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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Friday, March 31, 2006Tree-mendous
- Jon Henley, in today's Guardian diary. Remember, you saw it here first.
Thursday, March 30, 2006Crows, coyotes, and displaced rats
The rebuilding isn't very equitable of course, only 50 percent social housing, the rest being flogged at prices well out of the range of most of the previous occupants. So only a small portion of the displaced people will be able to return home. And the displaced rats are a reminder that every single human decision, economic or technological innovation, has an effect on the natural, as well as physical environment, and on the places where they increasingly meet. Rats beside, I was interested to read this piece by the ever-fascinating writer Rebecca Solnit in last week's LRB:
... In the last decade, we have seen the emergence of the new nature that is likely to survive while the more fragile primordial nature falters. It’s a weed-like, flexible, tough set of species which thrive on the disturbances that send others into flight or extinction. And they’re becoming increasingly urban. For a long time cities had little but pigeons and rats for urban wildlife, but foxes have moved into London, and coyotes, raccoons, skunks, ravens, crows and more have moved into North American cities. For one thing, they like garbage. For another, we have stopped killing them and everything else that moves. From their perspective, we have become a relatively harmless species (except for our cars, but roadkill is a popular food source for crows, ravens, coyotes, vultures and others). They’re no longer afraid of us. We’ve cleaned up, too: the toxic sewers that surrounded Manhattan in the 1960s have gradually come to resemble rivers again, in which fish can swim and herons can hunt. The urban air is cleaner. ...
Wednesday, March 29, 2006Flash-tastic I shan't be there as my usual weekend grind continues through the summer, but I'm enjoying the website of the Secret Garden Party - great fun and just about as festival-vibey as a website can possibly be*. It ranks as high in my estimation, as the brilliantly daft Flash-tastic Interactive Map of South Wales (with a distinctively Cardiff City FC bias) which I'm amazed I've never blogged about before.
[* the link is to last year's site - they promise that this year's will be up and running soon.]
Tuesday, March 28, 2006Style and substance They've redesigned the New Welsh Review so it's nicer to handle and easier on the eye. But I bought the current issue (a) for an article on the meaning of maps, especially in Wales, but mainly (b) for another article, by Paul Gravett, celebrating the Graphic Novel: 'Literature's Mutant Sister'.
Gravett 'considers the rise of the graphic novel from despised comic book to literary prize nominee.' This comes at a time when I've been reawakened to the work of Alan Moore thanks to his protests over Hollywood's demolition of his V story. And Gravett's article encouraged me to get online to order the work of Welsh graphic novellist Chris Reynolds (any work inspired by the blasted slate landscapes of Blaenau Ffestiniog has to be worth a look).
But today I sandwiched a trip to Somewhere Else between two visits to the Forbidden Planet shop next door, and I came away with the award-winning Jimmy Corrigan. A book about a man approaching mid-life crisis, having to face uncomfortable truths about himself, alone, and his fractured family. A book which unsettles me, nudging awake some of my own ghosts. A book of both style and substance.
Monday, March 27, 2006If the Beatles had been girls, and other anxieties
Script 2 Stage Productions will be holding Auditions for their forthcoming plays. These include:
1. Imagine The Beatlets - a musical stage play based on the assumption that what if the Beatles had been girls and how this would have changed the world.
2. City of Beyond – the story of Minerva a Roman Goddess who with the help of her children the Liver Birds saves the City of Liverpool.
3. Patrick – a musical comedy about a female ventriloquist who marries a puppet.
We will be holding ongoing auditions starting on the 27th April 2006 at St Christopher’s Church Lorenzo Drive. Actors, Actresses, Dancers and Singers can send in their details to email@example.com. We look forward to your reply.
This raises all sorts of issues for me. Including:
1. Terrible anxieties thinking about the changes to my world if the Beatles had been girls.
2. Worries about what awful fate Minerva and her children the Liver Birds are saving the City of Liverpool from.
3. Concerns about why I feel strangely drawn towards applying to audition to play a puppet who marries a female ventriloquist.
Hard work, this Capital of Culture lark.
Sunday, March 26, 2006Don't make a career out of it Mark E. Smith to a heckler in a northern working men's club: "Hey, are you doing what you did two years ago?"
Smith: "Well, don't make a career out of it."
- There's a primer on the music of The Fall in this month's Wire; and me, I've got the regular Sunday evening "What the hell am I doing in this absurd job?" blues.
Saturday, March 25, 2006Leave well alone stories The Poet's Garden
The garden is looking particularly alright at this time of the year.
There are pinky things everywhere, and sort of red bits in waving clumps.
The lawn is as green as grass and studded with little yellow studs.
Flowers, I think they are called.
I finished reading Roger McGough's autobiography Said and Done today and was very heartened by this description of the garden at his old Princes Park home. He confesses that he left it to the tender mercies of Mother Nature, and on this shining last day of winter when there appear to be signs of growth in the nascent jungle outside my kitchen door, I'm glad to have found a kindred spirit - here is encouragement from the poet to leave well alone, let it get on with things itself, why disturb it.
Good to have Greenbelt pal and exiled Evertonian Pete with me in The Jolly Miller today, washing down our derby disappointment with lashings of lager and Guinness. And on the day I also booked to see Radiohead this summer, Pete told me another leave well alone sort-of story which is tangentally akin to McGough's, and I love it. Apparently Tony Blair has been hassling Radiohead's Thom Yorke to come on board a government Environmental think-tank, and after the umpteenth phone call from a Downing Street drudge Yorke told him to "stop asking me, you're making me ill."
"Blair has no environmental credentials as far as I'm concerned," he said. Well, like Roger McGough, neither do I. But we're one with Thom in a commitment to leaving well alone.
Thursday, March 23, 2006On being truly concerned
Saw this Sebastiao Salgado picture close-up at Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art today. Like so many of his pictures this awesome shot pins the viewer to the spot, and keeps them there. Did me, anyway. It's a fire fighter in a Kuwait oil field being protected against the extreme temperatures by chemical sprays. Another in his canon of pictures which detail the severe realities of working life in the majority world.
"I hope that the person who visits my exhibitions, and the person who comes out, are not quite the same," Salgado is quoted on the wall alongside this picture. "I believe that the average person can help a lot, not by giving material goods but by participating, by being part of the discussion, by being truly concerned about what is going on in the world."
This, after a good meeting at Iona Community HQ in preparation for a week on the island in May, with what promises to be a fascinating group of community activists from Scotland and beyond. One who was with us today is currently involved in trying to establish - with the South Africa model as inspiration - a Truth Commission for Scotland. Because the truth about what's really happening in people's lives is seldom told or acknowledged. Hail this idea! Hail Salgado! Hail Kember, Loney, Sooden and Fox! Hail all bearers-of and seekers-after truth!
Wednesday, March 22, 2006Very close to home
A first for me today: conducting a service in St George's Church, Everton. Not only one of the city's most architecturally striking buildings (check out what Pevsner says about it). Not only one of the - if not the best-situated churches (on the ridge above the city centre, mirroring the hills of Clwyd across the way). But also of course, very close to a place I call home: there's Goodison Park, tucked away on the other side of the brow. Cheers to the people at Liverpool Pictorial for this wonderful city shot.
Monday, March 20, 2006A modest act of witness
- a list of places where What I heard about Iraq was read today, as compliled by the promoters. Incomplete: eg, ten of us gathered in Liverpool, and I know friends were organising readings in Chester and on Iona too. On the day that Bush claimed success in Iraq whilst former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi claimed that Iraq was in the grip of civil war, our readings were a modest act of witness of concerned citizens worldwide.
Sunday, March 19, 2006Norman
Tonight I did an illustrated talk about Greenbelt to a friendly group of parishioners near where I used to park my car for Goodison [Downloads: 1 - Paul Northup's church leaders presentation :: 2 - My GB05 picture compilation, accompanied by 'Holiness' by Daniel Bedingfield].
After questions I ended by showing this picture. A typical Greenbelt festival shot which works on all sorts of levels. The man in the fruit tree - it's Norman Kember. I encouraged the group to remember that tomorrow, people around the world are holding vigil to mark the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, with which this man's witness and destiny have become so deeply interwoven.
Saturday, March 18, 2006Lucy in the hall with Gervase Gervase Phinn at the Roscoe Lecture the other evening. His lecture title was Children at the Centre and although he was addressing a St George's Hall full of our city's grey and good, his talk had been preceded by a presentation of a Citizenship Award to Lucy Whittaker, a pupil of Bedford Primary, Bootle. From what her teacher told us about her she seemed to be getting the award just for being a lovely girl who smiles a lot - and that was good enough for me. She climbed the high steps to the rostrum to receive her award from Mr Phinn. This tiny little thing in a cavern full of thousands turned to face the applause, and won over everyone in the room - with her smile.
Phinn's lecture was full of the stories which have made him the most famous ever Yorkshire schools inspector, stories told of the wide-eyed honesty of the young, the way they mimic the older ones around them, their speculative uses of language. It was heartwarming stuff. When he remembered he was on a political platform (invited by David Alton, in the name of William Roscoe) and tried to make some adult points about the-present-state-of-education-in-our-land, he floundered a bit. His thesis is simple, really, so as a child could understand - education boils down to the relationship between the child and their teacher: we should value them, each, and make space to let those relationships flourish. Well, I'm no politician or educator but that seemed good enough to me too.
Friday, March 17, 2006Think of England
I tried out Martin Parr's wonderful video Moving Pictures on a group tonight. Featuring the BBC film, Think of England.
How we laughed - at this collection of English eccentrics, grimly determined to keep smiling through the rain-lashed village fete, tucking into salmon in a car-park at Henley and never seeing a boat. How we grimaced - at the xenophobia of an old guy in a motorway service station car park favourably recalling Enoch Powell's rivers of blood speech while drinking (Indian) tea. How we were provoked - by the scouse socialists sitting in a smoky bar detailing the differences between home counties 'English' and the rest of 'us'.
I love this film, though watching it with others brought out its limitations: for maximum effect Parr obviously goes for the extremes (Blackpool in the stormy season, small-town teenagers mad with drink). Some thought Parr was taking the piss from the girl behind the stall at St John's Market who didn't have a clue what he meant by the word characteristics (as in "What are the English characteristics?") and who had to duck off-camera to ask her (uncontrollably laughing) mates what to say. I just find her endearing, the one from the group who dared put herself forward in this way, her mock outrage at Parr's intrusiveness.
Our conversation afterwards drifted into a discussion about dialects - a peculiarly British obsession, marker of class, indicator of social and geographical place. We ended up all too aware of the underlying tensions between groups in our society, but despite all that this film ultimately makes me feel warm about the English. I fill up with unguarded joy every time I watch Parr's cameo of the man who sells children time on the trampolines on Hunstanton beach. Ever smiling, this man with Eddie The Eagle looks, facing seawards on a windy promenade, attentive to his bouncing young charges on the sands below. He's so perfectly content with life. "I've got a nice little house," he says, "I've got a nice little job, a nice little wife, two nice little kids: what more could I want?" And he really means it.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006A Mis-Guide To Anywhere: out soon
Great to hear from Phil Smith today with an invitation to the launch of A Mis-Guide To Anywhere at the ICA on 8 April. I'll be there - looking forward to a 90-minute walk with Phil which he's themed, Masses: A drift in search of spaces where the trivial becomes monumental and the monumental becomes cake decoration. A chance to give homage to the trinkets and fondle butchers in bronze. See you there????
Tuesday, March 14, 2006Blackpool
A day in Blackpool, with Jim. It was too wet to do an urban walk but Jim's mate Dick, local man and priest of the parish, drove us round this fascinatingly dowdy town. A study in concrete and weatherbeaten polymer, this is Britain's top tourist attraction.
Why? It's not because of wealth - there's little brass here. It's not because of style - behind the shining slot-machine facades this place is distinctly downbeat. It's not because of good humour - the attempts at joviality (car park spaces marked 'Reserved for Clint Eastwood', '... Melinda Messenger') pale behind the survivalist competitiveness of landlady neighbours ("If one B&B offers you board for eight-fifty," said Dick, "the one next door would do you it for eight quid").
It must purely be because of the expectations outsiders bring here - of fun on the seafront, titillation by the tower. People prepared to work hard (through the teeth of howling gales) to keep those expectations alive.
Blackpool is a transient place - Jim's carefully-crafted census maps make clear that many people come and go from here all the time. Two nights is the usual stay for the tourists; three months quite long enough for many other prospective settlers. Despite great fish and chips it seems a very harsh place for those who stay.
Monday, March 13, 2006Britishness Greenbelt strand on the theme of Britishness, most of my ideas will come as no surprise to regular readers here: Gallivant, Folk Britannia, Finisterre, What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day?, Robinson In Space and London, London Orbital, Tristram Hunt, Bill Drummond on Twinning Kenny, The BBC Radio Ballads, Timothy Gorringe and The Caravan Gallery, the folks behind Common Ground.
Kicked myself later for forgetting to include Martin Parr. Surprised myself by thinking rural and mentioning Akenfield, that classic Ronald Blythe documentary about life in a small Suffolk village thirty years ago, and its more recent sequels, the film Akenfield Revisited and Craig Taylor, author of the well-recieved new book Return to Akenfield.
Not a hint of Celtic fringe or multiculturalism in here - Bristishness is a massive subject and this list, the fruit of a few years' work for me, only begins to scratch the surface.
Sunday, March 12, 2006A job well done
- recorded words of President Bush, compiled as a collage (or was it?) by Nick Harper on his excellent recent album, Treasure Island.
Saturday, March 11, 2006On the loss of Tom Fox "In grief we tremble before God who wraps us with compassion. The death of our beloved colleague and friend pierces us with pain. Tom Fox's body was found in Baghdad yesterday.
"Christian Peacemaker Teams extends our deep and heartfelt condolences to the family and community of Tom Fox, with whom we have traveled so closely in these days of crisis.
"We mourn the loss of Tom Fox who combined a lightness of spirit, a firm opposition to all oppression, and the recognition of God in everyone.
"We renew our plea for the safe release of Harmeet Sooden, Jim Loney and Norman Kember. Each of our teammates has responded to Jesus’ prophetic call to live out a nonviolent alternative to the cycle of violence and revenge.
"Despite the tragedy of this day, we remain committed to put into practice these words of Jim Loney: "With the waging of war, we will not comply. With the help of God’s grace, we will struggle for justice. With God’s abiding kindness, we will love even our enemies.” We continue in hope for Jim, Harmeet and Norman’s safe return home safe."
- from today's press release from Christian Peacemaker Teams.
Friday, March 10, 2006North to South and back again
On the train journey down I started Roger McGough's autobiography, a joy to read. He spent his early years in places very familiar to me - a mile or so from the axis between my grandmothers' homes which I frequently travelled, he lived by the famous sausage factory on our bus route into town. So his description of the geography of his early years, with its hint of wise old T.S. Eliot at the end, is one I relate to, sitting here:
Jubilee Road. Near the canal by the lift-bridge
in Litherland, a frying-pan's throw away
from the Richmond Sausage factory,
grandma McGough, having raised seven sons
and a daughter lived alone. No jubilation.
All done and dusted. Frost on the aspidistra.
Alder Street. In a roomy back-to-back
in a cul-de-sac near Seaforth Docks,
grandma McGarry, having borne thirteen
was deaf to the noise of grandchildren,
giddy aunts and messmates. 'Put the kettle on.'
'It suits you.' 'Who's for a game of cards?'
For those early years this was my geography.
My north, my south, I sailed between the two.
Since then I've travelled the world and found
that everything I learned, I already knew.
Thursday, March 09, 2006Two green gospels James Jones updating a small gathering at Liverpool Hope University on the development of his very Jesus-focussed eco-theology, addressing the theme of climate change. Tonight, Columban Missionary Sean O'Donagh showing slides of planetary explosions, solar systems and planet life to a drama hall full of people at Maricourt Catholic High School.
James speaks of escorting Tony Blair around Kensington Academy, Liverpool's new faith school, the country's first with an environmental specialism, recalls meetings with President Bush's staff, a speech made to the annual conference of Shopping Centre Managers, Radio Four Thoughts for the Day, all of them opportunities to spread his particular brand of green gospel, one which works firmly within the structures of capitalism but urges an environmental responsibility based firmly on the presence of 'The Son of The Man of Earth' on his created planet.
Sean O'Donagh enthuses about the wonder of the earth, about the mystery at the heart of the beginning, about the way that the very carbon in our bones comes from the explosion of a star billions of years ago. He uses phrases like 'a cosmic moment of grace' to describe with wonder some of the incidences which hold our planetary life together, tenderly. He talks about the T'boli people on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, with whom he spent many years, learning directly from them their view of the earth. His references are Thomas Berry, Teilhard de Chardin and Patrick Kavanagh ("'That beautiful, beautiful, beautiful God / was breathing His love by a cut-away bog").
Couldn't be less similar, these two. But both speak with an infectious passion of the planet on which we're placed, and which is facing real crisis. I could critique either on various points of their analysis or strategy, but that would detract from what we've gained these last two evenings. The point is that the more - and varied - voices speaking out on this, and enthusing others to get active for the sake of the planet, the better.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006I'm with Willie on this one No Smoking Day by anti-cig campaigners this year coincides with the day the church remembers the contribution to national life of Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, slum priest, war poet, best remembered by the name which described his very valuable First World War trench ministry, Woodbine Wilie. The priest who handed out ciggies to soldiers on the front line.
His bravery under fire, and commitment to easing the plight of the most under-fire people in wartime and peacetime, puts into sharp focus the pious offensive being waged against those who choose to smoke - a campaign which has a class element to it which Christian Socialist Kennedy would immediately identify were he still with us today.
That today is campaigner Kennedy's day is a great reminder that we're still a nation at war, in the Middle East and the East End, and Woodbine Wilie offers a great model for engaging with the most excluded and exploited people of our time. His wider, deeper perspective brings the oppressively narrow no-smoking campaign into critical focus.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006Cut and paste
You are invited to a reading of
Monday, March 06, 2006Without prejudice
Probably five or six hundred people squashed inside St Luke's to celebrate this man's life today. I left invigorated by one of the best sets of tributes I've ever heard, in that mood which comes from wanting to take the good aspects of one who has influenced me in the past, and continue those things in my own life.
On the doorstep on my arrival, an envelope carrying a letter concerning Christian Aid's East Africa emergency appeal. The sort of thing I usually jettison to the bin impatiently thinking, "I already give to them..." Today, straight online to make a donation. For Peter. Because of Peter.
Sunday, March 05, 2006Don't underrate simplicity
Don't underrate simplicity
So I strip my life away
And try to live each day by day
Each moment new
Though so hard I try
So many failings cloud my eye
And with troubled mind
A sense of peace so hard to find
Each moment new
But I will be
All I can be
With all I have in me
Life is a blessing
This much I know
And every lesson
Can only help us grow
Each moment new
Another thing we missed
Love is really all there is
And together, sure
Most anything we can enjoy to feel
Each moment new
Each moment new
- Lou Rhodes: Each Moment New, from Beloved One
Saturday, March 04, 2006In folk heaven Watching The Goodies this evening made me consider that maybe my youthful addiction to their shows explains why I'm now such a fan of Can and other seventies Euro-electronic dizziness (my current faves: the wildly original Magma). Because each Goodies soundtrack clearly owes a great deal to sounds of that ilk. Or perhaps I liked the Goodies so much as a teen because, even then, I had the music in me...
In the same way I'm now reflecting on the reason I always liked Lamb so much. It wasn't the drum'n'bass, I don't listen to much else of that. It must have been the very special voice of Lou Rhodes. Her voice; and her lyricism. Seeing her at the Barbican concert Folk Britannia: Daughters of Albion brought this home. She has folk roots, folk sensibilities, even (this is nonsense I know, but I'm on a roll) folk looks. I've downloaded her solo album Beloved One and I'm now in folk heaven.
[Two full tracks for listening at BBC Collective]
Friday, March 03, 2006The intelligence of the victim A snow-shunt which had closed the Queensferry roundabout forced me to make a wide circuit of Hawarden before arriving later than I’d hoped at St Deiniol’s for my one reading day this month.
But what a good day - in the company of James Alison’s Knowing Jesus (the Lent edition, with questions at the end of each chapter). Rarely has a book of theology so held me, invigorated me. Hardly since I first encountered Walter Brueggemann has a contemporary theologian so interested and resourced me, as James Alison did yesterday.
In his foreword Rowan Williams writes,
James Alison’s work is a model of clarity in exposition - relaxed, conversational, but holding us firmly to the demands of its subject matter. It is a model of how to deploy some very traditional Christian resources with a thoroughly contemporary intellectual toughness, so as to liberate us from the cliches of so much modern theological squabbling. It is the most imaginative and lucid presentation of a theology of redemption that I have read in many years.
And above all, he says, correctly, the book insists that the reader must be converted to a new perspective on themselves and the world.
Knowing Jesus is barely over 100 pages long, but its effect is huge. My Ash Wednesday talk was Girard for beginners, and fittingly Alison begins his book by quoting the truth that a preacher is the last one to hear his sermons. Reading on has helped root this way of thinking in me, getting to the last chapter with its exciting revelation about what he calls the intelligence of the victim, has energised me. There may still be something in this tired old thing called Christianity after all. A very fine start to Lent.
[James Alison's website here]
Wednesday, March 01, 2006Why am I carrying a stone? John 8 - Why am I carrying a stone? - My contribution to Ash Wednesday and perhaps the clearest talk I've managed to give so far on mimesis, thanks to the excellent source Stephen R. Kaufman's Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence, on the Christian Vegetarian Association website.