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

    Sunday, July 31, 2005
    Worrying trends
    Too tired to blog properly after twelve hours in church today; too fried for anything much except I have updated my THIS WEEK sidebar entries. In the absence of anything more stimulating you might like to investigate my This Week - Words and Music archives and let me know if you identify any worrying trends.
    Saturday, July 30, 2005
    Greenbelt diary preview thrills #2 - Ella Guru

    Nearly a year ago I blogged about Ella Guru, an eight-piece Liverpool band championed by no less a figure than Jimmy Carl Black, but in style about as un-Beefheart as you could imagine. I've been listening to The First Album again today, and it remains gorgeous: deep, mellow, sweeping, slow.

    That first blog about them was in the context of other bands, who I was looking forward to seeing at Greenbelt last year. This year, Ella Guru are on. Late night, in that big indoor venue. Whilst pondering the likelihood that the beach they used for the cover shots on their cd is the very same beach on which Antony Gormley's statues now stand, the setting also (I reckon) for the cover of one of the other all-time great Liverpool albums, Heaven Up Here, I shall bring a pillow and luxuriate.
    Friday, July 29, 2005
    City Centre Walk #1 - The Churches Trail

    I did a city centre walk today. In preparation for the day in October when we'll be offering three or four different walks, on different themes, to Iona Community folk(s) from across northern England, gathering in Liverpool to think and talk about culture, regeneration and what all of that stuff means. I thought of churches as a good hook on which to hang a stroll around the corner of town from Canning Place uphill towards Berry Street, part of it in the throes of being radically redesigned and newly-identified as Rope Walks, the other, well-established (though recently flourishing) Chinatown. The map shows ten churches, each one telling a deep, deep, story. Here are the headlines:

    1. (The Former) St Peter's Church, Seel Street - the oldest surviving church in the city centre, founded by Benedictines in 1788, adopted by the Liverpool Polish community in 1976. Today is is full of workmen playing loud music and surveyors hovering in doorways speaking into phones: it is being turned into desirable Creative Quarter apartments.

    2. The Missionaries of Charity, Seel Street - in a very inauspicious building untouched by redevelopment (save being layered with dust daily, from the rebuilding going on all around), Mother Teresa's sisters are still here, and the poor and needy know they are, and are grateful;

    3. The Methodist presence in the city centre - above News From Nowhere, Bold Street - I've written and linked elsewhere about Barbara Glasson and her admirable, radical experiment in Christian community. Here above our excellent feminist-left bookshop on one of the city's unmanufactured, absolutely real cultural corridors, Barbara makes bread and shares it with those who call;

    4. St Luke's, Berry Street - the bombed out church, we call it. Never been touched since the blitz took the roof off and burned the innards away. City Council inerta and the people's lack of vision mean it now houses large trees within its walls, and the gardens are a favourite site for alcoholics and other self-abusers. Except sometimes innocents wander in and enjoy the place - today, a group of Afro-Scouse girl singers were recording a video there;

    5. The Blackie - the former Great George Street Congregational Church, at the other end of Berry Street, which the new Pevsner calls 'an outstandingly good building' with its semicircular portico of Corinthian columns more massive and imposing than All Soul's, Langham Place. Even the tremendous Chinese arch at the entrance to Nelson Street looks humble alongside it. For a couple of decades now, this has been home to a well-respected community arts project, and everyone knows it as The Blackie;

    6. Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church, Great George Square - bordering a lovely little revived piece of parkland, in the heart of the Chinese quarter, the modern and apparently thriving Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church provides Sunday Services in English, Mandarin and Cantonese;

    7. St Vincent De Paul, St James Street - a Pugin creation, and pretty legendary Liverpool dockland church. From what I can tell the RC authorities have closed it down, in their recent radical downsizing;

    8. St Michael in the City, Upper Pitt Street - meanwhile, the Church of England struggles away, in this modest building tucked into the warren of social housing between the docks and the trendy centre. At a time when the centre is rapidly repopulating, just one-and-a half priests serve this and four other city-centre churches;

    I detour here, to investigate some fancy new buildings rising up behind the church. Signs everywhere tell me that they are The East Village, 'a development of 137 luxury apartments in the heart of the cosmopolitan ropewalks area of Liverpool City Centre. Dynamic, exciting ... This is undoubtedly a unique and inspirational move forward in the creation of mixed-use living,' a property dealer's website says. I'm fascinated walking an edge, Grenville Street South, where on one side of the road children huddle and scuttle and bike around the housing estate, and on the other signs placed by private developers at East Village entrances state: 'Children must be accompanied by an adult';

    9. Gustav Adolfs Kyrka, Park Lane - The Swedish Seamens' Church, wonderfully incongruous among the warehouses and industrial sites of the south dock area, this is a Scandinavian breeze. It's another legacy of the city's maritime history but it still serves a congregation today;

    10. Church House, Hanover Street - not strictly a church, but the city's Anglican HQ. It's on a corner which property speculators must covet, at the heart of the area the Duke of Westminster is transforming into Paradise. But unlike the Friends Meeting House, just around the corner, its occupants have escaped forced removal to another part of the city, for the time being at least. When it opened in 1885 it was an institute for the Mersey Mission to Seamen, and contained a temperance pub. Now the Mission is five miles downriver close to Seaforth Container Terminal, and temperance - of any kind - is a fading memory.
    Thursday, July 28, 2005
    Greenbelt diary preview thrills #1 - my namesake

    The Greenbelt diary first draft contains a few little items to thrill my festival anticipation. First - the debut appearance of a Tennessee singer-songwriter called John Davis. I've checked out his website and the music's good in a country-gospel sort of way, the songs a bit preachy for my liking, but I must turn up to see him, even though he has an 'e' missing. Actually I'm wondering if they'd let me come on first to introduce him. If I came on with a guitar - I'd love to see the effect that had on the folk in the audience who know me...
    Wednesday, July 27, 2005
    Scene felt
    Take me back to Gotham City
    Take me where the girls are pretty

    All those damsels in distress
    Half-undressed or even less
    The Batpill makes 'em all say Yes

    Help us out in Vietnam
    Help us drop that Batnapalm

    Help us bomb those jungle towns
    Spreading pain and death around
    Coke 'n candy wins 'em round

    Help us smash the Vietcong
    Help us show them that they're wrong

    Help us spread democracy
    Get them high on LSD
    Make them just like you and me

    Show me what I have to do
    'Cause I want to be like you

    Flash your Batsign over Lime Street
    Batmobiles down every crime street
    Happy Batday that's when I'll meet

    - Adrian Henri, from Edward Lucie-Smith: The Liverpool Scene, 1967

    One of the most fascinating parts of the psychedelia exhibition was a display dedicated to the Liverpool Scene. Because there was a time when the Liverpool scene was the scene all others were struggling to keep up with, and the mid sixties was that time.

    What fascinated me even more was that poetry played such a central part in what was going on. Through a glass display panel I gazed at pages from Edward Lucie-Smith's 1967 collection The Liverpool Scene, which was a precursor to The Mersey Sound, featuring classics from Henri, Patten and McGough, but also a generous helping from humbler - though very good - poets (Pete Brown, Spike Hawkins, Henry Graham....). The Liverpool Scene was an event, in an event-full city, and the book's other element helps bring it all to life - quotes from the chief protagonists, liberally scattered throughout the pages.

    Since that day gazing at an untouchable display I've bought the book, second-hand, and having devoured it today I'm in love with poetry again; Poetry, as defined variously in the book:

    "Poetry is what people can like and enjoy" (Roger McGough)

    "You want to communicate it. I don't know why you want to communicate, don't really know that. I expect there's a very simple reason..." (Brian Patten)

    "Find a plastic flower. Hold it up to the light.'" (Adrian Henri)

    "One must get away from poetry as something that happens where there's a glass and a bottle of water." (Roger McGough)

    "'I've just about reached
    breaking point,'
    he snapped. (Adrian Henri)

    See what I mean?
    Tuesday, July 26, 2005
    On the buses
    I packed Reading the Everyday into my bag today, to fill in time travelling to town and back for a course. Waiting at the bus stop I thought about starting to read it. But I was struck by the impression that there would be something not quite right about reading about the significance of the ordinary, everyday, banalities of life while if I kept my head out of the book, I could be observing them all around, experiencing them myself.

    So I left the book in the bag, and without too much earnestness watched life as it passed by: bus stop life. Pondered why people take up certain positions at the stop - some place themselves centrally on the seats, others hover ready to pounce to the front of the queue when the bus arrives, others - like me - lurk in the background. And when the bus does arrive, the etiquette or subconscious hierarchies of who gets on first, who waits. Pondered the adverts - bus stops are as much advertising vehicles as human shelters - wondering if they are aimed at the bus-stop occupants or the people in the passing private cars. Thought about how bus stop use changes through the day - 8.30am, city centre shop staff; 9.30am (when free ticket time begins), pensioners; evening-time, young people not to travel but to gather for company.

    Getting off the bus, I joined the rest of the exiting passengers in saying "ta, mate," "thanks, pal" to the driver. Thought about that too. Why do we do that? Does it make the driver feel valued in his work or is it just empty ritual? Or is it about making us feel somehow better?

    This evening I fished Joe Moran's book out of my bag and began reading it. I find that in the front pages are two photographs of Liverpool bus shelters. And his introduction is all about waiting at bus stops. I'm going to enjoy this read.
    Monday, July 25, 2005
    Reading the Everyday
    I enjoy Joe Moran's articles in the New Statesman. He writes about ordinary stuff in a revealing and interesting way. So I'm looking forward now to opening my copy of his book, Reading the Everyday. In which some of the most under-explored, banal aspects of life come under his critical gaze: office life, commuting, car parking, motorways, new towns and mass housing. This has come out of the Department of English and American Studies at Liverpool John Moores University. Good to know they're not wasting their time on less mundane things there.
    Sunday, July 24, 2005
    Arch of Triumph

    Lance wins again. His seventh tour victory and his last - today, he retired from professional cycling, at the very top. One thing missing from this photo - the bike. Now, Lance himself has famously said, It's not about the bike. It wouldn't happen without the bikes, but he's right, it's all about the epic struggles of the men who ride hundreds of gruelling kilometres, mentally driven; driven to reach the end of each stage where to any ordinary mortal each stage would carry what seemed like a lifetime of pain and mental torment. Armstrong's epic struggle has included many massive stage wins in the Alps and Pyrenees which have made him the champion he is, and that victory over cancer which has totally redefined him.

    Everyday is a winding road, sang Lance's girlfriend Sheryl Crow, before they ever met. I wonder if it amazes her now to realize now just how true those words are to the cycling life, the greatest sport, where true athleticism meets flesh-tearing tarmac, where cunning and guile connect with extraordinary selflessness and exceptional comradeship. Everyday is a winding road - it's brutally real for the racers involved, and it's a tremendous metaphor for the rest of us who follow their exploits. Lance's out of it now, God bless him, but as he said on the podium this afternoon, the race goes on - "Vive le Tour!"
    Saturday, July 23, 2005
    Hunt on the city
    He presented last Monday's C4 documentary on The British Middle Class. I've just finished reading his monster book Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City. Tristram Hunt has some good ideas.

    His 'middle class' is the group of energetic, radical Victorian outcasts, who challenged the power of the landed aristocracy and, with their newfound wealth, introduced into the urban chaos of our industrialised cities a form of radical urban enlightenment.

    These men - often religious nonconformists (Unitarians like Liverpool's champion William Roscoe) were motivated by progress but inspired by the classical and renaissance past, and they constructed public buildings throughout Britain that would not have looked out of place in Venice, Florence or Athens. Liverpool, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, owe their wondrous design to the zeal of these civic-minded, social entrepeneurs.

    And they weren't mere temples of commerce, many of these buildings were public libraries, galleries, debating chambers, council rooms - places where the people of the city could meet, talk, engage with the issues of the day, develop their municipal visions. Hunt maintains that the middle classes later became victims of their own success:

    Ironically, cheap mass production fuelled aspirations and notions of status. And as middle class homes were built ever further away from the pollutions of the factory, suburban living was born and with it a switch away from a city-centred sphere of cultural activity and public duty. The middle classes had forgotten who they were and where they had come from.

    We all know the story of the twentieth-century demise of these great Victorian cities, which Hunt links directly to the loss of a civic vision in the rapidly-growing new middle classes (now fixated on leisure and consumption). But his programme, and, in far more depth, his excellent book, end on a note of promise for those who care about the cities. The re-emergence of culture as a driver of positive change for our cities can be dismissed in critical cliches, but he sees in it just a hint of the possible re-emergence of a sense of the civic which might just, if nurtured, help rebuild not just the structures of these great places, but our vision of them:

    Initially developed by nonconformists, it was an appreciation of an urban life and the historic, liberating mission of the city ... an understanding of the city's purpose as a political and cultural entity ... We need to renew our perception of Britain's urban identity and learn to love, hate, reform, rebuild, but, above all, debate the city, 'dark Satanic mills' and all.
    Friday, July 22, 2005
    All really interested in everything
    Albion's most lovely daughter sat on the banks of the Mersey dangling her landing stage in the water. (Adrian Henri)

    In the catalogue for the current Tate exhibition, Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era, Tate Liverpool Director Christoph Grunenberg describes his mission as "uncovering a historic movement which has been shrouded in obscurity for far too long." And when I saw that I wondered what he meant. For I've never thought of psychedelia as obscure.

    I put that down to having been born in 1962, the year of what is regarded as the first English 'happening' - a 'mixed media event' staged by Adrian Henri at the Merseyside Arts Festival. Born in a psychedelic city. I grew up with the sounds of psychedelia in my ears: mostly Lennon-Harrison songs including that unforgettable Christmas Day in 1969, hearing my auntie's new copy of the White Album, its acid madness subverting Santa in the back room of my grandma's. No wonder when I started buying albums for myself a few years later they were Syd Barrett-era Floyd, the Nice, Hendrix and T-Rex.

    Christoph Grunenberg's words throw light on an oddity I've observed on visiting record stores in other cities - none have a psychedelia section to compare even slightly with the one so many Liverpudlians have thumbed through over the years at Probe. Maybe that's why so many local musicians from Jimmy Campbell through to John Power have always had a touch of the cosmic about them (or maybe the reason Probe has so much psychedelia is because it's so in-demand here).

    You're expecting me, then, to say that Summer of Love is a must-see exhibition. Especially here, this summer. And so I shall. It's big, too much to take in in one visit, too much to describe here. My main highlight today was spending half-an-hour in a cube with four large screens playing Ronald Nameth's mesmerising film of Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, an early experiment in discotheque which some say has never been equalled. The film is a visual and musical cut-up of Velvet Underground and Nico EPI performances, which opens with a recognisable Venus in Furs but concludes in an awesome collage of chopped sound. I was so gripped by it I went in to see it twice.

    This is one of the few Warhol things I've warmed to - cans of soup, I can take or leave; this film held my attention. And so I also warmed to a quote of his I read on-screen, describing the mood of the time: "It was all happening because we were all really interested in everything that was going on." That fits with a movement which peaked with protesters placing flowers into military gun-barrels. Less so with one where most of the participants were on mind-altering substances - indeed that was the foundation of it all, in truth. But even there, Humphrey Osmond, who coined the term psychedelic, said he was searching for "a name that will include the concepts of enriching the mind and enlarging the vision ... My choice, because it is clear, euphonious, and uncontaminated by other associations, is psychedelic, mind-manifesting."

    I've very rarely shared the chemical experiences which helped these artists produce such awesome work, but I've always loved what they've produced. This exhibition is a great celebration of something which some may regard as peripheral, but it's always been central to me.
    Thursday, July 21, 2005
    I usually shy away from any programmes on telly about landscape, especially when they have celebrity-shallow Titchmarsh or numbingly earnest Dimbleby up front.

    But Coast, which starts tomorrow, looks like it might be quite good. Simple idea - follow the British coastline and see what you find. The related websites (BBC and OU) are packed with interesting info, interactive ideas and reflective articles on topics ranging from sealife to climate change, Blackpool to Benjamin Britten, one exploring the intriguing question, Has the coastline shaped us as much as we have shaped the coastline?

    I only have one concern in anticipation of this series: there's no mention of coast-traveller Paul in the credits. Surprising - he's walked most of it already.
    Wednesday, July 20, 2005
    I've said goodbye to Squawkbox, at least for a while. Because you may have noticed, their comments facility seems to have disappeared completely this past week. This means that any comments you've made in the past won't now appear online here; but they're safely archived, will reappear if and when Squawkbox does; and you can use the Blogger facility for new ones.
    Tuesday, July 19, 2005
    Still Smoking
    Lovely to take delivery of a magazine with a self-penned compliment slip from the editor inside. Lovely to see the latest issue of Smoke: a London Peculiar, which evidently was at press when the terrible events of a fortnight ago took place, as there's not a hint of them within.

    And that's fitting because Smoke is happily out-of-kilter with headline-London. Co-editor Jude Rogers writes that:

    London often goes on without me. My London becomes this laptop, humming away on a wonky table in Clapton, and the noises behind me: the whoosh of double-deckers, the clatter of the 38, the whip-whur of sirens, the odd brawl on the pavement, the shouty slang of teenage girls, the crowds milling outside the fried chicken huts.

    It's brilliantly reassuring to be reminded that these minutae of city life continue, despite recent disruptions. And as ever it's lovely to read about many more details of capital life: the 82-year-old barber of St James's, a naked Dalston flat-dweller, London's Masonic underground, richly varied curios in the debris under Chelsea Bridge. This is not headline stuff. But it's lovely writing which displays a love of place. Which makes it special, to me.
    Monday, July 18, 2005
    Friends again

    Fr. Philip, some keen young banner-wavers, and me in Edinburgh the other weekend. The outcome for me, of all that weekend's political-lite activity: as soon as the news filtered through about the G8's dismissive attitude to the issue of climate change, I rejoined Friends of the Earth. I think they were the first pressure group I ever joined, as a teenager; I've been through a few since then. They will hopefully get me back into green campaigning again.
    Sunday, July 17, 2005
    Just smelly environment
    At first I thought it was my socks. Then I found it got stronger when I travelled a mile along the East Lancs Road. This morning it was wafting up Lowerhouse Lane with such putridity I anticipated the edges of my Observer curling up. The smell.

    No-one knows, really, where it's coming from. Some blame the drains. But it's not localised enough for that. I was ready to blame Sonae or some other polluter on Knowsley Industrial Estate but then someone told me they'd been at the Heritage Market on the dock road and it was just as bad there.

    Have Gormley's hundred statues stirred up a vile ghost on our beaches? Is the sewage farm opposite the hospital cooking up something special in this unprecedented heat? We just don't know what's causing it. But the people of this part of our city are now far more able to relate with the folks of Ditton, who have to live with this sort of thing all year round.

    Old Celtic prayer: Bless to me, O God, each odour that goes to my nostrils.
    Celtic prayer (revised): O God, I'm sorry, but that doesn't half stink.

    Saturday, July 16, 2005
    Just sonic environment
    Sometimes the time requires nothing but just pure sonic environment. Tonight was such a time, driving back from an evening of farewells to valued friends soon to be moving many miles away. Not sad but sober. Thoughtful but not wanting to think too much.

    So, perfect accompaniment in the car: Julian Cope's Album of the Month, May 2005CE, The Heads - At Last. Needless to say, Julian describes it best:

    This Album of the Month heaps space rock cliche upon heavy rock cliche upon psychedelic proto-metal cliche in a manner so bereft of guilt, so untainted by fashion, so un-ironic that it transcends its inspirations totally and just becomes sonic environment. Indeed, in my present recently re-psychedelicized state, I have at times been driven to forget I was listening to this record, and got up from the floor to put it on when it was in fact already playing.

    Great to be in the only car on four lanes of motorway, throbbing home with The Heads on high. The sluice of sound, washing my ears, just what I needed. I've decided that from now on I'm going to purchse each of the drude's Album of the Month choices because that man has perfect style.
    Friday, July 15, 2005
    Experimental Travel #1 - In a Lunar Landscape

    I spent the morning with The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel which is a thrill from cover to cover. I didn't read it from cover to cover because that would just be too linear. But I did start with the introduction which tells us that 'Experimental Travel is not about checking off the major sights or following your guidebook to the letter; it's a playful way of travelling, where the journey's methodology is clear but the destination is usually unknown. Experimental Travel renders all destinations equal - be it a burger shack or the Taj Mahal.'

    I then read the Potted History of Experimental Travel which begins with Homer's Odyssey and concludes with the surrealists, situationists and psychogeographers of the twentieth century and their present-day heirs, the likes of Iain Sinclair and Wrights and Sites, familiar to regular readers of this site.

    And then thumbed through some experiments. They all sound wonderful. There's:

    Expedition to K2 - Discover an unknown part of the city by travelling to the grid reference K2 on a map;
    Horse Head Adventure - Test normal standards of social behaviour and etiquette by drawing attention to yourself in an outlandish and potentially absurd manner (eg by walking through town wearing ahorse's head);
    Trip Poker - Four people, four dice throws; the winner determines the destination of the weekend away, others the date, and type of accommodation, and the person who throws the lowest number pays for the weekend.

    And many many more. Then I got out for a fifteen-minute drive to somewhere I've never been before, and spent the afternoon as an Experimental Tourist walking a quirky figure-of-eight around the previously-wracked mining landscape of Wigan Flashes, which nature has reclaimed. Orwell described this urban wilderness as a 'lunar landscape'. Today it's beautiful. Got lost along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal (it's difficult to get lost along a canal but I managed it), and so missed out on a reccy of central Wigan. But with swallows diving overhead, great varieties of wildfowl on the Flashes, and friendly happy people in narrowboats exchanging greetings, it was a good place to be today.
    Thursday, July 14, 2005
    Beyond the landscapes of Hell
    Part two of the Making of the English Landscape course today. The latter part of W.G. Hoskins' book covers enclosures and then the impact of industry and transportation on the land up till the mid-twentieth century.

    Our lecturer Alan Crosby again underlined Hoskins' disdain for the 'modern'. Devonian Hoskins reserved some of his harshest words for the industrial cities of the north. Preston's houses, he wrote, were 'neither good enough to promote happiness nor bad enough to produce hopelessness'. He called St Helens 'the most appalling town of all', whose glass and smelting works had these consequences:

    The atmosphere was being poisoned, every green thing blighted, and every stream fouled with chemical fumes and waste. Here, and in the Potteries and the Black Country especially, the landscape of Hell was foreshadowed.

    But one thing this course has taught well is that landscape - inextricably linked to economy and society - is never static, it's always changing. And fifty years on, the northern English landscapes of hell, cleaned up and de-industrialised, have become sites for designer homes and upmarket outlet villages. Hell hasn't disappeared, though - forces of capital have made it reappear in formerly picturesque parts of Asia and other 'developing' parts of the world.

    I'm going to have a go at the essay for this course, just for fun not accreditation. Choose a landscape which is familiar to you and write about the factors which you think have most influenced its development over the past five hundred years... I'll choose Norris Green, of course. Now it's tempting to say that its history doesn't go back that far, as before the 1930s it was all just fields round here. But Alan Crosby and W.G. Hoskins have demonstrated very well that fields themselves have stories, which tell how they have changed shape, size, ownership, and use, many times over the years. It will be a fascinating investigation.
    Tuesday, July 12, 2005
    Welsh Streets get reprieve ... well, some of them

    Good news - The Welsh Streets have got a reprieve ... well, some of them, anyway. The original plans to demolish 477 houses have been reduced to 108. Two cheers for the city council! Those 'saved' include Ringo's childhood home, in Madryn Street, above. I know at least three other people who live in Madryn Street, so hooray for them too.

    But residents groups [such as the Welsh Streets Home Group], trying to hold community together, are keeping on fighting to save the houses still earmarked for demolition. [Join them]
    Monday, July 11, 2005
    Gormley gas
    A few Gormley incidents on Crosby beach so far (I suspect this will become a regular feature):

    - Two girls got trapped in mud up to their thighs while playing near the sculptures on Saturday;
    - On Sunday two boys had to cling to one of the iron statues when the tide came in and almost swept them out to sea;
    - Some joker (and it was funny) dressed one of the statues up in women's clothing the other day;
    - The statues are becoming familiar to curious dogs; but you knew that already;
    - When the tide retreats, revealing the statues' heads, some of them have jellyfish on them.

    When I paid the first of my many visits to the statues on the beach the other day, I found them a gentle, welcome presence. I enjoyed standing shoulder-to-shoulder with one, very calmly looking out to sea, and felt myself sharing his gaze.
    Sunday, July 10, 2005
    Save the Welsh Streets - continued
    The Welsh Streets have had a reprieve from their proposed demolition. But only a reprieve. For further consultation. The campaign to save them goes on.
    Saturday, July 09, 2005
    What should a priest do?

    Just back from Middlesborough via the beautifully scenic drive across the A66 (Cumbria's hills in full view in early-evening light), and M6 / M58 (likewise, Snowdonia in the clear blue sky). Broke the journey at a picnic table at Killington Lake, watching seagulls circle one of the islands and lines of ducks quack all the way from one end of the lake to the other.

    Earlier I had preached at Dave's priesting service. Moved them and made them laugh by reciting Stewart's unsurpassable poem, Priestly Duties. The Bishop of Hull liked it. And so did the bloke who kept me talking in the loos and told me he didn't normally go to church. A good day.
    Friday, July 08, 2005
    A God who gives
    Holy Ground is published. A very welcome new book.

    Neil and Helen's introduction sets the tone for the book's rich content: "All ground is holy ground - city streets, housing estates, shanty towns, playgrounds, prisons, shopping malls."

    The book, written by folks around the Iona Community, is full of liturgies and resources on concerns ranging through globalisation, food, water, HIV/AIDS, the environment, interfaith dialogue, the arms trade, prisoners of conscience, 20th-century martyrs, homelessness, racism, gender, living in community, youth, children, ageing...

    I've had my advance copies a couple of weeks, because my prisoners of conscience liturgy* is in it, but it's only just appeared on the Wild Goose website. It's pretty unique and, in the light of current world / home events, pretty valuable, I'd say. A gift.

    [* which you can read on the pdf download extract, containing a generous 31 pages of contributions]
    Thursday, July 07, 2005
    A God who takes
    All the glory that the Lord has made
    And the complications when I see His face
    In the morning in the window
    All the glory when He took our place
    But He took my shoulders, and He shook my face
    And He takes and He takes and He takes

    - Sufjan Stevens, Casimir Pulaski Day, from Illinoise

    A sobering day and one for solidarity and silence, not political posturing or analysis. Some Londoners may be feeling like Sufjan, here singing a song about a friend lost to cancer, a song of shaken faith. It seemed to meet my mood this evening.
    Wednesday, July 06, 2005
    The stain, the virus, the hoodie
    The kingdom of God is like a stain on a white sheet, which spread and spread until no one knew where the whiteness ended and the dirtiness began.
    The kingdom of God is like a virus that infected a computer, which rewrote every code until it brought the whole system crashing down.
    The kingdom of God is like a boy wearing a hood, who went into a shopping mall and set off all the alarms.

    - Steve is blogging. Queer theology. Excellent.
    Tuesday, July 05, 2005
    Great ruins make for greater glories
    It is true that in recent blogs I have been erring towards Grumpy Old Man attitudes. It must get a bit tedious having to keep reading how things ain't what they were in the eighties. To try to retrieve this situation I feel it is time for me to declare my deep, and deepening, admiration of modern pop combo the Kaiser Chiefs. Here they are:

    And in no special order, here is what I like about them:

    They have the spunk of punk;
    the wit of Wilde;
    the park-poet Englishness of Albarn.
    On disk they sound like they're really enjoying themselves;
    and live it's clear they really are.
    They're from Leeds.

    Ok, you can take or leave that last one. But at present I am very gratefully listening to Employment, over and over. It cheers me up.

    Oh ... and my parents love me
    Oh ... and my girlfriend loves me
    Oh ... they keep photos of me
    Oh ... that's enough love for me
    Monday, July 04, 2005
    I use the NME
    It's no mystery why there's so little detailed and critical debate over debt relief and trade in the mainstream, the mainstream including of course all those who played or supported last weekend's musical events. Our media have abandoned all pretence at being investigative or critical; illustrated by Sunday's Observer which published a spreadsheet listing the 'G8: key questions on the key issues'. This included breathtakingly complacent statements like, The deal is mostly done on aid (when in fact a tiny proportion of the nations who need aid have been offered it, and only on IMF terms which could ruin them anyway), and Climate Change: disaster's been averted. And a ridiculously weak-kneed 'interview' of Gordon Brown by the usually quite sassy Barbara Ellen.

    So while it's good to see new generations of campaigners coming through, it's a wonder any of them have a clue what they're campaigning about. It's no wonder none of us have enough of a clue. Struck me while watching tonight's BBC Four documentary about the halcyon (70s-80s) days of the NME, that nothing exists now in youth media to compare with that publication which connected ground-breaking music, philosophy, sociology, outsider art and politics in an unpredictable and always stimulating brew which people lapped up - I remember the ache of anticipation to see what inspiration the next Thursday morning transaction at the newsagents would bring me.

    It makes me think that Live Aid was made possible because of the heavily-politicised rock culture of the time, in which NME was pivotal (remember Geldof cut his teeth in rock journalism). Live 8 rides on the back of the truly radical successes of twenty years ago.

    Charles Shaar Murray was one NME writer who certainly influenced a generation, the generation which provoked Rock Against Racism, Greenham and Red Wedge. His BBC quote explains why NME then was so good, and makes me wish for something even remotely similar to resource us today:

    "I think we tapped into the best instincts of youth, we gave people a hell of a good time while we were doing it, we challenged them to be sceptical about the world around them, we didn't just praise everything that came down the pop cultural chute. We did this in the most entertaining way we could, we had fun, we were sceptical, we were broad-based. I think we provided a great service to youth, and I wish there was something like that around today because I tell you, even at my grotesquely advanced age, I would read it."
    Sunday, July 03, 2005
    Pic of the month
    Sorry that my Pic of the month is a bit late. I've broken my camera so had to trawl online to find a good shot of Gormley's wonderful piece of public art on the Crosby coastline. I think you'll enjoy it.

    Saturday, July 02, 2005
    History is for the future

    It has its weaknesses [see for instance the Zmag expose, Inside the murky world of the UK's Make Poverty History campaign]. And in Edinburgh today it was quite possible to party along with the other thousands there without being politically provoked at all. But today is not a day for brow-beating; that can come, and should come, and I hope the harder-edged demos in Gleneagles next week get their points across well.

    The very good thing about today, for me, was that our coach party - which spent nine hours together travelling, and five hours queuing on Edinburgh's Meadows - consisted predominantly of young people. My guess is that half our party was under fourteen. They'd been well-educated and prepared by caring adults, they'd spent hours together in the week designing their own t-shirts, and banners for the party, and some of them had even been on a Radio Merseyside news feature yesterday, about their impressions of the Make Poverty History campaign.

    On that programme one six-year-old girl was asked why she would be marching, and she said, "Because we get three square meals a day and they don't get any." Campaigning does get more complicated than that but, really, she summed it all up for the rest of us. The children mixed their sense of festive fun on the fields today with profound seriousness at this straightforward injustice, they understood that more just trade rules would address it, and had an experience which formed many of them into campaigners. A long way away from the shallow pomp of pop star rhetoric, this is what made today worthwhile for me.
    Friday, July 01, 2005
    Must go down to the sea again
    It's been a whole week. I feel I must go down to the sea again. Because while I was away in Cornwall that trickster Antony Gormley has been down to the beach where I spent my childhood playing, the beach at the bottom of the road where my parents still live, and planted one hundred lifesize cast iron human figures around the tide mark. Another Place, he calls it. I'm sure there must be a reason for it. I bet it looks amazing.