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

    Tuesday, August 31, 2004
    Freedom bound
    My anticipated highlight of Greenbelt proved so - it was good to share the twisted brilliance of The Handsome Family with friends who'd not until then heard them. It was great entertainment seeing Brett and Rennie interacting on stage, hearing her carefully crafted crooked monologues between songs, watching her flickering eyes: the rest of the weekend I could not cease from singing "There will be power in the blood when that helicopter comes". But they were virtually the first act on at the festival so the rest paled by comparison.

    This was a Greenbelt of missed opportunities - too late to do my Dixie poem on the Twist, somewhere else at the time Maggi wanted me to read Rosie's bible poem in her talk, too tired to take in late night sets by Rosie T and Peter Case. But it was also a Greenbelt of many good conversations, many good bacon sandwiches, bumper crowds in Soul Space, a shopping trip round jewellery stalls with my 10-year-old niece, almost taking two nuns speed dating, and the successful launch of A Year of Living Generously, about which, more blogs soon.

    Dublin tomorrow, to see PJ Harvey in concert, at last. I shall be taking with me the book the festival published in just four days - Unbound Freedom: Creative writings and reflections from Greenbelt 04. As, quietly energised, empowered, affirmed, moving in anticipation towards the next festival, another year begins.
    Thursday, August 26, 2004
    Bags packed for Greenbelt, my 26th - itching to be there now, like I was all those years I spent as as one of our gang's outriders arriving 48 hours early, setting up camp illegally to ensure a good spec for the rest of the group.

    Contents of bags include:

    1. Hurriedly-photocopied posters, flyers and admin papers for Soul Space;
    2. Copy of This Diary Will Change Your Life as inspiration for A Year of Living Generously;
    3. Favourite little Moleskine notebook for journalling the weekend, updated with Greenbelt friends' mobile phone numbers and two pages of scribbles in anticipation of A Year of Living Generously;
    4. Two sets of rainclothes;
    5. One show-off t-shirt for each day of the festival (blogger shirts, mainly);
    6. Emergency supplies of daft poems (my own and John Cooper-Clarke's) in case Paul Cookson pulls me up on stage to perform during The Twist.

    And collected together for in-car entertainment en-route, various works by The Handsome Family, Rosie Thomas, The Be Good Tanyas, Bruce Cockburn, Sufjan Stevens, Jim White, Jeff Buckley...

    ... and especially precious, the very first Peter Case album on cassette. Released in 1986, so perhaps his first Greenbelt show was fifteen, sixteen years ago - whatever, on the edge of another sighting of Case the anticipation feels very fresh: "My sister told me on the phone she heard someone on the radio singing about small towns in America. I said I didn't know any songs about America - these songs are about sin and salvation. Have fun."

    [If I blog at all during the festival I'll do it on the festival site, here].
    Wednesday, August 25, 2004
    Lights in the Dark

    Zazou to the rescue. It's been that kind of week. Lights in the Dark is his take on Irish sacred music, a thoughtfully-researched set of traditional songs which weave the old with the new, lullabys and laments to the fore, a trademark Zazou collaboration with fine ethnic musicians and icons like Peter Gabriel and Dead Can Dance's Brendan Perry.

    It's Zazou to the rescue because I've been planning four 'Iona-style' services for the Liverpool clergy conference, and wanted to offer a contemplative soundtrack some distance from predictable mass-market 'Celtic' mush. This is it.
    Tuesday, August 24, 2004
    A Year of Living Generously
    This is one of the reasons Greenbelt
    is different from all other events: principled but not dull, committed but not prescriptive, creative and empowering (like that youth work philosophy from years ago, forming creators not consumers).

    They're inviting punters to get together this Sunday to generate A Year of Living Generously - a gathering for people who want "to explore together, ways of changing the way they live - small ways, big ways," and asking how, together, they "might translate this disparate activity into some sort of generous community in the coming year."

    A year of living generously. The possibility of "releasing a positive social virus into the atmosphere" in 2004/5. A potential "signal of a Christian community that stands for things - not against them". This is a festival's imagination gone mad. In a very, very good way.
    Monday, August 23, 2004
    Croxteth rainbow

    There may be a cloud hanging over the district's most famous son, but tonight, above his local, the most amazing rainbow appeared ... I think quite likely the best rainbow I've ever seen.
    Sunday, August 22, 2004
    If you want to be inventive, you must kill your ego
    Strong Currents, featuring some very fine female vocalists, is laid-back and textured, late-night relaxing music of the finest quality, like much of Hector Zazou's work. The booklet which accompanies it is full of this singular composer's artistic philosophy, including this extract, which I relish:

    "One day someone asked Picasso: 'What was the greatest discovery of your life?' And he replied: 'Self-confidence.' It took some time before I understood this phrase. I thought it simply showed that Picasso was pretentious. Until I realised how difficult it is to step off the beaten path.

    "Institutional, commercial - or however you want to call it - art grips us firmly around the neck, and if we move a little too much the noose tightens. So there is a pressure from without but also - and especially - a censure which we impose on ourselves, out of fear or conformism (which is also a manifestation of fear). You are so much better off if you stay on the proven track.

    "One could think that the desire to be original is an expression of the ego, but with time I have come to think the opposite: if you want to be inventive, you must kill your ego."
    Saturday, August 21, 2004
    Listening to belated voices
    Finished Edward Platt's Leadville: A Biography of the A40, a book which entertains and educates, offering insight into the lives of a true assortment of characters who in the mid to late 90s were living or working on Western Avenue. It is complex, in a welcome way, taking the reader way beyond horror at the effects the car has had on urban life, the gruesome effect of traffic on those who live only feet away from one of Britain's busiest urban motorways, to describe not only our love-affair with the car but also the reasons why some people enjoyed living on Western Avenue and were reluctant to move when the Highways Agency forced them out.

    I found the book drawing me into a searching investigation of my own understanding of the motor vehicle, and of what makes home 'home', provoking many questions about the suburban dream we embraced in inter-war town planning which has turned into carmageddon. Leadville shows how Western Avenue resident Robin Green's evidence to a public enquiry, dismissed at the time, proved correct. As the government stopped work on the A40's expansion for the environmental reasons he had detailed eight years earlier, he was vindicated. Though by then he had been moved, miles from his boarded-up Western Avenue home.

    On the back cover Clare Colvin of the Sunday Express points up what to me is the greatest strength of this very readable and enlightening book: "[Leadville] moves from the richly comic to the near tragic, lifting the lid on people's lives - and belatedly giving them a voice of their own."

    Pity it is belatedly. Although there is still great value in letting those voices be heard.

    Listening to belated voices seems to be part of the rationale behind Graeme Miller's Linked, a similar project to Leadville using different media. Miller has recorded over 75 interviews with people remembering life in the area of Leytonstone now sliced in two by the M11 link road. He has created a three-mile walk along a byway near the motorway. Along the route he has sited twenty transmitters, through which walkers can hear those voices talking about the places they're passing through, and related sounds, through a receiver headset they can borrow from a local library.

    Linked is "a landmark in sound - an invisible artwork - a walk," Miller says.

    I came across Linked in a Louise Gray review in The Wire this month. The project's underlying theme is "how memory marks a landscape," she writes, and continues,

    "Miller's aim is not just to map the experiences of generations of Leytonstonians, but to trigger the associations and particular stories of all those who walk his route. ... In Linked, what we're hearing is not so much history, but a careful layering of events and emotions to which we're invited to bring our own resonances."

    It's an ongoing project so there's time ahead to walk the route; meanwhile some of the Linked material is available animated online, offering a flavour of what the project is all about.
    Friday, August 20, 2004
    Back in the cheap seats
    Sat in some expensive seats today:

    Southern Trains Haywards Heath - London: fifteen quid;
    Underground Travelcard: nearly a fiver for a few stops on the Northern Line;
    Virgin West Coast Euston - Liverpool Lime Street: fifty-two pound twenty...

    ... and most notably, inbetween these journeys, a seat at The Oval for England-West Indies - forty quid well spent enjoying the easy atmosphere of a cricket match for the first time in my life, England knocking the ball around with relish, West Indian crowd below us providing entertainment, picnic baskets open and champagne corks popping underneath an unstable but fairly constant London sun...

    ... then back home to surround myself with four days mail on the cheapest seat of all: the 25-year-old leather settee given me by friends when our ways parted from Cambridge four years ago.
    Monday, August 16, 2004
    Called to make bread in the city
    Barbara's church bosses shocked her one day by inviting her to leave her suburban Liverpool ministry behind and go into the city centre - where there was no church building and no congregation. That was five years ago. And so she took the train into Liverpool city centre, "convinced of only two things. Firstly that God had better be there ahead of me otherwise we were all sunk and secondly that we were called to make bread. You can make up your own mind which of those two seems the most ludicrous."

    I've been re-reading the paper Barbara presented to the Urban Theology Unit gathering I was at last month. I was moved by her story, partly because it's the story of someone who shares my experience of walking this city's streets, in observing their life hoping to discover where the eyes of God may be looking. Mainly because it's the story of someone placing herself in a position of deep vulnerability from which eventually, understanding, justice, celebration and community have emerged.

    A year of walking around, taking the experiences of the city and the people she encountered as the beginning of her thinking about how to do church, the very surprising gift of rooms above a radical bookshop and the growth of a most unlikely (and ever-changing) group of people who make and take bread together - that's, in a nutshell, Barbara's story so far. But there's so much more to it than that, and her reflections bear close reading....

    "One of the losses I experienced in my first year of being in the city centre was any liturgical shape to the year or even the week. When Christmas starts in August there is little space for any notion of advent and when the cream egg appears the week after new year it feels as if all is lost! Similarly when the weeks blur into an all round shopping experience there is little sense of Sunday being a sabbatical. But is there a liturgy to the city?

    "People gathered around the bread making table soon engaged with remembering and sharing stories. I noticed that these sometimes took the form of confession with others around the table listening people into absolution. I began to question whether liturgical patterns were present elsewhere in the city environment. I noticed a similar process going on in cafes and staff canteens where the story telling process was met with attention and respect. In call centres and counselling rooms confession is heard. So what of adoration? In our context the bread is admired and delighted in. Around the city the same process happens in concert halls and art galleries. There is great joy in human creativity and wonder at its ability.

    "And intercession? Well, I noticed the Christmas tree in Lewis' where people attach tags with peoples names on them for whom they are particularly concerned. It strikes me that if God is at large in the city then there is a liturgy, all be it largely hidden or unrecognised that goes with this reality. The bread making community simply holds a mirror to this process in the city. We somehow make visible what is largely invisible but not by imposing some alien liturgical practice but by recognising that God is involved with the things that are around us."

    I'm away for a few days and likely not to be blogging here; you might spend time with Barbara's paper instead...
    Sunday, August 15, 2004
    Ella Guru
    On the road to an alt-country Greenbelt, less than a fortnight away, it's The Handsome Family in the car all the way from here. At the computer, I'm loving the delightfully-crafted songs of Rosie Thomas. And on the midi, further attempts to warm to Lambchop (don't know why I haven't yet warmed to them: the voice, perhaps, the artsy abstraction?).

    Alt-country acts I wish were at the festival but aren't this year: Jim White; Wilco ... hopefully they'll make it there soon, along with the year's major discovery, the must-see Sufjan ...

    Meanwhile Ella Guru, an eight-piece Liverpool band championed by no less a figure than Jimmy Carl Black (who guests on the album) have released The First Album and just now I'm finding that this category-defying music, so mellow and reflective, complements and often eclipses all of the above exceptional artists. It is a world to itself, Ella Guru music, music to luxuriate in, so calming, so whole.
    Saturday, August 14, 2004
    The right way in
    In Cardiff Central Lloyd Robson remembers falling out with a girlfriend who when travelling from Monmouth insisted on taking the north route into Cardiff, rather than Lloyd's preferred easterly Newport Road:

    furious rows in the car to the city. robbing me of my territory robbing me of that feeling of recharging refuelling once again becoming assimilated & knowing where i am, of what, of being at one with my city, robbing me blind & set me off on a bad storm cloud mood building the continuation of association between cardiff & me as a stroppy bastard. denying me a trip through my homeland. worse: her saying it didn't matter; claiming north road was a nicer route. cheeky bleedin cow. the royal oak. the turn to leo's. from then on i demanded i always do the drive to cardiff. she would fume, sensing a loss of class & control. ...

    You know what Lloyd means. There are right ways in to the city and there are wrong ways. Set me thinking about the right way in to this city.

    The road on which I live offers a direct route into the city, but it is not the right way, for me. Partly because two miles hence it collides with Anfield Road, cowers in the shadow of that famous-stadium-soon-to-be-supermarket, among clusters of redbrick terraces which demonstrate how the football club has clearly failed to share its wealth with its neighbours: rows of abandoned houses, dereliction alongside shining grandstands, high-class vehicles locked behind high-security fences away from the public.

    This route is also not the right way in because from there it passes by the Royal Liverpool Hospital with its massive twelve-storey ward block ("undeniably impressive, if intimidating" - Pevsner), a gloomy sentinel at the top of town, to be avoided if humanly possible.

    I much prefer the dock road route in - heavy industry, parallel railway, breakfast cafes, that Old Hall Street corner now dominated by the impressive Radisson hotel (see yesterday), a shallow rise, a curve, then the breathtaking Liver Building, side streets opening out to the other majestic structures of the city's business district. And the river.

    But the best way into town, I think, is from Toxteth. Any way in from Toxteth. Because any way in from Toxteth brings you to a cathedral, through gorgeous Georgian streets and to the heart of one of the city's creative quarters: Chinatown, the University, Bold Street.

    So below, the view along one of the greatest routes I know: Windsor Street, Liverpool 8. Turn the corner of Admiral Street and the road sweeps down and along to the Cathedral's vast east side. It's all about perspective, vision, direction here. Windsor Street may be home to some of the most marginalised people in Britain but it has no vanishing point. Windsor Street may be one of the poorest streets in one of the poorest cities in the Western world, but it carries wealth in this respect - it is the right way in.

    Friday, August 13, 2004
    In the smoke

    Took a walk around the city's business quarter today, while a dock road exhaust fitters fixed the rust-hole in my car's undercarriage. Old Hall Street. Where the new Radisson SAS hotel / health club tower is near completion. Where the old Littlewoods building where I spent three years is undergoing a lobby facelift and where the once-dark Post and Echo building now boasts a clear glassy frontage.

    One difference I noticed straightaway from my days along this road a decade ago: the presence outside every building of numbers of people leaning against walls, kicking aimlessly at litterbins, chatting, blocking doorways - smoking. These are the new banished; classless but of a very low caste in today's intolerant, health-possessed society. During office hours they clutter the streets of this part of town, just as in other areas the homeless clutter shop doorways at night.

    In Queens Square the city's main tourist information centre still carries little information on the Biennial, though it is only weeks away. But what they do have on prominent display is a campaign petition: SIGN UP HERE TO MAKE LIVERPOOL SMOKE-FREE.

    It's now official business, pushing smokers out. Casual visitors to the city are being enlisted in the cause. Meanwhile, men working on the Atlantic Avenue road widening scheme choke on heavy traffic fumes, which will become heavier once their work is completed.
    Thursday, August 12, 2004
    Whenever I was driven into London, I watched the houses which lined the road: as the car travelled towards the centre of the city, the houses marched in the opposite direction; dirty and anonymous, pinched and choked by an endless, ragged chain of cars and lorries, they looked uninhabitable, yet the blackened cars parked on their pavements suggested otherwise. It seemed incredible that there were people living within ten yards of the car in which I was travelling.
    One afternoon in January 1995, as I drove along Western Avenue, I did what I had never done before: I parked the car in a side-street, and walked on to the road....

    The start of an epiphany, in the introduction to Edward Platt's Leadville: A Biography of the A40, which I began reading today.
    Wednesday, August 11, 2004
    Laughter can't be far away
    The design is from my new Current 93 t-shirt. I don't quite know what it means. Knowing them it might have occult symbolism. But I like this little man made up of the signs for alpha and omega, and to me this is what he's saying: between the beginning and the end there are tears and laughter.

    This is not profound but it gets me through a day when my soul's been battered by more death: wrote two funeral addresses and made one visit to a couple just suddenly bereaved.

    In the death book that has been my companion for many days recently, is a quote from Edna St Vincent Millay: "The presence of that absence is everywhere."

    That's how these days feel. But if between the beginning and the end there are tears and laughter, then laughter can't be far away.
    Tuesday, August 10, 2004
    Parish Walks #5 - Tropical storms over Scarisbrick
    It's been a tropical day - thunderous rainstorms and now golden evening sun. Outside Norris Green Library (opposite Broadway) teenagers meander, attending to their mobile phones whilst colliding with street furniture and each other.

    The library is another symbol of the corporation's best intentions for the area when built. Opened in 1937, named after Henry A. Cole, chair of the city's Libraries, Museums and Arts Committee, neat and (Pevsner says) neo-Georgian, it's still well used. Two markers of where Norris Green lies on the city's cultural map:

    (a) the library's best-known ex-member of staff is Jean Alexander, local-born actress, world-famous for her role as Hilda Ogden in Coronation Street. For the first five years of her working life she was a library assistant here;

    (b) In celebration of the Capital of Culture 2008 success, one of the events which the council are promoting on 20/08 this year, is a fines amnesty at Norris Green Library: "Return any overdue items (books, videos, CD's, DVD's etc) ... on 20/08 and you will be exempted from any existing or historic fines."

    As we cross the multiple junction at Utting-Townshend Avenue there is more human traffic than vehicular, very different from the daytime where the volume of both is significantly higher. The teenagers around us are not dressed for rain, and in our clerical-casuals neither are we, as dark clouds gather above.

    This will be a short walk and somewhat self-conscious because two vicars walking here this time of night are conspicuous. Scarisbrick Road follows the old loop line from the rusty old metal bridge on Utting Avenue to the identical one which crosses the East Lancs Road. Immediately all is pebbledash; small and generally unadorned houses on unfurnished streets which contrast with the leafy frontages of Utting Avenue East. This is one of those roads the council did on the cheap. But there's spirit - people out in numbers at their front walls, chatting, calling wayward children home. A boy of maybe seven scales a lamppost; teenage boys on bikes pass us staring; a man drives his Network Rail van away from the pavement, perhaps off to begin his night shift: quite a few railway workers live around here.

    At Philbeach Road, which cuts beneath the old railway towards the night-time glow of Asda, the familiar evening sound of a motorbike engine whirring around the closes. As it increases in volume I expect to see a quad bike driven by a father with a young lad onboard (a common sight) but instead a regular scooter approaches, sensibly-clad guy onboard.

    Further up Scarisbrick Road the houses are red-brick and slightly more substantial. One or two grades up from the dank terraces of Anfield or Everton from which their first occupants came, there are tiny tokens of higher aspirations in these houses' designs - a jagged 'crescent', more rugged than the one we've just passed on Utting Avenue, little diamond patterns in the brickwork above doorways. One house looks like a mini country villa, covered in creeping ivy with a small garden rich in summer flora.

    While a mum and daughter unload shopping from their Polo we step onto the edge of the East Lancs, the A580, built for £3 million by 2,000 navvies and officially opened by King George V in 1934, to speed connections between the manufacturing areas on the Liverpool - Manchester axis. The Daily Express called it the 'new wonder road', others 'the super highway'. Locals called it dangerous, which it still is, eclipsing all the other fast roads in the area for its horrors as motorists accelerate out of the bottleneck of Walton Village into the East Lancs' three lanes, motorway-bound two miles hence at Croxteth (M57-M62-M6).

    Across the way, Barratt houses are going up on what was once the site of Littlewoods, one of the city's great commercial empires. Big money once moved from here two miles back through Walton Vilage to Goodsion Park - the Moores family empire fed the city's soccer School of Science. And as one of the city's large employers, the money also went back down Scarisbrick Road and into Norris Green's shops. The empire collapsed, today the once-great football club teeters on the edge of administration and we ponder how money will move from that site once the new occupants arrive - probably between shopping areas, bluechip bases and industrial estates along the arterial roads which branch eastwards from the East Lancs Road.

    We turn to see a now-blackening sky and on the horizon the high roof of Broadway's Mecca Bingo hall, with higher mobile phone masts behind it. Into the loops of the Scarisbrick estate where another young boy is scaling another lamppost and in a line across the road three girls practice a dance routine. Mark knows them and they give us a special show, tell us their 'stage names' and ask us questions about previous vicars they know about: familiar, in early years, with local lore.

    As we walk on towards Leamington School the rain begins to fall. The estates seem built around the schools - no other amenities on the insides, the houses circle these places of learning, Leamington, Ranworth, Broad Square, Monksdown, Wellesbourne. They have changed character and in some cases position, over the years, but remain the focal points of these otherwise entirely residential areas. Reflecting on this, and on the observation that the most visible occupants of this area's roads are of junior school age, it is tempting to think these estates were made particularly for the children.

    The rain now too torrential to linger, I take a quick snap of the insignia above the entrance to the Territorial Army centre on Townshend-Parthenon, and further along the Job Centre. Three soaked teens huddle under a tree outside the open doors of the Green Peppers Country Club and peering inside, in passing, I see (left to right): a bar with three customers seated, a massive screen showing European football, a snooker table (centre-room) against which leans a bicycle, small tables lining the edge of the room, one person sitting in that area, his features lit up by the pixels reflecting the footballers' bright red kit.

    We are by now dripping and it is dark. It is now not a night to be out, though as we part and I make my way home I notice a glow, roadside, near the Green Peppers Country Club. It is an ice-cream van, and around it a crowd of perhaps fifteen young children.

    Monday, August 09, 2004
    There is virtue in idleness
    There is virtue in idleness, writes Tom Hodgkinson (author of How to Be Idle) in an article from the weekend's Guardian. It is not an interview, nor a review, just a book extract, which strikes me as being fittingly lazy journalism. It is one of the most affirming articles I have read for quite some time.

    For like Hodgkinson I feel quite positive about idleness. This despite being locked into a belief system which has for centuries tyrannised people into leading guilt-ridden lives of dismal overwork, utilising Proverbs, chapter 6, which says

    Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
    Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
    Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

    To which Hodgkinson retorts: "I would question the sanity of a religion that holds up the ant as an example of how to live. The ant system is an exploitative aristocracy based on the unthinking toil of millions of workers and the complete inactivity of a single queen and a handful of drones."

    He rightly points out that in Genesis, work is a curse, and affirms EP Thompson's suggestion in The Making of the English Working Class that the creation of the job is a relatively recent phenomenon, born out of the Industrial Revolution.

    "Before the advent of steam-powered machines and factories in the mid-18th century, work was a much more haphazard affair. People worked, yes, they did 'jobs', but the idea of being yoked to one particular employer to the exclusion of all other money-making activity was unknown. ...

    "Thompson writes: 'The work pattern was one of alternate bouts of intense labour and of idleness.' A weaver, for example, might weave eight or nine yards on a rainy day. On other days, a contemporary diary tells us, he might weave just two yards before he did 'sundry jobs about the lathe and in the yard & wrote a letter in the evening'. Or he might go cherry-picking, work on a community dam, calve the cow, cut down trees or go to watch a public hanging. Thompson adds as an aside: 'The pattern persists among some self-employed - artists, writers, small farmers, and perhaps also with students [idlers, all] - today, and provokes the question of whether it is not a 'natural' human work-rhythm.'"

    Very, very good question. Which I want to consider because it's hard getting out of bed these stifling summer mornings. Because I suspect there's a lot in what Hodgkinson says about 'idle' time being actually very helpful thinking time, essential creative time. And because it takes me back to something I wrote the other day, that (despite the stress and torment of unemployment) my Margaret Thatcher-induced periods of extended leisure in the 1980s turned out to be enlightening times, agreeing with Niall Griffiths that "The dole is the unofficial sponsor of the arts."

    It was at that time that I decided to try to offest my shrunken income by taking a course in freelance journalism, which did indeed eventually get some extra cash flowing my way courtesy of stuff in various footy magazines, Greenbelt's late lamented Strait magazine and (most lucratively) that series of photo-stories for Jackie.

    It was then that I went off to Bootle Tech one day a week and got myself two A-levels - heady achievement for me, that, back then; did a freebie Photography for the Unemployed course at the Open Eye; wrote lots of poems.

    And it was in those afternoons (after a yawning 11.30 brunch) that I'd take off to town to discover the city's cultural delights (free to dole-ites) such as The Walker Art Gallery with its vast collection of paintings, I think the largest outside London, each of which could engross the idle viewer for quite some time.

    One I gazed at fondly back then (and did so again last weekend) was The Promise by Henry Scott Tuke. A study in young love tempered by the look in the lad's eyes - is it anxiety? some sort of hidden sorrow? second-thoughts? self-doubt?

    One of the best things about The Promise, as any devotee of eighties Liverpool art knows well, is that members of Echo and the Bunnymen also spent time gazing at it in the Walker, and adopted it as the sleeve design for their single The Back of Love, one of the finest pieces of music to come out of this city in modern times. As is another surely Tuke-influenced song of theirs, A Promise:

    You said something will change
    We were all dressed up
    Somewhere to go
    No sign of rain
    But something will change
    You promised

    Just think; if the Bunnymen hadn't had so much time on their hands back then, how much poorer all our lives would have been...
    Sunday, August 08, 2004
    Sense of City Road

    More Lloyd Robson. A few years ago he decided to begin recording life along City road, one of the spokes from the hub of Death Junction, intending that his work "would serve as defence, record or glorification of a sometimes unfairly maligned thoroughfare on the unfashionable side of the city." He writes about it in his collection bbboing!:

    it often seems no one considers city road to have a value (& as such city road represents the wider roath-adamstown-splott axis of east-central cardiff), so i decided to counteract that. i wanted to show the potential for art (on a day to day level) present in the seemingly mundane, while also asserting the right of the area to be considered intreresting, or beautiful, or detailed, or any of the other descriptive responses it never seems to receive but to my mind deserves as much as anywhere else.

    Needless to say his instincts are correct and his online montage of pictures and words give a good flavour to what must have been a powerful exhibition when exhibited on City Road itself.
    Saturday, August 07, 2004
    The path of the righteous man...
    Saturday night moral dilemmas. The TV channels have put up The Shawshank Redemption against Pulp Fiction this evening. Now I know which one people would expect the vicar to watch - the worthy tale of two men carving out a deep, supportive, and unlikely friendship through tough times. I have seen The Shawshank Redemption before and it is a wonderful story.

    But the competition is too great. I admit that my eyes will be on Pulp Fiction (again, again). I love its artistry, its characterisations and bleak humour, and of course its soundtrack, over its violence. It holds within it some small stories of redemption and if Samuel L Jackson's Jules is to be believed, it's also biblical: Ezekiel 25 verse 17 to be precise...

    (... which proves nothing except that the scriptures can be pretty dubious texts, and serve some pretty dubious purposes. Is nothing sacred?)
    Friday, August 06, 2004
    Margaret Simey
    Learned today (a week after the event) of Margaret Simey's death. One of Liverpool's finest champions, and specifically a champion of the people of Liverpool 8, that area much-maligned by outsiders who only see it through a framework labelled '1981 riots', but much-celebrated by generations of local people who know it as the city's one great multicultural quarter, hotbed of creativity, haunt of artists, musos and clubbers seeking edge.

    Poor area too. And always vulnerable to maladministration and manipulation by city leaders. Simey did her best, in her 98 good years, to challenge that. Nationally famous for insisting that the police accounted for their actions in the wake of the riots (a campaign well remembered by her son in his wonderful BBC radio interview last week), locally known for her tireless campaigning and advocacy work in the area.

    The Liverpool media got their obituary title right: A life lived for good of all. That's worth reading too, for the tributes from ordinary folk who saw her (unpretentious to the last) as one of their own, and to put her in perspective among the other great women of modern-day Liverpool: her philanthrophy influenced by working alongside Eleanor Rathbone in Margaret's early years in the city, her political radicalism shaped during her apprenticeship with the formidable Bessie Braddock.

    While one Margaret did all in her malign power to destroy cities like ours in the eighties, our Margaret did all she could to transfer benign power to the people. She was tough on Thatcher's messenger-boy Heseltine when he came to straighten Liverpool out: "I kept telling him that if he just listened to Toxteth, they could teach him. But he told me there was no room in his plans for anyone like me." But she was equally tough on the local people who for too long, she saw, had become 'welfare-dependent' and thus disempowered. She called us all to rediscover the source of the charitable and radical vision of collective responsibility which had been a strong feature of Liverpool's civil society in the past.

    I met Margaret once or twice - no great boast for she was always on the streets of Liverpool 8, if I'd been around more I'd have seen more of her. Sat in community meetings which she would invigorate even in her great age; meetings between hard-nosed politicicans, tired and disenfranchised local campaigners and the business classes there to get their hands on new European money, and she would command respect from all.

    Margaret Simey, a hard act to follow. I hope we will see her like again. We need to.

    [Guardian obituary here]
    [Margaret Simey booklist here]
    You have to be kind of lost to find this place
    My %Desktop is astonishing: part of the Computing 101B exhibition on now at FACT. The video installation fills the vast gallery wall with large-scale computer screens which display a Mac possessed - violently erupting, windows opening and closing as if controlled by some mad unseen force, creating hypnotising sound and visuals. It's scary and amusing and by breaking all sorts of rules, makes you think about the human-machine interface.

    "You have to be kind of lost to find this place," the exhibition guide quotes Richard Prince. Well it does resemble MY Desktop some Saturdays (or my brainscape) when I'm desperately trying to come up with a sermon. The guide also offers four weblinks to sites which the artists JODI have created as on-line artworks. They carry a warning - enter at your own risk. If you do, you'll see why. Unlikely you'll feel the same way about your computer again (if it ever works the same way again)... Dare you:

    Thursday, August 05, 2004
    Height of summer, more storms than ever. Height of holidays, more deaths. Since last day off I have buried / cremated more people than ever before in a week. Many more than usual sober family visits, tentative questions to determine nature of relationship (much loved mum; tolerated bigot; never-in socialite; gentle man; glum gardener; wag; wise woman), teasing out stories (the holiday pranks; the never-forgotten slips of the tongue; the surprise birthday party; the catch-phrase), putting it all together to spin out something to suit all-comers to the service, dignified, honest-enough, smattering of humour.

    Wears you down, working all that out. Tiring, keeping face while all around you others are besides themselves. At a good time, for release after a stressful funeral I would turn right out of Anfield Crem and a few hundred yards along the road turn into Goodison, pass away twenty minutes nosing around the club shop. No comfort there just now; don't want to be there. I return home instead, stare blankly at the wall, lie down, or pointlessly surf.

    Read this week that there's an upsurge in deaths at the moment - far more than usual for this time of year. Tell me about it. Tell me why because I don't know. Other than this - because those people, quite simply, are ready.
    Wednesday, August 04, 2004
    Do like to be beside the Dee-side
    There is no barrier between two worlds in the Church,
    The Church militant on earth
    Is one with the Church triumphant in heaven,
    And the saints are in this Church which is two in one.

    They come to worship with us, our small congregation,
    The saints our oldest ancestors
    Who built Wales on the foundation
    Of the Crib, the Cross and the Empty Tomb...

    The words of D. Gwenallt Jones which open the terrific prayer-poem 'Dewi Sant' (trans. St David), set me on my way down to Bangor is y Coed (trans. Bangor below the wood, otherwise known as Bangor on Dee) where tonight sometime commentor-on-this-website Adrian becomes their rector.
    Tuesday, August 03, 2004
    Death Junction

    Death Junction, Cardiff. Bet the culture-regeneration-heads don't call it that, nor the estate agents, but everyone else does. The choking hell where five roads clash: Crwys, Albany, Richmond, City Roads and Mackintosh Place. A venomous, murderous, smoke-blackened collision-route where, off-peak, madness prevails, and on-peak, all is seething snails-pace despair.

    It was nearly Death Junction for me on more than one occasion. An impossible place for pedestrians to cross, but pedestrians have to try crossing all the time because it is the pivot of a number of densely-packed residential areas, arterial routes and shopping streets. Student area. I lived a road away. Once, halfway over Albany Road a Tescos bag in each hand, a car came towards me on the wrong side of the road, outside two lines of traffic, and swerved behind me (on the far side of the wrong side) to miss by an inch.

    There used to be a bloke turned up at Death Junction each rush hour, very drunk or very mad or both, stripped to the waist in all weathers, who would terrorise the motorists locked into traffic queues by walking up and down inbetween them all bashing on their windscreens and screaming at them. He was a malign avatar for those on foot - who channelled all our cowed agonies into retributive yells and body-panel dents.

    Lloyd Robson has brought all this back to me today. He's a Cardiff poet on the list of Niall Griffiths' Favourite Welsh Books and his poem :crwys; extract of cardiff describes so well the walk along Crwys Road - City Road via Death Junction.

    This is the final section of a great piece of city writing. Which is one among a growing canon of excellent Cardiff texts. Seems Robson's reputation is flourishing; Niall Griffiths said Robson is producing "some of the best dialect writing in these islands, ever." An Amazon reviewer wrote:

    "As if Iain Sinclair's bastard son had set off looking for his roots in the alluvial slurry of Cardiff... Robson's a star."

    And from Robert Minhinnick, poet and Poetry Wales editor: "Vigorous & exhilarating... now unignorable in Wales"

    Robson has generously put a number of his works online. I am reading them avidly today. And, greedily, I have written to him asking for more.
    Monday, August 02, 2004
    Not a nice little badge
    Interesting slant on the abandonment of Alsop's Fourth Grace in Prospect magazine:

    Tony Siebenthaler, director of lobbying body Downtown Liverpool, believes that the decision to scrap the Fourth Grace was influenced by the fact that Liverpool waterfront recently received UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The WHS status coincides with the emergence of a tall buildings policy in the city. "This scheme could have been made commercially viable if enough apartments could have been built," said Siebenthaler, "but the pressures of the World Heritage status meant that it was not an option because of height and volume restrictions. This could become the way that all future projects go in Liverpool. A poll suggests that 85 per cent of the public reckon that World Heritage status is a good thing for the city, but they see it as a nice little badge, not the rigid and restrictive management regime that it is. Hopefully in six months time, the council will see the enormity of the folly that is the World Heritage status, and make another brave decision to give it up."

    This from an architectural and business community angry that the city's success at achieving recognition on the international cultural stage has been bought at a high price - regulation and restriction now abound.

    The Downtown Liverpool website is a forum where voices of the counter-Culture gather: a place to be critical. Which is vital at a time of massive change in the city - but actively, positively critical.

    Other voices today have shared that stance. Conversations I had with Jim whilst walking him around the derelict roads of the Boot Estate. "What would have happened if we'd have lost the Capital of Culture bid? We wouldn't have had any culture? And now, all the culture we have must come from Brussels," he raged. As he affirmed my instinct - that it's more interesting debating culture on the city's rough outer fringe during this time than it would be whilst embroiled in the mediated atmosphere of the city centre.

    And an excellent Channel Four documentary about Niall Griffiths, Scouse-Welsh outsider writer of raw contemporary classics such as Sheepshagger and Stump. Like me, he found being unemployed in Liverpool an illuminating time: "The dole is the unofficial sponsor of the arts." And like the critical voices above he has an alternative view on the shape and form of the city's culture. He talks about the city being built on the blood of slaves, and how so much pain in the place's past must have a splintering effect on the present. He looks at the river, uses the image of Liverpool as a city which has turned its back on England and says "The city's soul is a very open, floating one."

    Far more in all of this than will fit on any nice little badge.
    Sunday, August 01, 2004
    Lammas lament
    I'm trying to get excited about Lammas. It's one of those old English festivals which might reward replaying - like Rogation which, as you may have gathered, I'm quite keen on.

    It's today, Lammas. Though it's dropped off the calendar still some folklore societies, wiccans, pagans, Irish and merrie witches keep it going. The church has let it drift away, harvest festival taking its place.

    The point about Lammas is, it's about celebrating the year's first fruits. On the opening of harvest bread was baked using the first of the ripe cereal, the church would hold a 'loaf mass', festivities would break out, outstanding rents would be collected and local officials would be elected.

    And pieces of land held privately for the growing of corn would, on Lammas, have their fences taken down and be thrown open to pasturage during the rest of the year for those who had common rights. Jubilee!!

    Here was my Lammas, with all its imperfections:

    For the first time since moving to my new house I thought I'd get the breadmaker going, to produce a Lammas Loaf, only to discover that my flour supply is all well past its sell-by date.

    The only local intent on celebrating first pickings today was a bloke who tried to snatch a handbag from church, but who I thwarted on his way out of the door.

    And as for the opening up of private space for common use - well, kicking a stray football back over the fence to the gang inside Farmfoods car park, I realised they've already done that. Good for them - but round here every day is potential Lammas Day as far as trespassing/liberating is concerned.

    That's Liverpool 11 Lammas, 2004. Hardly Exeter, is it?