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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Tuesday, January 31, 2006Triple booked
1. The Merseyside Social Inclusion Observatory [MSIO]: Merseyside Gets Heard - a profile of social exclusion on Merseyside [download];
2. Liverpool John Moores University Centre for Public Health: Health, Environment and Deprivation in the North West;
3. Church Commissioners Pastoral Division: Mission Scenarios - Innovative and Unusual Pastoral Arrangements
What I am actually reading:
1. Sky Sports rolling news on the Duncan and Jason derby debacle;
2. The small print on Rough Trade Shops: Counter Culture 05 cd, great little gems of observations about each featured artist;
3. Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape, which arrived today and is, as I'd hoped, fascinating.
And tomorrow I'm off on a couple of reading days, to engage with Tim Gorringe's A Theology of the Built Environment: Justice, Empowerment, Redemption.
None of the other texts will travel with me. But if you need to fill the space created by the absence of my daily blog, there's a good list to choose from...
Monday, January 30, 2006No one I think is in my tree One of the legendary places of Liverpool, Strawberry Fields, because it's a childhood haunt which Lennon immortalised on one of the greatest double-A-side singles ever released (twinned with Penny Lane, a song about a suburban street a short bus ride away).
In Lennon's youth and until very recently Strawberry Fields was a Salvation Army home. Thanks to the efforts of some visionary Salvationists it's been reborn as a 24-7 prayer centre called the Boiler Room. Spent the day there with colleagues today doing team-building stuff, baring me soul, revealing all, drinking tea.
During this time I revealed that if I was a plant I think I'd be a cactus. Whilst colleagues cheekily decided that in their eyes I am a bonsai. "No one I think is in my tree," John sang. I happily concur.
Sunday, January 29, 2006Give a dog a Bone Chinese New Year on the streets of Liverpool today, colourful and lovely but once again it was clear that the celebrations are being more deeply assimilated into the Capital of Culture agenda. What was once a spontaneous and quite peripheral party for a segment of the city's immigrant population is now playing front of house at Liverpool 08's business-cosying One-Stop Culture Shop on Whitechapel.
I recall with delight that in this, the Year of The Dog, the chair of the Liverpool Culture Board is a man called Drummond Bone. Will this be the year that the city's grubby mongrels reclaim the streets from the venture capitalists and worry them into admitting that real culture comes from the bottom-up, not from opportunistic quangos, most of whose members will be straight off out of here come 2009 (just like Bone soon got out of Glasgow once that city's Capital of Culture party was over)? Sorry, slight rant there. But something, I hope, to chew on.
Saturday, January 28, 2006Woodcraft Folk: Trough of Bowland There is some debate, but I don't really care whether the Woodcraft Folk are folk, or electronica, or some sort of happy hybrid. I care to listen to them because their sound is very beautiful. The album, Trough of Bowland, is named for one of the North-West's treasures and the hand-produced packaging artwork is odd and full of wonder.
[Hear: Old House at Home :: Conroy Plays Vibes]
Friday, January 27, 2006Enduring hardship is what builds a life Scammonden Water and winding us gently across the 70mph chain gang of the M62 on the bridge by Owlet Edge.
Yorkshire is used to incomers. Which was clear to us, as we travelled the A644 Huddersfield Road which runs beneath The College of the Resurrection (founded a century ago by missionary Anglo-Catholics with a desire to relocate from Oxford 'to grimy, smoky, industrial Yorkshire to live the monastic life.') Which was clear to us, as we stood outside Dewsbury Minster reflecting on the story of St Paulinus, who travelled all the way from St Andrew's monastery in Rome to make his home in the rugged North Country. And which was affirmed to us by the accepting glances of all those locals who we encountered on our two Dewsbury walks today, three clear outsiders led at pace by Jim with a West Yorkshire A-Z swinging inside his plastic map wallet up and down the old mill roads of this town which Rose George used to call Nearleeds, 'because no-one had actually heard of Dewsbury'.
Clearly, this Yorkshire town was actually built by incomers. And is still being built by incomers. We could perceive this when walking round the predominantly Asian Savile Town, whilst noting that Dewsbury's ancestral family probably arrived from Sevielle, Normandy in the time of the Conquest. It seemed that the majority of people passing us in quiet, run-down Savile Town were building new lives in a new land - a woman in a black burqa holding the hand of her young daughter dressed in blue denim, men dressed in thobes moving between small shopfront businesses in streets dominated by views down to the vast white sheds of multinational chain stores. What you wear is who you are, notes Jim.
Nothing threatening here, to us tourists. Though nothing need ever threaten tourists - we only stayed long enough for a couple of meanders punctuated by a pint of Black Sheep and a truly wonderful lamb casserole in the West Riding gastropub. Towns built by incomers must be full of tensions, and Rose George's article carefully details some of the things which must make it a challenge to anyone to be building a life in Dewsbury. But we enjoyed our day, loved the town-centre buildings and remnants of old mills created a century ago by industrialists who were proud of their place and bequested it some structures of lasting beauty, hated the cheap steel corporate eyesores (Asda, B&Q, CarpetRight...) which have colonised the valley in the years since Thatcher sanctioned the separation of capital gains from civic responsibility.
Back in Liverpool Jim gave me something of his to read - Snapshots of the Eighteenth Century, a 28-page paper which documents in some detail some of the privations of workers the world over in that era. On the cover he has juxtaposed two pictures: one of West Indies sugar plantation workers, and the other of Coal Whippers working barges on the River Thames - brutal, backbreaking work for both sets of wage-slaves. It reminds me of one of our lines of conversation today - the old woollen mills may look beautiful to us now, but when they were working Dewsbury would have seemed like hell to those inside. Then as now, enduring hardship is what builds a life for incomers and natives alike.
Thursday, January 26, 2006To Dewsbury London Review of Books in which she describes a return to the town which was her home for 17 years, an ex-mill town become national centre for bed manufacturing, BNP stronghold and more recently tainted by association with the July bombers [Read it all on her website: Part 1 / Part 2].
Our interest? Exploring the processes and realities of urban change; sampling the exotic and trying to catch some understanding of the complexities of community relations there (by contrast, our predominantly white ghettoised city has little of the racial mix of the old mill towns, meaning that the host culture can evade serious engagement with the issues our Yorkshire cousins face each day). And for me, something lingering about my roots: my quarter-Yorkshireness merits further reflection and it will be interesting to compare Dewsbury with Shipley, from where my maternal great-grandparents made the journey to the Mersey some eighty-odd years ago.
Something else, too, in Rose George's piece, has caught the eye. Mention of The West Riding, 'the best pub in the country'. More on all this, no doubt, tomorrow.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006The Stars of Norris Green collection
Monday - Stars of Norris Green 1: Geoffrey Hughes
Tuesday - Stars of Norris Green 2: Joe Royle
Wednesday - Stars of Norris Green 3: Jean Alexander
Thursday - Stars of Norris Green 4: Steve Coppell
Friday - Stars of Norris Green 5: Ian McCulloch
[link to list on sermons page]
Tuesday, January 24, 2006I'm in love with illusions so saw me in half
Pete Burns wake up - it's a Rabbit Fur Coat, this week's essential item. For once I'm taken in completely by the hype, as I often can be when the hype is about soulful young female country singers. And here's the best twisted gospel I've heard in a good long while. Greenbelt bookers listen up:
I was born secular and inconsolable
I heard that he walked, he walked the earth
God goes where he wants
And who knows where he is not
Not in me (ah-ah)
Monday, January 23, 2006Infrastructure
The other thing Alain de Botton put his readers onto yesterday was a little more obscure. But not for me. The book Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape sounds fascinating. And it truly is, as the above extract shows.
De Botton wrote that Brian Hayes' book "lets you know how sewage gets around under the city streets and how aluminium is made (you have to get bauxite from Jamaica, then ship it to a place with lots of electricity, like the Pacific north west). It answers all those questions that children are allowed to be excited about, but that disappear from polite conversation with the onset of puberty. The author is quite evangelical about his task. In his introduction, he complains that tourist guides always send you to admire museums and statues, but never direct you to fascinating sewage-treatment plants. He proudly tells us that he went to southern Italy on holiday and only looked at harbours.
He ends this monument to scholarship on a characteristically sober but strangely stirring note: 'If you would pull off the highway to admire a mountain vista or a waterfall, you might also consider pausing for a mine or a power plant.'"
Needless to say it's on my wish list and may just prove foundational in my plans to travel east to west, Hull to Liverpool, on my sabbatical - plans which increasingly seem to feature a port and industrial theme the more I think about them.
Sunday, January 22, 2006I'm pleased for the goat, but where's my present? Year Of Living Generously site had an open to all participants front page blog with comments facility because if it did it could give this worthy project so much more of a buzz. And if it did then today I would be posting this - some typically stimulating sideways thinking from Alain de Botton in The Observer:
"It has become fashionable these days for people to show up on birthdays and declare that rather than buying you a keyring from Orla Kiely or a jumper from Margaret Howell, your friend has been generous enough to sponsor a goat in Mali, a well in Thailand or five trees on the edge of the Kalahari. The idea is that the donor will have offered both herself and her recipient a satisfaction infinitely greater than any material object: that of knowing that money has been spent on a deserving cause.
However, I'm afraid this won't do, and the next time someone offers me evidence of the sponsorship of a goat, I will plainly declare: 'I'm pleased for you and obviously for the goat, but where is my present? It's my birthday!'
The trend towards goat-giving seems to pervert the virtues of both gifts and charitable donations. True charity should involve making a sacrifice oneself, on one's own behalf (and, ideally, not in public), rather than forcing someone else to go without a present.
Furthermore, a real gift is something that should focus on the welfare of the recipient rather than on that of a third party, however much more deserving the latter might be (the only exception to this thesis is if someone deliberately asks for charity to be given in lieu of a gift).
The goat-giving method strong-arms one into thinking that there is no choice: either a person gets one of those delectable V-neck jumpers from Margaret Howell or a village has no clean water. But the choice is almost never so stark. We should give amply to charity, but stop using evidence of high-minded donations as a reason not to turn up with a present."
Saturday, January 21, 2006The spirit and the soul and the yeast of the thing Besides this lunchtime's blessed Beattie and Osman show I think the best hour I spent this week was in a room upstairs from News from Nowhere at the launch of Barbara's book. I've written before about the city-centre bread-making community which Barbara and others have gradually and patiently built over the past five or six years. It's a wonderful story and the book, though brief, says so much about the spirit and the soul and the, er, yeast of the thing...
When we opened our kitchens we had a 'bread-warming party'. I wasn't quite sure how many I had invited, so we set the room out so that it was possible to make bread as you walked around the table. People arrived, took off their coats, washed their hands and were given a bowl of flour. As their bread progressed so did they, so there was space for the newest arrival by the door. In the end 60 people made bread that night! There was a complete mix. People from Storm [worship group for gay and lesbian Christians], some Big Issue guys, the president of the Liverpool Association of Chartered Accountants, a pension fund manager, a member of 'Moral Rearmament', some children, an Anglican priest, a policeman ... It was a random jumble of humanity. Probably the only person who knew everyone else was me and as I glanced around the room I could see miracle upon miracle as the most unlikely people were talking to each other as friends. The word 'companion' means 'together in bread'.
Friday, January 20, 2006Weekly dose of essential corrective
SchNEWS - weekly direct action newsletter - crap arrest, protest, party, DIY, Brighton, political cartoons, Indymedia, animal rights, critical mass, asylum, permaculture, climate change, privatisation, neoliberal, anticopyright, copyleft, globalisation arrives each Friday morning by email. And I bung them a few quid a month to help keep them going; essential corrective to most of the nonsense which tickles the eyes most of the rest of the week.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006Liverpool Serendipity
All sorts of people getting in touch with me to keep the Liverpool website connections growing. Today a welcome greeting from Dave Wood whose Liverpool Pictorial site features breathtaking shots of the city like the one above. And from John Williams whose Liverpool Tales site is full of his stories and reflections on city life, and he's written a book too. All good stuff, and as John's site has a page of Liverpool friendly links which in turn branch out to other great portals such as Liverpool Serendipity, I think it may be time to add a few to my front page. Watch this space. Or that one over there on the left.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006Thoughts on the five stars of Norris Green Church Action on Poverty group considering plans to host a conference on the theme What Makes a Good City?. Which is one way to try to get the grassroots voice into the Capital of Culture / culture of capital conversation. Another way is to utilise the opportunity afforded by five Thoughts for the Day, which I've been asked to do for radio broadcast next week. My inspiration is yesterday's blog topic - the five stars of Norris Green have each provided me with the material for 100 seconds of breakfast-show reflection:
Eddie Yates (Geoffrey Hughes) - on why we love the loveable rogue;
Joe Royle - on schoolboy ambition and going the extra mile on the bus;
Hilda Ogden (Jean Alexander) - on getting your words out however daft they sound;
Steve Coppell - on overcoming prejudice and injury to succeed;
Ian McCulloch - on being ridiculously proud of where you come from...
Monday, January 16, 2006Growing up on Parthenon
Steve's updated and upgraded his excellent Images of Norris Green website and added a forum (today's hot topic: should the council rename the Boot Estate Norris Green Village?), and other features such as a page featuring famous locals. Corry stars and football managers on the whole, but Mac's the one who stands out among them. Parthenon Drive from the Bunnymen's latest album Siberia is a great homage to the thoroughfare where McCulloch grew up, so good it could almost be off Heaven Up Here, and a fair description of the ageing process I've shared almost concurrently with him... [Listen here]
Sunday, January 15, 2006Keeping the silence There is a silence peculiar to families that are keeping secrets. It's most like the silence you hear when you enter a room just after a raging argument has finished, when the angry words have died away but the air is still agitated in their wake, still warm from the heat of them; a strange unsettling silence, that falls on a room after a row.
For those of us born long after the event, the peculiar quality of the silence may be the only clue that anything ever happened. We will not be told. 'Not even if we begin to suspect that something in the past changed the lives of the people we love, and made them who they are and stopped them from being who they might have been; perhaps even crippled them; perhaps determined the shape of our own lives.
The events that are never discussed are fed by the silence until they grow larger than they were, and begin to suffocate the people who will not talk. And the silence is passed down, from father and mother, to son and daughter, and on.
- This week (inbetween war stories) I've been reading Cole Moreton's book My Father Was a Hero; The True Story of a Man, a Boy and the Silence Between Them. Made more poignant to me today as it was my Dad's birthday. And though there were, as ever, quite a lot of words spoken in our time together, the silences speak louder than ever in the light of Cole's characteristically revealingly honest piece of writing.
[Cole Moreton Surefish interview here ]
Saturday, January 14, 2006Who will open the scroll? So here it is, triggered in response to John Pilger's article The Quiet Death of Freedom, stimulated by two London-return train journeys these last two days, with the three hour soundtrack of The Fire this Time scorching my ears and the full text of Harold Pinter's Nobel lecture searing the eyes of my heart; written largely whilst uncomfortably seated in a frenzied waiting hall at Euston Station: tomorrow's sermon.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006The death of freedom New Statesman. It's given me the meat for Sunday's sermon, I think, based on Revelation 5, the bitter tears of those who find no one to open the book of truth, the book of life......
On Christmas Eve, I dropped in on Brian Haw, whose hunched, pacing figure was just visible through the freezing fog. For four and a half years, Brian has camped in Parliament Square with a graphic display of photographs that show the terror and suffering imposed on Iraqi children by British policies. The effectiveness of his action was demonstrated last April when the Blair government banned any expression of opposition within a kilometre of parliament. The high court subsequently ruled that, because his presence preceded the ban, Brian was an exception.
Day after day, night after night, season upon season, he remains a beacon, illuminating the great crime of Iraq and the cowardice of the House of Commons. As we talked, two women brought him a Christmas meal and mulled wine. They thanked him, shook his hand and hurried on. He had never seen them before. 'That's typical of the public,' he said. A man in a pinstriped suit and tie emerged from the fog, carrying a small wreath. 'I intend to place this at the Cenotaph and read out the names of the dead in Iraq,' he said to Brian, who cautioned him: 'You'll spend the night in the cells, mate.' We watched him stride off and lay his wreath. His head bowed, he appeared to be whispering. Thirty years ago, I watched dissidents do something similar outside the walls of the Kremlin.
As the night had covered him, he was lucky. On 7 December, Maya Evans, a vegan chef aged 25, was convicted of breaching the new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act by reading aloud at the Cenotaph the names of 97 British soldiers killed in Iraq. So serious was her crime that it required 14 policemen in two vans to arrest her. She was fined and given a criminal record for the rest of her life.
Freedom is dying.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006Regards to Broadway Diamond Geezer in documenting in generous detail various parts of his home city, London. On the other hand it's an inspiration to me to get working again on some more of this kind of thing here, after a bit of a lapse.
Currently DG is in Hackney and today's post on Broadway Market describes a once-struggling retail outlet now on the up again, and a community bedevilled by yuppie redevelopments fighting back.
It's a bit of London I know a little, having been on placement there in 1999 and it's heartening to know that there's still some rebel spirit in the air there. Could do with more of that in Liverpool city centre - difference being, hardly anyone lived there before.
Monday, January 09, 2006Mountain men
Had to post this - it looks quite impressive. Us, on our walk last Monday, barely hours before a well-earned fish-and-chip supper in Ambleside and a couple of drinks at The Watermill, Ings. That's Helvellyn in the background. Notice my stylish Howies hat.
Sunday, January 08, 2006Fall-out recovered
It was odd this week to be sitting in a leather chair in Gladstone's Library Common Room (a hub of Liberalism) when on live TV the Liberal Democrat leader made the statement which hastened his political demise. And to be reading at the time an article which has been begging to be written for a long time. It seems that only The Guardian has the resources and the will to send a reporter to track down all the people who've ever been in The Fall. Over forty of them, all but two (Brix Smith and Mark 'Lard' Riley) returned directly to anonymity; one or two of them disappeared without trace. It's a story to compete strongly with any shenanigans in political high office, not least because it throws some light on the motivational and directive skills of the band's one ever-present member. It seems that however badly Mark E. Smith treats his musicians, many of those he's jettisoned still hold him in high regard, as affirmed in the words of one present band member:
“I was a terrible guitarist when I joined aged 17,” agrees Ben Pritchard, who has survived in the guitar hot seat for the past five years. “Maybe that’s why Mark wanted me in the group. The challenge is to take someone wrong for the group and make them right.” He compares the Fall frame of mind to that at “Boot Camp”. He has been abandoned at airports to make his own
way to gigs; the band’s last tour was so stressful that, at 22, he is losing his hair. Why do it? “The Fall are making history,” he says. “I have nightmares, but it’s never boring. It’s not Coldplay.”
Saturday, January 07, 2006Ride on I find myself doing two things at once. Reading Ursula Brown's reflections on The Meaning of Horses in the latest edition of the beautifully-produced Quiet Feather magazine. And listening to the deep dark voice of Jhon Balance on Coil's Black Antlers, singing an age-old lullaby with characteristically great foreboding:
Hush-a-bye, don't you cry
Go to sleep ye little baby
Go to sleep ye little baby
When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty little horses
All the pretty little horses
Blacks and bays, and dapples and greys
All the pretty little horses
[All the Pretty Little Horses: listen here]
The poignancy of this song, of course, lies in the knowledge that the voice investing such presentiment into this cradle tune, is the voice of a man now deceased. As I noted some time ago, Jhon Balance lost his life on 13th November 2004. Coil's cover of this traditional Appalachian lullaby was one of the last studio recordings Balance ever made. In retrospect this sleep song has become the man's own death song.
Go to sleep, don't you cry
Rest your head upon the clover
Rest your head upon the clover
In your dreams, you shall ride
While your mummy watches over
This is awesome. I have made the transition between 2005 and 2006 with Coil preeminent in my ears. They do winter music very well. And they do very well the technology-spirit link I've been filling my head with this last week. With Balance's passing Coil are sadly no more but they continue to ride through the night skies and inspire others at the edges of electronic experimentation. As witnessed by the 35-song Balance tribute album Full Cold Moon compiled by the good folks at at www.darkwinter.com who are are offering it (and a 7-track bonus release) as a free download for just one more week.
Friday, January 06, 2006Techgnosis A good couple of days at St Deiniols reading Erik Davis's allegedly cult classic Techgnosis; Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information. It is very, very good. The publisher's blurb says it as well as I can:
This work presents a perspective on technoculture by exploring the mystical impulses behind our obsession with information. In an age where it feels that technology has replaced imagination and that the rational outmodes the spiritual, Erik Davis unveils the hidden history behind each leap in technology. From the printing press to the telegraph, from the radio to the Internet, Davis takes us behind each communications breakthrough to reveal the mystical fervour that inspired it: utopian dreams, apocalyptic visions, digital phantasms and even alien obsessions.
The revelation is that you really can't separate technology from the mystical, spiritual, religious. Or no-one really ever has, it seems. Which flies in the face of modernist assumptions that technology and the spirit don't belong together. The reality seems to be that we're all on a gnostic search for true knowledge which will release us into the true, good, higher world made by the real God, and we create and manipulate our technologies to that end.
Those in the centre of technological changes have acknowledged this, perhaps subconsciously at times. So when Samuel Morse sent the first official coded message along the Baltimore - D.C. line in 1844, it was 'a strangely oracular pronouncement: "What hath God wrought!"' The text which birthed the information age 'reads as much like an anxious question as a cry of glee'. And similarly there's the words from the Bhagavad-Gita which came to Robert Oppenheimer's lips the moment he saw his first nuclear baby explode: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."
Others, of course, have been far more knowing in their desire to meld the mystical with the technological. Davis' writing bounces along and oozes examples in his analysis of the chemical-experimental sixties, new age technique-obsessions, evangelicalism's masterful manipulation of the mass media, UFO-mania and the worlds of computer gaming and virtual reality. Techgnosis greatly deepens our understanding of what's going on in a rapidly-changing technoculture and one of the best things about it is that it tells us, not in a tired but in an inspired voice, that actually we've all been here before.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006Three Men in a Boat
Amusing and affirming, the BBC's 'recreation' of Three Men in a Boat with Griff Rhys Jones, Dara O'Briain and Rory McGrath rowing an 1890s skiff down the Thames in the spirit of Jerome K Jerome. It's all about banter and male psychology. Reminds me of yesterday, six blokes up a mountain. Each with our own ways, often colliding, but in the spirit of having a good day out, or making this damn trip work, getting on with getting on, a lot of humour involved. Dara loved their five-day journey, despite the discomfort of travelling with a dodgy knee and being insulted en-route by Anthony Worrall Thompson:
Did we row all the way to Oxford? Did we manfully endure the campsite? Were we anywhere near as funny as the book? That's all in the film. All I know is, we can't wait to get out there again. Any other great journeys the BBC want me to re-create, I'll not need two weeks to decide. I'll even pitch some ideas: "Three Men in an Ark"; "Three Men Cross the Alps on an Elephant"; "Three Men and an Exodus: Rory, Griff and Dara lead the Jews out of Egypt".
As for me I'm off on a couple of days new year retreat during which time I may perhaps hatch plans for an epic journey of my own in 2007. Strikes me that journey (whatever it turns out to be) will be best when there's company - bumbling, blokish, good-humoured company - involved.
Monday, January 02, 2006Screaming calves in the Tilberthwaite Fells
Up here today, Wetherlam in a circuit of the Tilberthwaite Fells. Great to be out in the crisp air with friends I used to do this sort of walk with regularly, fifteen-plus years ago. I've done little on this scale since. Lots of sharp ascents, some thumping through ice, detour downwards through falling clouds, scramble by torchlight on the last section home. My calves screamed, my knees ached. I shall be screaming on awakening tomorrow, I guess. But it was good. More of this in 2006, perhaps.
Sunday, January 01, 2006Sky Church Music
My Pic of the New Year is a Peter Murphy. Londoners have the chance to check out more of his iconic works at the Spectrum Gallery this month.