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

    Saturday, January 31, 2004
    Standing still long enough
    Stand still long enough in The Tate and people start looking at you like you are an exhibit. That was my experience this afternoon, anyway. You know, all I was doing was trying to spend time with a piece of Michel Majerus pop art, stare at it, soak it in, let it speak to me. And resting a bit by leaning against a cast-iron pillar in that vast ex-tobacco warehouse. Other people were passing by, taking one glance (left) at Majerus: splash bombs 2001 and one glance (right) at John Davies: avoiding the derby 2004. Made me feel a bit fragile. Don't know how it made them feel when they realised I was, er, real.

    They probably had it right. Majerus creates from the frippery of pop culture, uses images from computer games, corporate logos, tv titles etc. People are used to passing such things by with just a glance, usually. Why would they behave any differently in an art gallery?

    My quality time staring at splash bombs failed to satisfy me; so I decamped to the shop where there was no danger of anyone looking at me; there was a sale on. I was delighted to emerge with this - Secession: Marc Wallinger. At a fiver, a fine investment for the infinite game. Wallinger's Ecce Homo caused quite a stir when it appeared on a plinth in Trafalgar Square in 1999. This book goes into some of that, details some of Wallinger's other fascinating playful explorations of infinite-game themes, and especially answers this question: what happened to The Man (Jesus) after he'd been taken down from the plinth?

    Answer: they put him, in his bare feet, on the floor of a Viennese art gallery. Standing still long enough for people to start looking at him like he was an exhibit.

    This was deliberate, of course, and very instructive: behold the man - no longer elevated, fifty feet above contradiction in pigeon space; now on the floor with the rest of us, at eye level. Touchable. Kissable. Spittable-at. Eyes closed, hands bound.

    Secession president Matthias Herrmann compared the gallery space to Trafalgar Square: "Here the observer may come as close to the sculpture as desired, approaching it as an equal or counterpart ... Here the human, male presence - there the elevated (divine?) ideal, which is a counterpart to the other monuments, but contrasts their heroic gestures with its melancholy. This melancholy also fills the main room of the Secession; those who are able to enter into it, will be confronted with their own fragile reality."

    (It ended up nil-nil, by the way. Not bad.)
    Friday, January 30, 2004
    The Infinite Game
    Finished Stewart Brand's The Clock of the Long Now - Time and Responsibility tonight, musing on life as either a finite, or infinite game...

    The purpose is to win
    Improves through fittest surviving
    Winners exclude losers
    Winner takes all
    Aims are identical
    Relative simplicity
    Rules fixed in advance
    Rules resemble debating contests
    Compete for mature markets
    Short-term decisive contests

    The purpose is to improve the game
    Improves through games evolving
    Winners teach losers better plays
    Winning widely shared
    Aims are diverse
    Relative complexity
    Rules changed by agreement
    Rules resemble grammar of original utterances
    Grow new markets
    Long term

    The idea comes from James P Carse, who suggests that football, elections, and much of business are finite games: win/lose. Infinite games would include family, gardening, and spiritual practice (though Christian Zionism, for one, seems to confuse that). Finite players seek to control the future; infinite players arrange things so the future keeps providing surprises. Death-defying finite players seek immortality through their famous victories; infinite players "offer their death as a way of continuing the play - they do not play for their own life, they live for their own play."

    So... break out from the finite, stultifying political traumas of the day; explore the infinite. Taking the infinite view means I'll be making myself scarce between three and five tomorrow, well away from the radio, as the loathed Anfield derby plays itself out...
    Thursday, January 29, 2004
    45 - living the lie
    Hang on. What's the real issue at stake here? In September 2002 the government produced a dossier about alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, including the claim they could be deployed within 45 minutes. Despite this never being proven, regardless of whether or not it had been 'sexed-up', the government used that dossier to justify 'going to war' in February 2003.

    These claims are still unsubstantiated. Even Colin Powell now concedes that no weapons of mass destruction may be found in Iraq. An estimated 250,000 - 500,000 deaths and injuries later, after a 'Shock and Awe' strategy designed specifically to terrorise and murder the population by destroying what was left of their hospitals and water supply, in the aftermath of a country thrown into chaos by all this brutality: let's be clear - what's the real issue at stake here?

    The outcome of the Hutton enquiry is, if we're not careful, we'll all just keep living the lie.

    "The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the State." - Dr. Joseph M. Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda, quoted in The Fire This Time.

    Mr Blair said he respected the BBC's independence and expected it to continue to question the government "in a proper way". - BBC News today.
    Wednesday, January 28, 2004
    My time capsule
    If you were invited to fill a time capsule with items which describe your life, what would go in it....?

    I posed this question to the school chapel audience in today's assembly talk, during a skim across the surface of some ideas from The Long Now Foundation which I'd linked to the theme, Exploring the Past.

    Made me wonder, what items would I fill a time capsule with?

    First thought: my fav. pic of me, aged two with a chocolate bar part-in and part-smeared around the outside of my mouth, in a big white sunhat in the garden. Probably partnered with the most recent (and equally uncomplimentary) pic of myself, from last Thursday's blog.

    Second thought: this needs more thought. Blogging's part of the digital-disposable scenario I described in school today; time capsules part of long-view thinking which takes time to gestate. So ... watch this space ... perhaps I'll replace my timeline page at some point with a digital time capsule instead....

    So go on, what would you put in your time capsule for the interest of future generations?
    Tuesday, January 27, 2004
    Blatant plug
    Lots of blogs are ads in disguise. This is a blatant plug for a Lent book which has been selling well at our church these past weeks. It's called The Shame and the Glory and it helps fundraise for Ridley Hall, the college which nurtured me for a couple of years, 98-00. Daily reflections penned by students and staff: they've been busy.

    The only extracurricular writing I did for college was a month as guest editor for the Federation Newsletter, in which I showcased Dave Brammer's imagined encounter between John Coltrane, Sojourner Truth and himself, a lengthy Ignatian fusion of experiences from different historical eras which formed the core of a jazz worship event we'd put on in the old college library one night. They never asked me to edit it again. Speaking of Sojourner Truth, see Maggi (another ex-Ridleyite)'s blog today.
    Monday, January 26, 2004
    How good it must feel to be free
    Synchronicity, or the spirit. Whatever, after yesterday's blog I was surprised and thrilled to bump into Jan in Glasgow today. I was there for an Iona Community Publications Committee meeting (good creative gatherings, I like them); Jan was down from the Highlands and Islands for a rather more trying appointment - in court to answer charges stemming from her involvement in a Faslane anti-nuclear protest.

    So, just a pleasant day out for me, hearing among other things about good sales for Jan's book Out of Iona. But a pivotal day in Jan's life. If she'd have been found guilty of disturbing the peace it would have been massively ironic, considering the threat to peace that Trident poses. But it would have also perhaps meant a custodial sentence for Jan. The Warden of Iona Abbey unable to tend the living community in that ancient place of worship awhile, incarcerated in a Scottish nick instead. And we wouldn't have seen her today.

    Jan was given 'not guilty'. So the hugs and smiles we shared in the lobby of the Community's offices involved great measures of relief. I doubt that will be the end of Jan's protesting, though. Not till the nuclear threat to peace and humanity is acknowledged by our leaders and Trident is scrapped. After a day in the cells in 2002 Jan wrote: "Living Word - thank you for setting me free / through pain and poetry..." After yesterday's silly aside, on the train home tonight I found some words for Jan:

    how good it must feel to be free
    only surfaces perhaps
    at the tip
    of the abyss
    of captivity

    how good it must feel to be free
    something we free ones forget sometimes
    sated, submerged
    in our luxuries
    of life and motion

    how good it must feel to be free
    a goodness needing sharing
    with those
    denied choices
    of life and motion

    how good it must feel to be free
    sustainance for the
    forward struggle
    at the tip
    of the abyss
    of captivity

    [pic nicked from meish dot org: Jan & family on Bamburgh beach last weekend]
    Sunday, January 25, 2004
    Dear dear Dixie Dean
    I'd promised myself I'd compose a poem today. Reason being, Jan sent me a poem of hers the other day, a recent one about the bell of Iona Parish Church, "uncompromising in its demand / that the people come - / with no promise of comfort or beauty". And invited me to send her one in exchange, as at the moment there's a small group of Iona residents writing and reading aloud to each other, a creative interaction in these cold times.

    So it ought to have been a thoughtful thing, something which would sing between those ancient Abbey walls where the blackbirds join the sharing of the bread and Columba and MacLeod seem still present. When it came to it, however, it turned into a footy poem. This is because:

    (a) Prior to today's FA Cup tie, I met for an hour outside Goodison with Greenbelt poet-performer, Slade fan and Evertonian extraordinaire Paul Cookson; and

    (b) because he told me the story of Goodison legend Dixie Dean, who was once the victim of such a brutal foul during a game that he lost a testicle. I'm afraid I have to report that that is the enduring image of my day...

    So, in the style of Cookson, here goes:

    Dear dear Dixie Dean
    King of the thirties soccer scene
    All-time goalscorer supreme:
    Boy that must have made you scream.

    Lauded in Goodison's sacred halls
    Your pictures are on all its walls
    Your footwork meant you took some falls
    We also know it took some balls

    They say you had a plate in your head
    From a bike accident you might have been dead
    Still loads of your goals were headers they said
    We're glad you wore blue and never red

    Fearless Dixie through every debacle
    You wouldn't let defenders raise a hackle
    You never would pull out of a tackle
    Despite the effect it could have on your tackle

    Dixie's records stretch footy knowledge
    Blues' bets on him they'd never hedge
    To honour him I'll eat, I pledge
    A fitting meal - meat and one veg.
    Saturday, January 24, 2004
    This Church

    The composer Michael Finnissy has come up with something very special in This Church. In preparation for the 900th anniversary of St Mary de Haura (New Shoreham) in 2003 parishioner Finnissy spent two years researching its history, interacting with local people, composing and preparing a piece of music to celebrate the occasion.

    "Saint Mary de Haura (is) a town-centre church on the coast of Sussex. The church, not merely the building but the evolving community around it, is - I think - typical of countless others across the whole of England. Its story, although specific, seems also to exemplify the history of Christianity in this country from Norman times to the present...", wrote Finnissy. With solo voices, church choir, handbell ringers and The Ixion Ensemble, Finnissy's work unwinds music and texts from the twelfth century to the present day. It's a no-holds barred exploration of what the church - This Church - has meant to people throughout the centuries.

    So we hear monastic voices, secular compositions, the agents of both the Reformation and Civil War; accounts of the great storm of 1703, the genesis of a church school, and a vicar being accused of misdemeanours. John Wesley's crisis of faith features, as do the ruminations of nineteenth-century archeologists, poets and missionaries. Twenthieth-century voices begin with disquieting wartime questions about God's will and mankind's future, and end with present parishioners and visitors to the church telling us of their responses to it: I've reproduced their words above.

    It's a measure of the quality of the work that I first read about it in the seriously secular leftfield music monthly The Wire. Their reviewer Ben Watson admits, "Perhaps the atheist cannot quite credit the gorgeous communitarian crescendo of the finale, but we're touched nonetheless", and continues:

    "Finnissy's avant garde integrity gave the lie to the musical compromises of the post modernist 1980s. Now This Church shows how, in attempting to borrow the heady perfumes of liturgy without embracing a particular congregation Jan Garbarek and John Tavener and Gavin Bryars gave us a phoney high. This music has grit and invention and documents a genuine situation: a cutting reproach to the glibness and ingratiation which seem to be the inevitable condiment to commerce."

    [More reviews here]
    Friday, January 23, 2004
    Year Of The Monkey
    We do Chinese New Year big in Liverpool. Though I'd temporarily forgotten it was The Year of The Monkey as soon as I stepped into the School for the Blind assembly this morning I knew. A parade of fantastic coloured dragons, shining costmes, masks and multi-sensory banners followed. Accompanied by wonderful chiming music and all manner of noodlish foods. This weekend our Chinatown will be hosting the traditional festivities including fireworks and a visit from the Chinese God of Wealth, the Chinese Lucky Man to bless everyone with luck in the coming year.

    It seems each year the city's establishment gets increasingly involved. This year the Merseyside Police Band are playing and Liverpool Museum are hosting several Chinese-theme workshops. They're responding to the greater numbers of the wider population who want to take part too. Ask most people which year it is we're celebrating, we couldn't say (it's year 4701 by the Chinese calendar). But ask next week who went down to the Peking Opera on Sunday and most people will know someone who did. Thousands will be on Berry Street for the big parade. Ask why ... because it's cheerful and its free, at a grey time of year it's colourful and bold, in a city still noted more for racial anxieties than success in multiculturalism it's exotic but unthreatening to the majority community.

    Ask why we celebrate Chinese New Year so enthusiastically here ... perhaps especially because we feel it's ours. This weekend is an expression of how the host community and the Chinese have embraced each other here (my blog of 6 Oct lists more). Among so many 'manufactured' cultural occasions springing up in Liverpool because of 2008, this seems a deeper, more genuinely hopeful sign.
    Thursday, January 22, 2004
    Not a pretty sight

    Action day today... I set up the Unemployment Sunday sidebar link to encourage others to consider getting involved in action/reflection on inequality/low wage issues. And I scribbled this self-portrait to send off to the Control Arms campaign Million Faces Petition, supporting calls for a global Arms Trade Treaty to bring the trade in weapons under control. See other faces, and if you like, add yours here. Re the picture: sadly, I think everything's pretty much to scale.
    Wednesday, January 21, 2004
    How long is now?
    How long is now? Usually about a week, for most of us most of the time, writes Stewart Brand in The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility, which has been engrossing me today:

    I think Eno is right: "now" consists of this week, slightly haunted by the ghost of last week.

    I could run with that .. and add that it also involves an anxious awareness of the looming shapes of next week. Brand, Eno and others in The Long Now Foundation are encouraging us to try learning how to stretch our concept of now ... way beyond a week. To ten thousand years.

    The trick is learning how to treat the last ten thousand years as if it were last week, and the next ten thousand as if it were next week. Such tricks confer advantage.

    Advantages: in the current whirlwind of societal change, being able to find something solid to hold onto; in our present technological freefall, being able to find the ripcord on the reserve parachute.

    It's a good book. Brand describes aspects of the freefall we know we're in, the speed of change and all that; he talks about The Singularity, a concept out of astrophysics which answers the question, What happens if our technology just keeps accelerating? (everything collapses into a black hole where, as Stephen Hawking writes, "the laws of science and our ability to predict the future would break down."); promotes the Long Now as a way of restoring our place not at the culmination of history, nor at its beginning, but "in the middle of civilization's story", where we can live, move, breathe, grow in seasons and generations again.

    It will be interesting to get into later chapters which grapple with religious concepts of time and responsibility; though I'd like it to I suspect Christianity might not sit that easily with The Long Now idea, certainly less easily than Zen Buddhism whose adherents define their task as "Infinite gratitude for the past. Infinite service to the present. Infinite responsibility to the future."
    Tuesday, January 20, 2004
    Aren't we all and isn't it always
    "Aren't we all and isn't it always," said Bruce Cockburn in 1990. He was referring to one of his best-known songs, a flawless combination of poetry, protest and prayer, Lovers in a Dangerous Time.

    Aren't we all lovers - and isn't it always a dangerous time? Cockburn just now is in Iraq with a team hoping to learn first-hand from the people there how the war and occupation has affected the population.

    "The calamitous situation faced by Iraqis is a human event that needs to be understood by all of us. As a songwriter, it goes with the job to bear witness to the human events; as a concerned citizen, I welcome a unique opportunity to gain some of that understanding which I hope to share with others," states Cockburn.

    It's Cockburn's first trip but one of the delegation, photojournalist Linda Panetta, was there a year ago. Her pictorial record of that trip is full of the faces of children - bright young faces in bombed-out places. Buoyant lovers in dangerous climes. It moved me just seeing those photos. Doubtless when Bruce 'bears witness' in his music to what he's currently seeing, children will feature prominently again.

    "[When I wrote Lovers in a Dangerous Time] I was thinking of kids in a schoolyard. I was thinking of my daughter. Sitting there wanting to hold hands with some little boy and looking at a future, looking at the world around them. How different that was when I was a kid when, even though we had air-raid drills, nobody took that seriously that the world would end. You could have hope when I was a kid. And now I think that's very difficult. I think a lot of that is evident from the actions and the ethos of a lot of kids. It was kind of an attempt to offer a hopeful message to them. You still have to live and you have to give it your best shot."

    Monday, January 19, 2004
    Speed, Country, Soul
    As dawn broke today I was motoring through the Midlands with Mike Riddell on the car cassette; great talks about not being a Christian-circuit speaker any more, great texts about being a writer, and a good quote from Hemingway: "A writer has to face eternity - or its absence - every day".

    I made a 4am start for my annual lunch date with Oliver from Greenbelt, where we make plans for the coming August Bank Holiday festival Soul Space programme. It gets easier every year; at Pizza Express we finished the business before finishing the food. I left Oliver to return to an office floor strewn with flipchart pages from the various inspired groups among the eighty-plus who attended last week's Greenbelt 2004 Brainstorm Evening: lots of enthusiastic ideas about what the festival might do this year in the areas of Music, Visual Arts, Site Vibing, Worship, Talks, Performing Arts, Youth and Kids, Light Entertainment and Media. Oli's got to sort it all out now. What a task... typically, he's up for it.

    I zipped down the M6/M1 in the daybreak hours to get some shopping in first: music shopping, that is. And given my current mood it had to be country. So I took a list of recommendations from Rough Trade, down the spiral staircase to their cellar shop in Neal's Yard (a dream of a shop, gimme a hammock and the controls to the cd player, I could live there), and then over to the big Picadilly stores. And as a result I came home with these as my companions:

    The Gourds - Shinebox
    The Broken Family Band - Cold Water Songs
    The Handsome Family - Singing Bones
    V/A: Country Got Soul Volume 1

    Mesmerised by windscreen wipers, fazed by miles of taillights, I was at the M6 toll when The Handsome Family sang, "That beneath the gauzy haze / Of life's listless dream / There's a place where time is dead / And all things stand still and always will". No truer than there, at the heart of that tarmac-and-steel wilderness. But I kept speeding on through the country with a heart full of art and soul - a good ol' Greenbelt day.
    Sunday, January 18, 2004
    Knowing The Tune
    "Once...there was a tune and everyone knew how it went, but as time went by, people began to forget, until at last no one could remember."

    Larry Norman wrote "The Tune" in 1971. According to his website, during the next two years an author from the town where Larry first performed this, wrote a book called "The Singer" and another book called "The Song." The books were gigantic sellers. And the biggest gospel artist from the Southern gospel end of Christian show biz took "The Tune", kept the tempo and the flavour and re-titled it "God Gave The Song." It was one of the biggest hits the artist had up until that point.

    Sometime towards the end of the seventies or start of the eighties (I can't remember), a gang of yoof from St Luke's Church, Crosby got their act together and performed a musical based on The Tune. Others, like me, got involved too as it went 'on the road' round Liverpool. It was our heyday, in some ways. Great friendships formed, many still ongoing. I guess The Tune's part of the forgotten soundtrack to our lives. I thought I'd forgotten it, except...

    Today, for the first time in eight years, I was back at St Luke's on a Sunday, to preach this sermon to two congregations and rekindle valued friendships. Jan, who would have been part of the chorusline or something in that eighties production, now the church pianist, got inspired as I began walking down the aisle at the end of the 11.00 service. A tune came into her head. It was The Tune. Most of the congregation wondered what on earth it was. But scattered around the place, thinning-haired, wrinkled, podgy now like me, were a few eighties survivors ... who knew.

    If you've ever come across The Tune you'll understand that it's an allegory. If you haven't, you might guess what it's about. Knowing The Tune ... that's special...
    Saturday, January 17, 2004
    It all comes back to country
    It all comes back to country for me. I may drift into modern composition, pop and even the odd bit of classical but y'know, drift must be the word because last night I reaquainted myself with jIM wHitE (that's how he writes it) and y'know, this stuff seems to have it all....

    guess I've been busy killin' time countin' bullet holes in stateline signs
    a little life of lonely driftin' tryin to rise above the buzzards in my mind
    you get dizzy chasing round a tale of what you need to leave behind
    o sweet Jesus won't you help me
    cos all I'm trying to do
    is plant those seeds of love
    with that girl from brownsville, texas...

    - jIM wHitE, from Rough Trade Shops 6th Compilation - "Country"

    Friday, January 16, 2004
    Shake ya booty to da skies
    I'm no fan of rap, but couldn't fail to be impressed by this week's New Statesman competition winner. The task was to set a well-known carol to rap.

    'Word! Da Guys Wid Halos Go'
    (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)

    Word! Da guys wid halos go
    Biggin' up da newborn bro'
    Peace on earth, it ain't no joke
    Everything goes better wid coke
    Bangin' all my homies rise
    Shake ya booty to da skies
    Dig da message I proclaim
    Brova is born is Beflehem

    Word! Da guys wid halos go
    Biggin' up da newborn bro'

    Homeboy, all MCs adore
    Homeboy, King for evahmore
    Tell ya, boy, he ain't no sucka
    Daddy ain't no muthaf*cka
    Veiled in bling an' Timberland
    Holy Uzi in his hand
    Pleased to dwell here in da hood
    Man kicks ass and kicks it good

    Word! Da guys wid halos go
    Biggin' up da newborn bro'

    Yo, da heaven-born King of Rock
    Yo, da ruler on da Block
    Beats an' rhymes to all he brings
    Raps like Frank Sinatra sings
    Wild, da rest can take a hike
    Born to rap an' bust da mic
    Born to take da suckas down
    Born to rock dis whole damn town

    Word! Da guys wid halos go
    Biggin' up da newborn bro'

    - by Andy Jackson. My hope is that no-one from the churches will appropriate this 'for the youth', but leave it to stand as the silly gem it is.

    Thursday, January 15, 2004
    Sixty Five Today
    A day of tremendous import. Dad turned 65 today. He's now officially a twirly.

    Sixty-five and what did he get? A model kit Spitfire and model kit Honda two-stroke racer, to take up to the attic space he's been busy converting into a cosy workshop for himself. And a brand new record player so that the collection of fifties-sixties dancehall discs he discovered in a dusty box up there will live again. More like a young lad in his hideout, he's as happy as he's ever been, me Dad. In a sort of Airfix paradise, with a soundtrack by Acker Bilk.
    Wednesday, January 14, 2004
    Wave goodbye
    They had to shut Speke Boulevard in last night's rush hour because The Mersey Wave got damaged in the wind. Ironic that the first sculpture in the UK designed to be viewed from moving vehicles should bring the city's major southern arterial road to gridlock overnight. Ironic that this wave-form appears to have been designed without taking wind into account.

    The developers' proud boasts ("thirty feet higher than The Angel of the North") seem shallow now. They were always shallow. The structure shakes when storms start blowing: compared to Gormley's Angel (solid in conception and construction, an iconic achievement) Peter Fink's Wave is insubstantial. Good art ain't for speeding past; motor vehices disconnect their passengers and obscure the world outside.

    This "oceanic landmark" is neither one thing nor the other. The 'culture' it pays homage to is brutal, shallow, banal, depressing traffic culture. Garish and gale-ripped, ill-conceived, The Mersey Wave has not stood inspection.
    Tuesday, January 13, 2004
    Caledonian culture-JAMMing
    Paul has waxed eloquently about Bill Drummond recently and an exchange of emails on the subject of that maverick Caledonian culture-JAMMer prompted me to revisit Drummond's website penkiln-burn.

    There I discovered more about the Drummond artwork which I own: a 1/20,000th fraction of the Richard Long photograph A Smell of Sulphur in the Wind. As I outlined in a blog last April, Drummond got fed up of this picture, which had cost him $20,000, took it on a nationwide tour but failed to flog it to anyone, so sliced it into 20,000 small rectangles with a Stanley knife and is in the process of selling each piece off for a dollar each. This 'job', as he calls it, is entitled A Smell of Money Underground and I have a piece of it, mounted on a warranty card signed by Drummond. When he's gathered all the money together he'll take it to the location in Iceland where Long took the picture, and bury it there.

    Today I discovered a tricky feature on Bill's website whereby "buyers can locate the original position of their particular fragment (roughly)". If you can make out a tiny red rectangle on the pic above... that's the bit I've got.
    Monday, January 12, 2004

    Dreams burst today at Bob's funeral. Due less to grief at a friend's father's death; more at the painfulness of tiny, tidy, all-too-brief conversations with people loved and valued for many years but unseen for near-on a decade in some cases.

    Saying hello-goodbye was a terrible wrench. No time to catch-up, re-energise lapsed relationships. Seemed we've all moved on and away from each other. But that's untrue: our masts are still steered by dreams and memories, ethics and incidents which involved us all, when we were close in our formative years.

    What we did together then still informs what we do now. Who we were then determines who we are now. How we turned out has a lot to do with how we were with each other. We don't ever find times and places to celebrate this, even just occasionally. The pain of this has racked me today.

    Sunday, January 11, 2004
    Free your mind
    After Wednesday's 'team shirt' question, here's another - ought a curate read the Fortean Times? Well, this one does and here's one reason why: it takes dreams seriously.

    I first bought the Fortean Times to keep me company on the tube last time I was in London, and loved it. It's a kinda glossy Northern Earth, a mag for people who believe that truth is stranger - and more fascinating - than fiction, and like searching for it in the outer reaches of experience. In the past, in the skies, and in the realm of the paranormal.

    I've just spent a month encouraging tinies to act out the journey of a group of stargazers, encouraging oldies to be excited about the message angels bring, preaching on the dreams of Joseph, Magi, Simeon and so on, each of them events at the heart of the central story of our faith. This side of Christmas it's obvious to me: how can a curate not be interested in exploring this sort of stuff?

    In the excellent Under the Unpredictable Plant Eugene Peterson lists fourteen spiritual disciplines which we dip in and out of at various times in our lives: spiritual reading, spiritual direction, meditation, confession, bodily exercise, fasting, Sabbath-keeping, dream interpretation, retreats, pilgrimage, almsgiving (tithing), journaling, sabbaticals, and small groups. Dream interpretation - the Fortean Times I picked up last year contained lots of dream material: people experimenting with dreams in particular places, news items about premonitions various folk had had in their sleep, and so on. Well, there's a thing - Fortean Times as an aid to spiritual development...

    This isn't to say I take Fortean Times entirely seriously. I doubt anyone should, as I suspect the editors don't. With gravity and wit, the current issue examines how generations of artists have used various kinds of drugs to assist their searches for inspiration. Well, I'm sure I've benefited from the fruits of such experimentation - indeed we all have, as the two words "Keith Richards" amply illustrate. Now, a footnote in Peterson's book tells us that in the sixties, in at least two seminaries, professors of worship and liturgy were conducting such experiments, using hallucinogenic drugs in eucharistic worship. I can feel another question coming on...
    Saturday, January 10, 2004
    Doing Battle nonviolently
    Great to hear John Battle MP in dialogue with The Bishop of Liverpool James Jones at a Church Action on Poverty meeting this morning. Seldom - if ever - have I been as impressed by a politician, for his sheer honest-to-goodness devotion to the task of working for the people he represents.

    I probably do a disservice to other politicians saying that; but to focus on Battle - here's a man who seems to have stuck to his task since being elected to represent the folk of Leeds West in 1987, spending Fridays and weekends regularly visiting schools, projects, community groups and workplaces in the constituency. Here's a guy deeply involved in prison work and advocacy on mental health despite being told by political hacks that these are areas to be avoided if he wants to avoid being savaged in parliament.

    The wealth of stories he shared about Leeds people's lives demonstrate the depth of his engagement with them. Here's a guy who obviously carries a tremendous amount of insight - and theology - in his head but has a way of talking which connects well at all levels.

    Battle said things I shall dwell on for some time:

    - the observation that the common good and common sense are very closely related;

    - a phrase he heard from the lips of Steve Biko many years ago - that politics is about developing hope; the emphasis on developing hope - how do you do that? Somewhere in the answer is where faith and politics meet;

    - the picture he planted of two places, close to each other in Leeds, which he knows well and visits regularly: Armley Prison, a "maelstrom - all of life is in there", and Kirkstall Abbey, an ancient place of peace and contemplation. Battle sees one of his tasks as bringing together what they represent to him - learning contemplation in the maelstrom;

    - and a question which is very pertinent to the online 'community', one which he faces all the time being a representative of Leeds West but inhabitant of London half the year, spending as much time on trains engrossed in a book as in Leeds engaged with constituents: "Do I really live where I am?"...

    A main theme which emerged from the two men's conversations was hope; Battle was the more forthright in his answer to a direct question, "Do you think the Iraq war has increased hope?" - "No." Violence never incresaes hope, he said. He's an advocate of nonviolent conflict resolution and obviously sees political engagement as a fine vehicle for that. Honest-to-goodness political engagement, that would be. I'm energised by his enthusiasm for the task.
    Friday, January 09, 2004
    Everyday stuff
    The thoughtful note on the back of a postcard - that's a prayer, that;
    The instant impersonal email - that's a curse.
    The little hug for a collegue's birthday - that's a prayer, that;
    The hurried brush-past in the corridor - that's a curse.
    The unrestrained armwaving goal celebration - that's a prayer, that;
    The "You're not singing anymore" - that's a curse.
    The leg-stretching stroll across the park - that's a prayer, that;
    The kick of shattered glass across the path - that's a curse.
    The time allowed for the other driver's manouevre - that's a prayer, that;
    The scowl behind the windscreen - that's a curse.
    The offered help, the proffered gift - that's a prayer, that;
    The hands-in-pocket safekeeping gesture - that's a curse.
    The blog that causes smiles or sighs - that's a prayer, that;
    The post of self-indulgence - that's a curse.
    The curse against all cursed things - that's a prayer, that;
    The prayer for me alone - that's a curse.
    Thursday, January 08, 2004
    Crazy Love
    On the road to heaven
    On your road to heaven
    Calling us to give out
    A smile and a kiss for ever
    Sun in the sky
    Sunshine in your eyes
    Crazy crazy crazy dream
    Crazy crazy crazy love

    Some reviewers hear Suicide and early New Order in Colder's Crazy Love. I see what they mean - that tremendous bass groove - but my point of reference is the lyrics, and they could be the Bunnymen: in content and delivery they're begging McCulloch to cover them.

    I love going into Probe with an open mind, reading the felt-pen comments shop staff have scribbled on cd cases and taking a recommendation of theirs home with me. Today's choice, Colder: Again is fine. Hear Crazy Love here.

    Wednesday, January 07, 2004
    Tenuous #2
    How tenuous a hold we have on joy. Had a football gone an inch or two another way tonight at Goodison Park then 40,000 people would have been significantly more joyful - or significantly less. As it is, after a truly engrossing, deeply encouraging 1-1 draw v. Arsenal we all emerged more or less joyful. Which, in this transitory life, is a change worth embracing, a chance worth taking.

    Yet there is permanence too. Expressed especially in the deeply respectful silence the 40,000 paid to the memory of T.G. Jones, an Everton and Wales giant of the 1940s who passed away on Saturday afternoon, aged 86. Goodison felt like a real community as the floodlights caught the night's first flurry of rain, the drops hitting the ground all that could be heard during those precious moments.

    And permanence in the chants. "We'll support you evermore" - easy to sing on a night of honour; but truly meant. Often sung in defeat, tonight's was a rendition to relish. Far from the last time those stadium walls will echo it.

    Tonight evertonfc.com says, "Henry was well shackled, Pires subdued, Ljungberg anonymous and it was all down to the feverish determination of this excellent Everton side. Never has a single point been so richly earned or so enthusiastically received." All this, and home with Cat Power up loud on my cd singing, "Good things coming / Cause the good thing's coming." Ought a curate wear his team colours to school assembly? Only tomorrow will tell.
    Tuesday, January 06, 2004
    How tenuous a hold we have on ourselves. How suddenly a young car thief finds himself transformed into a killer; how suddenly a holidaying wife becomes a traumatised widow.

    J.G. Ballard has written of "[the airport's] transience, alienation and discontinuities, and its unashamed response to the pressures of speed, disposibility and the instant impulse." We could read all these factors into today's terrible news from Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Yet Michael Howard's death, run over by his own vehicle at 5.30am, means that the airport car park now becomes a place of permanence. A memorial setting, a future destination for a family's grim pilgrimage, a concrete reminder of the violent death of this father-of-three.

    I am reminded of young Alistair in Stump, nervous on a mercenary mission of vengeance, repeatedly telling his scally cohort Darren that "I can't bump anyone. I don't have it in me to waste anyone." I picture Mr Howard's hapless killer as an Alistair. In an instant early today, his life, and many others besides, span hopelessly out of control.
    Monday, January 05, 2004
    Following God's scent trails
    Morning routine 2004:
    (a) Get up, wash etc;
    (b) Read brief devotional text - currently that is quotes from Michael Yaconelli - Selected Writings, the book Youth Specialties gave to those who attended Mike's tribute services; next up will probably be Michael Leunig: A Bunch of Poesy;
    (c) Iona Community prayers and other lists;
    (d) Breakfast, during which consult This Diary Will Change Your Life, which is what I spent my Christmas book tokens on this year.

    TDWCYL is even more fun than a Dodo Pad, and that's saying something. It's a diary with a difference because each day it tells you what to do. And the tasks it gives are designed to shake things up a bit. I only got mine today so I missed these:

    Thurday 1 January: Break your New Years Resolution;
    Friday 2 January: Write the opening sentence of your debut novel;
    Saturday 3 January: Take part in a mass social experiment by sticking an 'Out of Order' sign on an item of public infrastructure of your choice;
    Sunday 4 January: Gaze at someone wondering if they may be the true love of your life ... and act in consequence.

    You may have seen TDWCYL reviewed, for instance in The Guardian, who said it was an attempt to revive Situationism. Though the diary is more fun (and less political) than the kinds of things Guy Debord and co envisaged, it'll be a challenge taking it on this year. Today's task, for instance, seemed painfully difficult at first: throw something away that you like. I let myself off lightly by taking the Christmas Cards down. There will be tougher days ahead (eg Saturday 12 June - go shoplifting).

    Meanwhile, it's great to see Steve Collins taking Situationism into a whole new area by introducing the idea of Spritual Signage - inviting people to put up around a city, sticker-signs "which will indicate spiritual events and encounters, their location, nature and duration ... These can be placed on buildings, lampposts, taxi seats, escalators and other sites of spiritual encounter ... This will enable us to read the city, spiritually; to follow the scent trails of God." Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

    Sunday, January 04, 2004
    Turns out Jessie is the artist responsible for the Card of the Year. I did wonder. She wrote to tell me that when she saw on the computer that her card was my best of the year, her heart went BOOOM! As predicted her art helped inspire today's Epiphany sermon, her and Beagle 2. It ended up being on Explorers...
    Saturday, January 03, 2004
    You said it Ron
    "Manchester United? Blackburn Rovers? Wolverhampton Wanderers? Sheffield Wednesday? The Arsenal? Isn't it? Tottenham Hotspur? Preston North End? Charlton Athletic? Crystal Palace? West Ham United? Mmm? Reassuring names, aren't they? When you're listening in some far flung corner of the globe to the World Service on a Saturday afternoon? Crackly reception? Interference? Cosy? Marvellous. Ooh - result! Four-fourty-five? Grandstand? Isn't it? Highlights on Match of the Day? Da-da-da-daa-da-da-da-daa-daa? Somehow comforting, isn't it, you know? Legendary names? Tony Gubba! Fathers and sons, on the terraces? Cheesy Peas at half time? Pipe for Dad, Mum's at home making the tea. Aw, everything's all right with the world, isn't it? Saturday afternoons? It's football. Mmm?"

    - yes, Ron Manager. On FA Cup Third Round day, yes, we're with you.
    Friday, January 02, 2004
    Situations get fucked up ... and turned around sooner or later
    Hell, I've only just found this out: that last October Elliott Smith died. Stab wound to the chest. Probable suicide. One more reason for tears, the loss of this tender, melancholic musician. One more reason to say good riddance 2003. What a terrible year for losses, losses which make the world an emptier, less soulful place.
      I'm going out sleepwalking
      Where mute memories start talking
      The boss that couldn't help but hurt you
      And the pretty thing he made desert you

      I'm going out now like a baby
      A naive unsatisfiable baby
      Grabbing onto whatever's around
      For the soaring high or the crushing down
      With hidden cracks that don't show
      But that constantly just grow

      I'm looking for the man that attacked me
      While everybody was laughing at me
      You beat it in me that part of you
      But I'm gonna split us back in two
      Tired of living in a cloud
      If you're gonna say shit now you'll do it out loud

      It's 2:45 in the morning
      And I'm putting myself on warning
      For waking up in an unknown place
      With a recollection you've half erased
      Looking for somebody's arms to
      Wave away past harms

      I'm walking out on center circle
      The both of you can just fade to black
      I'm walking out on center circle
      Been pushed away and I'll never go back
    - Elliott Smith, '2.45am', from either/or. The blog title is a line from the same album's closing song, 'say yes'. I'm sure he's right. "'Depressing' isn't a word I would use to describe my music. But there is some sadness in it - there has to be, so that the happiness in it will matter."
    Pic of the month
    Why is the Long Now project so fascinating? Probably because it chimes in with a subcurrent running through our frantic society that we're living too quickly to understand who we are any more. Taking the long view - the long, long view - of life gets us into all sorts of creative thinking. Helps us understand ourselves better; even recreate ourselves a little.

    One thought such vision proffers is about the temporary nature of much that passes for permanent in our societies. Like language. Tell me abar it - I've just read Niall Griffiths' fantastic black comedy Stump in which a one-armed Liverpudlian fleeing a past life in a Welsh seaside town is hunted by two men in shellsuits driving down from Liverpool in a rickety old car. Griffiths gets modern scouse just right - and comparing that to very dusty Sixties efforts like Dick Williams' The Gospels in Scouse shows how much our dialect has altered. Williams' work was probably just as accurate as Griffiths' at the time. Bar the swearing. Odd, that. No-one swears in the gospels...

    But that's just a dialect. The Rosetta Project is a Long Now spin-off which is all about preserving languages which are otherwise being lost. It does it by creating a beautiful tool - The Rosetta Disk - "that might help in the recovery or revitalization of lost languages in unknown futures." I've made it my Pic of the month.
    Thursday, January 01, 2004
    When I was younger (and boy, did we reminisce at our little do last night) I always spent New Years Day creating a calendar for myself for the new year. It was a cut-and-paste job which drew on the vast resources available to me in the stacks of magazines hoarded in my room. I would never chuck them away - all those NMEs, MCNs, Buzz-es, and footy programmes.

    So the resultant calendar was a sort of retro view of the images which had most grabbed me the previous year. Some years it was a mural of star faces - I guess in the late seventies we'd be talking about Barry Sheene, Bob Latchford and, er, Richie Blackmore (Christ have mercy) - other years it was more creative images: especially in those times when rock photographers such as Pennie Smith and that U2 bloke Corbijn were at their most inventive and the NME Christmas issue was a treat for the eyes... that all made it to my walls.

    Things have changed (and boy, did we harp on about that at our little do last night) and I guess blogging is the replacement activity for cutting-and-pasting today. Which does nothing to reduce the stacks of printed matter cluttering this room and many others in this house. Calendars seem somehow retro themselves these days. We're all so date-time-stamped that we rely less for information on prints hanging from the walls. But there's still something about hanging a calendar, something symbolic at the start of a new year, something that connects you to their subject.

    I shall soon be taking down the dusty old Monet 2003 calendar from the hall and replacing it with the John Lowrie Morrison one I bought on the Mull ferry in October. And on this site I've decided to feature the image from each month of the Surfers Against Sewage calendar. Now, I wouldn't know one end of a surfboard from another but I know that SAS have a good cause because I spent my formative years playing on a contaminated oily beach (the effect that had on me was speculated on at our little do last night...). So I've sent off for the calendar and in 2004 would like to promote it and the brilliant images of photographer Andy Hughes. Check the sidebar. Happy New Year.