, just what it is." Funny, as she notes, that "it ended up themed around songs of the sea."

    The English and the sea. In Albion, Peter Ackroyd identifies our relationship with water as one of the defining features of the English imagination: "The island is full of the sounds of the sea", he writes, citing references from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle through Julian of Norwich, Blake, J.M.W.Turner, Dickens, Vaughan Williams.

    In Carthy's folk revival it's often a cruel sea, as it takes lovers away to fight distant wars, or claims the lives of fishermen. In Turner's seascapes bright, calm coastlines are battered by violent waters, and "when human figures are introduced into his seascapes, fishermen or mariners, they are frail things; they are bowed before the immensity". But the sea can also be also a source of awesome, wildly creative power. Ackroyd shares W.H. Auden's words on this; he "remarked that the sea represents 'that state of barbaric vagueness and disorder out of which civilisation has emerged'."

    Maybe that's why folk in all sorts of states of mind walk by the genius sea. It helps us get a handle on things, embracing the chaos. Maybe that's why the sea is such a strong metaphor for life's ups and downs even when you're physically distant from it. The Irish Sea is two miles away. So tonight my settee is afloat.
    Wednesday, August 06, 2003
    The Transfiguration (Hiroshima Day)
    News that there's been arrests at Faslane after a mass 'die-in' today, reminded me that once I preached on The Transfiguration (Hiroshima Day). I'd been inspired by a week on Iona and The Bells of Nagasaki, a book describing Takashi Nagai's experiences of living through the aftermath of that nuclear cloud.

    So, to honour Nagai's memory and the energies of those protesters today, I've reproduced that sermon here.
    Tuesday, August 05, 2003
    Bono at Greenbelt - picture proof
    Proof at last that Bono did indeed turn up at Greenbelt 1987 dressed up as a steward. Yeah, yeah, yeah, so most of you saw him, I know. I'm one of those suckers whose had to wait all this time for the publication of Thirty, the book, to see it for myself. Good pre-festival purchase (mine arrived today and I blogged about it here), or you can get it free with a programme onsite.

    Monday, August 04, 2003
    A6 Greenbelt memories
      Oh Stockport Road
      you got six shades of God
      but the only redemption we can get
      is a late night kebab.
      [Cathy Bolton]
    On today's Greenbelt blog Liz linked to the website of the A6 Poets, "A poetry project celebrating life along the A6 corridor in Manchester". And that got me going because, well, if you're a regular reader you'll know my interest in urban arts / the poetry of pilgrimage etc etc... so I reproduce here what I commented on the GB site....
      Thanks, Liz, for an inspired share here; I love the idea of the A6 Poets. And I like what I read of their work; indeed I like any poets inspired by a sense of place and/or pilgrimage. Especially when those places are edgy, usually off-limits. Ref Iain Sinclair / Bill Drummond for more such stuff.

      The A6, of course, ain't just in Stockport - it journeys 250 miles from Carlisle down to Luton where it is sucked into the M1 channel into north London. En route it passes through Buxton, Derby, Leicester, and Bedford, and that's the exact route I took to my first-ever Greenbelt in 1979 (picking it up via a climb up the infamous Cat and Fiddle).

      As a learner biker then, on a Honda CB200, I had to keep off motorways. As a rookie traveller I remember this as an epic journey through the heart of England. So traumatised was I by being trapped in the loops of Leicester's one-way system that I've never been back there since.

      So full of a sense of achievement was I on arrival at Odell that Greenbelt couldn't fail to imprint itself on my heart as a place of history. Such was that A6 pilgrimage (though I'd never even heard that word at that time) that that weekend couldn't fail to become an abiding memory. It would have, even if I'd hated the festival.

      As it turned out, I loved it and have journeyed to it by bike, bus, car, most every year since. All this makes me think that journey is a key part of the GB experience.

      I wonder how differently I'd have felt about GB79 if I'd bussed there, or hitched. Or if it'd rained on me and my little old bike rather than shining wonderfully all that way there and all the way back on that red A-route to the north.

    Sunday, August 03, 2003
    Sheer Bloody Poetry
    Yesterday's blog reminds me of an article I wrote some fifteen years ago for the then emerging When Saturday Comes, entitled (if you'll excuse the language) Poetry, Sheer Bloody Poetry!, which was based on the premise that some of our literary greats owed their inspiration to footer. Remember... I was at university studying English at the time, that's my excuse. One bit of the article was even extracted by the Guardian's soccer diarist. It had a Lakeland connection...
      I wandered lonely as a cloud
      That floats on high o'er hills and vales
      When all at once I saw a crowd,
      Ten thousand very rowdy males,
      Outside the pubs, all round the place,
      Singing, "Workington are bloody ace!"
    Full article here.
    Saturday, August 02, 2003
    Homes of Football

    Surprise discovery in the Lakes was a gallery devoted to football images, and not just any old images either - wonderful depictions of the people's game. I've claimed a defining one onsite here as my Pic of the Month. [You may have been in the crowd pictured above... click image to discover where and when.]