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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Saturday, April 30, 2005Pic of the month Pic of the month for May. Really it's two. One eighth-century snake in the Garden and one nineteen-eighties spaced-out domestic vision. Ernest... your comments please!!
Friday, April 29, 2005Deeper and down Liz doesn't like it, for health and safety reasons. Well, she's a professional. But I'm fascinated by the antics of Drainrat, Grim and Oggy whose preferred leisure pursuit is clambering around exploring inside drains, culverts, off-limits industrial sites, mines, recording what they find on urbanunderworld.co.uk. (They go up masts too).
There's a whole world of urban explorers like these guys, discovering stuff about the city which most of us are ignorant of. "We shall not cease from exploration" say the denizens of Darkplaces.co.uk, "an independent meeting point for all explorers to chat, meet, share information, show off pictures and videos about exploring Urban and Underground places of Interest. We explore Drains, Quarrys, Mines, Bunkers, Abandoned Buildings and anything else with history." The Urban Exploration webring links many, many more fellow-travellers.
If you're minded to think this way (and I am), you could presume that the routes and networks which lie beneath the ground tell us as much about our cities as those overground. But for the evidence these dedicated trespassers bring back with them, they're hidden from most of us most of the time. I'm due to resume my parish walks next week. Perhaps, just perhaps, this year I may try going underground....
Thursday, April 28, 2005Keep it flying - revisited John Vincent based on The Red Flag. We exchanged wickedly subversive ideas about sneaking this into our confirmation service next Thursday - election night, you notice. Which of course we won't, for fear of offending the bishop. How feebly compromised we have become. Which reminds me that during the previous election campaign a raging Trotskyite accused me of being a "whited sepulchre." If I understood what he meant I suspect I might have to agree he was right.
But despite all that I'll be whistling this near a maypole on Bank Holiday Monday:
God's Kingdom's flag is deepest red,
O'er strugglers now and martyred dead,
Christ calls disciples still today,
Take up my cross, walk in my way.
Then raise his scarlet standard high.
Beneath its folds we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep Christ's red flag flying here.
His Kingdom makes our hopes arise:
All shall be free, and good, and wise,
All will their heavenly fullness bear,
All will have riches, all will share.
Let's join his movement, grasp his hand,
See tiny foretastes in our land,
Here let his Commonwealth begin!
Let's give and share, and let all in!
John Vincent, from HYMNS OF THE CITY, £2 incl p&p from UTU
Wednesday, April 27, 2005Keep it flying
I'm taking the funeral of a committed old socialist this week, and thanks to the very helpful people at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, his son-in-law will be reading this out, one of his favourite rebel songs penned by the same man who gave the world The Red Flag (which we shall stand to sing at the crem).
Fascinating debate around the family's kitchen table this afternoon about the viability of the last line of this song in our current political climate; but we agreed that if you've heard the rest you know very well which Labour movement it's celebrating.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005Good butties and the language of training When Saturday Comes) to a Ministry Team meeting in our dusty choir vestry tonight. Sensitized to group dynamics. Full of jargon I could test against the no-nonsense members of our team.
The training is offered by a professional company with Christian managers probably as a gift to the church. Which is valued because it's pretty good, within limits. Those being that the jargon of business management doesn't sit easily with the value system and perspectives of the beatitudes. Meaning that you spend the whole time trying to filter all that's offered and thinking you're starting to appreciate how translators and sign-linguists feel. Wondering why these truly very good management minds can't dialogue in organic language instead of mechanistic. Ending up semi-fulfilled and semi-frustrated that it could be so much better. Butties were good at lunchtime, though.
Monday, April 25, 2005Eliza's Hymns Ancient and Modern
She said "I'm a teacher here. I teach the children."
And he wondered to himself then and there the things he could learn from her
A great mighty wonder"
I know those words ... they're good ol' Bill Bragg's. But this is Eliza singing King James Version, breathing through it the strongest north-country soul we devotees have become so accustomed to.
"Seems like nothing goes right
For the world that we were born in
But the horizon is bright
Yonder comes the morning"
At times on her new album she sounds very like her mum. Which is no bad thing. But the sprightly instrumentation and sassy reinvention of lost English ballads are all her own. It's called Rough Music after an old country style of community punishment, where errant familes would be literally drummed out of town by a midnight orchestra of locals bashing pots, pans, tin lids, buckets (according to The Book of Days). That doesn't reflect on the beautiful music she makes, but it does inform her devotion to singing songs which tell truths, even if they're often ugly truths.
Her sleevenotes offer an alternative reading of the phrase in which "Rough Music is also a term for music that doesn't necessarily conform to the metronome that stretches, that beats with humans."
Eliza's is a strange music for - perhaps - a new time. Hymns Ancient and Modern, offering richly celebratory alternatives to the dull discourse of daily life:
"Looks like a drift to the Right
For the world we were born in
But the horizon is bright
Yonder comes the morning"
Sunday, April 24, 2005Goodbye Roly Quite a turn-out at Rossett Park this afternoon for a match they billed "The Return of the Kings". The Marine team who won back-to-back UniBond League Championships in 1994/5 versus a Liverpool and Everton Legends select. Mark Lawrenson still in tight shorts; Gary Ablett still in fine form, Uriah Rennie with the whistle. The Marine old boys looking rather podgier than in the all-conquering years I last saw them; the old pros looking suntanned and still deliciously slick in their stroke-it-about-the-park game.
All this was to honour Roly Howard. Senior football's longest-serving manager at 33 years, who in two weeks time, two games time, retires at 70. No-one in football has more earned a testimonial than that single-minded, multiply-successful one-club man.
As I confess elsewhere on this website, and celebrate today, I was a teenage Marine supporter. It strikes me that I've followed Roly and his teams for thirty of those years. Started with the Rochdale FA Cup game in 1974; peaked early with that fantastic Cup run the following year (Barnsley 3-1, Hartlepool 1-1, drawn away at Maine Road in R3 if only they hadn't collapsed in the Teesside replay); stuck with them through all the Cheshire League title-winning years and Roly's canny rebuilding to make the tiny Crosby club a notable force at the higher level. You don't spend years being asked to manage the Northern Premier League Representative Side without good reason; you don't spend years managing the Northern Premier League Representative Side without gaining insight into rival teams' styles of play and spotting footballers of emerging quality.
For three years I even lived alongside the ground. Not on the posh Rossett Road side whose occupants live with a constant fear of broken greenhouses via the wayward clearances of hit-and-hope centre-backs. No, I was in a cramped terraced house on Jubilee Road, two-thirds down, backing directly onto the place in the ground where my granddad used to stand, and me with him, in my years of keen teen fandom. It was possible to watch the match through the back bedroom window - but the design of the house meant that only half of the pitch was visible. On those Saturdays when I tried this out I found I could quite well follow progress in the part of the pitch invisible to me by the sounds of the crowd and the various bellows, groans and exhalations of Roly, ever-voluble in the dugout opposite.
On cup runs and when the Guinness Book of Records awarded him Longest Serving Football Manager in the World, the press always described Roly as a window-cleaner. Which he is; and there's nowt wrong with that in itself, except their use of it has a whiff of incredulity about it: how could a window-cleaner be such a successful football manager?
How? Because he's Roly, a one-off, a single-minded, straight-talking, often brutally decisive man-manager, who has always had a good eye for the best players at their level and a good mind for the best deals, who must be an awesome motivator in the dressing-room and who has always won success at Marine on a shoestring, largely ignored by a suburban Crosby public apathetic towards this gem of a club in their midst.
Today's events featured a number of under-10s games played out before the main feature, organised by some of the ex-Marine first-teamers, and in the last twenty minutes of the main match they brought on six young men, a selection of today's Marine fans, to compete against the likes of Gary Gillespie and John Aldridge, and do very well. Noticeable that the ex-champs knew the young fans by name; treated them as equals; encouraged them in the game. That's the strength of football at this level: community; continuity. I hope Marine keep on moving upwards without Roly; I hope he's happy in retirement.
The score, by the way: Marine Old Boys 4, Legends 1. It was a hugely enjoyable game. The highlight: witnessing the always-large, now gigantic Marine marksman Chris Camden marshalling the game, intimidating the rookie linesman ("'Ey mate, do you work for the railways?"), scoring two and thudding down the line after helping defend a free-kick telling nearby spectators, "They used to put five of us in the wall for free kicks - only needed three today!"
Saturday, April 23, 2005Healing Places Healing Places. You can also get to it from the sidebar here or the Other writing link.
Friday, April 22, 2005I'm a thing of the road Jim White singing, "I'm a man of means by no means, 'cause I'm a king of the road," his own scratchy, celebratory version of that country classic.
Actually, by that stage I felt less like a king, more like a thing of the road, eyes aligned to the spinning tarmac, blood pumping in time with the sluice of oil around the whining engine, an auto automaton. But it was a good, easy, safe journey home. And along the way I felt also like a thing of the sea - atop two ferries crossing to Mull, then the mainland, in the company of seagulls and other travellers enjoying the gorgeous blue. And a thing of the sky, soaking in the sun's rays, revelling in the light and air of another gorgeous Scots day (been like that since Tuesday up there).
It's good being a thing of the road, the sea, the sky. Tomorrow, however, I revert to being a thing of the church. And that's another thing altogether.
Thursday, April 14, 2005Healing places in a healing place
Away just now, leading a retreat at Bishop's House, Iona. Theme: Healing Places. Inspiration: all this land stuff I've been working on; plus Healing wounded history by Russ Parker. Company: a group of folks from Ealing and environs. Back soon.
. Possibly my only general election campaign t-shirt plug. Philosophy Football have done it again. With this 1945 D-Day design. Now I don't usually go for military wear but I was born on D-Day anniversary 1962. But more especially, this is a good reminder both of the limits of pacifism, and more positively of the sixtieth anniversary of the defeat of fascism.
One of a set of four commemorative shirts to pay tribute to the extraordinary heroism of ordinary people in all four theatres of the war. The roundel on this shirt is from the Normandy landings and features the colours and markings of a RAF Hawker Typhoon 1B, JR371, TP.R of 198 Squadron, Falaise Gap, Normandy June 1944. With sleeveprint '1945-2005 Celebrating the Defeat of Fascism'
A timely reminder of why good, honest, ordinary people fought that war; and of the struggles which their descendents need to inherit to ensure their hard-won victory remains intact.
Philosophy Football also do a Never Forget / Never Again shirt to help fund local Searchlight campaigns against the BNP.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005Small Pilgrim Places start to grow Small Pilgrim Places across the country is growing.
I like the idea of places which welcome small pilgrims. These also welcome larger folk too. I've blogged about them before; but basically they're small little-used churches and chapels, or chapels and crypts within larger churches and cathedrals which are being re-enlivened as places where people can enjoy simple hospitality, quiet prayer, thoughtful conversation. They're for searchers and seekers, those on or off the edge of the churches, those bruised by condemnations from the churches, those asking questions about the kind of God they might be able to believe in. Quite a large potential user-group then.
The 'pilot' Small Pilgrim Place was a tiny chapel in Llandecwyn, in the Gwynedd coastal hills. I blogged about it before. Now there are others in Old Linslade, Barford St John, Kirtling, Worpleston and Eynsham (I'm not linking them - so you can enjoy the search). Plus one in Australia and a couple of more urban ones. Well, Greyfriars, Canterbury is not your conventional urban - the oldest Franciscan building in the UK, first settled in 1244. But St Pancras Church in the middle of Exeter's Guildhall shopping centre sounds about as city-central as you can get. It'll be fascinating to see how these develop, especially those in the busy city.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005Top of the world (well, East Yorkshire)
The privileges of us clergy. On a visit to our soon-to-be-colleague, presently curate of Beverley Minster, this afternoon the verger gave us a personal guided tour to the very top of this ancient church. 200-plus steps up to the top of the tower. The one with the flagpole, not the one with the phone mast.
In sunshine and clear light the view from the top of the tower was long, wide, wonderful. Falling away beneath us, the red-tiled rooftops of this relatively unspoiled old town, and beyond, a shimmering haze over bustling Hull, the Humber Estuary, that majestic bridge. For a few moments it felt like the top of the world. Well, East Yorkshire anyway.
Monday, April 11, 2005Virtuous delivery Interesting idea. A magazine which "seeks to illuminate the nature and power of the everyday virtues - and how these virtues shape our vision of the good life."
It's called In Character and this is how the editors describe their mission:
Each issue will examine a single virtue from different perspectives, bringing together scholars and journalists versed in public policy, the humanities, religion, and the sciences. In Character aims to foster a deeper appreciation of these virtues within our communities, our families and ourselves.
The two issues so far have focussed on thrift and purpose. Upside is a lot of interesting-looking copy from a good range of writers. Downside is it's American; so subscribing to the paper copy looks awkward, and culturally it's not quite where we're at over here. Nevertheless, in the next few minutes I'll be downloading some stuff from it tonight, and then making a virtue of ending a frantic day snug on the settee reading it.
Sunday, April 10, 2005Frankly, Vaughan...
Frankly, Vaughan... witnessing the nudge of your boot on Kevin Kilbane's generous pass this afternoon was a pleasurable experience which will live with me for a long, long time.
Saturday, April 09, 2005Pale on bombastic day a sermon about two nobodies on the road from devastation towards nowhere.
Bombast is the order of the day. Fittingly, the music critic I'm reading wants me to embrace the epic sounds of The Arcade Fire. I promise, I've tried, but I cannot do as commanded, and "bow down to the Roman-ampitheatre proportions of their sound." It does nothing for me.
Instead I'm taking refuge in the inscapes of Kristin Hersh, who I've been listening to attentively since her wonderfully intimate gig at The Barfly last week.
You know, I'm a little tired of the bombast. In the face of all the glow and gush about the late Karol Wojtyla (some merited) I want to believe there are unknown African priests who secretly give out condoms to AIDS-vulnerable parishioners. As 70,000 punters snake out of this part of our great city, many richer after a flutter on Hedgehunter, I want to believe there are small acts of generosity going on in the shadows of our avaricious nation. As a royal couple marry in opulence I'm thinking of the couples we'll be meeting tomorrow to prepare for far humbler occasions these coming weeks.
Kristin's delicate disclosures are an antidote to the inflated clamour of the world:
'Cause when the music starts it goes straight to your head
And I break out in pale
I break out in pale
Friday, April 08, 2005Prospecting Prospect reveals that I'm not in their regular market: rooms to let in Tuscany, Westminster flatshares and the opportunity for self-improvement under the guidance of Maria Drimoura BA, MA, Life Strategist - none of these are really 'me', y'know. But I bought it for the first time today. Along with the Fortean Times which is far more me (ads for t-shirts saying I'm not paranoid - they really are after me and I smile because I have no idea what's going on).
Some stuff in Prospect caught my eye. Particularly a detailed piece on the bureaucratic disaster which is Croydon's Lunar House, Immigration HQ, whose shoddy service to some of our country's most vulnerable people continues today. I did some of the programming on the dinosaur computer system in the early 1990s, thus contributing to the chaos there, though all in good faith. And an article on that singular architectural critic Nikolaus Pevsner whose 1950s guides to the capital broke the mould by venturing out of the tourist centre into the suburbs where, he insisted, some of the finest buildings were. The article is about the recently revised and expanded version of his brilliantly-titled guide, London Except the City of London and Westminster, known to Pevsner fans as London Except, and fondly asks, 'Who else would tell you all this?' after quoting some fine examples of Pevsner's particular eye for local distinctiveness:
On the south side of Ilford High Road, you read, Barclays Bank (1913) presents a "highly distinguished temple front... calm and dignified." But "harder to love" are the 13-storey council offices (1960s): "reinforced concrete with floor bands faced in rough, dark aggregate." More cheerfully, in and around Glebelands Avenue, Woodford, you find "exemplars of different phases of suburban development," including "a particularly sumptuous array of half-timbered and turreted" 1890s villas. Meanwhile, back in Tower Hamlets, the old churchyard of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel, has been renamed Altab Ali Park, in memory of a young local Bangladeshi who was murdered there. A Victorian drinking fountain is set into the wall, with the inscription, "Erected by one who is known yet unknown."
Prospect itself seems a mag for the chattering classes and I shan't be subscribing, but hey, I'll be thumbing it in Smiths in future for gems like these.
Thursday, April 07, 2005John Bell, John Paul and Danny Boy
John Bell, who is always, always good company.
I'm so familiar with his material that I know what's coming next - the stories which illustrate how deep into our psyche music reaches, and how early we adopt theologies and instincts from the very songs we sing; the horrors therefore of songs we know so well which have brutalised us: Rule Britannia, and those old missionary hymns which put 'the rude barbarian', 'the heathen', in their place and make a virtue of attitudes familiar to today's Daily Mail reader:
If you cannot cross the ocean
And the heathen lands explore,
You can find the heathen nearer,
You can find them at your door
But familiarity just strengthens and deepens the great and liberating truths he speaks so plainly. And there is always something new. Like the story of the wee old man who a policeman found weeping in Glasgow city centre. The old man tells the policeman that he's 87 years old; that he's there on his honeymoon, that he's married a beautiful 25-year old girl who is waiting for him back in their hotel room. "That all sounds wonderful," says the policeman, "So why are you crying?" "Because I can't remember where we're staying," says the old man.
Knowing how John's take on liturgy means that it's always going to have both eyes open to what is going on in the world, it's always going to celebrate our common humanity and use music to melt barriers away, it wasn't surprising to find that he had decided that tonight his congregation would prepare ourselves for tomorrow's funeral of the Pope by sharing songs and prayers together for the closing minutes. And I was moved - again - by his take on Pat Bennett's poem, In this Darkness, which he had us singing, by his prayers which embraced the world in our common admiration for the life of that most singular man, and by the closing song, Go, silent friend:
Go, silent friend,
your life has found its ending:
To dust returns your weary mortal frame.
God, who before birth called you into being,
Now calls you hence, his accent still the same.
Go, silent friend,
your life in Christ is buried;
For you He lived and died and rose again.
Close by His side your promised place is waiting
Where, fully known, you shall with God remain.
Go, silent friend,
forgive us if we grieved you;
Safe now in heaven, kindly say our name.
Your life has touched us, that is why we mourn you;
Our lives without you cannot be the same.
Go, silent friend,
we do not grudge your glory;
Sing, sing with joy deep praises to your Lord.
You, who believed that Christ would come back for you,
Now celebrate that Jesus keeps his word.
It's because it's set to The Londonderry Air that it means so much. The Roman Rite tomorrow will no doubt be moving in all its majesty. But there's something even more moving in being able to sing the Pope a solemn farewell to the deeply familiar tune of Danny Boy....
Wednesday, April 06, 2005Rich red squirrel
Spent a family afternoon in the woods where the rare red squirrels were out in numbers; enjoying afternoon sunshine and human visitors - not too many to scare them to the treetops, but just enough carrying National Trust paper bags full of nuts to keep them well fed.
You go past Wayne Rooney's house on the way to Formby pinewoods; it was here that his fiance jettisoned her engagement ring in a big bust-up. Despite armies of blokes wielding metal detectors sweeping the pine-needle forest floor for most of the following few days, I don't think the ring was ever retrieved. I reckon one of the squirrels took it, stored it away for a rainy day. If so, that'd make it rich. But no richer than it seems the squirrels are already, beautiful, red-golden, luxuriating in a wealth of trees and the awed attention of hundreds of people every day.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005Suburbs - the new wave? The Battle for Suburbia. Refreshingly, this isn't another pre-election profile. It's about whether the leafy fringes where much of the population lives, can offer the rest of us some cultural renaissance:
We live in a creative age - during a long wave of change affecting every sector of the economy and society. Today competitiveness, quality of life and wealth have become increasingly determined by our capacity to innovate and be creative. ... However, there is a growing sense that the creative age has got stuck. Creativity has become synonymous with art galleries, creative industry clusters and inner- city districts. While creative stocks can be high in these places, it sometimes seems that they claim an exclusive hold. The next challenge for the creative age will be to connect what has fast become the metropolitan creative establishment with the rest of society, genuinely opening it up so that a greater number of people can participate in the creative age, and help lead it.
They reckon that the suburbs may be ripe for pushing the creativity agenda, that places like Surbiton may contain the seeds which could shape the next phase of 'the creative age'.
They cite The Good Life as an example - back in the 70s Tom jacked in the 9-5 bank job and embarked with his wife Barbara on the road to eco self-sufficiency. Their behaviour was regarded as the hippy-fringe back then... but not now. They write about Orange County - on the surface a
conventional suburban all-American Dream: beautiful people, beautiful weather, strip malls, big cars and even bigger houses - "all gift-wrapped in the aesthetics of a Tommy Hilfiger ad":
But dig a little deeper and some more interesting things are going on. For starters the Bateshop club is a talent development hub for some of the hottest music acts coming through - the likes of The Killers, Rooster and Snow Patrol have all played there. The standard suburban family unit of mum, dad plus 2.4 kids is questioned by troubled teen Ryan moving in with his lawyer ’s family. And some novel approaches to multiculturalism are being tried out: Seth,with a WASPish mum and Jewish dad, has invented his own interfaith festival called Chrismukah.
And Demos have noticed that many retired British folk don’t want to be quietly pensioned off but want to carry on working after 65, just not in a 9-5 way: "The question is whether suburbia can adapt and develop an attractive lifestyle package for these demanding citizen-consumers."
So they're working on a research project in the Borough of Kingston-on-Thames, exploring all this potential hidden behind herbaceous borders. Radical?? Perhaps.
[Download paper here]
Monday, April 04, 2005A Smell of Money Underground at Greenbelt
Brilliant when you think that an idea out of your tiny head can translate to an event which 18,000 people might experience and enjoy. Greenbelt's latest leaflet dropped through the letterbox today and I see that the talks programme is to be headed up by the guy I drafted an invitation to - Bill Drummond, on How to be an artist. He will be brilliant. And Eyal Weizman and Anna Minton who I gushed about after a conference called Occupation: Unknown, are there at my suggestion too. They will be deeply provocative. So I'm happy ... to have been heard ... All these, and Aberfeldy too.
Sunday, April 03, 2005Pic of the month
He wasn't surprised to see me in clerical garb, "You were always into church stuff," he said, uncritically. And I wasn't surprised to hear that he was still in welding - because he was always very good at it. A lovely meeting-up, that. It's inspired April's Pic of the month.
Saturday, April 02, 2005Some salvation in Sin City I know a former vicar of Brighton's Kemptown who calls it Sin City. Which means it's a bit on the edge. Which is saying something in a town which is pretty much altogether on the edge anyway. So it's perhaps not that surprising to read in this week's special New Stateswoman that Kemptown's Lib Dem candidate, Marina Pepper, is a former page-three girl and a practising white witch.
She comes from a 'hippie' childhood, and followed her mother into witchcraft. "It was the 1970s, wholefood, self sufficiency, pagan revival thing," she said in a very good BBC interview, trying to explain her mother's attraction to Wicca. She says it brought her up to respect the seasons and where food comes from.
Now Marina knows that being a white witch may not be a vote-winner in all quarters. "I think it bothers some Christians because for centuries they have organised witch hunts."
But I wonder if they may have it wrong-way about. "It was witchcraft that took me into conventional politics more than anything else," she says, "We hold the earth most dear, so dumping rubbish, or climate change, is offensive to me."
It is important that we all live within the means of the earth, "which is why we have a vegetable box system, run community recycling with the local pre-school, encourage people to walk and use the bus - little things", she says.
In her younger days, as well as training in journalism and raising money by modelling she got involved in fighting chemical factories, ran a campsite with a cafe, worked on a goat farm, looked after a child and ran a community theatre.
Last Christmas, while not celebrating the festival herself - though she bought presents for her children - she generously opened her house to locals who would otherwise be spending Christmas alone.
"As someone said to me recently, if you lost the broom you'd be a Christian."
Interesting comment, that, because I doubt she's got a broom...