-- Google Analytics START --> <-- Google Analytics END -->
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Wednesday, June 30, 2004Doddy meets Walt Brueggemann in the fascinating world of Liverpool Diocese Jesus and the Earth which I admit up till now I've not read.
Not that I'm unsympathetic to making these connections - if you read these pages often you'll know how themes of land, place, spirituality weave in and out in all sorts of ways; energised today on hearing a man describe his journey of discovery I've gone and bought his book on Amazon, bundled with Brueggeman's The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith. Which will no doubt be as masterful as any other of his works.
And I am now looking forward to our September Clergy Conference, where all the vicars in Liverpool go away for three days together. Which I wasn't previously, because, well, it's three days away with a load of vicars. But it turns out James has assembled a fascinating selection of speakers including the inspirational eco-campaigner Alastair McIntosh who I've blogged about before. And also, for our enjoyment, the revered Scouse performance poet Roger McGough, will be appearing, and, to top them all, the sainted Ken Dodd...
Tuesday, June 29, 2004More tea vicar
Once again Jonny Baker's unearthed a fascinating link: this to a church in Cornwall, St Kea, which called in an advertising wizz to rebrand themselves in an attempt at cultural relevance.
I'm not sure the exercise was that successful - navigating the site involves wading through pages of theology squeezed into an unappealing business plan format, before arriving at the inevitable shop, with options to pre-order items like 'God Bless You' tissue boxes and 'Heavens Above' umbrellas. At that point I couldn't help thinking how ST KEA looks very similar to IKEA and that prejudiced it all for me I'm afraid.
The idea seems tired; but perhaps it's been worth it just for the mug. Although oddly the picture seems to show a mugfull of chocolate, nevertheless the design is inspired: mine's on pre-order already.
Monday, June 28, 2004The Man Who Planted Trees
The Man Who Planted Trees - a tiny book about a man whose story seems to connect with some of the others I've encountered of late. Jean Giono's story is about an ordinary shepherd, Elzeard Bouffier, who spent his life planting one hundred acorns a day in a desolate, barren section of Provence, France, gradually transforming the landscape from one devoid of life, with miserable, contentious inhabitants, to one filled with the scent of flowers, the songs of birds, and fresh, flowing water. And similarly affecting the human geography of the place, local people's lives brightening up as their environment changed.
There are other individuals who embody the tree-planting spirit of Elzeard Bouffier. The folks behind Eden and the Centre for Alternative Technology among them. And David Nash, who doesn't plant them, but works with them to make new things happen in landscape. The other good thing about this book is its woodcut art, on the cover and inside. A treat.
Sunday, June 27, 2004We Are What You Say A Sun Came, Sufjan Stevens' first album, now reissued, and its majestic opening song with its delight of banjos and surreally spiritual lyrics:
We are a servant, we have a song
The side of a beehive, a tabernacle choir
We are the sound working in wars
the bishop is gone to the acolyte shores
We save our Bibles, we pull our sleeves
The word is a guard and the guard is a cleave
We are what you say.
It's on limited re-release and if you've found yourself blessed by Michigan and Seven Swans, you'll be blessed by this too...
Saturday, June 26, 2004Grumpy Old Men of Glastonbury Glastonbury when they did a festival edition of Grumpy Old Men. Excellent. They said it all for me, Peel, Arfur Smif and Bob Geldof - about the queues to get onsite, the terrible toilets and the way the event's been taken over by the 'Henley set': ugh. On the subject of the total unsuitability for children of a dangerous and unhygenic festival, John Peel excelled:
"If they grow up with tinnitus because you've taken them down to listen to Paul McCartney I don't think they would thank you. And if they murdered you when they were about 15 or 16 I don't think that there's a jury in the country that would convict."
I went to the Glastonbury Festival once. Not long ago. Loved it. Sunny all weekend, brilliant music, good atmosphere, camped in the local vicar's back garden for comfort and sleep. And I don't want to go back again, thanks very much. If I did, I think I'd turn into one of them Grumpy Old Men of Glastonbury too....
Friday, June 25, 2004Buried in the bricks Liverpool Cathedral for an ordination service: always a spectacle, a pinnacle of the church's year, a celebration of commitment, an event to look forward to, which has a profound effect on those taking part [see my description of my ordination service].
Some would say it's just a load of pomp; take away the spirit and it is. And true enough, the Cathedral has seen plenty of pomposity over the years. Like the laying of the building's foundation stone by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in July 1904. As the Daily Post recently described it, "All the toffs from the fine city of empire, the merchants and the ladies in their fur stoles, tossed gold coins into the hole, where the foundation stone was to be laid to a grand house of God. Perhaps they thought the money would buy them favoured places in Heaven, just as it had on Earth."
The largest Anglican cathedral in the world was being built with the money of those who'd flourished in the city then called Gateway to Empire, while neglecting their near neighbours, some of the poorest people in the Western world. It was being built through the sweat and the blood of poor men, underpaid labourers, working in conditions making them vulnerable to injury and death. But the ceremony made no mention of them.
On 19 July this year the Cathedral's centenary celebrations will echo Edward and Alexandra's grand visit. But today, browsing in News From Nowhere, the story of another, previously hidden, Cathedral ceremony emerged. It would seem that in anticipation of the grand occasion in 1904, two men decided to hold their own foundation ceremony beforehand.
Jim Larkin, a trade union leader, and Fred Bower, one of the highly-skilled stonemasons working on the building, walked around the site. "Within a stone's throw from here, human beings are being housed in slums not fit for swine," Larkin observed.
So, on June 27, 1904, three weeks before the King, Queen, and civic dignitaries arrived, the men composed a message "from the wage slaves employed on the erection of this cathedral" to a future socialist society, and, along with a copy of the Clarion and the Labour Leader, placed it in a biscuit tin deep inside the brickwork and covered it. On July 19, the foundation stone was lowered on top of it, giving Liverpool the Secret of the Stone.
So, buried deep in the brick of that vast monolith to faith and capital, is a people's protest, a whisper of defiance and hope for those whose history has been buried until now. Ron Noon has produced a small book called The Secret in the Stone which tells the story of Larkin and Bower, and is supported by the Merseyside Construction Safety Campaign.
And on Sunday at 1.30, after the church has emptied of newly-ordained deacons and their well-wishers, a group will gather around the foundation stone and commemorate the men's silent witness. Today, having first read my copy of Noon's book outside on the Cathedral steps, I made my own little vigil.
Thursday, June 24, 2004Getting creative with the matchday diary New season's fixtures out today. And immediately, as every year, the reaction is to get the diary out and get creative with the dates ... Will someone else do that wedding for me? Can I shift that retreat to a Friday? Does that meeting really have to be on that evening?
Some would say this is a strange way for a man of the cloth to be thinking, not me though. Well, nothing would be worse for a couple getting married than a vicar in a sulk through missing the Arsenal game; no retreatants would value someone meant to be leading them into stillness and reflection wearing a radio walkman while he's addressing them; half the rest of the people involved would probably like that meeting shifted too... surely?
Wednesday, June 23, 2004Nash downstream
Reading David Nash's Forms into Time at the moment and I'm reminded of how impressed I was seeing his work at Tate St Ives. It's because he's one of those artists who work with, and in, nature, lending perspectives on our place in it, showing appreciation of the mystery of the world - the visible not the invisible. There's a conscious spirituality to his work - influenced by wisdom such as this Buddhist tenet: "We get along better if we collaborate with nature instead of trying to dominate it."
In Nash's case wood is the medium for his work. He's worked with it so long - always going with the grain, he permits the wood to determine the shape and form of his art, he's learned a great deal about its natural textures and behaviours.
I also like about him that he got out of the metropolis at an early age to set up his studio in an old chapel in Blaneau Ffestiniog, which I know well: Britain's wettest, greyest place, a town hemmed in by slate slag heaps and very raw, very close to nature.
And I'm especially grabbed (and amused, which is ok I think) by one work - Wooden Boulder, Maentwrog, North Wales 1978-
He writes: "In the summer of 1978 a massive oak, recently felled, became available high above the Ffestiniog Valley. Its owner had feared that it would fall on their cottage. Working the tree where it lay over a two-year period, a dozen or more sculptures were extracted. The first piece evolved into the Wooden Boulder.
The mid-seventies had been a period of working with the thin ends of trees - branches and twigs- making linear sculptures, and using hazel to plait into 'ropes' and structures. Feeling the need to return to solid volume I went back to the elemental rough carved balls made in 1971. I carved a very large one, 1 metre in diameter, 400 kilograms in weight, with the intention of taking it inside to dry out and crack. Following the cuts left from the tree’s felling there came a point where the half-carved sphere had to be cut loose from the trunk. I intended to roll over it and continue carving the underneath, but being on a slope the rolling was difficult and dangerous. The physicality and implied movement of a sphere became an active reality.
"The idea came to make an event - to document an action - with this 400-kilogram beast, and, if eventually exhibited, to show a photograph together with the object to illustrate its origin.
"Rolling it into a nearby stream, down a steep slide of water and into a pool would give an image of a big splash; the sphere could then be hauled out and rolled down the tract to the road to be transported up to the studio.
"It got stuck half-way down the water slide. Pondering what at first seemed to be a problem, it became clear that this rough oak sphere should remain in the stream. It became a sculpture of a rock: a Wooden Boulder with continual potential."
The picture below is on display at St Ives; it illustrates the boulder's downstream journey so far (from the top): cut from an oak trunk October '78; lodged in waterfall November '78; winched to shallows May '79; into second pool August '80 where it stays for eight years; rolled further downstream June '88; storm moves boulder 150 metres December '90; rests in shallows; moves in storm December '94; wedged under a bridge; moved beyond bridge May '95.
Tuesday, June 22, 2004You are holy God in All Things. The one in which he asks you to consider this statement - YOU ARE HOLY.
That's a tough line to swallow. Even though it carries echoes of that awesome Wilde quote which opened yesterday's blog; even though I like it when I hear it in Alan Ginsberg's Footnote to Howl (... Everything is holy! everybody's holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman's an angel! The bum's as holy as the seraphim! the madman is holy as you my soul are holy! ...)
I didn't feel holy, sat in the gardens of that retreat house wincing in the sunshine, head dulled by alcoholic excess brought on by late-night Euro football viewing, stomach shape indicating mid-age spread seeping in, head full of straw, knackered after lunch. But Hughes insists; builds the story; tells an ancient tale about Jesus, in hell, saying to Adam, "Arise, let us go hence, for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person."
You are holy. The true mystery of the world is the visible not the invisible: the physical not the ethereal; the flesh not the spirit. Ok then: after a full day I'll sit down now, break open another beer, and before settling down to a tape of Denmark - Sweden, even though I'm still in awe of the thought, I'll raise my glass to that.
Monday, June 21, 2004Robinson In Space
The words are Oscar Wilde's; they come from a film I'm longing to see but am going to have to miss at FACT on Thursday, as something else has just cropped up.
The film is Patrick Keiller's widely acclaimed Robinson In Space, "One man's journey in search of England. Through Cambridge and Oxford to Blackpool, Liverpool and beyond, Keiller unashamedly mixes past and present in creating an imaginatively deadpan twist on English-ness."
It's serious but also satirical, by the sounds of it. The two protagonists take a tour which nominally follows in the footsteps of Daniel Defoe, using Reading as a central base.
"Robinson plans to venture in all directions of the compass, with the initial wanderings following the route of the Thames. Upon the borders of this aqueous artery, businesses, stately homes, schools, golf courses and more reside. By commenting on the most interesting examples of each, Robinson's friend begins to weave the threads of society into a coherent whole," one reviewer says, concluding that "Robinson in Space is a rare experience (an intellectually fulfilling movie) and that alone makes it worth catching."
Another reviewer compares Keiller's art to Iain Sinclair's; if you follow this blog you'll know how much that writer has featured here, whose deep-and-sidewards perceptions of English life I value so much.
What's stopping me going to see the film? The very recently-arranged England - Portugal tie (and a meal with friends watching it) has taken precedence. But, it being Architecture Week, I'll have the chance to pop into FACT some other time to see another Keiller project which is also running, The City of the Future, billed as "an ambitious investigation of the evolution of cityscapes over the last hundred years."
"Given access to the vaults of the National Film and Television Archive, Keiller has assembled a large interactive collection of historical moving image works to illustrate the nature of Britain's urban space at the turn of the century, including 8 films shot in Liverpool in 1897. At a point in time when much of Liverpool itself is going through major changes, the project provides a space for contemplation of the transience of modern cities."
Sunday, June 20, 2004Sign up for the Olympic Truce Olympic Truce, when conflicts between nations ceased during the period of the Games.
The International Olympic Truce Foundation (IOTF) in cooperation with National Olympic Committees are trying to revive the tradition of the Olympic Truce to promote the Olympic ideals and peace during the Olympic Games period and beyond. George Papandreou, the Greek Foreign Affairs Minister, IOTF Vice Chairman and campaign instigator has said, "During troubled times, it is perhaps more important than ever to protect and promote the values that can bind our multicultural world together, to protect and promote the Olympic Ideals. If we can stop fighting for 16 days, then maybe we could do it forever."
Since The Olympic Truce signature campaign was initiated at the end of 2001, more than 250 worldwide personalities have signed up, including heads of state and governments, speakers of parliaments, foreign ministers, religious leaders, heads of international organisations, Olympic Movement officials, personalities from the world of arts and literature, as well as other dignitaries and senior officials from around the world. And ordinary bods like us.
Since then they say the Truce has helped to deliver real results during summer and winter Games, including:
* 10,000 children inoculated in Bosnia in 1994
* The two Koreas marched under the same flag as a sign of unity in 2000
* Pause in bombing of Iraq in 1998
* Pledge by African leaders to halt hostilities in 2000
Seems worth supporting. Demos reckon so too: "The Olympic Truce has the potential to be a peace-inspiring tool for our times. Projecting its peaceful purpose could help provide security for the Olympic Games themselves, while the Truce offers the world’s peace-makers a brief opportunity to resolve conflict."
If you agree you can sign up your support here. And if you're not sure check out the Demos book which explores the idea, 16 Days.
Saturday, June 19, 2004Signs and wonders
Well, I found it. Norris Green, Cornwall. In the deep Tamar valley rising steeply north of Saltash. Unlike here, that Norris Green community has a road sign announcing their presence. Though I missed it on my first pass through the cluster of houses which would fit quite neatly inside one of the smaller crescents on our estate.
There was little activity when I passed through, inside the commuter and school run times. But signs of political stirrings - there were UKIP signs up all over that stretch of the country in Euro Election week. UKIP took 22.56% of the vote in the South West, twice their previous share, and had two additional members elected.
I still struggle to grasp the meaning of 'independence'. It seems elusive, unattainable (as well as undesirable). For instance, if the UKIP have their way will the England team be withdrawing from Euro 2008? Or will they leave that to their performances in the qualifiers? Just wondering.
Friday, June 18, 2004Good to see CAT still purring Owain Glyndwr, a vibrant place in the heart of green mid-Wales.
I went that way home because I wanted to see how they were doing at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT). A place I've visited quite often over the years, but not for a little while. I thought it'd be interesting to spend a little time there comparing and contrasting the work of CAT with The Eden Project.
They've been going thirty years to Eden's eight; their concern is with "the search for globally sustainable, whole and ecologically sound technologies and ways of life", and they are hands-on about it. Over the years they have pioneered the use of solar energy, wind power, sustainable housing etc. They've some similarities with Eden: the visionary thing (from the start CAT was an experiment in community, a group of people living together trying to work out how to apply their principles in the minutae of daily life), the earth thing (reverence for life and an awareness of our place in the interrelatedness of things), the educational mission to share their enthusiasms and findings with others. Another thing too - just like The Eden Project they've also transformed a dead quarry into a living, breathing centre of creativity and wonder.
Differences - CAT began from the alternative grassroots, while The Eden Project was from the outset tied in with big business and big government; one's based in technology whereas the other's based in botany; I'm guessing CAT might be comfortable with being seen as 'political' or 'campaigning' whereas Eden pretends it's not. Twenty-five years after the first wind turbines went in at the top of their site, CAT's work is at last being replicated in the mainstream - in the case of windfarms, on a massive scale. Eden's work has begun in the mainstream - it'll be fascinating to see where it leads.
One day I'm sure there will be crossover between these two quite different projects which nevertheless share common concerns. Eden has the profile to awaken and excite many people about ecological issues, and CAT's developed the tools to educate and supply people with the means to live more lightly on the earth. It's good to see the Centre for Alternative Technology is still growing, with plans for a bold new Education Centre for 2006. And, weary with weaving through the lanes of Wales at 60mph on my gas-guzzling drive north, it was good to take time out for a gentle ride on their water-powered cliff railway: if you've not been, it's worth the trip even just for that experience alone.
Thursday, June 17, 2004Eden and afterwards The Tate and (b) The Eden Project.
I guess there's been so much written about Eden that I needn't go on - but it is very good. A phenomenal site with quite a modest aim - to help people realise just how big a part plants play in our lives; certainly got me thinking about that. But of course that spins off into all sorts of wider areas - environmental, political, philosophical ... and reading Tim Smit's book about the project is a great stimulant in all these areas.
The Eden Foundation is keeping that stimulation going by "encouraging and undertaking research into cross-cutting issues, promoting innovation and acting as a catalyst for positive change; opening doors for dialogue - providing a hub for organisations, businesses, students and individuals to meet and communicate - an international network for those who want to work together to realise a sustainable future" - as well as playing a role in the economic and social regeneration of Cornwall, rooting all this global thinking in a very real present community.
One of the most impressive things about Eden is the way it brought together people from all sorts of disciplines - artists, city bankers, constructors, botanists, architects, dramatists, civil servants, engineers, and formed a team which really gelled. One fine idea Smit muses over is that of using the Eden umbrella to convene a forum of people from all sorts of walks of life which would meet periodically to discuss, in depth, major issues of our time, a rare opportunity which Smit is very capable of pulling off.
If he does, I wonder if he'll invite Julian Cope along? As always on my travels he's been a companion on the cd and with his gazetteer on ancient sites; in yesterday's Guardian he breaks my implied criticism of him from the other day by making it clear he's no fundamentalist when it comes to preserving ancient stones. I'm doing this from memory as St Ives' Library computer system won't let me read Cope's interview online (must contain the odd expletive), but in it he waxes on about how people are still very keen on celebrating the landscape and our place in it and how good it would be if we thought more about creating new megaliths for our times. He considers The Angel of the North as one such example.
How right - which is one reason why it's been good to have been here among Barbara Hepworth's sculptures, echoing back the ancient stones on this peninsular, and to have been to Eden which is itself a megalith, a monument, a structure to which we flock for celebration, a place of education and inspiration, and a focal point for hoping and dreaming about the future.
Saturday, June 12, 2004Cornwall Forever!
They'd warned me it cost a tenner to get in to Land's End … to get in to an area of surely national 'ownership'. But as it happens you only have to pay that if you want to explore the wonder of their interactive facilities - seaside atrtractions translated to a clifftop at the end of England. Three quid for the car park and you're free to wander the extensive land at your leisure. Though not at your peril - peril is disallowed; signs everywhere tell you the cliffs are dangerous, ropes all over the rocks discourage you from exploring near the edges.
If you are one who needs to get right to the edge to feel that you've had the authentic experience, this dampens the enthusiasm and might lead you away, in search of authenticity, as it did me … away up the coast to Cape Cornwall, a glorious spot only marginally less westerly than Land's End, with the same view across to the Scilly Isles and a living historic landscape - ancient settlements and a tin mine chimney on its sweeping sides. Better than this - they let you do your own thing at Cape Cornwall. So, my need to explore edges diminished because the challenge wasn't there, I happily got out my new fold-down chair and sat reading a fascinating book which I'd just bought from the Just Cornish shop in St Just.
The book is CORNWALL FOREVER! KERNOW BYS VYKEN, a glossy 250 pages of full colour, telling the story of Cornwall and its people over the last 1,000 years. It was a Millennium book for Cornwall, every school child in Cornwall received a copy, some 83,000. A good read for me, for its broad, serious but accessible view of Cornish history lore, politics etc. And it's good because it indicates this is a community which takes its children seriously. The final chapter dwells on the thoughts of the children of today, with their words and drawings and their idea of what the coming millennium has for them.
You might know I'd end up drawn to a shop celebrating local (celtic) culture; I'll probably be back to the tidy little town of St Just for another look before this holiday ends; and it'll be a temptation once I'm back home to plan another visit - this August - for the community's almost unique production of The Ordinalia, the Cornish Miracle Cycle, in the ancient theatre of Pleyn-an-Gwary in St Just. "A cast of 100 with full band and choir work together with some of Cornwall's top professional theatre-makers [will] bring you this unique and unforgettable experience.", the blurb says. Should be good. They seem to know - or perhaps it's that in these times they're relearning vith vigour - how to celebrate themselves down here.
Thursday, June 10, 2004Barbara Hepworth - rooted in abstraction
The 'particular circumstances' in which Barbara Hepworth produced the main body of her work were the years of turmoil in Europe in the central part of the twentieth century, and their aftermath. I'm engaging with her work, for the first time really, at a time of anniversary: the 60th and perhaps the last great D-Day commemoration before the remaining Normandy survivors go the way of all flesh.
So, as she created her works of public art Hepworth would have in her miond perhaps, the human actions of brutality and slaughter people inflicted on each other in wartime, the corresponding gestures of grace, comradeship and forgiveness, and the great movements of peoples uprooted by war, searching for new beginnings in a slowly-healing and reconstructed post-war world.
What 'eternal forms' were affected by these human endeavours? I'm thinking of boundary-lines between nations shifted by conflict (walls erected, treaties signed); of the shapes of cities bombed and redesigned, of soil and sand reconstituted by the blood of thousands in the fields and on the beaches of battle. In Hepworth's time, 'eternal forms' have taken on new significances: the circle has become the shape of the ring-road, symbol of speed and accessibility, the privatisation of movement, perpetrator of urban drift and economic drag; the vertical line an indicator of the many new channels of communication in a satellite-networked world.
So Hepworth's art, for all its abstractness, is rooted, political, born of engagement with human spirit, achievements and dilemmas. I like it for that, feel I can begin to understand it, knowing that. I like also that while it is the product of a gorgeous garden studio in this slowed-down, shambling holiday town, her art has global, universal reach. Not for Hepworth pictures of little boats bobbing between deep blue sea and shining skies - ubiquitous here in St Ives' many galleries (two-a-penny but far more expensive than that).
Instead Hepworth explores the standing form "which is the translation of my feeling towards the human being standing in landscape" (Poised Form), the two forms "which is the tender relationship of one living thing beside another" (Two Forms, Divided Circle), and the closed form, such as the oval, spherical or pierced form (sometimes incorporating colour) "which translates for me the association and meaning of gesture in landscape, in the repose of say a mother and child, or in the feeling of the embrace of living things, either in nature or in the human spirit" (Pelagos 1946).
Because her works are abstract they will not assimilate to specific politics or fundamentalist perspectives: instead they excite the imagination of the viewer to make connections back into their specific concerns.
Because they are often outdoor works, public art, they can help the viewer in that place reflect on their "position in landscape and ... relation to the structure of nature".
In visiting the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden this week I'm struck by another anniversary. In June 1964 Hepworth's Single Form (model here) was erected, twenty-two feet high, outside the Secretariat of the United Nations in New York. Conceived in conversation with her friend, then U.N. General Secretary Dag Hammarskjold, and completed in his memory after his accidental death, Single Form is in one elevation thin, insubstantial, almost unnoticeable, and in another wide, weighty, bold. Forty years ago this month, Hepworth's most significant public work is not a war memorial, but rather a meditation in bronze on the strength and vulnerability, the tensions and the reach of peacemaking.
Tuesday, June 08, 2004The temperature and the art
Of course you get the light and the sky up in Western Scotland where I'm often found this time of year; but this is a different sort of treat, and it is (a) the temperature and (b) the art which makes the difference.
Previous blog was about getting out into the primal stones around this last-drop, Lands End peninsular. I will, soon, from a new perspective, because Nash and Hepworth have prepared me for those encounters in a different way to Cope - their art inspired by forms in the landscape and their relationship with people; and bringing a lightness to this subject which is sometimes lost among earnest and fundamentalist antiquarians... more coming ...
Thursday, June 03, 2004Safesurfing
Like mentor Julian Cope I'm likely to remain a Safesurfer this holiday, a landlubber, though I'll enjoy watching the more adventurous ones from my St Ives seaview balcony.
I shall, doubtless, though, follow Cope to many of Cornwall's megaliths, like the Men-An-Tol holed stone, pictured here from themodernantiquarian.com. Small child helpfully offering the viewer a sense of scale and perspective.
Is Men-An-Tol a stone circle, burial chamber, fertility symbol, early Cornish donut (tough on teeth)? One of many mysteries I shall enjoy unravelling (or knotting-up further) whilst away from me keyboard these next few days.
Join me on my journey in the company of the folks at Men-an-Tol Studio ("Publisher of Books on Cornish Fogous, Stone Circles, Standing Stones (Menhirs), Quoits (Cromlechs or Dolmens), Crosses, Holy Wells and other Antiquities: also Goddess, Pagan, Celtic and Phallic subjects.") Ahem. Their works fill my rucksack this week. Including an interesting booklet titled Sun Disc to Crucifix, a short illustrated history of the cross - a symbol which existed ages before the first proclamation of Christian doctrine anywhere and has had a very varied journey before and since: as Sun Disc, Tau Cross, Ankh Cross, Swastika, Chi Rho, Crucifix, Phallic Cross, Market Cross...
"You don't have to be afraid, love, 'cos I'm a safesurfer darling......"
Wednesday, June 02, 2004Shame is the shadow of love
I'd jump for you into the flame
Tried to go forward with my life
I just feel shame, shame, shame
Shame, shame, shame
Shame is the shadow of love
Yes, it's another P J Harvey album and it's slowly burning into my brain this week. What a phenomenal lyric: Shame is the shadow of love. How well it sums up the essence of her work. I wonder how it reflects back on me - why I feel such empathy with an artist who is writing about the experience of love from such a different angle to the one I usually take ... to the one people expect me to take ... or is she ... ? do I ... ? should they ... ? Uh huh her ...
Tuesday, June 01, 2004Parish Walks #2 - Bounded by green avenues the last walk's start point: the parish's easterly point, at the junction between Croxteth Hall Lane and Oak Lane. Unsure where I should go from there, not wanting to retread old tracks just yet, I drew again to locate the end of the walk - and this time it was virtually as far west as it's possible to go within these bounds: where Liverpool's ring road Queens Drive is dissected by Townsend Avenue. Apposite, then: another Rogation walk - along the south-eastern boundary which is Muirhead Avenue.
In the fortnight since my last walk The Dog and Gun pub has been closed-down, boarded-up, sealed off. There will be no Euro 2004 delights in store there. On the end wall, a plaque erected by regulars in fond memory of two who died some years ago. How, or why, it does not say. Were they hunters? Or hunted? Or maybe just unfortunate enough to step into the lane without looking, at the end of an afternoon's drinking session.
There are points along Oak Lane, heading towards Muirhead Avenue, where it is possible to lose from your view all hint of human habitation. It is green and wide here, as it will be all the way along this route, the estates set-back for privacy and Muirhead Avenue's more distant, denser housing obscured by its rows of mature trees. It is, however, possible to track crime from here, if you know the roads. A police helicopter sweeps across the horizon in a line which I know I shall be following later - evidently a car on Queen's Drive in its sights. As the land dips by the entrance to Croxteth Country Park I lose it from view and cannot trace the chase, whether the car has turned out towards open country along the East Lancs Road, or opted for a face-off in Bootle's docklands.
Muirhead Avenue is a long rise from the fancy new estate where my old college, North-East Liverpool Tech, used to be (day release 1978-79 - Certificate in Fabrication and Welding, and pulling motorbike tricks in the car park at breaktimes). It's the same all the way up - to the left, the public face: pubs and shops, surgeries and day centres, to the right (where I walk, hugging our parish) rows of original Norris Green estate houses, mostly tidy, all with front gardens no-one was using, except as driveways.
I'm more aware of children on this walk, having read the Green Alliance / Demos report A Child's Place: Why Environment Matters to Children. They say that children see the environment as social space, judge it in terms of danger, and are losing their connection with it because their access to it is so constrained. It is a half-term afternoon but on Muirhead Avenue I passed no children until the shops came into view, mostly being tightly held by parents or older siblings as they waited to cross the busy road. Teens, however, were out and thriving: a playful couple with a giggling friend, a girl being transported across the dual carriageway on a young man's shoulders, shrieking in delight (or fear). In the bus stop a blonde in a bright red tracksuit waved her hands about expressively; I realised she was signing to her friend - silent conversation at high-speed.
Shops on Muirhead Avenue (all busy): Lindy-Lou Hair and Beauty Salon, Robbie Muscart Top Quality Butchers, Charmed Hair and Beauty, Fruit Salad, Post Office, Drinks Cabin, Heatwave 2000, the bookies.
Up the rise which takes the road across what was once Liverpool railway's outer loop line and is now a cycle track, crossing more busy arterial roads. Broad Lane - the lane is broad which leads to West Derby Village, the posh bit of the area dominated by the tower of St Mary's where people want to get married cos it looks nice; Lorenzo Drive, not posh, but the base for celebrated local bakers Sayers, now part of a multinational conglomerate but still emitting gorgeous odours into the Norris Green air.
It is wonderful and green along here, a great environment were it not for the vicious traffic slicing through. I notice that each tree carries a small plastic green tag with a unique number on it: LCC 447868, LCC 447869 ... for what purpose I'm unsure, but I'm given to think - for the purpose of caring for these trees. The trimmed grass verges express this too: the city council does care for the place - as best it can. And the houses tell the same tale - when it was built (not that long ago) it was for honourable-enough reasons: get the people out of the inner-city slums into tidy homes with decent gardens front and back, where it's green and spacious.
Plenty more nice homes along Queen's Drive. But the traffic is even more vicious here. I watch a woman bring perhaps thirty vehicles to a halt at a crossing, and wonder how she's feeling - vulnerable, maybe, facing up all that aggression, revving, jostling, scowling; or perhaps she's glowing in the temporary power she has seized at the touch of a push-button. Another man opts to cross without any electronic assistance. Laden with tatty carrier bags, slightly dishevelled-looking, he's in no particular hurry. I sense he's done this so often it's worn him into carelessness: go on then, run me down if you want, dare you.
The road back home is dominated by two great monuments to the preponderance of the Roman Catholic Church in the area: at the junction with Townsend Lane the tremendously high campanile of St Matthew's, and down Utting Avenue East the massive redbrick slab which is St Teresa's. Inbetween is Broadway where the discomfiting absence of people along the route gives way to much activity. The many shops are the honeypot and here are children again - crossing carefully with Dad, being wheeled along by Mum, playing and skipping and scootering along the busy sweeping pavements of Norris Green's only decent shopping area.
Underneath the railway bridge is a Broadway nightclub which last week I observed, bemused, was named VALE TIN. I spent a long time pondering that title - was it to do with location (the land is a vale of sorts, just there), or with some local industry I didn't know about, or with a very localised form of music, recalling the sixties Scaffold classic of two miles from here, Thank U very much for the Aintree Iron? Until I realised that waste and decay were the reason the sign said VALE TIN. Three letters had fallen off - the club is called VALENTINOS.
At a bus stop, an ad for hair colourant features a glamorous girl and the line, "Be a radiant brunette", in front of which one chubby bedenimed thirtysomething, drawing on her cig, is telling her friend: "Bein' hones' wit yer Maureen I don' care worree says..."
Things sober up halfway down Utting Avenue East. This has been a walk around the green outside of the estate. Inside it looks very different: a vast area wrecked by bad planning, dereliction abounding, ghost streets where not long ago children played. A sign says, Coming soon to NORRIS GREEN: A modern development of 90 homes for rent and 107 homes for sale. Rebuilding communities together. It takes a lot to shake the cynicism in the face of so much past betrayal - lately, the city council got careless.
As I near home the East Lancs hills emerge from the drizzle in the distance, but they are a long way away. Inbetween, scrub land, industrial estates, brownfields... The first walk ended walking westwards, in a reverie about approaching the Mersey. This one ends facing east and contemplating something harsh: Utting Avenue East, like all these vast straits out of the city, is a road which leads its people to nowhere in particular.