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

    Thursday, May 31, 2007
    Smoke #10 is out
    On a crisp bright winter Sunday morning, all the buildings in Soho you normally scurry past, eyes down, are suddenly just buildings again, and really rather beautiful.

    Smoke #10 is out and I've devoured it. Another fine collection showing how to write lovingly, honestly, imaginatively and without pretension about a city.

    In the granite-flagged, shadow-hemmed churchyard, rimmed by lifted stones, soy spills unnoticed onto her smart City skirt as she sits enchanted that all she can hear this lunchtime is birdsong.
    Wednesday, May 30, 2007
    Witting, unwitting and willing

    I confess that during the last lecture of this stimulating lunchtime series I found myself a bit sleepy, so if I say that I'm unsure whether Prof Harris achieved all he was advertised to do in this hour, that's more a reflection on my inattentiveness than his presentation. I certainly heard him do the first bit well: a stimulating description of the origins of Tate Liverpool in the political context of its birth in the 1980s, embracing the post-1981 riots Hestletine agenda (which released an arts grant of £7million, more or less guaranteeing that Liverpool would get The Tate of The North over its main competitors Manchester or Leeds), counterbalanced by a series of critical local voices from artist Frank Hendry to Militant leader Derek Hatton concerned about issues of external agenda-setting and control.

    In this context Harris used the term 'colony' as a way of exploring how The ('national', ie, London) Tate viewed The North, back then. It's a term he uses quite a bit, I've just noticed in a brief web trawl of his lecture work, and it's a term rich in suggestion. In the world of the arts (as in many other worlds) it's a familiar scenario, our being distanced by the self-serving London elite. But when the conversation opened up at the end of the lecture there was quite a bit of middle-class angst about, around whether Tate Liverpool 'reached the working classes' of the city - or whether it was its own internal elite. Hearing staff speak about the very full and lively education programme I don't think it does that badly at all.

    I liked the way Harris chose to playfully list the various names proposed for the gallery, which has caused The Tate great angst over the years: Tate of The North; Tate in The North; Tate-in-The-North; Northern Tate; Tate Gallery, Liverpool; Liverpool Tate; Tate Liverpool... there's a lot in a name. And as in previous lectures I was prompted once again to reflect on my own story in the context of Liverpool's recent arts history. Has Tate Liverpool been a good thing for the city? Hard to be objective about that, as it's certainly been good for me. It's been a stimulating part of my life over the past twenty years. Overall it's difficult to disagree with Jonathan Harris when he says that the people of Liverpool have been 'witting, unwitting and willing beneficiaries' of The Tate's presence in the city.
    Tuesday, May 29, 2007
    At the water's edge
    Janette Porter, artist behind the Dingle Steps project, posted me an interesting article about her work from the Landscape and Arts Network Journal, 40, Feb 2007. Janette has been working as a climate change activist for the past eight years, attempting to 'push the boundaries of environmental leadership' by deliberately locating her projects outside of established galleries or an arts agenda, preferring instead to work with communities.

    And usually she's to be found working at the water's edge, whether on the Mersey or in the Valency, or at Wicken Fen. In the article she's not explicit about why she's drawn to the water's edge but I suspect that it may be because it is there that the effects of climate change are most noticeable. At the water's edge the rise and fall of water tables are vividly evident in nature and in the effect on the lives of people working and living there. At the water's edge the changing temperatures are marked by alterations in flora, fauna, animal life, and in Garston Docks, by the working practices of dockers who told Janette that rainier winters are not as cold as they used to be: 'These dockers are physically feeling how climate change is affecting their work on the docks.'

    One of the descriptions I most enjoyed was of Janette's work on a lost river route to the River Mersey, where she encouraged the children of St. Austin’s School, Riverbank Road to trace the long-hidden route of the river that once ran there, to revive the memory held in the place's name.

    Her work, she says, is about 'Natural movement, nature's movement and how we as people work alongside nature. Even though I am living in a city - a busy, moving, changing city at the moment - I always have that contact with how the force of nature is behind the city, leading the city.' This hints at a real quality of perception, not least in a city named after, and built around, a pool.
    Monday, May 28, 2007
    A Candie Payne kind of day

    It's been a Candie Payne kind of day today. Which is very special.
    Sunday, May 27, 2007
    It's the way people look and laugh
    It's not catastrophes, murders, deaths, diseases, that age and kill us; it's the way people look and laugh, and run up the steps of omnibuses.
    - Virginia Woolf, quoted in Queuing for Beginners. Her intuitive way of describing what Siegfried Kracauer spells out:
    We must rid ourselves of the delusion that it is major events which most determine a person. He is more deeply and lastingly influenced by the tiny catastrophes of which everyday existence is made up.
    From all this I'd assume it's also true to say, in modern parlance, that
    It's not successes, romances, births, healings, that give us youthfulness and life; it's the way people look and laugh, and stand in the queue for taxis.
    Each of these quotes, of course, justifies a deepening investigation of the details of mundane everyday human exchange.
    Saturday, May 26, 2007
    On avoiding comfortable numbness
    Watching BBC2's Seven Ages of Rock tonight made me wonder: if I'd been blogging at the time what would I have written about the opening night of Pink Floyd's The Wall at Earls Court in August 1980?

    Some of my readers already know this, having been with me through thick, thin and thinner, but in my youth I was a very keen Floyd fan.

    Fact - I spent my first few weeks' wages as a 16-year-old on a record player of my own (Mum bought it on HP for me and I gradually repaid her). Fact - in the orgy of music-buying which followed (at least one hundred albums in my first year of employment) probably the first entire collection I completed was that of Pink Floyd, with their various side projects (Zabriske Point, Terrapin etc) included.

    That August night was the first time in Britain that they or anyone else had spent half a concert building an 82ft high wall across the front of the stage separating themselves, by the interval, from their sizeable audience. What I recall about the event - my first ever Floyd show - was that, greatly anticipated, by the time I got to it I felt strangely underwhelmed at the prospect. I couldn't put my finger on why, but I didn't feel like a fan any more.

    If I'd been blogging at the time perhaps I'd have put that down to a broadening of my musical tastes. By that time Floyd weren't all they had been to me. I'd discovered Gong and Fairport Convention by then. And being an avid music press reader and friend of many Erics-goers I'd have known that The Bunnymen had just released Crocodiles which would soon have a radical impact on me.

    It just struck me tonight that perhaps another reason for my sense of detachment from the group was that they hoped The Wall would do precisely that to their 'fans'. Its building was motivated by a U.S. tour in which Roger Waters got famously fed up of what he saw as the increasingly banal behaviour of their followers, many seemingly disinterested in what the band were trying to do with their music. To Waters stadium concerts were an opportunity to try out his existential ideas on a large scale; but for that to work he needed an audience which would engage with it, with some integrity. Waters sensed that a large proportion of those who came were, as the band famously put it, comfortably numb to his artistic intentions, and were simply there to be - in a rudimentary way - entertained.

    So maybe my sense of detachment from the group was just as they intended: and that rather than settle for a lifetime of unthinking enjoyment their approach to The Wall tour helped shake me into being uncomfortably sensitized to theirs and other people's art and pain. If that is what happened there, then I'm grateful. Then again, it could have just been the effect of drinking cheap lager in the afternoon.
    Friday, May 25, 2007
    Pointers towards the journey
    Pointers towards the journey:

    A fascinating walk yesterday around Norris Green Park, led by Paul, one of our city's excellent Park Rangers. This small and (I'd thought) quite unremarkable park was illuminated for us by a man deeply knowledgeable of local history and flora and fauna. Most astonishing insight - inside the ruins of what used to be the kitchen gardens of Norris Green House (abandoned in the 1930s and since all but demolished) we were introduced to numerous examples of a rare tree, the Chinese Wingnut. Brought here by John Pemberton Heywood, collector of rare species for his gardens, these lovely trees have flourished in a forgotten corner of what by reputation is a dull, monochrome, housing estate. Lesson learned for my travels: never again, under any circumstances, use the term, "There's nothing worth looking at there."

    A good day today at Henry's, talking over ideas for the M62 adventure. Keen to add some symbolic, spiritual elements to the walk, we discussed the ideas of my (a) composing a 'Prayer for the Walk' which I could use at the beginning, repeat and/or revise as I go along; (b) putting that or something else on a card which I could give to people I meet and engage with en-route; (c) starting off a poem-prayer-reflection which I would invite people to add a couple of lines to as we go along - a sort of transpennine motorway epyllion or epode; (d) giving and receiving gifts or tokens from those who provide me with hospitality, passing on the gift previously received to the next host en-route, thus creating a chain of giving (and cross-Pennine collaboration).

    This conversation made me recall Graeme's idea some time ago that 'Perhaps it should be mandatory to bring a single torn out page of ‘On the Road’ and then (at the final destination) the pages compiled in reverse order and bound into a single volume to be left at Bill's Tower? – Each person could write a single word (in their own blood) on the top left hand side of their page to see whether anything of significance is constructed from the words once the volume is bound?'

    Plenty of potential in all these thoughts.
    Thursday, May 24, 2007
    Queuing for Beginners
    Delighted to have in my hands at last a copy of Joe Moran's new book, Queuing for Beginners; The Story of Daily Life from Breakfast to Bedtime. He explores the many hidden histories and meanings in catching buses and trains, tapping away at computers, shopping, queuing, lying on sofas... activities about which we know almost nothing. I feel sure that this delightful book will confirm the heavenliness in my next few ordinary days.
    Wednesday, May 23, 2007
    Yes! Yes! Yes! That should silence those opportunistic-imperialistic and frankly ridiculous claims that "A win for Liverpool would be good for the city". We're a two-club city and it's the ninety-five percent of us without those gaudy flags flying from our windows, who are happy tonight.
    My Blakean lunch

    After Patti on Sunday, another wonderful day for Merseyside today, because Michael Horovitz came to town. The Poetry Olympian, restless publisher and event promoter, champion of so many of the best performance poets and beatsters of the past 45 years, and a brilliant pop-Blakean writer himself. So this was not a lecture, it was a stand-up show consisting of storytelling, exchanges with audience members (eg a bloke who'd been at Parry's Bookshop on the day Horovitz brought Ginsberg there), performances of Horovitz reading from some of the many New Departures books he's compiled over the years, and a couple of recordings of Jeff Nuttall's Wake, a celebratory jazz-beat event honouring "the multifarious life and work of Jeff Nuttall, Polymath Extraordinaire, who died in 2004".

    The seats were strewn with flyers advertising Horovitz's various projects, and one of the highlights of this delightful hour was his sharing a little from his most current project - his 400-plus-page update of The Waste Land, which he's been writing all through (and in protest of) the Blair years. He's 74 now and had to stand 'by the river' (ie, at a big window in The Tate's lecture room overlooking the Mersey) to be able to read the print on his books, but Michael Horovitz (who has been a background influence on me since I found a Poetry Olympics lp on a secondhand record shelf in my youth) is as energetic still today as the man he said he accidentally found himself sitting opposite on the train to Lime Street this morning - Tony Benn.

    He had stacked many books across the front of the stage which he hadn't used (preferring to stroll around the room with books and - at one point - a kazoo); so at the end I bought The POP! Anthology from Michael Horovitz and he signed it like a twenty-year-old might: To John and all who PARTY here. Breathtaking, like I bet Blake was in his time.
    Tuesday, May 22, 2007
    A poem about Object Relations
    God is:
    - everywhere and nowhere

    - in the detail

    - holding together
    - hiding, self-humbling, playing hard-to-get
    - the muse
    - the music
    - the muscle i don't have
    - the very welcome mystery

    - lines written as part of an exercise in Object Relations Theory on the Spirituality and Mental Health course I attended today. I'd share more of the traumatic self-revelations which the 'face your childhood demons' section of this exercise revealed, but my Relations might Object.
    Monday, May 21, 2007
    Patti is a Scouser
    Last night at Liverpool Academy Patti Smith improvised the name of our city into the climax of one of her most celebrated songs. "G - L - O - R - I - A" became "L - I - V - E - R - P - O - O - L" and the hometown audience, delighted to welcome the first ever inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to this backstreet venue, loved it.

    Of course, this is the sort of thing that many inspirational performers do to win their audiences over. But earlier in the gig Patti had shared with us something quite unique which allayed any suspicions that she may try this again tomorrow in Glasgow, or that she'd had the weekend's ATP crowd singing along to "M - I - N - E - H - E - A - D". She told us that her grandmother was born in Liverpool, and in a wonderful, lengthy prologue to My Blakean Year she took us through her loved one's life story.

    Her grandmother's name was Jessie and she was born in 1894 in the city's dockland area. A poor girl from humble stock she neverthless had a musical talent and she took this with her when, aged eleven, the family emigrated to America. She married a car factory worker, raised a son and before her early death aged just 45 saw her son marry, as Patti put it, "my mother".

    So Patti never knew her Liverpool gran but clearly relished being in the city of her partial origin, and she told us that today she will be searching out the places where her family once lived and worked. Now that's a real connection and it added one more layer of magic to what was, inevitably, a tremendous performance by one of those special artists who you feel privileged to have seen, an artist with a heart for the outsiders and the lost whose songs shine and shudder in your soul.
    Sunday, May 20, 2007
    A1 contemplations
    Jon Nicholson is a photographer. Which is why his book is called A1: Portrait of a Road. I liked it. Because it's a book about a road. Though I think it lacks what other road books (like James Attlee's Cowley Road odyssey Isolarion) have - ie, poetry, it nevertheless has some excellent pics of what once was, and by some still is, called The Great North Road (now that name is poetry).

    This picture here is one of my favourites. What a fertile source for contemplation on the nature and nurture of a sense of place. If you were stood beneath this sign just where would you be? Clearly at a pivotal point in the country. If it's on an approach road it's already clearly southbound - the traveller realising their mistake in heading that direction has to veer left to circle back northwards. Spatial politics: whilst keen to avoid accusations of northern paranoia I do feel moved to ask, why is The South at the top of the sign?

    Leaving Holloway a fortnight ago I opted to walk back to Euston, along one of the 'first' sections of the modern-day A1 (first, that is, if your worldview is Londoncentric). I had just learned from my friend and local man Jonathan that The Hollow Way road was so called because of the way it got eroded by the tread of thousands of hooves in the days when it was the cattle drovers' main route into Smithfield Market. I walked past the old Caledonian Road Cattle Market, marked still by its clock tower, astonishing in scale. Where now joggers jog peaceably, a prodigious amount of cattle and sheep used to be assembled for sale, having been driven there from all over the country.

    Now this sort of detail Jon Richardson misses, because he rather enjoys staying in the car. His book seems to have been sponsored by Toyota. One day perhaps someone will do a slow walk down - or up - the A1 and write about it. That's a ridiculous concept of course, but it could nevertheless complement his work.
    Saturday, May 19, 2007
    Regenerators in detachment
    Sat in The Adelphi this afternoon - that hotel of alleged faded glory, nevertheless a perfectly good venue for a fine wedding reception - we couldn't help looking across Ranelagh Street to the shell of Lewis's, another iconic Liverpool landmark currently being unsentimentally dumped by our city's present so-called regenerators.

    As these opportunists shift the centre of Liverpool's shopping gravity riverwards towards the Duke of Westminster's Paradise Project, it seems that Lime Street (the so-called 'gateway to a world city') is being abandoned.

    Comparing Lewis's and the Adelphi to their glass-steel designer mall replacements being shaped half a mile away to further line the Duke's pockets, I couldn't help thinking of the difference between old Wembley - tattered but homely, and showcase for so many sizzling sporting occasions, to new Wembley - shining today to receive its corporate clientele, host of a sterile forgettable event involving two multinationals almost completely adrift from their tradition and their roots.
    Friday, May 18, 2007
    First JDpod
    Now I won't be doing this too often but today I've had the Audacity to mess about with sound and music to create what I can only think of describing as a JDpod. Ten minutes on a Patti Smith and urban pilgrimage theme, if you can stand it.
    Wednesday, May 16, 2007
    Celebrating the Open Eye

    When as a youth and into my twenties I would frequent the Open Eye Gallery in its first home, an old pub at the end of Whitechapel, I never had any inkling of the broader context of British photography. So I didn't realise that outside of that place (and a few others scattered around the country) the wider arts world looked down on photography as a valid art form.

    Only today, listening fascinated to Peter Hagerty telling the story of how he got the Open Eye going, have I discovered that in 1979 photography was off-limits at The Tate; they couldn't see the art in the form. Photographers were cultural-class outsiders. I had always taken it as a given that photography offered as much inspiration and insight as any other form of visual art. I had always taken as keen an interest in the Open Eye exhibitors as in any other sort of gallery, screen, or stage artists. And I realise now that this profoundly instrumental aspect of my life I owe to that tatty, damp, run-on-a-shoestring idyll of my formative years, a place I'd pop into on most of my many trips to town.

    Hagerty was fascinating on the early history of photography in which Liverpool featured prominently. As one of the world's wealthiest cities it inevitably became a centre for technological innovation and Liverpool nurtured many photographic pioneers. And it was also fascinating to hear about his involvement in the championing of Edward Chambre Hardman: "Every city has its portrait photographers, I was interested in him because of his love for landscapes."

    When Hardman's masterpiece, The Birth of the Ark Royal, appeared on screen during this lecture I found myself deeply moved - partly because you'd need a heart of stone not to be impressed, every time, by that wondrous picture, but perhaps also because behind my viewing of it this time was Hagerty's story of how he got involved in helping to save the house full of pictures which in his dotage the failing, unrecognised, Edwardian genius was letting rot around him.

    And I also found it profound to reflect on the Open Eye's commitment in those early years (it may be the same today) to giving gallery space to little-known or unknown, often local or regional photographers. Again, I'd just always assumed that this was 'the norm', that a Liverpool gallery would of course feature the work of the Bootle Photography Project and their kind. Again, only today have I come to realise the distinctiveness of this approach - which was driven, Hagerty freely admitted, by a very limited budget, but of course signalled a whole lot more.

    I guess one effect of this was to encourage local photographers in their art, and many nurtured by the Open Eye have achieved wide recognition - Tom Wood, John (not me the other one) Davies. But another effect was to encourage susceptible youths like me, at a time when opportunities were few and self-esteem was low, that (a) the ordinary things of our lives were valid subjects for art and celebration; and that (b) we could, at little expense, express ourselves this way.

    Related perhaps to these things, a classic Liverpool exceptionalism also played its part in Hagerty's vision. This was amusingly illustrated in a brief remark he made about a local photographer who achieved commercial success through his association with 80s Liverpool bands: "I don't know what happened to him. He went to London and he's never been heard of since."

    Today's lecture became a trip down a very illuminating part of my memory lane. As Peter Hagerty showed slides of that old Open Eye building and talked about the many good (if edgy and unpromising) things it hosted I recalled the Photography for the Unemployed course I attended there in probably 1983 or '84. Being trusted to take away a fresh roll of film each week was something in itself, at a time when DHSS snoops and society at large had us all down as thieves and cheats; being helped to produce artworks the likes of which we'd never imagined we had in us, was quite something too. It's one of my most treasured photos, taken and printed on that Open Eye training course: a portrait of my nana, Jessie Davies:

    Romy is Mayor

    There were a lot of fears for Romy's well-being as an anti-corruption candidate in the notoriously tortured Philippine elections. He stood in response to the assassination of his colleague and friend by political opponents. As of this morning it looks like he's made it through as mayor of his home town Damulog. Guess we won't be seeing him so much over here in the coming months, then. Guess the real challenge for him starts now.
    Monday, May 14, 2007
    John Barleycorn Reborn
    There was three kings into the east,
    Three kings both great and high,
    And they hae sworn a solemn oath
    John Barleycorn should die.

    They took a plough and plough'd him down,
    Put clods upon his head,
    And they hae sworn a solemn oath
    John Barleycorn was dead.

    On the first Rogation day of the year, it seemed appropriate to learn about a project which should emerge on Lammas on 1st August.

    John Barleycorn Reborn will be a double CD compilation of 'dark folk music from the British Isles', a collection aiming 'to highlight the authentic, stark aspects of the folk tradition, uncensored by Victorian sensibilities, allowing the harshness of our earlier existence and the rawness of our traditional stories to be expressed.'

    Unrelated to the occult, modern paganism or politics, which rightly or wrongly lay claim to much folk music today, this project is more interested in the unrelieved harshness and toil of the working people of these lands, and the folk arts which enabled these people to give expression to their beliefs, dreams, fears, sustaining tales. It'll be out after this year's barley harvest: and I'll be drinking to that.

    And they hae taen his very heart's blood,
    And drank it round and round;
    And still the more and more they drank,
    Their joy did more abound.

    John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
    Of noble enterprise,
    For if you do but taste his blood,
    'Twill make your courage rise.
    Sunday, May 13, 2007
    Tough Minds in a Time of Violence
    Tidying up files on the computer I rediscovered an article I wrote in 1996, Tough Minds in a Time of Violence, my response to the untimely death of Revd Christopher Gray, killed on his Anfield vicarage doorstep aged 32.

    Strikes me now that the legacy of this tragedy for the diocesan authorities was their heavy investment in CCTV on clergy premises. Rather like the legacy of Hillsborough being the government and football authorities forcing clubs to massively invest in all-seater stadia. Rather missing some more fundamental points like how we can learn to be radically nonviolent in a culture of violence, which was what most struck me at Chris's thanksgiving service.

    Eleven years on, my character squeezed and squashed and bruised and battered by a decade of ministerial training and parish slog, it's very refreshing to re-read that article and hear the younger me being open to the possibility of taking such ideals into ministry. Working hard at being radically nonviolent; having a tough mind in a time of violence - I still gratefully take these things as Christopher's great legacy and inspiration.
    Saturday, May 12, 2007
    Honour the game

    - from the excellent first Mersey Minis collection, which arrived in the post today. If they were a little less unscrupulous in their tactics, they would be a popular team in this city. No change there, then.
    Thursday, May 10, 2007
    Simple journey

    This is an extract from Paul Farley's reinterpretation of Polyolbion, Michael Drayton's epic journey in verse around England and Wales. I love the poem, of course, with its Mersey Estuary perspectives and its playful alt.rock Godspeed nod (which means something else to me too).

    I like Farley's interview too, which accompanies the poem in Magma 37 (Spring 2007). In it he talks of being excited by Beryl Bainbridge's update of Priestley's English Journey, when she came to the place where Farley was growing up, and his admiration of other literary journeys such as Paul Theroux's Kingdom by the Sea or Patrick Keiller's Robinson in Space. And especially - because it encourages my own related quest - I like the way he describes what he's trying to do on the journey he is making to retrace Michael Drayton's steps:

    'My own intentions are simply to write as well as I can, I can't offer up any sense of project beyond that. I would like my poem to contain the fizz and crackle, the texture, of the contemporary and our experience of living in this landscape and moving through it. I would admit to that.'
    Wednesday, May 09, 2007
    The river and the sea and what it does to its people

    So today on the Tate course Liverpool and the Avant-Garde: From Modern to Contemporary we looked at some 1897 Lumiere Brothers, at C. Frend's Ealing Comedy The Magnet (1950) and at Waterfront, Michael Anderson's film of the same year about the traumatic life of a seafarer's family seen through the daughter's eyes, and we noted that these films looked outwards from the city, beyond the docks to the questing, questioning sea beyond.

    We saw how Letter to Brezhnev made the same stylistic moves as Waterfront (couple in earnest conversation through a dockland fence, sailor crossing vast space towards the enormous ship which dwarfs him as he boards) - devices to express absence and stasis - but noted that while the woman in the earlier film remained trapped in the city, the 1980s Kirkby girl ended up taking a plane to Moscow to be reunited with her sailor.

    We noted the deeply internal world of Terence Davies' Distant Voices, Still Lives - no waterfront here, just the rooms and stairwells of terraced houses and courts; and we contrasted the portrayal of Gerrard Gardens in Basil Dearden's Violent Playground (1958, in which a young David McCallum plays the tenement block's chief thug in a world of macho aggression) with the 1938 Corporation/Gas Works film Homes for Workers, a celebration of a truly progressive form of housing for its time.

    It left me thinking that (in contrast to its great TV presence) Liverpool's feature film legacy has been quite thin. Though we might have looked at more recent outings like The 51st State, A Revenger's Tragedy and, erm, Priest, to see how the city comes across in them. I was most interested when the opening shot of Homes for Workers panned over a vast outer housing scheme which may well have been Norris Green... but then it returned to inner-city Vauxhall. I think we'll have to wait for some rebel to do their postdoctorate on the legacy and multiple significances of Brookie before the attention of the city's academics drifts away into territory far more uncharted than that familiar theme of the river and the sea and what it does to its people.
    Tuesday, May 08, 2007
    A melancholic muses on the nature of pilgrimage
    Spent a good afternoon in a Holloway pub making plans with Jonathan for our August Iona pilgrimage. Then a train journey home punctuated by James Attlee's own ponderings, in Isolarion, on the nature of pilgrimage. He makes the distinction between the physical pilgrimage and the allegorical pilgrimage.

    The former is a journey to a 'holy place' where the journey is incidental - it's the arriving which matters. His mate Wes (who has published on this subject) says this is the Catholic approach. The latter - provoked by the Protestant work ethic - is an 'internal' journey where the whole of life is a pilgrimage because every minute matters, as in Bunyan:

    "Yes, Pilgrim's Progress is the ultimate Protestant pilgrimage text. The Protestant model of writing is that everything is connected and everything is meaningful; this can be both liberating and oppressive ... [It can also be] a symptom of melancholia. Internalised, withdrawn, brooding on the meaning of life, the sense that what is real is what is going on in your head rather than out in the world..."

    Well, that explains my state of mind most days. But hang on, what about Heaven in Ordinary? If every place is potentially a holy place, potentially a place of pilgrimage then the boundary between the physical and the allegorical begins to blur....
    Monday, May 07, 2007
    Judgement Day
    Off now to see Diamanda in London. I hope to return.

    She plays the piano like driving rain slapping on concrete, and she sings like a demon going to war, a Valkyrie scatting, a lizard queen seeking revenge for the dead….Galás is profound, rigorous, vocally unlimited, terrifying and utterly compelling. To hear her is to have your soul scoured clean. The Age, Australia
    Sunday, May 06, 2007
    On eating rats and loving one another
    Today's sermon: On eating rats and loving one another: two surprisingly related activities.
    Friday, May 04, 2007
    Learning to listen, learning to see
    James Attlee came to realise that to make a pilgrimage you don't have to travel that far. He began to sense that there'd be no more to discover by travelling great distances across the world on tourist routes than there would be by taking a closer look at the road on which he lived. That road is Cowley Road, Oxford, which winds away from The Plain roundabout near Magdalen Bridge, through the inner city area of East Oxford, and into the industrial suburb of Cowley.

    Off the prescribed route for international visitors, nevertheless Attlee noticed that Cowley Road is lined with businesses from all around the world. Not where tourists are advised to spend time, Attlee noticed that this was a road full of variety and promise: from restaurants and sari shops to live music venues, centres of alternative medicine, various sorts of butchers, and a Russian supermarket, Cowley Road has a great deal to explore. So it dawned on him:

    These words form part of the introduction to Attlee's book Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey, which describes his pilgrimage on the road where he lives.

    Reading this today, and reflecting on my own journey to come, I decided to change the strapline on my M62 website. It did read, In autumn 2007 I will walk the M62 motorway corridor, Hull back to Liverpool, in search of the True North of England. That was an impossibly inflated aim. Now it gives the reasons for my journey as being ... because I hope to learn to listen, because I hope to learn to see.
    Thursday, May 03, 2007
    Mersey Minis
    Perhaps more attuned to the usual canon than the contribution to Liverpool's 800th anniversary discussed yesterday, nevertheless the Mersey Minis series of five books for 2007 look like they'll be very lovely indeed. The first one (pictured) has just been published, and if the writing matches the design it'll be a treat.

    Each of the books has a theme and for the one to be published and distributed around the city as a free gift on Liverpool's birthday, 28 August, the publishers have chosen the theme Longing, and are inviting contributions. Their blog provokes writers to 'break free from a conventional style of travel writing, reportage or memoir'. So there's a couple of my very peripheral walks on their way to the competition judges today.
    Wednesday, May 02, 2007
    In the city of mythic promise

    A lunch hour well spent on the course Liverpool and the Avant-Garde: From Modern to Contemporary at the Tate. The more that Robert Knifton spoke the more I got the impression that the psychogeographical impulse was a major factor in his curation of the exhibition: the way he noted that Liverpool, even in loss, was perceived as 'A world city in mythic terms'; the amusing anecdote about Ginsberg being in the habit of calling various other cities 'The Centre of the Creative Universe' - like Milwaukee - followed by the telling observation that with Liverpool the epithet stuck; his use of Situationist quotes to illuminate various artists' interactions with Liverpool: 'Under the street, the beach'; and the way in which he meditated on the process by which a socially peripheral place becomes symbolically central - how Liverpool has been such a force for creativity precisely because it is, at various levels, on the edge.

    Before the end of his fascinating lecture he made it plain that he hoped that in the exhibition he had created a way by which those attending it would be able to use it as a drift, a derive, through the city itself, conscious of how the very fabric of the city has been inscribed by artists, often outsiders who have brought new perspectives to the place. Centre of the Creative Universe: Liverpool and the Avant-Garde, Knifton says, consciously presents 'a revisionist view of Liverpool' - not constrained by the usual histories and nostalgias about the place, but a very different engagement with the city's broader and longer cultural heritage.

    On psychogeography, I was left with the image in my mind (because it spent the first ten minutes of the lecture on the screen) of an Henri Cartier-Bresson photograph of people walking through a semi-derelict district of Liverpool in 1962. Partially thinking that 'post-war reconstruction' had barely begun here even by the year I was born, partially wondering where precisely that picture was taken, and how fascinating it would be to stand in the same spot today, as Cartier-Bresson did then, to see how it had changed. Because one of the best things which Knifton noted (also a strong theme in Stuart Maconie's book) is that these times are far better times for the old cities of the North. The old north-south 'brain-drain' is these days being reversed, and people are drifting back out of London to places like ours: end-of-the-line places "with only the Irish Sea beyond" ... places of mythic promise.
    Tuesday, May 01, 2007
    On being sheep
    Haven't posted any sermons for a while, so time to catch up with last Sunday's: On being sheep, and another post-Easter one, Thomas and our believing. (No Lent posts as we were following a course on the Beatitudes and the one original sermon I wrote then, the introductory one, I seem to have lost; and my Easter Day talk - for which I turned up as most clergy do that day, drunk on sleep deprivation - was off-the-cuff...)