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

    Sunday, April 30, 2006
    When one of the lads gets married

    This is Mark, one hour ago. As I write this he'll be smoothing down his shirt in preparation for the speeches at this afternoon's wedding do. His own. I wonder what your reaction is when I tell you that this is a picture of one of Liverpool's finest young Christian leaders...

    It's different, when one of the lads gets married. One of those whose relationship to me has largely been about a mutual affirmation of our maleness. By means of competitive shaved haircuts, lengthy football conversations, the exchange of feeble jokes, lounging around in shoddy t-shirts sipping small beers and watching Match of the Day. By means of celebrating our singleness together by eating so badly that others invite us round for meals out of pity. By means of encouraging each other to avoid romantic relationships for fear of losing our treasured 'independence'.

    When one of the lads gets married, you're tempted to think he must have been bluffing all along. That he couldn't have been an avoider of commitment after all. Or maybe, I think, it's me who's been kidding myself. Commitment - comes to us all, in some shape or form, whether we're looking for it or not.

    So as we watched, a little ruefully, Mark's independence slip away, his new set of commitments beautifully affirmed, Richard and I stood together exchanging thoughts about what it really means - maleness. And how seldom we allow ourselves to talk about it, or are allowed to do so by others. He's done some good thinking about it, Richard, online. I shall have to revisit it all, once this bittersweet day is over. They do this sort of thing to you, weddings. When one of the lads gets married.
    Saturday, April 29, 2006
    Hope not hate
    Friday, April 28, 2006
    Memorials By Artists
    A fascinating Church Times article about an organisation called Memorials By Artists prompted me to write to them requesting a copy of their book, Memorials by Artists for Young People, Children and Babies. Partly because the feature article and their website showed that their work was one of great creative beauty; partly out of curiosity to see whether Benjamin's stone was included.

    It was, and in a covering letter Harriet Frazer was kind enough to say that the poem to Benjamin which I originally scribbled on an In Sympathy card to his parents, now etched on the back of Benjamin's stone, "has always moved me particularly". What has moved me, in reading the book right through today, is the quality and integrity of the work of this organisation who connect bereaved families to skilled lettercutters and enable them to collaborate together to create works of beauty and, of course, deep meaning to those most closely involved.

    I especially love the way that their artists keenly involve young siblings in the creative process - encouraging their ideas and even offering them a chizel and inviting them to make their own mark on the stone. The book is beautifully produced and is a mine of interest for a wanderer-around-churchyards like me. When the fourth edition is published later this year I'll be buying the companion book, The Memorials by Artists guide. Wonderful stuff.
    Thursday, April 27, 2006
    Flying the flag with Billy Bragg
    Last night, in Liverpool's famous Far East Restaurant, I shook Billy Bragg's hand. Both there - at separate tables, with different people - for the same reason: to have a good feed before the gig. And though I now regret not indulging him in conversation about his noble campaign to reclaim the English flag from the fascists, or thanking him at length for his seminal appearance at Greenbelt 2003, though I now regret instead exchanging mere small talk about the forthcoming gig and jokes about the volume of Chinese food he was ingesting, it was good to meet the man whose passion, politics and poetry has meant so much to me over 25 years.

    There is no such thing as a bad Billy Bragg gig. The reasons why last night's were especially good were the rationale and the timing (anti-facist rallying the week before the local council elections where the BNP threaten to make gains); and the way he put this across in his music: for instance, by offering a beautiful rendition of England, Half English allied with folk standard John Barleycorn, a rousing version of Woody's All You Fascists are Bound to Lose and an encore which consisted of his first album in its entirety, ending with A New England, which sort of said it all.

    Bragg makes it plain that fascists' claims to represent Englishness are at odds with our nation's past rejection of such extremism, and in a new song he makes it clear that he keeps faith with that humanitarian, decent, tradition.

    It was great to watch him - the Hammers fan - blow bubbles all over the stage during Honey I'm A Big Boy Now, and to applaud wildly along with lots of others when he said, "I'm glad to be in Liverpool because I know that at least half of you will be cheering on West Ham in the Cup Final". But better still to watch him brandishing the flag of St George onstage and to be provoked into thinking, how can we help reclaim this for the decent, humanitarian, people who make up the majority in our multiracial land?
    Wednesday, April 26, 2006
    Blood and spirit connections
    To be in a place where all around you there are signs of your family name: on plenty of tombstones, on shop fronts, along the side of delivery vans and works vehicles, on war memorials and in local newspaper columns. That's a portion we city-dwellers don't taste very often. Not unless our surname is McDonald. In other words, not in the same, rooted, way.

    Uncle Lance would have lived each day with that sensation, because as the eulogising minister at Tarporley Baptist Church said today, though he loved his travels Lance even more loved coming home. Home, where most people knew his name. And quite a few actually shared it. After the service, as I crossed the High Street to retrieve flowers from the car for my grandmothers grave, a white van sped past, bass box booming - LEDWARD LIGHT HAULAGE LTD.

    Lancel Ledward dying breaks our last living links with one side of our family which was always special and important to us - (what I regard as) my best blog entry is an exploration in that. That's a big bereavement. It breaks our links with a place very different from our home, but vigorous with memories and associations for us all.

    Sad to say goodbye to a man who went suddenly before any goodbyes could be shared. Good, though, to meet Ledwards we'd never met before, to make connections, swop addresses: things which will keep the associations alive. Lancel always encouraged me to take an interest in family history - and on the day I was ordained he invested me with the responsibility of looking after the Ledward family bible. All those names - which connect me, in blood and spirit - to a small town in mid-Cheshire forever.

    Tuesday, April 25, 2006
    Brian Labone

    "One Evertonian is worth twenty Liverpudlians." - Brian Labone. Captain. Legend. Died today.
    Monday, April 24, 2006
    Exploring the ordinary in an extraordinary place
    Got my work cut out for the next three weeks. The Greenbelt week on Iona won't be just a holiday, now: I've agreed to run two sessions. Decided on the titles tonight... should be fun doing them with that group...

    Sunday, April 23, 2006
    This machine kills dragons
    I ended my St George sermon by asking whether ‘The Great Martyr’ of Crusade-wracked medieval Europe was an appropriate patron saint for our country, in these times. Wondered whether it was time to return to the original patron saint of the English, Edward the Confessor (peaceable English king, diplomat, man of reverent faith). I raised a few eyebrows and completely shocked myself when I heard myself suggest that perhaps our reigning Queen might be considered for future patronage: another peaceable, devout monarch.

    No-one really seemed to get what I was on about so I let it drop. Wasn't till I got to unwind ten hours later in front of another BBC Four rerun of No Direction Home that I realised that, for me, a contemporary patron saint would probably be a musician, an inspirational artist of the calibre and integrity of Dylan. He's a real contender, but perhaps it wouldn't be Dylan himself ... because in one of the many exceptional quotes in that exceptional documentary film Dylan points us towards The Man...

    "Woody Guthrie's songs ... are much more than just songs," he said, "They teach you how to live your life..."
    Saturday, April 22, 2006
    Fading to blue
    That's it. One home game to go and the season is fading to blue. Being mid-table means drear dullness like today's draw against a Birmingham side who look like there's nothing left in their tank, either. But at least we're not where they are, facing relegation. We've been there in the not-too distant past; it keeps the adrenelin going until the end of the season but it's certainly no fun.

    Quote from Moyes today: "In recent weeks we haven't been able to buy a goal." An unintended reminder of the 3-2 vs Wimbledon twelve seasons ago - the result which kept us in the top flight and which some doubters reckoned must have been 'fixed'. It wasn't, but it was an astonishing result. May 7th 1994 - the only time I've ever bought a ticket for a game from a tout, at inflated prices: win, draw or lose, I had to be there that day, with all the other True Blues. It was one of the most formative two hours of our lives.

    Things are less desperate now. Just a question of going online to renew the season ticket. Never any question of renewing my support. That's footy following in all its blind stupidity, but look at it another way and this is one of the few areas of my life I've ever showed anyone or anything any lasting commitment.

    Next season will be different, though, as I'm going halves on the seat. I miss so many games due to this ridiculous weekends-and-evenings job I'm in, so it makes sense. We'll usually be able to get tickets for the odd games we both want to see; and on other days maybe I'll broaden my footy horizons again.

    Maybe I'll go to Wigan, who I used to watch in their non-league days, and I'll almost certainly pay more time, attention and turnstile cash to Marine... both of whom are currently more entertaining and successful than we are. Not that entertainment and success were ever mandatory for an Evertonian. Who cares? Come on you Blues!
    Friday, April 21, 2006
    Kristin raw
    "But the baby grew up. I missed it. Now I know firsthand that there are tragedies. Tragedies that are not sweetly sad and facing heavenward, but ugly, hellish messes that should never have been. I don't go home, I don't get the baby back."

    - Kristin Hersh doesn't blog often. But when she does it's always worth the wait. About life on the road. About the joys and terrors of imperfect life. About all the reasons why her music is among the rawest and most beautiful, brutal and most honest we will ever hear.
    Thursday, April 20, 2006
    Awaiting the Black Ships
    Excited tonight about the prospect of hearing in full the forthcoming Current 93 album Black Ships Ate the Sky.

    The download samples will have to suffice for three more weeks. On them all the sound of David Tibet in fine fettle - fearsome on the title track, screaming "Who will deliver me from myself?" over a brutal shunting electric guitar beat; and beautifully maudlin on Idumea, the song of a vulnerable people, which suits so well the rich, rich voice of guest Marc Almond:

    And am I born to die
    And lay this body down
    And as my trembling spirits fly
    Into a world unknown...

    This is thrilling, distinctive, definitive music.

    [Brainwashed review here]
    Wednesday, April 19, 2006
    Shrinking Cities and the Gethsemanes of Manchester
    Interesting thinking again about the Manchester Passion, in the light of a report I spent an hour printing off earlier today. I blogged about the Shrinking Cities project last November - they're the ones who brought a herd of prize cows to graze the streets of Toxteth. Their interest: to imaginatively explore ways to address the fact that our cities are getting smaller and large gaps are appearing in the previous urban heartlands (like where the cows were) and outlands (like where I live now, illustrated - from the Shrinking Cities site - below).

    So, about the Manchester Passion. I loved it, its messy, punkish approach had more than a hint of authenticity about it, making it feel quite like the real events might have done. But - perhaps because of its success in that respect - I have gripes. It was a shame that they took the obvious option to depict the resurrected Christ spectacularly - up in the skies, or actually, up in the massively backlit tower of the Town Hall. For authenticity the Christ who walked the streets earlier should have been walking among the crowds again at the end, surprising people in Piccadilly Gardens, cooking fish from a fast-food van for the dispersing crowds.

    Part of the 175-page Shrinking Cities report on Manchester/Liverpool [download] makes it clear how 'regeneration' not only bypassed the vulnerable, it actually killed them off ('the arterial roads through Salford and South Manchester scythe through old neighbourhoods, destroying their local centres...'). And this made me think, again, about the Manchester Passion's authenticity. Gethsemane was one of those hidden places out-of-town: perhaps the event shouldn't have been held in Albert Square at all, but in one of the many dustbowl underpass sites where once friendly terraces used to be.
    Tuesday, April 18, 2006

    "Julian Trevelyan was interested in photographing everyday life in the hope of revealing significant patterns of unconscious behaviour. Seeing a correlation between the aims of Surrealism and the aims of Mass-Observation, Trevelyan accepted Tom Harrisson's invitation to participate in the Worktown project and travelled to Bolton in 1938. For the socially consciencious Trevelyan the project had particular resonance, presenting an opportunity to tell the 'truth' about everyday life for everyday people. His photographs for Mass-Observation reveal a Surrealist fascination with the odd and eccentric in the everyday."

    The Tate exhibition Making History: Art and Documentary in Britain from 1929 to Now was, as expected, very good. A joy to discover such gems as Trevelyan; affirming to find personal favourites like Martin Parr and Patrick Keiller featured.

    Just disappointed to miss some of the films: there's a lot of them in the exhibition, they play in full and they're looped so despite revisiting the booth we failed to get a glimpse of Humphrey Jennings' Listen to Britain or William Raban's Thames Film. Should try to revisit; will have to be quick - it closes on Sunday.
    Monday, April 17, 2006
    Burying treasure and burning trash
    Cremation is my trade, so I read with interest No Casket, No Flowers, a well-written article by Thomas Lynch in the latest LRB. It's about the shift that made the burning of dead bodies palatable to Western Christian cultures...

    That societies accustomed to burying treasure and burning the trash have given way, in the space of a hundred years, to landfills and crematoria, required the remarketing of fire. Once associated with destruction, damnation and waste management, fire has been transfigured into something cleansing, purifying, spiritually freeing and corporeally 'clean'. Eastern metaphor has met Western myth. Hellfire has become the funeral pyre.

    This is fascinating, and thoughts spin off from it in all sorts of directions. About links to the demise of hellfire preaching in our times, about environmental theology, about the trash traffic on our rivers and oceans. Opponents of crematoria in the early years warned that 'the substitution of burning for burial would be a falling back from Christianity to Heathenism'. It's not that, but it's interesting to reflect how the people's faith has been reshaped by a decision which was largely forced on the grounds of public health and public economy.
    Sunday, April 16, 2006
    Curious, vinegar
    It was good, the Manchester Passion. Others have detailed why. I'm just left wondering how they managed to conceive it without any reference to Manchester's greatest and most prophetic band, The Fall. In consequence, here's my suggestion for a set list for a future Manchester Passion based entirely on Fall songs...

    For the entry into Jerusalem, Hit the North:
    Hit the North
    Manacled to the city, manacled to the city"

    To describe the unfolding drama of 'Holy' Week, Free Range:
    "This is the spring without end
    This is the summer of malcontent
    This is the winter of your mind...
    It pays to talk to no one..."

    For the Last Supper and betrayal, Couldn't Get Ahead, or Hip Priest ("He is not appreciated...")

    Jesus to Pilate - Secession Man:
    "You're the one that always runs the show
    And happiness comes easy when its bright and breezy
    Sudden inspiration to a session man's sensation
    I've got to get up early this morning
    Gotta get my early warning"

    Pilate to Jesus - Bombast: "Feel the wrath of my bombast!"

    To complement the crowd behaviour at the trial, Cruiser's Creek:
    "There's a party going down around here
    Next to Freedom street
    Get the last of the poison off my chest
    Cruiser's creek"

    Petty (Thief) Lout would make a good song from the cross. Or Blindness (The flat is evil and full of cavalry and Calvary / And calvary and cavalry. / So I said: “Blind man, have mercy on me.”).

    The final words, perhaps, Mike's Love Xexagon:
    "When I died - love was all around
    When I died - love was in the air
    When I died - love was everywhere
    When I died - ?"

    Peter's song: Feeling Numb ("Everything is broken / because of grist that curtails")

    Judas's song: I'm not Satisfied:
    "Got no place to go
    I'm tired of walking
    Up and down the street all by myself
    No love left for me to give
    I try and try
    But no one wants me the way I am
    Why should I pretend I like
    To roam from door to door
    Maybe I'll just kill myself
    I just don't care no more
    I'm not satisfied
    Everything I've tried
    I don't like the way
    Life has been abusing me"

    And one for the finale: Return:
    "God bless the cold winds and its refreshing consequence, uh-huh,
    Oh please return."

    Bring it on!
    Saturday, April 15, 2006
    Easter Saturday: Hillsborough 1989

    Easter Saturday: we live with loss, in ambiguity, and with the pain of our imperfect knowledge. We live with the effects of Hillsborough 1989.
    Friday, April 14, 2006
    Defending our Christian culture
    There were those Good Fridays where, with many other Crosby youth I would make my way to Formby for the ritual punch-up centred on the Cheshire League fixture Formby Town vs Marine but often at its bloodiest around the railway station. There was the one year when the old wooden Formby stand was summarily diamantled and fired; there was the one other year when Formby youth showered bricks on Marine fans waiting for the train home. This all took place in the so-called 'posh' end of our city. It wasn't just the 'yobs' ... it was almost a church youth club outing.

    There were those Good Fridays in Liverpool Eight when effigies of Judas were burned, a regular ritual until quite recently, well-remembered by many I lived among there. Judas Burning is widespread in Spanish/Latin countries; in Liverpool, just like Guy Fawkes at the other end of the year, it had sectarian overtones. Some people talked of there also being Good Friday 'Pope Burnings' in Liverpool Eight, which may be mythical but is nevertheless a powerful memory.

    Then there is this Good Friday, when I rose to find through my door a bundle of election literature from a party of British nationalism. Powerfully, and hatefully, written, and published from Waltham Cross and Wigton. This party's fear is "the gradual Islamification of Britain". Their stated enemies are Muslim people. Their scapegoats are asylum seekers.

    The BNP are claiming to be defending our Christian culture. My solemn observation, in the light of all the lynchings and burnings that have gone before us on this day, is that it seems they are.
    Thursday, April 13, 2006
    Passion Music #3: The White Stripes - Little Acorns

    Somehow managed to get a family day in today. Spent feeding little acorns to the friendly Red Squirrels at Formby Point.
    Wednesday, April 12, 2006
    Niall Griffiths on Culture
    Double-plus good! Ace Liverpool-Welsh writer Niall Griffiths interviewed in ace city magazine Nerve 8:

    [The Capital of Culture win for Liverpool] is a double-edged sword isn't it? It will bring money into the city but only if it will make money back for those who invest. [Glaswegian writer James Kelman] said that [Glasgow's Capital of Culture status in 1990] brought in a load of money, but since then the social problems in the city have only got worse, because the so-called scummy people got pushed out to the estates which never got cleaned up.

    Culture, of course, is not just art galleries and restaurants, it's also graffiti and terrace chants and a lot of people forget the grassroots bands, independent publishing presses and everything. They want to focus on culture that is acceptable and saleable, the kind of stuff they talk about on the fucking Late Review.

    I don't think it will make this kind of hidden culture die down though. It should become stronger to react against it. You just want this sort of stuff to be recognised sometimes you know, but we would be foolish to expect anything more from this sort of scheme.
    Tuesday, April 11, 2006
    Passion Music #2 - No News Is Good News
    Passion Music #2 - No News Is Good News, by Naseer Shamma And Bass Communion from The Fire This Time soundtrack.

    The Fire This Time website has disappeared - which is troubling; and will only appeal more to the conspiracy theorist in me. But the music and the message are out there, and very relevant to this week's scapegoat theme:

    "You people watched us; you people watched our country being demolished. You watched us in your living room, through the gunsight camera... without asking any question, 'where do these bombs fall?'"
    Monday, April 10, 2006
    Pilate's Hands
    Pilate's Hands - my contribution to this week's reflections. Great picture by Jan Lievens.
    Sunday, April 09, 2006
    Passion Music #1 - The Legend (Legenda, The Crown of Roses)
    When Jesus Christ was yet a child
    He had a garden small and wild,
    Wherein he cherished roses fair,
    And wove them into garlands there.

    Now once, as summertime drew nigh,
    There came a troop of children by,
    And seeing roses on the tree,
    With shouts they plucked them merrily.

    "Do you bind roses in your hair?"
    They cried, in scorn, to Jesus there.
    The Boy said humbly, "Take, I pray,
    All but the naked thorns away."

    Then of the thorns they made a crown,
    And with rough fingers pressed it down,
    'Til on His forehead, fair and young,
    Red drops of blood, like roses sprung.

    Words: A.N. Plescheyev, Music: P.I. Tchaikovsky
    Saturday, April 08, 2006
    Adrift around the horse's head
    The map shows that St James's Park is the shape of an equine head; and on the day of the Grand National I was 200 miles away walking in the area contained in this map, around Horse Guards Parade. Fascinating and fun to be with Phil Smith and some good companions on a 90-minute drift from the ICA and back to mark a special occasion - the publication of A Mis-Guide to Anywhere. Phil's walk took a monumental theme; and there were plenty of surprises....

    Phil under Captain Cook explaining the problem of the 'tight trousers' which was always a challenge for Victorian bronze-workers. After which we reflected on the two women-in-stone on either side of Admiralty Arch, NAVIGATION and ARMOURY.

    Reeling round the fountain - Trafalgar Square. Contested space - pigeons, Lapper, and this afternoon, an ultra-Protestant proselytising roadshow.

    Nelson's column was all wrapped up today - we peeked through the fence for a view of the hybrid lions (their feet modelled on domestic cats').

    Small statues: scary policemen in a Whitehall tourist store ...

    ... and even scarier little dogs in another. We tried outstaring them but they spooked us every time. I got told off by shop staff for photographing their plastic figures; outside Phil described the rapid attention paid to him by armed police as he ran across Whitehall yesterday.

    I took no photographs of the Whitehall guardsmen; it felt too intrusive, or voyeuristic, to me. They present a deeply disturbing scene close-up, their outfits suggesting the worst aspects of camp and/or machismo, their seemingly impassive bearing disguising real trauma if you look into their eyes...

    Horse Guards Parade, where we discovered a Q in the ground where (presumably) the Queen's horse stands on ceremonial occasions, and had a conversation with a policeman with an automatic rifle who had come hot-footed towards us when he saw us straying from the tourist trail. He was keen to tell us that the Blairs' children are "just like any others" and are often found to be playing football in their back garden. I found myself similarly amazed by the PM's fairly ordinary garden wall (in the background here) - ordinary, that is, except for the armed police guarding it 24-7.

    Investigating the dead ivy lining the walls of the security bunker at the corner of The Mall. Keenly aware by this stage of the walk, of the complexities of the area we were in: a scenic tourist-magnet and at the same time a heavily militarised zone. We spotted a family of ducks nesting atop this gigantic concrete complex, just above a cluster of security cameras. A fascinating, and wonderfully mis-guided afternoon.
    Friday, April 07, 2006
    To walk the M62
    This week I got the go-ahead to start planning my sabbatical for August - November 2007. Here's what's been approved.

    Project description: TO WALK THE M62

    A series of parish walks en-route from Hull to Liverpool, in the company of local clergy, sector ministers and other members of the community, with a view to reflecting together on AN URBAN THEOLOGY OF PLACE in Northern England today.

    I have spent the past two years (since arriving in my present parish) exploring themes embraced by a growing theological literature on the meanings of place, with my interest being especially in the urban context.

    Part of my exploration of this has involved my taking a number of parish walks in our area, sometimes alone and sometimes with others (including, on one occasion, Bishop David), recording my observations and reflections on my website, and engaging in online dialogue with various others - practitioners of urban walking, former or current residents of our parish, psychogeographers, street performers, urban theologians. I have presented papers on this experience to the Urban Theology Unit, Sheffield, the Liverpool Diocese UPA group and on an away day for our group of churches. In April 2005 I ran a week's retreat on Iona on the theme Healing Places. I continue these walks and also explore further afield (most recently in Dewsbury and Blackpool) with others in, or on the fringes of the church with whom I share this interest.

    I am keen to develop this work further and feel that a two-month journey across the industrial corridor of Northern England would be a valuable way of engaging more deeply with how people in today's society (and particularly in our region) relate to their places of work and leisure, and perceive their relationships with the place they call home.

    On my explorations I would be particularly concerned to visit peripheral/transitional places (ports and docks, industrial units, service stations) and to walk 'fault-lines' (places of racial tension, city edge estates, the boundaries between new-build redevelopments and old housing) in the company of those who could provide particular insights into the meaning of these places to the people who use or inhabit them, and the social forces which create and impact on them. I would be keen to explore with others 'where the church is' - or might be - in these places.

    I would work with contacts in parish and sector ministry throughout the region to set up a schedule of visits, work from a base (either rented accommodation or donated rooms) en-route week-by-week, and call on my contacts in theological, social science, geographical and other disciplines for critique and guidance along the way.

    A further month of collating the record of these walks and integrating them into a theological study may help provide some insights into the changes and challenges facing communities and individuals in our region and offer some pointers towards the shape of future ministries which might engage with these challenges. This would be residential, eg at St Deiniol's, or in rented accommodation in the region.

    I would hope that the resulting paper would offer some useful perspectives into the present discussions about emerging church and especially in the area of tension between 'network' and 'parish' approaches. On a personal level I would hope that the experience would help to inform and deepen my own ministry in the place I am at present, and perhaps offer some guidance as to future paths my ministry might take.

    I'm increasingly drawn to majoring on the commercial / industrial dimension as I go. Some random reasons for this include:

    - Sighting the awesome Ferrybridge Power Station on a trip east last week and wondering what went on inside;

    - Reading the article in yesterday's Guardian detailing the Port of Liverpool's involvement in the trade in soya, which provides the feed for what eventually become Chicken McNuggets and is ripping the rainforests to shreds;

    - Reflecting on my family's back story and pondering the factors which may have led to my great-grandparents' decision to move their (shoe repair) business from Shipley to Liverpool.

    Sixteen months to shape all this into something do-able. Your ideas welcome.
    Thursday, April 06, 2006
    "It's mythological. It's Greek."

    Exultant! After witnessing Middlesborough's storming Euro win put me on an end-of-week high, I shall soon retire content after watching a BBC stream of Mark E Smith reading the football results last November. A collaboration provoked by Final Score using the Fall classic Theme From Sparta FC as their theme tune. It was a thrill hearing Smith's familiar nicotine-tonsilled intonation announcing, "Hum.. BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP! Er, Charlton Athletic one Manchester United three..."

    The interview with Ray Stubbs afterwards was extremely amusing, especially when Smith turned it round to ask, "I want to ask you, Ray: why have you got a Number One haircut? (hilarity in studio) ... It's like what people in er, murderers from Strangeways get (soccer pundits roaring laughing) ... You look like you've escaped from Strangeways..."

    Update (Oct 2006) - now on YouTube:

    Wednesday, April 05, 2006
    The blue of distance
    The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water, the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.

    For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains. "Longing," says the poet Robert Hass, "because desire is full of endless distances." Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world.

    Rebecca Solnit is a wonderful writer, as amply demonstrated by this extract from A Field Guide to Getting Lost. When people ask me I always give blue as my favourite colour; though I haven't yet been able to explain quite why. It's not just about football - it's certainly not about politics. Writing like this digs far deeper into the psyche, is vastly suggestive. And so tonight I'm absorbed in wondering what it means for me to be enthralled by the blue of distance.
    Tuesday, April 04, 2006
    Affirming the 'ordinary'

    Ace cartoonist Dave isn't sure whether he's joking or not with this one. It triggered an interesting exchange between us on- and off-line. Housing estates are our home; but they're not easy places to find inspiration. I've really struggled to do that having previously lived and worked in vibrant, edgy inner-city areas. The struggle is worthwhile, of course. Especially on days like today where I've been privileged to lend my ear to two different blokes, each loosened up by hours in the pub, unfolding their messy life stories; standing together on the pavements of this estate, aching for answers, imperfectly praying.

    It must say something positive about Essex housing estates that they provoke Dave's excellent work - work which is often about the ironies of life and contradictions in us, all very real; work which engages with, and thus affirms, the 'ordinary' ...
    Monday, April 03, 2006
    Nobody has to be vile
    Slavoj Zizek's piece in the latest LRB, Nobody has to be vile, is a masterful study of today's billionaire philanthropists, who ironically refer to themselves as ‘liberal communists’, and like to be seen as arbiters of what Bill Gates (a prime example) has called ‘frictionless capitalism'. It's also a fantastic piece of mimetic writing because Zizek skillfully explains how these are far from friendly, neutral movers in the world: people like Gates and George Soros may spend half their time in humanitarian activities, but their manipulations of the market are what cause others to fall in the first place.

    Etienne Balibar, in La Crainte des masses (1997), distinguishes the two opposite but complementary modes of excessive violence in today’s capitalism: the objective (structural) violence that is inherent in the social conditions of global capitalism (the automatic creation of excluded and dispensable individuals, from the homeless to the unemployed), and the subjective violence of newly emerging ethnic and/or religious (in short: racist) fundamentalisms. They may fight subjective violence, but liberal communists are the agents of the structural violence that creates the conditions for explosions of subjective violence. The same Soros who gives millions to fund education has ruined the lives of thousands thanks to his financial speculations and in doing so created the conditions for the rise of the intolerance he denounces.

    The liberal communists' 'court-philosopher' Thomas Friedman says that 'nobody has to be vile' in order to do business these days. But in reality the business practices of the liberal communists rely (as business practices always have) upon vilifying some others in order to succeed themselves. Zizek explains:

    You export the (necessary) dark side of production – disciplined, hierarchical labour, ecological pollution – to ‘non-smart’ Third World locations (or invisible ones in the First World). The ultimate liberal communist dream is to export the entire working class to invisible Third World sweat shops.

    On closer inspection Friedman's claim turns out to be just another lie from the Father of Lies. About which I've been preaching all month ([1], [2], [3], [4]). I've learned a lot about mimetic theory this Lent, in sharing it with others - it's a stimulating, satisfying, promising way of looking at the world. I found it a tricky concept to get me head around, for a while. But it really does reward perseverence.
    Sunday, April 02, 2006
    Pic of the month
    April's Pic of the month is a revisit of the fantastic Everton perspective I blogged about last week. An awesone shot of a city high-spot.
    Saturday, April 01, 2006
    The con in Condoleezza
    "It was not a mistake to overthrow Saddam Hussein... it was not a mistake to unleash the forces of democracy in the Middle East", said Condoleezza. How we chortled.

    "Democracy is the only system that allows people to be heard and be heard peacefully," she said. Oh, how we laughed.

    The use of force "is not what is on the agenda now" in the stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme, she told us. Guffaws all round.

    Ms Rice thanked "the citizens and the government of Great Britain for the willingness to share in the sacrifices for freedom". Merry uproar.

    The Dean of Blackburn said her visit would "promote peace and justice in the global community." Hilarious! And Jack Straw said, "Everything we are doing on the visit is being done with respect to the communities involved." Boy, we split our sides.

    Condoleezza, with us here on April the First, with line after line of carefully-prepared japes. Sister - you nearly had us fooled!!