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

    Tuesday, November 30, 2004
    Camas - the Sacred Garden

    Gardens can be an expression of Paradise, or a place of peace and sanctuary, a sacred space where humanity, nature and spirituality can exist together happily. In this series, Frieda Morrison travels the length and breadth of Scotland talking to the men and women who work and enjoy some of Scotland's 'sacred' gardens. This edition looks at the Iona Community's adventure centre on Mull, known as Camas.

    - Last weekend's Radio Scotland programme, The Sacred Garden, which describes very well what the Community's trying to raise a million quid for: the wonderful world of Camas. Stream online here.
    Monday, November 29, 2004
    The Rough Guide to a Better World

    It's really only the poor that die earliest. They're too weak, mute, unseen and powerless to be noticed. We only properly take a reluctant heed when they begin to die in such numbers it would be impossible for us to ignore them. There then sets in a sort of tiresome acceptance that the pathetic whimperings and low moans of the soon-to-be dead should be addressed in some manner.

    We don't in general die of our corruption, or our AIDS or Malaria or other illnesses, or our trade rules, or starvation, or our political instability, or our debt burdens, or our summer droughts. They do. They die from all of the above, both ours and their own. The euphemism for this mass premature dying is "lack of development". That means if only they had health systems and educational facilities and basic farming mechanisms allowing countries to feed themselves and disinterested bureaucratic structures to implement a state under the rule of law, civic minded and incorruptible political leadership listening to the organs of civil society like the unions, free press, churches and chambers of commerce under "good governance", and if those same people could be representative of the wishes of the people and if they could develop appropriate industries where they could trade with "Us" on equal terms; and if pigs could fly...

    Bob Geldof, from The Rough Guide to a Better World, which you can pick up at Post Office counters across the land. It helped me bide my time today in the long queue between soft-porn daily papers and tinned foods at Norris Green PO. It's the government's way of encouraging us to make more radical choices and, indeed, to challenge the government about the way we live towards others. Has campaigning ideas, volunteering ideas, lifestyle ideas, insight and critique. As such it seems pretty unique. And it's been put together by my Greenbelt friends Malcolm and Martin, movers also in A Year of Living Generously, which has some good Christmas ideas online this week.
    Sunday, November 28, 2004
    No flash in the pan

    Wierd doing a funeral visit a few streets from Anfield at the time the winning goal went in. Needless to say, the crowd reaction followed by lengthy recitations of that bleedin' song signalled how the game had gone.

    Kinda put me off my pastoral stride, knowing that that goal, combined with our own fine efforts at Newcastle, put us within a point of second place. Assuming I was a punter come out early from the match, the kids hanging round my my car after the visit asked me for money. I was so chuffed I nearly gave them some. It's great when these little lower teams help you out... but thirty points at this stage in the season is all our own work; this is no flash in the pan.
    Saturday, November 27, 2004
    Show of Hands
    This feels like 'real' music; relatively unmediated. Many of us at The Lowry's Show of Hands gig tonight were there because friends had brought us. We know, because the band sussed us out from the stage. And many others were there because years ago they heard two men singing songs in the best folk tradition - earthy, connected, raw, radical and deeply lyrical - but with originality and vigour. And kept coming back to see them again and again.

    This didn't feel like a folk gig, earnest and self-referential; nor a rock gig, showy and self-important. It felt like two hours to enjoy and appreciate music, with craftsmen Steve Knightley and Phil Beer well-complimented by bassist / singer Miranda Sykes, all seeming to be thoroughly enjoying playing to a full house on Salford docks.

    The Lowry's just across the canal from Old Trafford, a reminder that in one of their more recent songs Show of Hands sing, "Only back United if / It's where you're from or where you've lived." Which puts them into a commonsense category missing from much public discourse these days. Tonight they performed Cold Heart of England, hard words about the state of our small country towns - closed-down High Street family businesses replaced by grey out-of-town supermarkets, as they've seen first hand from their West Country homes. Common sense and common knowledge, which sadly few of us care enough to challenge. Thankfully through these artists the voice of protest still lives.

    They spoke respectfully through the evening about various people - long-standing fans, unsung heroes of our times, fellow-musicians. My heart jumped when Phil began speaking of Sydney Carter, writer of Lord of the Dance, who died earlier this year. As Phil pointed out, Carter did much more besides pen that celebrated, complex, hymn: he was a leading figure in CND and the folk revival movement of the 1960s. Show of Hands are keeping alive one of his finest protest songs, the haunting Crow On The Cradle:

    The sheep's in the meadow, the cows in the corn
    Now is the time for a child to be born
    He'll laugh at the moon and he'll cry for the sun
    And it it's a boy he can carry a gun
    Sang the crow on the cradle

    And if it should be that this baby's a girl
    Never you mind if her hair doesn't curl
    With rings on her fingers, bells on her toes
    And a bomber above her wherever she goes
    Sang the crow on the cradle

    Crow on the cradle the black and the white
    Somebody's baby is born for a fight
    Crow on the cradle the white and the black
    Some body's baby is not coming back
    Sang the crow on the cradle

    Bring me my gun and I'll shoot that bird dead
    That's what your mother and father have said
    Crow on the cradle what shall we do
    Now there's a thing that I leave up to you
    Sang the crow on the cradle
    Sang the crow on the cradle

    Friday, November 26, 2004
    W11 - itself and unreplaceable

    1. v. i. Wandering; vagrant; vagabond.
    2. v. i. Unsettled; unfixed; undetermined; indefinite; ambiguous; as, a vague idea; a vague proposition.
    3. v. i. Proceeding from no known authority; unauthenticated; uncertain; flying; as, a vague report.
    4. n. An indefinite expanse.
    5. v. i. To wander; to roam; to stray.
    6. n. A wandering; a vagary.

    I was introduced to the fanzines of Tom Vague via the dubious offices of
    AK, and his VAGUE #24, The West Eleven Days of My Life, is his stab at 'English Psychogeography', largely based around Portobello.

    The distributor's blurb describes it pretty well, "A superb history of the area, its underclass, genesis, race riots, carnival etc, and its magnet effect on all types of avant-garde types, from the Clash to King Mob. Also includes Happy Mondays, Stewart Home's latest, and Chelsea/Everton." All of this appeals to me, though of course it was the last bit that caught my eye. Vague's an Evertonian and as well as decribing Chelsea crowd trouble the mag also gives a fine description of a Beardsley-Blue winner in an early-nineties Everton-Liverpool derby, as seen from the front bar of The Warwick.

    Vague doesn't explain his Evertonianism, he's a west London guy originally from south-west England. But it's welcome enough. What's also welcome is his own brand of particularism, which has no trouble following-on descriptions of Christine Keeler's W11 life with these fine words from G.K. Chesterton:

    Notting Hill is a rise or high ground of the common earth on which men have built houses to live in, in which they are born, fall in love, pray, marry and die... These little gardens where we told our loves. These streets where we have brought out our dead. Why should they be commonplace? Why should they be absurd? There has never been anything in the world absolutely like Notting hill. There will never be anything quite like it to the crack of doom... And God loved it as he must surely love anything which is itself and unreplaceable.
    Thursday, November 25, 2004
    Liquid living
    Generous of Zygmunt Bauman to come over from Leeds to talk to a bunch of Liverpool clergy. He held our attention for well over an hour tonight (not easy for a bunch of yawners knackered after a week of home visits and old folks' socials), talking about culture.

    Bauman went into some detail about the history of culture. On the one hand it is an eighteenth-century invention designed to organise society morally, prevent deviance, eliminate transcendence, adopted by modernity and at times dangerously close to Nazism. On the other it is the critical edge, sounding dissidence against the prevailing norms. There is a case for seeing that more recently culture has become emancipated, that our society enjoys new creative freedoms. However, Bauman says, all that is new is that the management has changed hands - culture is no longer a tool of the state, it belongs to the market - and is now used purely to create consumers. People's cultural choices are no less 'uniform' than before.

    The market's methods, he says, are to keep things rapidly circulating to perpetuate a desire for more novelty. And this is how culture works now: we no longer think about works of art, we are stimulated by the artistic event: 'culture', as mediated to us, is a series of happenings - the Turner Prize, the latest big exhibition of old masters, and dare I say it, the new U2 album. We are fixated by the 'kalideoscopic change in the moods and fashions in culture'. This is liquid modernity, where everything is fluid - celebrities, our 'life-skills', companies, networks, etc.

    Bauman meditated on the impression that culture is the way human beings deal with our mortality. It gives us ways to leave a trace, make a difference, to offer ourselves as something of lasting significance ... to distance ourselves from death. If we keep 'chasing the hare' we don't have to think about death; if we catch the hare death stares us in the face, we have to embrace our reality. Liquid living equals chasing the hare.

    All of this is fascinating, needs more engagement. Tonight, I'm impressed by the coincidence that the lecture came on the eve of the end of the 2004 Liverpool Biennial, the latest in a series of 'happenings' in this city over the coming four years. Bauman's extensive work of creative sociology offers us ways of understanding what 's actually going on here.
    Wednesday, November 24, 2004
    Prole art threat
    Watching the footer last night with the sound down whilst listening to the album of the week it struck me - the similarity between Mark E. Smith and Roy Carroll.... Oh! Brother!

    Tuesday, November 23, 2004
    Small in Gwynedd

    What wonderful light over Llandecwyn. Gorgeous setting, uphill a few short miles from where I once lived, with the tides of Tremadog Bay shining to the horizon below.

    I've been learning about Jim Cotter's project, Small Pilgrim Places, a simple idea about opening the doors of small little-used churches and chapels, chapels and crypts within larger churches and cathedrals, offering their space to people on or off the edge of the churches, or those bruised by condemnations from the churches, or those asking questions about the kind of God they might be able to believe in, for simple hospitality, quiet prayer, or thoughtful conversation.

    Llandecwyn's the pilot for this project, and Jim's been inviting folk to sign up to support it. It's beginning to gather people. I'm interested, not least because I'm drawn to that place itself. But also I'm drawn to what it's about.

    And it's made me consider another thing - to those who've worried themselves about the title of this blog, no longer strictly accurate since I became a priest-in-charge - how about this for a new one: NOTES FROM A SMALL PILGRIM? Watch this page.
    Monday, November 22, 2004
    Parish Walks #8 - Everyday English

    On the water fountain in the middle of West Derby village the inscription reads, 'Water is Best'. Across the road the adverts screaming from the windows of Bargain Booze suggest otherwise. West Derby village is contested space. Desirable postcode with a teenage drinks problem; ancient township choked up with schools traffic; gateway to Croxteth Hall, ancestral home of the Earls of Sefton, who ran a self-sufficient estate and never had that much to do with West Derby itself.

    Strictly speaking I am well out of my bounds, planning a walk through the heart of the Croxteth Hall estate, beginning here. This place is a good half-mile away from the nearest point in our parish; and in local consciousness it is a place far removed from our corporation estates. But our church still bears the moniker 'West Derby' in its title, because a century ago West Derby lands were vast. So this is a context-setting stroll, perhaps a walk into history.

    I set out between the lions rampant at the estate gates, alongside St Mary's, our mother church, rebuilt 150 years ago to replace the village's fourteenth century chapel, on a wide tarmacked path where a hazard sign bears a picture of a horse. All of a sudden, we're in riding country.

    The landscape is a gently undulating sweep of green, the tree-lined path peppered with dog-walkers on their after-breakfast stroll. Most of them friendly; most of them greet me. A gent with two large dogs engages me in a very English conversation about the weather (cool, sunny, prevailing winds, a blow the cobwebs off sort of morning), a middle aged woman wheeling a wriggly baby dressed in pink smiles warmly, a short man, like me buttoned up against the weather says 'hello'. This puts me in the mood to greet the more reluctant passers-by, which I do, and each one responds.

    Open space gives way to coppice, and here I reach a junction, where four ways meet. This point was at the centre of the map square I drew out of my box this morning to determine today's route. It is thus the epicentre of the journey, and feels like one, sheltered, relatively airless, a place of confluence.

    I want to walk all four ways this morning, if I can. To do so I first decide to satisfy my curiosity about the destination of the path to north-north-west. Which older maps suggest comes out to meet Meadow Lane, but older maps fail to show the new private estate in that corner of L12. The suspicions are that the path is now either a short cut to that housing cluster, or not in use at all. The latter is the case. Of the four ways, this is the only one not signposted. Though still tree-lined, the path stops sharply, the tarmac clinically severed as the boundary-fence of the new estate looms. On the fence, a sign makes clear this is no longer a public way: METROPOLITAN BOROUGH OF SEFTON - PRIVATE PROPERTY - NO TRESPASSING. I get a frisson of satisfaction photographing this, with the posh homes behind, and retrace my steps wondering why Sefton - we are in Liverpool here, and Knowsley abuts us. A link to the Earl of Sefton's estate, perhaps, but how does that work? Does the Earl own the Borough too? Well, the last Earl is dead - perhaps the occupant of the house behind placed the sign, filched from a Sefton Council workplace.

    The walk to the house runs past a coppice where some lovely highland cows enjoy their food, alongside Croxteth Lodge, which shows signs of habitation - that lovely winter warm glow of internal light. Under the grandly-gated Croxteth Hall Drive bridge, past the minature railway and the still green Statue Pond where at the far end, ducks doze.

    The Molyneux family, with homes in London and the Lancashire hills, used Croxteth for sporting occasions - entertaining guests during the Grand National and Altcar's hare-coursing season. When the Earl played host to Her Majesty the Queen for tea at a race meeting of November 1950, these also (among many others) were in attendence: HRH The Princess Royal, HRH Princess Alexandra, Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Lord and Lady Rothschild and family, Duke of Norfolk, Duke of Roxborough, Duke of Roseberry, Earl and Countess of Derby - Stanley family, Lord Leverhulme, Lord Caernarvon, Lady Blandford (Tina Onassis), Mr Errol Flynn and son, Sophie Tucker (singer).

    Thirty-two years since the last Earl died the place has been well-adopted by Liverpool City Council as a leisure and business area, as evidenced by an extensive children's play area, a gift shop on the corner of the house, a cafe (open and popular this morning), and - which I'd never seen before - busy offices and conference facilities around the back.

    Passing the house frontage dominated by a militaristic mural the pace quickens: I have left the ageing dog-walkers behind and suddenly all is youthful activity. People of teenage-and-twenties walk with purpose between buildings; estate staff drive vans down works tracks; one is employing a petrol-powered leaf-blower to clear a corner of a car park. I discover that Croxteth Hall is a base for Myerscough College , which offers courses in subjects including agriculture, countryside studies, animal studies, creative design, landscape studies, sport and recreation, horticulture, street cleansing, mechanisation, sportsturf and arboriculture; part time or full time, from entry to advanced level. The young people passing me here hold the future of our land - physically, literally - in their hands.

    So Croxteth Hall, which has always been a place of privilege, continues to be a centre for power. To reinforce this a sign outside a conference room reads, TESCO NEW STORE RESEARCH GROUPS. My guess this is a City Council convention to discuss the supermarket giant's proposals to site their biggest store in Europe on reclaimed land a mile north of here, on the inside edge of our parish. Feel like I should be in there with them, but press on.

    I try to continue north-easterly but all the paths beyond the house that way are blocked. This is the business end of the estate, old stables with mechanical activity going on inside them, closed doors marked CAUTION OPEN MAN HOLE BEHIND DOOR, smoking chimneys. I have to retrace and take a more easterly path, thinking I may still emerge where I'd hoped: on the loop of Fir Tree Drive, the road which circles the massive Croxteth Park housing estate. My plan had been to head right through that subtopian labyrinth to the very edge, the scrubland beside the M57. All of this once the Earl's.

    When I do emerge into the expected fancy houses, I am on Manor View. This is not Croxteth Park. This is the Deysbrook edge of the estate, south-easterly. Though it could be anywhere - clusters of fairly new detached homes, garages full of clutter, drives of fancy vehicles. The developers have barricaded the occupants out of the pleasant track from the country park; their homes peep over high fences bearing small signs in red ink: BEWARE RAZOR WIRE, and the awful steel stuff is everywhere. Evidently, the people who live in these homes like to get away from them - many drives accommodate caravans, motor homes and boats.

    At the corner of Coachmans Drive a driver gets out of his red taxi to post a letter. At the corner of Deysbrook Lane and Croxteth Hall Lane, signs of regeneration, needed and in place: a large hoarding advertising social housing providers Berrybridge, to whom more than 2,400 Liverpool City council homes have been transferred following a successful stock transfer ballot with tenants in 2002, their website says. "Berrybridge Housing has a local focus run by a voluntary Board with independent and tenant representatives. It plans to spend £47M on improving homes in the first five years after transfer, and more than £200M over the next 30 years." On the opposite corner, bold new signs on a very old shop: MR BOOZE - NEWS AND CONVENIENCE.

    The homeward walk begins here, on the narrow, busy Croxteth Hall Lane which cuts the estate in two. At the Home Farm exit an overpowered car twitches as the young male driver cuts through the gears. Into calm again as I approach the central coppice along the fourth path, back among dog walkers. The only incident to disturb the morning strollers occurs when gravity pulls a large branch from a tree in the centre of the land, and as it cracks on the ground a whole field-full of magpies rise together, screeching in shock.

    The light is generous, the sky large and the ground deeply green. Beyond the trees, all that breaks the line of the land is the tower of St Mary's Church. Five miles from the teeming Mersey, this is an everywhere-England rural view. More than any other place I know, with this view I am minded of Cambridge. But it is not Cambridge. I know this because, nearing West Derby village again, a cyclist passes me by. She is the one and only cyclist I have seen all day.
    Sunday, November 21, 2004
    The antechamber to death
    "I don't plan to retire before I die. I don't like the idea of retirement. I don't want to play golf. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing. I do regard the playing of golf as like entering the antechamber to death. When my mates tell me they've started playing golf, I mentally cross them off the Christmas card list."

    - John Peel, June 2002, from The Fall website. Now that's a good way of keeping the postage down this year.

    [Also from the Fall website - MES's scandalously ambiguous John Peel 'tribute' Newsnight interview - rm download - fast-forward to 23 mins]
    Saturday, November 20, 2004
    Another satisfying Goodison afternoon, the win made even better by purchasing the latest When Skies Are Grey, a happy fanzine just now with a great centre-spread from the Good Rumour Man (35 Everton rumours including, 2. Thomas Graveson has no big toe on either foot; 16. When Alan Stubbs went to St Kevin's, he had the choice of joining Bolton Wanderers or China Crisis. The rest is history; 27. Former Wimbledon goalkeeper, Hans Segers, was paid to "throw" the vital match in May 1994 which saw Everton escape relegation by the skin of their teeth.....)

    And WSAG put me onto showmercy.co.uk. Mercy is a Liverpool-based project specialising in "less mainstream" cultural commentary. Their site has a good words section, including this (untitled), by Nick Holloway:

    "To hell with culture, culture as that added like sauce to otherwise unpalatable stale-fish." - Eric Gill

    soon no more lennon
    leatherclad and wearing the wrong haircut

    no scars on walls from binbags
    set alight by scally lads

    no tanning beds
    or hungry lunchhours lost thereon
    no barely-middays or bad men who shudder
    no liverbirds or
    no more reinventing the hangover
    no faces unsure of low-flying planes
    no tanks outside of airport gates
    no demolition teams
    and cranes
    and no more newlyweds
    who wander worry-headed
    and wonder
    will the washer-dryer last longer than love will?
    'cos one day soon

    the cathedral will rise up on caterpillar tracks
    and roll like the holiest of battletanks
    to sweep the lot of liverpool
    in to the river
    and away

    Friday, November 19, 2004
    Some friends ask me whether I do God on my days off. Well, on my days off I do all I can to get out of the way of bad religion; it's often unavoidable the rest of the week. But I'll happily do God if that means something like today - a 200-mile round trip, ending in an Iona family group gathering in Lymm, with hours well-spent in M62 traffic queues listening to Jeffrey John's stimulating Greenbelt talks on The Meaning in the Miracles, and largely featuring a pleasant afternoon doing Greenbelt business with Henry at his home in a green and sheltered spot of south-east Yorkshire.

    I enjoyed a long linger around his bookshelves, rich with all manner of wonderful writings, and one tiny tome I found there I shall be ordering post-haste: Expectant, which is Jim Cotter's book of verses for Advent. He's written a verse for each day of December until Christmas Eve, modelled on the ancient hymn O come, O come, Emmanuel, which you can sing to the familiar tune as you go. It's beautifully produced and Jim's words, as ever, are vibrant and surprising - just as Advent itself should be:

    O Come, O come, thou living word,
    and pierce our hearts with healing sword,
    from God's own mouth proceeding far
    to lance the fest'ring wounds of war.
    Rejoice! Rejoice!, To mend our strife
    shall come in flesh the God of life

    Thursday, November 18, 2004
    From Frodsham's trees
    I was at Foxhill today. Last time I was there, after lunch I took a walk through the steep sloped arboretum, and at the top soaked in its phenomenal view across the Mersey Basin, eyeing Fiddler's Ferry, Liverpool's cathedrals, the Lancashire hills, the planes sweeping above the Runcorn Bridge and flying low into Speke Airport. I was drawn to the planes. On this vast canvas they were the only visible sign of human life - business class from Belfast, or EasyJet from Barcelona, inside those sleek steel shells were folk, gently arriving.

    The date was 11th September 2001. After my walk I arrived into a lounge full of ashen people gathered around a tv. The planes ... I couldn't quite believe the planes.

    The occasion was a conference entitled 'Theology Today'. It was perhaps the best place for someone like me to be on a day like that. We ripped up our two-day programme that afternoon, sat silently in the chapel, started over.

    Now, that seems a long time ago. And today seemed not as apocalyptic. If I had stood at the top of the arboretum today, no doubt, I would have seen Speke's passenger planes landing as ever - in fact, more than ever in this city's current boom phase. i would have liked that, it might have been a healing thing. But the sleet kept me indoors. In the chapel at the end of today's retreat, the silence held the same prayers as it did three years ago, pretty much. Only their intensity had changed.
    Wednesday, November 17, 2004
    The M6 Sights Guide
    What a good idea! The M6 Sights Guide is the second in a series of books (M5 first) which tell you stuff about "everything you can see from your vehicle on the motorway." And they mean everything - ie, they don't just go for the worthy, National Trust-y type sights: the writer Mike Jackson chose to "be democratic about what's out there; not confine ourselves to the grand and distinctive, but include the ordinary, the functional, and establish a way of presenting them relentlessly along every page with the route lying elastically along the middle."

    Jackson also throws in a few general observations on contemporary life, moans about supermarket culture and ironic nods towards car dependency. Which makes for a lively, sometimes banal and often amusing journey. In ninety pages you're taken from Dixon's Chimney, a 270-foot remnant of Carlisle's industrial past, now listed - meaning that the council have to spend a fortune maintaining it, to the sign for Tamworth, about which Jackson writes:

    "This place has a huge building full of skiers heading down slopes of snow. It's an enormous indoor skiing centre that must cost a fortune to run. As global warning continues it may eventually become a centre of pilgrimage for those who want to remember what snow looked like."

    That's it for Tamworth. Which is how the book goes. I suppose you could say it speeds through places giving first impressions. Liverpool gets written off in a one-liner bemoaning decent places to eat, but the Brummie writer virtually admits this is sour grapes, still sore at being also-rans in the Euro Capital of Culture contest. Of Manchester Airport he writes, "Apparently wealthy women from Dubai fly in each morning to go shopping at the John Lewis's at Cheadle Royal, then take the flight back home in the afternoons." Birmingham gets a whole half-page, well out of proportion to its actual significance, but that tells you where this wittily opinionated writer is coming from. Jackson's favourite thing en-route is the admittedly impressive Fiddlers Ferry power station at Runcorn, which he went to great lengths to capture on film for the book.

    Brilliant. Can't wait for their next project, a guide to the M62. By the way, the Guide is peppered with warnings to drivers about not reading it en-route. Ok, right. Best take a passenger to enjoy the observations together.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2004
    Lighting-up time
    Today seems like a good time to decide, for the first time in my life, to take up smoking. This, I believe, would be a generous action because of its value to the mental environment: standing (shivering, I imagine) in solidarity with those banished into backrooms or out-of-doors by fussy others; engaging in conversations like today's in the fuggy, friendly back kitchen of a bereaved family, after saying prayers around the deceased - witty, informed, speculative, earthy, deep conversations about some of the fundamentals in life (and death).

    And taking up smoking would be an ideal way to provoke conversations about society's biggest smokers whose excesses are seldom questioned: while local and national policymakers busy themselves with making Liverpool's doorways and entertainment houses smoke-free, they quite happily permit Sonae to continue belching out toxic fumes on the city's fringe at Kirkby. Ignoring the well-founded, well-researched and well-expressed concerns of suffering locals.

    These are the days of small government - petty, puerile government. While the people of Kirkby live beneath 'blackouts' where Sonae's so-called 'steam' turns dark grey above them, for me two miles upwind, lighting-up time beckons.
    Monday, November 15, 2004
    The New Realists increasingly want 'real' food - maybe organic - that tastes of something, doesn't involve the genes of fish for temperature control, and comes from a real place somewhere on the map. They don't want the kind of consumables leached of flavour and interest in the form of pills or tubes that the experts used to tell us represented the future of food because the Apollo and Gemini astronauts used them.

    They want real sound of people working, not the fake recorded mutter that the BBC shelled out £2,300 in 2000 when they worried that their accounts department was too quiet.

    Or the fake smells that London Underground tried in their tunnels the same year.

    Or the fake places that all look the same, with the same global storefronts in every town and city around the world, in the cheapest international style of glass and concrete.

    Or fake politicians whose slightest utterance is tested before focus groups and scripted, and who - like George W. Bush - even have the word "Wow!" on the teleprompter.

    Or the fake relationships people create online, never having to meet, using fake names - sometimes even breaking up real flesh-and-blood relationships in the process.

    Or fake community activity, like the Holiday Bowling Lanes in New London, Connecticut, which social theorist Robert Putnam describes in his book Bowling Alone, with giant TV screens above each lane, where the players never talk to each other between turns, but just stare sadly upwards.

    Or the kind of world where, except for the very rich, most of us will have to rely on virtual bankers, virtual doctors, virtual pharmacists, virtual carers and virtual teachers.

    That's not to say that there's no market for internet chat rooms, Pot Noodle, NHS Online - or George W. Bush for that matter. There clearly is. But there's also a growing suspicion of a world where we don't have to see people or touch anything, and a longing for something we can't quite put our fingers on. Just how big that market is, I'll discuss later - but what large numbers of people in the Western economy want, they tend to get.

    It's a key reason that so many people are starting, in the media equivalent of a dim light, to feel around them for something firm to grasp.

    I'm not going to buy David Boyle's Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin, and the Lust for Real Life. The title is so good it almost says it all; the polemic is well served by the extracts on his website as quoted above. And I've got too much else to read. But I like the polemic. It has a good intent. And I also like the way Boyle has brought new life to a good old word. The authentic. Without pomposity, without elitism, but with a white-hot lust for life, searching for the authentic is a healthy mission, attuned to the times. As Robert Nozick sagely predicts, 'In a virtual world, we'll be longing for reality even more'.
    Sunday, November 14, 2004
    The vinyl solution
    In waste of course, the scavenger thrives. Placing myself in the company of those quick-eyed men who lurk at municipal refuse management centres, yesterday I not only helped tip all manner of used-up materials in Kirkby; I also set eyes on an old record-player. I need one; my old one literally blew up, at three in the morning while I was sleeping four feet away in my student room in 1999. I have not played an lp since.

    The consequence of my scavenging: tonight I dust off the vinyl and choose which disk to Christen my 'new' player with. If I'm feeling upbeat (as I may be in reaction to this evening's SERVICE OF PRAYERS AND READINGS IN COMMEMORATION OF THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED) then it will probably be one of my top five all-time great singles, Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner. If I'm feeling more moody ... or lets say MOOOOOO-dy ... then for some odd reason I have an urge to reacquaint myself with Atom Heart Mother.
    Saturday, November 13, 2004
    We will never see their like again
    Clear-out at church today. We filled a Luton van with the detritus of a decade. This included:

    Two quarter-size snooker tables;
    One old kitchen sink;
    Two massive banners advertising scouting events;
    An ancient tent;
    A box full of plastic Snoopys from MacDonalds;
    A large teddy bear wearing a Girl Guides top;
    Four boxes of mildewed Hymns Ancient and Modern;
    Three boxes of obsolete prayer books;
    100 Hymns for Today - one box;
    One dozen traffic cones;
    A number of broken canoe paddles;
    Rotting furniture from a corner of an unused part of the church garden;
    A gas cooker;
    A calor gas heater;
    A long metal pole used many years ago for stoking the coal-fired boiler;
    A long coil of wire and an even longer coil of tubing left in the church grounds by road-diggers some time ago;
    Bin-bags full of three-quarters empty tins of emulsion paint;
    Some pieces of wooden fencing;
    A gymnastic vaulting horse donated to the Boys Brigade many years ago by HMP Walton;
    A fluorescent strip light unit;
    Three brush handles (no brushes);
    One rusted lawnmower;
    One rust-coloured curtain set;
    One broken blue display board;
    Ceramic ducks.

    We will never see their like again. Until, that is, we tackle the rooms we left undisturbed today.

    I came home to read tomorrow's epistle about the Christians in Thessalonica being idle, and the chapter in Cities about the demise of Rome, a city which became clogged up with the detritus of wealth. "Brothers and sisters," Paul said, "do not be weary in doing what is right." Or as Yaconelli famously put it, "You wanna know how to be a good Christian? Clean up your room!"
    Friday, November 12, 2004
    Philosophy Football
    "Through a turnstile into another and altogether more splendid kind of life, hurtling with conflict and yet passionate and beautiful in its art."

    They're getting better at Philosophy Football. Used to be all their shirts were one size fits all ie, this won't fit you. Their new JB Priestley shirt comes in S, M, L, XL, and of it they write,

    In the slump of the late 1920s JB Priestley wrote the tale of three Good Companions who sing, dance and drink their way through the towns of England. A Bradford City man Priestley ensured his trio paid fulsome tribute to the meaning of football for the Northern industrial working class of the period. This remains a romantic attachment that commercialism endangers but can never fully squander as long as there are fans.

    Great quote, good rationale. Not sure I like the design, though. The best of their shirts features this fantastic quote:

    "The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It's the way I see football, the way I see life"

    - but I could never wear it because it's bright red and the words come from the mouth of Bill Shankly. So I'm still ambivalent about Philosophy Football. And will remain so until they find a good Everton quote to put on a deep royal blue shirt. Today's words from David Moyes reveal quite a profound philosophy, I think, and are music to all our ears: "I'm staying."
    Thursday, November 11, 2004
    The urban and the land
    First time in, I reckon, 55 months that I've put in a full day's library study. My first visit to old Bill Gladstone's legacy, St Deiniols, in Hawarden (Welsh border town, home of Madrid-commuter Michael Owen). A good place for concentrating the mind (and eating well, and winding-down).

    I've tasked myself a day a month to try to get to grips with a working urban theology of land. No better place to start than with Walt Brueggemann. His essay "Land, Fertility, and Justice" gave me three biblical categories to work with, re. land-economics-justice-place, which seem to me to apply to the urban as elsewhere: enclosure, covetousness and defilement.

    Journeying today made me think that while most theologies (and other sorts of -ologies) of land tend to emphasise the rural, often in opposition to the urban, in reality the two coexist. My route home - linking Owen's country retreat to this place from where the Rooney clan have absolutely retreated - was virtually all on three-lane carriageways, just forty-five minutes: as long as it can take on a peak-hour bus from here into Liverpool city centre, or as long as it can take a local conversationalist, I guess, to walk one length of Hawarden high street on a shopping day. Hawarden looks rural but like most of Cheshire the town and its people exist, in every sense, on a motorway-airport loop, their farms as industrialised as every other aspect of life.

    In his great book Cities, John Reader says, "the term 'natural' ... is not wholly applicable to the modern countryside - most of which has been altered by human activity" ... but also wants to ask, "to what extent is a city 'unnatural'?" - it is formed from the stuff of earth and is subject, as are all natural things, to decay. The urban-rural dichotomy is false. It's valid to talk about the urban and the land. I'm encouraged in my task. More on this stuff ad infinitum.
    Wednesday, November 10, 2004
    Life is a pyjama party
    Enjoyed revisiting Wavertree tonight, to give some friends in the men's group there a progress report on life so far the other side of Queen's Drive. In preparation I re-read my parish walks; in execution I shared some highlights and the one which delighted the blokes most was the bit in my first walk where I describe encountering a young woman returning from the shops, at lunchtime, wearing just pyjamas. I wrote this up because it was an unexceptional event. It's a very normal sight round here. For many local ladies, life is a pyjama party. Don't know if it's a scouse thing or a class thing or what, all I'm thinking is it must be getting chilly stepping out like that these days.
    Tuesday, November 09, 2004
    The Uncomfortable Faith of David Eugene Edwards
    "What I try to do with my music is to say that it's never enough, and it never will be enough. It doesn't matter what you do - how good you are. It doesn't matter what you've done - how bad you are. ... Basically, my job is to tell people that they are hopeless. Hopeless without Christ."

    In the mould of Johnny Cash, David Eugene Edwards aka Woven Hand, is pretty clear about his life's mission. Ain't no middle ground in his world. His music's uncompromising too. The article in Paste magazine indicates what a lonely road he's thus set himself upon:

    As his message is an uncomfortable fit for those who don't share his faith, and his music is anathema to the comparably sterile contemporary Christian music establishment, he now assumes an unusual place in the modern musical pantheon. Rubbing elbows with artists who don't share his view but have come to similar conclusions on the ethical deficits that define man's condition, Edwards holds tightly to his idea of the uncomfortable truth. "They can see it. All men can see it," Edwards says of the ugliness that colors man's character and leaves him in need of redemption. "Whether they want to spend any time looking at it or not is another story. And I've always been drawn to those kinds of people, whether they were Christians or not, like Joy Division, Nick Cave, Tom Waits. There's not a lot of hope there, but there is truth."

    His influences show in his tortured country sounds. His new cd's out now. This week I am engrossed in his entire back catalogue. It is a purging, purifying experience.
    Monday, November 08, 2004
    Some journey
    Four summers ago at Ridley Hall they wouldn't let me construct a labyrinth on a bit of lawn. The groundsman and me, we had it all worked out. But they turned me down with feeble excuses like potential noise and disturbance. Noise and disturbance - from a labyrinth? I suspected, back then, that the real disturbance about labyrinths was probably theological ("bit pagan, aren't they?" - as if that were a bad thing). But the territory has shifted since.

    I discovered today that the college is now publishing books about them. That's some journey they've been on. I'm not sharing this news because I'm bitter in any way; on the contrary, I'm delighted. It is good news. Labyrinths are good things. As any regular reader of this blog will know, I derive enormous pleasure from walking around in ever-decreasing circles. No, this incident offers further evidence, should any be needed, that I'm surely way, way ahead of my time.........
    Sunday, November 07, 2004
    Feelin' like Joe

    Joe Sacco, artist, writes in (and of) his book Palestine, "My comic blockbuster depends on conflict; peace won't pay the rent."

    I'm like Joe, or so it feels at the start of a week where I shall immerse myself in others' conflict to get the material I need for Sunday's Remembrance service, immerse myself in others' sorrow to get the inspiration I need for the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. My liturgical creations depend on conflict; peace won't pay the rent.

    This year I hope to resist the temptation to lecture the Remembrance congregation on nonviolence; I think I shall find that easier than previously. Age has wearied me; I'm now liable to be critically aware of the peace movement - still my people, but so often a hectoring, quibbling, stone-hearted bunch with terrible blindspots. Ironic - the peace movement's energies depend on conflict; peace won't pay their rent either.

    Most things depend on conflict, according to Rene Girard. He and his disciples like James Alison are among the few struggling to find a theoretical world outside of conflict, to frame a differently-shaped future. I based today's sermon on their mimetic theory. Deep stuff, subverting the life-death conflict to try to comprehend a God to whom all are alive, for whom death is not. Went down like a doodlebug-struck balloon. Seems the people's God-picture is comfortably wrapped up in conflict; another reason peace won't pay my rent.
    Saturday, November 06, 2004
    Highlights of a low-lit week
    As good a song as you'll ever hear, I promise: Warm and Sunny Days by The Dears [hear it].

    Discovering The Dears has been a highlight of my week. Another highlight - an email from Pat, who rediscovered me after five years via a search engine. She has also penned a deeply poignant lyric, which John Bell put to music, a standout song on the latest Wild Goose music collection, I Will Not Sing Alone. Like The Dears' song, it gives pure voice to the spirit emerging, bruised, from anguish:

    In this darkness
    I do not ask to walk by light;
    but to feel the touch of your hand
    and understand that sight is not seeing.

    In this silence
    I do not ask to hear your voice;
    but to sense your Spirit breathe
    and so bequeath my care to your keeping ...
    Friday, November 05, 2004
    Mapping the University of Openess
    Hibernation! An afternoon in, listening to the very thrilling sounds of Les Georges Leningrad - Sur les traces de Black Eskimo - and finishing-off reading the very fulsome Summer issue of Mute.

    Which introduced me to the University of Openess, an 'institution' so open that it is virtually baseless, where users set their own teaching and study agendas. One of its most popular aspects is the Faculty of Cartography which claims that "The uo is now the only university in the UK that offers courses and research opportunities for the study of Cartography (the last Cartography department at Oxford Brookes Uni closed in 2001)."

    The uo Faculty of Cartography is here for the study of maps and map making in the broadest terms, from mind maps and diagrams of political influence, to directions scribbled on a beer mat. The faculty is as interested in the cultural conditions of map making as in the practice itself, and seeks to investigate the diverse contexts of map making as much as its methodologies, technologies, and history.

    I like it. Now just have to work out what to do with it.
    Thursday, November 04, 2004
    Finding a way
    I want to engage with Tim Stott's Variant article, Next on the Left, or: 'What good is a map if you know the way?' in which he investigates the claims of the French curator, critic and art theorist Nicolas Bourriaud that "geography/cartography is now the most appropriate means of exploring the networks, boundaries and socio-economic formations that constitute and circumscribe human relations". Stott suggests that "the complexities of the contemporary world - of financial markets, information networks, social relations, etc - are 'unfigurable' and opaque, and thus no longer representable; but they can be surveyed and mapped."

    I want to engage with it because I love maps. I want to engage with it because I love the processes which create maps - deep walking, profound engagement with place, a bit of artistic creativity. I want to engage with it because it looks like it could form a few interesting projections on how we might see our world today.

    But I can't engage with it just now because my mind is tired, with thinking of what to say to the bereaved today. Many days I do it - think of what to say to the bereaved - but today was different because today the bereaved are my next-door neighbours and the guy, laid-out in the living room, whose cold hand I held this evening, is the guy I've loved chatting with over the fence these past months.

    I could map out Harry's life these past weeks. A more-or-less straight line eight hundred yards to the newsagents and bookies and back, slow, with a stick but also a twinkle. Usually, till very near the end, a twinkle. Not the most exciting-looking map in the world. But it would describe a world of conversation, each staging-post a place of good encounter, exchange of news and opinion, trade-ins and trade-offs, the stuff of Harry's straightforward but full life. On that map I would put dotted lines from side-door to pavement where he wheeled my wheelie bin out and in again on (bin-day) Friday, and very occasionally I did the same favour for him. On that map I would mark in bright red ink my car, whose colour he mocked, me being a Blue, he being of the other persuasion. No-one's perfect. On that map I would illustrate the hole in the fence between our houses through which his yappy dog appears, quite often, to run his nose through my overgrown garden.

    What good is a map if you know the way? I think Harry knew the way; I envy his straightforward life, I'm enriched through mapping his path. I know it's meant to be my job to know the way, but without maps like his, I'm utterly, terribly, lost.
    Wednesday, November 03, 2004
    Pic of the month
    Pic of the month for November is up. An all-time classic from this neck of the woods, in honour of Frank, the soon-to-be new vicar of New Brighton.
    Tuesday, November 02, 2004
    I've never told you this, but ...
    Got Change the World for a Fiver into a Book of Common Prayer service today, on the strength of it being All Souls / All Saints and Action 35 in the book being this: WRITE TO SOMEONE WHO INSPIRED YOU.

    Got the ladies thinking about which saints / souls inspired them, and, if they had a postcard similar to the one which I pulled out of the book, what they would put on it.

    Dear ................; I've never told you this, but ................

    Got me thinking, now.

    Dear Ant; I've never told you this, but having a posh mate with a snooker room in his house opened up my world to new aspirations at age ten.

    Dear Esther; I've never told you this, but your book gave me a whole new way of seeing. (de Waal, that is)

    Dear Inchy; I've never told you this, but you not only showed me some of the best football moves of the 1980s, you also showed the world that us little men can SHINE. (Adrian Heath, that is)

    Dear Owain; I've never told you this, but your acts of radical rebelliousness all those centuries ago have made tiny Machynlleth a power centre of my world. (Glyndwr, that is)

    Dear U2; I've never told you this, but, putting all the hype aside, you've been a constant inspiration from day one, giving my heart a new language with every song.
    Monday, November 01, 2004
    Favourites after John
    After John, then, where do you go for the latest on the edge of musical culture? Here's my list, albeit imperfect and incomplete:

    The Wire
    BBC Collective

    Rough Trade Records
    Piccadilly Records
    Topic Records
    Sounds Familyre
    Throwing Music

    The Official Fall website
    PJ Harvey
    Penkiln Burn (Bill Drummond's bag)
    Julian Cope's Head Heritage
    Coil: this is Moon Musick
    Billy Childish
    Billy Bragg
    Jim White

    Let's hope the BBC keep the John Peel pages open awhile yet - there's a lifetime's worth of stuff worth mining there.