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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Monday, May 31, 2004Pic of the month John Meirion Morris's Tryweryn instead. I know I wrote about it only three days ago but I think it merits an extended view long after it drops off this front page.
Consigning May's pic to the archives I must mention I got a lovely postcard off the featured photographer, Bob Humm, during the month, complementing me on the site ("except for the Everton bits" - what can he mean?). The Architectural Review described his work as: "Delicious photographs of corrugated iron." It's inarguable, when you take a look at www.bobhumm.com.
Sunday, May 30, 2004Sun-blessed hands of the man
I have spent an evening gazing, enthralled, at a man's hands. The hands of a man called Bruce Cockburn. It's usually the words which grab me, for Cockburn is rightly celebrated as a leading poet in his field; and I was held in awe of his words again. But in the intimate surroundings of the City Varieties Music Hall Leeds last night it was his hands, defying sense, working the space between motion and emotion, effortlessly crafting songs of depth and scale. The sun-blessed hands of the man.
Some of Bruce's recorded work suffers through over-production. Best Bruce is times like this - you and him, a small room, those hands working his guitar into an instrument of grace. As for the words ... some of the strongest Cockburn lines are those which simultaneously simmer with anger and boil over with love. "Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight", for instance, from the song I used as the basis of my talk at Michelle and Stuart's wedding - Lovers in a Dangerous Time. Good to see them there last night.
Sat there I was thinking, the first Bruce album I got must have been twenty years ago, secondhand from dusty old Marina Records - Humans, which contains some of the most potent lines of any album of any era, I'd suggest. It was a good record to start with . You get bigger as you go, he sings on that: "You get bigger as you go / No one told me - I just know / Bales of memory like boats in tow / You get bigger as you go." And he has. Bigger in heart and mind. He remains as potent now as ever in his long, (over here) hidden career. His work fulfils his own words in that same song, "One small step for freedom / From foregone conclusion."
Not long ago he released All Our Dark Tomorrows, his response to the last Bush 'election' which I previously blogged about here. Bruce explained to us the opening line came from a prediction of Nostradamus current at the time... the rest, though, is his, I guess. It hurts and it heals with a simmering sense of injustice, and I think it bears repeating:
The village idiot takes the throne
His the wind in which all must sway
All sane people, die now
Be lifted up and carried away
You've got no home in this world of sorrows
There's a parasite feeding on
Everybody's bag of rage
What goes out returns again
To smite the mouth and burn the page
Under the rain of all our dark tomorrows
I can see in the dark - it's where I used to live
I see excess and the gaping need
Follow the money - see where it leads...
It's to shrunken men stuffed up with greed
They meet and make plans in strange half-lit tableaux
Under the rain of all our dark tomorrows
You've got no home in this world of sorrows
[All Our Dark Tomorrows is on You've Never Seen Everything, 2003]
Friday, May 28, 2004Presence in the absence MC Mabon contemplating the question "How to define the divine - it's just not possible," with the appeal, "Find me an alibi for my existence." On the outward journey I'd been listening to a tape of Leslie Griffiths' Greenbelt 2003 talk about R.S. Thomas, another Welsh desert voice, exploring Thomas' eternal obsession, the absence of God.
I've been in Bangor, to see the exhibition of John Meirion Morris's sculptures, Imagination: Source of Art and Religion at the University Anglican Chaplaincy. All of this - the impossibility and absence of God - is upfront in Morris's work, because he is a determined atheist. Which is astonishing because these sculptures shine with spirit.
There's a questioning, provocative spirit, which the chaplaincy team have been bold to promote. This is evident in Rhiannon, a disturbing sculpture in which a passive young woman is giving birth to a foetal child, her legs and the baby encircled by barbed-wire and nails, evoking a crown of thorns.
There's a spirit inspired by primitive art - in Morris's case the combination of African and Celtic influences which permeate his work, like Modron (pictured left). The 'Divine Mother' of the Celtic World, here placed enticingly on the altar, arms aloft, child (creation?) at her feet.
There's a spirit birthed in personal grief and the illumination which comes through pain - in the pieta displayed in a tiny side chapel, a mother, her torso hollowed-out, supporting in her outstretched arms the collapsed body of her son; a work which Morris created whilst he and his wife were losing their son to illness some years ago.
And... there's a spirit of defiant community, of rebellion and rebirth, in Tryweryn (below). Tryweryn is the name of the valley above Bala, which in 1957 Westminster's Government decreed would be flooded to make a reservoir to supply the city of Liverpool. The village of Capel Celyn was engulfed in the waters. It's become a symbol of what's perceived as a turning-point in Welsh history, when Welsh people became convinced of the need to govern their own affairs.
What a statement, this Welsh phoenix, birdlike as so many of Morris's works are, with a chapel choir singing in its feathers. The artist says it expresses "a new Welsh era of hope and reconciliation." In the Chaplaincy there's a two-foot-high version of this sculpture. The plan is to raise the money for a 28-foot-high one with a wingspan of 24 feet to be installed on the shores of Llyn Celyn.
Bird of Freedom
From the darkness of an old disgrace
And the old deep fears of our past,
From the shadows of ruins,
From the water's grip,
Like a bird
We extend, we arise,
Our memory continuing
To vitalise our being,
The memory of lost freedom
And its beautiful dignity;
And our language too
A breath in the breast,
A lament and song
In our mouths,
A single shout in the mountains;
Arise from the shadow
As a heartbeat,
A swelling breast
To face the sun;
From shame into the light
And the wide sky,
On wings of fire.
-- Chief Bard, Ieuan Wyn
Thursday, May 27, 2004Site-Sight Site-Sight, a project: "Using art to create a richer enjoyment, understanding and involvement in our surroundings as an integral part of our everyday lives." Liverpool-based, Site-Sight is directed by Jean Grant, "a leading exponent, working in the specialised field of site specific and environmental art."
"Artists," she says, "have always been acknowledged as observers and commentators on society. That everyone has a creative sensory understanding of their environment Site-sight's aim is to be the open eye of its clients, be they large corporations or small communities."
So her work has included:
"A multi-media installation examination of our changing perception and uses of walking for a people history museum.
"Turning a mile of dereliction into a measured mile of wild flowers.
"Using night lights and snow in a school playground as both a celebration, an artwork and a scientific experiment.
"Growing wild flowers as a metaphor for the care and control in young women's health issues.
"Involving teenagers to re-assess ways of preventing litter and trespass by innovative possibilities of thorn bushes and their planting.
"Celebrations, from making a specific gift to involving 5 marquees and a palm house."
She's had local people following the course of forgotten inner-city streams; she's been planting a peace garden beneath the Anglican Cathedral (the only public collection of wild roses in the country), she's been running a series of urban picnics where local folk, architects, artists, environmentalists have sat together discussing how to transform underused or derelict land into friendly spaces... and so on...
I discovered Site-sight while exploring the local options on offer during this year's Architecture Week. Jean is launching her Pool Project then, an exploration of Liverpool's tidal pool, one of the city's lost routes.
Part of the event is a walk, of course. I'll be on it.
Wednesday, May 26, 2004Tenantspin Tenantspin has been broadcasting online: "a live interactive channel produced by High Rise tenants in Liverpool, UK, [which] aims to promote resident participation in regeneration and social housing issues through constructive debate and shared experience."
I happened on it tonight while thinking about blogging on a far drier topic - the new sheltered apartments on Brookside Drive, Knotty Ash. And got drawn into the extensive archives, featuring guests of all kinds, particularly edgy creatives who've been involved in all sorts of things with Tenantspin over the years. It's proof, if more is needed, that if you put Liverpudlians in charge of a microphone there's no doubt plenty of constructive debate and shared experience will ensue.
So... I'm whiling away the evening watching Liverpool Housing Action Trust (HAT) tenants interviewing three of my all-time favourites: (from the left) Will Self, talking about his residency in a city tower block and the art that came out of his encounters there, Bill Drummond successfully persuading his public to buy bits of his Richard Long artwork for a dollar each, and Colin Wayland, a HAT officer who I worked with when he was at Communities Against Poverty, trying to persuade people who know him well that a typical day for him involves an 8.30am (not 10.00) start....
Tuesday, May 25, 2004Compare :: Contrast
Fiddling about on the Ordnance Survey's Get a map pages I discover there's another Norris Green: in Cornwall. And as that county is my holiday destination in just ten day's time I shall make a little detour to the south-west edge of Dartmoor to stop, compare, contrast the places; breathe in the country air. And fantasise about how it was around here not all that long ago....
Monday, May 24, 2004Farewell the teacher Houllier delivered only limited success to his club and that wasn't enough for them in the arena of glittering prizes which is top-level Euro football.
I think I owe him some sort of tribute having only previously mentioned him on this site whilst sniggering at his team's occasional misfortunes. He may have been manager of our local rivals but some folks get under your skin, and it feels like he did. Because he injected some ethics into the big-money game which stood way above the bottom-line. His leaving today was parcelled into the process of club execs negotiating their immediate future with billionaire speculators, and as he went he expressed wider concerns in saying, "It is important for the club to find a balance in a world driven by economic and financial needs. It needs to consider its roots - it cannot always have a quick fix."
For me what emerged today was the impression that at heart perhaps Houllier's greatest strength was as a teacher. Teaching was how he began in life, what brought him to the city of Liverpool in the sixties and began his love affair with the place which continues despite today's events. Note how he defined his greatest successes in his final interview. He expressed them in terms of the personal development of his players:
"The ... job of a manager is to influence the life of the club through your style, management and personality. I think we have improved training habits in terms of diet, looking after our bodies and the way we behave. We can travel anywhere in the world and I can be safe in the knowledge that there won't be any problems with my players in terms of partying and boozing. That side of football has been eradicated during my time here. I think the good attitude of the players is directly influenced by the behaviour of the manager and his staff."
And specifically, with discernable pride, about the personal development of the club's current captain and exemplar:
"...Part of a manager's role is to make the players improve. ... I think Steven Gerrard has improved ... They not only have to improve on the field but also off the pitch too. That picture of Steven walking around the pitch after the Newcastle match with his daughter was a great, great image for me. The player who had come from the Academy had grown up to be a man and not only a man but also a father and that makes me proud. I think I've had some influence on the players on the human side. They may have superstar status but they have remained polite, accessible and humble."
I know I mocked him over his repeated philosophising over various team defeats last season ("It could be a blessing in disguise") but you would be philosophical, wouldn't you, after major heart surgery, you would perhaps put the welfare of your charges above the shrill demands of shareholders. You would, as a teacher, want to respond to defeat by drawing out lessons for the future. It's a tribute to his character that on Merseyside tonight there seems to be a quiet, respectful mood about his dismissal.
We blues enjoyed calling him Monsieur Tolouse LePlot; I think on reflection he had his eyes on a far bigger picture than our pettiness could frame.
Sunday, May 23, 2004And on the day you fall whose name will ya call DEVENDRA BANHART: "COSMOS AND DEMOS" from Oh Me Oh My...
This 23 year old protege of Swans' Michael Gira possesses the cracked falsetto voice of one who has crossed over beyond the veil of reality and is not afraid to sing of what he has seen there. Like his own Klee-style illustrations that crawl over his sleeves, Texas born Banhart's acoustic guitar weaves spindrift shapes while he sings deceptively innocent ditties, childlike rhyme and observation shot through with just the right amount of menace and insight. Here's hoping he never resorts to big budget recording. The tape occasionally flutters, and on most of the below-two minute songs on this record he invades the mic's personal space, his breath bumping against the electromagnetic field like an overheated animal behind glass. The tune is punctuated by a distant and mystifying whipcrack. This is lunar song, alive to the tug of blood in the veins. "I've never told this story to another living soul, for fear it might awaken and the story would unfold" - don't we require such latent, coiled power from every song we hear?
I've been listening fascinated all week and cannot better this summary by Rob Young in The Wire, May 2004, 'The State of Song' feature. Banhart's muse is early-hippy-Bolan though he veers into territory all his own.
His notes on the song tell us (reliably?) that it's about "Two Brothers (true story) who sowed black limbs on white limbs and white limbs on black limbs, it did not work, but it was during the medieval era and they went around doing this before word from the town they were at before got to the town they were at ." It was recorded on Bastille day in Paris, and the 'mystifying whipcrack' in the background is that of "fire works and one gun shot"....
[Download Oh Me Oh My... extract here]
Saturday, May 22, 2004To be an ethical consumer Ethical Consumer. In the freebie copy of the magazine she gave me I later discovered that my new utilities supplier has one of the worst environmental and ethical records in its corporate field.
So now: do I pack them in and go with UK Power (which got their Best Buy award)? And if I do, do I have to fish out all that packaging from the recycling bin and return the low-energy lightbulb to the other lot? Ethical consuming: a tricky business.
Friday, May 21, 2004Jim's postcards from the road
Luaka Bop have updated their Jim White pages, and Jim's generously uploaded some postcards from the road for us to read, in anticipation of his UK tour next month, whilst offering us the chance to hear a very generous extract (25 mins) from his tremendous new lp.....
Thursday, May 20, 2004Urban Studies Urban Studies to invite me to subscribe. It's been a week of identifying sources of good writing on urban issues and I relished the prospect of some good academic reading on The Nature of the Neighbourhood, What Makes Gentrification 'Gentrification'?, Edge Urban Geographies: Notes from the Margins of Europe's Capital Cities, to name a few of their current articles. However a sub is £180 ... one hundred and eighty quid.
So I shall decline; and instead keep on doing my own reading - of the lines of the faces of the people I listen to here, of the changing shapes of the streets and the economies ...
... but I do welcome a freebie, which will be very useful: the full report of The William Temple Foundation's first year's research on the project Regenerating Communities, A Theological and Strategic Critique, which carries much from Manchester which will translate well here, thirty miles down the Mersey. Download: [entire report] [7-page summary]
Wednesday, May 19, 2004When that helicopter comes ... to Greenbelt
Woo-hoo!!! as Yaconelli would have said: news just in that The Handsome Family are playing Greenbelt this year.
Albuquerque's Brett and Rennie Sparks singing songs about haunted Wal-Marts, lovers who chase the fire in streetlights, the madness of very deep holes, a lake that can only be visited in dreams, and the shadows that whisper inside a modern, office building.
Music designed to rip holes in the veil between this world and the next, they say: "It should surely drive most listeners into a severely altered state in which even chicken bones at the bottom of a garbage pail across the street will begin to sing."
What will it do to the discarded bags of Dunkin' Donuts on Cheltenham's festive trash-food concourse? Don't know. Can't wait to discover.
Tuesday, May 18, 2004They've got a Nerve Catalyst, publishers of Nerve, coming out of Liverpool with creativity, sass, and critique, like:
Surveillance in the Capital of Culture
As surveillance cameras routinely monitor the street prohibitions of the neoliberal city, they also reinforce the moral codes, intolerances and normative prescriptions of its creators. Paradoxical as it may seem, for all the talk of cultural celebration and putting 'culture' at the centre of current urban renaissance drives, certain forms of culture are increasingly being subject to oppressive monitoring and curtailment. Recently lauded with the title of European Capital of Culture for 2008, Liverpool city council passed a byelaw to curtail a range of grassroots and spontaneous street activities and protests. The broadness of the byelaw means it can be used attack a range of perceived 'nuisances' that are tied to the secondary economy in the city and that, for the new primary definers who articulate Liverpool's renaissance, give the city the image of a 'bargain basement economy'. The byelaw makes it an offence for people to sell or tout for business in the streets or other public places, including flower sellers to sell in restaurants and bars. The new law also bans individuals asking for money to 'mind' cars and prevents charities stopping people in the street. .... [more here]
Monday, May 17, 2004Parish Walks #1 - On rogation beside the River Alt
Time for a walk. I cut a map of the parish into small squares, folded them, and after breakfast this morning picked one out to define the start of the route. It turned out to be at the very south-eastern corner, where Croxteth Country Park is perforated by the River Alt, a watercourse which snakes around this city's outskirts before spilling out to sea above Hightown's submerged prehistoric forest.
On the first day of Rogationtide, how good to be able to beat the bounds - following the river which defines the eastern edge of our parish.
I set out on a well-worn track in the rough alongside the dual carriageway, a pathway of desire created by many before me en-route between their homes on the posh new estate and the newsagents, bookies, chippie by our church.
My head is full of this morning's readings, particularly the powerful Levitical jubilee code which fits so well with rogation:
"And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces."
I'm considering the way the land has been used here over the past fifty years, wondering at the impact of applying jubilee here, to a walled estate of detached homes built on what was previously public parkland. And I'm thinking - this place is in a state of permanent jubilee! - for in a ten-foot deep swathe of land between the rusting railings of the old park and the redbrick security walls enfolding Etal Close, nature has been allowed free reign. The undergrowth has enjoyed rich harvests and is doubtless home to many grateful creatures, as well as providing the residents with extra cover against potential criminal intruders. And odd passers-by like me.
Fancy cars flash along Oak Lane as I cross into Greenodd Avenue, where the gardens are generous and open-plan and the city council purple wheelie bins are out. I'm struck by the prevalence of bus stops along this route - although this aspirational area reeks, to me, of individualism, evidently the occupants still support public transport. Maybe sacrificing a second car is the price that has to be paid for living up to and beyond their credit limits on twisty closes in quiet estates. At the entrance to Cumbria Way, planted at the centre of a generous piece of green, a sign says NO BALL GAMES.
I follow Oak Lane further eastwards until it meets the Alt. I have passed this point many times by car and never noticed the river, but it is there, cut deep in a wide arc of greenery. Standing at the railings above it, looking into middle-distance the view is Constable-rural idyll, the bubbling river enclosed by deep green tree cover opening out into brighter fields where the creatures of Croxteth Hall graze. Look directly below, however, and you realise that this point is a tipping-ground for passing motorists. The gentle Alt weaves its way over and around discarded upholstery, tyres, rusting white goods.
I have to leave the river awhile, and on Croxteth Hall Drive old and new coexist. In long focus I see a row of once-farm cottages, newly renovated for purchase by the newly-rich, abutting the Dog and Gun, once a frontier inn no doubt, now a Sunday Soccer sport house. As I turn into Ampulla Road the scene becomes starker. Now I am in a struggling place, and feel immediately threatened as a bashed-up Vauxhall Astra, its engine popping and blowing violently, wheelspins around the corner beside me. As I walk on into Sceptre Close the car keeps on its circuit of the neighbourhood.
There is a nice path alongside the river, I discover, behind the rows of pebbledashed ex-council houses. It is quiet (schooltime) but sometime recently there was a big party out here: barbecue equipment lying in a pile of ashes, beside a smoke-blackened tree. On a wall someone has drawn a lifesize stick-man, with near-perfect circles at his head, feet, hands, and groin. Has the look of something primal - the Short Man of Altcross, perhaps - though I wonder if he's more likely the object of some sort of sinister target-practice in this out-of-the way place.
In the quietness of the morning driving instructors are directing young women in the fine arts of four-wheel manoeuvre down these compact closes. As one learner struggles with a standing-start she's embarrassed by the gaze of an onlooker sitting outside with his granddaughter on his knee.
Further on is a place of fire. At the estate's edge empty properties have boarded doors and blackened roofs; behind a shed the carcasses of perhaps a hundred used fireworks: bangers, mainly. Where the air is all bird song and dog-barks just now, it has often sparked, crackled and burned. Graffiti: 'PORGE', 'FUCK THE PLOD'.
Emerging from behind a little chapel onto a busy road, I know now why Altcross Road is so named. I hurry over to the river's northern bank, avoiding a speeding bus, and continue on past a Day Care centre where every available entrance is barred with iron and steel. Down Unicorn Road the houses gleam in their newness and smells of burning building-site waste and fresh-lain tarmac fill the air. This is Croxteth-aspirational. Outside one starter home a monster SUV displays the numberplate D4VE B.
Alt Park is a patch of green peppered with black metallic benches all scratched silver with teenage tags. From that vantage point, the land opens up: the vast Alt Valley punctured by two massive public buildings - Fazakerley Hospital to the north-west, Croxteth Community Comprehensive behind to the north.
This is - literally - the home straight. Leaving the river behind for a walk up two adjoining avenues. First Storrington where drivers who have mastered the speed bumps rag along at 40 without discomfort. It is a long shallow rise up to Lowerhouse Lane, and partway along the view becomes almost regal: Utting Avenue, a road which stretches on a distance into the city's inner districts, is tree lined and glimmering in the late-morning sun. Where these two avenues meet, the Western Approaches pub marks a boundary. You do feel it here: it was all fields one, where you've just been.
And this route seems very much an approach. From skirting the tiny river at the conurbation's edge we've turned now, to face the massive Mersey with all its symbolic and - still - commercial significance.
"You shall return, every one of you, to your property. ... You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God."
As I near my front gate, behind me it seems like bells are ringing in time with someone's footsteps. I glance to see it is a young woman returning from the shops. Not unusually for this place and time of day she is wearing just pyjamas. I can't work out what she's carrying which makes her musical, and I decide not to stop to ask her as I don't want to risk a slapping before lunchtime.
Sunday, May 16, 2004Hurt people hurt people spoke on this subject at the Greenbelt festival a couple of years ago, and she said a memorable thing: HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE.
If you are full of fear you won't be able to think straight, and you'll react badly - clam up or hit out or take it out on someone else. Or go for retail therapy.
Maybe anxiety is behind the controversies over asylum. We are genuinely anxious about our jobs, and about our homes, about our way of life. Understandably in all the upheavals of our day. But the people who hold the key to these things are our employers and our landlords and our mortgage-lenders and our councillors. Not our immigrant neighbours. It seems to me with this issue we let our fears make us strike out at the wrong people. HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE."
-- from my sermon today, as election season grinds into gear and it seems the only parties with any energy for campaigning are the fascist ones...
Saturday, May 15, 2004Network antics Network Logic I was struck by Howard Rheingold's reflections on the activities of 'Smart mobs', activists brought together by new technology, like the Phillipinos who, on 20 January 2001, toppled President Joseph Estrada from power. Following the abrupt ending of his impeachment trial by sympathetic senators, Manila residents began to assemble in their thousands on Epifanio de los Santas Avenue (known as 'Edsa'), in response to a text message, 'Go 2EDSA, Wear blck'. Their peaceful protests eventually caused Estrada's government to fall.
Rheingold sees "a possible connection between computer-wearing social networks of thinking, communicating humans and the swarm intelligence of unthinking (but also communicating) ants, bees, fish, and birds. Individual fish and birds (and tight-formation fighter pilots) school and flock simply by paying attention to what their nearest neighbours do."
Thousands of years ago the Proverb writer said, "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!" Now, we're getting round to it. I was considering all this whilst completely contradicting my Easter radio message of last year, and squirting Ant Kill down cracks in the floorboards this afternoon. They're mobbing on my house; and I don't have the language to send them elsewhere.
Friday, May 14, 2004What's the SchNEWS? SchNEWS bulletin. Produced on the cheap by a bunch of Brighton activists it's a two-page digest of all that's relevant to those concerned with global justice, environmental rights, corporate shenanigans etc etc. And it highlights those items which mainstream news outlets tend to bury.
So it's on my sidebar and I invite you to take a look and perhaps do as I now do, subscribe to their weekly .pdf. This week's top story: the 'UN Norms on the Responsibilities of Trans-national Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with regard to Human Rights' (or 'Norms' for short), which the UN Commission on Human Rights recently gave a 5-year mandate to develop and try out further:
These norms aren't another bureaucratic attempt to bore us into submission but are proposed decency guidelines for multinational corporations to stick too. The norms ask companies to respect the laws of the countries they operate in, ensure equal opportunities and avoid racism and sexism. More troublesome for the corporations will be the proposed clause asking them not to profit from war crimes, genocide, torture, and violations of international law. The norms also include workers rights (to form unions for example), avoidance of bribery and corruption, fair business practice, protecting consumers from harmful products and environmental protection. Which seem pretty reasonable to us here at SchNEWS Towers, but not of course to big business which feels it is obviously above such silly 'red tape' and would rather 'regulate' itself.
Thursday, May 13, 2004Only one is a wanderer
"Oh, just wander about."
The line is from Vertigo and I got a Vertigo movie postcard today from one of those folks at Wrights & Sites. I've blogged about them before, producers of the Mis-Guide to Exeter. Folks into walking as observation, as performance, as art.
"That's a good occupation. And you live here alone? One shouldn't live alone."
"Some people prefer it, you know."
The postcard accompanied an unsolicited but very welcome bundle of papers. Welcome because they describe a series of walks these folk have been doing over past months and years. Starting with a description of Phil Smith's Z Worlds walks, Z because "our catapult was the first bus of the day in Exeter: the Z bus that only runs that once each day."
This map describes a Z route. It's from the Exeter A-Z site and beneath it scrolls the following description:
EXETER A-Z Z Early Morning Special zzzZZZ 05:46 High Street darkness ... 2 men in overalls ... a boy in denim slumped over the front seat zzzZZZ 05:58 Alphington curtains closed at number 29 zzzZZZ 06:09 Redhills WRONG WAY LOVE! calls an early morning regular to the driver zzzZZZ 06:14 Exwick MUM WON £3500 ... SHE HAD 5 NUMBERS RIGHT zzzZZZ 06:25 High Street CHEERS MY LOVE ... SEE YOU TOMORROW ... daylight
I like this conscious approach to journeying. Look forward to reading the bundle (and reporting back on it). Its arrival was timely, because next week I begin a series of walks around here. Part of my project to listen and learn about the local community, the walks should also be a bit of fun. I'll get some ideas from Exeter about how to see this bit of Liverpool.
"Don't you think it's a waste, to wander separately?"
On at least some of the walks I'll have friends and colleagues for company. And I'm glad for that. As it says on the front of the movie postcard, the culmination of this piece of dialogue,
"Only one is a wanderer. Two together are always going somewhere."
Wednesday, May 12, 2004A place where a thought might grow They gaze at you, don't they, the characters in Antony Gormley's Field. You go to Tate Liverpool to look at a work of art, and what happens - instead, it looks at you.
The eyes are imploring. Thirty-five thousand pairs of eyes waiting for something from you. A word in season, a prayer, a declaration.
You're struck by their vulnerability, their neediness. Your feet are only inches away from them - one kick and you could scatter the front few rows. But the rest of them would still stand silently watching, waiting, wanting... you.
I love them. The Field. I'm humoured by them and I'm unnerved by them. Gormley's work shimmers with religious references - and Field calls up the Day of Judgement. The mass of helpless humanity, waiting for judgement. And you standing over them.....
But who is being judged here? This is not a new thought, for many have written about Gormley's Field in this way. Caoimhin Mac Giolla Leith says of these frail figures,
"They return our gaze with a mixture of quizzicality and supplication, as if they were asking us to account for ourselves, dumbly calling us to task for some nameless act we can no longer remember."
His piece in the Oriel Mostyn book Field for the British Isles is titled "A Place Where a Thought Might Grow", from a Derek Mahon poem, words which resonate with the experience of standing facing the gaze of Gormley's Field:
They are begging us, you see, in their wordless way,
To do something, to speak on their behalf
Or at least not to close the door again.
Lost people of Treblinka and Pompeii!
'Save us, save us,' they seem to say,
'Let not the god abandon us
Who have come so far in darkness and in pain.
We too had our lives to live.
You with your light meter and relaxed itinerary,
Let not our naive labours have been in vain!'
Tuesday, May 11, 2004To Jim - salter-up of the soup of life Liverpool is published. And I'm keenly waiting to see what the young man who last year visited Holy Trinity, notebook in hand, has changed of Pevsner's observations on the church.
Describing the building in 1969, Pevsner exclaimed:
"Where [Sir Charles] Reilly's work is truly remarkable is inside. A chancel is created by square pillars which stand free above low enclosed spaces, one of them the vestry, the other the organ chamber. The pillars here of course appear as pilasters. This, it will be noticed, is a St Georges Hall motif." His report ended curtly: "Many TABLETS, none noteworthy."
Jim wouldn't agree. To Jim, everything about Holy Trinity was noteworthy. From choirboy through warden to mischevious elder Jim took note of every detail, not just the architectural detail but the detail of people's lives. A great conversationalist, a lovely humourist, Jim also became Holy Trinity's historian as he put together a lifetime's anecdotes, clippings, quotes and collections into the self-published bicentenary book, The Life and Times of Wavertree Parish Church of The Holy Trinity 1794-1994.
It sounds it, but none of this was dry or dusty. Jim may have been of old school bearing but his observations were bang up-to-date, his ear for a good story always keen. I would always feel a small thrill of anticipation as Jim sidled up to me before a service to share some favourite tale from his deep well of wit or to offer some considered wisdom on an affair of the day. We sighed together often on Sunday mornings after yet another miserable Saturday for our football team. We shared long afternoons in his sitting room poring over all sorts of fascinating documents of 200 years of Wavertree life. And we stood together to welcome folks to heritage weekends in that place which is another of this city's monuments to a time of great confidence and faith.
I'm glad there are Jims in the world - keepers of knowledge for their community, sharers of stories to salt up the soup of life. I'm glad I've known Jim, who deeply enriched my understanding of Wavertree through his friendship and his book.
The cover of Jim's book bears the imprint, "I was glad when they said unto me; we will go into the house of the Lord." He was - always glad to be there; and he gladdened others there by his presence. We'll be sad next week when we go there, because it'll be for Jim's funeral. He passed away gently yesterday, while mowing the lawn under a kindly Liverpool afternoon sun. But we'll not be too sad, I hope, for we know Jim's bound to be a keen member of that cloud of witnesses who accompany us on our way. He'll have a few wry stories to tell us about that St Paul by the time we get up there...
Monday, May 10, 2004Old Peculier in Kettlewell last week
Is that me or me dad you're talking about? Careful...
pic: Stan Woods
Sunday, May 09, 2004Among the great and good - L11 class
It was standing room only at the back and I spent most of the service casting my eyes around looking for Wayne. Like I do at Goodison each week. He wasn't there - my guess is Moyes had them in for extra training this morning after another dismal defeat yesterday. But there were a few Wayne lookalikes among little Millie-May's clan.
Geoffrey Hughes was with us though. You know him - Coronation Street's Eddie Yates, Onslow in Keeping Up Appearances, Twiggy in The Royle Family, Heartbeat's Vernon Scripps. I wish I'd known he was coming - I'd have given him the gospel reading to do.
The mood of this occasion was manic and magic. No dull moments in Liverpool 11 today.
Saturday, May 08, 2004Network Logic
Power in the global media, and power over the 'memes' that shape minds, is more concentrated than ever despite the proliferation of magazines and websites. For all the talk of the network economy most businesses are organised as fairly tight hierarchies, albeit with fewer layers, and some that used not to be, like partnerships, are taking more traditional corporate forms. Again, one of the drivers of this is globalisation, since what a subsidiary does in a distant country – using child labour, say – may have an impact on consumers here.
The same is true in NGOs. Look closely at Greenpeace, for example, and you see a fairly tightly controlled hierarchy, not loose democracies. Within and around all of these are networks: networks for managing relationships, knowledge and information. But at their heart lie hierarchical organisations of power and authority able to act decisively and quickly, with concentrations of resources and with some of the properties of Bentham's panopticon, able to see everything from the centre in real time.
Although networks have become much more important to the way we live, we do not live in a world dominated by networks. Networks are extraordinary ways of organising knowledge, cooperation and exchange. They are far more effective means of sharing learning than hierarchies and generally better at adapting to change. But they remain poor at mobilising resources, sustaining themselves through hard times, generating surpluses, organising commitments, or playing games of power. This is why, for example, the interesting feature of the anti-globalisation movement is its weakness not its strength, and why Al-Qaeda can inflict huge damage but cannot create.
.... Geoff Mulgan, in the new Demos publication, Network Logic. Fascinating reading. Thanks Jonny for the link.
Friday, May 07, 2004A threshold to the ends of the earth
New art's going up all over the city centre all the time. Stopped at the end of Old Hall Street today to have a look at this - a 'gateway' to the business quarter, on the site of the old interface between Atlantic-facing Princes Dock and eastbound Leeds-Liverpool canal.
The quote on it reads "Liverpool - Threshold to the Ends of the Earth", attributed to a Michael O'Mahoney in 1931. The symbolism is obvious. The historical context is not. The Liverpool Architectural Society website can't tell us who O'Mahoney was. It gives us clues about his context though - the flash tour of the city's buildings is a reminder that by 1931 Liverpool's boom architects were bringing their work to completion - the India Buildings (for the Blue Star Line) and the (former) Martins Bank (both 1932) were among the last to go up in a business quarter confidently resembling the New York and Paris of the jazz age. Symbols in stone of the city's strong international trading links, which not long after began to fade as the lights went out on Empire, and which today's developers are trying to recover by invoking the trading triumphs of the past.
The reality is, the city hardly lives up to that billing just yet, if it ever will. The only other source I've found for O'Mahoney's quote offers a very different perspective. In this fuller version he's not describing the business-like city but the river on which it stands:
"Today our ferry boats, floating shuttles, ever weaving the life of one community into another, move ceaselessly day and night over the face of the waters, as if conferring upon the Mersey the first right among the rivers of England to proclaim: 'Men may come and men may go, but I go on forever'... The fascination of the Mersey is inescapable; it is a threshold to the ends of the earth"
The language is a bit inflated, but O'Mahoney is connecting here to the elemental realities which assist, enable, outlive, eclipse all human business. The city wouldn't be here at all without the river; and while it's good to see the new optimism in those investing in its trade, there's a sense of deeper time, of new gateways coming and going while the Mersey tides keep flowing.
Today the city is in thrall to other flows - particularly the flow of information in our networked world. And in a networked world, in one sense, location hardly seems to matter - where is Google? But it does matter - how Google's architects got together and how they now structure their offices and lives must impact on the service they provide.
Which is why Liverpool might become a threshold to the ends of the earth, tomorrow. As might Lostock or Little Bongs, or anywhere where a combination of computer access and a community working creatively together offers an original way into the global networks.
Thursday, May 06, 2004On hating football Why I'm not singing any more, got me thinking. He's a football writer who's come to hate football. It's a childish pursuit, he says, which these days enjoys boundless and ridiculous amounts of coverage. A sign, perhaps, of our society's pervasive childishness:
For my father the results were unimportant. He went to the game to have a laugh with his friends and enjoy his son's innocent pleasure.
Now I am the age that my father was when he first took me to a football match, I am perplexed that so many of my contemparies react to the game as I did as a six-year-old, rather than as my father did as a 40-year-old. You know the type: they arrive at work on a Monday morning in their replica shirt and baldly state: "Don't anyone mention what happened yesterday." What might this be, you wonder. A death in the family? A terminal medical diagnosis? No, it is simply that his team has lost a football match. This event, over which he has no control, will determine his mood and his conversation for the rest of the week. Until another Ford Soccer Sunday on Sky Sports One offers a chance for an improvement of sorts.
I recognise myself in this. As one whose lounge hosts an signed Everton football on display and a massive picture of Goodison Park on the wall, in whose otherwise sparse wardrobe hangs three 'best' EFC shirts, as one whose moods do swing according to results (such relief last weekend, but for most of the year I'm filled with a melancholic gloom).
I can understand Buckley saying this sort of behaviour seems something of a waste and a retrograde step from half a century ago, when Albert Camus wrote: "A single sentence will suffice for modern man: he fornicated and read the papers."
But there is still, perhaps in remnant only, but still, something else to footy (why else, I wonder would Buckley still be in the sport himself, why else take the time to write a comic novel about it). Childish, maybe, but beneath the hype, things like a communal ethic, self-giving, loyalty, trust and hope persist. Camus must have shared this tension, too - as I've mentioned here before, another great Camus quote (one Will Buckley must know) is this: "All I know most surely about morality and the obligations of man, I owe to football." Confused now? Join the club.
Wednesday, May 05, 200450 Foot Wave She's at it again, Kristin Hersh. Reinventing Throwing Muses as 50 Foot Wave. Their debut, the first of a series of nine-monthly 'mini-albums', blasted me along the dual carriageways between Borders and Tescos tonight. Yes, I'm living on the edge.
It's probably the worst kind of driving music, the sort that brings out the worst; dark, brooding - Hersh amped-up, open-stringed, her gravelly roar at high intensity. But there's always something oddly vulnerable about her music. Hersh songs are not rockist escapism, they're inscapes. Which disturb and redeem in equal measure.
Tuesday, May 04, 2004Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament Graphic writer Neil Gaiman: "I once when I was young nearly sent a Swedish publisher to jail for a bible story. I was involved in a comic called Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament where we retold, with a straight face, stories from the Old Testament.
I told a story from the book of Judges, in which a man's wife is to quote the bible 'whoring about on him.' And he sent her away and then he goes and gets her back from her father. He misses her. They stop off in this little village over night. The townsfolk gather around on the road to Bethlehem, which is where they are and say, 'That man that came to you tonight. Throw him out so that we may have sex with him. We want to rape him.' And this man says 'No. No. No. I will not. That would be a terrible thing. That would be a violation of all the laws of hospitality. And he's my guest. But I'll tell you what. He has a wife with him and I have a virgin daughter whose never known any man. You can have them.'
They get known and abused all night and are left dead on the doorstep the next morning. When the guy gets up the morning he finds his wife dead on the doorstep and takes her home and cuts her into thirteen bits and into twelve locks and sends one to each of the tribes of Israel. So I told that story and did it fairly straight, and next thing I knew I had a Swedish publisher about to go to jail because there is a Swedish law forbidding the depiction of images of violence against women. That particular bible story is filled with images of violence against women. I think it was more or less only the fact that it was from the bible and told completely straight that got him off. "
That cartoon book sits alongside The Readers Digest Bible on my shelves, and I can confirm that the artists who produced it did only have to tell it straight, because those tales are truly outrageous. Engaging with them becomes deeply disturbing when you feel you're meant to be on the side of the blood-lusty god they portray; becomes odious when you're expected to preach them and draw out applications for today.
No running away from them... we live in a blood-lusty world, there is violence on our streets and brutality in our economics and there are many Moseses around today who'd slaughter half the people if it meant purifying the rest of the race. We started grappling with these tensions in morning prayer today; tonight I wrote to ask my friends the London Mennonites if anyone sharing the struggle with these terrible texts had written any good books about it. Hope so. A courageous work, if so.
Monday, May 03, 2004From dark, satanic mills to the city forged in fire Kettlewell, journeying there and back along the M65, a road which is another sign that the dark, satanic mills of once-backwoods Lancs are dark, satanic no more - they are home to new industries, cleaner, brighter businesses at the centre of reinvented Pennine towns, and lining the ribbon of that new road. Home to various peoples, connected by the trade in cloth which birthed these mill towns in an age of Empire, today, Blackburn and Burnley are open to the world; and pray God keep their vibrant multiculturalism thriving despite the stirring of fascists in their streets.
Back home to a tape of C4's earlier programme about London, to whet the appetite before Peter Ackroyd's greatly anticipated series London begins on Friday. London - "a city forged in fire", which has time and again reinvented itself as history and tragedy have struck. Quite a distance from Pennine Lancs, and in many ways no distance at all.
Sunday, May 02, 2004T for TAXI If I were to take up Common Ground's suggestion to learn to read this locality by creating an A-B-C (and well I might), I think I could start with T - T for TAXI.
(Outside of London, I guess) Taxis are the poor person's mode of transport. More expensive per mile than buses, trains, for all I know planes, but less expensive than running a car. Essential where disability makes bus travel impossible, essential in areas the buses won't go, valuable as sources of income in a lean local economy, it's no surprise that taxis are ubiquitous here, in this poor place. No wonder that there's more taxis per person in Liverpool than any other city.
They're in their element today, the taxi drivers. Bank holiday, few buses, lots of movement. Since I've been writing this half the vehicles passing by the window have been taxis - hackneys, black and white, and private hires all shapes, sizes and conditions. They'll take any work - the two ladies who made up half tonight's congregation came literally 300 yards by taxi to church, as they always do, there and back. A quid well spent, one says, for her legs will no longer carry her and "I love my church." And they'll work any hours - proud of myself for getting up before dawn to lead the sunrise service on Easter Day I was humbled by the sight of a cluster of taximen assembled in their usual spot outside Farmfoods, next to the bookies, chatting away like it was lunchtime: to them it probably was.
An irony of poverty, that the lowest-incomed travel the most expensive way. One of many similar ironies, like the lowest-incomed also pay the highest interest rates (as the high street banks won't have them on their books they're prey to shark-like financiers) and the biggest utility bills (direct debit customers get the benefits metered customers are denied).
T is for TAXI, one indicator of the particular place I am now. One down, 25 to go.
Saturday, May 01, 2004Mayday! Mayday!
May Day, sunshine, and my mind turns to the good work of Common Ground and their spin-offs such as England In Particular. The poster (above) decorates the wall just by my back kitchen door. Passed it today en-route to lawn mowing. Feeling as green as I've ever felt (not much, but it's a start.)
[See also Pic of the month]