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

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

    Friday, June 30, 2006
    All change
    Working on national or regional identities is a slippery subject - they change so often. Raphael Samuel, quoted by Dave Russell, on how outside perceptions of the North of England radically changed in the 1980s:

    The very qualities which had recommended [the North] to the 'new wave' writers and film-makers now served as talismans of narrowness. The rich associational life, such as that of the workingmen's club, was seen not as supportive but as excluding, a way in which the natives could keep newcomers and strangers at bay ... The solidarities of the workplace were reconceptualised as a species of male bonding, a licence for the subjugation of women; while the smokestack industries which had been the pride of the North now appeared, retrospectively, as ecological nightmares. In another set of dialectical inversions, the modernizations of the 1960s were stigmatised as planning disaters, imprisoning the local population in no-go estates and tower blocks.

    I've not read Samuel's book. I will, I hope - because he reportedly ends up wondering whether another reversal will come, writers finding in the "sink" housing estates a rich literature and music of reminiscence, in cowboy entrepreneurs and fly-by-night businesses the evidence of renewed dynamism, and in the deindustrialized landscape "ecological corridors and wildlife sanctuaries, bringing the country into the city". I think it could.
    Wednesday, June 28, 2006
    Progressive Nationalism
    I got annoyed when a regional church publication chose to open its editorial with that shoddy joke currently going the rounds which equates flag-flying football fans with bad driving. I wasn't sure quite why I got so annoyed, because I'd laughed at the joke myself, first time around. I guess it got me thinking about where that joke came from - with its thesis of footy fans and flag-flyers being, by definition, boneheaded. And I've begun to recoil from that liberal disdain of any kind of show of support for, or affirmation of, England.

    Thankfully the sheer ubiquity of the English flag this summer shows that the ordinary citizens have begun to reclaim it from the fascists. Thankfully also I note that the think-tank Demos have recently published a report called Progressive Nationalism: Citizenship and the Left, in which the author David Goodhart 'seeks to establish a more coherent and confident basis for centre-left thinking on the nation state and citizenship.'

    In it he challenges

    This will make good reading before, (probably not during), and after England's footballers play their last World Cup match this summer. Whenever that may be.
    Tuesday, June 27, 2006
    Cafe culture
    I sat in the grease caff and I waited for Sinclair. I had armed myself with a notebook and the full breakfast. Which was superb: a karmic trembler swimming in bacon juice, pig sweat, pressed tomatoes, root gristle, salt-caked pressings of blood, and all the essences of panic. I savoured, at my leisure, a heady blend of greed and guilt. I suicided, slowly. I licked the platter with bestial relish.

    No-one describes cafe breakfasts quite as well as Iain Sinclair. Thoroughly enjoyable and mind-expansive, listening to him reading from Downriver on the King Mob cd sent to me by John, another great London explorer.
    Monday, June 26, 2006
    It usually comes from the edge
    Refreshing to take a break from the football writers' lazy guides to German cities to pick up The Wire and read a very demanding piece about Die Tödliche Doris, a 'constantly mutating' West Berlin group of the early 80s whose approach to their art 'best embodied [the] unstable identity' of that place at that time. That's what it's about, really.

    And similarly refreshing to talk today with Liz Lacey, who is writing a book on the Liverpool counterculture of the past 100 years. A work which needs doing before we forget that the best and boldest 'culture' in our (and any?) city has usually come from the edge.
    Sunday, June 25, 2006
    Stand by your man

    Here's a real-time variation on Pip's Blobs - if you were to stand alongside one of Gormley's bodies on Crosby beach, which one would it be?
    Saturday, June 24, 2006
    Picnic on the M6

    Jim and Dave revisiting a familiar place today - enjoying a picnic in the expanse of land between the two carriageways where the M6 splits, looking across to where truckers used to take the old A6 through the high hills of Shap, at great risk to themselves.

    The exhibition at Shap Heritage Centre was worth the journey - a range of photographs showing just how treacherous was this route before global warming, when snow and ice were regular features and when wagons were far less built for safety than they are today. And the traffic was heavier, because this was the only main route north. Crashes, deaths, and the mutilation of fences, fields and flesh were common. Lorry driving, then as now, was very tough work.

    So today was a pilgrimage to pay tribute to those hard working hauliers and those who built the roads which carried them through such inhospitable country. And the exhibition also reminded us of some other hard workers of Shap - the navvies who built the railway which the M6 now follows as it carries West Coast travellers to and from Glasgow. Many men died on that speculative project, and though their names are not recorded, their memory is preserved in a stone at St Michael's Church. So we paid our respects today.
    Friday, June 23, 2006
    Listen to yourself
    Britain's nuclear deterrent is, as one Labour backbencher says, 'unacceptably expensive, economically wasteful and militarily unsound'. The name of that rebel? Gordon Brown speaking in 1984.
    - from Nick Robinson's Newslog
    Thursday, June 22, 2006
    Place marketing
    Pictured: ‘Place marketing’ in Manchester. Thanks to an ad in the occasional but essential Variant magazine I've just booked my place on a bus tour around that city's regeneration landmarks - past, present and future. The tour is called Raiders of the Arc of Opportunity and it's related to the current exhibition at the Castlefield Gallery called Incursions in the Knowledge Capital. It's good to know that there's some good critical work being done, not far from here, on the whole regeneration agenda, and the website which links much of this together is called Open City. Plenty of good reading there.

    If you want me at an event at the drop of a hat, then give it the title The Commodification & Privatisation of the Everyday, and explain that it is 'a Networking event for individuals and organisations researching and campaigning on issues related to the neo-liberal city: on the processes of capitalist globalisation and the neo-liberal agenda which shapes it. How do our experiences of a rampant neo-liberalism in towns & cities across England & Scotland interrelate? How is contemporary resistance to its influences shaped? An event of encounter, exchange and debate with individuals & groups from Leeds, Glasgow, Manchester, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Paisley...'

    I found out about this in Variant too. However it's this Saturday and I'm already booked for a visit to The Shap Heritage Centre that day, to see an exhibition about The Jungle Transport Café and other highlights of the old A6. Enticed by another sort of place marketing altogether. Can't be everywhere all at once I guess.
    Wednesday, June 21, 2006
    A child has died
    No satire today. No footy and no pseud reviews. From a lovely family doors away from here, a seven-week-old child has died; and I have to somehow find the means to make the tiny boy's funeral tomorrow helpful, valuable, valid.
    Tuesday, June 20, 2006
    More days of wonder with Rennie Sparks
    After we shot the grizzly, after the airship crashed.
    After we lost the compass, after the radio went dead.

    We shot and ate the horses. We marched through deadly swamps.
    Inside a limestone cave I found a human skull.

    Yes Mary, I found a human skull.

    The captain caught a fever. We tied him to a tree.
    We stared into the fire and tried not to hear his screams.

    I killed a tiny antelope not scared by my approach.
    We turned it over dying flames as we huddled in the gloom.

    Yes Mary, we huddled in the gloom.

    We built a raft from skin and bones. Only five could safely float.
    The others stood upon the shore. They screamed and threw sharp stones.

    Yes Mary, they threw the sharpest stones.

    But how the sea did spin us, how the waves did roar.
    The captain jumped into the storm then we were but four.

    One by one we chose our straws till only I remained,
    but Mary you are with me now, all around me in the waves.

    Yes Mary, you are in the waves.

    - not very generous behaviour from The Handsome Family, but this is just one of the many absolutely breathtaking songs on their eagerly-awaited new album, Last Days of Wonder. If you like your humour deeply dark and poetic (if you like your poetry deeply dark and humorous), Rennie Sparks is your woman.
    Monday, June 19, 2006

    Spotted down our road on a Parish Walk today... how much would you offer?
    Saturday, June 17, 2006
    Football crazy
    Now we know that Argentina are going to win the World Cup we can all relax and enjoy the wonderful silliness of it all....

    ''My parents have always been there for me, ever since I was about 7." David Beckham

    "I would not be bothered if we lost every game as long as we won the league." Mark Viduka

    "Alex Ferguson is the best manager I've ever had at this level. Well, he's the only manager I've actually had at this level. But he's the best manager I've ever had." David Beckham

    "If you don't believe you can win, there is no point in getting out of bed at the end of the day." Neville Southall

    "I've had 14 bookings this season - 8 of which were my fault, but 7 of which were disputable." Paul Gascoigne

    "I've never wanted to leave. I'm here for the rest of my life, and hopefully after that as well." Alan Shearer

    "I'd like to play for an Italian club, like Barcelona." Mark Draper

    "You've got to believe that you're going to win, and I believe we'll win the World Cup until the final whistle blows and we're knocked out." Peter Shilton

    "I was watching the Blackburn game on TV on Sunday when it flashed on the screen that George (Ndah) had scored in the first minute at Birmingham. My first reaction was to ring him up. Then I remembered he was out there playing." Ade Akinbiyi

    "Without being too harsh on David Beckham, he cost us the match." Ian Wright

    "I'm as happy as I can be - but I have been happier." Ugo Ehiogu

    "Leeds is a great club and it's been my home for years, even though I live in Middlesborough." Jonathan Woodgate

    "I couldn't settle in Italy - it was like living in a foreign country." Ian Rush

    "Germany are a very difficult team to play...they had 11 internationals out there today." Steve Lomas

    "I always used to put my right boot on first, and then obviously my right sock." Barry Venison

    "The Brazilians were South American, and the Ukrainians will be more European." Phil Neville

    "All that remains is for a few dots and commas to be crossed." Mitchell Thomas

    "One accusation you can't throw at me is that I've always done my best." Alan Shearer

    "Sometimes in football you have to score goals." Thierry Henry
    Friday, June 16, 2006
    Following the Dee

    Spent a good part of today following the Dee. Well, why take the nice-but-busy A5 all the way out of North-East Wales when there's roads either side just waiting to be explored - quiet, rolling roads with spectacular scenery. So thank you, ancient builders of the routes now named B4401, A539 and A5426; thank you, Thomas Telford, constructor of the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct ; thank you, Saint Dunawd, celebrated monk who is remembered in the name of the mediaeval church at Bangor-on-Dee, where the Dee meanders over the modern-day border and where today I left the river to wind its way towards Chester as I headed home through familial Cheshire lands.
    Thursday, June 15, 2006
    Choosing not to shop is just another form of shopping
    Google 'should I shop at Wal-Mart?' and you will find a cool 12 million hits; this is a question that has many people profoundly exercised. The trouble is that choosing not to shop at Wal-Mart for ethical reasons is both a political action and a retreat from politics. Ethical consumption may indeed be the best we can do, and it gives the ethical consumer a nice warm glow, but it is also another form of self-expression through consumption, and it is consumption, at root, which is the problem. At a global level, you could say that choosing not to shop at Wal-Mart is just another form of shopping at Wal-Mart.

    - John Lanchester in the current London Review of Books. He's writing about the perception that we 'lack a way of talking about the public good that is not framed purely in terms of economics'. Local protests and objections, ethical consumerism - these are not enough, he says. Its about reclaiming language, or learning to speak all over again.
    Wednesday, June 14, 2006
    Testing Brewer's
    Perfect compliment to the book I got yesterday - the book I got today, Brewer's Britain and Ireland (very cheap softcover version, I should add). When I go on my walk next year these two will be essential companions. Though I shall need a toughened rucksack to carry them.

    Brewer's Britain and Ireland is a very good gazetteer; in fact it's a delight. You judge books like this by going to the references of places you know and testing them for:

    Accuracy: it was indeed in 1207 that King John granted a charter for a new town on the banks of the Mersey - that's why 2007 is coming before 2008 in Liverpool, if you get my drift.
    Observation: Yes, it does seem true to say that 'Spiritually as well as physically the city has always faced outward to the sea, turning its back on Lancashire.'
    Understanding local politics: No need to disguise the ugly truth that almost as soon as Liverpool had won the Capital of Culture bid it dropped the flagship project, Will Alsop's Fourth Grace. No need, either, to dredge up the awful memory of the 1980s Thatcher-Hatton face-off (which Brewer's ignores).
    Essential quotations: Carl Gustav Jung's fevered vision of Liverpool as 'The Pool of Life' is misquoted here, but The Pool of Love sounds equally inconceivable.
    Great musical references: No mention of the true greats like Pete Wylie but plenty of Beatles and many references to the all-important In my Liverpool home (with a clear exegesis of the line 'We meet under a statue exceedingly bare' - which refers to the naked Jacob Epstein figure above the entrance to Lewis's department store. Brewer's writers correctly explain that this 'is popularly referred to, for visibly apparent reasons, as 'Dickie Lewis'.')
    Surprising conjectures: It had never occurred to me that the reason for the oddly-shaped Liver bird was 'probably [the result of] an artist's not very skilled attempt to give a rendition of the eagle of St John the Evangelist, the patron saint of the city.'
    Wonderful understatements: eg, 'Liverpool 8 - the postal designation of Toxteth, a district of Liverpool that has gained a certain notoriety for lawlessness.'
    Amusing provocations: 'Do you know, if you wear a flat heel in Liverpool, they think you're a lesbian?' - Isabella Blow, Tatler fashion editor, 2002.
    Correct balance: Brewer's gives Liverpool seven-and-a-half columns, Manchester just six. Seems about right.
    Tuesday, June 13, 2006
    Recommended by Alan Titchmarsh

    Tremendous timing. The arrival of some kind monetary gifts for my birthday, and the publication of the new Common Ground book, England in Particular - a celebration of the commonplace, the local, the vernacular and the distinctive.

    If you follow this blog you'll have previously read about Common Ground. They are champions of what they call Local Distinctiveness, an appreciation and celebration of the ordinary and everyday:

    For us to value [the commonplace], a creature does not have to be endangered, a building does not have to be monumental, a prospect does not have to be breathtaking. A place may not even be 'ours' for us to feel attached to it. We just need to know something of it; it has to mean something to us.

    They've been campaigning and stimulating all sorts of countrywide creative activities for many years now, and this book is their latest, and perhaps most thorough, work. It must have taken years in compiling for this publication is 512 pages deep, beautifully-produced and full of detailed and fascinating references to all manner of English things, from Abbeys and the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance through to Zawns and Zigzags.

    It'll take all summer to read, savouring each small flavour, and it'll be a delight. Alan Titchmarsh says that "This book should be at every curious Englishman’s bedside." Well, I'm a curious Englishman; and not inclined to disagree.
    Monday, June 12, 2006

    Gary Lineker (with more than a hint of pride): "... and it's nice to see an Everton player scoring goals in the World Cup finals." Tim Cahill - two goals in the last seven minutes to secure Australia's first-ever World Cup win. Ripper!
    Sunday, June 11, 2006
    Divine Love Triangle
    At last I think I found a way of talking about the Trinity which isn't totally unhelpful. Due in large part, of course, to Paul Nuechterlein and Girard (the French philosopher not the diving scouse midfielder). Lovely to be able to give this talk this morning to the church which nurtured me and which still feels like 'home', in Waterloo. The Holy Trinity: Divine Love Triangle.
    Saturday, June 10, 2006
    Everyday Labyrinth

    It's the shortest walk. But the longest. The Labyrinth. Short, because it all takes place within a circle about 12.5 metres in diameter, the length of the path only 260 metres. Long, because it's a slow walk. A deliberate walk. A radically engaged walk. The Altared Images labyrinth, which I walked this morning in Failsworth, is based on the one at Chartres Cathedral. The ancients used to call that La lieue - the league: which is a distance of about three miles. Because in the Middle Ages some pilgrims would walk the labyrinth on their knees, which would take about an hour, or the time needed to walk three miles.

    I have walked quite a few labyrinths in the past few years: portable canvas ones like today's, ones etched into Cambridgeshire church and cathedral floors (Bourn, Ely), turf mazes cut into village greens (Hilton), the extravagantly large brick maze on Saffron Walden common, and a surprise one in concrete on the campus of Lancaster University. Each time the walk has gone the same - walk in, stop at the centre, walk out. But each time the walk has felt different. Saffron Walden's - shared with children running around and dancing in the mound at the maze's centre; Ely - dodging tourists who, eyes aloft, failed to see where I was walking.

    Today's walk was quite sober, quite reflective, quite profound, walking it with some other Iona Community folk in a serious focussed mood, and I felt refreshed by that. Got me thinking what a pity it is that the labyrinth experience is so rare - unless you live near one. Until I remembered that the labyrinth experience is really just a walk - with a focus, an intention, and a central point to stop and reflect. The shape would be different but you could do a 'labyrinth' walk wherever you are - select a central point to stop and reflect and walk to and from it engaged, with focus and intention. The Everyday Labyrinth: it might catch on.
    Friday, June 09, 2006
    Don't look back
    I've finished reading Those Feet; A Sensual History of English Football by David Winner, just in time for the World Cup. Just in time to be able to 'read' the next month's footy events through different lenses than those mediated by global TV conglomerates.

    Winner's book is a treat for anyone interested in contemplating the character of the English, a delight for those for whom Boys' Own comics, Victorian pulp novels featuring heroes called Royston Keen, Neasden manager Ron Knee (59), The Goons and The Italian Job are all valid signifiers of the national psyche. Which includes me.

    As football and Englishness are often best described in jokes I especially like the chapter in which Winner contrasts the wit of Bill Shankly (arrogantly positive in the cause of his team) with the satire of Neasden F.C. Given the claim that there are just seven stories in the entire world, Winner thinks that 'having two basic types of English football joke - melancholy Nesaden variations and one Happy Shankly Heresy - probably constitutes healthy diversity.'

    We're quite good at laughing at ourselves, he says, but he highlights our ever-present and deeply negative tendency towards looking back at the past and moaning about the present. Characteristics which we apply to football as a metaphor for our wider social life. Characteristics we shall all be invited to share in over the coming four weeks.
    Thursday, June 08, 2006
    Greenbelt Does Iona - Flickr pics online now

    Some people have posted some very lovely photos of Iona; others, some very nice people shots. Me, I've posted my wheelie bin pic, with a caption competition attached.
    Wednesday, June 07, 2006
    The Port Glasgow Book Project

    A morning meeting in Glasgow to follow up recent work on Iona, and enough time afterwards to eat a lunchtime butty on the sunwashed steps of the Buchanan Galleries while reading the latest edition of Scots arts journal The Drouth.

    Issue 19 features the work of Mark Neville, from The Port Glasgow Book Project, a series of documentary photographs of the area which he published in a 'coffee-table' style book and distributed exclusively - and freely - to all the area's residents (delivered by the 100 members of the local boys' football team).

    The books aren't available elsewhere - the usual purchasers of coffee table art (like me, yes) deliberately denied this by the artist who wanted to use the project to '(subert) conventional ways in which such books are disseminated ... and (question) the way in which social documentary photography sometimes depends on an inherent framework of exploitation.' Only the subjects of the photographs saw them ... and made their responses known to the artist (and his boys club messengers).

    So it was a treat for me to see some of the images, in The Drouth. But in the end I put the mag away and people-watched, on Glasgow's busiest corner at the peak hour of one of Scotland's warmest, brightest days.
    Tuesday, June 06, 2006
    Sandra met Raymond at the Race Relations
    Much to the dismay of her family and friends
    The love that we have is so important

    The time that it takes to make a baby
    Can be the time it takes to make a cup of tea
    The love that we have is so important

    He still goes dancing and she still cuts hair
    They put the baby into Council care
    The love that we have is so important

    - sang Billy Bragg on This Guitar Says Sorry. That was 22 years ago. When I was a young 22. And when I heard it then I guess I laughed at the comedy last line, a satire, it seems, on something we so easily cheapen. I've lived a whole life more since then, and the music has stayed with me. Grown on me.

    Revisiting this miniature work of understated genius today*, there's so much more to this repeated final line. In the first verse it challenges family racism; in the final verse it asks a big question of those whose love has soured. In the middle verse Bill is juxtaposing something profound with something mundane - but which is the profound act and which the mundane, or are they interchangeable in their relative significance, the baby-making and the tea-making? Both might be considered acts of love; and the love that we have is so important.

    On my birthday I'm inclined towards melancholy. In my 44 years I have made plenty of cups of tea but no babies. When I first heard Brewing Up with Billy Bragg I was a geeky guy surrounded by stacks of cassettes and books. Now, all that has changed around me is the technology. I haven't yet outgrown my youthful posturing; but my t-shirts fit far tighter these days. Part of me thinks: I'm sinking into decrepitude, kill me now. Another thinks I'm only really beginning to understand the stuff I've filled my life with all this time. The love that we have is so important: that's no throwaway line. But what does it mean? What could it mean?

    [*thanks for the box set, Linda & Pete]
    Monday, June 05, 2006
    Those Feet
    Avoiding all literature speculating endlessly on Rooney's foot and promoting Crouch's pitiful 'dance' (any regular Premiership-watcher can tell you that it's no news that he's robotic) - my World Cup reading matter of choice is Those Feet; A Sensual History of English Football by David Winner, in which he

    ...journeys to the heart of Englishness and sheds new light on the true nature of a rapidly changing game that was never really meant to be beautiful. He shows how Victorian sexual anxiety underlies England's many World Cup failures. He reveals the connection between Roy Keane and a soldier who died in the Charge of the Light Brigade. And, he demonstrates how thick mud and wet leather shaped the contours of the English soul.
    Sunday, June 04, 2006
    Everyday Mis-Guidance

    Great to hear from Phil who (you and) I last encountered on our Mis-Guided walk around the Mall in April. The above picture features in Phil's write-up of our walk on the recently-launched Mis-Guided Blog. Look closely and you will see Revd Rust of Holloway (left), and me (third left) holding up a scale model of a red Marx fire engine in the style of the Blitz Memorial at Liverpool Parish Church.

    Thrilling, after all the talk I provoked last week (see yesterday's blog), to read of the Mis-Guiders' next project: Exeter Everyday, a week of day-long festivals of the everyday in Exeter next month [download pdf].

    The aim of this is to '[encourage] Exonians and visitors to the city to notice, ‘perform' and celebrate their everyday for the week of the festival. This may provoke people to wear their best shoes on Monday, or wear coloured contact lenses or slightly more eye make up or even flirt a little on Thursday. Or maybe just make people a little more aware of the everyday performances of the city and how they might be acting out the city in a way that is crucial to how it is and how it will be.'

    Pity Exeter's so far from here. But if you're near there between 10-15 July, you might just get involved.
    Saturday, June 03, 2006
    Greenbelt Iona talks online
    My talks on Reading the Everyday seemed to go down well on Iona. I've posted a full set of notes and references here for anyone wanting to follow them up.
    Friday, June 02, 2006
    Hope in 20 Languages

    Kester and I have been leading a covert promotional campaign for Howies by modelling items of their confidently-branded clothing (warm, cosy and ethical sweaters) for the past six days on Iona. It was a very, very good week indeed, shared with many very, very good people, Greenbelters and Iona Community staff and volunteers from around the world. So after twelve hours on the return road home, it seemed fitting that the first thing I read, in the new Howies catalogue, was the page bearing this design. Hope in 20 Languages. It chimes with the journeys we've all been on together this week and the ones we'll be taking on next...