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

    Tuesday, May 31, 2005
    From Norris Green to Morebath
    I know I'm meant to have read The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy's magisterial survey of traditional religion in pre-Reformation England, we all are. I did buy it (or some kind person bought it for me) but it's still there, waiting. Too many pages, you see. Bit daunting.

    But at the weekend I discovered a Duffy book with fewer pages and one which might just get me into his theme by way of a clever bit of writing. In The Voices of Morebath Duffy moves from the global to the local. He's unearthed 54 years worth of parish accounts written by a priest of a tiny West Country village; 54 years of massive disruption and change, and he's turned it into a blow-by-blow account of the Reformation as it affected this one place and its people.

    Looks fascinating - and not only that, it's given me a route to take next week. Remember last year en-route to St Ives I stopped off at the Cornish hamlet of Norris Green? Well, this year it'll be north off the main road at Bampton, to check out Morebath and the place where Sir Christopher Trychay recorded the events of each day for all those years, all those years ago.
    Monday, May 30, 2005
    Save the Welsh Streets
    Reading Chris Couch's City of Change and Challenge: Urban Planning and Regeneration in Liverpool has informed me about all sorts of small details about how and why the city has changed over the past forty years. But the conclusion Couch draws, was no surprise - as the market has grown to become the prime factor in regeneration, he says, there has been less and less comprehensive planning and more and more ad hoc interventions.

    Ringo's little spat with John Prescott over the planned demolition of large chunks of Toxteth's Welsh streets is the latest example of this. In an article headed, "Will this be the sixties revisited?" the current online issue of Nerve suggests that

    Liverpool's present is very much built on its past, so it's criminal that a lot of our heritage is being destroyed in the name of 'regeneration'. When the bulldozers level buildings to the ground a reference point for our memories is lost. Remember the mistakes of the past: the Cavern, Scotty Road, the list goes on.

    Many - locals and housing professionals - recognise the value these old streets still have. Ringo Starr's birthplace was in one of the rows of workers' cottages built and lived in by the Welsh workers who built much of the city - from Lime Street Station to landmark buildings on the Pier Head and the Welsh Presbyterian Church on Princes Avenue. As Nerve put it, 'They built them well and they built them on good land. With few exceptions they could be renovated for less than the cost of demolishing them.'

    And this is supported by a substantial article in The Telegraph property pages which gives good local examples of how things could be done differently and better; and puts the viability of this scheme in cold economic terms:

    In fact, wasting public money is assured, because instead of doing up properties for a maximum of £30,000, the Pathfinder is buying houses for £30,000-£40,000, demolishing them for £17,000, building another one for at least £80,000, using a large but as yet unquantifiable grant from Mr Prescott. Cost to taxpayer: up to £107,000 more per home than just doing them up. Sooner or later some auditor will work out that this amounts to a titanic waste of taxpayers' money.

    [Email the Welsh Streets Home Group]
    Sunday, May 29, 2005
    Road music
    Gearing up for holiday it's good to see so many excellent new releases coming out over the next week, which will accompany me on my travels. I am especially looking forward to hearing:

    Holly Golightly: My First Holly Golightly Album
    Mark Stewart: Kiss the Future
    Sons and Daughters: The Repulsion Box
    White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan

    All this, and to complement the megalithic ambience between Cornish stones, Robert Plant - Nick Harper - Julian Cope - and Julian's current Album of the Month, the awesome At Last by The Necks ... I can feel the road rising to meet me already ...
    Saturday, May 28, 2005
    Big Here and Long Now
    Haven't given The Long Now much thought lately - perhaps that's ok, in the stretched-out scheme of things. But, on Eno's site today, pre-ordering his upcoming cd, Another Day On Earth, I stumbled across the transcript of a talk he gave a couple of years ago in the Long Now Foundation's series of seminars about Long Term Thinking. Here's a taster...

    It was a very exciting time in New York. They were living an exciting life but their commitment to the city was absolutely zero. They planned to move on as soon as they could, or they planned to get a loft like my friend's loft. At least there was no attachment to the idea of the city as a continuing entity. So I thought they lived in a very short Now, their sense of Now was from about the beginning of last week to the end of next week. And if you said what are you working on now they would tell you what they had been working on that morning, not what they'd been working on for the last couple of years or so - it was exciting but it was very narrow and that kind of narrowness in time-thinking slightly worried me, because it doesn't translate into terribly productive social behaviour. It doesn't encourage you to set in place projects and agreements and arrangements between people that will flower over very long periods. So my response to living in New York was to try to make musics that celebrated both the Long Now and the Big Here I think. I always made music as an antidote to the place I was living in; for example the noisiest music I made was when I was living in an idyllic house in the East of England surrounded only by geese and I was making bloodthirsty enraged afro jazz punk for a brief period.

    When I was in New York quite a lot of the music I made was very very quiet. The music I made which was a celebration of the Long Now idea included the records On Land, and Plateaux of Mirrors with Harold Budd. But then there was another thread of the music which I think was in some sense a celebration of the Big Here. Now in musical terms the Big Here asks how much of the world can I include in my music. I guess it's now called World Music but at that time it didn't have a name and I think that the things that came out of that thread would have included My Life in the Bush of Ghosts which was a very African influenced record, but it was also whatever I happened to hear on the radio at the time. I would just tape it and build it into the music. One of the other manifestations of that is the work that Talking Heads and myself did together I think. That was very much a celebration of being alive in a big world and being able to handle the variety - not putting fences round it. So these two thoughts - Big Here and Long Now were in my mind, and they remained in my mind and like many of the other ideas in my mind I didn't do much with them - they just sat there for a long time.
    Friday, May 27, 2005
    I'm so proud
    Send a chain letter to anyone in this buzzing city today, asking them to complete the phrase: I'm so proud..., and, Blue or Red, many are likely to respond "... of my team ..." However, deeper reflection might provoke all sorts of other, fascinating things.

    The folks at Plastic Rhino continue in their innovative approach to magazine content in their latest, chain letter, issue. Where they did just that: they sent out a chain letter, asking random recipients to complete the phrase: I'm so proud...

    The responses vary as much as human beings vary: someone is proud of their new shoes; another is proud of their self-inflicted misfortunes - because of the joy they have brought to others; someone else is proud of starting up the UK's leading hemp clothing company; and another declares, "I'm so proud of Norfolk." Wonderful idea, great responses.

    How would I respond? I've thought about it. Could have been all sorts of things expressing pride in other people around me who've achieved so much in their lives and influenced me; but today I've been reading Chris Couch's academic survey, City of Change and Challenge: Urban Planning and Regeneration in Liverpool (thanks Pete) so I think this is my contribution:

    I'm so proud of having come back to Liverpool to stay. I was born at the start of a period of massive change here. As Chris Couch says, 'Over the last 40 years Liverpool has undergone more economic restructuring and urban change than virtually any other city in Britain or Europe. It has lost 40 per cent of its population and more than half its manufacturing employment.' A lot of that happened in the 1980s, perhaps my most decisive decade, when my nascent career in manufacturing went to the wall (thanks, Thatcher) and I went off to university to try to rebuild. I'm sure I could then have carved out a south-England media career, would have enjoyed it I'm sure, could by now be editor of Third Way or something, but what good would that have done anyone? During this period I was struck by the words of Liverpool's then RC Archbishop Derek Warlock, who watched the most promising people drain down the M6 in removal vans, and said it was "like a haemorrhage from the very centre of our community." I may not have always enjoyed deciding to travel against that tide, but I'm proud that I did.
    Thursday, May 26, 2005
    Fuss on Utting Avenue

    Small boy scratches his bum as successful penalty-shootout side pass by. To try proving that I do not have a heart entirely of ice when it comes to our city's other team, here's a small collection of pics taken at the end of our road this evening. Click for larger image

    A long wait on the road to Anfield (pictured on horizon)

    Dudek covering his near post

    Is that the real cup or one of those flyaway inflatables?

    Blue colours still flying proud ... anticipating next year...
    Wednesday, May 25, 2005
    Wobbly keeper wins the cup for Liverpool. Well, fair enough, it was quite funny, that match, especially Dudek's Grobbellar impressions. And it happily means that they can't say they won it with dignity or style; they won it through comedy. But one match statistic concerns me: Clive Tildesley quoting academics who assert that the incidence of heart attacks increases massively among supporters after major penalty shoot-outs. Which means I'm now likely to be facing a fortnight of funerals, all of them wanting me to let them play in church a cd of that bloody song... just glad I'm soon on holiday ...
    Tuesday, May 24, 2005
    The truth is elsewhere

    The truth about climate change and sustainable energy is increasingly hard to find. This month's Mother Jones and this week's New Statesman try explaining why.

    In As the World Burns Bill McKibben describes the Climate of Denial: "One morning in Kyoto, we won a round in the battle against global warming. Then special interests and pseudoscience snatched the truth away"; in Some Like It Hot Chris Mooney describes how "ExxonMobil is spending millions to sustain an echo chamber of global warming denial"; and in Snowed Ross Gelbspan shows why "the "balanced" media would rather promote paid flaks and fantasy than report the biggest story on earth."

    Over here in The Nuclear Charm Offensive Jonathan Leake and Dan Box write, "We are all being taken in by a carefully planned public relations strategy. Its mission: to push nuclear power back on the political agenda, rebranded as the new "green" alternative."

    All this reminds us that it's not only our physical environment which is under threat from powerful energy lobbies: it's our mental environment too.
    Monday, May 23, 2005
    A day for remembering
    Some days stay with you; they're significant.

    I remember the day a giant of a man shook my hand in a dusty Baptist church hall after an ecumenical event, way back in an era where ecumenism was cutting-edge and Liverpool a laboratory of justice and change. The man was a bishop yet he was wearing an MCC tie, and he engaged our small group of spotty youths with conversation about sports.

    I remember the day I took from a shelf of Crosby Library a well-worn copy of Built as a City, the text of a man born in privileged circumstances starting to describe the processes which led him to align himself with society's outsiders, of a leading sportsman beginning to make his mark as a massively influential urban church leader. A theology which was new to me - which saw God in the concrete as a collaborator with the poor.

    I remember the day I sat on the damp grass at a 1980s Greenbelt, engrossed in a seminar debating a Christian response to unemployment - which was so pertinent to me and my gathered friends, out-of-work in Liverpool at that time - and glancing around, seeing our bishop and his wife, wrapped up in wooly jumpers, sitting against marquee poles, equally engaged with the subject in hand.

    I remember the day I knelt at David Sheppard's feet, me a thirty-something churchgoer some way towards responding to an ache to follow him into urban ministry, an outsider to the Church of England until that moment, when he held his hands over me and said, "Confirm, O Lord, your servant John with your Holy Spirit."

    More than anything I remember the hot summer afternoon in 1997 when Bishop David summoned me to his home to take some time to listen to me talk about my journey towards ordained ministry, and to say a prayer for me as I prepared to begin. It was not small talk; in fact we spent a good while discussing in some detail P.J. Waller's classic text, Democracy and Sectarianism: a Political and Social History of Liverpool, 1868-1939, which I'd been reading and he obviously knew well. An hour in leafy Woolton which sent me on my way towards the city well and truly affirmed in my sense of calling.

    I remember some time after that being asked to read a lesson at his retirement service at Liverpool Cathedral. His wife Grace read the first lesson and the RC Archbishop of Liverpool the third; three thousand people heard us. I was a humble ordinand, unsure to this day why I was chosen to read. It was an example of David's eye for the small ones and heart for encouragement.

    I shall remember today also, the day of the Service of Thanksgiving for Bishop David's life and work. I travelled in with Pip and Joan, who like David gave years of life and service to the people of Canning Town through the Mayflower Centre, and who in turn influenced folks like me to see the value in such devotion. Again, the cathedral was full.

    A good selection of David's co-workers from over the years gave warm, amusing and insightful tributes to this extraordinary man; rousing and sensitive songs were sung; David's ordination bible and his cricket bat were brought to the altar by a member of the L'Arche community and a young local cricketer; David's daughter Jenny thanked us for forming her father into the great man he was; the Archbishop of Canterbury blessed the gathering and balloons fell on the processing clergy at the end.

    Two sets of words stood out for me - a colleague echoing the question of a taxi driver: "Why midday on a working day when the ordinary people of the city can't make it?", a sentiment I feel David Sheppard would embrace; and Sir Mark Hedley's story of David and Grace standing with a group of Everton residents attempting to serve injunctions to stop demolition of houses they dearly wanted to keep - a story which had everything: class humour, devotion to justice, solidarity with the poor.

    Today's extraordinary occasion was to me a reminder of what this strange journey I'm on is meant to be about. I doubt I'd be on it at all were it not for David Sheppard.
    Sunday, May 22, 2005
    Tales of two cities
    Just after Heysel, twenty years ago, Ian Jack of the Sunday Times was sent to compare the two cities represented in that tragic European Cup final: Liverpool and Turin. Whilst his Turin was bright and civilised, Jack portrayed Liverpool as a terrible sign of post-industrial Britain's blight, in a style later utilised by Stanley Reynolds in that Guardian article entitled "The Museum of the Horrifying Example" which still rankles with me when I remember it today.

    In his article Jack suggested to Derek Hatton that perhaps the people of Liverpool cared about football too much, in the absence of anything else, and Hatton responded with typical sharpness: 'That's like asking if mice care too much about cheese...'

    Today, triggered by the upcoming Champions League final, The Observer published A Tale of Two Cities by Tim Adams, comparing Liverpool and Milan. The motive for writing was to comment on the changing fortunes of our city and to ponder whether we are now culturally and economically any closer to 'Europe' than we were twenty years ago. The answer is a qualified yes, qualified by concerns that it takes more than a few cappuciuno bars to turn a city's fortunes around, qualified by the cliched out-of-town journalistic prurience at the way our young people like to party, qualified by the observation that while Milan oozes confidence, our city leaders are still trying to convince us all that we ought to be confident too.

    Nevertheless it is quite incredible to see how far we've come; today Hatton says if you had told him in 1985 there would be cafes selling good Italian coffee in Duke Street he'd not have believed you. He's right; no-one would.

    It's quite a good article; Alan Bleasdale, still speaking for the people, gets my vote for best quote:

    Alan Bleasdale does not want to sound pessimistic about the future of his home town. 'Being awarded the city of culture has helped,' he says. 'But the acid test of all that will be if in 2009 you go round Bootle and Toxteth and see a marked improvement in the way of life there. If you do, then all the money and all the hype will have been worth it, but it can't just be about museums and art galleries and Yoko Ono opening exhibitions, and buy one tequila get one free.'
    Saturday, May 21, 2005
    Suburbia fights back

    I'm looking forward to the opening of the Urbis exhibition Punk: Sex, Seditionaries and the Sex Pistols, an exploration of "one of the most infamous movements in urban culture - the punk rock scene of the 1970s." It comes at a time when there's a lot of interest in the culture of 'Middle England' and/or 'The Suburbs'.

    Last month, in an item titled Suburbia fights back, the BBC reported on moves by various academics and thinkers including Kingston University's Centre for Suburban Studies, to establish that "the old stereotypical associations are no longer relevant to these vibrant sites of social mobility and ethnic diversity, which offer a model of post-national identity."

    Of course, some time ago with Sounds of the Suburbs, John Peel did so much to counteract the lazy cliche that everything in the suburbs is dull in comparison to the allegedly vibrant inner cities, and the Urbis exhibition may reinforce that. A lot of London punks came in from Surbiton-type places; I'm sure Manchester could say the same. Reflecting, it's clear that many of Liverpool's most celebrated cultural agitators were nurtured in the leafy fringes - Lennon the classic example, and, local to here, our own Ian McCulloch, who has claimed on stage that "Adam & Eve hail from Norris Green".

    There's complexity in the relationships between inner- and outer- cities which is a shame to neglect. In last month's Prospect Paul Barker went on a Search for the Middle, but after an interesting survey of British lifestyles concluded that Middle England is an invention: "Middle England, as a phrase, gets tangled up with middlebrow, middle market and middle class. But as a place, it is something you confect for yourself. No one lives here. " The reality is far more interesting. - Suburban commuter culture has to be about moving between fringe and centre, and the interplay between; the fascination of 'the middle' is in the details:

    But it is at the Welcome Break service station where the M40 joins the A40 that I sense I have found middle England. This must be the chain's flagship, with its high, arched silvery roof. Beneath it, all the options are on offer, as salesmen in cufflinked shirts sit and eat their sandwiches or children wave their spoons from the cafe's high wooden chairs. Kiss your partner in the photo booth and win a romantic trip to Rome: "Most romantic wins." Create your own portrait in the next booth, charcoal or pencil or pen-and-ink style. The Red Hen eatery offers "freshly cooked food - where breakfast meets lunch." On the book display: Dick Francis, Joanna Trollope, Maeve Binchy, JK Rowling. For the worried middleman, there is The One-Minute Manager. If he is staying the night alone, there is Teasing Charlotte and Jennifer Rising, the soft-porn covers only partly screened by a translucent plastic strip.
    Friday, May 20, 2005
    Love the cup
    There I was in Probe, preparing to purchase a cd of Sunburned Hand of the Man but strangely feeling I was still missing something. It all came together when I saw sitting on the counter, full of fresh-brewed tea, a monochrome mug bearing the slogan, LOVE THE CUP.

    "That reminds me," I said to the guy serving me, whose mug it was, "I need to get a Sons and Daughters cd too." So glad I did; for the indie-folk groove of Start to End, which first drew me to the band, is complemented on this cd by seven other tracks of similar style and beauty. They're Scots; but (not unlike recently-revered Robert Plant, who appeared on Jools tonight) their blues is en-route to Californian dirt roads, all big drums, strong vocals and mesmerising rhythms. The cup they proffer: I gladly drink from it.
    Thursday, May 19, 2005
    Downtown Liverpool
    "The magic of Liverpool is that it isn't England. We are global and we have learned to tolerate and respect each other's traditions. As such, we are a national asset"

    - Margaret Simey, quoted on the website of Downtown Liverpool, 'Liverpool's Independent Urban Think Tank'. Found whilst trawling around following leads in preparation for the Iona Community day I'm planning in October on the theme of urban renewal through cultural regeneration, possibly titled Cultural Capital - inclusive or exclusive?. There's an astonishing amount of stuff going on, online and on the ground, from the new offices of RENEW, 'the Northwest's Regeneration Centre of Excellence' to city tours during June's Architecture Week.

    In October we'll be starting our day with one or two guided walks - providing plenty of raw material in a rapidly-changing city. Some things remain wonderfully the same, however, as documented by the brilliant Roger McGough:

    Lippy loose-limbed liberatingly lyrical
    Irreverent inspired je ne sais quoi
    Vibrant Visionary with a capital V
    Edgy eccentric essentially europhile
    Racy restless raw rock 'n' roller
    Pacy passionate positively pop
    Obsessive optimistic on the go
    Off the wall outlandish ee aye addio
    Legendary life-giving life-loving Liverpool
    Wednesday, May 18, 2005
    Enjoyed a game of hide-and-seek with a grey squirrel avoiding me at eye-level on a tree at Loyola Hall this afternoon. Marvelled at two rats playing together on the hard shoulder of the M62 on the way home. And hosted a meeting this evening amused by the various reactions to the re-appearance in our Community Rooms of our church mouse. Vermin - they're quite good fun really.
    Tuesday, May 17, 2005
    We're fans, trust us
    United fans reckon that the takeover of their club heralds "the end of the game as we know it," but that's not true at all. Clubs at all levels have always been at the mercy of the men (usually men) who put their money in, take their money out, motivated by financial self-interest, ego and often also a love of the game or the team. The game will go on whatever happens to United's fortunes.

    Nevertheless, a government minister told Will Hutton at the weekend, 'I don't much like [this takeover]. Football clubs have a special relationship with fans and with communities; they are part of the structure that makes us what we are. They shouldn't be bought and sold like commodities.'

    And he is right. If this is what's beneath United fans' emotional outbursts then it's quite fascinating, because despite their protests to the contrary, their club has long embraced capital and global branding and they are far from being 'local'. Nevertheless a special, and defining, relationship does exist.

    But the United fans' grief over this capitalist transaction seems hollow. They've revelled in the success money brought to the club, but they might have done a lot more to protect it. Hutton:

    'If Shareholders United, and indeed the former United board, had been serious about wanting to sustain United's independence then it should have marshalled a 25.1 per cent blocking minority long ago; the Irish 28.7 per cent stake and Glazer holding another 28.1 per cent was writing on the wall. That nobody attempted a pre-emptive defence speaks volumes about seriousness of intent. United fans talk loud but did too little - they deserve Mr Glazer.'

    If it's really true that football clubs have a special relationship with fans and with communities then the fans and communities can grasp the power they hold and make their clubs' futures their own. Some in Britain have - smaller league but good models; most in Europe do as a matter of course - the classic case being Barcelona. Me, I think I shall respond to this tiny moment in history by enquiring about membership of the nascent Everton Supporters Trust.
    Monday, May 16, 2005
    'Points for Results' scandal
    Observers please take note. Those four shaded places at the top of the league table indicate the teams who got the most points and therefore are eligible for the Champions League.

    Those points were awarded for winning and drawing games in the Premiership. Whether that's fair or not, for the time being at least that's how the powers that be have chosen to allocate them. In future the FA may change those rules and award bonuses to teams who offer good homes to the likes of Nicky Butt and Mark Viduka. There's even talk about giving a head start to the side with the most excuses, e.g. 'If it wasn't for our injuries we would have won everything, no one else had any you know. All the other teams spent eighteen trillion pounds on players and we only spent 74 pence on the man who is redefining world class. Sometimes.' Or even, 'Our success in Europe meant that we got battered at Crystal Palace.'

    Until UEFA take a good look at these inequities though, we all have to grit our teeth and just accept the current situation and the fact that Everton Football Club have shamelessly taken advantage of this 'points for results' loophole and finished above all but three teams in the top division in a move that was quite clearly against the spirit of the competition.

    - FROM When Skies are Grey today. (Thanks Mark)
    Sunday, May 15, 2005
    On ecological debts
    Now I'm no economist (ie, I can't explain why my credit card bill is so high after just one trip to Borders this month) and I'm not especially interested in the normal outputs of writers on economic issues, but I do support the New Economics Foundation because they seem to offer creative solutions to practical - financial, social, environmental - problems. Their out-of-the-box approach makes sense to me, usually otherwise out-of-my-depth in this area. These are the folks who championed time banks (where people trade abilities and interests not cash) and developed the first UK Measure of Domestic Progress (an alternative to GDP which accounts for social and environmental well-being as well as money).


    With climate change and Africa set to head the agenda for this summer's G8 summit in Britain, a new book, Ecological Debt - the Health of the Planet and the Wealth of Nations, by Andrew Simms, nef's policy director and one of the original Jubilee 2000 debt relief campaigners, published by Pluto Books, says that the ecological debts of rich countries are a bigger threat to global poverty eradication than the foreign debts of poor countries.

    Like so many NEF ideas Ecological Debt is a simple but potent idea, easily explained:

    "Imagine opening a letter from the bank over breakfast to be told that, instead of your usual overdraft, you had an ecological debt that threatened the planet," says Andrew Simms, "Chances are that if you live in a rich country like Britain or the United States you’re due such a letter, even if the bank to issue it doesn’t yet exist."

    While countries of the South have struggled to deal with their (highly questionable) financial debt problems, Simms challenges rich Northern countries to adjust, or compromise their lifestyles, in the light of very real ecological debts. And like most NEF writing, Simms doesn't stop there, but offers firm proposals as to how this may be achieved. The book proposes that a group of 'ecological creditor' countries from the developing world draw up 'adjustment' plans for rich countries to follow, 'turning upside down decades of global economic policy designed in Washington, London and the other capitals of the G8.'

    And the book lists some specific recommendations for dealing with ecological debt, including: Legal recognition and protection under international law for environmental refugees displaced by climate change and ecological degradation; Rich countries to pay the cost of the rest of the world having to adapt to global warming; Trade sanctions to be used against non-Kyoto states such as the United States and Australia; Cancellation of the unpayable conventional debts of poor countries in the face of rich countries' ecological debts; Gas guzzling urban 4x4 cars to carry environmental health warnings like cigarette packets; and compulsory therapy for key decision makers to to help them deal with their denial about the scale of action necessary to deal with climate change.

    All make perfect sense. In an out-of-the-box, admirably ambitious, deeply humane, kind of way....
    Saturday, May 14, 2005
    The Idler
    On collecting my holiday reading from the bookshop today I couldn't resist also stacking on the pile the latest issue of The Idler. They are a magazine with a mission: to reclaim idleness as a legitimate pursuit:

    It is our conviction that laziness has been unjustly criticised by modern society, and that it deserves to have its good conscience returned to it and defended as an essential component of a happy life.
    Our intention is to produce a publication that is entertaining, thought-provoking and full of great ideas for living.

    This issue is themed, 'War on Work', which, they tell us, kills over 2 million people each year worldwide, more than war, more than drugs, more than alcohol. The promise of the 'work-and-consume' ethic has failed to deliver. It's time to redefine work.

    This sounds so promising that, though it was meant to be for St Ives, I started reading it in the car park at the Albert Dock before travelling over to Little Sutton for tonight's meeting. And I felt a glow of healthy recognition when later John said, "I was going to email you all with [piece of worthy work] today but I was out in the garden with the newspaper and it was sunny..." Hallelujah.
    Friday, May 13, 2005
    The creature in the long grass

    The neglect could not go on forever. I mean of the garden, not of the legs. Tuesday's blog was an epiphany; or was it a confession? Something transformational anyway. So the above picture is a before-after shot. Grass behind me - before the big mow this morning; grass I'm standing on - afterwards.

    But as a nod towards neglect, I only mowed half the grass. Left the other half to the dandelions, cats haven, potential wildflower attractor.

    Can you tell I've never had a house with a garden before? I haven't a clue what I'm doing. But it's sunny and I'm enjoying myself.
    Thursday, May 12, 2005
    Holiday shopping
    I've faded in my Generous actions this year but one idea I introduced to the Generous community I've stuck to: Shop Small. This is how they describe the idea on the Generous site, carefully avoiding any obvious company names,

    If you do a lot of online ordering from multinational books or CD suppliers etc, see if there's an alternative local supplier you can order from. Buy online and then call to collect, and while you're collecting chat to the staff.

    So I've been getting most of my books from News From Nowhere, our city's finest alternative store on the ever-exciting Bold Street. News From Nowhere have a good online order facility where you can select 'collect from shop' as a payment/delivery method. And today they've emailed to tell me my holiday reading is now in-store:

    Place - a presentation of "some of the most challenging art to address the function of place in the contemporary world" by Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar;

    Those Feet: A Sensual History of English Football by David Winner; and

    Football and All That, another history of football, by Norman Giller, which kicks off by examining the origins of football, starting with the argument over whether the Chinese, the Romans or the English invented the game.

    Last year I sunned it in St Ives with Euro 2004 for company. This year - very soon - it'll be football in the head.
    Wednesday, May 11, 2005
    Cape Farewell

    Another set of wonderful northern-sea images. And another explorer in search of truth at the edge. In 2003 OpenDemocracy's Globalisation editor Caspar Henderson spent two weeks on board the 93-year old schooner, The Noorderlicht, sailing to the Arctic in an expedition including photographers, oceanographers, artists, geographers, and writers, all aiming to monitor and communicate the impact of global warming. The result was a web piece, Cape Farewell: an Arctic diary, which is a fascinating meld of writing, visuals, and some astonishing sound files.

    There's the sound of the Arctic wind, moderated through Aeolian flutes strapped to the rigging of the Noorderlicht. And the bearded seals, which as Henderson points out, do sound a bit like The Clangers. All this takes me back to the eerie icescapes of Hector Zazou's Songs From The Cold Seas. Sounds of a world literally melting away in our overheated present moment.
    Tuesday, May 10, 2005
    King Neglector
    Yesterday I said I wasn't a conservationist. That niggled a bit, as I'd like to be a conservationist in a good way, if I only knew how. Well, today I feel better because on my way out of the kitchen on a rare foray into the wildly overgrown garden I glanced at my Common Ground Mayday! poster and read this piece of advice:

    "Neglect (nicely) an old churchyard or Victorian cemetery. They are superb for wild life (and human souls). A thrush in a churchyard is never short of anvils for snail bashing. Make sure the cemetery is not over tidy. The grass only needs to be cut twice a year - mid July and mid autumn. That way cowslips, primroses and bulbs can remain undisturbed so that they can seed. Clear only the essential paths..."

    Well, looking out on the lawn in which cats sit unnoticed these spring days (whose cats I have no idea), I am proud that if there's one thing I can do well it's neglect. It's not a Victorian cemetery but in my own back garden I'm heading towards applying that generous rule: only cut the grass twice a year. Thank you, Common Ground, thank you cats, grass, wild flowers and plentiful weeds. For today, you make me feel, I'm a good conservationist. Today I'm King Neglector.
    Monday, May 09, 2005
    Isles of the West
    Ian Mitchell is a sailor and Isles of the West appears, on the outside, to be a Hebridean travel journal. Three months in the glorious summer of 1996 spent traversing the Western Isles in a sloop called Sylvia B.

    But Mitchell is also something of a serious investigative reporter and on his journey was very keen to "explore the major issues peculiar to the islands." Raising questions like, How does land reform look from the point of view of the islanders? Does nature conservation actually help the environment? Is the commercial promotion of 'heritage' a blessing or a curse?

    It makes this an odd read, then. Oddly compelling. Because sandwiched between descriptions of gorgeous seascapes and wonderful fried breakfasts, are a whole series of rich encounters with islanders, and the representatives of conservation bodies, and other bureaucrats involved in decisions which impact deeply on those who live in these peripheral places. Disturbing conversations, which will deeply concern supporters of the RSPB or Scottish National Heritage. Conversations which develop Mitchell's "nagging worry that alien forces, both Scottish and European, sentimental and mercenary, are distorting the indigenous society by imposing outside ideas on communities which are valued in part because they are so free of external pressures. Who are these bodies, both public and private, that want to save the islands from the islanders?"

    Interesting that, on the shelves of tourist shops throughout the west of Scotland, alongside seascape photobooks and fripperies like 'Trace Your Family Tartan', sits this highly-charged contemporary text. I can't get too worked up about it because I'm neither a Scot nor a conservationist, but I've nevertheless had my eyes opened by what he writes. Others too: 'A penetrating and astringent analysis of the state of play in the world of wildlife conservation. No punches re pulled,' wrote one reviewer; 'Ian Mitchell has cleverly let the Hebridean witnesses explain their exasperation and despair at the ruination of their islands by the militant conservationists,' wrote another.

    The Minch may have been calm that summer, but Mitchell's journey has created a storm.
    Sunday, May 08, 2005
    (Written whilst sober)
    Champions League, Champions League
    Champions League, Champions League

    - Arsenal 3, Liverpool 1. "There's no denying Everton are the best team in the city this season," says David Moyes. How I've loved this football season.
    Saturday, May 07, 2005
    (Written whilst drunk)
    Ti-mmy Cahill, Ti-mmy Cahill
    Ti-mmy Cahill, Ti-mmy Cahill
    Ti-mmy Cahill, we're having a laugh
    Ti-mmy Cahill, we're having a laugh
    Champions League, we're having a laugh
    Champions League, we're having a laugh
    Champions League, Champions League
    Champions League, Champions League

    - Everton 2, Newcastle 0... happy days
    Friday, May 06, 2005
    Social engineering

    Wandered around under Runcorn Bridge(s) today. Possibly the first of a series of 'follow the Mersey back to its source' explorations. Came back with a camera-full of shots of the age-of-industry masterpieces of road and rail engineering, the bridges which run alongside each other high above the fast-flowing river; of chemical plants, impressive-looking and deadly; of a maypole in the cornfields of Pickerings Pasture. But this is the one I liked the best. As West Coast trains rumble overhead, underneath the rail bridge a lad called Eddie has turned the archway into his own personal goal.
    Wednesday, May 04, 2005
    Parish Walks #9 - Dog and Gun rogation

    Rogation or observation? My first parish walk this year posed a dilemma. See, I know the place better now from having been here a year, and while there's still an enormous amount to learn there's also an awareness of priestly duties, while wandering about. Especially on a Rogation day. One of those special days in a year where parishioners walk their patch praying for a fruitful season on the land. So, rogation or observation? If you follow me on this walk, you'll probably get a bit of both.

    I set off from Dog and Gun Post Office, so far a survivor of profitability-cuts, and a hub of human activity at a major road junction. Lower House Lane, an ancient route, dissected by the vast boulevard and tram route Utting Avenue East, when the corporation estates went up in the 1930s. Heading north-west along Lower House Lane I pass the popular Jem Centre, selling all manner of building materials, its windows displaying the range: delicately-patterned coving sitting alongside a massive lump hammer, brass-look light switches beside calor-gas equipment. Vans outside; men shifting heavy bags out of the yard.

    Alongside the brash builders merchants, some modest old cottages, remnants of a past when this would have been a gentle route between Dingle Brook and Lower House Farm. Gore's Directory 1906 lists the various occupants as gardeners, wheelwrights, monumental masons, book keepers and a carter. All probably living off the immediate land - employed either by the Croxteth Hall estate or by West Derby Cemetery. Today, I suspect, their occupants may work further afield.

    Next, an unexpected treat - the gates of the Jewish Cemetery are open. So I wander in. Only having spent a few minutes reading the corporation notice do I realise I'm being watched by two corpy grass-cutters, taking a break by the trees. I check with them, and yes, it is only open because they're there; it's usually locked. But they generously invite me to have a look around. It's quite a sad place, many stones damaged and down, a very stony cemetery, very little space for new graves, very little grass besides the patch near the entrance, the concrete of Storrington Avenue Fire Station on the other side of the railings. I remember that Woody Allen said "I do not believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear," but I'm unsure if this is a representative Jewish view of death. Feeling a bit of an intruder, and sad about the violence which has been wreaked on these stones, I thank the workmen and move on.

    I'm down here because I want to check my maps - the A to Z displays a path which cuts directly through from Lowerhouse Lane to Stonedale Lane, which would be a great route, the OS details paths within West Derby Cemetery but no thoroughfare. Should have known the OS would be right, but there is evidence (an overgrown gateway) that there may once have been a through route. Perhaps when they built St John Bosco School they took the path away. It's one of the many Roman Catholic institutions in the area so I don't know it very well. Looks impressive from the outside - the 'outside' in this case being inside the cemetery. And while two women lay flowers at a grave alongside the dividing fence, on the other side a class take instructions in the yard. Through their thin playground railings the girls of St John Bosco are exposed to death each day. Through the thin cemetery railings mourners are reminded that life, health, youth, continues.

    I cut through edges seeking a short-cut out of the cemetery, stopping at a lonely WW2 memorial to note that of around 40 men commemorated here, 29 were privates, 3 drivers, and 2 sappers. Plenty of gaps in the fence bordering the entertainment complex previously walked here. I emerge from the cemetery's grassy expanses into field of concrete. The gala Bingo, fast-food outlets, and Showcase cinema are patronised by car-users and the leisure sheds are surrounded by car park space. Full of chrome at night, I find it has other uses during the daytime. Primarily, its is an ideal practice area for learner-drivers from Norris Green Driving Test Centre a mile along the main road. This morning, three cars weave around the expanse, their drivers getting a feel for the wheel perhaps for the first time; instructors keeping an eye on the others to avoid costly collisions. It is also a short-cut for Croxteth shoppers nipping over to Kwik Save. I thought I would be on my own wandering this vastness; there are a lot of people passing through here.

    Standing at the corner of the car park, looking back over the leisure park, I consider I'm at a place of transformation. In the daytime, novices leave this place as first-time drivers; and at night, each week hundreds emerge from the palace of screens enriched or enraged or in some other way moved and changed by the film they've just seen, the night they've just had. On this tract of concrete, for many people, things may never be the same again.

    And things may never be the same again at Altbridge Park, the triple-tower-block community which dominates the air on this corner. The work of the Housing Action Trust is done: the residents are moving out, into new, local homes. An interesting exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool Life told the HAT's story:

    Liverpool HAT managed 5,332 properties in 67 tower blocks. It was given twelve years and £260m of government money to create sustainable housing and communities and bring in private finance. In 1996 a study by the HAT estimated that it would cost £299 million to refurbish the city's tower blocks. This led to a major consultation exercise with tenants in all blocks to look at the best options. The result was a decision to demolish 54 blocks and build new homes on their footprints for the tenants, plus to retain and refurbish 13 tower blocks. After demolition, new build and refurbishment Liverpool HAT has transferred a number of homes to its Housing Association partners who will manage them into the future.

    The next half-mile displayed some of this work in progress. First, besides the tidy gardens of Stonedale Crescent, much building activity, with bungalows emerging in the shadow of the heights. And further on, Meadow Court - the first Housing with Extra Care scheme in the city, and one of four to be built by Liverpool HAT. These seem nice places for elderly folk to live; inbetween, church land has been utilised to build similarly-pleasant Bosco Court and Mansion Drive. This too, an area of transformation. And across the road, the wildness where not long ago Croxteth Comprehensive School stood. That's on a new site now, and soon, if proposals are adopted, this wasteland will become the site for a massive Tescos, sports centre, more houses, new beginnings.

    Further on, past Our Lady Queen of Martyrs (doors open - busy presbytery - bustling social club: our RC brethren know how to do church), the Dog and Gun is in need of transformation. The pub which gave its name to the area has closed. Drugs trouble last year brought on its demise. Police Armed Response teams and dog patrol officers raided it in January, 2004. A pub built to indulge the thirsts of hunstmen, shut down by officers bearing dogs and guns.

    Around Dog and Gun, plenty of activity in and out of shops, food outlets, launderette, off-licenses. Next to a massive William Hills, a tiny kiosk very popular with pupils of De la Salle, just up the road: those who want to supplement the dinners served them by Wayne Rooney's mum and her colleagues. Across the way from Stanley Bet, a shop called Pat a Dog - "turning dog grooming into a fine art", their sign says. I wander down to the end of Mace Road to a piece of land which the OS map suggests may once have been a sports field or track of some sort. It's just a tatty clearing now, adding to a sense that Dog and Gun is a centre of human activity which seems to have lost something just now. It may well rebuild, and just further on is another place of transformation, where a gap opens onto the new posher houses of Meadow Croft. Not a croft, but built on a meadow which used to be publicly-owned. The Dwerryhouse fields are much diminished by new-build on three sides and, retracing my steps to pass by them, I see they're much-neglected too.

    Carr Lane East is another ancient route, and some tiny old cottages with names like 'Primrose' still exist. The Sefton Arms is still there (another pub built before the corporation estates populated the area - afterwards it wouldn't have been allowed), but the old school has gone. De La Salle dominates the south-west end of the lane, another RC establishment, all boys, renowned for nurturing young Wayne and his less-celebrated ex-Everton teammate Franny Jeffers, whose high-profile careers lend some perspective to the school's prayer:

    Together as brothers and sisters
    God our Father,
    extend our horizons,
    widen our vision,
    and remind us how inter-connected we are
    as your sons and daughters.
    Breathe your Spirit into us
    that we may live more truly
    as brothers and sisters
    of one another.

    As I pass the Good Shepherd Vicarage, boarded-up awaiting a sale or tenancy, I reflect on how inter-connected we are: a decision I took (to live in the smaller, safer, more neighbourly ex-curate's house) impacts on the lives of the hundreds who pass by the vicarage each day. I nip into church where it is lunchtime and the folks are bringing in food from the chippie next door. I scrounge sausage and chips and tea, much-needed after a hot May morning's walk.

    Tuesday, May 03, 2005
    Blue touch paper
    Someone's letting fireworks off outside. You'd think they'd won a trophy, not a match. Some fool is crowing on 606, "I bet they'd trade the league wins and the Carling Cup for this!" Sober up, mate. And the ball didn't even cross the line.
    Monday, May 02, 2005
    Mighty Rearranger
    You won't need me to tell you much about Mighty Rearranger because it's all been said. But it's been worth the long wait and sets the tone for the summer's road music (heralded by today's journeys through Bank Holiday flash floods).

    I can't say why but Robert Plant's music often places me mentally in deepest - and sometimes dark - Snowdonia. Often takes me back to those midnight drives at speed up mountain roads I enjoyed in the year I lived there, headlights catching sheeps' green eyes and turning trees golden, with the gigantic hills, unmoving, on all sides. Something to do with scale, and a sense of myth and mystery of course, which Led Zep conjoured so well and Mighty Rearranger equals. A lot to do with us having Zeppelin playing as we navigated these twisting roads. And also to do with a sense of place. For Plant and his collaborators have put together some of the biggest music of the past 35 years in small farmouses in deepest Wales - Bron-y-Aur, Snowdonia in 1970, Dol Goch, Cwm Einion today.

    But what caps this collection is the artwork. I love it. It's by Grahame Baker Smith and it seems to have the look and feel of an illustrated children's book, one of those magical ones you can look at for hours and keep finding new little joyful details. Sure enough, it turns out he illustrated The Velveteen Rabbit (among other things). And now his work ensures that the cd and Plant's current website is a visual - as well as aural - delight.
    Sunday, May 01, 2005
    Gods of yesterday and today
    "Today we have the god Gerrard, whose presence on the park delights his followers and whose absence makes them miserable for the whole of the following week;

    "Today we have the god Lotto, who promises us the earth but is very reluctant to share his gifts;

    "Today we have the god Nike, whose symbol, the swoosh, we wear on our clothes and footwear so we know other people think we look acceptable;

    "Today we have the god Viagra, who promises to increase our sexual potency and reduce our sexual anxiety;

    "And today we have the god Asda, a giant who provides all the food and drink we could ever need and whose priests are dressed in bright lime-coloured robes.

    "I think we are just like the ancient Greeks today. We fill our cities with altars to all sorts of gods, but there's still a small voice in our ears suggesting there's an unknown god around."

    - from today's sermon, Gods of yesterday and today. Well, I enjoyed it anyway.