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

    Tuesday, October 31, 2006
    Gothic piles
    Just about recovering after coordinating an away weekend for a coachload of parishioners. It was interesting to be staying in the house originally built as a country retreat for Liverpool millionaire banker J.P. Heywood, whose city mansion was sited in our own parish, now a crumbling ruin in Norris Green Park. I guess that's where a lot of the port money went in the 19th century - out of Liverpool into Shropshire, Lancashire, Cheshire estates. I guess that's still where a lot of the port money goes. There and into corporate boxes at Old Trafford or The Spaniards up the road.

    Heywoods bank was eventually subsumed into Barclays, and the Heywoods' Shropshire home eventually sold off, becoming initially a school and now a Christian conference centre, cheap and cheeful and accommodating up to 140 people. Sometime in the Heywoods' decline their mansion had got too much to manage and so they demolished most of it. Where we stayed at the weekend - all there is left of Cloverley Hall - was originally the servants' quarters and stables.

    En-route we passed the magnificent Victorian folly Peckforton Castle, which only days before Linda and I had sat outside pondering our family history. Nana, a local lass, had been a maid there, probably during the First World War, when the family she served would have been in mourning for the loss of young Bevil, nephew of the second Baron Tollemache, who died at Givenchy in December 1914.

    Some time after that the Tollemaches abandoned Cheshire to return to ancestral Helmingham. By then our Nana had found herself in service in posh Liverpool, where she met a delivery driver who she ended up marrying, and moved to a Waterloo terrace to start a family of her own.

    Peckforton is now a corporate catering and conference establishment whose exterior gave all the signals needed to persuade my sister and I that the only way we'd get into it would be the same way as our grandmother nearly a century ago: through the back door.
    Sunday, October 29, 2006
    Not over yet

    Since I last blogged about them the Gormleys have had a temporary reprieve. It now looks like they'll spend at least one more Christmas on Crosby beach. This photo was taken on the day that decision was made. Though Michael, Jess and I, unaware of that at the time, thought this might be our last encounter with the metal men.
    Thursday, October 26, 2006
    It's a vast book, Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History. Advertising itself as 'the definitive biography of this magnificent world city' and published to mark the 800th anniversary in 2007 of the founding of modern Liverpool by King John, it claims to offer 'a warts and all portrait of a city which has inspired contempt (‘a black spot on the Mersey’) and adulation (‘the centre of consciousness of the human universe’) but rarely indifference.'

    I haven't got into reading it just yet - still getting used to balancing it on my knees - but the pictures are fascinating, not least the set of posters / cards from The Liverpool Exhibition of 1913. I never knew there'd been a Liverpool Exhibition in 1913 till I saw this. In the early 1900s Tory politicians and business people were concerned that the city was suffering from image problems due to its unsightly poverty, and the Exhibition was an attempt at 'civic boosterism' to keep ahead of its commercial competitors. The Edge Lane Hall Estate thus became the site of the Palace of Industries, a 400-feet long industrial exhibition and pleasure fair, an 'excellent balance of educational interest and rollicking amusement.'

    The amusements included astonishing sideshows, a massive collection of wild animals and the largest and longest scenic railway in the world, constructed at a cost of £10,000. But Liverpool Exhibition Limited went into receivership within a few months of opening in 1913, and it was left to the local press to take on the task of boosterism on a far humbler basis.

    Boosterism - now where have we come across that more recently? How about on the back cover of Liverpool 800, which reminds the reader of our European Capital of Culture status and asserts Liverpool's standing as 'a true World City', presently in the act of reinventing itself. I take this as a case of historians being ironic, as this book, obviously assiduously-researched and well-written, is hardly designed to be seen by future historians in the same light as the 1913 Exhibition souvenir programme, sponsored by Blackler's now is: part of a failed exercise by the city's self-selecting elite to remould the place into a shape (ill-suited to its true culture) which it could not keep for long... is it?
    Wednesday, October 25, 2006
    England in all its fullness
    Finished Billy Bragg's book The Progressive Patriot. He doesn't write like he talks, in some respects - less passionate and far more sober; but in another respect he does - equally considered and clearly expressed. He doesn't reach any firm answers in his search for the heart of Englishness, either, but that's a project no one will ever complete.

    In making his investigation through telling his own life story Billy does, however, describe in some depth the strands of a particular sort of Englishness which give him a sense of belonging: the Englishness of a radical tradition which connects the provisions of the Magna Carta to the opposition to Charles I, to the Welfare State, a tradition which 'has done more than any other ... to shape our common values, each successive generation seeking to expand on these ideas for the benefit of those excluded by faith, race, gender and economics.'

    That isn't everyone's idea of Englishness, however. And Billy's book reminds me that most, if not all, icons of Englishness are actually contested, claimed as their own by groups of very different sorts of English people. That excellent recent BBC documentary on Blake's Jerusalem showed how the hymn is precious equally to the WI and the BNP, to Conservative and Labour, to religious radicals and Eton choristers - but all for very different reasons. Bragg's book details the same critical collisions over the writer on Englishness he regards as the greatest, George Orwell. He reminds the reader of Orwell's appropriation by Conservative politicians intent on using the writer's words to evoke England as a settled rural idyll of cricket-pitch village greens and 'old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning'.

    But then Bragg digs out the entire quote to show that Orwell's England embraced far more than just these things:

    And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning.

    Orwell's England consists of gentle mists and the noise and dirt of industrial, metropolitan living. It's a fuller, truer England than the partial ones we're often encouraged to adhere to (either by radicals or racists). What I get from all this is a question; Orwell did a very good job of critically describing the England of his day in all its fullness... who are the writers doing this today?
    Monday, October 23, 2006
    That's it. I've had it with tabloid TV. I was only watching Wife Swap because our mate Vinny was on, with his Nancy (full-time Norris Green mum) swopping with a home counties businesswoman. And because they filmed a bit of it when Vinny took on the role of photographer at a wedding at our church. But I should have expected it to be a demoralising piece of programming, given what Vinny had already told me about the obvious typecast-for-disaster approach of the producers.

    Clearly opposites in their approach to the work-child rearing balance, Nancy and her swop were hardly going to see eye to eye. But the way the show was done just maximised the conflict and the final half-hour, featuring both sets of partners set on opposite-facing sofas being provoked to shout each other down, did no-one any favours. Certainly not Channel Four. They were nice people, the film crew, when they spent the afternoon with us. One day I hope they'll get to work on documentaries which have some integrity about them.

    I guess if you're a filmmaker (like the rest of us) you take what work you can get - even Wife Swop standard work - in the hope that occasionally you'll be released to do something of more value. Good to hear from Christian Petersen today, a photographer who peppers his commercial portfolio with pieces of photojournalism which take as their subjects the meaner streets of Liverpool and NYC and have at their heart the interests of those who - like our Vinny and Nancy - live on them.

    This picture is from a series illustrating the realities of Kensington, L7 - 'regeneration' hotspot where vast amounts of new money have failed to make much difference to the lives of the most deprived because, like 'regeneration' initiatives everywhere the money is 'soaked up ... by bureaucracy, costly agencies and consultants'. Christian has an eye for the effects of this. Sobering, studying his picture of a bus stopping beside shuttered L7 shops bearing the legend along its side, MAKE POVERTY HISTORY. As sobering and infuriating as watching Vinny and Nancy being reduced from whole human beings to sorry stereotypes for the titillation of TV chiefs.
    Saturday, October 21, 2006
    The Bird is Blue

    Well, why shouldn't it be? This is I think, my first footy post of the season and it is time to declare that my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of Andrew Johnson, not to mention the coming of age of Joleon Lescott and the coming together, at last, of a pacy, creative and goalscoring midfield. I have witnessed the maturing of Yobo, Osman and McFadden, have been reassured by the performances of Tim Howard, and thrilled that at last Everton Football Club has a genuinely youthful, attacking lineup.

    For the first time in many years this is a team which looks comfortable in the top quarter of the league table. Flawed, no doubt, but (I fondly repeat) comfortable in the top quarter of the league table. Thinking on these things, and reading When Skies Are Grey today prompts me to embark on another campaign. To reclaim the Liver Bird. From now on, it is Blue. There are many reasons why this should be so, if you know your history, and the time is right to celebrate, and correct past errors. T-shirts available here!
    Friday, October 20, 2006
    Save the Post Office
    I have been commissioned to write a Post Office prayer along the lines of my wheelie bin one. It's a project where the devotional will combine with the political because it'll be used to help campaign against closures. Email me your suggestions as to those things about Post Offices which ought to be celebrated in verse. Meanwhile please be entertained by the JonnyB / Post 8 / Ecletech Save the Post Office video.

    Thursday, October 19, 2006

    I'm quite happy that the campaign to try to keep the Gormley statues on Crosby beach for a few months beyond the intended end-date has failed. The artwork was, after all, about transience, deportation, yearning for Another Place. And loss. The absence of the statues - from the end of November - won't be the end of the artistic statement, in that sense. It'll be a beginning.
    Wednesday, October 18, 2006
    Steal away

    - Little Annie, Freddy and Me from Songs from the Coal Mine Canary
    Tuesday, October 17, 2006
    The truthful, expert voices

    I'm holding in my hand a slim document, produced on unsexy glossy paper and unexceptional in design. But it's one of the most powerful publications I own. It's the record of the Liverpool Poverty Hearing which took place just days before the 1997 General Election. In a time of heightened political attentiveness, the first real opportunity in eighteen years for a change in goverment, a time of promise especially for those marginalised by the morally bankrupt and decaying Tory regime, the Hearing was very well attended.

    On that occasion, held in a Friends Meeting House now demolished to make way for Earl Grosvenor's fancy shopping malls, eight people with direct experience of living in real poverty in Liverpool were courageous enough to share their stories with an audience of the city's decision-makers and parliamentary candidates. The truthful, expert voices were for once able to be heard.

    Karen from Norris Green spoke of the pain of having to face leaving Liverpool to gain meaningful work and move out of the poverty trap she was in; Barabra from Everton suggested that poverty now was worse than in earlier generations because of an increase in social isolation; Matt from Everton spoke of life on invalidity benefit - no cinema, no books, no means to make provision for long term illness - and asked, 'do I have to live in poverty all my life?'; Jo, a graduate unable to find work, described life on £44 a week; Dawn from Kirkdale, a mother of four, her partner on a wage just £1 above unemployment benefit, described the pain of being unable to provide properly for her young ones; Ann, homeless through a series of events linked to her estranged husband's violence against her, said she'd be dead if she'd stayed with him and asked, 'Why, because I chose to stay alive for the sake of my children, should I be forced to live a life in poverty?' and Eric from Everton explained the 'benefit trap' he and his wife were in because of her low income job.

    This event came about because a few months before Church Action on Poverty had organised a National Poverty Hearing in London. I went to that, and was moved on my return home to convene a group which gelled and, energised by the model of enabling and preparing people with direct experience of poverty - the real experts - to have the platform to 'speak truth to power', we got the Liverpool Poverty Hearing together.

    Merseyside and Region Church Action on Poverty has been going ever since. In the intervening years members have continued their campaigning, carried on organising events of these kinds. Some of our grassroots people have been involved in parliamentary consultations and face-to-face meetings with ministers. And - because it has been a listening government at times - these consultations and meetings have helped forge some genuinely positive policy change.

    Some of us may be going to the tenth anniversary National Poverty Hearing in London on 6 December. And today we gathered for a modest soup lunch, followed by a simple sharing of bread and wine, to mark the World Day to Overcome Extreme Poverty and to start making plans for another city centre conference in 2007.

    Informing our 1997 event was the newly-published church report on Unemployment and the Future of Work: An Enquiry for the Churches. Commissioned by Bishop David Sheppard it had a Liverpool edge to it. I remember sitting next to the Bishop of Hereford feeling proud, a little awkward, and tickled by the glorious incongruity of the situation, underneath a massive photograph of Duncan Ferguson in the Goodison Park suite at the report's launch. Today we have the worthy but more flaccid Faithful Cities. Compromised by its shameful insistence on using the language of capital to describe the activity of faith, nevertheless Faithful Cities asks some good questions, the most promising one being, 'What makes a good city?'

    Tonight I'm left holding this report from a decade ago and wondering how Karen, Barabra, Matt, Jo, Dawn, Ann and Eric would answer that. Sadly Eric passed away not long after our initial event; I'm unsure where most of the others are. But Matt is still soldiering on despite debilitating illness, and still asking hard questions of the powerful (I know this because he confronted me - now a figure of clerical 'authority' - with a tricky question part way through a service I was leading earlier this year). Extreme poverty has not been overcome and, left to overblown pop stars, campaigning against it is diminished; poverty close to home exists as cruelly as it ever has. Our campaigning group hasn't given up, and despite now being dangerously closer to the compromises of power than I was a decade ago I hope that I'll never lose the intention to listen, fully hear, and respond appropriately to what those truthful, expert voices are saying.
    Monday, October 16, 2006
    Speak to the spectre
    Fascinating article in this month's edition of The Wire, on the topic of Haunted music. Ghosts, writes Simon Reynolds, are everywhere in music. Some new musicians are revisiting such influential pieces as Japan's Ghosts and The Specials' Ghost Town, others creating new pieces with titles such as Haunted Science and - very telling, this - Music is a Hungry Ghost. The article makes the case that this is no fad, that ghosts are a 'primordial notion.. something that spans all cultures and goes back to the dawn of human history' and that ghosts have been ever-present in music, perhaps because of music's very nature:

    It could be argued that music is inherently phantasmal. Partly that is a matter of the immateriality of sound, its insubstantial and evanescent quality; the way certain melodies haunt our days whether we wish it or not; the madeleine-like capacity of particular harmionies or sound-textures to unlock our memories.

    Reynolds proceds to point up the 'spookiness of recording' - 'Edison originally conceived the phonograph as a way of preserving the voices of the dearly beloved after their demise,' and concludes this introductory section by asserting that,

    Records have habituated us to living with ghosts. We keep company with absent presences, the immortal but dead voices of the phonographic pantheon, from Caruso to Cobain.

    This raised two questions in my tiny mind, first, is there a holy ghost to be found in this somewhere, and secondly, as ghosts are so ubiquitous, and the ghosts in the (iPod / radio / TV) machine so much part of our daily lives, then is all this offering clues towards more deeply understanding life in the ordinary, the spirit of the everyday?

    I suspect so. And was encouraged by the meat of the article which is an investigation into a number of British groups who are working in similar areas as Martin Parr, Saint Etienne and Adrian Maddox's Classic Cafes (all fondly featured from time to time in these web pages) - ie, they're expressing an 'elegaic sensibility' about aspects of post-war British life.

    Prime movers seem to be Belbury Poly, whose 'ghostly' music they describe as "by turns joyous, bucolic and naive; and at times shot through with panic terror. Imagine soundtracks to televised versions of Arthur Machen tales, beautifully filmed in grainy day for night lighting, yet too disturbing and explicit ever to be broadcast. These are people inspired by the first series of Pogle's Wood, which was pulled by the BBC for its disturbingly witchy atmosphere.

    In their caringly-produced cd package for The Owl's Map Belbury Poly provide a 'field guide to Belbury' - a fictional town but one which strongly evokes a very English sense of place, post-war reconstruction version.

    All of this could of course be dismissed as silly nostalgia. But for me at least, growing up (and into music) in those very post-war years (defined in the article as 'more or less 1958-78'), it seems another 'in' into investigating the everyday, with its ghosts. As one of my contemporaries, Paul Morley rock journalist and member of the group Infantjoy, sings,

    "It is necessary to speak of the ghost... Speak to the spectre, engage it, encounter it... We are always haunted by ghosts but we cannot freely choose what we will be haunted by."
    Sunday, October 15, 2006
    Thanks to the human heart by which we live
    By a generous act of synchronicity whereby the last wedding I attended was in a church with tremendous literary associations, so also the next marriage service at which I shall officiate (posh phrase for 'stand up the front') is to be in no less a building than St Oswald's, Grasmere, burial place of William Wordsworth. Started to make plans for it today with the happy couple. It'll make for a cheery new year.
    Saturday, October 14, 2006
    Doing it Wright

    In Barrow in Furness last night to see the mighty Fall. And it was, indeed, a storming gig. Played in a relatively pleasurable environment - these Cumbrians partying with an endearingly pure enjoyment, non of yer city-centre MES-fuelled aggression in The Canteen. The event featured more disturbing distortions in sight and sound from VJ Safy Sniper (first blogged about here, tonight turning Barbara Streisland torch songs into terrorvision); plus, more pleasingly, an excellent new Fall line-up and Elena on vocals on a great new song Wright Stuff. Pics by Mark.
    Thursday, October 12, 2006
    Free thinking in the city of dreams

    Harry Hopkins' rich description of life in Littlewoods Pools, Walton Hall Avenue, circa 1954 is proof (though I don't need it, I hear it in conversation everyday) that the women of this part of Liverpool were once at the hub of a nation's obsession, arbiters of a people's fortunes, clocked-on keepers of a country's dreams. He devotes 31 pages to Liverpool in the book, England is Rich, which demonstrate to me that Hopkins' journey through fifties Britain is well worth revisiting, not only to ponder what happened to the dreams and aspirations of the place in intervening years, but also to consider if there is anything in them which might offer direction for future hopes.

    Hopkins' book came to me (thanks to John and Cathy Rogers) in the same week that I booked tickets to hear the relentless experimentalist Brian Eno launch Liverpool's Free Thinking Festival with a lecture, at the start of a weekend of free talks, debates, interviews and performances across the city 'exploring the ideas that will change the way we live'. It's on 3-5 November and looks virtually compulsory for any aspiring contemporary Harry Hopkinses.
    Tuesday, October 10, 2006
    Relief roads
    That detour around Scammonden in August helped me out today. The M62, locked up completely by an accident at its peak, held me in its gassy throng for over an hour, then spat me out into another slow crawling snake on the road towards Halifax. But then a familiar little road over Booth Wood became visible and I took it - ducking under the lee of the motorway, a portal to unchartered places: Barkisland, Greetland and finally Elland, a busy, industrious place which routed me back onto the motorway beyond the blockade.

    Destination: Doncaster, and returning some hours later I took the low road for a change. Too much M62 for one day, I opted instead for a journey through Yorkshire exotic. More unchartered territory. The A639 wound me over and along the tumbling Dearne Valley and span me around Barnsley from where the A628 took me on a breathtaking route over the Howden Moors. This road directs the traveller past the shining waters and stark banks of Woodhead, Torside, Rhodeswood, Valehouse and Bottoms reservoirs into the quaintly-named but choking towns of Hollingworth and Tintwistle.

    No wonder the locals here are decorating trees and gable ends with notices encouraging 'fed-up' motorists to lobby the Highways Agency (tel. no provided) about a longed-for bypass. From here up a long painful ascent (my car's ageing fan belt screaming) the motorist is sucked into Greater Manchester's Orbital road system. And so from there, like one undead, I travelled autohypnotically home.

    Purpose of the journey: very worthwhile; time for some spiritual direction. Good opportunity to reflect on the concerns and excitements of recent months, on where Reading the Everyday might be leading. And ever perceptive, Henry lent me a book to take on that long slow journey home through small everyday-exotic places. Stations, a collection of very resonant prayers-in-ordinary by the Halifax-born, late Simon Bailey:

    Monday, October 09, 2006
    Mutual encouragements all round

    Good today to meet Peter Murphy, icon artist who has featured in these pages from time to time. His new George Harrison hangs in gleaming gold alongside a Hendrix at the Stuckist exhibition in the 68 Hope Street Gallery, alongside provocative, witty and sometimes surreal paintings by the likes of Naive John and Charles Thompson, and the wildly exciting Sardine Attack by Jaime Braz. We talked about all sorts of stuff including Peter's other current work at Hereford Cathedral, the absurdity of taking the Mappa Mundi on tour, and the similarities between James Beattie and a wheeliebin (hey - we can say it, we're Evertonians). And completely forgot to mention the stuff of recent emails and postal exchanges - Steve Turner's Greenbelt talks and Johnny Cash in concert.

    It's good to make friends via internet. Later on an email hit my inbox from Matilda Harrison, who has just discovered that her Madonna of the City (my title, not hers) was my Pic of the month in April 2004 - the actual picture has been in my life and on my walls for the past two decades. Her Virgin Mary was one of her very first commissions after leaving St Martins Art College and she tells me that the model for the picture was a very beautiful, serene-looking fellow student called Bobbie, who posed for the picture on Long Acre in Covent Garden and was wryly amused when Matilda told her what she wanted to use her face as a model for. "Later that week she was slightly more discomposed when a film maker stopped her in the street, and asked her if she would come and do a screentest, as she thought Bobbie would be perfect to play the Virgin Mary."

    Matilda also wrote, "As an illustrator you always wonder if anyone ever stops to look, let alone like what you have slaved over." I guess the same goes for a blogger too. Mutual encouragements all round. Lovely.
    Sunday, October 08, 2006

    This is surprising writing. You hear him onstage and you know that he speaks large measures of commonsense wisdom with integrity and passionate directness. But there's clearly only so much you can put across on a rock'n'roll platform. Because his newly-published book The Progressive Patriot reveals depths of observation and cultured understanding that Billy Bragg's stage persona only hints at.

    Bragg's 'Search for Belonging', his desire 'to reconcile patriotism with the radical tradition', critics might have thought, would be a thin tome dripping in rhetoric. It's far from that. The stage on which the writer Bragg enacts his search for an enlightened, honest Englishness is his home town of Barking. The filter through which he tests his theses is the life story of his own family, their predecessors and their neighbours.

    And the book's opening chapters take the reader to unexpected places - making connections between ancient and modern eras in a place where the Iron Age settlement on the Roding was one of the largest in the land, a vital port and trading post centred on a massive camp which in later centuries became the site for Howards (Laportes) Chemical Works and today, twenty years after an elaborately expensive act of decontamination, houses people in Hyacinth Close, Dahlia Gardens, Foxglove Crescent and Tulip Drive.

    This is where Billy Bragg's politics comes from - from a very specific somewhere - and in telling us about that somewhere in such careful detail, the medium of print is helping fans of Bill like me to attain a deeper understanding of his project, complementing twenty-five years of hearing his brilliant, but by comparison thin, onstage banter.
    Saturday, October 07, 2006
    Dériving pleasure

    "Much of what is now called psychogeography is resonant and marginal local history" - an unattributed quote in a newsletter from the Desborough Hundred Psychogeographical Society which Cathy Rogers sent me with the Remapping High Wycombe DVD.

    "Much of what is now called psychogeography is resonant and marginal local history" - you can see that, as the first short film features an interview with two elderly, thus deeply knowledgeable, residents, framed next to archive film of the past Wycombe they were describing. You can hear that, in the reminiscences of Neil 'Kiwi' Slang, champion of Wycombe reggae, and in the polite anger of Jeff, 28 years the proprietor of Scorpion Records, a legendary store doomed by 'regeneration' to be replaced by rows of cheap Thai chicken ready meal outlets.

    Psychogeography as evocative, borderline local history. Yeah, why not. But it is other stuff too. For Alan Petherbridge it is something interesting to do in your lunch hour (Alan the first person to take up the invitation of the Desborough Hundred Psychogeographical Society to embark on a lunchtime dérive. He got so carried away with it he exceeded his intended half-hour by another half-hour).

    And for Mark, Daniel and Bex, all first year Arts and Media students from Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College psychogeography is a fascinating encounter with all sorts of questions, about what happens to people when they surrender themselves to the spirit of drift, about which Left is 1st Left when the choice is by no means obvious, about becoming prepared to trespass in the pursuit of the algorithm as bland suburban streets become part of an epic quest and the route carries them through CCTV-guarded industrial gates.

    You sense it reading the book, but you can actually see it on the DVD which Cathy will send you if you ask: psychogeography is all the above, and more. But above all, it is a lot of fun.
    Friday, October 06, 2006
    Saint Etienne Heaven
    Considering this week which artists and speakers would have excellent contributions to make to Greenbelt 07 on the theme Heaven in Ordinary, the band Saint Etienne come warmly to mind. That phrase (freed from religious baggage) might summarise the nature of their art very well indeed.

    Listening to Tales from Turnpike House again (so refreshing) I'm reminded that here's a band with a strong sense of place, a poetic appreciation of the ordinary, a love of commonplace people and the towerblock-streetlevel-marketplace arenas where we live out our modest lives. More than one reviewer has noticed how their lightness of touch and celebratory tone makes London seem almost heavenly; and in the album's sleevenotes Jeremy Deller recalls an adolescence spent in the same South London suburbs as Saint Etienne, where a whole new world was opened up to him on Saturdays spent exploring the magical world of jumble sales.

    Their film Finisterre (I blogged last year) is a psycho-geographical visual soundtrack to the city, a 24-hour journey of loving appreciation of London compressed into 57 minutes. Sometimes, though, loving the ordinary, finding deep meaning in the mundane, fills one with uncontrollable, inexpressible yearnings. Their gloriously crafted Teenage Winter brings tears to my eyes:

    Amy checks the shopping list: pedal bin, washing-up rack, Santex
    She goes to the baker's to buy a loaf
    Aaah, she keeps forgetting it's changed into the Tropicana Tanning Salon
    And in the charity shop
    Mrs Brown sits at the counter
    Pricing down some old stock:
    The Moon's a Balloon, two copies of Every Loser Wins, Noel's Blobby Land (Deluxe Edition)
    There's not much left on the doorstep recently
    Something to do with Ebay Johnny reckons
    He's bidding on it now
    For a Subbuteo catalogue '81-82
    He'll win it, put it in a drawer and forget he ever bought it

    Holding on
    To something
    And not knowing
    Exactly what you're waiting for

    Teenage winter's coming down
    Teenage winter throws a gown
    Over every place I've been
    And every little dream

    Phone rings in Gary's flat (Can I speak to Mr G Stead, please?)
    He hangs up and takes Tony the milk,
    "See you in the Hat'n'Fan at 7"
    Gary can't believe the Claremont Road pitch
    Is going to be covered in executive housing
    He talks about the Newcastle game, Bontcho's debut
    But Tony can hardly hear him
    They took the jukebox out
    And the Aussie barstaff are playing Red Hot Chili Peppers
    He tells 'em what he thinks, he manages to keep it clean
    He buys another round

    Holding on
    To something
    And not knowing
    Exactly what you're waiting for

    Teenage winter's coming down
    Teenage winter throws a gown
    Over every place I've been
    And every little dream

    Mums with pushchairs outside Sainsbury's
    Tears in their eyes
    They'll never buy a Gibb Brothers record again
    Their old 45s gathering dust
    With the birthday cards they couldn't face throwing away
    Teenage winter coming down
    Teenage winter coming down...

    [hear sample here]
    [explanation of football references in verse two here]
    Thursday, October 05, 2006
    Advice for Dérivers by S.P.B Mais
    1. Go sufficiently well equipped for all contingencies. Take: heavy raincoat, pair of field glasses, camera, inch to the mile Ordnance map, Highways and Byways guide, notebook, several oranges, whisky-flask, and a volume of Cobbett or some other author who fits in with the open-air mood.

    2. Stop at every inviting inn and mingle with the labourers in the ingle-nook of the tap room.

    3. The countryman is friendly, communicative, witty and independent.

    4. Stop and talk with every tramp.

    5. Continually trespass and allow yourself to be diverted from the main path by every cross-track that lures you out of the way.

    6. Never pass a church. Enjoy the beauty of the architecture and learn more about our national history.

    7. There is a technique of walking - but I have never learnt it.

    8. Be out of the house by 9am to avoid having to walk at a higher average rate than 3mph.

    9. A walking day seems half the length of other days. It is rare for half the route to be covered before sundown.

    10. There are 3 different types of walks: i) along the ridges in order to be alone, commune with the spirits of the air, and look down on humanity ii) along the river bank to trace the history of the (human/english) race iii) take to the green tracks through woods and over hills. Road walking is dead, except for stockbrokers to Brighton on 1st May.

    11. The object of walking is to regain contact with the spirit of beauty; to commune with our souls and be still; to exorcise our demons.

    12. Write up the day's walk as soon as it is over - for our own sake and that of other walkers.

    ... S.P.B Mais, It Isn't Far From London (1930) quoted by John Rogers in the excellently Lulu'd Remapping High Wycombe
    Wednesday, October 04, 2006
    What a picture

    I've been keenly awaiting the uploads of shots from Paul and Emma's wedding on the photographer's site ({dk}log: the photography of Duncan Kerridge) because the quality of the pictures on that site is sublime. Here, one of those magic moments captured perfectly. Plenty more where that came from.
    Tuesday, October 03, 2006
    On being catapulted into a real environment
    Following on from yesterday's blog Adrian shared with me his memories of once being on a coach which broke down in Harlem, NYC. The driver rapidly decided to flee the scene and soon all the others on the coach also hailed taxis and fled. For fear of the 'real environment' which they'd found themselves unexpectedly in.

    Which crystallised the thought that 'being catapulted into an environment that was real' can mean very different things depending on what sort of 'real' you're in. And being out of your 'comfort zone' can challenge your perception of what 'real' actually means. I'm sure that some folk who might break down on the dual carriageway just by our estate might react like that bus driver did in Harlem, but only because of a certain perception about the 'reality' of the area, which local people here would certainly not share (despite our recent gun feuds).

    Maybe the best thing about transportation is that occasionally it lets us down. And then - and only then - are we left to face challenging, uncomfortable realities about ourselves and our fears, when our indifferent journey stops, beside the road in unfamiliar places, on cold stark platforms with total strangers, sharing a lifeboat with fellow-survivors.
    Monday, October 02, 2006
    The triumphal entry into Glasgow
    The M8 link road between Edinburgh and Glasgow is the first and last east-west motorway north of the M62. Some call it the dullest piece of road in the country. Others applaud its style, in the way it runs right into the centre of Glasgow, blasting a path through the city and out the other side. One man, the playwright David Greig, has walked its length, and Nick Thorpe sent me an article he wrote about Greig's trip and a BBC Scotland film of the four-day excursion, completed in 2002.

    Greig thought he knew the road until one dark November night when his engine spluttered and died, and all his perceptions changed:

    “I was forced to pull over rather suddenly somewhere in Lanarkshire,” he recalls, much in the manner of someone recounting a religious conversion. “I remember this profound feeling of being catapulted into an environment that was real - not the televisual experience you get through your windscreen from the warmth while you listen to the radio. Suddenly I was next to a field, in the rain, in the dark.”

    This epiphany prompted the walk - interestingly, east to west - which was Greig's attempt 'to re-explore and re-uncover what we pass by.' He found plenty of good material en-route. The M8 arts project sprinkles some large-scale pieces of public art along the 60-mile route, and Greig particularly enjoyed detouring to The Horn, a 72ft steel periscope rising from Polkemmet Country Park, broadcasting a long loop of different pieces of music and speech, including Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…” and Ennio Morricone’s soundrack to A Few Dollars More, unheard by the thousands of passers by, only the cows.

    Greig also seemed to relish his arrival into Glasgow. For car drivers this stretch of road can be nightmarish, 'notorious(ly) inadequate for current traffic levels, forming two sides of a never-finished inner ring road, (with a lethal) mix of local, long-distance and commuter traffic'. On his approach into Glasgow Greig found himself overwhelmed by the “boldness” of the city in taking the motorway right into its centre.

    “It’s almost like a triumphal entry to the city, like arriving in Rome or something. The way the junctions are organised it’s like you drive under a gateway and the city rises about you as you drive into its heart.”

    In the film Greig kept saying that his writing from the walk would complete the project; but I've not yet found any evidence that he's done that yet. The walk goes on, in that case, and so does the mission, which I share:

    “Isn’t that the writer’s job,” he asks, “to look again at familiar things?”
    Sunday, October 01, 2006
    Beachy head

    With reportedly just two months to go before the statues leave Crosby beach, and having witnessed the marriage of two great coastal explorers yesterday, I got interested in Another Place again, and note that the Tate now has an interactive video site devoted to the work, with commentary by Gormley himself, plus text for the hard of thinking, like me, to mull over slowly. See above for example. Very rewarding.