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

    Saturday, June 30, 2007
    Reluctance relinquished
    This weekend's ordinations #1: In the smallest ancient cathedral in Britain, beneath the warm gaze of Kentigern and Asaph we celebrated with The Reluctant Ordinand his entrance into ministry, singing Sanctaidd, sanctaidd, sanctaidd Ior.
    Friday, June 29, 2007
    Not just books
    Seeking out tokens for this weekend's ordinands I was tempted to buy up News from Nowhere's entire stock of cards bearing this cartoon. That's my slogan... and that's why they know me in there.

    However on the way out Mandy handed me a flyer drawing me to another aspect of the shop - their considerable stock of local folk and world music, something which I've tended to overlook, on the whole, tending to do my alt. music shopping just off Bold Street at Probe (today's purchase: the sunn 0))) / Boris collaboration Altar).

    Mandy got an hour on Stan Ambrose's Folkscene show last night to play her selections and talk about the links between the shop, music, life and movements for change. All very good (and I really ought to lighten up and embrace more of this music). I recommend you take time this week to click Folkscene on Radio Merseyside's Listen Again.
    Thursday, June 28, 2007
    On our trolleys
    And continuing on from yesterday, the latest Coracle (available for download here) not only features shopping trolleys and a version of my shopping trolley prayer on its cover, but also inside an article penned by Jonathan and me introducing the thinking behind our theme for our Iona week this summer, titled God and the City:
    We hope consciously to bring our city lives with us to Iona. So we and our group of mostly first-time Iona guests will encourage each other to engage with the questions underlying our visit. Some will be treating this as a pilgrimage, and we will try to tease out what that means for them. Is it a physical pilgrimage: a journey to a 'holy place' where the journey is incidental – it is the arriving which matters; or is it more an allegorical pilgrimage – an 'internal' journey on the ongoing search for the connections and meanings behind things? These questions may seem tangential to the search for God in the city, but they are related. For on Iona we want to spend time thinking about what makes a place 'holy' and whether there is any sense in which those places from which we came might also be described that way. We want to consider whether the urban can be a site for pilgrimage, to ask whether it is possible to discover 'heaven in the 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 – and our week on Iona ceases to be an end in itself but a resource to help us on our way back home.
    Wednesday, June 27, 2007
    The everyday level and the thin place
    The latest issue of Variant is out and, alongside some interesting looking pieces on class/sectarianism in the new Northern Ireland, UK urban surveillance, 'Reframing the Poverty Debate' the New Labour Way and the usual engrossing review of left-field 'zines, there's also a helpful piece of writing by Alex Law, reviewing John Roberts' Philosophizing the Everyday: Revolutionary Practice and the Fate of Cultural Theory. Law/Roberts draw out some themes in Lefebvre which resonate with me (even though I don't find French cultural theory easy to follow, so take a deep breath, and:)
    So the everyday is something less than totality, society in its entirety, and something more than any isolated practice like work, culture, leisure, domesticity, technology, consumption, and so on. Lefebvre calls it a level since the everyday mediates between the whole of society and the varied fragments of life. At this level, material necessity in the form of social and natural needs and desires enter into perpetual conflict with the alienated means for satisfying them.
    Now, the idea of a level which mediates between an absolute whole and the fragments of life, is one I'm familiar with through quite a different avenue of enquiry: in so-called Celtic spirituality it's suggested by the Thin Place, which exists at a level where we sense that the divide between earth and heaven is tissue-thin (see George Macleod, 1938, and virtually every article ever written since about Iona, Holy Island, Nevern churchyard, and er, Goodison Park on the day we applauded the late Alan Ball - especially the last one).

    What I notice about a lot of
    such writing is the way it disconnects so-called thin places from 'ordinary' places. Thin places themselves are different, special, disconnected from the norm. I don't find that particularly helpful - or true (ask an Iona island resident if they think it's a thin place and prepare to be educated). What stimulates me about the link with the Lefevre passage is the suggestion that the everyday, itself, is the thin place. What is even more rich about this idea is the suggestion, in Lefebvre, that the thin place is a place of conflict, which again seems to hold deep truth.

    This line of enquiry may make a mockery of my spending lots of time and money visiting Iona every year to rediscover the other Other. I could do that just as well right here. But while I'm there in August, instead of spending all week reaching for that elusive tissue I'll enjoy trying to encounter the island at the everyday level, becoming a tourist possessed not with trying to grasp the Columban experience but instead - you guessed it, Greenbelter - looking for Heaven in the Ordinary.
    Tuesday, June 26, 2007
    Weak and razor sharp
    Archbishop Tutu beat illness to speak at the Metropolitan Cathedral this evening. I was there among the grey and good to greet him (actually our pew was relatively youthful, none over fifty, and I don't think any of us are under too many illusions about our relative goodness). Clearly not the man, physically, that he once was, Tutu had cancelled his appointments this morning and his lecture tonight felt short. But the spark was there still, if only in brief gleeful moments.

    More importantly the heart of the man was still on clear display. His theme was 'Ours is a Moral Universe' which once it sinks in seems a ridiculous statement, in the face of ... well, pretty much everything going on in the world today. But Tutu insisted that each of us have antenna which are trained onto goodness - hence the universal popularity of figures such as Mother Teresa and the Dali Lama (he said, studiously neglecting to include his own name, though our various lengthy applauses this evening might have told him where he stands in our estimation).

    I guess it's that hopeful view of humanity's heart which has enabled him to believe in the seemingly ridiculous projects which he has led to acclaim over the years, not least the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which seems to me to have demonstrated more effectively than anything else in my lifetime, on a world stage, the relevance, validity and effectiveness of nonviolent conflict resolution.

    So Desmond didn't talk for long, and though I couldn't contain my disappointment that I'd not seen him at his best, it was comforting to share with friends the thought that "at least we've seen him, at least we've been here to stand and give him our applause." Coming home afterwards though that didn't feel like enough. Because though it was more feebly stated tonight, when you stop to listen to it closely again, Tutu's message remains razor sharp, and demands a response.

    Tutu was here to officially open Liverpool Hope University's Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies and I guess I'm left thinking that if tonight comes to mean anything in the long term it must mean the people of this city and its academe working hard to ensure that that Centre shines, becomes a powerhouse for influential thinking and a foundation for vital action in the cause of peace.

    I guess I'm left thinking that if tonight comes to mean anything for me personally it may be that for the first time ever I properly grasp the power in one of Tutu's best-known (thus most easily disregarded) quotations: "Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us." A frail old man has caused me to wonder whether I ever really believed in those words, and to hope that maybe one day I really will.
    Monday, June 25, 2007
    Post: Punk: Attitude
    This is a public service announcement
    With guitar
    Know your rights all three of them

    Number 1
    You have the right not to be killed
    Murder is a crime!
    Unless it was done by a
    Policeman or aristocrat
    Know your rights

    And number 2
    You have the right to food money
    Providing of course you
    Dont mind a little
    Investigation, humiliation
    And if you cross your fingers

    Know your rights
    These are your rights

    Know these rights

    Number 3
    You have the right to free
    Speech as long as youre not
    Dumb enough to actually try it.

    Know your rights
    These are your rights
    All three of em
    It has been suggested
    In some quarters that this is not enough!

    Get off the streets
    Get off the streets
    You dont have a home to go to

    Finally then I will read you your rights

    You have the right to remain silent
    You are warned that anything you say
    Can and will be taken down
    And used as evidence against you

    Listen to this

    This is a Joe Strummer statement which I reproduce in support of the Postal Workers striking later this week (even though their action will deny me my ritual Friday New Statesman read). And yes, I have just been watching Don Lett's singularly enlightening documentary Punk: Attitude on More4.
    Sunday, June 24, 2007
    An injustice to the vibe
    I gave up watching Glastonbury on TV, partly because the featured line-up was feeble and uninteresting (on the whole, Lily Allen aside), partly because of annoying repetition across four channels, but mainly because it may be dry and warm on my settee, but watching it there leaves me somehow cold.

    I think the BBC have grasped that a festival isn't really that much about the music but they still haven't found any way to get to the heart of the thing onscreen. Pretty tough task, that. Probably impossible. The closest they ever got were the cosy and genuinely affectionate late-night conversations between Jo Whiley and John Peel in the years before the great DJ's demise, of which she says,

    "Some of my best Glastonbury memories are of the shows I did with John Peel. Of him carrying me on his back at two in the morning when it felt like Armageddon with the storms of '97. The hardest Glastonbury was the first without him - it was a real struggle - I wasn't alone in missing him very, very much."

    Which suggests that it's about the banter, the shared experiences, the human exchanges of all kinds, a festival. A story, lived and shared. All those shots of punters sliding in the mud can't really reflect the feeling they have in being there; the prospect of half-an-hour's coverage of the frankly now-pitiful Who feels like the very opposite of festive; and all those quirky roving reports from the Green Healing Energy Massage field can never do justice to the vibe.
    Friday, June 22, 2007
    There's nothing left for me to tell you

    Time for another dose of Jack and Meg White's twenty-first century blues and at the heart of Icky Thump is a music as darkly primal as anything I ever heard from Robert Johnson. First St. Andrew (This Battle is in the Air) a locked-gates-of-heaven nightmare where over ruptured bagpipes Meg exclaims "I'm looking upwards / Where are the angels? / I'm not in my home / St. Andrew don't forsake me / St. Andrew / Don't forsake me / Who is here to greet me? / The children are crying / I'm not in my home / I travel backwards in ecstasy / Where are the angels? / Don't forget me / St. Andrew / I've been true / What do I need to say? / What do I need to say?"... And then the above, in which Jack White finds just the words to ejaculate every adult male's darkest existential fears. Well, mine anyway.
    Thursday, June 21, 2007
    A day with Bob Linthicum
    A day in Manchester being taught by Bob Linthicum, in the UK to launch his umpteenth book on community organising, Building a People of Power. Now it's about 27 years since I first had my mind blown by the concept of Shalom as taught by the late Jim Punton [classic Punton paper in pdf format here]. And many a time since then numerous good teachers have held up to me the book of Nehemiah as a fine example of how to rebuild a broken community. But it felt quite fresh hearing it all again today.

    In the car crawling back home through the M62 rush hour, Jim and I agreed being disappointed that Bob had studiously neglected to tell us of the failures and disappointments he must have had in his fifty years of doing this stuff, instead choosing to focus on the successes: a pensioners group who stopped a crime wave (he didn't say quite how) and the tenants group who averted evictions by successfully challenging their community bank's redlining strategy (now that was good).

    I'd wanted Bob to acknowledge the great risks attached to standing up against those who use their power unilaterally - the risk of being crushed by the dominators, but also the risk of being rejected by the community being dominated, if they don't think their problem is being articulated properly, or if they don't like the people doing the articulating (something I heard later in the day when someone in the audience at a performance of the Asylum Monologues afterwards said, "When's someone going to do The Working-Class Monologues?", and I know what they mean).

    But we got close to the complexities in a morning session when we broke into pairs and spoke quite rawly about some of the 'inarticulate cries of the heart' we and our communities are feeling today. And it was good to be reminded of fundamentally simple things, like when people approach you with a problem you don't ask "What can I do for you?", you ask, "What is your problem?" followed by "What are you going to do about it?", and how the community organiser aims to set people off on a journey of empowering activity during which at some point the organiser disappears - because the people are doing it all for themselves. For community organiser, in this case, read priest. The church isn't particularly comfortable with designing obsolescence into its schemes but I'd be quite happy to disappear into obscurity if it left a positively-powerful group of local people behind.
    Wednesday, June 20, 2007
    Paroikia postponed
    Well, there were that many anecdotes and celebrations of unsung heroes of contextual, pastoral, radical theology that we never got on to unpacking Paroikia. That'll come, I'm sure. But it was a wealthy conversation and Ken's stories were great.

    My favourite, an exchange between Michael Hestletine, on his first visit to riot-bruised Liverpool as recently-appointed Minister for Merseyside in 1981, and turbulent Toxteth people's priest Fr Austin Smith:
    Hestletine: "You know, violence will get you nowhere."
    Smith: "Well, it got you up here..."
    Tuesday, June 19, 2007
    Unpacking Paroikia
    The concept of the 'parish' arose from ideas of exile. Paroikia (1 Pet. 1:17) is translated as 'exile' (Revised Standard Version) and 'living away from home' (Jerusalem Bible) or 'strangers' (New International Version). How sad that many today see the notion of 'parish' as equivalent to a place which exists only for the 'settled'.
    So writes Kenneth Leech in Doing Theology in Altab Ali Park. It's a brief paragraph pregnant with meaning and tomorrow I hope to tease some of that meaning from him in a lunchtime gathering at Liverpool Cathedral. Honoured. Watch this space.
    Monday, June 18, 2007
    Homes for heroes

    How different the language of Lloyd George from his political descendents today. Reading this shows just how sharply political discussion on the subject has morally descended, as the focus of housing policy has altered from providing homes for the humblest to allowing private enterprise free reign to rampantly alter our cityscapes for profit.

    Whilst on the BBC tonight Lloyd Grossman tried to get a conversation going on the subject of Liverpool's regeneration I've been reading the article sampled above - Jo McCann's ten pages in the Liverpool History Society Journal 2007 on the building of Norris Green Housing Estate, Homes fit for Heroes. It's the fullest treatment of the subject which I've found anywhere and I was struck by the significance of its inclusion in a journal primarily dedicated to marking the 800th anniversary of the granting of the Charter of Liverpool.

    That article being there said to me: this is history every bit as important to our city's story as anything about King John and the giants of capital; that article being there made me realise: this is a description of the last major reconstruction of our city seventy years ago. Telling - reflecting on the difference between Lloyd George's fulfilled vision of political responsibility for the care of all citizens, and the property developer spin of Grosvenor and their ilk.
    Sunday, June 17, 2007
    Common Prayers revisited - #1, the cashiers queue
    PicblessqueuecashiersBless those who will today stand waiting in a cashier's queue:
    For the great patience and good humour which they need.

    A good way to pass a dull hour on the church door this afternoon: by making a first stab at a new set of Common Prayers. All on the theme of queuing. Themes to follow: queuing for medical attention (doctors, hospital, chemist), queuing for tickets (cinema, sports ground), queuing for food (lunchtime sandwich bar), being put in a telephone queue ('Your custom is important to us - please wait...'). Watch this space.
    Friday, June 15, 2007
    Played in Liverpool
    "How dreadful water tastes without the benefit of whisky," said Captain Martin Becher on being thrown from his horse into a brook at the 1839 Grand National, thus unknowingly birthing a legend. Becher's Brook is almost certainly now the most famous jump in the whole world.

    Full of small significances like this, Played in Liverpool is a pure delight. It is the latest in English Heritage's series of books detailing the sporting heritage of our cities. These histories illuminate the cultural and architectural gems which lie hidden or neglected in our cities, and Ray Physick and Simon Inglis have done a marvellous job in bringing them to light in a book where every page is rich in delightful details.

    I knew of course about the Toffee Lady, unique 'dispenser of sweets to the Everton faithful before every match', but Played in Liverpool has introduced me to Charles Melly, the 19th century philanthropist cotton merchant who ensured that the lumpen public got parks, and whose lobbying helped provide Liverpool with seven Olympic Festivals staged long before (and influencing) the modern Games' reintroduction in 1896. I knew of course about the canny city engineer John Brodie who designed football’s original goal nets, but reading about the Royal Mersey Yacht Club revealed a whole new world to me - a world blessed by the presence of the Mylne Class boats, the club's signature craft, the originals built by Alfred Mylne on the Clyde in 1935.

    Physick writes, '... in looks and in its handling, the Mylne remains a classic, and to its admirers, no less emblematic of the Mersey skyline than the city's more familiar landmarks.' And this detail, alongside the hundreds more in this rich book, indicates a wealth of Liverpool people's history previously unrecorded, wonderfully celebrated here.
    Thursday, June 14, 2007
    A weakness exposed
    Josie Long tells us that she's been learning from a more experienced, wise performer friend, to turn her weaknesses into strengths. Get to know yourself, and in the honest appraisal of your character focus on the negative side so as to find ways towards making the negative positive. She then tells us that her weakness is her stomach (and admittedly she is a little chubby in that area). And then she demonstrates how she has turned her spare tyre from a weakness to a strength, by pulling up her t-shirt to reveal her midriff on which she has felt-tipped a picture of a bright blue tidal wave, above which, in yellow ink, arches the word MARVELLOUS. It's very good.

    I'd diaried-in the day as one in which I would begin writing my next round of Common Prayers but spent that time instead looking up the rental prices of serviced apartments in Leeds city centre. Not a totally wasted day but a weakness exposed. So an evening at Liverpool Comedy Festival with a dose of Josie's heavenly ordinariness was very refreshing.
    Wednesday, June 13, 2007
    So it's a coast to coast
    So this is where the walk will begin: at the end marker for the Trans Pennine Trail on the prom at Hornsea. It's a fifteen-mile stretch along abandoned railway routes into Hull from there; and the start of the M62 is a further twenty-plus miles westwards on foot. But it'll be good to begin my autumn adventure beside the seaside. The first sixteen days' route planned, I'm starting to book accommodation now...
    Monday, June 11, 2007
    The Red House

    On Great George Street someone has covered the outside of a derelict tenement block with old front doors, all painted red. This is good public art because nowhere does it explain itself: the only sign anywhere on the doors is an old one saying BEWARE GUARD DOGS. It's left to the inquisitive passer-by to investigate and ruminate (and occasionally it seems, around the back of the house, urinate) on it. So: a source of curiosity and inspiration but also (and this is also a mark of the best public art, I think), its really good fun!
    Sunday, June 10, 2007
    Pray for the City

    I'm leading a city centre walk tonight, themed around gateways [map and details on pdf here]. And encouraging the pilgrims to leave around en-route sticky labels with prayers on them as a way of launching an experimental website, Pray for the City. You can join in from where you are.

    Modest Flickr photoset of the occasion here
    Notes from the walk (unedited) here
    Saturday, June 09, 2007
    Beneath the sofa
    What speaks to us, seemingly, is always the big event, the untoward, the extra-ordinary: the front page splash, the banner headlines... The daily papers talk of everything except the daily... We sleep through our lives in a dreamless sleep.
    - George Perec, one of the many quotes in Queuing for Beginners which shall stay with me for a long time. A wake-up call, encouraging a different way of looking at everyday life.

    I shall also long remember the experience of being sunk deeply into the settee finding myself reading Joe's chapter detailing the history and social significance of the sofa. The sofa - which focuses our anxiety about the evidence it provides that we spend much of our lives simply sat down not doing very much
    . The sofa - keeper of memory of our lives:
    As its occupant gets up, its seat leaves a temporary trace of that person's shape and warmth ... Sofas also remind us of past times by accumulating the detritus and marginalia of our lives. Pet hairs, dirt and food stains settle on them; and pens, crumbs and remote controls fall underneath them, or down the gap between the cushions and the upholstery.
    Joe quotes a financier's estimate that nearly £1 billion in small change lies forgotten in British homes, 'much of it presumably down the backs of sofas'. Besides all the other observations in Joe's
    wonderful book, that one alone is worth our investigation. Help me with these cushions....
    Friday, June 08, 2007
    Galatians 1 - Grace against favour
    Wow, that took a long time. But I think it was worth it. Sunday's sermon, if you want to get ahead of yourself.
    Wednesday, June 06, 2007
    Creating energy flows
    About ten years ago my life was blessed by being in the company of students and our Sunday lunchtimes were spent happily eating together at one or other undergraduate pad. One Sunday afternoon, prompted by me seeing a series of pictures like this, in one of his books, we went out to Sefton Park to do an Andy Goldsworthy.

    It was great fun, collecting twigs of related shapes and sizes, gathering together in a circle in a clearing in the trees, and composing ourselves in anticipation of the next move, which was to throw the wood up in the air, simultaneously and with force, whilst one of us (was it me? I can't find any evidence) took a photo of the moment. The patterns which formed against the sky, captured on camera and held in our minds' eyes, were one outcome of this event. And a beautiful, thrilling, joyous outcome those patterns were.

    I've just spent the evening of my birthday watching a beautiful gift to me, the gorgeous film about Goldsworthy's work, Rivers and Tides. In the film's closing sequence Goldsworthy gathers snow and tosses it high, and we watch with him the powder breaking up in the air and creating complex and beautiful patterns as it drifts across a line of trees. Having seen that it strikes me that another outcome of what we did in Sefton Park, and what Goldsworthy does in all his art, was to create energy flows.

    Goldsworthy talks a lot about the flow of energy through the world, making natural connections between the obvious (currents in a river) and the less obvious (zinc which makes a river's rocks red also being responsible for the colour of human blood). There's a physicality to his work which is apparent to anyone who looks behind a photo like this one here - the collection of wood, the motion of throwing, the movement of wood through air, and the subsequent scattering of the crowd to escape from potentially dangerous falling wood. And in that physicality, energy.

    Ten years older and at 45 no longer blessed by the company of students I'm inclined to assume that my failing body is losing energy all the time; Goldsworthy's work, however, helpfully alerts me to deeper energy sources which if tapped into might just keep me going, even further into my dotage.
    Tuesday, June 05, 2007
    About the Book and the Journey
    We ran a pensioners' coach trip to Stratford last week. One of the travellers told me today, "It was lovely seeing Shakespeare's grave". Meanwhile I'm reading John Pemble in this week's LRB saying, 'Literary tourism is naff':
    It means coach parties, blue plaques, monuments, the National Trust, Friends of this and that. It buys from Oxfam books like The Bronte Country, Dickens's London, With Hardy in Dorset, Literary Bypaths of Old England, The Land of Scott. Academic libraries don't cater for it, and academic critics have about as much regard for it as they have for Disney World or back numbers of Reader's Digest. It's been out of favour since at least the 1750s. ... Coleridge and the Romantics, then Henry James and Virginia Woolf, then the New Critics of the 1930s, followed by Barthes, Derrida and the deconstructionists, have scolded literary tourists. 'The author's dead!' they've told these vagrant supplicants again and again. 'So go home, sit still and read the works!'
    I doubt that will
    convince our pensioners not to take off again, perhaps to Haworth next time, or Dove Cottage. Don't tell them, but I'm with John Pemble in his critique of 'soap, fudge and biscuit tin' tourism; but I'd still go for some literary tourism myself: the Laugharne trail is one I'd like to make. And my M62 walk might be regarded as a sort of aberrant Iain Sinclair homage.

    Considering then that one-thirds of my journey will actually be static, sat at a table in a County Antrim
    tower, writing up the previous months' experiences, I was taken by an insight of Premble's regarding the root nature of literary tourism:
    It's all about books and journeys, after all, and the Book and the Journey are powerful religious archetypes. But Christianity has traditionally been divided over which takes precedence. On the one hand, there's Catholic piety, which popularises the Journey over the Book; on the other, Protestant piety, which popularises the Book over the Journey. In the literary tourist, heading for a writer's birthplace with a biography in his luggage, it's easy to spot the Catholic pilgrim, led by hagiography to the shrine of a saint. And it's just as easy to spot the Protestant pilgrim, whose destination is Jerusalem, in the travel writer, who expounds the eucharistic mystery of place.
    So ... two months pilgrimage, one month reintegrating with the word. I step out in a catholic spirit but seemingly cannot escape the clutches of my protestant heart.

    Monday, June 04, 2007
    Recognise the ritual
    The modern meeting [is] a fertile ground for bullshit. For the philosopher Harry Frankfurt, 'bullshit' is language that simply evades conventional categories of truth and falsehood, and is thus much harder to pin down than lying. Bullshit is likely to occur 'whenever a person's obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more extensive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic' Modern meetings are precisely these sorts of occasions, requiring you to give a smooth impersonation of someone who knows what they are talking about. They often value unanchored thought, sometimes called 'blue-sky', 'outside-the-box' or 'upside-down' thinking to suggest its lack of boundaries and constraints. During a brainstorm or 'thought shower', the facilitator may remind the group that 'all ideas are good ideas' or invite them to 'run a few ideas up the flagpole and see if they get a salute'. People are actively encouraged to play roles and change their views according to their different areas of responsibility ('with my resources hat on ... '). Fluency, even if it is made up of bullshit, is more valued than awkward silence, even if it inspires thoughtfulness. Bullshit is always more likely to occur when business culture stresses the importance of enthusiasm, passion, creativity, energy, buzz rather than, say, the ability to ground ideas in knowledge or logical thinking.
    Joe Moran's chapter on meetings is gleeful in its exposure of the banalities of corporate-speak, the dispiriting dullness of PowerPoint presentations and the hopelessly self-perpetuating nature of all such activities. I laughed out loud at many points he makes, most of which have been covered in a different, equally incisive way by Dilbert. But towards the end of the chapter there's a hint of something else. Meetings are a ritual...
    The modern meeting remains the most formal occasion in our daily lives. It has introductory rites (apologies for absence, matters arising), a liturgy (agenda items for discussion) and concluding rites (any other business, date of next meeting). Everything is recorded for posterity in the holy book known as 'the minutes', which are typed up, circulated and agreed at the next meeting. The meeting takes place in a designated space (the meeting room), and is presided over by a kind of priest or elder (the chair) who may begin with a recitation (on PowerPoint). The participants break bread together (triangular sandwiches or shortbread biscuits) and dress in ceremonial garb (business suits and ties). Like many rituals, the meeting is rooted in the politics of daily life but aims to transcend the difficult issues of power and status through the use of formality and ceremony.
    Joe says that we're not usually aware of the ritual status of meetings because we're so bored and disenchanted by them. So we find our little ways of subverting them but we never challenge their underlying nature. Recognise the ritual and ... anything could happen?
    Sunday, June 03, 2007
    My first purchase of a Sunday paper for some time today, drawn to The Observer by the promise of a 32-page City Walks supplement. Promoting the idea that on-foot exploring can open up realms of discovery in the previously-overlooked parts of our urban areas, and citing Bob Gilbert's seminal The Green London Way as an inspiration Pas Paschali's introduction only fails at the last when he feels the need to suggest that 'urban walks could be seen as a first step towards more ambitious walking, in the countryside, or on national trails'.

    That depends, Pas, on your definition of 'ambitious', but I won't dwell on that. Oh, well, except to say that the first route in the supplement invites the walker onto an 8.5km journey linking the Shankhill Road with the Falls Road, with Paschali breathily promoting the area as an 'open-air free museum' of The Troubles. Hardly needs saying that ten, fifteen years ago, walking that route would have been ambitious, for all sorts of reasons, and that today many contrary-ambitious walkers find sites of urban conflict to be fertile territory.

    Everything in the Sunday papers has a promotional tie-in of course, and this supplement, which I'll carry on my M62 walk to guide me through the sanctified urban-tourist (neo-tourist? uber-tourist? gucci-tourist?) routes in Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, was really designed to encourage readers to subscribe to www.walkingworld.com which is an online repository of over 3500 walking routes, urban and rural, from all around the country. Pay them the odd sum of £17.45 and you get a year's worth of online info at your fingertips. I was persuaded quite easily, once the walkingworld search engine brought up six pretty interesting M62 related walks, plus a few around Saddleworth and some which will help connect me on my travels between East Hull and North Cave (source of the M62). And this one here, under the M60 in The Mersey Valley.
    Friday, June 01, 2007
    The coast and the commerce coexist
    On Crosby beach today a four-year old girl, thigh-deep in water, her soggy skirt spreading on the surface like a drifting jellyfish, made a game of throwing balls of dripping sand at the calves of a lifesize iron man. Behind and around her the family's golden retriever danced and splashed. The Gormley at the centre of their play remained, as all the Gormleys remain, impassive, gazing out towards Ireland. Further along the beach someone had very carefully dressed a Gormley in a hoody - it must have been difficult to get the solid metal arms into the sleeves - and nearby another two iron men stood waist-high in a sandbank; serene.

    The view from Crosby beach is interrupted. Occasionally by a passing craft, such as the high-speed Emeraude France bouncing into port for a rapid turnaround, receiving a boatfull of TT-goers whose bikes have filled all roads into Liverpool all week en-route to the centenary races. But the view from Crosby beach is interrupted more fixedly by a growing array of gas exploration platforms and wind turbines off and beyond the Mersey Bar. Though static, the scene is busy. And the instinct to complain about the intrusiveness of these off-shore energy platforms is tempered by the realisation that these waters have always been industrialised, the coast and the commerce coexist. That's the reason why we, the little girl, her dog and The Gormleys are here.