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

    Tuesday, February 28, 2006
    25 years of Cookson
    A great ten minutes outside the parcel office today. I took belated delivery of two surprise packages - one, a bundle of copies of a new book from the Iona Community featuring a poem of mine, Iona Dawn - Through Holy Week with the Iona Community , and the other some stuff on loan from Paul Cookson, the autobiographies of Alan Ball Playing Extra Time and Roger McGough, Said and Done. He promised me them when I saw him outside Goodison the other week. Both look like they'll be wonderful reads, but no more wonderful than Paul's own Ordinary Words, a selection of old and new poems from 1980-2005, which he also included in, the nicest and best surprise of the day. Twenty-five years of Cookson - nowhere near long enough.
    Monday, February 27, 2006
    Constructing Neoliberal Glasgow
    After criticism regarding the price of apartments in the Glasgow Harbour development, former Council leader and current river project leader, Charles Gordon, said: "I don't care if they are yuppies or middle class professionals they will be most welcome in this city." This cordial invite, however, doesn't extend to the urban poor in any of the regeneration literature. The "return to the river" rhetoric employed by Council leaders masks a symptomatic silence which obscures the brutal class politics involved in the re-ordering of urban space.

    - from Constructing Neoliberal Glasgow : The Privatisation Of Space in Variant 25. As some citizens of developer-wracked Liverpool ask with increasing concern, what makes a good city? this is a timely piece of work.
    Sunday, February 26, 2006

    Great teeth, Julian Cope. I reckon he's living more cleanly than his cultivated crazy self-image lets on. Nasty cuts to his otherwise pretty trim tum though, lacerations caused by swinging around the Cope-issue scaffolding tube mike stand partway through his freeform anti-god rant in the closing number, Reynard.

    He was in great form in Manchester, full of bile for organised religions, full of guile on the bass guitar. This man likes to remind us that he is a writer of some subtance, rightly so. But he's also a very knowing, self-created, self-aware rock-and-roll cartoon. "No-one's more formula than me," he says, pouting proudly, before strutting and soaring into another sonic adventure somewhere between Can and Motley Crue. His ace guitarist Doggen is painted up like a slapdash Alice Cooper, or perhaps Charlie Caroli on speed. I couldn't see the drummer but I think he was happily wearing a sloppy-Ziggy look too.

    Cope is also a rock preacher. Reserves his greatest sermons for rebuttals of the gods of war created by the world's major religions, reverencing humanity and the capacity for good in the pagan soul. It's uncomfortable listening for the vicar in the audience but most of the time he's got a point and makes it well. He's happy to live the dreams of Irsad Manji, the Muslim authoress of THE TROUBLE WITH ISLAM who has written: “Our freedom will remain incomplete as long as we don't make jokes about Allah and his messenger.”

    In a week of burning Danish flags, Julian Cope gets away with songs demanding that 'burka woman' throws off her mask. He only manages to escape unscathed from this, I guess, because his audiences are almost exclusively half-stoned white liberals. It's faux-radicalism uncomplicated by confrontation. Thus very rock and roll. But I reckon he's got the mind to match any argument that might come his way. Behind the cartoon, there's something substantial at work. For which we must all rejoice in the words of the maestro himself, awwwwwwwrrrrrrright!!!!!!!

    Thursday, February 23, 2006
    Ey Mate
    In Manchester tomorrow for Cope and the Earthling Society and an Iona Community gathering. I'm sure I'll find plenty of interest mootching about that city centre. But en-route I'll pay a visit to Liverpool's Microzine for a last look at the entries for the 100 T-Shirts competition exhibition. The theme was Birds in the City and all the entries are on display online. This is the second-placed design, Pink Feathers by Christine Toh. Lots of very good ones, including a green dodo atop the slogan LIVERPOOL CULTURE O8, and one called Ey Mate which features a scally pigeon saying GIZ A CHIP.
    Wednesday, February 22, 2006
    Shipwreck Radio

    I used to think that Songs from the Cold Seas was the ultimate in ice music. Until I heard Nurse With Wound's astonishing Shipwreck Radio Volume One: Seven Sonic Structures from Utvaer.

    The link describes a fascinating story of two musicians voluntarily abandoned for three months to the icy realms of Lofoten, Norway, high above the Arctic Circle, with limited recording equipment and no musical instruments, to record a series of audio responses to their harsh environment, which were then transmitted to the local mariner's radio station at unannounced intervals.

    Steven Stapleton and Colin Potter aren't just any old musicians, of course. They're masterful sound sculptors. And this is a wierd vastness of an album, the record of their adventure, making me feel cooler still as the night air closes in.
    Monday, February 20, 2006
    A lecture from the University of Hell
    This is the first part of a script written by Norman Kember for a ‘performance’ at Greenbelt in 2002; he delivered the lines while walking through a crowd of young people dressed as a devil.

    "Welcome young and old devils to this refresher course in temptation techniques – not that most Christians need a devil to prompt them, they are all pretty good at working out excuses – the best of reasons – why they shouldn’t carry out the ideas the Great Enemy puts into their consciences to do.

    "Now you might ask what's a devil doing in the Peace Zone. The answer is simple – we like to be close to the heart of things in Christianity. Why bother to cause mischief on the fringe when we can cause mischief close to the centre. It’s no great shakes to take common human failings like greed and turn them into an accounting fraud. That’s basic temptation technique, any junior devil can do that.

    "But to take the best of human qualities – loyalty, courage, comradeship, endurance, sacrifice – and turn them into the satanic enterprise called war – now that takes real skill. In war we can make quite ordinary decent human beings carry out all manner of inhumanities. So there’s nothing so satisfying for us as twisting good aims for bad ends."

    And this is an extract from the lengthy LRB article by Eliot Weinberger What I heard about Iraq in 2005:


    I heard that a human rights organisation, Christian Peacemaker Teams, was distributing a questionnaire to inmates released from Iraqi prisons. Those surveyed were asked to check ‘yes’ or ‘no’ after each question:

    Stripped of your clothing (nude)?
    Beaten by hand (punches)?
    Beaten by stick or rod?
    Beaten by cables, wires or belts?
    Held at gunpoint?
    Had cold water poured on you?
    Had a rope tied to your genitalia?
    Called names, insults?
    Threatened or touched by dogs?
    Dragged by rope or belt?
    Denied prayer or wudhu [ablution]?
    Forced to perform sexual acts?
    Were you raped or sodomised?
    Did someone improperly touch your genitalia?
    Did you witness any sexual acts while in detention?
    Did you witness any rapes of men, women or children?
    Urinated on or made to touch faeces, or had faeces thrown at you?
    Denied sleep?
    Denied food?
    Witnessed any deaths?
    Did you witness any torture or mistreatment to others?
    Forced to wear woman’s clothes? [Question for men only]
    Were you burned or exposed to extreme heat?
    Exposed to severe cold?
    Subjected to electric shock?
    Forced to act like a dog?
    Forced in uncomfortable positions for a lengthy period of time?
    Forced to stand or sit in a painful manner for lengthy periods of time?
    Lose consciousness?
    Forced to hit others?
    Hung by feet?
    Hung by hands or arms?
    Threatened to have family killed?
    Family members detained?
    Witnessed family members tortured?
    Forced to sign anything?

    I heard a man who had been in Abu Ghraib prison say: ‘The Americans brought electricity to my ass before they brought it to my house.’


    The predecessor to this piece, What I heard about Iraq, featured in the London Review of Books in February 2005. I am keenly considering taking part in the worldwide reading of this text on March 20th, third anniversary of the invasion - perhaps you'll join me?
    Sunday, February 19, 2006
    Keeping folk radical
    "There is no such thing as political murder, or political bombing, or political violence; there is only criminal murder, or criminal bombing, or criminal violence," said Thatcher, as mendaciously as always, trying to deflect attention from her state-sponsored aggression during the Miners' Strike.

    The quote came during the final part of BBC Four's excellent series Folk Britannia, which investigated the links between the political protests of the 1980s and the modern folk revival. Reflecting on the vital contribution of Christy Moore during this period, one contributor said that "This was a time when you could stand up and be counted - from the context of traditional music." Billy Bragg told of how his mobility (one man, a guitar and amp) took him to gigs all over the coalfields of the time and that playing these miners' benefits transformed his mind from a previously Dylanesque politics of "personal transformation" to something far more radicalised.

    One stirring image from the archives featured Arthur Scargill presenting Ewan McColl with a miners lamp in recognition of his contribution to the labour movement. How inspiring to be reminded of the power of a music when it mines the deep seams of a people's hard experience. How good to see this series conclude portraying the current folk scene(s) in such good shape, including a radical tradition quieter than in those heady days but by no means buried.

    One sign of this is the BBC's revival of Ewan McColl and Pete Seeger's 1960s documentary series, the Radio Ballads. These documentaries broke new ground by featuring the the words of the actual participants themselves as recorded in real life; real-time sound effects also recorded on the spot, and McColl / Seeger songs based on the recordings. The BBC calls them 'Masterpieces of radio, weaving the voices of rarely-heard communities with songs written from and about the recorded experiences of the interviewees'.

    "At that time working class voices were virtually unheard at the BBC", says Jimmy Reid, trade unionist, and another Norris Green notable, the journalist Gillian Reynolds said "They broke the mould of radio programmes".

    The original programmes were about railwaymen, roadbuilders, fishing communities, coalminers, polio sufferers, teenagers, boxers and travellers. Radio Two have commissioned a new series, with songwriters of the calibre of John Tams, Karine Polwart, Jez Lowe, Cara Dillon, Ray Hearne, Julie Matthews and Tommy Sands; their subjects are the decline of Sheffield and Rotherham's steel industries, modern stories of people living with HIV/AIDS, both sides of the story of hunting with hounds, the travelling people who run Britain's fairgrounds, sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, and the shipyards of Tyne & Wear and the Clyde.

    Should be stirring stuff, in a really great British tradition. The series starts next Monday.
    Saturday, February 18, 2006
    East Lancs Road perspectives
    I chose the worst time - this year - to travel the short distance along the East Lancs Road to M62/J8 this afternoon. Just half an hour after the end of the match up the road; just as the out-of-town Liverpool supporters and the Man U fans were gridlocked and grimacing on their Home Counties-bound outward journeys.

    Both sets of fans looked miserable, United's presumably because they'd lost pitifully, Liverpool's because, well, that's their default look anyway, the sad cases. Or perhaps for some of them the misery was because the early kick-off meant that they were condemned to spend the rest of their day in the same way as I had to: visiting the living hell which is Ikea, travelling gingerly back with a car full of flat packs obscuring all but one rear view mirror, and then spending hours at home putting the new gear together.

    Four hours of struggle and now I'm King Assembler of New Bedroom Furniture. Hopefully that's the last Ikea experience I'll be having for a long, long time. But boy, do I ache. Blistered hands, torn arm muscles, gnawing back pain. Perspective gained from frequent Radio Five reminders of today's nauseating injury to Alan Smith. Oh, and the somewhat larger matter of the loss of the entire population of a Philippines village.
    Friday, February 17, 2006
    Letter to Neville
    A letter to Neville White

    Dear Mr White

    As you know, on the 6th February the General Synod of the Church of England backed a motion calling for a divestment of shares held by the Church of England in companies profiting from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, in particular Caterpillar Inc.

    I note that in your capacity as Secretary of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group you told the Jewish News on the 10th February that the General Synod had “no power to mandate” and that the EIAG would not be altering its position against disinvestment following the vote.

    This very clear statement, widely reported, seems to pre-empt any discussion within the Ethical Investment Advisory Group, and this concerns me.

    You will be aware of the full body of the motion passed in synod, but I reproduce it here for clarity.

    "This Synod:

    1. heeds the call from our sister church, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, for morally responsible investment in the Palestinian occupied territories and, in particular, to disinvest from companies profiting from the illegal occupation, such as Caterpillar Inc, until they change their policies;

    2. encourages the Ethical Investment Advisory Group to follow up the consultation referred to in its Report with intensive discussions with Caterpillar Inc, with a view to its withdrawing from supplying or maintaining either equipment or parts for use by the state of Israel in demolishing Palestinian homes etc.;

    3. in the light of the urgency of the situation and the increased support needed by Palestinian Christians, urges members of the EIAG to actively engage with monitoring the effects of Caterpillar Inc's machinery in the Palestinian territories through visiting the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East to learn of their concerns first hand, and to see recent house demolitions;

    4. urges the EIAG to give weight to the illegality under international law of the activities in which Caterpillar Inc's equipment is involved; and

    5. urges the EIAG to respond to the monitoring visit and the further discussions with Caterpillar by updating its recommendations in the light of these."

    My question to you is this - will the EIAG be taking the steps requested in points 2 to 5 above before deciding whether or not to alter its position against disinvestment following the vote?

    I await your reply with interest
    Yours sincerely
    John Davies

    Why not drop him a line yourself. He and Rowan would, I hope, love to hear from you.

    [POSTSCRIPT 21/2/06: Download Neville's reply.]
    Thursday, February 16, 2006
    My Book And Heart Must Never Part
    The latest issue of Plastic Rhino is all about the value of reading books. Featuring a very amusing appreciation of Liverpool University's Sydney Jones Library, a building 'so flawed in its design and engineering, making it ... uncomfortable and impractical, therefore rendering it the perfect example of modern British Architecture ... I ... concede that I deeply love [it].' And a few pages of various people's words about their favourite books including the following, actually about Courtney Love's autobiography but which fairly well describes all I feel I need to say about my experience of reading John Peel's biography this last week:

    "I could have just given up, crawled back into my tights and trudged back to work. But stepping into someone else's life for a mere 300 pages made me want to live my own more vibrantly."
    Wednesday, February 15, 2006
    One of our Turnips is missing
    As seasoned readers may (wearily) recall, no visit to the cottage in Dolwyddelan is complete without Jim and I putting our heads together to compose a verse-cartoon entry for the visitors book (Jim being the creator of the cartoon at the top of this page, and many other caricatures of me over the years). So, a whole decade after penning the classic Dolwyddelan Days, here's my latest, erm, effort:

    Inside the cottage sit Jim, Glen and Gini
    Staring out at the rain-sodden scenery.
    It's a day to stay in and enjoy playing cards,
    But something is wrong and we're taking it hard;
    While the coal fire is glowing and hissing:
    One of our Turnips is missing.

    Happy Families is the name of the game,
    But something's amiss and it's such a shame.
    While the Pills are dispensing and the Pints are delivering
    At the Greengrocers' shop the folks are a-quivering;
    For the Sole boys are all out fishing, but:
    One of our Turnips is missing.

    There are four Dough the Bakers and four Stitch the Tailors
    And four White the Painters and four Heel the Shoemakers,
    But Mr and Mrs and Miss Turnip have lost
    Their son - brother - Master T. at some cost;
    For his rapid return we're all wishing:
    One of our Turnips is missing.

    Did young Master Turnip desire to escape,
    To roll down the lane to make a clean break?
    'Don't ask why' this young card has become so wayward,
    It's affecting the moods between Davies and Haywood;
    Until he comes back there's no kissing:
    One of our Turnips is missing.
    Wednesday, February 08, 2006
    In God's country again

    If you want me this is where you'll find me this week. Where is it? Well, it wouldn't be a retreat, would it, if I told everyone?

    (Picture: © Bernard Wellings, www.walesdirectory.co.uk)
    Tuesday, February 07, 2006
    It's a long way off, but...
    R S Thomas describes The Kingdom this way:

    It's a long way off, but inside it
    There are quite different things going on:
    Festivals at which the poor man
    Is king and the consumptive is
    Healed: mirrors in which the blind look
    At themselves and love looks at them
    Back: and industry is for mending
    The bent bones and the minds fractured
    By life. It's a long way off, but to get
    There takes no time and admission,
    Is free, if you will purge yourself
    Of desire and present yourself with
    Your need only and the simple offering
    Of your faith, green as a leaf

    We heard these wonderful words read, in English, at Dafydd's mostly Welsh-spoken funeral in Bangor Cathedral today.

    Dafydd, BBC man, discoverer of Aled Jones; Dafydd, church-man, friend and inspiration to hundreds of young people in the many youth worker roles he has played through the years; Dafydd, more recently better-known in the principality for his fundraising and profile-raising work with prostrate cancer, which has claimed him so young; Dafydd, who only last month, in a deeply moving ceremony in Llanbedgrog, was welcomed as a full member into the Iona Community, which he has served so well and been a friend of for many years.

    That's why I was there today, because I know Dafydd from his days running The Mac, days in which I was made welcome by his hospitality, amused and stimulated by his conversation, given insight into leadership by his vigorous, maverick, stirring style, and where we found common ground celebrating the Liverpool-Welshness of us both in a place where the abused term 'Celtic Christianity' meant (and still means) something current, something urgent, something gritty, something urban.

    The cathedral was full today for a celebration of Dafydd's life, which must have meant 300-plus people. It was a service tense with bilingualism: mostly in Welsh, those of us lacking the keys to the language of heaven had to guess at the content of the many tributes. But it was clear from the sparkles in peoples eyes and the ripples of fond recognition and laughter that the spirit of a distinctive man was present, and being affirmed, in an otherwise cold, dreary place.

    It's a long way off, but...

    In his 52 years Dafydd influenced the cultural life of more than one small nation, and better still, made a positive difference to hundreds of individuals. Not without struggling, falling-out and fighting; not without deep pain, nevertheless he did his best to look out for the Kingdom, and brought alive the meaning in the but.

    [Read Tom Allen's tribute to Dafydd here]
    Monday, February 06, 2006
    The Greatest
    The moon is not only beautiful
    It is so far away
    The moon is not only ice cold
    It is here to stay

    When I lay me down
    Will you still be around
    When they put me six feet underground
    Will the big bad beautiful you be around

    Everyone says they know you
    Better than you know who
    Everyone says they own you
    More than you do

    When I lay me down
    Will you still be around
    When they put you six feet underground
    Will the big bad beautiful moon be around

    - still on a goth theme, and glad to say that Cat Power is still on fine, fine form.
    Sunday, February 05, 2006
    Going up
    "The Gothic may be construed as the romance of the things that will eat us in the end. It is an attempt to subdue them and to dance with them, it is our perversity and a fancy-dress rehearsal for reality. When the Gothic is in fashion we allow ourselves to be infatuated with Mr Death, to flirt and be felt up by him. I think we are most sane when we can joke a bit with him, most healthy when we are artistic about our own mortality. The stubborn endurance of the art we call Gothic is a testimony to our need for an aesthetics of death."

    - Audrey Niffenegger in yesterday's Guardian, which lay unread in the boot of my car while I was at a friend's Goth wedding. Not quite Tim Burton gothic, more of a medieval costume show set to ambient electronica, it was a fairly unique and hugely enjoyable church service.

    But perhaps the most goth time I had yesterday was on the journey home, over the high pass of the A66 shrouded in mist, swinging the car too rapidly through the dark trees of Stainmore Forest as the fog deepened. In the blinding headlights of oncoming wagons I was keenly aware of the slender thread of my mortality.

    Through the headphones during this wheel-gripping journey came the sound of Jhonn Balance singing his own death-song, the last he ever sang onstage, the recording of it replayed at his funeral service - the theme from Are You Being Served?; a quirky-witty-scary witness to a musician who had it completely sussed, the aesthetics of death.

    Ground floor perfumery,
    stationery and leather goods,
    wigs and haberdashery
    kitchenware and food...going up

    First floor telephones,
    gents ready-made suits,
    shirts, socks, ties, hats,
    underwear and shoes...going up

    Second floor carpets,
    travel goods and bedding,
    material, soft furnishings,
    restaurant and teas.
    Going up!
    Friday, February 03, 2006
    Y Crack Cymraeg
    Two days studying in Wales, pre-empting more time there very soon. And in the evenings, out came the iPod to ease the reading. Very fitting to be hearing, for the first time, Y Crack Cymraeg by Estron. About their release, the folks at High Quality Recordings say:

    y crack cymraeg ('the welsh crack') updates a thousand years of traditional welsh folk music. looking beyond the stereotypical folky image of smelly beards, bad jumpers and crap real ale, many of these songs contain genuinely beautful and moving melodies, and it is these melodies that form the basis for estron's ecclectic meanderings.

    And I say: it melds so well with The Woodcraft Folk, blogged about so recently here. Both releases involve music of rare and precious inventiveness and beauty. I read about them both first in The Wire.