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

    Monday, October 31, 2005
    Essential otherness

    It's all you need on All Hallows Eve. It's all I've enjoyed reading today. Fortean Times: essential otherness.
    Sunday, October 30, 2005
    Vertigo Mixed
    Two demanding sermons later (one on being angry with God and the other for the annual Commemoration of the Faithful Departed) and it's great to unwind to the amazing (and often amusing) Andy Votel:Vertigo Mixed, the masterful DJ's assembly of prog-rock obscurities. 38 songs, many of which were probbaly at least ten minutes long in their original entirety, spliced seamlessly together into 70 minutes of pure enjoyment.
    Saturday, October 29, 2005
    World in one city
    Good day for a walk round the city centre. And we did two, on our Iona Community Regional Plenary; with a collection of folks from all over the North of England, giving them a flavour of this rapidly-altering place.

    Last time I looked at St Peter's Church, Seel Street (the city's oldest place of worship) it was wrapped in scaffolding and to my mind looked like apartments-in-the-making. Surprised, then, to find its doors open this morning, and our group of fifteen stepped inside, with the blessing of the manager, to find it transformed into Alma de Cuba, a very classy bar and restaurant. Brand shining new; but with so many of the original eccelsiastical fixtures and fittings intact and in place. An astonishing discovery, if a little disorientating. If we were post-ironic, consumer-savvy emerging church we could do it here with ease.

    We also rang the doorbell of the Swedish Seamen's Church - the Gustav Adolfus Kyrka, and were invited in, made very welcome by the new incumbents there, who told us some history - thousands of Scandinavian seamen moving through Liverpool each year in its heyday, and still hundreds today - though with six-hour turnarounds they never leave the docks these days, so the pastors and chaplains have to go to them. Still, it's a a welcoming church and a special building still well-used by the region's Scandinavian community. Alma de Cuba was mindblowing; Gustav Adolfus Kyrka gently affirming. Great to enjoy both, in good company, today.
    Friday, October 28, 2005
    Blown away

    Family half-term trip a few miles up the road to St Helens World of Glass. An educative and entertaining afternoon. There, walking the network of tunnels which used to act as exhausts for the vast, roasting furnaces, and later scanning the town's vast central area of white-box superstores, previously all glassworks, brickworks, and smelting works as far as the eye could see, I realised just why St Helens was then described as 'the most appalling town of all', a landscape of hell. The flames - the heat.

    St Helens wealth increased as the glass barons found ever-more efficient ways of making the temperatures rise, and rise. Like a cloth-capped Roman elite, St Helens people used to dip in the waters of the glassworks cooling tanks, where tropical fish thrived. Northern damp regardless, it must have been by far the hottest town in Britain.
    Thursday, October 27, 2005
    The people's poet

    Great to bump into Paul Cookson on Walton Lane last night, en-route to Goodison. Somehow we managed to miss each other at Greenbelt this year so it was good to hear his news - an update on his Poet-in-Residence post at The National Football Museum, Preston (his home town), and more excitingly still, the three-page feature on him and his poetry in the current edition of esssential footy rag The Evertonian (pictured here).

    I was so excited by all this that the Boys Brigade tonight were um, treated to a performance slot by me reading some of my Cookson Everton-themed favourites, and of course his classic The Footballer's Prayer:

    Our team
    Which art eleven
    Hallowed be thy game
    Our match be won
    Their score be none
    On turf as we score at least seven
    Give us today no daily red ... card
    And forgive us our lost passes
    As we forgive those who lose passes against us
    Lead us not into retaliation
    And deliver us from all fouls
    For three is the kick-off
    The power and the scorer
    For ever and ever
    Full time
    Tuesday, October 25, 2005
    Corbijn on Directors Label
    First DVD to feature on my sidebar is the one I'm currently discovering, my new Mute signed limited edition of The work of director Anton Corbijn.

    Corbijn says that really he's just a photographer: and his NME pictures and those of Pennie Smith covered my bedroom walls for many years. Moody, atmospheric, those sorts of words applied to his monochrome creations. The videos are the same. But it's clear from these pieces - for Depeche Mode, the Bunnymen, U2, Mercury Rev and Travis among others - that the moods and the atmospheres are created through textures of symbolism which fill his frames.

    This is a great collection because it also features many artists, his collaborators, talking intelligibly about these films. Bono, doing what he does best, is very insightful about the nature of, and reason for, the signs and symbols Corbijn uses in his work. They're the work of the son of a Dutch Reformed minister with a religious sensibility which also embraces ancient myth and legend, and which force him to have to tell a story, make a journey, create some sort of resolution, through each film he makes.

    He's helped by some excellent acting from the musicians involved. Wonderful to see the previously puffed-up and pompous Bunnymen permitting themselves to camp it up wonderfully on Seven Seas (McCulloch as lascivious streetgirl, Will Sergeant as a fish). Awesome being pinned to the chair whilst a schizoid Henry Rollins roars out Liar. Disturbing to watch a dream-sequence featuring oddly-grinning Kurt Cobain in a poppy field dancing with strange and surreal figures to Heart Shaped Box, with a crucifixion at its centre ("That video has come closer to what I have seen in my mind than any other video" - Cobain). A delight to watch the performances of Larry Mullen Jr and actress Samantha Morton in Electrical Storm, a truly sensual portrayal of unrequited love featuring a mermaid, a tin bath, a reindeer and the sea. And just great to see how well Depeche Mode do in all sorts of situations: I don't really get their music but watching these gems I really appreciate their engagement with their art.

    Not bad for someone who's meant to be 'just a photographer'. And with mountains of material to get through, this DVD is a very generous package. Makes me consider looking at some of the other titles in the Directors Label series.
    Monday, October 24, 2005
    On Irene
    I think perhaps that when I blogged about young people on Saturday I may have had Irene at the back of my mind. Because underlying those thoughts about the depth and dignity of ordinary young people I suspect I may have been recalling my younger days, and the depth and dignity I was always afforded by my friend's mum. Irene. Whose good, long and loving life we remembered and celebrated today.

    This isn't about something staid and stodgy. This is about the simple pleasure - perhaps luxury - of always feeling welcomed by someone, of enjoying conversations with that person which often included enquiries about me and my well-being. Often funny conversations, often cheeky enquiries, and always affirming, always warming. Which was wonderful, from Irene. Because when you're young you don't often feel that older people take you very seriously. Irene always did, gently and warmly, as she continued to do all the way through, and did so with everyone, of all ages and sorts, not just me.

    That's pretty much what I scribbled in the book of remembrance which was doing the rounds of the tables at Waterloo Rugby Club this afternoon. I got home tonight to discover that Irene's thanksgiving service coincided with the publication of a new teen magazine called Brat, featuring cover star Vicky Pollard, a fictional grotesque whose presence on our screens belittles and further marginalises struggling teenagers and serves to permit witless adults to deride the young. I suspect that the teen 'market' will soon turn its back on Brat; and tonight I celebrate the generous and affirming spirit of Irene.
    Sunday, October 23, 2005
    Bowed but not beaten

    Father hear the prayer we offer
    Not for ease that prayer shall be
    But for strength
    That we may ever
    Live our lives courageously

    - sung to the tune of Z-Cars, of course.
    Those who have ears to hear - let them hear.....
    Saturday, October 22, 2005
    Old souls dressed in bright new clothes

    Back in the city centre, I looked closely at the anxious faces of the new youngsters readying themselves for a night out. Their faces appeared pinched and slightly weary, and I felt sure that, behind their impish smiles and sugar-sabotaged teeth, these young people knew that soon it would be their turn for unemployment and early parenthood. These "kids" were old souls dressed in bright new clothes, much like the city itself: "modern" kids. As I stared at them, I remembered that when I was a boy, we used to play football against a secondary school with the somewhat hopeful name of Leeds Modern. The joke, of course, was that there was precious little that was modern about Leeds, including that school. This is palpably not the case now.

    I was struck by Marc Riboud's pictures and Caryl Phillips' description of the young people of Leeds - paralleling for him the city of Leeds, as writer and photographer revisited it fifty years on, for a piece in today's Guardian Weekend. 'Old souls dressed in bright new clothes' - I take that as a sympathetic expression which illuminates something about what's happening to people in our northern cities, about the boundaries of modernity, about where the heart of these places really lies.

    This "new" population occupy houses that may now have indoor plumbing, but the privies are still there in the middle of the block, and at the end of many streets there are rubbish-strewn clearings that suggest demolition began but has now been abandoned. The truth is, for all their cramped poverty, there is a durable history to these red-brick streets that is simply not present in the ephemeral glitter of a Leeds city centre that is trying so hard to reach out and appropriate modernity, as though it is a commodity to be bought on credit at the local supermarket.

    I think Philips has touched on something really valid, which I see increasingly, the more I get to know families in this comparable northern place. The young people may dress modern, and face some distinctly modern dilemmas, but they carry old souls - in other words they are the product of a durable history, and deeply connected to it. It's not just about joblessness and child-rearing; in their concerns and ethics and sense of community these young people go a lot deeper than they often get credited for. There's a strong sort of dignity and a harsh sort of hope in all that.

    Thursday, October 20, 2005
    Paavoharju: Yha Hamaraa

    There I am, aching into the couch, happy to escape from all things religious at the end of a heavy week, when in The Wire I read some unexpected words: 'Christianity is the source from which the members of Paavoharju draw their music ... [but] far from retreating to codified traditions of liturgical standards or recalling a shiny-faced sentimentality that smacks of irony, these Christian expressionists are a rare breed. Paavoharju stand sincere in their belief that God gave them a gift in their ability to craft these psychedelic hymns that articulate complex and unusual revelations about God, themselves and the world.'

    Second Layer provide a good long sample of their sound; and there's some shorter samples at Aquarius, who gave Yha Hamaraa record of the week status, 'a sheer delight packed with many surprises ... our fondness has only grown with each listen. Listening to Yha Hamaraa is almost like eavesdropping on a dream... or having someone else's heartbreaking memories come back to hazily haunt you. Sounds, voices and melodies drift in and out of focus, occasionally overlapping and seeping into one another. ... Allow the wash of sounds to transport you into Paavoharju's intoxicating world. Completely and utterly breathtaking.'
    Wednesday, October 19, 2005
    Living Ghosts
    Ryzard has clocked up enough work to qualify for benefit. He first came here several years before Poland joined the EU and he has the paperwork to prove he has paid UK tax and national insurance for four years. When he became homeless, he went to claim jobseeker's allowance and was told it would take at least five weeks to process his claim. Four months later, they ruled that he was entitled to nothing. They gave no explanation.

    Nick Davies' latest piece of investigative journalism, for Society Guardian is as shocking and prejudice-challenging as his previous work. "A day with Ryzard is like a journey through a secret city," he writes of his time with one of London's many migrant workers. Most of them are skilled; some are highly skilled. They're rightly infuriated at the idea that they have come to London to claim benefits - "as though they really would leave their friends and families and travel across Europe to claim jobseeker's allowance worth £8 a day":

    They have come to work, to send money home to protect their families from the raging unemployment the free market has bestowed on their country. Some of them have succeeded. One of Ryzard's friends is now running his own building company.

    But many fall foul of corrupt job agencies - put to work at wages way below the national minimum; hired for work and simply never paid. And many have been beaten by a ridiculously inflexible and unsupportive system: "they are told they can't have a full-time job unless they have a bank account, and they cannot get a bank account unless they have a permanent address, but they can't have a permanent address unless they have a full-time job to pay for a deposit and rent in advance." Davies' journey around the capital takes him to where these skilled, decent, responsible human beings are forced to end up living: sharing sofas under trees in obscure parks, existing almost entirely in the hidden corners of Heathrow Airport. These places signify the extent of our country's hospitality to these folks.

    Davies' piece is timely as it reminds me to get on board the Living Ghosts campaign the first week in Advent. A Church Action on Poverty campaign which provides the opportunity "for church leaders to show their outrage at the government system that leaves some asylum seekers totally destitute in the UK."
    Tuesday, October 18, 2005
    No comments
    I've taken my comments facility offline for a while because I'm being bombarded by spam that way just now. You can still email me (click sidebar link) to make contact.
    Monday, October 17, 2005
    How do you love people ... continued
    Blogged the other day about Pip's question How do you love people?. It's very challenging. So much so I put it to the congregation at the heart of yesterday's sermon, with some interesting responses, as Pip himself mentions here.
    Sunday, October 16, 2005
    Landing at Madryn
    "'There we were landing at Madryn, and nothing, no nothing, but desert, desert, desert. Well, I sat down and tears rolled down my cheeks.'"

    - following-up yesterday's blog, I thought I'd put my Patagonia essay online, here.
    Saturday, October 15, 2005
    Treorchy and Trevelin - the Welsh link

    Struck me on looking at the photographs of Diego Vidart in the current issue of Planet, that it's twenty years since I made my move to Cardiff and started studying (among other subjects) Welsh History.

    Vidart's project recalls a favourite essay subject of mine - the Welsh colonial experiment, pioneered by Revd Michael D. Jones, principal of the Independents' College at Bala: migration to Patagonia. It's a fascinating story because, against the odds, the Welsh made it work; and there's still a piece of Argentina with a flavour of the Hen Wlad (the old country), 22,000 plus Welsh or hybrid Welsh in Patagonia today.

    Dusting my essay off the shelf this evening I note I got an A-- for it ("Extremely well-researched and done with competence and lucidity. A little more in the way of 'critique' wouldn't be amiss ..."). But rather than re-read that earnest undergraduate typewritten text tonight, I'm more interested in investigating Vidart's website, www.welshlink.org.uk, which carries a series of photographs which embraces Treorchy (South Wales) and Trevelin (Patagonia), and make visual links between the two communities. The connections are in the statistics; and in the languages, and in the blood. But also in the physical landscape and the lines on people's faces.
    Friday, October 14, 2005
    People Make Places
    Good news in a new book from Demos called People Make Places. The news - based on exhaustive surveys of the way people are living today in Cardiff, Preston and Swindon, is that contrary to many many reports, public space is not dead, but very much in use. It's actually a rich picture they paint - showing that many different types of people use many different types of spaces in their own distinctive ways, that "public space is better understood less as a predetermined physical space, and more as an experience created by an interaction between people and a place. In other words, public space is co-produced through the active involvement of the user."

    One of the valuable parts of the report is a section which identifies a wealth of characters shaping British public spaces and creating new shared places. According to Demos, these include:

    Home Birds - Living cocooned lives, they hardly ever come into contact with public venues, preferring the comfort of their living room or garden.

    Mall Walkers - Older women, young mums and unemployed people who frequent shopping centres, department stores and bus stops to fight boredom. Mall Walkers populate bus stops, supermarket coffee shops and markets.

    'Hoodsters - Often mums with young children, 'Hoodsters stay in their own postcode but unlike Home Birds enjoy venturing outside into public spaces around their home, like the local park, local shopping parade, mosque, church, coffee mornings.

    Patriots - Born and bred in the town, and strongly committed to it. Nostalgic patriots, often older white people, who tend to be occupied by the past and are found in places which affirm this: conservative clubs, ex-service men's clubs, bingo, tea dances, hospitals, football grounds; and Optimistic Patriots, younger and often from minority ethnic groups, whose daily lives play out in newsagents, takeaways, restaurants which are a central part of the streets' visual and social landscape.

    Displayers - From night-time revellers to street entertainers, everything about them is designed to be expressive - their dress, their body language and even their ring tones. Displayers are everywhere, especially streets with bars, entertainment districts, parks. Often young, often other people think they are a problem.

    Brand Addicts - Often full-time workers with busy lives, who like to go to the cool places to be seen and have the right kind of car to get them there: chain pubs, clubs, bars, leisure centres and entertainment districts. A loty of regeneration is targeted at this group and their leisure preferences.

    Bright Lights - Newcomers to the city, enamoured with the bright lights, and happy to be there, often in the newly-regenerated districts, by city landmarks and transport hubs, travelling across town.

    Hobbyhorses - From young executives doing a bit of acting on the side to committed skateboarders or gardeners, they live for their hobby. Hobbyhorses can be found in community and arts centres, and parks and youth clubs.

    Urban Safarians - People who deliberately go out and track down different places and types of places to consume, mixing the rough and ready with the glam and shiny. They could turn up anywhere, to eat, drink or talk, though they also have their favourite 'locals' which they may not actually live very near to.

    Public Spirits - Often found reading books on benches and collecting conkers in the park. Always ready to strike up conversation with a stranger, Public Spirits range from students and homeless people to the more affluent with time on their hands. Parks, squares, galleries, libraries, arts centres, Friends of the Park societies are where they'll be.

    [If you have a fancy colour printer you can download the entire report free here. Or you can buy the nicely-produced published version like I did - details here]
    Thursday, October 13, 2005
    A journey north
    Came north today. From the lakeside refreshment house at St James's Park, where pigeons crowd out the ducks and geese in competition for the rich tourist pickings; via Trafalgar Square where the shining white Alison Lapper pregnant has been sullied by those same filthy flying pests, while she maintains her dignified look in the direction of the Canadian Embassy; up Charing Cross Road where newsagents' shelves sag beneath every kind of magazine imaginable, in many languages; down Old Compton Road, across Wardour Street and into sordid Berwick Street, sick spine of Soho, but a street which also hosts a large number of excellent new- and used-record stores: steering past propositioning women, lingering over rarities by Vashti Bunyan and Coil; through Fitzrovia where the transition is from backstreet media houses in converted clothes factories to awesome academic and medical institutions: Middlesex Hospital, UCL; onto Euston Road, shining with new buildings, hqs for multinationals dealing in PR, education, health, armaments.

    I had anticipated that my northward journey from Euston would continue in the company of Sinclair and Clare, their shared route connecting Essex and Northants across two centuries; and Vashti Bunyan, whose long-lost, currently (and rightly) celebrated album Just another Diamond Day was the product of her two-year-long journey in a horse-drawn caravan from Sidcup, Kent to Donovan's communal camp on the Isle of Skye which began in July 1968 (and ended in tears).

    However a better thing still happened: by synchronicity Dot got on the same carriage, and we talked all the way to Crewe, Dot sharing with me some pictures on her iBook of a journey she had recently made. To a place we both know well: Iona, of course. It was a good journey she had, as all such journeys tend to be. Our journeys north.
    Wednesday, October 12, 2005
    In the various hearts of London
    Where is the heart of London? Eros? St Paul's? Centrepoint? I'm in my regular capital-city internet cafe just beneath that daunting tower block, its lights blinking through these windows; but it seems to me the heart is wherever you may be that makes you tick; or glow; or 'be'. After yesterday's celebrations (Linda's graduation ceremony in another, ancient, city power-centre, Southwark Cathedral), today a day of meeting friends.

    In The New Piccadilly Cafe, before-hours, Pip posed the question he's been asking on his website lately, "How do you love people?" I turned it around on him and we had a good conversation.

    In a restaurant on the Holloway Road Jonathan and I caught up with the joys and pains of present-clergy life and rehearsed possibilities about our futures, a roundabout way of working towards answers to that same earlier question, before exiting into a rainstorm.

    And back at my digs I dried my soggy body out whilst listening to a talk given at Greenbelt this year by Micheal O'Siadhail. He, too, was talking about how you love people. Some of his concluding words make great sense in a Bloomsbury turning golden with autumn, and throw some light on some of the various conversations I've enjoyed here over the past couple of days. They make astonishing sense knowing that when he spoke them his wife of 39 years lay gravely ill in a Dublin hospital, but had insisted he travelled to Cheltenham to share them with us:

    "Extraordinary how so many times trees reserve their most beautiful hues till the end. It's almost as if, at the end of a love life, we come to love life the most."
    Sunday, October 09, 2005
    Pic of the month
    Pic of the month for October: very late. Sorry.
    Saturday, October 08, 2005
    Blind man, have mercy on me
    A disturbing and doubtless enduring image from tonight's Fall gig. It was provided by a support act, name unknown, a guy running a DVD of Queen in concert through some radical distortion software which stretched and crunched both sound and images until they were barely recognisable. What song Freddie Mercury was singing we could not tell, but with this treatment it became a terror to the ears. A rock anthem gutted and smeared, we-will-rock-you become we-will-shock-you, we-are-the-champions become we-are-torn-apart-and-shamed. Primal scream therapy for the unsuspecting.

    And, accompanying this sound terror it was The Scream that I saw - Freddie's face stretched and distorted so that when I looked at the screen image reflected on the low ceiling above me, wide-eyed, open-mouthed, pulled back behind itself, it most resembled Edvard Munch's masterpiece of isolation and despair.

    I think this video-jock creation struck me deeply because I think it tells a truth: that the stadium-rock anthems, the ones we all know, the soundtracks to our lives, are celebrations of certainties and security. But they also carry within them the raw materials of deep doubt, terror, fear, and in that they mimic us. We are uncertain people living in uncertain times; even as we hold our mobile phones above our heads in rock ecstacy we know that we ourselves are distorted and ill-defined. After the gig, the ringing in our ears reminds us.

    The Fall have been onto this for years, of course. That's why they've endured. Though they are truly vibrant creations, each one, their songs are anti-anthems. Mark E. Smith is the master of producing distorted and ill-defined songs for people prepared to recognise their lives' distortion and live through it. Hence, their closing song tonight (twenty minutes past the venue's lights-up deadline), Blindness, a classic Fall groove which builds and builds and builds in intensity, and had the moshers skidding all over the floor this evening.

    'Everywhere I look I see a blind man / I see a blind man / Everywhere I look / I see a...' Smith sings. I'm with the Fall theorists who reckon this is a nightmare involving you, me and David Blunkett, the government minister intent on putting Incapacity Benefit recipients back into work and imprisoning frivolous youngsters in their homes. 'Do you ... work hard?' Smith asks, repeatedly, in the blind man's voice, and in his own continues, '"I said to poster, "When's the curfew over? / I said, "Blind man, have mercy on me." / I said, "Blind man, have mercy on me."'

    Multiple ironies here; many complexities. Makes me wonder about the dubious integrity of my Sunday task - to peddle Freddie-type certainties to an uncertain people. Makes me glad The Fall are on the road with their ripped-up sound and guests who make Munch out of Mercury. They're expressing something truthful for us, even though it's hard to know quite what it is.

    As Blindness finishes and the venue manger puts lights-up quickly we don't see the band walk off because a man is crawling on his hands and knees on the beer-sticky floor beneath us. He was moshing so hard he lost a contact lens. Blind man. We try to help him but he will not find it. Have mercy. We exit with all this in our tinnitus-troubled heads. On me.
    Friday, October 07, 2005

    I loved to draw when I was a little girl
    It helped me see the world as I wanted it to be
    Sometimes I walk home through a network of car parks
    Just because I can
    I love the feeling of being slightly lost
    To find new spaces, new routes, new areas
    I love the lack of logic
    I love the feeling of being slightly lost

    - a London voice, the voice of Sarah Cracknell, singer in Saint Etienne, on the track which gives the title to the wonderful Finisterre: a film about London, which I've been watching on DVD today.

    Saint Etienne have always been influenced and inspired by London, and their film, a collaboration with music video director Kieron Evans and filmmaker Paul Kelly, is what could be (and has been) called a psycho-geographical visual soundtrack to the city, a 24-hour journey from the suburbs to the heart and out again, beginning and ending at daybreak. Featuring the voices of various Londoners, largely from their circle of music-biz friends, and passages of commentary adapted from Geoffrey Fletcher's The London Nobody Knows and Ian Nairn's Nairn's London, some fine filmic detail and of course their own music.

    The effect is positive, at times dream-like, a celebration of place. A woman eulogises her mid-twentieth-century-towerblock home saying, "I've always wanted to live in Highpoint, because Mrs Peel used to live here from The Avengers - the fictional Mrs Peel not Diana Rigg. I've always wanted to live in the best place in the world and I always thought that this was the best place in England anyway to live. I wouldn't want to say it was a big white spaceship but it gives that sense of shock, like it's something that doesn't really belong. But when I see it I think more of angels singing."

    Of Piccadilly Ian Nairn wrote, "This really is the centre of London. But why, why when you stand under Eros with the traffic swirling endlessly round, does it feel like the whole enormous city is in the palm of your hand?"

    And as the film takes us to one of the favourite haunts of friends of mine, The New Piccadilly Cafe, the commentary continues, "It's said that if you stand at Piccadilly long enough you will see someone you know. You could lose yourself here. Grab a guidebook and a camera, and disappear."

    I'm in London for a couple of days next week. This beautiful work by Saint Etienne gives me plenty to look forward to.
    Thursday, October 06, 2005
    The first page of the end of despair
    In Manchester this afternoon to hear the respected urban theorist Leonie Sandercock do something unusual for her - address a room of theologians or folk of that ilk. But it was a challenge she welcomed, she said, not least because of a feeling that her work is moving in a direction which embraces the spirit. A concern to find words to describe the hopefulness implicit in urban planning, a yearning to "re-enchant the city". Intentions wonderfully captured in Dreams Before Waking by Adrienne Rich, with which Professor Sandercock began her lecture:

    What would it mean to live
    in a city whose people were changing
    each other's despair into hope?
    You yourself must change it.
    what would it feel like to know
    your country was changing?
    You yourself must change it.
    Though your life felt arduous
    new and unmapped and strange
    what would it means to stand on the first
    page of the end of despair?

    Sandercock treated us to a tour of Vancouver, stopping especially in the regenerated downtown area and in the Collingwood Neighbourhood House, the first providing excellent examples of truly collaborative city planning and the second a place where interculturalism shines - where the many different types of peoples in this mixed neighbourhood truly work and play well together - the product of enlightened city-wide social policy and some inspirational leadership.

    Vancouver, she says, resists getting into competition with other world cities, instead celebrates its uniqueness and is able to say no to the global forces which seem to be homogenising so many of our cities. Vancouver, she says, resists hiring international-star architects for its flagship projects and instead uses local people who can build with local sensitivities intact. Vancouver, she says, is a 'city of spirit' where urban professionals are not shy of talking about their task as being a work of love.

    It's not perfect, Vancouver, she told us, but it is a good example of what can be done when civic leaders jettison the sick practices of 'Best Value' and instead embrace a culture and practice of genuine listening to people in local neighbourhoods, work towards a genuine interculturalism, and affirm a genuine sense of magic and scaredness about their place.

    She did a good job of selling her home city to us; but far more than that, she encouraged us to see that it is possible to re-enchant our cities, to begin to understand what, in human and physical terms, that might mean.
    Tuesday, October 04, 2005
    The zeitgeist on the John Clare trail
    Lurid sunshine on a red-grey road. No cars, no delivery vans, no people. Welcome to Middle England. Xanaxshire, in the wake of the Lloyds fiasco, the debt mountain, the Blairite establishment of urban fixers and spinners (no fox-hunting, acres of GM crops), is the home of dolour. State-sponsored clinical depression. Valium villages under the ever-present threat of imported sex criminals and Balkan bandits; human landfill dumped in an off-highway nowhere, an uneconomic airship hangar, a reclaimed bunker. Enclosure, suddenly, is a personal matter: you have been shrink-wrapped in your own skin and you can't get out. That's when the blameless horizon, that wood, those hills, begins to hurt. Immaculate properties from catalogue. New furniture under plastic sheeting. Television sets murmuring softly in empty rooms.

    Oh, this is an excellent week for the muse. Yesterday, the latest MES epistle (which is a grower, I blogged too soon on that). Today, just into the latest of Iain Sinclair's uncategorisable masterworks, and this quote, well - it's fantastic. The writer captures the zeitgeist whilst wandering a Peterborough backroad on the John Clare trail.

    In 1841 the mad peasant-poet John Clare escaped from High Beach Asylum in Epping Forest and headed towards Northamptonshire on foot on a crazed mission to find his lost love, Mary Joyce, a woman already three years dead. Iain Sinclair, a walker-writer-straggler, five years after his epic route around the London Orbital in avoidance of the Millennium Dome, took himself and a crew of erratic companions, stray dogs and his wife Anna to tread their own connections with the mad poet into the same soil he walked. It looks like I've just read the intro to another richly amusing, amazing hike.

    In his New Statesman review of Sinclair's book Ian Irvine suggests that Sinclair's lifetime's project 'appears to be to re-energise mythical England and - through the power of imagination - to re-enchant the lamentable wasteland of contemporary life.' Spot-on observation. He certainly does that for me.
    Monday, October 03, 2005
    FHR out today

    The majority of those who voted in the Fall Heads Roll poll have got it pretty right, I reckon. On first listen, that is. FHR out today.
    Sunday, October 02, 2005
    Making of the Croxteth landscape
    Blogged in July about my intention to write an essay for the Making of the English Landscape course I did back then. Looking at the human and geographical factors which formed the urban landscape around here. It came back last week, with a few encouraging remarks and 73 per cent, which I reckon is ok for a non-historian like me. So I've put it online here.
    Saturday, October 01, 2005
    Frank on Bono's hat
    Bit daunting speaking just before the very experienced Frank Field MP this morning but he was very nice to me about it afterwards. Occasion: a public meeting organised by our local Church Action on Poverty group, somewhat rhetorically titled 'Have We Beaten Poverty?' My role: warm-up act. In a talk encouraging depth over rhetoric in anti-poverty campaigning [see here] I put in a slightly vague dig about Bono; which Frank masterfully followed-up with a biting description of said pop-poverty-preacher's practice of sending his hat around the world, first-class, by plane....