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

    Sunday, March 27, 2005
    Northern soul
    Piper: "How can you be an alien, you've got a Northern accent?"
    Ecclestone: "LOTS of planets have a North!"

    - the new Doctor Who kicks off with a classic line.

    ['Normal' blogging will hopefully resume after a few days break to recover from Easter. Just now I'm too knackered to think]
    Saturday, March 26, 2005
    And finally ... turning words for Easter Saturday
    Where the bricks are fallen
    We will build with new stone
    Where the beams are rotten
    We will build with new timbers
    Where the word is unspoken
    We will build with new speech
    There is work together
    A Church for all
    And a job for each
    Every man to his work.

    - T.S.Eliot, Choruses from 'The Rock'
    Friday, March 25, 2005
    Hard words for Good Friday
    In spite of all the dishonour,
    the broken standards, the broken lives,
    The broken faith in one place or another,
    There was something left that was more than the tales
    Of old men on winter evenings.

    - T.S.Eliot, Choruses from 'The Rock'
    Thursday, March 24, 2005
    Hard words for Holy Week - 4
    You neglect and belittle the desert.
    The desert is not remote in southern tropics
    The desert is not only around the corner,
    The desert is squeezed in the tube-train next to you,
    The desert is in the heart of your brother.

    - T.S.Eliot, Choruses from 'The Rock'

    Wednesday, March 23, 2005
    Hard words for Holy Week - 3
    And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
    And no man knows or cares who is his neighbour
    Unless his neighbour makes too much disturbance,
    But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
    Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.

    - T.S.Eliot, Choruses from 'The Rock'
    Tuesday, March 22, 2005
    Hard words for Holy Week - 2
    O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
    The endless cycle of idea and action,
    Endless invention, endless experiment,
    Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
    Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
    Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
    All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
    But nearness to death no nearer to God.
    Where is the Life we have lost in living?
    Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
    Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
    The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
    Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

    - T.S.Eliot, Choruses from 'The Rock'
    Monday, March 21, 2005
    Hard words for Holy Week -1
    When the Stranger says: "What is the meaning of this city?
    Do you huddle close together because you love each other?"
    What will you answer? "We all dwell together
    To make money from each other"? or "This is a community"?

    Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
    Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

    - T.S.Eliot, Choruses from 'The Rock'
    Sunday, March 20, 2005
    Homeless and rooted
    Fascinating to read in The Observer Magazine an extensive biography of a tramp called Bronco John. Fascinating for all sorts of reasons - primarily because this hobo played a part in so many people's lives, for so long, in posh Hampstead village, and the story illustrates the effect he had on them.

    Fascinating also because it shows how homelessness doesn't necessarily mean rootlessness - although he failed to get a room of his own, Bronco John belonged in many other people's Hampstead rooms, generous folk who gave him a settee some nights, restauranteurs who gave him a table and told sniffy guests to move theirs if they were uncomfortable. Bronco John was one of those people known by everybody around, one of those people who give a community common ground.

    Of course, it's likely he's only in the Observer because it's Hampstead, and that connects him to celebrity, "a gentleman of the road who took tea with Peter Cook and dinner with Peter Sellers," etc etc. But there's a good sort of fascination in that too. Bronco John lived close to the ground and kept others' feet planted there, people who otherwise might have lost their humanness in a haze of fame and fortune.
    Saturday, March 19, 2005
    Displacement activity
    Took an hour with the clippers to give myself my first skinhead of the year; there was so much winter growth to cut back. And later, in the garden sunshine, I trimmed back trees, bushes, plants...

    I'm hoping for more sunshine tomorrow to attack the lawn; good displacement activity to take my mind off the trauma of the match.

    Friday, March 18, 2005
    Revisiting the ur-place

    The title gives you Edward Casey's rationale. It's called Getting Back into Place, and he reckons we ought to be. That is, we ought to be seeking to uphold place as that which defines us, as much as - perhaps more than - those modernist favourites time and space. Today, I only read the preface and next thing I found myself on the Lancashire edge of the Irish Sea.

    This is because of a term Casey coins in the preface: the ur-place. It's a great expression and it refers to the place of origin, the childhood home, any other place which has had significant influence on our lives.

    "Where are you from?" we ask a stranger whom we have just met, not reflecting on how acutely probing such a mundane question can be and how deeply revealing the answers to it often are. ... Many human beings are enthusiastic or nostalgic, at home in the world or out of sorts there, in relation to just such an ur-place. To lack a primal place is to be "homeless" indeed, not only in the literal sense of having no permanent sheltering structure but also as being without any effective means of orientation in a complex and confusing world.

    When I orientate myself the base-line is that strip of coast from the throat of the Mersey in the south to the Ribble's mouth in the north. I grew up playing on its beaches, above the Liverpool docks and below Formby Point. Casey's words made me feel like heading seawards today. So I did, though not to the most familiar points, rather to the vast marshes above Southport, where barely above sea level farmers work presumably sandy soil, looking across wide Marshside Sands to the southern stretch of the Fylde coast.

    Standing on the seven-metre high embankment which keeps the sea out of the fields the view is dominated at one end by Blackpool Tower, seeming to shimmer in the sea-haze; and at the other end by the sheds of BAE Warton - supplier of military aircraft to Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe, unmarked on the OS map. A place where I sometimes stand with others in silent vigil.

    Out in the Irish Sea - though not far out - sits the Lennox oil/gas rig, unmanned satellite of the Douglas Complex, producing oil known as 'Liverpool Blend', a light paraffinic crude with low sulphur content, and gas which flows from Douglas' rigs to the Point of Ayr terminal near Prestatyn, sold on to the Powergen station at Connah's Quay. This afternoon the coast seemed so sleepy, as if the military-industrial machine was covertly sapping all its energy.

    Meanwhile the marshes rang with birdsong and their edges shone with the cars of twitchers, out for the afternoon with binoculars looking for the winter's last pink-footed geese, wigeons, black-tailed godwits and golden plovers, or the first lapwings and redshanks of spring. I know nothing about their obsession except that it seems a gentle pursuit; I watched birds hover and ride the sea air, and that was enough to content me.

    Despite the costly character of an accelerated life, it remains the case that where we are - the place we occupy, however briefly - has everything to do with what and who we are (and finally, that we are). This is so at the present moment: where you are right now is not a matter of indifference but affects the kind of person you are...

    Standing at that bleak point today, I was very aware of Casey's words. And also reawakened to these old words: And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time. I'm increasingly sure that T.S. Eliot has it right; increasingly happy about that, too. Wandered back through Southport thinking, I could have my holidays here, why not ...
    Thursday, March 17, 2005
    Peace walls and protests on Patrick's Day

    Peace walls and protests mark this St Patrick's Day. Remember he was a slave once in that land. And came to say, "How false are our idols which our ancestors made for themselves, and how useless they are."
    Wednesday, March 16, 2005
    Ancient Works
    Delighted to be reading the latest issue of Smoke: a London Peculiar because how Matt Haynes and co-writers describe their city is witty, informed, microscopic, creative. And quite inspiring for us other describers-of-the-urban. Following, an extract from Matt Haynes' piece Ancient Works (many more extracts here):

    How long does it take a wilderness to grow? This gorse, this grass, these wiry black branches scratching across Canary Wharf's hazy mist, they're all even younger than me. Right till the end of the sixties, ships still blew in on each rising tide to dock by these stones, by these blackened bollards where my Granddad once stood to catch the ropes they hurled, by this chain looping uselessly under the too-high heels of my new winter boots. Walking here, through the gloomy trench of the old lock where the gates have gone and the depth-gauge measures the height of the ivy. I passed a sign telling me golf practice was forbidden. People play golf in Rotherhithe these days. Isn't that a thing? While up on Stave Hill a sleek white windpump shimmers in the last of the sun, pumping water into ornamental waterways no longer filled by the tides. It must have felt so permanent. Then, suddenly, bang, all gone. Wapping, Surrey Docks, the Isle of Dogs, even the Royals out at Beckton - all over, in the space of a dozen years.

    Twelve years. What sort of a timescale is that? What can happen in twelve years?

    No time at all.
    Tuesday, March 15, 2005
    Touched by this deep confessional
    The first disc of the new Rough Trade Shops compilation Counter Culture 04 is the quiet one; and it brought a perfect end to one-of-those-days. The West London shop staff who put these collections together (this is the third annual) have fine, fine, taste. And, as I guess true music shop staff ought, they really excite the listener with their enthusiasm for their subjects.

    So already I am in love with Susanna And The Magical Orchestra and the exquisite Magoo; my admiration of shadow giants Coil, Holly Golightly and the lost genius Elliott Smith is affirmed; and better yet, my heart has melted, imploded, missed some beats at the rediscovery of a 40-year old Merseybeat gem, Please Stay by The Cryin' Shames, which sounds so fresh, so good in this context. This is what Simon from Rough Trade says about it:

    "From Sonic Boom's ace Spacelines compilation, this pearler came to be known simply as 'Track 9' earlier in the year, as we repeatedly rocked the shop with it at full blast. Selling copies of the comp. by the dozen after starting them off with this deep confessional. The dusty vocal, cutting like a knife when it first appears, stops everyone dead in their tracks, every time. And what about those harmonies and strings!"

    Fine words, precious sounds.

    MP3 samples: [Please Stay] [All tracks]
    Monday, March 14, 2005
    Get on board
    A World Civil Society Is Arising, says Leonardo Boff in The Witness, just out online.

    "... a world civil society is gradually arising ... with the consciousness that we are dissatisfied with the situation of the world and must change ourselves, from persons to communities. New ways of thinking open up and new ideas arise through the interweaving of all possible movements. Energies are released. Gradually, we reach convergences that could exert political pressure."

    Well, let's hope so. All I know is we've hired our coach to Edinburgh on 2 July and it's booking up already.
    Sunday, March 13, 2005
    Grief and patience
    Tonight, folding away the newspaper in grim anticipation of the next two month's dull electioneering, and feeling diminished as yet another church 'ideas' meeting yields very little energy, I'm grateful for this poem from the excellently-conceived Without Day, a very lively book of people's proposals for a new Scottish parliament, published to pre-empt its opening in 2000. This is extract from Scottish Aeon by David Greenslade:

    Qualification for standing for election for a seat in the New Scottish Parliament.

    Grief and patience.

    Having waited and endured
    the best men and women
    sail from Scottish harbours
    hacking their way into remote blood.

    Grief and patience.

    Parliament will sit only on those days,
    at those times
    when the ghost of a teenage girl
    drowned within sight
    of the rocks of Nova Scotia

    Brushes the building with her shawl;

    The rest of the time Parliament
    will be gone again, back under, dispersed
    into the working hands of farms and warehouses,
    shops and factories, streets and desks
    of the Scottish people.

    Grief and patience.

    Saturday, March 12, 2005
    No such thing as 'normal'
    No such thing as 'normal'. Used to be a favourite expression of mine. When people used to say things about the way normal people behave or talked about getting back to normal, I would delight in affirming my stongly-held belief that because we're all different, u-nique, that just really couldn't be true. There's no such thing as 'normal'.

    After a week in silence at St Beuno's where at mealtimes piped classical music was all that covered the sounds of people eating, and at all other times the household's gracious speechless agreement was broken only by the distant sounds of cleaners chatting down in the G.M. Hopkins corridor, and the birds (plentiful in the gorgeous grounds) colluding outside, I'm very keen to be back to 'normal' this week - back in the world of conversation and music.

    But I still like that expression. No such thing as 'normal'. Some would say they think they'd find the St Beuno's experience all too strange for them. I can see what they mean, but must say, when you're in it, the silence, really into the rythyms and deeps it presents, that becomes normal too. Must be amazing doing a thirty day retreat - doing it, and coming out of it afterwards, suddenly into the world of clamour and noise again.
    Friday, March 11, 2005
    For the record
    Nick's an academic. Keen observer of life, great commentator on it. Thinks a lot before he speaks; thinks even more before he commits to writing. Two weeks ago he had a quintuple heart by-pass operation. Today I came back from my silent study week to a letter from him which portrays the NHS in rather different terms than you normally read:

    I must have met 100+ people at the Royal and the Cardiothoracic Centre. Without exception, all of them, so far as I was concerned, were humane, sensitive, committed to a degree which sometimes made me feel that I'd moved into a completely different order of things: the Kingdom of Heaven? Many of these people were young, and quite a lot of them came from abroad. In theological terms, it felt as though the Holy Spirit was active in that place, and I wanted to record that feeling. ... The surgeon was fantastic, but of course he could function only by being able to rely on masses of other people who would carry out their instructions with absolute reliability. You got the impression that people wanted to be working there, and enjoyed working together - even enjoyed the patients!
    Saturday, March 05, 2005
    David Sheppard - thank you
    David Sheppard, former Bishop of Liverpool, died at 7pm this evening, a day before what would have been his 76th birthday. He had been suffering from cancer for some time. He passed away peacefully at home surrounded by his friends and family.
    The man with a passion for the urban who inspired me early to relate my faith to the gritty struggles of city life; the man whose insistence that God had a bias to the poor struck me deeply; the man who lived ecumenism and with Derek Worlock transformed this divided city; the man who confirmed me into the Anglican church and later blessed me on my way into ministry with a gentle prayer in his living room... a massive, massive influence.

    Music for retreating
    Last blog for a week. After the match tomorrow I'll be off to a quiet place to prepare April's Iona retreat. Not being very experienced at this sort of thing I looked up Henry and Roy's Approaches to Prayer site for suggestions about the sort of music to use on retreat. And I'm afraid my R'n'R upbringing makes me unable to tell me Rutter from me Elgar.

    So, valuing their advice I'll be browsing the HMV classical section soon; but meanwhile I've decided also to stock up on modern compositions from Boomkat: to treat the retreatants to some fresher sounds. Johann Johannsson, Akira Rabelais and Nils Okland may not be Byrd or Brahms but they might turn out to be just the thing.

    In my absence you won't be short of sites to surf, but if you want music while you go, click on the Boomkat jukebox. It's a treat.
    Friday, March 04, 2005
    Found at Sea

    Roughnecks, roustabouts, derrickmen, drillers, toolpushers, virtually all male, working 12-hour shifts, night and day, atop platforms balanced on steel columns thrust thousands of feet into the Niger Delta, the gulfs of Mexico and Persia, the coastal waters of California, the North, Red, and Caspian Seas, operating diamond-encrusted drills that bore deeper still past the permanent dark of the ocean floor, into bedrock, seeking ancient, untouched canyons of natural pressured gases and the black pearlescent flow of crude oil deposits to be pumped underwater back to the populated shores, while they remain out in all weathers, no drinking allowed, rarely a phone to use, housed in bunk beds, sometimes four to a room, wives, girlfriends, kids, or no one at all waiting for their return, this fraternity of dangerous and repetitive labor confined together on 10,000-ton metal rigs, the lone survivors, they seem, of some apocalyptic flood, out there in international waters on the energy industry's edge, where taxes are low and the local population, so often troublesome when human, and worse yet when organized, consists only of marine life, seals using the lower walkways to bask in the sun, or the variety of mollusks that attach themselves to the legs must now and again be forced off by divers with high-powered hoses, these thick-muscled men, the younger and less well paid of whom work every day with their hands and arms smeared in the grease of hoisting tackle and winches, no one but each other as company for weeks or even months at a time, some hostage a few years back to Nigerian protesters wanting a portion of the revenues for their villages, others from the Philippines or Mauritius paid 81 pence an hour to work in the North Sea by middlemen providing labor to the oil giants, another threatened again and again with rape by his male bosses on a platform in the Gulf of Mexico, 10 dead when the then-largest rig in the world sank off the coast of Brazil, 167 killed by a gas-leak explosion in the North Sea, while those still at it live with daily disaster drills and the monitoring of hundreds of dials and gauges measuring the heat, pressure, and flow of the deadly and eminently valuable mineral that has brought them to these harsh outposts of extraction, where in the hours between shifts they lift weights to make themselves yet bigger or watch satellite television in windowless cabins or just play cards until they can sleep or their shift comes around again and they lift supplies from boats sent out with parts and food to keep their metal cities running despite the strain, the bad practical jokes, the fear of death, the macho kidding around, the fatigue, the dirt on the body, the way the whole rig shakes when the wind gets strong, these frontier workers making grimly good on God's grant of the planet to man, of what, I would like to know, do they dream?

    - Found at Sea, by Adam Haslett, in the current issue of the often-tremendous Colors magazine, whose theme, Frontiers, may just have given me the trigger for my coming week's preparation of an April Iona retreat.
    Thursday, March 03, 2005
    Finally Digitized
    Took myself by surprise today. Went into Tescos to buy food for a Mothers Day meal; came out with a DVD player for myself. Shrewd marketing - just past the Belgian chocs and wrapped house plants, the electrical goods. I never normally go near that part of the shop.

    I've only ever played DVDs on my laptop before so here's a departure - digital film in the living room. I guess one's first deliberate DVD purchases say much about one's psyche. Here's what I bought for my new machine tonight - draw yer own conclusions:
    1. Spaced : Definitive Collector's Edition; and
    2. Alain De Botton's Status Anxiety....
    Wednesday, March 02, 2005
    Bones were made to be broken

    Good to hear that 50 Foot Wave's first full-length album is out in just a few days time; and great to hear that Kristin herself is doing a couple of solo sets in London in that lovely little week post-Easter. Treats in store.

    [Video stills above - see it here]
    Tuesday, March 01, 2005
    The gipsy of God
    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.
    And they go out as before to travel their old ways
    And to evangelize Wales.
    I have seen Dewi going from shire to shire like the gipsy of God.
    With the gospel and the altar in his caravan;
    He came to us in the colleges and schools
    To show us the purpose of learning.
    He went down into the pit with the coal miners
    And shone his lamp on the coal face.
    He put on the goggles of the steel worker, and the short grey overall.
    And showed the Christian being purified like metal in the furnace......

    The opening third of Gwenallt's 'St David' translated in A. M. Allchin, Esther De Waal: Threshold of Light - Prayers and Praises from the Celtic Tradition. It's St David's Day today. Honour this Celtic vision.

    [Pic of the month follows this theme too]