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

    Wednesday, November 29, 2006
    Writing ordinary lives
    Fondly rereading the life of Alan Freeman in today's paper I was then drawn to another obituary, of a man whose name I did not know, but whose life's work looks fascinating to me. John Burnett, a social historian whose central interest was in ordinary people's lives:

    From Plenty and Want (1966) to Clothes Make the Man (which he was working on at the time of his death), Burnett, professor of social history at Brunel University, west London, from 1972 to 1990, set out to describe the life of the people of Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries in every aspect - what they ate and drank, how they were housed, their schooling, work and spending patterns. Plenty and Want, a social history of diet, was followed by A History of the Cost of Living (1969) and, in 1986, A Social History of Housing 1815-1985.

    Burnett was convinced that ordinary people were historically more literate than had been thought. Over three decades he compiled many collections of working-class memoirs, culminating in his collaborative tour-de-force The Autobiography of the Working Class, 'a three-volume annotated bibliography of all known examples of material written in English by authors who were working class - at least for part of their lives - and who lived for some time in England, Scotland or Wales between 1790 and 1945.'

    In 1994 he produced Idle Hands: Experience of Unemployment, 1790-1990. And that's the one I'll be searching out with great interest, as one for whom the decade 1980-1990 was one in which my own hands were sometimes idle through the loss of employment. For part of that time at least, I think, I was still working class - and that was the period when I truly began to value learning and when I truly began to learn to write. Burnett's introduction promises a work of rare humaneness and insight when it comes to this subject:

    Tuesday, November 28, 2006
    Beautiful, chaotic squalor
    Smoke #9 arrives - always a welcome arrival, this beautifully-written, closely-typed occasional collection of paeans to London - in the same post as the soundtrack to Saint Etienne's cd What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day?, their new film about the lower Lea Valley.

    Nice music; it would be, it always is from this gifted group. And a lovely set of sleevenotes from Bob Stanley which really wouldn't be out of place in Smoke:

    I don't know anyone who has ever been on a field trip to the lower Lea Valley. It's the kind of place you would never visit, and only intrepid cyclists seem to know it exists. So what's the lower Lea Valley ever done for us? Petrol was invented there. Plastic was invented a hundred yards up the road. The Labour Party was born there. How's that, Ironbridge?

    Having established the credentials of this area of industrial innovation, trauma and decline Stanley takes the reader on a very detailed walk around it. Much as, I guess, the film does (I've yet to see it, hope not to wait too long). He's persuading me that one of my two free days in London next week might be well spent retreading his carefully-journalled steps. After all, it can never happen again:

    The Olympic village will wipe out all of this, and it's a good thing too. The pylons will all be buried underground, the Northern Outfall Sewer will become a majestic grassy thoroughfare, the dilapidated Eastway cycle track will be replaced by a new velodrome, the waterways will all be cleaned up. But lovers of urban decay and fabulous dereliction are urged to go there sharpish. It's your last chance to take a field trip to the birthplace of the twentieth century in all its beautiful, chaotic squalor.
    Monday, November 27, 2006
    Brilliantly, the people's work
    Ricky Tomlinson's championing of working-class culture and causes is well-known, well-founded and genuine. So watching Disappearing Britain: When Coal Was King on Five this evening, it was moving but unsurprising to see him shedding a tear in a Senghenydd hall while the grandsons of those who died in Britain's worst ever mining disaster sung their hearts out after watching their own fathers in the 1965 documentary classic Master Singers - Two Choirs and a Valley. Neither was it surprising (though it was amusing and akin to my own deeply-held feelings) to hear him bring the programme to a close in looking forward to the day when he will toast Margaret Thatcher's death with a pint: "You won't have to worry about coal were you're going Thatcher, as it will be bloody roasting".

    Tomlinson is angry about the gratuitous demise of the British coal industry - the dubious economics of the 1980s brought into question by the ongoing viability of worker-controlled Tower Colliery. And his anger was raw as he stood at the entrance of the former Sutton Manor Colliery: two iron gates standing impotently, guarding nothing - a vast abandoned scrubland stretching out across the hillside beyond. Tomlinson is right in saying that this is no sort of memorial to the tremendous industry and community which were built here by the local people over 400 years and brought to an end by Thatcher's cynical politicking barely 15 years ago.

    So how timely to also read today of Sutton Manor's involvement in the forthcoming Channel 4 Big Art Project - wherein local communities work with major artists to create significant pieces of public art. The people of Sutton Manor have successfully bid for the opportunity to make a statement as big as they like, on that vast old piece of land standing large over Merseyside just above Junction 7 of the M62.

    "This site, it's a huge blank canvas and it's waiting. It's waiting for something to come along and grab the imagination of the people of St Helens," said Gary Conley, one of the ex-miners organising the bid.

    Reporters are already calling Sutton Manor an art project to rival the Angel of the North. And just as that piece of work gained so much integrity by being produced by the hands of Hartlepool fabricators and welders, so too it looks like whatever gets to sit atop Sutton Manor in 2008 will also, brilliantly, be the people's work.
    Saturday, November 25, 2006
    Some walk, that
    Some walk, that. Hightown to Albert Dock, taking in all the Gormleys (some drowning beneath the high tide), breathing in the chemical air and taking in the sights of awesome scrap metal heaps stacked up ready for Far East export on the old Dock Road, wading through a gathering of lovely young goths at the Pier Head and finally easing into a seat in The Tate restaurant. Ten-point-one miles according to Paul's satellite gadget. More on this once it's easier for me to sit down.
    Friday, November 24, 2006
    This will make you weep with joy. Out Monday.

    Thursday, November 23, 2006
    To bloom again

    This afternoon only this old spiritual could assuage my grief at considering the imminent loss of a terminally-ill friend. And my online search for the tune led to the discovery of some wonderful versions of this song: notably those by Blue Highway, Martin Simpson and Anonymous 4. But the greatest discovery of the day was Anathallo, who sing Wondrous Love on their deleted (but freely downloadable) Hymns ep. This live collection was a fundraiser for a homelessness charity. Their other self-penned work demonstrates quirky quality songs of immanent faith akin to Danielson or Sufjan. They've supported Joanna Newsom recently. And their name, Anathallo, means to renew, cause to grow, or bloom again.
    Wednesday, November 22, 2006
    Because the deceased was a thief
    Drove last night around a familiar roundabout - a fast roundabout, the one which Formby people call The Formby Roundabout, on the A565, on the violent stretch of road which Formby people call The Formby Bypass. Sensitised, in passing, by the knowledge that for the past few months this has been a site of considerable tension.

    The story: an Anfield man, 20, steals a Mercedes from a house in Little Altcar, spins it out of control at the roundabout and dies in an instant pyre while his 16-year-old girlfriend, with horrible spinal injuries, crawls from the burning wreckage. His body is barely recognisable and one of the region's busiest sections of road is closed for 24 hours whilst forensics do their work. Over the coming days the scene of death becomes a shrine to the deceased, as family and friends perform the contemporary custom of placing flowers, photographs and personal items by the scorched trees which took the impact of the death crash.

    Meanwhile the people of Formby are restless. Voices are raised about the inappropriateness of the shrine. Police agree with some critics that it may be a distraction to passing drivers and thus a road safety issue. Councillors meanwhile give a sympathetic ear to those who express unease at the morbidity of roadside tributes; but community leaders tiptoe carefully around the sharper voices protesting that the shrine should not be there because the deceased was a thief. [1]

    These voices are influential. Their harsh insistence gives the impression that they represent the majority. The dead man's character is contested - his aunt tells the press that he wasn't malicious just too easily led, that he wasn't from a bad family and was a genuinely nice, easy-going lad not a career criminal. [2] Rumours fly around the well-heeled dormitory town: that the burgled family's five-year-old daughter is traumatised and fearful, that the police operation at the crash cost a million pounds.

    On the day of the dead man's funeral his Formby Roundabout shrine is trashed and a memorial plaque from the scene saying 'Anthony Challinor 1986-2006' is posted to the Formby Times office with the words 'scum' and 'thief ' scratched into it. [3] Days before the funeral friends of the dead Liverpool man spend time on The Formby Roundabout picnicing, to the outrage of some Formby residents. Days after the roundabout is cleared a new shrine appears at the scene. [4]

    I think there's a book in this, if some brave and thoughtful person could write it, one which could be as disturbingly illuminating as Blake Morrison's As If, his meditation on childhood innocence in the shadow of the Bulger trial, with its 'sad ritual of condemnation'. The Formby Roundabout is now a scene where these things, among others, are painfully contested: crime and punishment, inequality and social dislocation, tribalism and local identities, justice and grace...
    Monday, November 20, 2006
    To the edges and back

    Roads were more than just functional objects that allowed people to travel from one place to another. As recent opposition to modern road-building shows, roads can be ideological and political symbols too. Roads are important to people because they affect the ways in which the landscape is perceived, and in particular our understanding of who controls it.
    (Rob Witcher quoted in Journey to the Fringe)

    It was good to hear from Dick, who saw my Reading the Everyday talk at Greenbelt and connected with it. Back then, his theatre company Imprint had just completed a series of events called Smoke and Mirrors, which brought mystery and adventure to Leeds' urban core, asking audiences, on foot in the summers' evening, to take a fresh look at the city and buildings around them, to consider their secrets and the significance of “public” or “sacred” spaces there.

    Dick put me on to some other theatre companies who have taken to the streets and the roads to dwell on such things. In 2002's The Travels, members of Forced Entertainment "undertook a series of journeys, each traveling alone to locations in the UK to complete tasks determined only partially in advance. These tasks - to get their fortune told, to find locations for an imaginary film, to ask tricky questions, to visit streets chosen simply for their names - presented the beginnings of a mapping process aimed not so much at the contemporary UK, but through it to something else - a landscape of ideas, narratives and bad dreams." That's where these feet came from.

    More fascinating still, in the summer of 2004 Leeds-based Pointed Arrow ("a merry band of actors, filmmakers and musicians") embarked upon an exhilarating and exhausting journey - "a pilgrimage from London to Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival; a quest to find the Holy Grail; an exploration of “Christian Britain”. They called this Tales from the Great North Road, and their odyssey combined sections of long, straight Roman road, snake-like medieval road, and today’s high-speed tarmac strip, with an open invitation for those who might want to join the company on their travels, sharing the camaraderie, fun and adventure. "By foot, by bike, by horse and by car, our travellers wended their way through forests and across rivers, stopping in places along the way to perform their play, Tales From The Great North Road."

    The consequential documentary film Journey to the Fringe is a great way to spend an hour. Especially for any kindred spirit contemplating an odyssey of their own.

    A wise man once said, 'The job of an artist is to travel to the edges and report back.'
    (Journey to the Fringe)
    Saturday, November 18, 2006
    Credit Casino Royale
    Took my time but today at last I've crafted a sermon on this: Jesus and the myth of redemptive violence.
    Friday, November 17, 2006

    ... It's a very strange and graceful thing. Ys.
    Thursday, November 16, 2006

    Without most of these people the Greenbelt Festival would not function. Plus there's a hanger-on, me. All of Paul & Emma's wedding pics are now online, and they're wonderful.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2006
    Liverpool's hidden histories
    I always hoped that my parish walks might help reveal some generally overlooked realities about some neglected corners of our city. So it's good to have something included in the Hidden History issue of Nerve. Even if it is a rather hastily revised and shrunken version of The Shopping Trolley Trail.

    There are a number of articles in this issue which made me think, 'I never knew that'. Like: I never knew anything about the life of Mary Bamber, radical organiser and campaigner and mother of Bessie Braddock. Or: I'd never really thought about it before but the birthplace of football in this city is not Anfield (where primary city club Everton FC played from 1883) nor Goodison Park (where EFC later moved after a dispute with the landlord) but Stanley Park, which in 1870 the Mayor of Liverpool called 'The People's Park' and where the later-to-be-named People's Club played their first game on 21 Dec 1879, beating St Peter's 6-0. (As we know, Stanley Park is about to be destroyed by a Euro-funded Spanish club speaking the language of regeneration but paying no regard to local needs and certainly not local history).

    The article which most caught my eye picks up on the debate about renaming streets to erase the memory of slave traders - like Penny Lane, named after James Penny, slaveship owner and anti-abolitionist who in 1792 was presented with a silver epergne for speaking in favour of the slave trade to a parliamentary committee. Some councillors argue for giving streets the names of leading abolitionists like William Wilberforce but in Nerve Tayo Aluko makes the sharp observation that Wilberforce's name belongs in 'a list of many benevolent white men helping poor blacks' ... 'Wait a minute,' he rightly asks, 'what about black names?' Plenty of blacks through (Liverpool's) history have fought slavery, but they're barely recognised.

    Aluko tells the story of Pastor Daniels Ekarte, a Nigerian who moved to Liverpool's depressed Dingle in 1915 and founded the African Churches Mission in 1931, which housed, fed and clothed the poor of the community, foreign seamen and others denied accommodation elsewhere. Ekarte received no meaningful state or voluntary support for his work of care and concern, which lasted into the 'sixties. Though he became locally known as the African Saint he's been largely forgotten in the city's official histories. I'm with Tayo Aluko - name the new development on the site of his mission after Pastor Daniels Ekarte, so perhaps one day his name will be preserved in a popular song.
    Tuesday, November 14, 2006
    Pretty salutory
    I'm the 319,576,092nd richest person on earth!
    I'm among the TOP 5.32% richest people in the world

    Discover how rich you are!

    That is pretty salutory. Not at all pleasing. And I'm in the top 22% in the UK.
    Monday, November 13, 2006
    The slums in ordinary

    Richard Pithouse: Thinking Resistance in the Shanty Town in the latest issue of Mute. Never thought of slums as ordinary before. Pithouse resists the leftist urban apocalypses of Mike Davis (which often appeal to me) in a call to get close to the detail and hear the slum dwellers' truths.
    Sunday, November 12, 2006
    What I thought Christianity was
    "He affected me in terms of what I thought Christianity was." Garth Hewitt talking [here] about an early encounter with Martin Luther King, which set him on a very precarious path - combining jobbing musicianship with justice and peace campaigning, neither pursuit exactly secure - which has led him eventually to a place where many other people are now saying pretty much the same thing about him.

    If I'm honest I admit that I've never been a great fan of Garth's music; but I have for many years been affected by the witness he's been giving to a deeply considered, politicised and very hands-on form of peacemaking which is just about the only form of Christianity that's ever been persuasive to me. Well that, and any artistic form. And during Garth's gig at our place last Friday these forms combined for me when he sang about, and showed pictures of Palestinian olive trees being uprooted and destroyed by Israeli (and Caterpillar?) earth movers. The power of the image; the strength of a simple, singleminded song. Backed with the integrity of first-hand observation. The action for peace and justice these provoke. What I thought Christianity was.
    Saturday, November 11, 2006
    Exodus and a bloody God
    Fascinating that the old, old story of the Exodus should resonate so much with contemporary artists, musicians and filmmakers. The Margate Exodus has been well-reported; briefly, a community arts project making connections between the ancient scriptural tale and the story of today's asylum-seekers and refugees finding some sort of home in that delinquent English resort town.

    The Plague Songs cd draws on some great talents, each of them taking as the theme for their composition, one of the ten plagues which beset Egypt millenia ago. So King Creosote relates the tale of the plague of frogs; Imogen Heap sings about the glittering cloud of locusts; Scott Walker bathes in the darkness and Brian Eno (assisted by Robert Wyatt making quite convincing buzzing noises) deals with flies.

    It's fascinating stuff, not least because it seems that for some of these artists this is their first brush with the vengeful God of the Old Testament. And, very understandably, most of them don't like him. For the horrors which that God visited on the Egyptians, these artists berate him, are scandalised by him, and (in the case of the Tiger Lilies) pronounce his own death. I share their hope that that particular God is dead, the God of blood who slaughters enemies. Sadly (reading Melanie McFadyean's description of the horrifying treatment of asylum seekers in Britain in this week's LRB) I don't think he is.

    Because of the mess of confusion this causes (Isn't this destroyer the same God I'm allegedly following? Weren't the plagues not a liberation but an unholy horror, how can the Exodus be good when it was birthed in the blood of innocents?) and despite the intelligent artistry at play in the Margate project, I still find Diamanda Galas's Plague Mass the definitive treatment of this subject. Because it is a complex and truly terrifying piece of work, as you'll see if you look at her interpretation of the old exile song, the album's ultimate statement, Let My People Go.
    Thursday, November 09, 2006
    Parish Walks #10 - Boundary slippage

    A walk along the Sugar Brook boundary, in search of the point where the Alt meanders under the East Lancs Road and starts to wend its way to Aintree. This may once have been a lovely rural watercourse but in living memory it's always been industrial. Millions of good memories reside in this golden earth, for one of Liverpool's largest ever employers, English Electric, stood here. Thousands of our citizens - many of them from our neighbourhood - spent the whole of their working lives in that factory, with a company which embraced them into networks of friendships and relationships which defined their whole adulthood. These are the generation I am now commending to their graves, and though all looks desolate by Sugar Brook today, large corporations are investing vast sums of European money in a hope of resurrection they're calling Stonebridge Cross.

    Fazakerley Hospital

    As I walk beside the slurry being formed into new roadways by contractors of the Liverpool Land Development company I recall that once 14,000 people were employed here by English Electric in operations including steam and water turbine, aero engine, electric power equipment and domestic appliance manufacture. The proposed business park will, we're told, 'comprise offices, light industrial, storage and distribution uses, together with a public ecology park on a redundant factory site and vacant land'. The intention is 'to transform this unattractive 'gateway' site into a high profile and prestigious business/commerce park. This will deliver massive investment, create considerable jobs opportunities for local people and enhance the ecological value of the area.'

    A new Alt course?

    When English Electric was here the River Alt visibly crossed the East Lancs at the junction with Stonebridge Lane, forming the triangle still visible on the aerial picture above. Today that junction is a mess of roadworks and the only visible and sizeable waterway I can see in the area where the old maps show the old watercourse - and our parish boundary - is this new trench-like creation. The old maps are becoming daily less viable as guides to this place. As are the cultural maps which guided generations. When English Electric merged with GEC in 1968 they declared that 4,800 men and women would be made redundant nationally, with over 3,000 concentrated in Merseyside. 1,500 were to go in the East Lancashire Road factory. The consequence was a series of one-day strikes and mass marches through the streets of Liverpool, 'sit-down' strikes and demands for nationalisation under workers’ control of this firm which (Militant leaders said) had clearly failed the workers.

    Such activities prompted the rest of the world to begin to shape a view of Liverpool workers as troublemakers, dinosaurs unable to move with changing times. Another view is that they were acting on a strong set of communal values which, ironically, the company itself had helped form. I squint through the wire fence as isolated, massive trucks guided by lonesome men scratch at the edges of the water.

    Sugar Brook

    Behind the petrol station Sugar Brook still runs, though its course is being reshaped to maximise the area of exploitable land. Exploit it, I say, it's awful land. Between the Brook and the roadway all is thick undergrowth, impenetrable thistles and bushes. A stink blowing across from the water treatment plant just beyond (they don't call them sewage farms any more) is an everyday feature of Sugar Brook. Unwittingly I walk directly into a swarm of gnats, pull my baseball hat downwards, pull my collar tight, move quickly on parallel with the Brook but lose it somewhere near the massive satellite tower which marks the place where - spotting a rare break in the rabid traffic - I cross six lanes of the East Lancs and head home.
    Wednesday, November 08, 2006
    A suit of armour and a horse
    Fascinating exchange of emails with John, Clerk to Tarporley Parish Council, who's been reading my various references to life in that gentle corner of Cheshire. Particularly excellent to read some remembrance of Uncle Lance, who (I'd forgotten this when I eulogised him here) published two books of collections of photographs and reminiscences about local characters and happenings, one of them called "Surrounding Districts of Tarporley". Lance is regarded as 'one of the last of the local characters who knew all there was to know about the folk who had lived in the village'. It's lovely to know that.

    And then some local insight on Peckforton Castle which I blogged about (in some ignorance) just the other day. One of the local estates where our grandmother Jessie worked, in service, in her early years.

    John tells me that Peckforton Castle was built around 1850 in a mock medieval castle style as a country home for the Tollemache family.

    'They lived in the castle as their Cheshire home until about 1950 living very much the life of a wealthy country family and employed many local people on the estate of 26,000 acres. The main family home was, and still is, Helmingham Hall in Suffolk. Since then the castle has had a very chequered existence. It has been used for charity functions, by adventure games clubs, as a film set for Dr Who and Robin Hood (20th Century Fox). It was sold to Evelyn Graybill and become a hotel in 1989 and was variously used for functions, concerts and visitor tours but did not do very well. More recently I think it has changed hands again and is licensed for weddings and reputedly has had major investment to make it serviceable as a hotel.'

    The Peckforton Castle website bears out this latter point, with pictures of luscious table settings in decorous rooms. John shares my observation (from looking at these) that it may be a bit pricey for a casual meal, but he's been inside a number of times in the past, on open tour days, adventure club days:

    '[I] even hosted a works function there when it was a hotel under the somewhat eccentric Evelyn Graybill (we ran out of food and drink, the lights failed ... but we had a good time). When I visited it, although built as a house, the inside has much the style of a castle, bare sandstone walls, a great hall etc , very sparsely furnished and fairly run down with water coming through the roof in places and the chapel at that time said to be unsafe. I roamed all over the place (security was none existent) from the battlements (roof really) to the cellar and found it an intriguing place to visit. It made a good fun play place for young families on the open tour days. I did once get any email from America from someone who had booked it a wedding and wanting to know where to hire a suit of armour and borrow a horse, no idea if it was a hoax but I did know where to hire a suit of armour and a horse.'
    Monday, November 06, 2006
    Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man

    Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man is everything you're probably hearing about it and more. All Souls have been hallowed for another year, and if Christmas preparations have to start immediately then where better to start than with this throbbing jangle of a record, as ancient and as English as the old Green Man himself and as youthful as The Devil's Interval, recent graduates of the UNT degree in Traditional Music and collaborators with the Waterson/Carthy family on this exquisite collection of songs sacred and scary, profane and profound, and deliriously alive with the clods and clogs of Albion. Breathtaking.
    Sunday, November 05, 2006
    Doreen Massey and the art of Slow Travel

    Well, hardly a manifesto, she's too sussed to fall for that. Doreen gave us far more. Essentially challenging the conventional mores which tell us that we live in a speeded-up, shrinking, virtual world all of which heralds the end of geography and the irrelevance of place. Her latest book is called For Space and that's because she is: for space to be taken seriously as a physical entity which purposively exists; for space to be considered as the arena where the social really happens.

    Massey challenges the assumption that we all move faster these days. That depends who 'we' are and where we're moving between, she simply but radically asserts. Yes, 'we' move faster and more frequently westwards - eg between London and New York. But consider booking a journey the same distance eastwards - to somewhere in central Russia - and see how taxing your Travel Agents find that challenge. And if you live on the Pitcairn Islands then you're likely to find it harder to move now than you may have done a century ago, because whilst many aircraft pass - without stopping - overhead, now fewer ships than ever cross the Pacific.

    Many travel the allegedly diminishing distance between China and Britain these days, Massey agrees. But she asks us to consider the difference between the journeys taken by businessmen developing their Far East markets, and the cockle pickers of Morecambe Bay. And in the week when climate change rose to become a priority on our government's agenda she asks us to contemplate the connection between that and the journey of the Emma Maersk - the ship as wide as a motorway delivering 45,000 tonnes of consumer goods from China.

    She challenges the idea that we live in a 'virtual world', an era of 'friction-free capitalism' unconstrained by distance or matter. That's impossible, says Massey. Cyberspace industries and The City are deeply wedded to physical places - iconic settlements such as Canary Wharf, sites of economic opportunism such as call centres (ever relocating in exploitation of the cheapest workforce).

    She affirms those local movements where what is distinctive is being reaffirmed in the face of globalisation - a current example being the renaming of Bangalore to Bengaluru. But, refreshingly, she challenges the anti-capitalist assumpton that the global rebranding of every high street heralds the end of cultural diversity. That, she says, reduces culture to mere consumerism, and it's far more than that. It's a hopeless task trying to defend the local against the global, she says. A more creative response would be to recognise that places exist at the intersection between commerce and culture, and to rethink our identity of place recognising that we are globally connected - and always have been. So in Liverpool a responsible debate has taken place about our former role in the global slave trade; now we should be looking critically at our locality's current and future roles in global trade. Other places have embraced their responsibilities to dispute the 'inevitabilities' of globalisation, and become Fair Trade towns, etc.

    All of this is very, very stimulating. But best of all for me, Doreen Massey talks about the pleasures of movement which the theorists of speed neglect. Her example was of being moved to a seat at the back of a plane for refusing to close the blinds on her window: the stewardess wanted to ease the other passengers' ability to watch the in-filght movie whilst Doreen wanted to gaze down over the Sahara. Distance is not a friction, nor a problem, she says. She didn't use this word to describe what it is, but I will: it's a gift. Doreen thinks that travel - gently paced - can and ought to be contemplative and enjoyable, and suggests we ought to start up a 'slow travel' movement. Well, next year I'm traversing the M62 at a pace of roughly two miles per day. I'll be writing to her about that.
    Saturday, November 04, 2006
    The slow King
    Pic of the month for November is my final attempt to describe something which you may not see unless you go to a Fall gig or spend some time in the Berlin music underground: the work of video jock Safy Sniper. Distortion is his style: disturbance is his game. But isn't disturbance a good thing?
    Friday, November 03, 2006
    Time is a subject now

    Well, they only gave him twenty minutes which was hardly enough - especially for a man accustomed to thinking in terms of the next 10,000 years. And he had to compete with fireworks going off outside. Nevertheless it was very good to see Eno and hear him deal with the question, 'Has our intelligence kept up with our power?' The first response to that would be to look at the (ab)uses of power framing today's world and answer, it can't have done, no. But Eno is an optimist and he used his platform to celebrate some 'counter-intuitive' trends and movements from the grassroots which are shaping the world differently.

    Most of these are web-based and will be familiar to the reader: Wikipedia, moveon.org, Open Source, YouTube, etc. And these, like the lesser-known Margate Exodus with which Eno was involved, demonstrate something he calls 'bottom-up art', projects and systems produced by communities. Communities which may have been drawn together by the originator of the project but who then form something quite deep, strong and lasting. That rings true to me, having formed some strong ties and generated activities with various other people through blogging. And Eno celebrated the success of his and David Byrne's online project - posting all the multitracks on two of the songs from My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, for anyone to 'edit, remix, sample and mutilate' any way they like. The consequences have been fantastic, as you can hear.

    Much of the effectiveness of such new-technological cultural movements comes through their creative use of speed, Eno said (citing eg flashmobbing as an example). An audience member afterwards pointed out the contrast between Eno's enthusiasm for speed and his championing of the Long Now. To which he replied, essentially, that Time is a subject which people are concerned with now, whereas previously it was just taken for granted. Ah, yes, time does seem to be of the essence: in a week where the government were awoken to the seriousness of our climatic condition Eno quoted a recent lecture by Lester Brown in which he suggested that the world now is like Soviet Russia was in 1988 - solid, stuck and virtually unaware of the impending massive changes about to take place.

    I could go on but I won't because you can listen to the lecture via the Free Thinking site. Except to say that after a brief but vibrant lecture, Eno has left me with a good list of fascinating new links to explore. Which is typical of a man whose restless search for new inventive directions has been a stimulus for my own far humbler quest for many, many years.
    Thursday, November 02, 2006
    Worship in a violent world
    Worship ... a dangerous and dehumanising thing. A form of violence. Like the Nuremberg Rally.

    I've spent today reading James Alison's new book. It is truly thrilling. Not least the chapter entitled Worship in a Violent World, which you can also read here.
    Wednesday, November 01, 2006
    Heaven in Ordinary - poem in progress
    Very plain girl that Mona
    Very normal street that Penny
    It gets a car from A to B, Route
    Sixty Six,
    He's a farmer in a field, the

    Regular river route that Ferry
    Cross the Mersey,
    A green space in the city, Central
    Everyday agribusiness, Maggie's
    It flies upwards, Vaughan Williams'

    Daily cloud formation, Waterloo
    Suburban cul-de-sac, Brookside
    Modest little vegetables, Green
    Companions to us, Father, Son and

    Greenbelt asked me to put some more words together relating to the 2007 theme Heaven in Ordinary. This is one set which I'm still working on.