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

    Wednesday, August 31, 2005
    The great in the small
    It's great that Greenbelt is open enough to invite to its stages and lecterns artists and contributors from outside the immediate Christian world - I felt so affirmed in that the three speakers I suggested, all in that category, were all invited to GB05 and were all appreciated by those who saw them: Anna Minton, Eyal Weizman and especially Bill Drummond who was a blazing success.

    And though I missed seeing them at Greenbelt it was great to see on the music line-up folk of the calibre of Jim Moray and Karine Polwart.

    Who to suggest for next year? I guess there's probably some way to go before we might see dark masters of the mystical arcane Current 93 sharing a stage with people who played Soul Survivor the week before.

    I came home to find on my doormat their retrospective 2-cd set Judas as Black Moth, released this week. As expected it's a wondrous survey of the poetry and mystery and generous heart of David Tibet, "the most elegant writer alive" (Devendra Banhart). Songs like They Return to Earth and Lucifer over London seem an odd soundtrack to my first-day-after-Greenbelt. But I'm loving them.

    and i wanted to write for you
    songs poems and bibles
    your face spotted with pearls
    and hand-cuffed to Christ
    but i couldn't stop watching the signs
    Tuesday, August 30, 2005
    Year Starts Here

    Back from Greenbelt, just, tired, sticky-backed after the long but beautiful Welsh-border return route home, bags full of resources and head full of the weekend's affirming conversations to set me on my way again. Greenbelt is always about endings and beginnings and after Greenbelt weekend it always feels like a new year starts here.
    Wednesday, August 24, 2005
    A little bit generous after all
    On the edge of the annual Greenbelt journey, I reacquaint myself with the Year Of Living Generously. They've relaunched the site and made it far more interactive and almost fun. After a willing start this time last year I thought I'd pretty much failed to live more generously overall, but in re-registering myself for the actions I've either done, still am doing, or would hope to be doing soon, I realise there's quite a few.

    One of the actions got me linking to the Howies site, they being fine exponents of the generous life; and I noticed a new feature there which took my attention for a little while. I now have a Howies Wish List....

    Cheltenham here we come!!
    Tuesday, August 23, 2005
    On Everton tees
    When I saw their New Season Selection I felt had to write to Philosophy Football. Ok, Liverpool and Chelsea won stuff last year so they merit a shirt. I really like the street map of Highbury, N5, marking Arsenal's last season at their famous ground, but the fourth shirt riled me a bit: 'BLOWING BUBBLES pays tribute to the anthem all Hammers fans will be singing as they celebrate their return to where they all feel they belong.'

    Well, fine. But what about Everton, as we celebrate our return to where we feel we belong - European competition? Admittedly, barring miracles it'll be the UEFA Cup after tomorrow but I had to ask the PF team the question.

    And they graciously responded by asking me to send them some Everton quotes; and one lengthy return email later they told me to 'look out for Dixie'. That's very heartening. I wonder which of the great man's quotes they'll feature. "I used to stick the ball in the net and bow three times to the Kop. They never liked me doing that." - that's a good one. As is this comment he's alleged to have addressed to George Best at the height of the 60s icon's success: "When I was playing I couldn't afford a pair of boots never mind boutiques."

    But I'll plum for this one, a comment on his astonishing record of sixty goals in one season: "People ask me if that 60-goal record will ever be beaten. I think it will. But there's only one man who'll do it. That's that feller who walks on the water. I think he's about the only one."

    Of course there are already some excellent Everton tee shirts around, many of them produced by When Skies Are Grey and on sale in St Lukes Church Hall on matchdays. There's the one based on that heartwarming quote of Moyes the day he joined us: "Everton are the People's Club on Merseyside..."; there's the yellow-and-blue one bearing the wondrously nostalgic and iconic words '1969/70 - KENDALL BALL HARVEY'.

    But one other shirt features a line which may possibly be theologically incorrect but remains one of the best, most affirming things any player has ever said about the supporters of his club. It's tremendous, and it's by Brian Labone: "One Evertonian is worth twenty Liverpudlians."

    You really can't say better than that.
    Monday, August 22, 2005
    The bard of the Boot Estate hits the screen

    Nice bit of work today; designed a poster advertising our area's very own documentary, premiered next month and a showcase for the bard of the Boot Estate, Jane, whose verse pulls no punches about the causes of the estate's woes and whose stand against crime and antisocial behaviour in the area is very, very brave. Should be quite a film.
    Sunday, August 21, 2005
    An emerging culture based on sharing
    Gearing up for Greenbelt where I'm on a panel discussing our approach to blogging. With me, a grungy old maverick who just likes the look of his own words on a page, Maggi, whose blog has become a focus for serious discussion of 'emerging church' issues, Dave, the man responsible for the world-famous Dullest blog in the world and the vibrant online community focussed on The Wibsite, it will certainly be varied and potentially quite interesting, especially with Paul and Kester also involved.

    Started theorising about blogging tonight by returning to a lovely few lines in Kevin Kelly's 10-year Web retrospective in Wired 13.08:

    At [the] heart [of the revolution launched by Netscape's IPO] was a new kind of participation that has since developed into an emerging culture based on sharing. And the ways of participating unleashed by hyperlinks are creating a new type of thinking - part human and part machine - found nowhere else on the planet or in history.

    An emerging culture based on sharing. I like that. And it is something along those lines which appeals to me about doing this thing we do.
    Saturday, August 20, 2005
    Above Glasson Dock

    D. J. Clark's wonderful photograph of where I sat today, on a bench above Glasson Dock. Ham butties, flask of tea, a good book, content for once in the role of the little middle-aged man I'm becoming. Heysham's four advanced gas-cooled nuclear reactors dominate this coast, their scale matching their enormous output - 2400 MW, enough to supply most of north west England, their luminous decor as out-of-sorts with the surrounding scenery as their waste is with the waters in which it is dumped.

    Lots of butterflies cross the coastal path by Cockersand Abbey, its Chapter House still standing, its door firmly locked. This is a solitary place today; in the twelfth century it was a centre of power. A Charter of Cockersand Abbey written about 1200 gives one of the first documented references to the township of Aintree, One Tree, the Cockersand monks granting land there. The power has shifted now. Leaving the lazy Lune cow pastures behind, I come home via Aintree Racecourse Retail Park, its massive concrete concourse bustling with business for Bensons, Comet and B&Q.
    Friday, August 19, 2005
    Radio off
    Here's a list of things I have which currently don't work due to electrical failure:

    Shower (ON-OFF switch doesn't come on);
    Remington hairclipper recharger (dead after a decade's service);
    Camera (dropped it in water, never been the same since);
    Car nearside brake light (Halfords sold me a dud);
    Car clock light (Fused);
    Car radio light (Fused);
    Car radio itself (Lost security code when I tried to fix the fuse)

    These are all telling losses, but it's the latter one which I find causing me the most grief. I noticed it this evening on the way home from a raid on Probe. I couldn't listen to my new purchase (Blue Cathedral by Comets on Fire) on the journey . And somehow, therefore, the journey felt diminished.

    Joe Moran is already onto this, as are other cultural commentators, as he explains in Reading the Everyday. He's writing about the Mondeo because of the symbolic status that vehicle has attained in our society (the resident of Middle England as 'Mondeo Man'). He says that 'with its well-equipped cabin decorated in tasteful ebony or camel leather, the Mondeo creates a micro-environment that cocoons its occupants from the outside world. It is a comfortably predictable 'non-place''. And he quotes Kristin Ross's suggestion that 'The [car journey] ... has become the respite, the retreat. A miraculous object ... a home away from home, a place for solitude or intimacy.'

    And by extension, the best place for listening to music. I don't have a Mondeo but all this applies to me. Now my car radio's bust I have to renegotiate my relationships with vehicle, with journey, with music, with home. Maybe it will be a change for the better.
    Thursday, August 18, 2005
    We're pretty good at putting on a party
    Big day today. The Greenbelt wristbands arrived: sign that the year's most-anticipated event is very near. Spent an hour putting them in envelopes and posting them off to each member of our team. This time next week, I'll be in the bar at Cheltenham Racecourse with some of them. Lovely.

    Meanwhile a team of twenty young people from Oldham helped a group of us put on a free festival in Norris Green Park today. Part of Merseyfest, in which two thousand volunteers from all sorts of far-flung places (and Oldham) have been taking part in various community programmes, cleaning up the city and creating celebrations in places previously neglected or reviled.

    Nogsy Park is quite well-used, though often by people who value it as camoflague for their nefarious activities. And when our team arrived on Monday morning the area which was fifty years ago a lovely rose garden was a glum, glass-strewn, graffiti'd place. Three days of litter-picking, repainting and general tidying-up later, we were able to repay the considerable local interest in what was happening there, by holding a free party for everyone - bouncy castles, face-painting, footy competitions, a tattooist, etc etc etc. And yours truly with Now! 61 on the PA system. It was good; and we'll be at it again tomorrow (if you're passing).

    Driving my car, illegally over-full of young women, back to their festival campsite at Croxteth Park this evening, we noticed the big mainstage assembled ready for the weekend's climactic carnival events, a fairground at the ready, and what's reputed to be Europe's biggest skatepark taking shape. Reflecting on this, on the day's events, and on the glorious treat ahead next weekend, I couldn't help thinking, we Christians get a lot of things wrong but y'know, we're pretty good at putting on a party.
    Wednesday, August 17, 2005
    Ubi caritas, deus ibi est*
    "Living God, you bury our past in the heart of Christ and you are going to take care of our future."

    - Brother Roger of Taize, who died yesterday.

    *Where there is charity, God is truly there.
    Tuesday, August 16, 2005
    Sound of the Supercity

    I was unconvinced by Will Alsop's concept of the Supercity, a future vision in which Liverpool and Hull embrace, two parts of a whole urban ribbon, flesh on the M62. Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds, yes. That's virtually one conurbation, and arguably already close to being a regional supercity (with inherent tensions - eg, Manchester's naked and desperate attempts to establish itself as the regional centre, as mirrored in United's leeching of Alan Smith from Leeds and wrenching Rooney from us, which convince no-one).

    But Hull - that's seventy miles too far, and Alsop's ideas for technicolour tower blocks in the fields seems a long way from what anyone in South-East Yorkshire would find desirable, I bet.

    But at least his Urbis exhibition got us thinking about our region and what being a supercity might really mean. And it turns out that a whole bunch of artists on Fat Northerner Records have been inspired enough to put out a compilation called Supercities. They're all from round here, and make a good sound.
    Monday, August 15, 2005
    Diamanda in wallflower shock
    When The Wire arrives, things perk up. Today I open the pages of the latest issue to discover that two of the most wierdly wonderful English underground bands are releasing career-retrospective double cds this month, with two of the most wildly wonderful titles: Current 93 (Judas as Black Moth) and Nurse With Wound (Livin' Fear of James Last). And I got in on the special offer at the durtro.com shop so I'll be getting copies signed by Tibet and Stapleton... how lovely.

    The musical left field always springs surprises and tonight I'm shaken in a most unusual way having spent a few minutes with The Wire's online video interview of Diamanda Galas. She is the most frightening woman I've ever heard; you may have read my trembling review of her work some time ago. It's full of descriptions like extreme noise terror, purging, deep, devilish intensity. Anyway, the surprise tonight is that on the video, the shock-goth Diamanda comes across as quite ordinary in the way she describes herself; quite light-hearted and possibly even quite shy. Unless it's a gig, she'd always much rather stay in with her books and ideas, she says, than go out around with others.

    "I'm a wallflower, y'know? I'm a f***in' wallflower. I'm just not up for it," she laughs.

    And there was me thinking I couldn't imagine I could be more shocked by her than I already was.
    Sunday, August 14, 2005
    Relaxing with The Heads
    I have The Heads on downstairs, and its up so loud it's filling the house. I have finally cracked; at the end of a normal working Sunday exhaused by having to keep smiling through all the pettiness and dullness and sheer slog, I refuse to let next door's post-pub party tunes depress me more. I drown them out with The Heads' ultra-heavy sonic dissonance, and through the din something pure emerges. Julian Cope says these Wessex dissonauts are on a delightful Hellbound trail. It seems somehow redeeming to want to journey with them tonight.
    Saturday, August 13, 2005
    The silence and the roots of violence

    The silence. This one for a young man horribly killed for his skin colour just two miles up the road from here a fortnight ago. We have a lot of silences these days. I alternate between being moved on such occasions and thinking that they're rather empty gestures.

    Empty gestures, because they seem to signify nothing except a fleeting sorrow, perhaps, solidarity contained between two blows on the referee's whistle. Sometimes you can tell when the crowd's empathy with the subject is strained, those times when silences are interrupted by shouts, ringtones, the chatter of people making their way to their seats.

    Today's silence was poignant because the horror at its heart impacts directly on the footballing community: one of those accused of this brutal racial murder is the brother of a Premiership footballer. Premiership football is a small, elite world and I spent my silent minute looking across at the players thinking that some of them would know this person, some of them will be friends of the family.

    Today's silence was as reverent as any could be. It was beautifully observed - even by those who just four days ago, from the same seats, were screaming vicious racist abuse at opposition players.

    The roots of violence: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principles.
    - Mahatma Ghandi, via Pip
    Friday, August 12, 2005
    I'm still enjoying Coast on the BBC which is capturing much of the beauty, some of the life, and some of the mystery of our island's peripheral places. But to complement it I've bought a DVD of Gallivant, a film by Andrew Kotting of his own 7,000 mile clockwise odyssey beginning and ending at Bexhill-on-Sea.

    It's very different to the BBC's massively expensive collaboration with the Open University: filmed on video and Super 8, utilising all manner of experimental techniques, Kotting's coast is very open to eccentricity and exuberance. What saves it from being art-house fodder is his decision to bring along with him his elderly grandmother Gladys and his seven-year-old daughter Eden, who hadn't spent very much tiome together before this three-month journey, and would be unlikely to have much of a future together either, both being close to death, Gladys because of her age, Eden because of her Joubert Syndrome.

    If this sounds like it might make for a morbid film, it doesn't. As the publicity puts it, 'Gladys is strong and opinionated, constantly interrupting with anecdotes and confusing reminiscences'. And while Eden can only talk through sign language, she does so with the vitality of any seven-year-old excited by the adventure her Dad has brought her on. It's 'a triumphant blend of the home and road movie genres and a stunning example of psychogeography', in the words of Iain Sinclair whose reflections are included in the generous booklet which accompanies the dVD.

    Without over-sentimentalising, Kotting records the lively interaction and deepening understanding of this unusual threesome as they make their way around the joys, distresses, madnesses, gales and great big skies of Britain's coastal places; it's very entertaining, and quietly moving, and it does what Coast can't - draws the viewer into a thoroughly engrossing story of three humans growing together on a journey. The places they go are important, and the people they meet there (all manner of wonderful seaside eccentrics), because they inform the way the three interact.

    In his notes Iain Sinclair says, 'This is a homage to the archetypal home movie, the seaside excursion ... Time for putting together oldest and youngest members of the family for that hell of British togetherness.' It is that, and more, as he fulsomely acknowledges in the title of his piece, because it's about Big Granny and Little Eden. And what wondrous company they are.
    Wednesday, August 10, 2005
    Fancies fly away
    A very thought-provoking email from Phil got me on the topic of pilgrimage today. What do we mean by pilgrimage? Is it journey to a place of inspiration? Or an inner journey - a travel in the head or heart? I've Googled myself (it was quite painless) and it turns out I've used the word pilgrimage quite a lot, on this blog. Variously with reference to:

    - Sacred places, widely acknowledged as such, like Little Gidding, Iona, Pennant Melangell;

    - Significant personal journeys like my rookie motorbike ride to my first Greenbelt and Jim's epic motorbike ride in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Irish Hunger Strike;

    - Symbolic journeys like the pilgrimage walk Eric Pike, Bishop of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, made through his diocese visiting places where violent crimes took place, praying for healing;

    - Journeys which celebrate people like Richard Rolle and John Lennon;

    - Good quotes like Columbanus who said "Christians must travel in perpetual pilgrimage as guests of the world," and William Blake who said "There is no birth and no death, no beginning and no end, only the perpetual pilgrimage within time toward eternity";

    - Great 'travel' writing especially from Iain Sinclair.

    I guess, then, that 'pilgrimage' is a fairly slippery term. It was interesting to reflect on how I've used it in relation to Iona, because the 'pilgrimage' experience has changed through time.

    At first it definitely was about travelling to a place that embodied, manifested, some kind of profundity for me; also slightly about walking in other devotional footprints but more, actually, about the company in which I travelled and a sense of being on a shared journey (in all senses) with them (the first Greenbelt-Iona pilgrims). The route of pilgrimage itself contributed to that sense of travelling to a profound place, partly because of the sheer difficulty of getting there, partly because of the change of scene en-route, industrial northern England / Glasgow via Loch Lomond / Highlands to awe-inspiring Hebridean seascapes.

    As the place became more familiar and I came increasingly to know people on the island and indeed to spend periods of time working there, the initial heightened sense of pilgrimage began to give way to something more like belonging. But the journey remained as challenging and as transformational as ever, as did the company, so it has definitely retained the sense of pilgrimage as a journey to the place of inspiration, an encounter with an 'other'.

    Interesting that this once extraordinary place has now become familiar to me. And now I'm getting more and more interested in how familiar places are actually quite extraordinary, when you look at them deeply enough. Wonder what John Bunyan would have said about all this?
    Tuesday, August 09, 2005
    Christmas with Moyes
    David Moyes had said it was like Christmas, this early-August breeze of top-level Euro football. It was better than Christmas - because Christmas comes with effortless predictability every year; we've been waiting twenty years for this game. The singing was far better than at Christmas too, and the colour was better - nothing more pleasing than being lost in a sea of Goodison blue. Only the score felt unseasonal - there are no gifts in the Champions League. As some sage on www.sportnetwork.net has just said, "You must first walk in the valley if you are to understand the mountain."
    Monday, August 08, 2005
    Images of Norris Green

    Discovered this site today: Images of Norris Green. They've already found me as I'm on their links page; so I shall link here in return. A large collection of interesting pics, good history, and a fascinating-looking reading list.

    This on the same day I discovered that Tim Gorringe has published Furthering Humanity: A Theology of Culture ('This welcome book is a perceptive and helpful statement of why and how Christian faith needs to be embodied in places and activities. It significantly enriches the understanding of faith, and provides important help in responding to those who question religious symbols and institutions today.' - Daniel Hardy). Plenty in all this to keep me going through the autumn.....
    Sunday, August 07, 2005
    White noise solution
    It struck me on reading Joe Moran's chapter on workspace that it's precisely ten years since I last commuted. Ten years since I left the world of the office, since so carefully and cringingly exposed by Ricky Gervais, whose sitcom Moran investigates here. There's little about office life I miss, now I'm a home-worker, but I do miss some things about commuting.

    Specifically, I think I miss that space in a day where there was no opportunity to be doing anything else but getting somewhere, and no obligation to be paying attention to anyone else (Moran is good on our unspoken rules of minimal engagement, eg on the Tube). And this precious time gave me the chance to do something I really like: to have a good read. In my first three years of working from home I managed to keep this gap going - keeping the habit of getting up quite early made that possible (Being an ardently underemployed church community worker helped a lot too). Now I've slid into a 'routine' of exhausted late-night TV unwinds, undersleeping and lying-in till the last possible moment required to get to Morning Prayer, that's gone. And I'm the poorer for it.

    But I'm guessing that the Merseytravel experience is different now to what it was in 1995, in one way especially. Then, no-one had mobile phones or laptops. Probably today my reading space would be invaded by other people's loud resumes of last night's clubbing, or stressed salespeople's hot-desking business antics. Hmm... on reflection, I guess the way I would deal with that nuisance, should I ever go back into commuter life, would be quite simple. Buy an iPod. Fill my ears with white noise. And read on.
    Saturday, August 06, 2005
    Circulus - a journey to the medieval future...????
    Power to the pixies

    Now, Circulus have been receiving rave reviews for bringing the medieval up-to-date, eg, "It is John Barleycorn, not dead after all, but alive, well, and strangely funky." (Tom Cox). And I do like them. I've been listening to them all week. But - power to the pixies? - with lyrics like these, the conclusion has to be that really they're just prog-rock revisited...

    Burning scarecrow running through the night,
    Burning scarecrow running through the night

    Friday, August 05, 2005
    Greenbelt diary preview thrills #4 - Eyal Weizman
    Regular readers of this blog will be very aware why I'm so excited about the Greenbelt appearance of Eyal Weizman. Let's just say that with an exceptional slide-show and penetrating analysis he opened my eyes to the way that the very landscape of the occupied Palestinian territories - the very look and feel of the place - is being altered by the conflict there. And when you start to understand, deeply, how the everyday has become exceptionally abnormal, then you start to understand, deeply, what this conflict is really doing to its people. Eyal's seminar will be awesome. And the Greenbelt audience will understand.
    Thursday, August 04, 2005
    And another advantage of easy August is that you can sit and write for a change. Which I need to do or I curl up, implode, fade away. So - study day today. And I wrote that essay I'd been promising, 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... Won't post it here till it's had the once-over from the guy who set it, but it was a good way to spend the day.

    And now (after my chicken balti) I might just sit down with the paper my colleague-friend Mark just brought back from his month at the Bishop's pleasure on The Windsor Course. It's titled Christian Mysticism and Urban Discipleship, and although it contains phrases like cognito dei experimentalis, which baffle me, it's also got Jah Wobble in it. I'm looking forward to what it says.
    Wednesday, August 03, 2005
    It must be easy August
    Time enough to go online and get five front-row seats for next week's big European renaissance game at Goodison; to contribute to plans for various Greenbelt seminars; to write a link-list of people, places and publications for a colleague planning a sabbatical on a Celtic Christianity theme; to spend quality time with August's Fortean Times, and to snooze this afternoon whilst listening to Circulus. And an evening at a barbeque with friendly colleagues. Ah... it must be easy August. And we deserve it.

    The FT reviews Bob Trubshaw's latest book, Sacred Places: Prehistory and popular imagination. In which he asks why certain types of prehistoric places are thought of as sacred, and explores how the physical presence of such sacred sites is less important than what these places signify in 'the mindscapes' in we have created the idea of prehistoric sacred places. Because it's Bob Trubshaw it will be very good. I shall be onto Heart of Albion Press imminently to order my copy.
    Tuesday, August 02, 2005
    Now that's what I call intimacy
    The days were, in U2 soundchecks, Bono would greet his mate and mine, Stan, by name. Stan, whose rattling old 2CV was my daily transport to work down the dock road, and at weekends would take him around the country following a band who got to know him well. Long ago. On the current tour, according to a story in August's Wired, Bono's soundcheck shout is "William Gibson is in the house!"

    Some might celebrate the band's elevation from their loyal local fan-base to the global celebrity-circuit, but it gives me a feeling of vertigo. That's one reason why I didn't feel keen to see this present tour. The other being unease at the prospect of buying-into the bloated (financially, politically and environmentally costly) stadium rock experience at the very same time as we were meant to be acting to make poverty history.

    Still, some interesting stuff in Gibson's only-slightly fawning privileged-fan's-eye-view of the show's staging. Essentially, the observation that U2 gigs continue to '[provide] huge audiences with a powerful yet intricately managed sense of intimacy.' He shows how it is the camera technology which enables this to happen - the big-screen on-stage close-ups of the singer and the fan-plucked-from-the-audience providing moments of 'brilliant balance', where everything is held 'in a sphere of almost tangible emotion - powerfully facilitated by this massive construct of highly specialised equipment.'

    Gibson notices the self-referential nature of the set, the way the whole performance records and replays itself, and wonders whether 'the ... Vertigo node [is] acquiring a memory of sorts'. Well, he would, wouldn't he, this futurist writer? He wonders if we will see a time when there will be 'a set in some quiet corner of a theme-parked future Dublin, that effortlessly summons up the spectacle of any given evening of a tour?'

    You never know. Though it begs the question, if the gig could run itself then where would the band be? Perhaps kicking around dusty old Liverpool haunts, catching up with Stan and the others who got this whole thing started in the first place. Now that's what I'd call intimacy.
    Monday, August 01, 2005
    Greenbelt diary preview thrills #3 - Bill Drummond
    No surprise that August's Pic of the month is a Bill Drummond creation, given his imminent appearance at Greenbelt for whiuch I can claim some involvement, having drafted the letter of invitation which they sent him. Can't wait to see what he makes of Greenbelt, and what Greenbelt makes of him. A cake, maybe.