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

    Tuesday, September 30, 2003
    On 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, 2003
    Life 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:
      God bless those who suffer from the common cold.
      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, 2003
    The London News Review
    Modestly proposed as " The best magazine you'll ever read", it seems after a long time waiting that the launch edition of The London News Review will be hitting my doormat sometime this coming week. Those responsible promise that it will be:
      Sharper and bolder than Private Eye, more opinionated than The Week and better informed than Time Out, The London News Review is like nothing you've ever seen before... only better. Like a trigger-happy US Marine, it will take no prisoners in its coverage of domestic and international events. It will use any means necessary to keep readers informed of everything that's happening in Britain and around the world - from massacres to movie releases, sexually transmitted diseases to Scientology. It will feature some of the world's finest and funniest writers, commentators and reviewers. It will be funny, thought-provoking, influential and absolutely un-put-down-able.
    They also claim it's not, thus far, been over-hyped. Watch this space.
    Saturday, September 27, 2003
    The Great, Bloody And Bruised Veil Of The World
      The 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
      Some honesty
      (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
      To another
      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, 2003
    Magic loves the hungry
    "Magic loves the hungry" sang 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, 2003
    Greenbelt bloggers and old deers
    Les has posted me two newspaper cuttings from last week's papers. One is an article from 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, 2003
    Light up Liverpool
    The Liverpool Culture 2008 team are promoting a 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.

      But I wonder ... because like every other city (as this night view over Europe shows) it seems Liverpool's very well lit already. Probably over-illuminated. There's something about the silhouette of the late-evening skyline just now, dark clouds merging with steeples and towerblocks, a red, blue, grey mix behind. There's something about standing in the pub car park, as we did on Sunday, 10.30, gazing through the light-haze at the stars. And there was something awesome about the rainbow over the city after the sudden downpour an hour ago which no artificial light could match. I wonder .... at lights like that.
      Monday, September 22, 2003
      Abstinence sows sand

        Abstinence sows sand all over
        The ruddy limbs, the flaming hair.
        But Desire Gratified
        Plants fruits of life and beauty there.
      If those words of William Blake are true then I"m doubly glad I gave in easily to the desire to purchase Robin Williamson's Skirting the River Road: Songs and Settings of Whitman, Blake and Vaughan today. The Incredible String Band man (whose Liverpool gig last October I blogged about here) improvises his way through some excellent verse, with some very gifted other musicians keeping up with him.

      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, 2003
      Cultural regeneration / spatial sterilisation?
      Working up to a conversation about what Capital of Culture means in terms of the impact on the people's lives, today I've:
        (a) Led worship for eight in a committee room of a massive Victorian vicarage next door to a church having tens of thousands of pounds spent on it to satisfy heritage types, in an area of the city lacking decent housing and other basic amenities;

        (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, 2003
      If 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....
        Taking the Thelwall Ferry - the little boat which links Thelwall to Martinscroft, where the Canal meets the meandering Mersey. A fine little route requiring solid footwear and no great urgency for onward transport the other side, inviting some time spent on The Eyes, a swampy nature reserve, home to Dabbling Ducks, Teal, Mallard and Pochard, Shovellers, Gadwalls and Tufted Ducks, as many as several hundred Pintail, and in winter, skeins of Pink-footed Geese en-route to the east coast. Bring 11p for the ferry fare.

        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.
      (Local info from the Days Out Cheshire and Woolston Eyes Reserve websites.)
      Friday, September 19, 2003
      I had not thought death had undone so many
      Stuck in a four-lane shuffle on the M6 tonight, at the fag-end of the rush-hour, choking above the Manchester Ship Canal on the high, perpetually-crippled Thelwall Viaduct, I became aware of the hundreds of other drivers, ashen-faced, dead-eyed, as we shunted each other gloomily southwards. And T.S.Eliot's words came to me:
        Unreal City
        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.
      Even more appropriate are the lines of Dante's Inferno, Eliot's source and inspiration, lines 55-57 of Canto III which describe Dante's underworld:
        So long a train of people, that I would have never believed death had undone so many.
      A web commentary tells us that
        ... at this point in the story Virgil has just led Dante into the underworld and they are about to come to an immense river. Charon helps them cross the river; he helps ferry the damned across. It is here that Dante encounters a vast number of souls who are neither good nor evil, because they were never adequately alive in the first place. Dante views these souls as pain-stricken and as selfish souls who have cared for nothing but themselves. There is an enormous need for society and its people to fill this emptiness with positive substance.
      We have no Charon; we have only contraflow. Recovery wagons. And in-car cd. Nudging forward, aching for home, the luxury home on a Cheshire stockbroker plain, how many vehicle-bound others toyed with such thoughts at 7.22pm, under a vast grey sorry sky?
      Thursday, September 18, 2003
      Millennium People #3
      Finished Millennium People today. Its thesis, as described by Will Self in Prospect, is that
        The real job of the class system ... "isn't to suppress the proles, but to keep the middle classes down, make sure they're docile and subservient." The logical conclusion of this - that the middle class must be roused out of its conformist stupor by attacking its own cultural shibboleths - is detailed with loving silliness.
      So the inhabitants of Chelsea Marina take it out on the BBC, Tate Modern, the National Film Theatre and ultimately, on their own formerly-comfortable streets in a violent standoff with police using their own cars as barricades, in a chapter delightfully titled 'The Bonfire of the Volvos'.

      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
      Nice to find this site listed on surefish.co.uk under the heading, 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, 2003
      Worth the wait
      Eighty-four days since I ordered it (and 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, 2003
      Millennium 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, 2003
      The bells
      Is it late summer or early autumn? Seems too hot for the latter, as the park is scattered with people, mainly young, playing easy games (catch-ball, frisbee), or just sitting in small groups soaking up the sun and the green under the ubiquitous blue sky. The view across the park from here is like a June scene; students at leisure. All that's missing are sleeping individuals resting their heads on open books, 'I'll do it later' revisioners at one with the context, not the text. None of that stress today, at the start of term.

      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, 2003
      Another 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, 2003
      The epic view

        It is the nature of aerial [views] - because of [their] ability to encompass much from a seemingly omniscient perspective - to tell epic tales ... stories that elide the role of individuals in favor of the action of large, impersonal forces. (Albert Mobilio, Looking Down, in Cabinet, 11, which I read on the train home tonight).
      This is the view from Alison and Martin's Greenwich roof. Under a clear sky, the shining offices of Canary Wharf, the wonderful gigantic Dome and inbetween, a vast sweep of Thames water, calm, quiet, creating stillness in the whole scene. We sat up here at lunchtime today and I'd have been happy to stay there far longer, taking in the scene. Pondering epic views.

      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:
        They build and they destroy. Seen from a bird's path or a god's perch, the human enterprise is so large as to be very small. So detailed as to be exceedingly simple. The aerial view: it provides a peace that passeth understanding.
      Thursday, September 11, 2003
      Put 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.
        As I stare into the flame
        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
      Bruce Cockburn: One of the things I try to say in You've Never Seen Everything is that you can look at all this darkness and the horrible aspects of human behaviour and you can become cynical as a response and that is useless. That is never seeing 'the light falling all around'. But if you put it in your heart you still retain the capacity to feel the presence of light as well. All my albums are about me going through my own spiritual changes and this is a case in point. The older I get I kid myself that I am getting deeper, and this is what I have to say about it at the moment.
      Wednesday, September 10, 2003
      Through Rooney's eyes
      These days, I find myself watching football through Wayne 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, 2003
      Lots going down to "The torturers' picnic" today
      I'm not in London till Thursday night. By which time most of the action to 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, 2003
      Shut windows and the organisation's soul
      Where your organisation is based must impact on how your organisation works, thinks, talks, communes. Place affects the organisation's soul. That must be why there's such a market in industrial landscaping, and 'quality-of-life' commercial centres springing up in our inner cities.

      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, 2003
      Monday night will be music night
      A title in the University's Continuing Education course catalogue caught my eye: CAPITAL OF CULTURE: LIVERPOOL'S MUSIC...
        Liverpool is renowned for its varied and vibrant musical life. This course offers a unique opportunity to explore the whole spectrum of the music scene in Liverpool - pop, folk, and classical - and to evaluate just what makes the Mersey beat!
      Well, ok, as it's on my day off, and as one of the lecturers is a friendly member of our church and Joseph pianist, I shall take up the Uni's invitation to attend. Expect Monday evening blogs on the subject through the winter months....
      Saturday, September 06, 2003
      Greens and ancestor worship
        Wise words from the departing
        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
      Coil again, Broccoli. More English Music. I like the band's explanation of this track:
        "Broccoli" - Most personal track. Its dedicated to the poet Jeremy Reed. My good friend who is writing a book on COIL, at leisure, over the next two years. He wrote "The Last Star" an appreciation of Marc Almond on Creation Press. Sleazy on vocals. This is about greens and ancestor worship as revealed to me through spirit discourse with Austin Spare and my grandad (deceased). My lyrics. I always want Peter to sing on stuff. I like writing lyrics for him. Broccoli holds subatomic secrets in its structure. Maybe Man's salvation. Cures you of the urge to sprout cancers esp bowels etc. eat as much organic broccoli as you can people. We recommend it. The brassic family are all helpers of mankind. Be kind to your vegetables. Write to me if you want details of how to adopt and sponsor rare varieties of vegetables.
      David Keenan in The Wire 175, Sept 1998 suggested Coil were part of "a resurgence of an English archetype - the English mystic." Coil concurred. John Balance:
        "I don't know whether it's an English thing or a Celtic thing or just a new way of being. It's so important to be like that - it's what being illuminated is, however you see it. It is in the mystic tradition, not necessarily English, although you can go back to William Blake, there is this resurgence, this emergence, of people behaving like that and being seen to be like that."
      And Peter Christopherson:
        "Whenever you find a culture that has strong regenerative music it's always a culture that has a tradition of mysticism and mystic individuals. I mean English music, whatever you think about it is constantly reinventing itself and changing and mutating into something new and it's actually much more of a living entity than music in America for example which is much more focused on particular styles, repeating the styles, making permutations of it but within quite narrow guidelines."
      Half their music scares me rigid. And that's ok. The other half encourages me to be kind to my vegetables. I can live with these artists.
      Friday, September 05, 2003
      Millennium People
      A review of his latest novel, 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:
        "Millennium People is a dark, comic study of middle-class nihilism. The book's coolly detached narrator, David Markham, sums up the sense of emptiness that drives these improbable - and yet oddly credible - rebels against modern life. "The absence of rational motive," he observes, "carries a significance of its own."
      It's tough but beautifully-observed reading (Heathrow Airport is "a beached sky-city, half space station and half shantytown". Dust on a coffee table is "a nimbus that seemed like an ectoplasmic presence, a parallel world with its own memories and regrets".).

      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, 2003
      A revival
      A man died last year and an entire production was postponed. Paul supported his wife Gill in the massive task she took on each summer - director of our youth drama group, in their annual gathering to put together a popular musical. With offstage workers and venue volunteers well over a hundred people took part in these shows. Add in the networks of family and friends represented by each young person involved, and it's no exaggeration to say that virtually all the local community knew about it when the curtain opened on these productions.

      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, 2003
      Brutalised by tiny lepidoptera
      "I didn't think moths existed anymore," I was told by one with whom I shared my difficulty today. By which he meant, I guess, he hadn't heard for a long time (or maybe ever) of someone suffering moth-eaten clothes.

      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, 2003
      Peculiarly English
        I am a queen of the circulating library
        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....)