<-- Google Analytics START --> <-- Google Analytics END -->

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

    Saturday, December 31, 2005
    Theirs is the future

    I knew it'd be good: The Caravan Gallery's Welcome to Britain - A Celebration of Real Life. I bought it in Brighton yesterday and I've been tittering at it ever since. A great and lasting showcase for their work, which is also quite generously covered on their website. One thing the book lacks, in comparison to their website, is much reference to their surveys about how people feel about Britain today. Above, one child's view. Theirs is the future. Greetings 2006.

    Wednesday, December 28, 2005
    Check Kristin

    I've added Kristin's blog to my sidebar because I've discovered that not only is she one of the finest musicians about, she's also very good and very real about describing what that actually means, day-to-day. Plus, she's now in the business of offering free music, aiming 'to circumvent the 'money cycle' and get high quality (free) recordings into the hands of a maximum number of people for evaluation at their leisure.' This from a woman whose house flooded last time she was away gigging - very generous.
    Tuesday, December 27, 2005
    Wall and Piece

    Powerful thing, graffiti. As Banksy shows in his book Wall and Piece, which someone who knows me very well imagined I would enjoy this Christmas. I'm a bit wary of Banksy now that the mainstream is embracing him (books, Sunday supplements, gallery shows) but I bet nowhere near as wary as he himself is of being caught in the deadly embrace of the establishment. But meanwhile he continues subverting urban space, and it's good.

    Graffiti changes things. When Banksy stencils THIS WALL IS A DESIGNATED GRAFFITI AREA on white space it soon fills up with other people's tags; when he stencilled DESIGNATED RIOT AREA at the foot of Nelson's Column it was removed by nervous security personnel in just four minutes. The book features a photo of a stencil onto the sand at Weston Super Mare, X - BURIED TREASURE. You can bet there were bounty-hunters there within minutes of that picture being taken. One of my favourite urban interventions in Wall and Piece is the sign he glued into St James' Park lake in 2004 stating, DANGER - CONTAMINATED AREA - RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL. He writes, 'The Metropolitan Police made it look far more realistic by stationing a community support officer on the bridge nearby telling people not to be alarmed.'

    Banksy is a subvertiser - keen to challenge the hegemony of The Advertisers who 'abuse you everyday ... butt into your life ... leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small ... [are] on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. ... However you are forbidden to touch them ...' Banksy wilfully ignores intellectual property rights and sets about altering ads to make passers-by stop and think ('They never asked for your permission, don't even start asking for theirs'). It's the Adbusters approach and it offers deliverance from the oppressive mental environment The Advertisers cage us in.

    But Banksy is so much more than just a subvertiser. His art does complicated things. Like the cashpoint belching out Princess Diana-faced tenners onto Farringdon, the stencil WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT? facing a CCTV camera in Marble Arch, the love poems he pastes on the side of street furniture, the traffic cones he reassembles on some of the world's busiest streets, beautiful scenes painted onto the Palestine 'peace wall', a dead rat in sunglasses displayed inside a glass case at the Natural History Museum bearing the phrase 'our time will come'.

    We're not supposed to know who Banksy is, which is part of the appeal. It's also because if the authorities knew who he was he'd be inside. Maybe he's more than one person; perhaps he's a movement. It's worth considering just why his work is considered illegal, by whom, and to what purpose, and it's worth approaching the world with critical humour, as he himself seems to do:

    'They say graffiti frightens people and is symbolic of the decline in society, but graffiti is only dangerous in the mind of three types of people: politicians, advertising executives and graffiti writers.'
    Sunday, December 25, 2005
    Christmas sermon
    'I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception.' - this year's Christmas sermon began with quotes from Groucho, included Fred Buechner and ended with Rowan Williams. Three wise ones. Festive greetings.
    Saturday, December 24, 2005
    A story and a song which speak to the imagination
    The incarnation would still be the incarnation if we did not have this song and this story. But a doctrine which speaks to the intellect is one thing; a story and a song which speak to the imagination are something rather different. We do need to strive for intellectual integrity, certainly. But a theology which does not inspire our imagination and stir our motives is just as untrue as a theology which short sells on the doctrinal level. This is what incarnation means. We shall see its truth not in abstract propositions but in a community which sings its way into the struggle for the justice of God's kingdom.

    - John Davies (not me, another one) in Be Born in Us Today. Thanks Merrin.
    Friday, December 23, 2005
    Checkpoint Bethlehem

    Cartoon from a YMCA East Jerusalem newsletter posted by Pip.
    Thursday, December 22, 2005
    Let that Homer shine
    Coming home tonight through an estate glowing with gaudy outdoor decorations, of households which can barely afford it setting their electric meters spinning like crazy to light up the neighbours homes opposite, with all manner of chintzy illuminations making the damp streets sparkle - coming home through all that my eyes rested on one particularly garish sight: an enormous inflated Homer Simpson, hoisted on the front of one family's home, lit up and dressed as Santa. Involuntarily, I laughed out loud at the madness of this, the wonderful incongruousness, the joyous ludicrousness of this statement in bright red and yellow heavy-duty nylon. And at that moment I became reconciled to secular, materialistic Christmas. Bring it on!

    I shall not complain that all these lights bear no relation the True Light Who Has Come Into The World. That's a worn-out given, a sermon we've heard a zillion times. I think these lights might just be saying something very valid. If you don't know The Story but you're willing to be loving angels instead; if you're of modest means but have a sneaking Mary-like intuition that there's something afoot in the world which seeks to knock down the pompous and puffed-up and pious and to elevate the chintzy, if you have an instinct that there is a place for celebration in an otherwise dispirited world, then what better way to express yourself than to tie a fifteen-foot high Homer to your home at the darkest, grimmest time of year, switch the crazy light show on and let that commonplace charlie, that ordinary joe, that wondrously banal anti-King, SHINE.
    Wednesday, December 21, 2005
    From bad to verse

    Jane's poetic quest, documented previously on this site, has made a full page in today's Society Guardian.

    "Stick me in a field of daffodils and I won't come up with any poems; put me on a building site and it's different," Jane Canning says. For years she's been reacting to the demise of our local estate by writing poems which have a prophetic edge, as described by her supporter and my colleague Mark: "She complains to those in power that they are not using their power very well," he says. "She has energy, bravery and courage."

    It's a decent article and good exposure for Jane's - and the local community's - cause. 'She is ... canny enough to know that her poems are an effective way to get up the noses of officials,' writes David Ward. His timely feature may give some of them something substantial to chew on over the holidays.
    Tuesday, December 20, 2005
    2005 Review
    Time I made my 2005 Review available for folks to browse, with the answers, particularly those who received a copy by post and want to know which items were TRUE, which FALSE, and which IN MY DREAMS. I've already some explaining to do to at least one person who thought it was all true ... oops; it isn't ...
    Sunday, December 18, 2005
    When I heard I was pregnant
    When I heard I was pregnant - not me, you fool. My sermon today, a memorable Ridley Hall moment revisited.
    Friday, December 16, 2005
    Come all you true good Christians
    Christmas music is just getting better and better this year. Ears still full of the delights of Sufjan, today I remembered, and dusted off my old copy of, the Topic Records compilation The Season Round [Carols for the Whole Year]. And luxuriated in the excellent treatments of old English folk carols by the likes of The Watersons and Shirley Collins. Come all you true good Christians, etc. And plenty of wassailing thrown in for good measure.
    Thursday, December 15, 2005
    Endangered specious

    Terrible news. Jan, from the Caravan Gallery, sent me this in a bundle of postcards, telling me that this one could become a collectors item as the Cumbernauld Shopping Centre has apparently been voted the ugliest building in Britain and could be due for demolition. What a loss that would be.

    The Caravan Gallery have a book out called Welcome to Britain - A Celebration of Real Life, which I don't mind plugging here. Wonderful slice-of-life photography. If I don't find it inside my blue Everton stocking this Christmas it's top of my list for New Year purchases.
    Wednesday, December 14, 2005
    Sufjan Stevens' Songs For Christmas

    I don't often link to Jonny's blog because I know a lot of my readers look there too, no point duplicating stuff. But I can't contain my excitement about this, and thanks Jonny for exposing it: downloads of Sufjan Stevens' Hark! Songs For Christmas. They are so beautiful I am nearly crying with delight.
    Tuesday, December 13, 2005
    Forgive me my trespasses
    Today I received my copy of Access All Areas: A User's Guide to the Art of Urban Exploration (described by the Toronto Star as "a practical guide to indulging one's curiosity while gently subverting the structures of authority"). And also today, in that sort of spirit, I drove the wrong way up Upper Parliament Street, to avoid a roadworks snarl-up. I was following a taxi driver, a person who by necessity is probably growing very used to subverting the road rules in our chaotically dug-up city centre. I don't think that this is the sort of behaviour the folk behind the Infiltration website really have in mind. But my fairly accidental detour into illegality gave me an inkling of how their explorations of various abandoned sites, drains, catacombs, transit tunnels and back-ends or underneaths of public buildings, must feel. A bit scary but very liberating...

    ['It's important not to confuse the words "illegal" and "immoral"' - interesting discussion about the ethics of urban exploration, here]
    Monday, December 12, 2005
    Pillows and Prayers
    "I have been to bars in Soho, whose denizens have crossed social and geographical barriers to reach them. In one, I have seen a girl sitting amid musical pandemonium with a book open on her knees and her little finger entwined with that of her true love. Of course, she was not really listening, not really reading and not communicating with her friend in any way that required effort or style. It would be hard to say whether the jukebox caused the death of human speech or whether music came to fill an already widening void - but unless the music is stopped now, the human race, mumbling, snapping its fingers and twitching its hips, will sink back into an amoebic state, where it will take a coagulation of hundreds of teenagers to make up a single unit of vital force - which, once formed, will only live on sedatives, consume itself on the terraces of football stadia, and die."

    - Quentin Crisp, Stop the Music for a Minute, last track on Pillows and Prayers.

    It was a time in my life when I ought to have been flourishing. Five years out of school, a skill, a trade under my belt, world at my feet. But it turned out to be the year I went on the dole. Me and many others of my peers here too: thanks to the regrettably still-alive Thatcher. However there were some small streams of light in the darkness, and one came from the people at Cherry Red Records, who decided to put out a compilation at a dole-affordable 99p. Not too much of an exaggeraation to say that Pillows and Prayers changed our lives. It was lovely, it was funny, it was sophisticated, it was warm. We needed all those things just then. 1983. My tape copy is well-lost, or stretched to past-playing point ages ago. I've just bought it again, on CD, doubled up with the previously Japanese-only 1984 follow-up. It's as fresh (and in Quentin's case, funny) as the day I first heard it. Will brighten up these winter nights.
    Sunday, December 11, 2005
    Coleen: firmly planted, deeply rooted

    Excellent guided tour of our parish, unexpectedly, on primetime TV this evening. Hosted by Coleen McLoughlin, Croxteth's currenly most famous daughter, fiance of Wayne, and not so very long ago a pupil at St John Bosco. There she is, drawing the car up at the corner of Worrow Road to point out the spot at which she was first snapped by a tabloid photographer, on an early-morning walk to school, and describing how the staff allowed her to deal with the trauma of that with a phone call to her mother. Just further down Carr Lane East (the opposite end to our church) she points out the Britannia chippie, site of her first 'date' with young Rooney, site of an enormous amount of socialising each day of the week among our young. And, most touchingly, at the edge of the all-weather pitch at Croxteth Sports Centre Coleen demonstrates how she and her mates would stand watching the lads playing footie, as the lads presently playing footie on that pitch know her and wave, and some of her mates turn up just at that point. They still all know her; as a friend, as a peer, as an equal. She may live in Formby and/or Bowdon now but she really hasn't left Croccy.

    I don't read what the tabloids write about Coleen, though I gather from the programme that they have her stereotyped as a time-waster shopaholic. What came over in the programme was her positive ordinariness, the easy down-to-earthness which is engrained in her. Her parents - also a marriage out of a teenage romance - are deeply rooted and she has gained this from them. Calls her mum every day, spends each Friday out with her girlfriends just like she always did. She's a local girl living a dream, seizing the moment by building herself a career in fashion, and the best thing about it is she's doing it all with her feet firmly planted on the ground, on the same ground I walk each day: "That's the way I am, that's the way I was taught to be."
    Saturday, December 10, 2005

    This guy just keeps getting better and better. Dave Walker's Advent Calendar Blog.
    Friday, December 09, 2005
    'The Bus' by Paul Sumpter
    He just sat there and the more he tried to hide it the more he became noticeable. On a packed number 10A, taking its lunatics to each of their asylums, as we passed through Kenny's smacked-up 80s landscape, he started to cry. A simple release of expression, a rejection of the multitude's plan to keep it together, a rebellion against the etiquette of the bus, an act so beautifully simple it made it impossible not to stare at him.
    Many times I have felt like slicing open the dulled oppression of the us and many times the view of Kenny on mornings such as this have made me want to cry, but I had never thought that the two could be so intrinsically linked.
    But this man's refusal to hide his obvious distress filled me with belief that it was possible to beat the bus. He suddenly became James Dean, his fake Berghouse a biker's leather, his tears a switchblade, each one slashing out with years of frustration behind it. And it was happening in front of me in the last place I thought it possible - the 10A at 9.11 on Tuesday morning.
    As he hopelessly tried to gather himself together and re-enter the bus he found he couldn't. So just after the Royal he departed, a victim of his own heroic actions. No doubt in search of a way back in. A reluctant hero, but a hero all the same.
    As he fought his way down London Road away from the bus, surrounded by people who had no idea, I knew it was going to be a good day.

    - 'The Bus' by Paul Sumpter, from the latest issue of Nerve. For those not in the know, Kenny = Kensington, one of Liverpool's more overlooked areas (until recently) as far as regeneration is concerned. Famously (?) twinned with London's Kensington by Bill Drummond, the twinning marked by his exchanging a Liverpool wheelie bin with a London one for a fortnight and then swopping them back again [see here].
    Thursday, December 08, 2005
    On Lennon and becoming real
    People say we've got it made
    don't they know we're so afraid,

    Listening again today to John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band I'm affected by how much pain there is in there. Anger and pain. Struck by the impression of how much of his childhood is in Lennon's music; and by how much of his childhood hurt. In a fascinating and genuinely revealing 1971 interview with Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn Lennon said,

    "... I was never really wanted. The only reason I am a star is because of my repression. Nothing else would have driven me through all that if I was 'normal'..."

    Yoko: "... and happy ..."

    Lennon: "The only reason I went for that goal is that I wanted to say: 'Now, mummy-daddy, will you love me?'"

    All of that is well-expressed in that seminal 1970 album which sears through my iMac speakers as I write. Plus Lennon's anti-establishment, anti-religion, anti-Beatles vibes which are also well-explored in Ali/Blackburn's interview.

    "The more reality we face, the more we realise that unreality is the main programme of the day. The more real we become, the more abuse we take, so it does radicalise us in a way, like being put in a corner. But it would be better if there were more of us."

    And so to this morning, where at the invitation of the Liverpool Beatles Appreciation Society I laid a laminated print of Peter Murphy's Lennon icon at the foot of the Lennon statue on Mathew Street (see it on this AP Photo/Paul Ellis picture, right). Very unreal, trying to reach the assortment of Lennon fans struggling to see through a barrage of the world's cameras and microphones, explaining briefly the significance of icons to spiritual seekers, the value of Lennon's image as a focus and inspiration for those seeking to work for peace, asking for reflection and remembrance of today's peacemakers.

    It was such a media event that I felt numbed by it. It seemed a long way away from the very real, very raw emotion I felt that cold winter morning in 1980 when, leaving home for work, I heard the news of Lennon's death on the radio. And the bemusement I felt as a green eighteen year old when some older workers on the shop floor met the news grudgingly, with complaints about Lennon's betraying the city of his birth and disparaging his peacenik, refusenik character. Their attitude horrified me at the time; in retrospect at least it awoke some sensibilities in me, matured me. Taught me that there were many in the world who would vehemently oppose the sorts of values I held dear. That it still smarts, that memory, perhaps means that I'm not entirely numbed by the fact that Lennon was only a Working Class Hero to some of us.

    "God is a concept by which we measure our pain," Lennon sang. I doubt he'd have been too chuffed having two clergymen and the Lord Mayor leading tributes to him outside The Cavern today. But he may have felt better about it knowing that for one of us at least, it triggered these thoughts, about getting real, about still wanting to stand in a corner, with the ragbag radicals, fighting the unreality.
    Wednesday, December 07, 2005
    Peter Murphy and a timely icon

    Wonderful to hear from Peter Murphy, a Stuckist artist who was brought up around the corner from Walton Hospital, who describes himself as a massive Evertonian and U2 fan. He's an icon painter and does quite a lot of painting for the Church. He thought I might enjoy his website. I do. And how timely - to contemplate this icon on the eve of my taking part in a ceremony outside The Cavern to mark the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death.
    Tuesday, December 06, 2005
    When I walk The Land I start from here
    However stressed and unforgiving I am after a wierd day, 2 hours on the land restores my animal balance and lets my spirit fly free like Billy Balloon from Scott Walker's "Plastic Palace People". Man is a huge Headtrip that likes to exist Full-on at all times. He's clearly not reconciled to this earth because he spends so much effort constructing ways of living above it. This would suggest that part of him is Not of this Earth. But until we discover just where that part of him IS from, it would appear to make sound sense to nourish the part of him that IS from planet Earth by walking his body around on the land every so often because, at the very least, we know part of man's roots are here. ...

    The Judaeo-Christian way that preached Dominion over the Land was taken as a given even by Radicals. We still suffer from its fallout, dragged off the land during the Industrial Revolution and billetted in Sardine-can City working for the Man. Change will only come when people feel it. the first Gnostic rebellion over the claustrophobic life in cities took place 700 years before Christ. My message is tied to the land. Put on your walking shoes.

    - I'm reading Julian Cope's 1995 tour 'programme' The Ur-Pagan and I think I'm in agreement with most of that. Except The Land is in The City too, of course. When I walk The Land I start from here.
    Monday, December 05, 2005
    I feel like the shed in Shedboatshed
    So this year's Turner Prize has been won by Shedboatshed, Simon Starling's wooden shack, found in the Swiss town of Schweizerhalle, which he turned into a boat, then paddled seven miles down the Rhine to Basel, where he rebuilt it. He describes his work as "the physical manifestation of a thought process".

    Well, I can relate to that. After day one of a week of church Christmas socials the introvert in me starts to feel the strain, the non-party-animal pushed reluctantly to the forefront at times like this. Each day I shall feel like the shed in Shedboatshed: discovered, dismantled, shaped into something distinctly unlike me, sent out into strange and stormy waters, and, at the end of the day (probably with another glass or two to settle me) gradually reassembled again.
    Sunday, December 04, 2005
    What John said
    He came from far outside the city, from a place thought of as foreign and unusual.

    He didn’t look the same as others. His behaviour seemed wild and strange. It wound some people up - he had his enemies.

    His message was a tough one: he told the people to turn around, to change their ways.

    But his message was humble too, because anyone who would listen to him he pointed towards Jesus, offering them a new vision of new life in Christ.

    With that intro this morning most people thought I was talking about John the Baptist. But actually this was my way of introducing the words of John Sentamu. I reckon that last Wednesday's sermon at his installation as the new Archbishop of York had a touch of the Baptist's about it. So that's what the folks got in our church today. Stirring stuff.
    Saturday, December 03, 2005
    Downtime is uptime
    Downtime is uptime. My old iMac (original-style aqua-blue cuddly model) has been downloading files for the past fifteen hours. Because I went daft yesterday and purchased a new iMac (new-style clinical white pavement-slab flat screen type). Well, not so daft: packed-in peripherals and decreasing compatibility with colleagues' stuff meant that time had come for the much-loved old model to move on. Brought on by a crisis, of course - tomorrow morning's sermon and the Parish Magazine are still unfinished (though the sermon only needs printing-off).

    While waiting for the file transfer I composed my Christmas card insert letter for this year. In a break from the boring, this year it's in quiz form. Watch this space (or the letterbox). More on St Stephen's Day.
    Thursday, December 01, 2005
    Pic of the month
    My Pic of the month is here on time and, still fresh in my mind from last week's visit to the British Museum, it's a Palmer.