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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
My wish list
Email me: john[at]johndavies.org
Join me on my
1 - On rogation beside the River Alt
2 - Bounded by green avenues
3 - Following mislaid tracks
4 - Bringing in the Bacon
5 - Tropical storms over Scarisbrick
6 - Leisure pursuits
7 - The shopping trolley trail
8 - Everyday English
9 - Dog & Gun rogation
10 - Boundary slippage
Talks and articles:
Iain Sinclair in Conversation with John Davies
(at Greenbelt 09: cd/mp3)
Walking with the Psychogeographers
(Greenbelt 2008 talk)
Walking with the Psychogeographers
(Greenbelt 08 talk: cd/mp3)
Heaven in Ordinary
(Greenbelt 2007 talk)
Heaven in Ordinary
(Greenbelt 07 talk: cd/mp3)
Heart of Cheltenham pilgrimage: notes
Heaven in Ordinary
(Greenbelt Leeds event talk)
Reading the Everyday
(Greenbelt 06 talk: cd/mp3)
Reading the Everyday
(Third Way article: pdf)
Reading the Everyday
(Greenbelt on Iona 2006)
Stars of Norris Green
Making of the
Towards an Urban
Theology of Land
Mapping an Urban Parish
the cost of my MPhil/PhD
gratefully received via
the Gulf War
A permanent record
of the fate of Iraq
Joe Moran's Blog
The Reluctant Ordained
Dave Walker's Cartoon Blog
Dot Gosling: Wildgoose
Walking Home to 50
The Manchester Zedders
A Mis-Guided Blog
Territories Reimagined: International Perspectives
Islingtongue / Leytonstongue
Remapping High Wycombe
Danger: Void Behind Door
Strange Attractor: Further
Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary
Unofficial Fall website
Bill Drummond: Penkiln Burn
Julian Cope: Head Heritage
Second Layer Records
News From Nowhere
Smoke: A London Peculiar
London Review of Books
provided by the
Church of England
Church of the
Saturday, July 31, 2004Pic of the month Pic of the month for August is up. Summertime colour from a Liverpool 8 tenement block.
Friday, July 30, 2004Reflections on debt and soccer at the heart of old Everton village
The news is that UK consumer debt has reached £1 trillion, and that Everton FC, £30 million in debt, are in boardroom turmoil. In my wallet is the Premiership Barclaycard which connects me to both those stories. My personal debt diminishes today as my four-year car loan comes to completion. But there's that £470 I invested in the football club (season ticket), and with the season two weeks off yet I'm already wondering if that was wise, or safe.
On the lower slopes of the Brow, once the heart of Everton village, I found the old lock-up, a small circular brick building with a pointed roof, quaint centrepiece on Everton FC's club badge. The perimeter fence was broken, and the lock was off the metal door, so I wandered up to it contemplating going in, to say a prayer at that energy-centre for all people with money worries in this city, and for the future of our football club. However on peering into the darkness I discovered that someone had got there before me - and had set up home with a mattress and plentiful supply of beer cans.
The other news today is that Liverpool fc have got the green light from the City Council to proceed with building their new stadium, despite the controversy of it all: they're taking public land to do it, cutting Stanley Park in half, which the Council itself regards as "arguably the most architecturally significant of the city's great Victorian parks."
En-route I'd noticed that the new banner across the width of the Stanley Park End of Goodison is that quote of David Moyes the day he became club manager: EVERTON - THE PEOPLE'S CLUB. Well, despite boardroom tussles, perhaps they are slightly more THE PEOPLE'S CLUB than their rivals could claim to be today. As lfc get themselves into enormous debt to pay for a stadium the city doesn't want, Everton (unwittingly) find themselves in the company of those scratching around to make ends meet. And so, on the club website tonight, your last chance to put in an auction bid for Wayne Rooney's plastercast from his recent Euro injury.
Thursday, July 29, 2004Scratch now her blog, as in 2000, they arrived in London on 21 July, 23 July in 2001, 26 July in 2002, and 27 July in 2003. Flying ants.
That's London. Ours arrived today. I wondered why the local children were attacking my gatepost with sticks; some midsummer ritual perhaps. Well no - and yes. Trying to kill off a swarm is futile, they soon discovered, as the swarm turned its attention to them and they ran off down the road homewards shrieking.
Sticky things, them. Flying ants... well, yes, kids, too.
Wednesday, July 28, 2004Going on blazing and singing
This sounds like T.S. Eliot in its dark intensity. Or David Tibet. It's actually Jim Hart. My old friend and mentor who, in exchange for a bundle of papers from me about my parish walks, has reciprocated with two astonishing texts.
Beyond the quote above, I will not detail what Jim writes in Five Serious Meditations because it is deeply personal, revealing the state of his heart and mind during a particularly dark spell in his life a few years back. I'm awed that he should have chosen to share this with me, moved by the trust that demonstrates.
Instead, a flavour of the other text, TRAVELS: Wednesday 8 to Saturday 18 August 2001. This was an epic journey circling these islands on his trusty BMW during the time of the 20th anniversary commemorations of the Irish Hunger Strike, and for the purpose of his own commemoration.
After joining in the Liverpool Hunger Strike commemoration march on 21 July Jim prepared for his pilgrimage by contemplating the question 'How does the saint live in the world?':
"I needed to recover words like 'saint', the 'righteous' and 'prophet' from the religious ghetto where they mean long dead people who weren't ordinary like me. They did magic things, and God spoke to them in magic ways and theologians had buried them under mountains of words. I decided that the real, breathing men had to be like us if they were to be of any use to us."
I'd agree, except to say that there's nothing ordinary about Jim, and elements of magic (to me) in what he did next. Packed his tent and took off for Belfast, on a four-day journey by way of Thetford Chase, Ipswich (where he visited his sister in Claydon), Barnard Castle, New Galloway, and the Cairnryan ferry. His travelling companions: a few bottles of beer, tapes of Corelli, Myslivecek and Zelenda, Thomas Middleton's play The Revenger's Tragedy and a copy of Nicky Gumbel's Questions of Life bought from a Stowmarket "fish shop" ("ie, a holy book shop with an ichthus logo. Apply within for soundness."). He plays these two texts off each other hilariously, the fall guy being Gumbel of the "sinister cluster-bomb salesman's look".
Along the way Jim encounters various dog-walkers, CAMRA pub-drinkers, moped-riders and ferry passengers and elicits a wealth of conversation from them on a range of subjects from the weather to deep politics; and once in Ireland the deep politics takes over completely. Jim's concern for justice and human rights was reawakened by the events of 1981. His desire to be part of the commemorations draws on deep wells within him. He needs that depth of character on this journey:
"I go to Sinn Fein's shop and offices in the Falls Road to buy An Phoblacht and find out my march times for tomorrow. SF is on a roll and its premises are new with the famous mural of Bobby Sands repainted. I leave Belfast along the Newtownards Road, the heart of Loyalist east Belfast. You pass the Short Strand, a little Nationalist enclave surrounded by 'peace-lines' and then come to 'Freedom Corner' with its murals setting out the Loyalist cause. There are murals on gables and even around commercial advertisements for the next couple of miles. I have prowled around east Belfast's side streets on several occasions photographing murals but I am never entirely at ease. There are some hard boys out there and I have my patter ready. "I'm over for the Twelfth!" or sometimes "God bless the Union!" If you venture off the beaten track in Northern Ireland you have to blend in with the background, decide who you're talking to, and be what they want you to be."
Here's what I like about Jim: his devotion to making journeys of discovery, to unearthing the truth, and his passionate concern for those treated unjustly by the 'powers'. So while I may not share his politics (I don't know enough about Ireland to be sure what I believe) I feel I can stand with him as he describes being at the rally at the culmination of his journey, in Casement Park at 3.00 on Sunday 12 August, where speeches are made and a roll is called of the ten who died on hunger strike, from Bobby Sands, age 26, on 5 May 1981, after 66 days, to Michael Devine, 27, on 20 August, after 60 days.
Hearing Gerry Adams describe a recent visit to the site of those deadly protests, Jim reflects,
"The cages [of Long Kesh] are now in ruins and weeds and bushes grow where once men studied the Irish language and read Marx, Guevara, the Bible, Donne, Shakespeare, Byron and Shelly in the university of revolution. Their 40,000 books are now archived. They are the sort of self-taught men like me devouring knowledge and truth, reading for themselves what the academics have hidden from the people."
I shall return after all, to Jim's other paper to finish. For in the same connection - the self-education of the Long Kesh prisoners ("my kind of learning") - he writes, "The amateur's learning is driven by passion, vocation and excitement. The amateur is a 'lover' after all." And continues,
"... we saints have got something good, childish though we may be ... My fires have burned fiercely on the stones and hundreds of people have warmed themselves at the blaze. Fires live and die. The stones do not die but have never had life. Thank You God for the fire and for all of us who blaze through Your enabling. ... Let us go on blazing and singing."
Tuesday, July 27, 2004Writers' Routes Writers' Routes - Literary Journeys in South West Wales is an attractive little booklet. It comes with a 40-minute CD documentary visiting some of the places that shaped Dylan Thomas's life and work, and the booklet whets the appetite for other explorations - to the Hywel Dda Centre, Whitland, on the trail of Gerald of Wales, and at Aberglasney House with John Dyer; and then on to explore some modern Welsh writers - Alexander Cordell, Sir Kingsley Amis, Caradoc Evans, Iris Gower, Gillian Clarke, Stevie Davies among others - and the places in South-West Wales which they have made their own.
It's a bit light on actual routes, this thing, but it's enough to arouse the curiosity: I majored on Dylan Thomas at Cardiff University but never once visited Cwmdonkin Drive or the little village where he created so many of his masterpieces - Laugharne, of which he said (in his last radio broadcast),
Some, like myself, just came, one day, for the day, and never left; got off the bus, and forgot to get on again. Whatever the reason, if any, for our being here, in this timeless, mild, beguiling island of a town with its seven public-houses, one chapel in action, one church, one factory, two billiard tables, one St.Bernard (without brandy), one policeman, three rivers, a visiting sea, one Rolls-Royce selling fish and chips, one cannon (cast-iron), one chancellor (flesh and blood), one port-reeve, one Danny Raye, and a multitude of mixed birds, here we just are, and there is nowhere like it anywhere at all. [Download text]
A quote on the CD persuaded me that the time has come for me to visit. It's from a well-spoken lady who observes, "I think Laugharne has always attracted eccentric artistic people - writers, artists - and it has a reputation for eccentricity." Oh, should suit me then.
Monday, July 26, 2004More mobile than a pile of bricks
"What identifies me is music. I think what identifies English people is their music, and their dance, and their literature and their painting ... that stuff. Stuff that's more mobile than a pile of bricks."
Seldom does a TV programme bear repeating twice in 24 hours, but that's been my experience with BBC Four's documentary Originals: Martin Carthy. First time I saw it I was struck by the gentle passion of the man, his supreme artistry with folk song and guitar, and the wonder of watching a musical family perform so well together (Carthy often appears with wife Norma Waterson and daughter Eliza; eg at last year's Greenbelt). Second time, more of the same, plus deeper engagement with the man's words, such as his definition of English culture, above, and the gracious way he describes Eliza's musical gifts:
"Liza has always been an entire musician. From when she was 17 or 18 appearing on stage with us, she's always been complete, never tentative, she has always commanded what she did, and gradually she has spread her net wider..."
Such generosity chimes in well with Eliza's view that
"There is a lack of ego and politics that you have when it comes to playing with your family. I mean, not even just the intuition that people talk about, not even knowing what's going to happen next, but also having the confidence and the comfort to try anything."
I think she may be underplaying the uniqueness of Waterson:Carthy, because of the numerous family bands scattered through musical history there are few with such a seemingly open supportive character (ponder, briefly, Noel and Liam's stormy relationship, or, going back, the turbulent times of the Kinks...).
Embracing the power of positive family values is one thing about Carthy. The other - which is closely linked - is the power of the music, which engrosses him and which, with every note, every sinew, he celebrates. From the old bluesmen and women of America to the hidden champions of English people's song, Carthy was into it from an early age, having what Norma described as "a Damascus Road experience" at a Sam Larner gig aged 17. His approach to performance is direct, his opinion of the canon of English folk songs is revealing:
"All you've got to do is deliver a song from here (puts finger to his mouth) to the person's ear there (touches his ear) - that's all you've got to do. And anything else is nonsense. It's simple. It's very simple. These are great stories. They make you laugh, they make you quake in your boots, they make you fear to walk outside the door. They make you close your windows and doors at night. They make you behave.
"I allow the song to do its job, the job that it's done for several hundred years; and when I'm properly a conduit for the song the gap between the audience and me disappears. You're actually trying to wake the beast, let the beast appear in the middle. And that's what makes a song work."
Something priestly in that, but I won't linger there. I'll end where I began, with another quote from Carthy about the uniqueness of English music, its value to us, the excitement about it which he shares:
"The thing that makes it extraordinary is that the songs of Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and so on ... have led me back to the English countryside. We were all curious about this music because it was new to us, and fascinating, and foreign, and exotic - and it was ours."
Sunday, July 25, 2004Those were the days
One of the first pages of Martin Parr's collection of Boring Postcards contains this masterpiece. Look at all that space! And, after Friday's blog, permit me (join me in) the wonderful fantasy that the picture in the bottom right-hand corner is Thelwall Viaduct...
Saturday, July 24, 2004Parish Walks #4 - Bringing in the Bacon
It's fairly warm but blowy. Which has brought the children out: two little girls making games for the teddy which is as big as them, at the front of a house with the door wide open to the living room, and an older boy slumped alone at the base of a wind-blown tree, playing with his fingers. Further on a woman helps her grandson take his first wobbly journey on a bike with stabilisers.
As the road sweeps upwards round the back of Norris Green Park it is obvious why this is called Broad Lane; but I'm wondering what makes it one of the most ancient roads in the district. Only when I return home to consult the 1908 map do I discover that this part of Broad Lane is not, in fact, the 'original'. In 1908 this stretch of road did not exist. Broad Lane ran along the front (west side) of what was then Norris Green House; it is now a continuation of Lorenzo Drive, my return route.
This part of Broad Lane came in with the new estate in 1930. Some of it appears to be ready to wind up its history altogether. The nearer the centre of the figure-eight, the roundabout where my previous walk ended, the more empty houses there are and the more nature has begun to reclaim the land. This indicates the edge of the present-day City Council's failed experiment in the Boot Estate, well-documented elsewhere. Gaps between the houses to the right, all along here, show a wild green vastness where not long ago whole communities had been. Some hold on to the hope they will be there again: the adverts are up for new houses, though there's little sign of building work beginning as yet.
The roundabout is overlooked by St Christopher's, where tomorrow I shall celebrate communion for the second time this week. The Children's Church: built with the help of over £3,000 raised by the youngsters of the twelve Rural Deaneries of Liverpool Diocese. On the Broad Lane side of the church bold red iron gates protect the lovely Children's courtyard between the sanctuary and the hall; if we had our way (which we might) this would be an open cafe area on future summers days like this.
Sign by church hall: SLIMMING WORLD MONDAYS FROM 10 - 5.30PM. McCabe Chemists. Langbank Medical Centre - Dr M.N. Metha, Dr S. Muthu, Dr N.M. Patel, Dr A. Arain. A woman passes struggling with a wheelchair: "Ar ey Laurice, ang on, I can't push ya."
Just past the Private Day Nursery is the back entrance to Sayers, the Bakers, factory. My question about who round here can afford private childcare seems to be answered - I guess, those who work at Sayers.
The Co-op is busy, and as Broadway approaches, as expected, things look up. The local economy is solvent, it seems. "Completed in 1929, two-storeyed, on a curve, and punctuated with gables. Poor detail of the shopping canopy" (Pevsner), Broadway's fifty-or-so establishments seem to be dominated by bookies , florists, card shops and chippies.
Smell of vinegar, paper swirling around (recalling Bill Bryson's wry observation on alighting from Lime Street, "The citizens of Liverpool are holding a festival of litter.") But the main impression - people; all sorts and ages, alone and together, mostly at ease, mainly at leisure. I stop to talk to a couple of parishioners, he, terminally ill, determined to take the afternoon air. And then to watch a car doing a terrible job of reversing into a rare parking space, to then discover that it is my neighbour, who is a long-distance lorry driver.
Broadway feels good; I sneak down Back Broadway to take notes, where all is razor wire. Clubmoor Conservative Mens Club hides behind strong wire here: TETLEY, intercom entrance, hardly welcoming.
Out onto Utting Avenue East where the corporation builders in 1930 created a pleasant residential crescent and where today this is punctuated by a building site, for a Sure Start centre. Out of one front doorway spill four women, family, four generations chatting and laughing together. I turn right at the lights onto Lorenzo Drive.
This is a famous Liverpool road, but it's not clear who Lorenzo was. In 1796, city father and slave trade abolitionist William Roscoe published his Life of Lorenzo de' Medici. Florentine statesman, sportsman, musician, patron of the arts, his contemporary Florentines called him Lorenzo the Magnificent (il Magnifico). However he was a failure at business. Unsuccessful banker and bad debtor - odd that it is on the road named for him (perhaps) that Norris Green's largest employers are based.
Whistlers Farm looks anything but rural. A large brown shed behind cast iron railings, revealing nothing about the purpose of its business. Except two signs, carrying identical messages. In - what? - Afrikaans? Scandinavian?:
TIL ALLE TRANSPORTORER
POLITI OG BEBOERE KLAGER OVER STOJ
DERFOR INGEN PARKERING HER NATEN OVER
PARKER ET ANDET STED
KOM TILBAGE 0630 I MORGEN TIDLIG,
NAAR VI AABNER
Evidently whatever it says, it demonstrates that this place is frequently visited by folk from overseas. Later I run this through an internet translation tool, with the following results:
TIL ALLEGORY TRANSPORTORER POLITICS OG HABITABLE WAIL OVER NOISE DERFOR No parking HER TONIGHT OVER PARK A SPIRIT STED ARRIVED TILBAGE 0630 IN MORNING TIDLIG NAAR WES AABNER ROOF WHISTLERS RANCH
To all TRANSPORTORER POLICE AND INHABITANTS Complain of STOJ ACCORDINGLY NEITHER PARKING HERE NIGHT ABOVE PARK A DUCK-BREEDING LOCATION ARRIVED WAS ADORING 0630 Tomorrow morning NAAR WE AABNER GRIP WHISTLERS FARM
TO ALL TRANSPORTORER POLICE AND RESIDENTS COMPLAINANT BY STOJ THEREFORE NONE PARKING HERE THE NIGHT BY PARKING A DIFFERENT SPOT COME BACK 0630 Tomorrow morning NAAR VI AABNER CHEERS WHISTLERS FARM
It turns out that Whistlers Farm (est. Dec 1998) moved to Lorenzo Drive in February 2000, a purpose built unit formerly owned by Clarks Quality Meats. They are meat wholesalers and number amongst their customers Weddal Swifts, Towers Thompson and - here we are - the Danish Bacon Company. Denmark being the world's biggest exporter of pork.
Part of me mischievously connects their activities to the Territorial Army Centre at the far end of Lorenzo Drive, concerning the discredited military Exercise Danish Bacon where pigs were shot with high-velocity weapons to train NATO medics in messy field surgery.
But more of me wants to connect them with Sayers, the famous Liverpool bakers, whose factory is next door. For, put their produce together and one of life's loveliest treats is formed: bacon butties. In the middle of Norris Green I am at the epicentre of Yum.
Nothing outside Sayers' shoddy-looking factory reveals that they are now a subsidiary of Lyndale Foods, one of Britain's three largest Bakery chains (behind Greggs and Three Cooks). A trade report [download] says that
The Lyndale Foods Group was formed in 1996, when Lyndale Foods Ltd was purchased from Warburtons Ltd. The Group now incorporates 252 retail outlets trading under a variety of names, including Sayers, Hampsons, Anne's, Fords, Burtons and Spinks, together with the Peter Hunt pie business.
In 2001, Lyndale, which is based mainly in the North West, sold its Mountstevens bakery and 93 shops (all Mountstevens outlets) in the South West, in order to concentrate on its northern businesses. 50 of the company's shops have been rebranded with a bright new corporate image.
In the 52-week period ending 30th September 2000, Lyndale Group Ltd (the parent company of Lyndale Foods Ltd) reported a turnover of £109.2m and a pre-tax loss of £3.1m. In the 10-week period ending 30th September 1999, the company returned a pre-tax profit of £66,000 on a turnover of £16.3m.
Seems times are good in bakery business. I'm left wondering why such a successful company cannot think to 'rebrand' the flaky frontage of its flagship factory.
Detour on the home stretch - avoiding the easterly Lorenzo Drive (1908's Broad Lane) I cut a course through Broad Square (which is named as it is shaped) from Circular Road West to Circular Road East (ditto). And on the playing field at the heart of Circular Road West, a municipal vision epitomised - the wonderful sight of a group of small children playing football between corporation-maintained goalposts, overlooked by their families' tidy homes. I sense this is a place of security for them. An urban planners dream realised. Rare and lovely to feel.
Circular Road East encircles an adult playground - The Circular Road Bowling Club, surrounded by a tall hedge. Forbidding externally, inside its green and gardens are well-maintained. Surprising to see it all locked up on a summer's afternoon, nevertheless it is another well-intentioned municipal experiment which has survived well over seventy years.
Broad Square School, on the other hand, is a sign of a different time. A new building looking like a pharmaceutical factory, with the school sign behind high metal fences displaying a public-private partnership: The City of Liverpool and Jarvis: The Headteacher (Mrs Spencer) and the Emergency Contact (Jarvis Helpdesk). I don't know the school so can't comment on how this partnership is going. But in the physical centre of this municipal dream the contrast is sharp.
I return home to discover on my map that a straight line connects Broad Square School (education in thrall to capital) with Croxteth Hall (old money, absentee lairds) via the site of Norris Green House (built by Arthur Heywood in 1830 - slave trade banker family, now subsumed into Barclays).
Before that, though, the walk's end. Where Circular Road East meets Lorenzo Drive a mum teases her little son about how far he's ridden his new trike today: "Fifty-four miles," he insists. And a young man helps his young lady into his vehicle; out together for the day in the works van.
Friday, July 23, 2004Wanderings beneath Junction 21
"Hell is Chrome," sing Wilco on their new album A Ghost is Born. In the New Statesman Richard Reeves notes J.K. Galbraith's contrast between our private affluence and public squalor. Both texts played a part in my day - Wilco on the journey and the NS on my knee as I sat in sunshine at Tatton Park. And, confirming what they said, the day began in a familiar queue - on the slip road to the M6 approaching Thelwall Viaduct.
That's familiar territory to those who've been reading this blog awhile. But today I went further than I've done before; abandoned the car on a dirtroad near Junction 21 and spent the rush hour exploring the point where the Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal merge and wind together beneath the carbonic chaos of that great expansion.
Lacking a map the afternoon's wanderings were disconnected, notes for future reference when a walk round Thelwall Eye looks likely:
- at Latchford lock a spectacular series of bridges over the canal including the looming metallic carrier of a defunct mid-Cheshire railway out of Warrington Bank Quay, now part of the Trans Pennine Trail;
- the Mersey Way footpath off the A57 overgrown and rich with wildflowers and butterflies;
- the Mersey itself wide and gentle in the curve beneath the viaduct;
- on the choking road above, signs to placate frustrated drivers: "Men working on bridge beneath"; underneath, the only evidence of humanity a portakabin with an open door marked CANTEEN;
- and everywhere the sound of traffic. Unnoticeable beneath the viaduct because it so fully fills the air, it's when you're half a mile away that its presence attacks your eardrums. The swans seem used to it...
Thursday, July 22, 2004Longing for a series of Questionable Experiences WIRE, regret. Regret at the loss of weekends. There's so much happening on the outer fringes of music, worth seeing. If only weekends were mine again, this summer I'd be off:
To Hackney Ocean next Sunday to see Coil, supported by Githead (consisting of members of Wire, Scanner and others);
To The Steiner Theatre on various dates in August to witness The Hafler Trio and the children of eternal recurrence performing A Series of Questionable Experiences raising dust and Cracking Eggs with Sticks;
To The Green Man Festival in Hay-on-Wye, late Aug, for a wonderful eclectic electric-folky mix which connects the gorgeous French sonic innovator Colleen with the gruff and raging Glaswegian guitar poet Jackie Leven, among many surprising alliances.
Regrettably I shall miss them all; deeply envious of those for whom Sundays are an invitation, an opportunity, a blank. I must be content with seeing The Handsome Family at Greenbelt. Which will be good, but not enough.
I will have to wait till redundancy, resignation or, if all else fails, retirement happily kick in when I shall be released from the tyranny of Sunday, and find my place within the second or third generation of rock geriatrics still seeking the perfect gig, hopefully experiencing many more yet before cashing my ticket to the great gig in the sky ...
Wednesday, July 21, 2004Keiller: London London, his first feature, preamble to Robinson in Space. It is a meditation on the place - in 1992, year of IRA City bombings, crippling revelations about the House of Windsor, a dismally successful Conservative general election victory and subsequent turmoil in the financial markets and among the mining communities. A snapshot - which dates it but also offers much of a timeless quality to contemplate.
"There is no town in the world which is more adapted for training one away from people and training one into solitude than London..." Keiller quotes Aleksandr Herzen as he pans slowly over blasted wasteground or holds the camera still over stagnant water being patterned by gentle raindrops. Going some way towards explaining my fondness of London - me, the happy solitary - where in 1992 I was spending two or three days a month on average, with work, leisure, Greenbelt.
And in his video-case introduction an attitude which chimes with my developing approach to urban discovery (don't dismiss the unpromising, unlikely places - they reveal so much - go there): "The re-imagination of the city springs far more from the act of filming it than from the choice of locations."
It's as drily observant as Robinson in Space, if slightly less tightly-structured, a little more earnest and a little less witty. It's of its time and it's of all times - Keiller's lengthy shots of crowds flowing over Thames bridges into work are classic London views, recalling Eliot's immortal words which come back to me often when I'm a solitary in among thousands: "I had not thought death had undone so many."
Tuesday, July 20, 2004Clouded judgement
"In choosing us Liverpool Vision have demonstrated real commitment towards the creation of a 21st century water front for Liverpool that will indeed make the world stand up and take note. As an icon our building will always stretch the imagination and challenge preconceptions, but we are certain that the 4th Grace will become the pride of Liverpool. We look forward to working with the people of Liverpool, Merseyside and the North West to realise our vision and create a truly spectacular water front for the City - one that will bring jobs, tourists, investment, culture and most of all joy to the City. Speaking personally, for me this is one of the most important projects I have ever worked on and I am totally confident that our scheme for the 4th Grace will contribute to a renaissance of Liverpool."
Today the city dropped the project; it had become too costly. Seems we'll never see The Cloud on our World Heritage riverfront. Pity. I liked its ambition. And its shape.
Also today, I bought the new Pevsner Architectural Guide to Liverpool, which, flicking through, is a great book, colourful, informative, utilising ten walks around the city's docks and inner districts. It is written in the authoriative, serious and provocative style of Nikolaus Pevsner's original observations on the city (in South Lancashire: Pevsner Buildings of England Series).
In a comprehensive survey of Liverpool's architecture from the thirteenth century onwards Alsop's Cloud proposal is summarised in a typically terse Pevsner phrase: "It is intended to house flats, offices and a new museum of local history, but the scheme seems to be driven by the desire for a new landmark, rather than by practical need."
Which is pithy, but carries truth. And after watching the Millennium Dome debacle from afar, perhaps it is good reason and not lack of ambition which Liverpool's leaders are showing in dropping the project now. I do hope, though, whatever else may come along to replace it displays similar ambition to Alsop's Cloud.
As the new Pevsner says, with critical economy, "Redevelopment in the second half of the C20 added little of value, so that late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian buildings still predominate." That gothic pile on St James's Mount is celebrating its centenary this week. An exceptional building, marvellous in conception and still truly awesome today. But ... what's new?
Monday, July 19, 2004Pigeon city
Not for the first time, a fascinating link from the Demos site: to Fusedspace, "an international competition for innovative applications for new technology in the public domain."
The site is full of entries each of which propose a way "through which technology will make possible other interactions with the public domain, will shed new light on it or in any other way will bring about innovation." Some excellent ones. Among them the one which first got me interested: the Bus Browser, an idea which redefines buses from being unsavoury public vehicles filled with soulless advertising and bland media screens to being "vehicles for community," those ads and screens being replaced with "a charismatic information system generated by the local community itself. "
By website, or in situ on the bus itself, the public, local councils and community groups (using digital technology) can generate content on in-bus screens, perhaps voting on the best services along the route (promoting local businesses), commenting on local council initiatives (increasing engagement), contributing anecdotes (local social history repository), finding out what's on the streets behind the bus route (encouraging exploration), alerting others to community happenings (increasing involvement), learning what the area is known for (strengthening identity), celebrating local successes like recycling targets or sports matches (increasing civic pride)..... endless possibilities. Fantastic idea.
The winner of the Fusedspace competition is Transitions, an idea about creating places for people to record their memories and tributes to their deceased, using a link between webspace, fibre optic light and physical space - you type in your tribute to a loved one and in a field somewhere, a light begins to glow.
But the one that has just grabbed me as most in the spirit of my own programme of urban discovery (see Parish Walks series on sidebar) is called Urban Eyes, and it's quite simple - link CCTV cameras to pigeons and follow them on their journeys around town. It works via electronic tags the pigeons have ingested as 'seeds' which trigger CCTV cameras when they fly nearby them. Great way of seeing the city as you could never otherwise - by bird.
"Urban Eyes borrows from the shamanistic journeys, providing an animal perspective in a distance. It gives a view on our surroundings that is not intended for the public. Because the imagery is intimately associated to the pigeon, the captured images form a micro story of the life of the bird throughout the day."
Sunday, July 18, 2004Press ESC to escape
If only it were this easy. Press ESC to escape. Some say the garden is a place of escape. Rookie gardener, I'm still daunted by the amount of growth out there; spent a long time this afternoon battling with what look like weeds (hope so), taking a bandsaw to a wildly windward-leaning tree, encountering disturbing things (cat's smells, dead frog in long grass). Suburbia? No way. Like a jungle out there.
Can try escaping online but that doesn't engage one for long. Eyes start hurting, shoulder muscles aching. So, the search for the perfect ESCAPE continues. To further that project I have invested in a ThinkGeek Esc T-Shirt: unsatisfactory symbol of the escapist urge, I will wear it to bear witness to the felt need.
Saturday, July 17, 2004Quids in
Gave a Jesus Credit Card to everyone who attended our Jesus in the Marketplace study afternoon today. Not a new design - ripped it off someone else who'd got there before us on the web (can't remember where, but it'll be in among this sorry lot somewhere).
We reissued it in a four-edition series: Love, Joy, Peace, Grace. Instructions on the reverse: YOU HAVE RECEIVED THE GIFT OF LOVE FROM JESUS CHRIST. YOU ARE AUTHORISED TO USE THIS GIFT FREELY. THIS CARD IS NOT TIME-LIMITED AND IS ACCEPTABLE IN ALL OUTLETS. YOUR ACCOUNT WILL BE CREDITED EACH TIME YOU MAKE USE OF LOVE.
Wonder if they'll take it in Farmfoods?
Friday, July 16, 2004His movement would be his poem
Francis saw himself in these little creatures that shoot back and forth, in and out of the tiny crevices. They loved the geography of their little world and they went about the business of their lives unselfconsciously, totally preoccupied with the humble stone.
It was their movement that fascinated him. Their motion was a pattern scribbled in the air which disappeared as soon as it was made. There was no permanence in these tiny signatures, no monument to themselves left behind. This is what he wanted to be: a tiny signature in the air that thrilled someone who saw it, but was as anonymous as a lizard's zigzagged darting on a pink Assisi wall. His movement would be his poem.
This, from Murray Bodo's Francis: The Journey and the Dream, began my day. It seems to be a remove from J. Alfred Prufrock's wistful lament, "I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas". It's not just about longing to be anonymous, it's about moving more consciously, with conspicuous creativity, through life.
"His movement would be his poem." Perfect line. Dwelling on this:
(a) led me to spend a long time watching a white-and-black spider making stop-start scurries along the outside of the garden window ledge;
(b) permitted me to watch with fascination, people's various movements in the street: the motionless stance of a woman waiting at the bus stop, two young girls on one bike circling around the same bus stop, young men running, three older girls dressed for the evening each playing with their hair as they walked and talked their way towards the night.
(c) helped me to enjoy even more than I would have anyway, a display of Indian dancing at an interfaith event this evening; dance in that culture meaning far more than mere performance.
(d) encouraged me to take another lesson from Francis into my life, walk, journey...
Thursday, July 15, 2004The white of the map
It's not that there's nothing of consequence in the white bits, geographers are too lazy to see it: rifle ranges, landfill mountains, wild nature enveloping concrete, oil-spill on the shoreline, rock pools in threadbare tyres.
Just back from the Urban Theology Unit where many voices, many writers, many questors and innovators have filled my last two days with many good things to think about, re. the city and how we perceive it, ourselves, our faith within it.
And one voice which persisted throughout was Iain Sinclair's. Quote, above, from Dining on Stones. I read the extract on the train there, and shared it with the group this morning; and on the train back, looking out of the window, I found myself being as attentive to the details of the passing industrial edge-lands as to the green hills of the Peak District ...
Tuesday, July 13, 2004Hopper: sad / not sad?
In the first edition of TATE ETC (a rubbish title but a good mag) Alain de Botton does his bit to promote the latest Edward Hopper exhibition by suggesting that while Hopper's paintings depict deep levels of human bleakness, they are not themselves bleak to look at.
Hopper's work "appears sad but does not make us sad". His lonely figures, looking as though they are far from home, reading a letter beside a hotel bed or drinking in a bar, gazing out of the window of a moving train or reading a book in a hotel lobby, are vulnerable and introspective.
"They may have just left someone or been left. They are in search of work, sex or company, adrift in transient places. It is often night, and through the window lie the darkness and threat of the open country or of a strange city."
But "they are not themselves bleak to look at - perhaps because they allow us as viewers to witness an echo of our own griefs and disappointments, and thereby to feel less personally persecuted and beset by them. It is sad books that console us most when we are sad, and the pictures of lonely service stations that we should hang on our walls when there is no one to hold or love."
de Botton reckons that Hopper's characters find salvation of a kind in roadside diners and late-night cafeterias, hotel lobbies and station cafés, just as "we too may dilute a feeling of isolation in a lonely public place and hence rediscover a distinctive sense of community. The lack of domesticity, the bright lights and anonymous furniture, may be a relief from what can be the false comforts of home. It may be easier to give way to sadness here than in a living room with wallpaper and framed photographs, the décor of a refuge that has let us down."
He suggests that "the 24-hour diner, the station waiting room or motel are sanctuaries for those who have, for noble reasons, failed to find a place of their own in the ordinary world"
I'm not entirely convinced. Though there are parallels between this and the relationship which Iain Sinclair's characters have with their bleak terrain - about which I shall be reading (on the train, alone) and speaking (at the conference) tomorrow and Thursday - I'm still unsure that if I had a bleak Hopper on my wall it would comfort me like a "sad book that console(s) us most when we are sad".
But hey, in 24 hours time, as I'm skulking around a Sheffield guest house, the truth in de Botton's theory may become clearer.
Monday, July 12, 2004On The Twelfth The Twelfth and, back from a boozy day in Southport, it's one last drumroll, muster as much dignity as you can for a final march past St Teresa's, and then home for the Orangemen, women, girls and boys of Norris Green.
Used to be ten thousand travelling together from Liverpool up the coast for a day by the sea; it's about a thousand now. Used to be trouble back home, before and after the early-summer school-skipping treat for the city's protestants. Tonight, the drums are a background irritant for Ground Force watchers in Utting Avenue living rooms. It's an identity thing; fair enough. The days of virulent hatred and religious separation are over here. Many of the people visiting me to book weddings and baptisms are in mixed families; mixed - it seems odd even to comment on that these days.
Ecumenism is a yawn-inducing term; but what David Sheppard and Derek Warlock introduced here was something far fuller: the possibility of healthy relationships in a once-divided city. Their legacy is strong. But at the end of The Twelfth some feel a need to do a defiant march-past. So something latent still bubbles beneath; which means we have to watch ourselves.
Sunday, July 11, 2004Pleasure :: Pain
Pleasure: an hour a day of Le Tour de France;
Pain: too muscle-tired to contemplate getting my bike out of the shed for a summer spin.
Pleasure: discovering a special Late Junction, on sacred music, on Friday;
Pain: then hearing it's being broadcast live from Liverpool Cathedral - I'd have been there if I'd known.
Pleasure: The Pixies at T in the Park, their songs as potent as ever;
Pain: hearing "Where is my mind?" fifteen years on, and realising I still don't know the answer;
Pleasure: hearing "Where is my mind?" fifteen years on, and realising I still don't know the answer.
Pleasure: sitting down to so many push-button options;
Pain: getting up later to many neglected tasks ...
Saturday, July 10, 2004At Loggerheads Iona Community group. We went to Loggerheads Country Park, near Mold, in the valley beneath Moel Famau, the Clwydian hill whose silhouette has marked half the mornings of my life, dominant on the other side of Mersey Bay from my childhood bedroom window.
Loggerheads is also home of Colomendy, famed holiday destination of generations of Liverpool schoolchildren, bunk-bed paradise for ten-year-olds on their first holidays without parents (for some, their first holidays at all). As they say on their website, Colomendy holds a special place in every scouser's heart.
We opted for a gentle walk round the Loggerheads nature trail, in the drizzle. The highlight of the afternoon for me, on arriving fifty minutes late after Runcorn Bridge traffic chaos, was this: young Caitlin saw me coming, and announced that she had just renamed the place after me: Bloggerheads...
Friday, July 09, 2004Chill to redeem
She takes a song and rips to the heart of it; interrogates its deepest, darkest emotions, stretches it like a wildcat does the guts of its prey and drags you into its screaming agonies before holding it up to the light as a new thing, dripping with life, reinvented, redeemed.
I have found the bravery from somewhere, to listen again to the extreme voice terror, Diamanda Galas; her recent album La Serpenta Canta, in which she sings the blues like even Robert Johnson at his deepest, most devilish intensity could not match. It is a purging experience.
The writer Biba Kopf quotes her as saying in 1988, "My voice was given to me as an instrument of inspiration for my friends, and a tool of torture and destruction to my enemies. An instrument of truth."
And he continues eloquently describing what he calls Galas's "ongoing campaign against forgetting," a canon of songs which, when they are the blues force the listener into the depths of their dark heart and when they are folk songs are drawn from awful forgotten histories, like the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides carried out by Turkey between 1914 and 1923, where Galas "articulates the anger and sorrow of the dispossesed through the words of exiled poets and writers."
Only very occasionally do you think she may be just being shocking for effect - I wish she hadn't felt the need to give her book of collected writings that title - only very occasionally, for mostly, once through the initial trauma, being drawn into Galas's world is an awakening and potentially cleansing encounter.
I doubt few have heard her and not been somehow changed by the experience. I once saw her at The Lowry and seldom have been so held, never so chilled, by a performer.
I promise that if you hear La Serpenta Canta your perception of Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, given the Galas treatment, will change, radically, irreversibly, forever.
Thursday, July 08, 2004Parish Walks #3 - Following mislaid tracks
I am with Mark - vicar of this patch, his dog, and Judi - student on her last afternoon of a placement with us. We start - in the rain - atop the metal bridge which spans the double roundabout at the seething Utting / Townshend Avenue junction. Where we stand trains once ran, on the Liverpool Loop Line which skirted the city connecting the seasiders of Edwardian Southport with the merchants of the Cheshire Plain and Manchester beyond. It was "abandoned by British Rail in 1964," the information board tells us, and is now on a Sustrans route used by the odd bold commuter cyclist, short-haul dog-walkers and, as we shall soon discover, many youths who have made this slice of the city their own.
This is backland; close to human activity but sheltered by deep, rich, undergrowth and the sandstone cuttings of the original railway. Walking south-eastwards towards West Derby the next clearing is at the Ethel Austin end of Broadway, where the pub of the same name marks the border between rough-and-ready Norris Green and aspirant Clubmoor. Though it is hard to discern precisely what is different between each side of the line, something is, in local consciousness. Old maps show that Clubmoor was here first, years before the dual carriageways sliced through the district. Edge of town, for a while, once. Upper Anfield. In the debris which was once Broadway station (tram link) a rat scutters through the undergrowth.
The track is wide, well-laid and surprisingly tidy. Deep below the gardens of Morningside Road where a well-trodden path suggests one person takes the back route out of their house each day, some householders delineate between their world and outside by tipping debris over their garden walls, and from the backs of other gardens fecund and dripping with plantlife, trees and bushes tumble onto the steep banks, adding colour to the rich foliage mix: "Nice litter," Mark says.
Not many people en-route: a couple of tracksuited mountainbikers, a dripping dog-walker: It is wet and after lunch - school's not out yet. But evidence of plenty of late-night activity, underneath the arches beneath Muirhead Avenue, Three Butt Lane, Mill Lane.
If graffiti could sing then we would have had an operatic experience. For all along the route Ryans and Darrens and Daves and Tracys and Tanias and Dobbos and Debbies have left their mark. Much of it recent. Some of it on the tarmac. A fashion for tracing the outline of a cannabis leaf and adding one's name to it, requires the subject to have five letters only. It works for RYAN D and DAVE B, and I consider adding mine to claim some territory - JOHN D fits well, or REV JD, better still. Got no paint though, so walk on.
Under the arches, evidence of many parties - roll-ups, beer cans, fire-blackened walls. The older bridges have inner arches so near to the sides of the cutting that they form caves, warm, dry places, well away from censurious ears and eyes and perfect for nefarious nighttime activities. This would be such a different walk at 10pm on a warm August evening.
Spending a moment pondering the quality of life of folks on a new gated estate squashed into a strip of land alongside a sheer sandstone railway cutting, we move on when the CCTV cameras swivel our way. Soon emerge from the ruins of West Derby station into the slashing Mill Lane traffic. We cross beside the Bill Shankly Playing Fields. The old mischief-maker lived round here, spending his suburban days conceiving feeble gags against his city rivals: "If Everton were playing in my back garden," he once said, "I'd shut the curtains". Astonishing to think that the city and its adopted game have altered so much that the once-immortalised Shanks now seems near-forgotten.
Into West Derby Village, St Mary's Church tower in view. The Halton Castle, cosy Cains pub we had three pints in last night. West Derby Glass and Glazing, Mark Powell Village Barber Shop, Rubens Restaurant, Leather Furniture Mill. And along Crosby Green where we watch a taxi disappearing through the electronically-operated gates of the new estate we'd found. It is called Birchtree Court, and we see its CCTV cameras swivelling our way again. On Eaton Road North the village gives way to credit-stacked suburbia, where the UPVC and conservatory salesmen have cashed in.
At the far end we emerge onto Muirhead Avenue and shops - China Court, Eaton Drink, Christine David hairdressers, Barbarellos (ALL DAY BREAKFAST - HEALTHY OPTIONS MENU AVAILABLE), Liverpool Classic Motorcycles, Carburetters Unlimited, Pharmacy.
A discovery - a secluded close of beautifully-kept almshouses, Ogden Court. They are Douglas Haig Memorial Homes for ex-servicemen, their benefactor Thomas Ogden, the Liverpool tobacco baron. A place for admiring the trim lawns whilst making connections between this fresh-air haven and the choking Boundary Street dockland sheds where St Bruno and Gold Block are still made, and between young squaddies lighting up in dank trenches and the hacking, retching, war-hardened elders who ended their days in these tidy out-of-town apartments. More cameras swing. We move on into Norris Green Park.
The ruin of Norris Green is all that is left to remind us of the area's long human history. Above the arch, a crest: ALTE VOLO - "I fly high". Few high flyers this side of West Derby today, but the dog-walkers and weed-leery who use this (lovely) park retrace the steps of Liverpool's Norris family, best known for their Speke Hall connections. Lumby records that
Leticia d. of Thos. Norris of West Derby married Thos. Norris of Speke and brought the West Derby lands with her ... The Speke family held West Derby lands until the end of XVIIc when they were forfeited for recusancy ... Norris Green is supposed to indicate the site of this estate, this being recorded in 1370.
Recusancy - the refusal to attend Church of England services, the refusal to submit to authority or comply with regulations. As we slice through the undergrowth of the lost gardens of the Norris estate and we glimpse Mark's vast church St Christopher's (average Sunday attendence around twenty), it appears that the ground beneath us forever cradles rebellion.
Graffiti on an inner wall of the Norris ruin: SAM - F - WILL ALWAYS BE WITH US.
Tiny sign on Lorenzo Drive roundabout, designed by a schoolchild for a council campaign: SAY BYE TO LITTER TO MAKE LIVERPOOL GLITTER.
It is still raining.
[Norris source: Mike Royden's Local History Pages]
Wednesday, July 07, 2004In the news
Duncan Campbell took a night off from serious investigative journalism the evening of the England-Portugal game to drink in The Western Approaches, our local where the Rooney family are regulars. It didn't appear the next morning in The Guardian's northern edition, and it's not in their web archives either. But thanks to Pete I now have a copy of the published article and (through pure vanity, as I'm quoted extensively in it) I reproduce it here....
The end of Wayne's world: Rooney injured, faithful gutted at his local
The Western Approaches, as any student of the second world war knows, is that slice of the ocean off the British coast that was at the heart of the Battle of the Atlantic.
The Western Approaches pub, as any student of Euro 2004 knows, is the Croxteth local of the family of Wayne Rooney, who last night was for at least part of the match at the heart of a gentler conflict between European nations. Family friends and old schoolmates packed the pub to the rafters in anticipation.
The Corals betting shop next door was offering odds of 6-1 on both Rooney and Michael Owen being the first to score.
The manager, Paul Edwards, said that there had been plenty of takers on both local boys and within three minutes at least some people in the pub were clearly having a double celebration when Owen scored.
"Wayne's dad has bet here," said Mr Edwards. How about Wayne? "Well, he's only 18 so he couldn't have," he said with a twinkle in his eye.
John Gore said: "Wayne's brilliant. Because he was brought up round here, everyone knows him. He's not big headed.
"He stops and talks to kids on the street. He's a shy lad, down to earth. It's rough and ready round here but there's good and bad everywhere and Wayne, well he's just brilliant!"
Once the game had started the commentators could not be heard for all the equally pithy comments being made by the locals.
Barry Gannon said: "He's our saviour and England's saviour. Look at the lad's exuberance!" At that moment Rooney had to depart from the pitch with an injured foot. "Look, he left his boot on the floor but he still went on playing," said Mr Gannon.
"What paper are you from? The Guardian? Well, I'll buy the paper in the morning, but I'm a foreman on a building site. Imagine me going in with your paper under my arm - I'll have to hide it in the Sport."
An old friend of Wayne Rooney's dad, who introduced himself as Mouse, said that the whole pub had been willing Wayne to succeed and England to win.
When Rooney went off there was an element of Hamlet without the Prince, Troy without Achilles and the World without Wayne.
The Portuguese goal was greeted with collective moans but the noise was nothing compared to the shouts that greet Sol Campbell's disallowed goal. The sounds from the Western Approaches were loud enough to wake all the residents at the neighbouring West Derby cemetery.
"That was a goal," said Jamie Pines. "He was nowhere near any of the Portuguese."
Jay Patrick agreed: "The referee is Swiss and he doesn't like it because we beat the Swiss 3-0."
As the game went into extra time the pub refuelled itself for that final push.
The local vicar, John Davies, who is an Everton season ticket holder and writes what must be one of the world's most entertaining clerical blogs, said that the success of Rooney had been a wonderful boon for the neighbourhood.
"This is an area that is fairly depressed and the nub of people's jokes about it being a hotbed of crime," said Davies, who has baptised a Rooney relative at his Church of the Good Shepherd.
"But people here have hearts of gold, and there is an obvious sense of pride. It shows the world what people from here can achieve. We're very proud for Wayne."
There had not been a great increase in recent attendance at the church by fans seeking assistance from the Great Referee in the skies, he said.
"But being an Everton fan helps you in prayers anyway - we need to be on our knees every week," said Davies, who in a 2002 blog, perceptively described the arrival on the scene of the 16-year-old Rooney as "divine intervention".
The penalty shootout was unbearable. There were cries of "Come on the boys!" as every shot was taken. Jamie Pines had to turn his back on the screen.
As Sven sipped water on the screen, the inhabitants of the Western Approaches turned to Tetleys.
There were tears at the end and shrugs of resignation and remarks about David Beckham that even a liberal family newspaper like the Guardian might not find room for.
And then came the saddest moment of the night. The Western Approaches had turned into the Cruel Sea.
Tuesday, July 06, 2004Mapping an urban parish here.
Monday, July 05, 2004Walking after truth Urban Theology Unit, on my parish walks, their method but mainly their inspiration.
The challenge was in beginning to explain my muses - why the likes of Common Ground, Iain Sinclair, Bill Drummond, Jean Grant (Site-Sight), and Wrights & Sites inform my activities the way they do.
I found a start in a small quote from Common Ground: "Local distinctiveness is not necessarily about beauty, but it must be about truth." Which gives value to the practice of exploring urban edges and unattractive places the way the above folks, and I, in my way, do.
And I went on to say some more about Patrick Keiller, whose Robinson in Space I blogged about recently; since then I bought the video and the book and was won over by the quirky way they get deep into the social and political of this small island.
Keiller is an architect turned filmmaker who turns his camera onto hidden parts of England making unusual connections between economics, politics and culture, which, again, reveal much. His 1997 film Robinson in Space is a journey through England, from Reading to Newcastle upon Tyne, which takes in many industrial sites and dockland areas and features a narration which with gentle irony reveals a lot about these places and the culture in which they sit. Here's one extract (read in the film by Paul Schofield, in the precisely measured manner of a postwar documentary narrator):
The day we arrived in Derby, Rolls-Royce announced half-year profits up 43 per cent to £70 million, though the chairman would not rule out more job losses, and the shares fell 8 per cent.
'The English are acknowledged world leaders in fetishism and S&M,' Robinson read in the paper. 'The only company in the world that makes latex sheeting suitable for fetishwear is based in Derbyshire...'
We wanted to visit Robin Hood's Well, near Eastwood, but the wood had been fenced off by the owner.
What I learn from Keiller is the value of researching the place's economic circumstances which can reveal all manner of things ... and to permit idiosyncracies, to allow humour and failure to inform the act of observation. The important thing is that the walk is always a conscious act of observation: I find myself returning again to that fine quote of Oscar Wilde which is evidently a muse to Keiller:
It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible...
That, as I understand it, is fine incarnational theology.
Sunday, July 04, 2004Seeing the world through a pair of Jesus glasses BBC Four:
BBC Four: Have you found your own beliefs mixing with that very distinctive Southern religious culture?
JW: They are coloured by it. I was indoctrinated into the church at the age of about eight when I went to what I thought was a summer camp. In fact it was a church indoctrination camp. They don't put you on a hay ride or take you to the swimming hall. They preach Jesus to you for an hour and then again three times a day. It's insidious.
At a certain point going to church became the only way I could see to survive. I was an oddball and the oddballs fell into two categories - those oddballs that were getting saved and the oddballs that were strung out on heroin and starting to shoot people.
I went in the direction of the criminal for long enough to see that I didn't fit in there and was going to come to a bad end. I have no self-control. If I'd have taken one hit of heroin I'd have been dead because I wouldn't have been able to stop. So I went to church. I figured that Jim White's concrete Jesus excess in search of God can't be that bad of a thing. But it's its own drug.
By viewing the world through the church, intensely, passionately, with spirit and mind, I see the world through a pair of what I call Jesus glasses. If I take the Jesus glasses off, I'm blind. The difference between me and the other people in the South is real simple: with every step that I take and every word that I utter there's a little subtitle which says, 'Don't take it too seriously because I'm wearing Jesus glasses'. I can't take them off. I can't not see the world through that context, but I can remind myself that it's a tainted context of the world.
Is this the week I get a freeview box? It ought to be; they're showing Jim's documentary, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus on BBC Four this coming Friday. His journey through the deep South with fellow-travellers such as The Handsome Family and a concrete Jesus in the trunk of his car. Unmissable.
[Previously blogged about here, linking to the film's excellent preview site]
Saturday, July 03, 2004Angel of the North-West?
He who on this site goes by the name Earnest Teadrinker, has increased his canon of cartoons of me with this gift-wrap from a belated birthday present he gave me yesterday. I could expound at length about the artist's use of raw materials, the power of the primitive, the connections between earth and heavens, the human rising and the divine falling, comment on how this differs from Gormley's Angel only inasmuch as his does not have a face, as such, but has a far better figure... but you've read enough guff like that here recently; so, just enjoy.
Friday, July 02, 2004Seen Cornwall Guardian-reading whilst on holiday (brought on through having plenty of time on my hands and thankfully little access to an internet browser) coincided with their publication of a supplement called Living on the Edge, about the cultural and arts scene in Cornwall. By the time I'd read it I'd already become a fan, a follower, an advocate, a devotee, if not - yet - a surfer, but if I hadn't then reading it would have whet the appetite.
The project continues. In conjunction with Cornwall Arts Marketing the Guardian are featuiring a series of Cornish artists of the month on their site. This month is Mark Surridge, whose atmospheric abstracts like Steam tremor, can be found here, where it is also possible to download a copy of Living on the Edge.
[My Pic of the month has a Cornish theme too]
Thursday, July 01, 2004Tracing Dylan
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light."
Time has expired for Dylan Thomas. But the poetry runs on.
I'm interested how increasingly places are celebrating their favourite daughters and sons. Partly as a tourism draw; partly, I like to think, through a journey of enriching self rediscovery. So today I was happy to recieve the latest mailing from the Dylan Thomas Centre; and it made me think: yes, next year I shall go to Swansea, to walk Cwmdonkin Drive and other roads which so influenced that great poet, terrible man. To see what he found in that place with which to fill his bountiful poems.