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

    Thursday, February 26, 2004
    Timed out

    I'm on the move. The computer's going in a box later and will reemerge, all being well, sometime next week, somewhere in Norris Green. Back soon. Pic: Jim
    Wednesday, February 25, 2004
    Eliot - stuck on the sidebar for Lent
    T.S. Eliot's Ash-Wednesday ... it'll take forty days and forty nights, and plenty more beside, to encounter, embrace, appreciate the heights, depths, twists, turns of this amazing work. So I've stuck it on my sidebar for Lent. [An angle on it, from last year's Ash Wednesday Communion here].
    Strange Attractor
    Another first .... first subscription to the new address: Strange Attractor. If 3rd Stone's Neil Mortimer recommends it, it must be worth a read. I love their own recommendation: "Strange Attractor celebrates unpopular culture. We declare war on mediocrity and a pox on the foot soldiers of stupidity. Join Us."

    Issue one features these articles among others: The Cargo Cults of Vanuatu - The Astounding Worlds of David Lindsay - Drinking with Derek Raymond and Patrick Hamilton - India's Sadhus - Glasgow Psychogeography - Imaginary Cults of London - HP Lovecraft, 9/11 and the Return of the Great Old Ones - Eric Count Stenbock & the Myth of Punch - Mind Control at Greenham Common - Monte Verita Artists' and Anarchists' Commune - Hidden Ciphers in Great Literature.
    Tuesday, February 24, 2004
    The Yaconelli Legacy edition of Youthworker arrived this morning. Amid the chaos of change a fine reminder of what this crazy ride's about:

    I want my crippled soul to escape the cold and sterile spirituality of a religion where only the perfect nondisabled get in. I want to lurch forward to Jesus, where the unwelcome receive welcome and the unqualified get qualified. I want to hear Jesus tell me I can dance when everyone says I can't. I want to hear Jesus walk over and whisper to this handicapped, messy Christian, "Do you want to dance?" - Mike Yaconelli, from Messy Spirituality.

    Monday, February 23, 2004
    First Things
    First things in the new house (due to move in early next week):

    First things brought into the house: a kettle, teabags, sugar and milk.

    First things bought for the house: an Ikea Desk.

    First work done on the house: carpets cleaned.

    First route plotted from the house: the best way to Goodison.
    Sunday, February 22, 2004
    The shoe and the human tale behind it

    Off Penny Lane today a child's shoe is lying in the road. I swerved my car to avoid it. As if it were a little animal, a precious live thing rather than an abandoned accoutrement or something lost in a human mini-tragedy.

    As I span back from my third visit to the recycling bins I was grateful for the shoe in the road near Penny Lane. It humanised me, after an afternoon of forcing myself into scandalous decisions to ditch items which have been with me for years, ripping slumbering rooms to shreds, chucking bagsfull of familiar things into cold iron skips. Desensitized by tipping all my dusty stuff away I needed that shoe to bring me back.

    The shoe made me wonder about the human tale behind it. Perhaps it had been chucked away in a similar purge. In a private rage or a public show of petulance. It may have been lost unwittingly - fallen out of someone's bag on their way home from the park. Or it could be witness to a harsher event - a mugging, perhaps, or a roadkill, or one of those nasty kids games where a stolen possession becomes a plaything for mocking bullies.

    And it was as I passed the shoe that I got the answer I'd been pondering for days, to the question Jeremy Vine's been posing on his show, what is the greatest ever opening song line?

    I had on the car stereo The Beatles' Let it Be. And, passing the shoe, thinking of the possible stories behind it - tragic, daft, simple, human - on came the title track. This disorientating afternoon music and a sense of place kept me rooted. Ripped-up and bin-brutalised, throat raw with dust, nevertheless in my heart I felt, yes, all things shall be well, as McCartney emoted the immortal opener, "When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me; speaking words of wisdom, let it be."
    Saturday, February 21, 2004
    Dark Heart revisited
    While dumping a load of files to back-up I rediscovered some old articles, written during the past decade, some of them published, some of them not. Proto-blogs, you might call them. One especially struck me as worth recording here. Originally written 12 November 1998 it is a review of the 1996 (still available, still very relevant) paperback, Nick Davies' Dark Heart: The Shocking Truth About Hidden Britain.....

    Nick Davies has entered the world of the very poor - the very desperate, those driven by poverty into prostitution, drug dependence and drug-running, crimes of all sorts. On his odyssey through the streets of Britain he has met with people driven insane and rendered inhumane by the brutality of the world which they find themselves living in.

    Nick Davies introduces us to Jamie and Liam, two children selling their tiny bodies in Nottingham lavatories. He takes us to Hyde Park, Leeds, and charts its decline from a settled residential area to a collapsed community abandoned by employers, bereft of amenities, racked with crumbling housing and at war with itself in an orgy of burglary, vandalism, violence.

    Nick Davies reminds us of Natalie Pearman, 'a walking portrait of an ordinary girl' who at age 14 became Maria, a whore, and who at 16 was found dead in a Norwich layby, stripped from the waist down, scarlet bruises on her neck.

    And he lets us into the twilight world of the drugs gangs and organised prostitution rings which dominate life in Hidden Britain, tells us again and again of people broken so much by the circumstances of their lives that they lose all sense of right and wrong, all measure of decency, any drop of self-respect or communality.

    The story of Hidden Britain is stark and terrible. It is played out in gin palaces and brothels and boarded-up shopping arcades and crumbling Victorian terraces across the land. It features the poorest of the poor - those who find themselves outside of wider society and faced with the choice between either living on state benefits at less than subsistence levels, or entering a life of crime as a means of survival and some self-esteem. Crack cocaine, guns, cheap make-up and the Netto shopping bag feature prominently in this shadow world. Hidden Britain, revealed by this bold and thorough investigation, is a very real, shockingly large and awfully depraved place.

    Nick Davies' analysis of all this is brilliantly clear. "It is not that poor people are bad - that is simply the self-serving story of those who are responsible. The truth profoundly is that poverty is bad for people. It brutalises them. It has produced a mutant society in which, after all the physical and emotional and social damage which has been inflicted on the poor, it becomes clear that there is also a deeper damage - something that strikes them in the core, robbing them of their humanity. For want of a better way of describing it, they have also suffered a spiritual damage."

    Nick Davies is clear about who is responsible. He is clear because he has observed that Hidden Britain is not such an unknown country - there are places of connection, he writes, such as London's brothels and high street shop doorways, where the affluent meet the poor. On high streets, affluent people may feel frightened or disgusted or sorry or sad about the poor people they step around, but in brothels, Davies asserts, "the affluent not only see the poor, they directly and physically exploit them and, furthermore, they do so entirely for their own pleasure."

    This is a reality which serves also as a suitable metaphor for the political programmes of the past twenty years which have created a society of increasing wealth and increasing poverty - the losses of the poor directly contributing to the gains of the rich through the tax system. Davies supports this argument with a statistic from the 'maids' of London’s Gloucester Terrace, that, "in the last decade or so, the price of thrashing a young girl in London has fallen dramatically. Where once the men who visited the flats had to pay £100 for each stroke of the cane they inflicted on a young woman's back, they can now indulge themselves for only £10 a stroke. Supply and demand. There is a market surplus of desperate young women."

    Nick Davies describes the terrible inequality in our society as a consequence of deliberate policy, as a form of exploitation and greed which has become systematised and which the present government is perpetuating with its refusal to address unemployment and its continuing policies of low taxation. Davies demonstrates how the poor are numbed by the spiritual damage of which he writes, which is why they can do the awful things they do to themselves and to each other. His analysis proposes that this spiritual damage actually afflicts the whole of society. For those who want to understand what this means, Davies' bold and startling investigation is required reading.
    You've got to laugh
    In the pub with a group of my oldest friends last night, illustrating the truth that it's no good trying to say profound things after two or three pints, during a conversation regretting the loss of cycling maestro Marco Pantani, one of the greatest climbers in the sport's history, someone said: "He had an up and down career."

    Thursday, February 19, 2004
    Unemployment Sunday sermon
    As a break from house removal activity I wrote a sermon for Unemployment Sunday today. And as a break from my usual practice (posting my talks after I've used them) I've put it online already. As a prod to other preachers this Sunday. Titled The New Serfs, based around an article in last week's New Statesman, it begins and ends in Egypt / Morecambe Bay.
    Wednesday, February 18, 2004
    Lights on in Sefton Park
    It was over a year ago I blogged about taking part in the public consultations for the Sefton Park public artwork competition. Today, either because I'm a Friend of the Palm House or because I sent my blog to the competition organisers, whatever, I got an invite to a demonstration of the proposal. Which, I'm pleased to say, is the one most punters wanted - Light Signatures by Andrew Holmes, a laser installation which projects to eight points around the park boundary, the signatures of each of the eight people whose statues stand at each point of the octagonal Palm House. That mixed bag of explorers, discoverers, classifiers and cultivators of the natural world: Andre Le Notre, Captain James Cook, Geraldus Mercator, Carolus Linnaeus, Charles Darwin, Christopher Columbus, Prince Henry the Navigator and John Parkinson.

    On Wednesday 4 March at 7.30, a laser will switch on and light up the corner of Croxteth Gate by Brompton House. It would be good to see. But I shall miss it, having already booked a date that evening with The Fall and John Cooper Clarke at the Academy. Such is the way of things (the wealth of culture in this city).

    Perhaps JCC will do some light tricks to match the occasion in the park. He's done them before. At an Edinburgh Fringe gig once (a fan wrote) he came on stage with bag of tatty books of poetry, lit up, drank lots of Volvic bottled water (which he called "water from Volvo's") and chatted to the audience who sat bathed in UV light: "The dandruff stood out on everyone's shoulders."
    Tuesday, February 17, 2004
    On eating together
    Got into a nice topic via Maggi's blog: the value of eating together regularly. It comes out of her reading of Ian Bradley's Colonies of Heaven in which, from the little we really know about the 'Celtic' church, he teases out some models which might enrich our life on the way today:

    "[An] effective way of fostering a sense of shared spirituality and commitment is through people regularly eating together," he writes.

    I relate to that: (a) because Jesus seemed to be doing that all the time; (b) because if there's a free lunch going, as a single bloke with little interest in cooking, I'm there; and (c) because in my humble but varied experience Christian 'community' has worked well where people have eaten together regularly.

    Made me think about those times and places where eating together often with others has enriched my life....

    My Nan's kitchen, the hub of our family life as a child into teenage, where popping in brought me beans-on-toast and the chance to catch up with everybody's news;

    Lunchtimes at The Ranch, an outdoor pursuits centre where I lived and worked for a year 1982/3. After a good feed one of our live-in community would give a five-minute talk; I loved these 'Lunchtime Messages' which sustained and connected us (and boy, we needed that, in that pressure-cooker environment);

    Student Sunday lunches, in the homes of kind church families in Cardiff. I entered student life disillusioned with and disconnected from church, so the hospitality of virtual strangers impacted deeply on me. As did the difference between a lonely snack in halls and a steaming roast dinner with a room of friendly folk;

    Pub lunches with friends, whilst unemployed. With shop manager Dave on a two-hour break in The Grapes, Mathew Street (toilet sign: "John Lennon peed here"), or with fellow-doleites at The Nags Head, Thornton. Small talk, valuable friendships and laughter in days of fear and shame;

    Evening meals in Dingle, inner-city Liverpool, with friends with whom I shared a common table most nights of the week when I lived around the corner from them. Bradley writes of a "sense of common purpose and identity" fostered by such mealtime gatherings. It's true. What we had then still sustains us, eight years on. It's been a little while, but I'm round at theirs again tonight.
    Monday, February 16, 2004
    A world beyond borders
    "God is in the details", wrote Jude yesterday. That helps me on a day when I have had to become Mister DIY Man. It's not a role I'm used to, it removes me from Borders (a familiar Monday haunt) and takes me into a big shed called Homecare, a whole new world where the details are different...

    in a world beyond borders
    i touch metal, wood and glass
    scrutinising surfaces
    tracing textures
    measuring up

    i'm lost
    once past lighting
    on an aisle of coving
    surrounded by skirting
    heading for laminates

    its a sharp world
    beyond borders
    edges unsmoothed
    fixes quickened
    prices reversed
    Sunday, February 15, 2004
    The road less travelled
    I didn't count on listening to Norwegian house music this afternoon, but it's One World: Sunkissed Live which is streaming as I write. This is because of one man, Pip, who has cheered up a dead space of the day with a lovely blog about me. Which is the sort of thing he does so habitually and so well, builds people up.

    Pip says I'm a fellow-traveller on the road less travelled. Which reminded me, I've not yet read that book. But I think I understand the idea. Travellers on that road are prepared to face their difficulties - and to suffer through the ensuing changes. Seeking serenity and a richer existence, travellers on that road try to embrace reality together.

    The road less travelled is a place of grace. The soundtrack to that road is sometimes Norwegian house but neither Dido nor The Deviants would be turned away. The speed of travel on that road is unhurried, humane. Fellow-travellers aren't competing; they're helping each other along. Before Pip's blog put me onto Norwegian house I'd been hearing The King of Nothing Hill by Barry Adamson, whose opening song is broken by this abrupt interruption, which I think shares the spirit of that road:

    BARRY'S SON: "Hey Dad"
    ADAMSON: "Er, yes, son?"
    BARRY'S SON: "Can I sing along to 'Cinematic Soul'?"
    ADAMSON: "Of course you can, son, I mean, what is a song if you can't sing along?"
    (at which point, the groove resumes)
    Saturday, February 14, 2004
    From prayer to pulp
    I bade farewell to thirty months worth of magazines today. Took two car-loads to the recycling bins. It was some effort, more emotional than physical. Had to harden my resolve, clear the decks, be indiscriminate about what I threw away. Only once every three or four years can I bring myself to do this. Usually because I'm moving on. If I ever stay longer anywhere I'll end up living in a sea of newsprint. I love my mags so much it hurts to let them go.

    Today, I hesitated at the edge of the recycle bin, my hand hovering hesitantly over an edition of colors magazine which I'd really enjoyed. The one on prayer. I could have justified keeping that on the grounds of potential sermon material. But then I could have used the same justification for any of the mags I trashed today: Resurgence and When Saturday Comes, Amnesty and Orbit; the journals of LGCM, CCJ, CAP, CPAG, CAAT; New Left Review, Le Monde Diplomatique, Mute, The Ecologist, Mojo. But, aware that I had an audience, as people do at recycling places, other recyclists sussing me out, I resisted the embarrassment of a last-minute retrieval and let it go, with all the others.

    Actually, I think the terrible task was made slightly easier this time around because there's so much on the web now, archive material which makes my hoarding habit less necessary. Colors has a very good website archive with many pages covering the more recent issues. Not the prayer issue, though. The highlights consigned to my memory, it's gone to pulp now.

    From prayer to pulp. Pretty much describes my state of mind at this time of welcome but unsettling change.

    Ask me another
    Questions I'm getting a lot of at the moment - and answers I'm giving, not at all sure they're correct:

    "Are you looking forward to your move?" Not especially, I'm just taking one day at a time.

    "Are you getting excited about running your own church?" I won't be running my own church. I'm joining a community of people to work alongside them awhile.

    "What plans for mission have you got?" Er... none, just being faithful.

    "What's the vicarage like?" It's fine - for the family of six who are renting it out. I asked not to live in it; I'll be in a terraced house round the corner like the rest of the parishioners.

    "What training do you think the diocese could offer you (and resources)?" Gardening skills (and a shed).
    Friday, February 13, 2004
    Cains put things right
    How about this for equity: I discovered that the Cains Brewery website's Liverpool page, a guide to all that's good in the city, had carelessly included just one of our city's great footy teams in its links. I emailed them to let them know they were missing a link to Everton, "You know it makes sense to put that right...?" And, as an example to those who've sullied this site recently, with a few unneccesary footy-related comments, almost by return Cains emailed me to let me know they've put that right. They added one of the other teams as well, so all three are on there now. Let's drink to football for once and forget sectarianism. Cheers, one and all.
    Thursday, February 12, 2004
    Disciplined self-indulgence
    Oblique Strategies is just now telling me to embrace "Disciplined self-indulgence". I like that. It fits, in this week of farewells and hellos. Takes a bit of discipline to get around all those people who you know want to say goodbye to you, but it's been moving, the warmth of peoples good wishes - plus, I've recieved some great gifts up to now. So...

    The other night, had the Men's group round for a curry and beer and Peter Kay Live at The Bolton Albert Halls; gift: bottle of Glenmorangie and a lovely pewter quaich.

    Yesterday morning, I told the school assembly this was my last appearance and they applauded wildly; gift: a china plate bearing the school crest.

    Last night, the kids at Junior club all disappeared into the kitchen as I returned from an errand one of the other leaders had sent me on. They presented me with wonderfully touching handmade cards and -- the greatest gift ever, this -- an Everton FC football signed by the whole EFC squad. The children understand.

    Today, at Clergy Chapter, prior to our usual lunch at Cains Brewery Tap, words of fondness, wisdom and warning from valued colleagues; gift: a bottle of Merlot and an Everton stats book.

    Tonight, time for hellos as I'm out again, this time for a meal with the new lot. Disciplined self-indulgence; I can live with this awhile.
    Tuesday, February 10, 2004
    A whole album full of wonders
    Pere Ubu's Pennsylvania is a vast atmospheric journey through that state's places, its inner and outer spaces. It's big; it broods and it hangs like smoke around for days after a hearing. I've known it for a few years now and it moves me.

    I'm even more moved today by something new to me: Sufjan Stevens' Michigan. This is a different sort of music altogether. A gentle, internal music. Music of the heart, which gets to the heart of the people of Michigan, Stevens' home, their motivations, dreams, disappointments, aspirations. Gentle music of melancholy and grace.

    The brilliant Rough Trade Shops 7th Compilation - Counter Culture 03 put me onto Sufjan, featuring For the Widows in Paradise, for the Fatherless in Ipsilanti, a song which wins you over even before you've heard it, with a title like that. But thrills you even more deeply when you hear its perfect chorus, "I'll do anything for you, I did everything for you". This is a song of massive generosity. On Sufjan's beautiful interactive Michigan map (website, click Paradise) his notes to this song read,

    Who is your neighbor? He is your brother. Who is that stranger? She is your mother. The man downstairs hammering on the wall, the woman blow-drying her hair in the bathroom down the hall - these people are your family.

    The whole album is full of wonders like this. I don't know what motivates Sufjan's vision - his bio says that he was named after Abu Sufjan Muhammad, the great Armenian Sufi warrior who slew ten thousand dragons to save the Fairy Princess, and that as a child Mr. and Mrs. Stevens fed him carrots and read him parts of the Bhagavad Gita, but I somehow doubt he meant to make any of that entirely believable. Whatever, I've seldom heard such humanity in a collection of songs, beautiful songs, each one.

    Please don't take my word for it. Click on the jumping fish on Sufjan's Michigan map and hear Romulus, Sufjan's song about an errant mother (his, perhaps?); listen well, and be ready to be deeply, deeply moved.
    Monday, February 09, 2004
    Mapped out
    County map

    map reproduced from Ordnance Survey map data
    by permission of the Ordnance Survey.
    © Crown copyright 2001.

    I had a go at the Marnanel Counties Map today. The ones in blue are the only ones I've failed to visit so far. And by the end of June I'll be able to lose the blue from Cornwall, too. I've booked in at Seabirds House, St Ives. It looks wonderful. The thought of it is keeping me going just now. (Looks like next year it's the Orkneys ...)
    Sunday, February 08, 2004
    Even more to give
    The thank-you card was a bit premature, but very welcome nonetheless. Bone-cold in February, numb to sensitivities about myself, it was a real wake-up to read how I'd helped and influenced someone over the past three years here. Trying to rouse my hibernating spirit to prepare for my imminent move, it was also energising to read these simple words: "I feel you have even more to give..."

    February can be cold and cruel (three years ago this week I had pneumonia). It's the month of least incentive. I deeply dislike it - or having to do anything during it (ideally, I'd sleep right through it). But encouragement from an unexpected source means I may find the energy to get moving this coming week.
    Saturday, February 07, 2004
    Done big time
    "When you're three-nil down at half time against Man United you're looking to get done big time," said David Moyes after today's 3-4 reverse. It was all we needed just then, the prospect of forty-five further minutes of torment in the lashing rain.

    The violently-changing weather seemed analogous to the twists and turnarounds taking place on the pitch. As United got their third heavy sleet gusted around Goodison and many from the exposed front seats made their way down to the tea-points or entirely out of the ground for a gloomy, washed-out early journey home.

    They missed the comeback - which was thrilling. And the sucker punch from Van Nistelrooy right at the end - which was cruel, aberrant, an inclement football moment. As we left the ground the clouds broke open, pulled back, revealing blue sky. Not Everton blue; a paler version - more like a grubby Man City - but nevertheless welcome for the outward walk in the chill wind. A break from the blizzards: a meagre February solace.

    Another meagre February solace today: resisting being done big time, but nevertheless still being done.
    Friday, February 06, 2004
    Ask me another
    Thought I'd while away a few moments on the Foamy Custard questionnaire today. I thought wrong. You need more than a few moments. The folks at Foamy Custard are exploring the areas where folklore, mytholology, cultural studies and related disciplines come together. "Drawing on their different strengths helps us to understand better popular culture, politics, religion, and many other aspects of modern life."

    So the questionnaire asks you to agree or disagree / a lot or a little on things like:

    "Almost everything people believe in as grown ups consists of lies they were told as children";

    "Political myths are at least as prevalent as religious ones";

    "What passes for 'traditional' is rarely rooted in the real past but rather in the nostalgia that derives from dissatisfaction with modernity"

    Good ones for the pub, all of them. Seems almost churlish to dispatch a reaction to them on the click of a radio button. Seems in keeping with the Earth Mysteries connection that once dispatched your answers disappear without trace. I thought I might get a quickfire response like "You obviously adhere to the notion that myths can be thought of as not so much the contents of consciousness as deep structures that shape the contents of consciousness". But nothing but a thank you came back. I look forward to reading what the folks at Foamy Custard make of punters' replies.

    Meanwhile I have devised a questionnaire of my own. It is based on the little booklet inside a whisky gift box I just bought for a friend. One question, three categories, here it is...

    Describe yourself in terms of:
    (a) nose
    (b) taste
    (c) finish
    Thursday, February 05, 2004
    Happiness is a U-turn
    I drove past Mendips twice within five minutes today. Not on a Lennon pilgrimage; on the lookout for the entrance to a retirement home I was visiting two doors away. Menlove Avenue's one of those unforgiving roads, a dual carriageway where traffic forces you to drive fast and if you miss your turn, to have to do a major U'e to get back where you wannabe. Many Lennon pilgrims must get caught out that way. And then they have to do another U'e to go round the corner to Strawberry Fields.

    Nowt remarkable about Mendips. Scouse suburbia, semi-detached Woolton with a view of the woods opposite, birds singing, vehicles thudding past between town and airport, or en route to well-to-do parts of Cheshire some Woolton folk would aspire to. Nothing shoddy about Mendips either. Nice place to live. Inner-city aspirants end up in this area. Quality of life is fine.

    Did Lennon's surroundings inspire his art? an interviewer asked Yoko on the occasion of the public opening of the house last year. She wanted to say yes - which would easily justify her investment in the place - but her instinctive answer was, "No, it came from inside him." Which is probably closer to the truth.

    Closest to the truth about what nurtured Lennon's art is probably the way Aunt Mimi brought him up, in a straightforward middle-class, firm but supportive way; She's not a girl who misses much / Do do do do do do do do, oh yeah.

    But the house played a part, brutally through formative experiences like twice seeing family members killed on that fast road outside - vehicles were fewer and slower in the fifties, but no less deadly. And gently, I'd assume, because it's the sort of place of light, space and calm which helps creative minds flourish.

    Interesting watching that BBC2 programme about The National Trust to see how much effort they and Yoko put into conserving this place. The BBC had a snobby NT objector on the programme who sneered at the project and said, incorrectly, "This isn't what the National Trust was set up to do." The programme faithfully recorded his colleagues' sheer hard work on Mendips and Yoko's commitment, with hotel-leisure developers closing in on a purchase, that this place would be kept as a shrine: "Better a shrine than a ruin," as she sagely put it. I tried to let that man's elitist abusiveness wash over me but I'm afraid I failed. The arrogant get. I need a fix cos I'm going down.

    The great thing about Mendips is that it isn't 'great' at all. The great thing about preserving it for the nation is that it serves as a tribute to ordinary, decent folk like Mimi, to households struck by everyday tragedy, warmed by companionship and love, and to bedroom dreamers like Lennon without whose wit, daft wisdom and guileless invention the nation would be far less 'great' than it is.

    Wednesday, February 04, 2004
    Welcome to the Wibbers' 4th Best Blog
    Honoured, again, by those nice young folks at The Wibsite. They've awarded me fourth Best Christian Blog in their 2003 Wibsite Awards. I'm not letting this go to my head, however, as I've noted that I polled 11 per cent of the vote in that category, which represents probably four people.

    However I shall allow myself to be strangely warmed by this affirmation, and especially by the words of Rhys, who nominated me. He wrote: "His warmth and wit shine through his writing, and he strikes me as the sort of man you could happily take out for a drink and listen to for hours."

    Drink? Drink? Happy to venture into Father Jack territory in the name of conversation, I shall be seeking out Rhys in The Winged Ox at Greenbelt.....

    Tuesday, February 03, 2004
    The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs
    "The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs.... "

    Words of wonder; wonderful words. Behind trends again, I'm sure, but today, not a moment too late, I discovered The Be Good Tanyas. Perfect antidote to the cold and dark: their close, light, joyful harmonies.

    [The Littlest Birds: Windows Player]
    Monday, February 02, 2004
    Disengagement and the Politics of Verticality
    I don't understand the situation in Israel-Paelstine, at all. So I don't know how to interpret Ariel Sharon's announcement that he intends to evacuate all Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. The Times Online tonight says this indicates that "Mr Sharon intends to forge ahead with his 'disengagement plan' to separate Israelis from Palestinians... His announcement has appeared to stun political allies and foes in equal measure after saying that he envisaged a time when no Jews would live in the Gaza Strip among Palestinians."

    I don't understand it, but I'm interested in it in the light of a fascinating article in Mute, The Politics of Verticality by Eyal Weizman. No surprise in his assertion that the conflict has transformed the landscape and the built environment of that contested territory. But but he goes on to say that conventional 'maps' aren't enough to understand those transformations - that, since the 1967 war:

    The Occupied Territories were no longer seen as a two-dimensional surface, but as a large threedimensional volume, layered with strategic, religious and political strata.

    New and intricate frontiers were invented, like the temporary borders later drawn up in the Oslo Interim Accord, under which the Palestinian Authority was given control over isolated territorial 'islands', but Israel retained control over the airspace above them and the sub-terrain beneath.

    This process might be described as the 'politics of verticality'. It began as a set of ideas, policies, projects and regulations proposed by Israeli state-technocrats, generals, archaeologists, planners and road engineers since the occupation of the West Bank, severing the territory into different, discontinuous layers.

    This invites a whole new understanding of territory. Mute carries a few pages of panoramic pictures of the West Bank which show how these Israeli projects have created mountaintop settlements, politicised water and sewage supplies, militarised the airspace and - especially striking, to me - produced an astonishing infrastructure of bypass roads that weave above and below each other in an attempt to separate the two communities. Next up: the plan to connect Gaza and the West Bank - the two remotely estranged territories, forty-seven kilometres apart, that according to the Oslo accord are to form a single political unit:

    The so called "safe passage", still on the drawing board, will be a Palestinian route including six motor lanes, two railway lines, high-voltage electricity cables and an oil pipe that will connect the two enclaves across Israeli territory.

    It seems to me, reading Weizmann's article (reproduced in full in www.opendemocracy.net) that disengagement has already happened, that Israelis and Palestinians already live separate lives, above and below but never alongside each other. The vast wall being built throughout the territory has become the accepted symbol of disengagement. But from now, it's the image of Israeli six-lane speedways spanning high above and tunnelling deep beneath twisty Palestinian dirtroads which illustrates this tragedy for me.
    Sunday, February 01, 2004
    Pic of the Month
    Pic of the Month - Frans Masereel. It had to be him eventually.