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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Tuesday, September 30, 2003On English eccentrics All day I've been sitting in this house, radiators glowing hot, wearing layers of gear normally sufficient for winter mountain walking, including my wooliest hat, determined to sweat out this cold. Taking in heady cocktails of cough mixture, hot water, herbal tea, lemon juice, paracetomol and brandy may not put me in the same league as David Tibet or the boys from Coil, people who have depended on chemically altered states to create their majestic musics. But, should you venture this on today's evidence I'd have to agree with you: like them I have the appearance of one of England's eccentrics.
To make myself feel better as I fried on the settee this evening, I put on Martin Parr's Moving Pictures video, which made me feel by no means alone in this folk category, it being a wonderful record of eccentricity the country wide. Parr has captured the English at play - bored young people in one-pub towns, optimistic trampolinists on a windswept East Anglian beach, stallholders at sodden West Country village fetes, karaoke singers in Liverpool bars, picnickers at Henley Regatta, Bank Holiday travellers queuing for toilets at anonymous service stations. And in doing so he's unveiled a wealth of eccentricity, daftness, and many other offbeat definitions of Englishness.
I love the bubbly blonde on a Liverpool market stall who can't pronounce (let alone understand) Parr's word 'characteristic' and who on the prompting of her giggling friends describes herself as an "English Rose" after the floral pattern on her dress (And then exclaims, "Oooooer! Ey mate, you filmin' my cleavage?"). I'm embarrassed by the inverse snobbery of a group of Scouse alehouse radicals as they tell of their amazement that on holiday once they got talking to a group of people from Hemel Hempsead, of all places, and discovered that "they were all right - they were just like us really."
I'm humbled by the enjoyment of simple pleasures ponderously expressed by a couple sat eating full roast dinner at a Weymouth guest house, only a couple of hours after a full English breakfast (see clip). And whenever I watch it I'm always cheered by the shots of extreme weather on Blackpool prom, groups of short-skirted girls clinging onto each other and taxi doors to avoid being blown away by the vicious wind, stallholders watching their stock of plastic ducks, Kiss-Me-Kwik hats, buckets and spades washing down the street, and, in better weather, a chubby young woman proving that the saucy seaside postcard does indeed have its basis in the ribald sense of fun of real people at play. If you want to see what I mean, brace yourself and download the extract here.
[You can see Martin Parr giving an excellent illustrated hour-long lecture on his work here]
Monday, September 29, 2003Life from the wayside
Inside; head full of ache. I'm thankful for the view out of the upstairs window (early-morning trees turning to autumn) and for Michael Leunig:
Nature has entered into them;
Has led them aside and gently lain them low
To contemplate life from the wayside;
To consider human frailty;
To receive the deep and dreamy messages of fever.
We give thanks for the insights of this humble perspective.
We give thanks for blessings in disguise.
Sunday, September 28, 2003The London News Review The London News Review will be hitting my doormat sometime this coming week. Those responsible promise that it will be:
Saturday, September 27, 2003The Great, Bloody And Bruised Veil Of The World
The great, bloody and bruised veil of the world
The trees wave in England
The streams flow in England
The poor halt in England
The poor heart of England
"And did those feet..."
Hobbled and crippled as They were
By our disbelief
Hope here to find
(Green colour of the grass
The horsefresh smell arising
From its quietly glowing glory)
And did They
As They move from one sad gap of heart
Did They hope to find us open
Look: much is my armour
I can show you all the walls that may be built
But mostly most of all-
There's a wall of words
Around my heaart which is my soul which is my all
God is not dead for all of us
(And goodbye to you all)
This is all Paradise
Here is Garden Of upon Garden Of
Suns and Beetles
The Ladybird lands upon my knee
The Lark is all joy
There are birds upon birds
Beyond the great, bloody, bruised and silent veil
Of this world
The kind one waits
Staggered pain of being
The great, bloody and bruised veil of the world
The great, bloody and bruised veil of this world
Friday, September 26, 2003Magic loves the hungry Buffy Sainte-Marie. It's quoted in England's Hidden Reverse to illuminate the dark passions driving English industrial underground musicians in the early eighties. But it equally well suits the state of mind I found myself in on the floor of Liverpool Cathedral last night, partway through an hour on The Labyrinth.
The Labyrinth's been here a fortnight and proved popular. We took twenty-plus boys along last night and they got a lot out of it. For me, it was a stranger experience. Took me back - back first to the weeks I spent researching labyrinths whilst in training for ministry, taking trips out to see the ancient labyrinths at Ely Cathedral and Saffron Walden, learning how to design and build a labyrinth and planning just that with the college groundsman, only to have the idea rejected by college powers-that-be. I was hungry for it. It would have been magic, but the magic was snuffed out then.
The Labyrinth last night also took me further back. Back to when I was an arranger of alternative worship events in that very space - Liverpool Cathedral Well. All-nighters for 600 people. Used to be an innovator; last night at stage eight of the Labyrinth, looking into a mirror, I wondered how I've now been reduced to a mere bearer of banality, perpetrator of dull piety, sanitised sanctity, far away from the magic, having had the hunger battered out of me in the process of what's called 'ministerial formation'.
"You created my inmost being ... I am fearfully and wonderfully made"; "What is the 'you' of you?" went the cd commentary. I couldn't concentrate because I had one eye on our boys chasing around the cathedral arches pursued by a security man. But I want to return to those thoughts because I remember how good it once was to feel the magic. And I want to discover if deep within me the hunger is still there, innate, latent, capacitous.
Wednesday, September 24, 2003Greenbelt bloggers and old deers The Tablet, on blogging. Inspired by my Church Times one, I wonder? Very dry but a decent overview, noting how Greenbelt "is growing each year as it becomes more internet-friendly, with many festival-goers booking tickets and holding discussions online." I wonder how true that is - the GB blog's been stagnant a week. "A Greenbelt spokesman, James Stewart, says, "We have yet to see the true impact of blogging on the Church. It does represent a new way of breaking down traditional barriers."
Meanwhile, and far more entertaining, Patrick Browne, a lapsed choirboy dragged along to Cheltenham by his seminar-hungry wife confesses to readers of The Lincolnshire Echo that he loved it and will be back next year. For him it's the traditional elements of GB which thrill: the prospect of an "event under canvas which would satisfy Imogen's interest in the church, the kids' excitement at camping and an opportunity for me not to wash."
His feet were "expelled from the tent" each night. He seemed to enjoy having them visited "by voles, mice, hedgehogs, rabbits, hares, foxes, badgers, wolves, and some old deers." He revelled in the communion service with all its contradictions. He describes a visit to the festival hospital "deaf, disoriented and dehydrated" after spending ten minutes with his daughters at a thrash metal gig. And on Monday, "my body odour finally paid dividends at the late night Billy Bragg concert" :
When I arrived I could not even see the stage. In exasperation I clasped my hands above my head and people quickly backed away from me - some even fainted. As I moved forward, the red sea of Billy fans parted and I was soon at the front, right under his nose. ... His encore, which appeared to be aimed at me, of 'Sing if you're glad to be smelly, sing if you've got a fat belly!' was a bit unchristian, I thought.
Tuesday, September 23, 2003Light up Liverpool competition to find six landmarks / beauty spots to illuminate thanks to a £40,000 grant. I reckon Holy Trinity would be worth entering; it's very visible, especially to inward-bound rail passengers as the train begins that great sweep north-westwards into Lime Street tunnels, and, having passed (perhaps unknowingly) under the Penny Lane bridge they look across the green of The Mystery, with Trinity and The Blue Coat School at its edge.
But now my mind's turning to other ideas - how about illuminating the larger-than-life Dixie Dean statue at the end of Goodison Road (perhaps the guy was that big - in which case no wonder he was the greatest centre-forward ever)? Or, more poignantly, the Hillsborough memorial at Anfield? How about illuminating the streets for a change, that'd be bleedin' useful?
The majestic wind turbines at Seaforth Docks would merit it, or the trees on top of Everton Brow, the city's finest vantage point. On reflection, my vote would have to be for the SuperLambBanana, my favourite piece of Liverpool public art. I love it, passive token of wit and wonder, totem of our GM age. It greets thousands of dock road passers-by each day. And, nicely lit, it would gleam wonderfully for them through the night.
Monday, September 22, 2003Abstinence sows sand
The ruddy limbs, the flaming hair.
But Desire Gratified
Plants fruits of life and beauty there.
This recording is in similar fashion to his earlier treatment of Dylan Thomas, The Seed-At-Zero, which I'll always remember as the cd which kept me going on one of my most surreal journeys - a day spent splashing from Yorkshire down through the mid-Wales hills to the Pembrokeshire Coast, in October 2000, the day that floods broke across the land. Determined to make my holiday destination, somehow I magaged to pass the impassible, complete the impossible journey, the car caked with mud up to the door handles and my ears full of Williamson's maverick wails, tales and moans...
Sunday, September 21, 2003Cultural regeneration / spatial sterilisation? Capital of Culture means in terms of the impact on the people's lives, today I've:
(b) Journeyed around an outer estate where hundreds of homes have no shops, pubs, anything, except on the outer fringes where the usual McDonalds / Showcase / Asda sheds cluster, where new private mini-mansions hide behind high walls designed to exclude their neighbours in the council buy-back semis which surround them;
(c) Found some interesting articles on the web, particularly one in MetaMute 26 about 'cultural' regeneration in Hackney. Remember the siege last year which resulted in one man dead? It took place in an area converting from a vibrant (if shabby) quarter to a newly-gentrified gated place. Mute describes it thus:
The Hackney Siege was a £1 million pound project for the spatial sterilisation of the area adjacent to the Town Hall Square. Lasting 15 days, it deployed squads of paramilitary police round the clock and shut down several streets and a major road. 43 Hackney residents were trapped inside their homes, some without television, from Boxing Day 2002 until well after twelfth night. A further 200 residents were compulsorily displaced on the order of the authorities during the course of the project.
The siege was about moving people out of the area, the ones who didn't 'fit' there anymore. Or, as Mute sees it,
The borough of Hackney in the East End of London [is] a microcosm of contemporary power processes. Long a dumping ground for London's poor, Hackney is becoming an increasingly regulated space of flows, where, in the name of life and culture, 'regeneration' incubates gentrification and new forms of biopolitical control.
Saturday, September 20, 2003If they shut Thelwall Viaduct down
How about shutting Thelwall Viaduct down completely? Just for a while, to allow the constructors free reign to strengthen the wobbly struts holding the monster roadway hundreds of feet in the air. In their own time. Enough time to permit the thousands who'd otherwise be queuing across it, to find new ways of making their days journeys work. Like....
Continuing on by barge - assuming many Viaduct travellers work in Warrington, Manchester, Chester, Liverpool, they could float onward to the office on specially-equipped canal craft: three hours into town on state-of-the-art floating workstations, an hour at the desk and three hours back. Astern, a 'quiet cabin' for non-mobile phone boatsfolk; below decks, cosy conference space and facilities for tea-making in genuine tin canal mugs.
Car sharing - northbound travellers arrange to be collected by colleagues living north of the Viaduct, leaving their vehicles in set-aside by Massey Brook, taking a short hike beneath the Canal at Thelwall Heys to meet their friends. Southbound, something similar. Companionship, cooperation, a leg-stretch and slice of fresh air mid-journey.
Doing construction work - give up the office job awhile; volunteer to help out the bridge maintenance teams, and help reduce the taxpayers' billion-pound bills on this hardcore dinosaur.
Friday, September 19, 2003I had not thought death had undone so many T.S.Eliot's words came to me:
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Thursday, September 18, 2003Millennium People #3 Millennium People today. Its thesis, as described by Will Self in Prospect, is that
It's almost believable, this rebellion. And equally believable the return to 'normality' at the end, but a new kind of 'normal' in a world increasingly defined by seemingly meaningless acts of violence. What's eating me about the book is that one of the chief protagonists, one who bought into the 'revolution' at enormous personal cost, is a young idealistic clergyman.....
(see previous blogs for more). Christian Blogs: Ten quite good ones. Flattered to be in such illustrious company as Real Live Preacher, Jonny Baker and Rachel Cunliffe to name but three. Via Jonny's ever-resourceful site I note that Maggi Dawn has begun a blog of her own. If I had her email I'd let her know I'm looking forward to reading her reflections on alt/worship etc. Hopefully she'll get the message somehow through the blogosphere...
Wednesday, September 17, 2003Worth the wait blogged about this exceptional company) my Howies yurt arrived. Lovely, and almost worth the wait. Except, I seem to have missed the autumn. It's summer again and too warm to wear the thing today.
Monday, September 15, 2003Millennium People #2 Before I'd even seen it I blogged about it the other day. Today I had it in my hands and sat at Formby Point reading it. Ballard's Millennium People. So far, all that's been gushed about it seems justified (see, for example, Will Self in the current Prospect).
I don't read much fiction, preferring to pretend that 'factual' books carry more weight and are just as entertaining. But this is so close to reality it's deeply convincing. Unsettling. Insightful. Blog over. I must read on.
Sunday, September 14, 2003The bells
This afternoon we had the Maghull Handbell Ringers providing suitably joyful ambience as a hundred or more visitors walked around our eighteenth century church. This was part of the nationwide Heritage Open Days initiative, where places of cultural and architectural interest open their doors to the public, free of charge, generating all sorts of interesting conversations and plenty of goodwill.
I loved the bells, they fitted our place - it was in the 18th century that the composer Handel cited the bell as the English National Instrument. The Handbell Ringers of Great Britain tell us that "Tower bell ringers started the art of 'ringing the changes' as long ago as the 16th century. This change ringing, practised in the frequently cold belfry, brought about a suggestion, according to some history books, 'Why don't you create some small bells which you can hold in your hand and take to the local inn to practise in warmth and comfort?'"
Anything that connects church to pub seems worth encouraging to me. Our guests keep that old tradition going by spending Christmas evenings performing carols in parish churches, then touring eight Maghull pubs. They do old English folk, they do great classics, they do nursery rhymes, they do Elvis. It's easy to learn, a people's music, even I did ok on my first attempt today. Music in church minus pomp or pop pretensions. A gentle treat.
Saturday, September 13, 2003Another epic view
Another epic view... this time aerial photgraphy courtesy of Get Mapping whose England: Photographic Atlas was a wonderful surprise present today from Pete and Linda.
It's been on my Wish List since I first came across it in Jim Hart's flat (see 4 July blog), a very large, very heavy, and deeply fascinating survey of every inch of England, taken from a few hundred feet up. A Millennium project, a sort of Domesday Book for today.
There's a link between the atlas' creators and Multimap which means that you can locate an aerial view of anywhere in England online by going through their map search. Which is how I got the above image - like yesterday's, flipped ninety degrees: London at the Greenwich axis.
Friday, September 12, 2003The epic view
Looking down across the city is one epic view. The other is straddling 'The World's Prime Meridian' in the courtyard of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. 'All time on earth is measured relative to longitude 0, which is defined by the crosshairs of the Great Transit Circle Telescope in the Meridian buildings of the Royal Observatory,' it says on the certificate printed out for me at the time line at 09:40:4881 GMT today.
The city falls away from your feet at this high point, too. Or maybe, the whole world gathers up to it. It does invite epic views. Like considering, with Albert Mobilio, how humans behave en-mass:
Thursday, September 11, 2003Put it in your heart Martin Wroe: Put it In Your Heart seems to be an oblique response to September 11, 2001?
Bruce Cockburn: Yes, it is, occasioned by two things. Initially seeing Jerry Falwell on TV, three days after 9/11, with Pat Robertson sitting beside him, discussing how 'this whole terrible tragedy was caused by gays and lesbians and people who've had abortions.' And he's looking at me, and my initial response was. 'Somebody shoot that son of a bitch.'
Then I realised that here he is looking to lay blame for this thing and throwing it anywhere based on his pet theories. And there is Osama bin Laden, representing his own theories and his constituency are angry and fearful and bitter. And Falwell is responding in the same way. And now here am I responding like that. OK, here is a very clear chain and it has to be broken and how do we break it ? Meditating on that produced the song, the understanding that the only way to cope with things like this is to take them into our hearts. Not to stand back and judge and fear. You have to dive right in.
filled up with feelings I can't name
Images of life appear
regret and anger, love and fear
Dark things drift across the screen
of mind behind whose veil are seen
love's ferocious eyes, and clear
the words come flying to my ear
"Go on - put it in your heart
Put it in your heart"
Terrible deeds done in the name
of tunnel vision and fear of change
surely are expressions of
a soul that's turned its back on love
All the sirens all the tongues
The song of air in every lung
Heaven's perfect alchemy
put me with you and you with me
Come on - put that in your heart
Come on - put it in your heart
All the sirens all the tongues
The song of air in every lung
Heaven's perfect alchemy
Put me with you and you with me
Come on - put it in your heart
Come on - put it in your heart
Wednesday, September 10, 2003Through Rooney's eyes
This works two ways. First, I'm watching through Rooney's eyes all the time thinking, when I was seventeen, did I have that sort of vision, that understanding, that skill in second-guessing the moves of those around me, of making the unexpected, creative move? In football as in life.
I didn't, of course. Barely do even now. And that makes me marvel all the more when I see all that in him. As tonight when he indisputably masterminded England's win v. Liechtenstein.
The second aspect of seeing through Rooney's eyes is knowing that if I follow the game by observing his moves, working out his patterns, I'll learn so much about how winning football works. This young man is a great teacher. Conscious of that I know I'll get inside the game more deeply by closely observing him.
I've always been with Albert Camus who famously said, "All I know most surely about morality and the obligations of man, I owe to football." So I'm inclined to feel that if I watch the game through Rooney's eyes then by extension I'll learn a great deal also about how to live humanly, as a team player, creative in interaction, moral, committed, true.
Tuesday, September 09, 2003Lots going down to "The torturers' picnic" today Disarm DSEi will have taken place. And sadly, most of the weapons sales too. Good to see so many protesting about the duplicious and amoral arms trade today. News updates here. Reasons to be disarming here.
Monday, September 08, 2003Shut windows and the organisation's soul
Once, The Iona Community lived among Glasgow's struggling dock workers and their families, housed in a people's institution in Govan, The Pierce Institute, devoted to the cause of the urban poor.
Today, I've been at their new offices in Sauchiehall Street, at the heart of the city's shining shopping area. Opposite Dixons, almost next to HMV, it's a dream for the casual-spending visitor. What's it doing to the Community's psyche, though, its malleable soul? You don't get many jobless dockers on Sauchiehall Street today, there are few dockers now and the jobless ones I'd guess mainly shop in less conspicuous centres.
Perhaps the closest in spirit is the busker who plays endless grungy rock standards (I blogged about him last time I visited - here). Staff close their windows to him. Now, you can understand that - I would too, even if it was the real Eric Clapton repeating "Wonderful Tonight" ad nauseum four floors below. But - shut windows and the soul. What's the effect on the organisation's soul.....?
Sunday, September 07, 2003Monday night will be music night Continuing Education course catalogue caught my eye: CAPITAL OF CULTURE: LIVERPOOL'S MUSIC...
Saturday, September 06, 2003Greens and ancestor worship
The death of the mother and the death of the father
Is something you prepare for
For all of their life
For all of your life
Wise words from the departing
Eat your greens, especially broccoli
Wear sensible shoes and always say "thank you"
Especially for the things you never had
Friday, September 05, 2003Millennium People Millennium People got me thinking it was about time I started reading J.G. Ballard rather than reading about him. "Violent rebellion comes to London's middle classes in the extraordinary new novel from the author of Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes." says the publishers' blurb. He's widely celebrated as being a contemporary prophet of sorts. This book seems to suggest why.
In the New Statesman today John Gray wrote:
And - whaaat??!! - it's not yet available. I know because - exercising my middle-class prerogitive - I phoned Waterstones to check. Now that's frustrating. Enough to make a rebel out of one.
Thursday, September 04, 2003A revival
When Paul died at 35, suddenly and shockingly, beaten by a brutal cancer, each one felt his loss very deeply. Doubtless he would have wanted it to, but there was no way the show could go on last year. It hurt too many people too much.
But tonight my ears ring a bit because I've been sitting close to the PA system as a reinvigorated cast whacked out songs from Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. It's a revival.
So good to be faced again with decisions like - do we invite the Potiphar character to perform a reprise of his gyrating Elvis song during Sunday's 'Joseph'-themed communion service? So good to be out there calling raffle numbers and handing out bottles of Bells to winning grandmas in the interval. So good to see those children onstage loving the fun, lost in the movement, living the music, and the pride and amusement on their families' faces in the audience.
And now I'm home I'm picturing the colours of those lively costumes so well designed by volunteer ladies. Picturing the finale where Joseph's coat grows ribbons, each a different colour, and cast members hold them out in a rainbow arc behind him. This merges in my mind's eye with a vision of prayer flags, fluttering in the sacred breeze. Back in the show, I think: no-one's saying them, but deep down doubtless a few are feeling them - gentle, thankful, fond, prayers for Paul.
Wednesday, September 03, 2003Brutalised by tiny lepidoptera
Well, they do exist and they have proved to be silent signifiers of the onset of autumn for me this year. When I laid down my lambswool sweater at the end of spring, it was intact. Today I donned it and at some point afterwards, looked down to discover the stomach area bulleted with holes. Recalling that a flying thing fell away from it when I'd pulled it on I realised that the sweater, and by extension I myself, had been brutalised by tiny lepidoptera.
The horror - that this quiet slow destruction had been taking place all summer only inches away from where I slept. The shame - at walking about looking like a war escapee (or worse - looking like I used to as a student). The distress - that the area most affected was the tummy area, which since last spring has become, shall we say, somewhat taughter. Thus accentuating the moth-holes even more.
When I got into my car later on, a moth skipped up the windscreen before my eyes. When I switched on the kitchen light tonight many of those gold-grey creatures flew to the window and shone there. "I didn't think moths existed anymore." Well, they do. They mock me. And I liked that sweater too.
Monday, September 01, 2003Peculiarly English
I have declared an amnesty
All books may be returned without a penalty
Return the books to me
Return the books
Don't burn the books
You cut down the trees to make paper disease
It's in the trees: it's coming
Return the book of knowledge
Return the marble index
File under "Paradox"
The forest is a college, each tree a university
I am a queen of the circulated library
I'm here to answer your enquiry
All knowledge resides within me
Your membership has expired
You are way past expiry dates
Words, words, words, words!
You may as well listen to the birds
Coil's Queens of the Circulating Library, in all its wierdness, strikes me as somehow peculiarly English. You have to hear it to get the full impression, because this is boundary music, electronica of the very edge. But somehow, here, the edge feels like an ancient green woodland.
Perhaps those words do it, "The forest is a college, each tree a university ". I could live with them for hours, and have been doing since World Serpent sent me a copy of Coil Live One. And reading Ackroyd's Albion probably got me into this frame of mind, too. His book surveys those things which are at the origins of the 'English Imagination' and the very first chapter is devoted to The Tree. English art/lore has always been cast among trees, from Druidic rituals through Robin of Sherwood, to D.H.Lawrence's expressed desire, in 1922: "I would like to be a tree for a while."
Trees speak "the ghostly language of the ancient earth" (Wordsworth); woods are "places of refuge and sanctuary" (Ackroyd). And so, in more sense than one, as Coil express, they contain libraries of deep knowledge..... (er, discuss....)