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

    Thursday, January 31, 2008
    Prayer in the wind
    Bless all drivers of high-sided vehicles,
    Bless all seagulls blown off course,
    Bless all shoppers whose carrier bags are erratic sails in a bad storm.
    Bless those who really are at sea, in cavernous calamitous waves.

    Bless the blades of the wind turbines,
    Bless the shuddering power lines,
    Bless the deep roots of tall trees.

    Bless the vulnerable heads of baldies,
    Bless the knocked knees of pensioners,
    Bless the knuckles of straining cyclists.

    Bless the high crane operators, the scaffolders, the window-cleaners.
    Bless the course of the hopeful spot-kick and the aircraft.

    Bless the homeless ones,
    Bless the scared ones,
    Bless the roof tiles.
    Wednesday, January 30, 2008
    Felt like a Saturday...
    It felt like a Saturday tonight, just with the gap between the dash back along the central reservation of Walton Lane and the start of Match of the Day compressed to mere minutes. And after a gritty draw (six first-team players out) v. in-form Spurs we stay confidently top of the 'real' league...

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008
    Flat Earth News in Norris Green
    Nick Davies is a journalist I respect and a mere glance at the title of his new book reveals a great deal about what's inside: Flat Earth News; An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media. It's little surprise to me that Davies can fill 320 pages with well-researched inside stories which, he says, forced him to 'finally... admit that I work in a corrupted profession.' I say that because where I live we have become well used to being the subject of all sorts of media falsehoods and distortions.

    In a community meeting tonight various people pooled their criticisms of the latest manufactured 'story' about the alleged dangers on the streets of Norris Green. The methods employed by ITV's Tonight team creating mischief here at the weekend are wearyingly familiar to local residents after the media jamboree around the genuinely tragic Rhys Jones murder where youngsters were encouraged onto pieces of wasteground to create 'scenes' for the filmmakers. Sure, stones were thrown in camera shot behind the Tonight 'reporter' but at the same time a member of the public phoned the police to say the TV crew seemed to be 'revving the kids up'.

    No-one here is in denial about the problems of minority criminals in our area: but communities like ours could do with the help of journalists with integrity who (if Davies is to believed, and on the evidence before us he is) are rare in a medium which is addicted to pedalling stories 'as false as the idea that the Earth is flat'.
    Monday, January 28, 2008
    Doing it again
    I made the finishing touches to the soundtrack to next Tuesday's walk talk today and I've found myself softening the playlist up a little (with St Etienne's gorgeous Side Streets from Tales from Turnpike House), adding some English satire and whimsy (The Kinks, "Motorway food is the worst in the world", Black Box Recorder, "the English Motorway System is beautiful and strange / it's been there forever, it's never going to change"), mixing in some country goth strangeness (The Handsome Family's Your Great Journey and Jim White's Perfect Day to Chase Tornados), some primal Stones ("I don't want to walk and talk about Jesus / I just want to see his face"), a Nashville knees-up (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's Gone Gone Gone) and one piece of crystalline English folk (The Owl Service's version of North Country Maid).

    Tonight in an empty church hall I pumped up the P.A. to test the maximum effect of my recording of motorway spectres underneath the Ouse Bridge. And, as the perfect lead-in to what might be a satisfactorily chilling section of next week's presentation, I've added in The Gun Club's genuinely scary Ghosts on the Highway, a psychobilly gem.

    Thanks to those who have spiced up the previous posts on this topic with your suggestions. I can't help noting that all of us who have created lists on this subject are of a certain age and gender... but hey, that's what we've always done, and we do it very well...

    [Revised playlist and cd offer below]

    Saturday, January 26, 2008
    On Liverpool's English
    Good to get a visit today from Roy, on a leg of his long walk down England towards his 50th birthday. He scrambled down the edge of the metal bridge by Broadway to join me in a cup of tea and to exchange gifts.

    Punctuated by a trip to Liverpool Cathedral to join 2,000 others hearing Rowan Williams give a masterful lecture on Europe, Faith and Culture (please read it, it's exceptional), I've spent much of the rest of the day reading through parts of the book Roy gave me, The Mersey Sound: Liverpool's Language, People and Places edited by Anthony Grant and Clive Grey. They are colleagues of Roy's at Edge Hill University, which has become the sole academic institution ever to devote serious attention to the spoken language of the citizens of Liverpool.

    Edge Hill Uni in Ormskirk (a West Lancs town with a Liverpool postcode), has seen a fruitful coming-together of scholars there with a common interest in Liverpool's English and this book looks like a fine collection of essays on the history, perceptions and development of Scouse, a form of English far different from the pitiful Harry Enfield and Fritz Spiegl cliches, a very healthy dialect which Kevin Watson asserts, is 'getting Scouser'.
    Friday, January 25, 2008
    A day well spent...
    ... putting all this together. Thanks for all the great suggestions; some weren't included simply because MP3Sugar doesn't have them. M62 Walk CDs burnt to order, let me know if you'd like one.

    Thursday, January 24, 2008
    Peace and long life
    A great journey today - from the Dingle Steps to Liverpool Town Hall, with the partial assistance of Merseyrail, and in the company of Janette Porter, an artist whose work I've featured here before and whose studio is the environment in which she walks, talks and gets others talking to each other, whose work she describes as 'a continuous conversation that aims to empower people'. I'd have loved to have made a morning with Janette a stage on my M62 walk (City Centre to South Docks) but she was elsewhere at the time. Today she surprised me by taking me to an exhibition which I would otherwise have missed: a unique, hugely moving display called Respectacles.

    Here's a picture of Respectacles, taken in a mirror and reversed. All that glitters beneath the Town Hall chandeliers is not gold: it's glasses, six thousand pairs of glasses, spread across the dance hall floor, some stacked up, some in parallel lines suggestive of railway track - each pair there (on the occasion of Holocaust Reminder Day) to represent 'a life which should be respected'. It's a wierd exhibit but powerful: the specs were donated by Liverpool people, some of them labelled with the thoughts and prayers of the donors, all of them displayed with Auschwitz in mind.

    The Town Hall also had various other equally thought-provoking displays on the Holocaust theme: most notably for me many photographs and films of Liverpool Holocaust survivors. One which looked initially like it may have bordered on the exploitative actually turned out to be profoundly moving. A man who I presumed to be the son sat by a very elderly lady seemingly in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's and incapable of speech or much other communication. He was telling her survival story to the camera. It was moving in itself, including the incident where she heard the voice of her missing-presumed-forever sister just behind her in the death camp queue, and made more real by seeing her reveal the concentration camp badge tattoo on her frail bony arm.

    But the most moving thing was at the end of the story's telling, when the son looked at her and prompted her to respond, show some recognition, hopefully some approval, of what he'd been saying about her. She did respond, with an expression which did affirm his faithful words. And the deep love and devotion between them became strongly apparrent. "Shalom," he said to her, this aged frail demented woman who had lived so fully and dramatically through the 20th century's darkest moments and brought a family into the world, "Shalom," he said again, "Peace and long life."
    Tuesday, January 22, 2008
    Three quotes on power
    Three quotes in a short talk I'm giving in Poverty Action Week, prepared today:

    1. If We Had The Power, the poem from Year 3 of Croxteth Primary School which I quoted in full here.

    from Bob Linthicum:
    Power is always present in all human situations, because power is nothing more than the ability, capacity and willingness of a person, a group of people or an institution to act. The ability, capacity and willingness to act is, in itself, neither good nor bad. What makes power constructive or destructive is how it is used and for what purpose it is used (that is, whether it is designed to control and dominate people or to enable people to be in charge of their own destinies).
    3. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

    I know that you can fill in the gaps.

    Mapping from Google Maps UK
    Monday, January 21, 2008
    Learning to love ourselves
    I spent some time today listening to Chris Wood's 2005 album The Lark Descending. Thoroughly compelling English folk music, the stand-out track for me was One in a Million, Chris's interpretation of a Hugh Lupton story about love thwarted and ultimately fulfilled - in a chip shop. Profound because it's so wonderfully ordinary in its setting, I later discovered it won a BBC Folk Award in 2005: justly.

    During the contributors' pre-gig conversation at The Imagined Village at Liverpool Phil last autumn Chris stood out for me as a musician who has done some very hard thinking about the whole topic of Englishness and the potential which traditional music holds to grapple with the tricky issues involved.

    In an article on his website he identifies the root of the problem in scriptural terms:
    The nub of my argument is that the English establishment and our arts administration in particular have focused long and hard on the ‘Love thy neighbour’ part of the second commandment, creating ever more tortured initiatives in pursuit of political correctness. But the secret of the commandment is contained in ‘as you would love yourself’, and if they are thinking of getting around to that part of the commandment, they haven’t done so yet. If I might make a slight paraphrase of the commandment for the situation as I see it here in England – until we learn to love ourselves, we will not understand what it is to love our neighbour.
    What does learning to love ourselves imply? For Chris, the task is to recover an interest in the work of 'that most prolific of all composers: Anon.'
    ... when we ‘English’ look at the legacy left us by Anon., what do we find? Not icons but jewels. Songs, tunes, dances, ceremony, custom, lore, vocabulary, craft, magic and most crucially, an instinctive understanding of the pedagogical power of narrative. Nothing short of ancestral attempts to unriddle the universe. Offerings so perfect in their conception, so apposite, so full of wisdom, so spot-on, so timeless – so ‘English’ – that no ‘cultural initiative’ comes close.
    The story of England which Anon. tells of course stands in contradistinction against 'official history', which is concerned only with the victors. If we listen then we may hear Anon. describing the effect of the enclosure acts in terms as powerful as all those Scottish and Irish songs of the Clearances; we may embrace stories of radical eccentric geniuses like John Ball (Lollard priest thrown out of the church for suggesting that all men were equal in God's sight) or John Clare (peasant poet and maddened chronicler of England's enclosure).

    Chris brings these stories to the surface on his new album Trespasser, released next month. The John Ball song was written by Sydney Carter, another great writer in the tradition of Anon. It's a strong tradition, that of the outsiders who can teach us so much about how to love ourselves.
    Sunday, January 20, 2008
    The roots of modern sorcery beside the Irish Sea
    Talk about knowing the place for the first time. The Serpentine - so named for its snaking course - is a road I've travelled countless times. Posh Liverpool by the sea, twisting along the edge of Blundellsands beside the beach now famous for Antony Gormley statues, location of the city's wealthier types, it appears to summarise suburban respectability. Connecting three big churches, two commuter railway stations, one of the city's most celebrated hotels and the area's main golf course, The Serpentine is very much out-of-town and exclusive. Historically it's been the comfortable home of shipping magnates, JPs, elite civil servants and other business folk. Today rumour has it that millionaire comedy defender Jamie Carragher lives along there.

    Fascinating, then, to discover that outpost of monied respectability The Serpentine was the birthplace of the founder of 'the only religion which England has given the world' (Ronald Hutton) - Gerald Gardner, formulator of Wicca, which began to become widespread after the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951. Interesting to trawl the web and discover that the timber merchant's son was descended from Grissell Gardner, who was apparently burned as a witch in Newburgh in 1610, and that Gerald's own grandfather married a women who was rumored to be a witch.

    They were decent citizens, the Gardners. Hugo Gardner was a seventeenth-century Burgess of Liverpool. The Gardner family established Britain's first timber firm in 1748 and the following century Joseph Gardner III helped create Hall Road station and the Blundellsands Key Park and built the Serpentine water fountain on the Crosby shore for cocklers [source]. Then Gerald, who reinvented the occult for a new set of twentieth-century devotees, reputedly did his bit to defeat Hitler with a sacrificial ritual in the New Forest in 1940.

    These are discoveries I didn't expect to make in reading Joanne Pearson's book: the roots of modern sorcery beside the Irish Sea, so close to my suburban home. Not sure what to do with that knowledge, except to suggest it should be written back into our cultural history which has evidently brushed it out - a convenient oversight for those most concerned with six-and-seven-figure property prices in L23. The Grange - is it still there? Looks like another walk along The Serpentine is due.
    Saturday, January 19, 2008
    Walking Home to 50
    A man who likes to blog as Mister Roy is Walking Home to 50: taking a journey from Southport Pier to Brighton Pier, 'rambling towards my 50th year on this planet (Earth)'. That's 2011 (one year before I reach that age) and the walk, in stages between now and then, sees Roy leave the place he lives now and arrive in the town of his birth. A sort of homecoming.

    What a great idea. I'm humbled to note that Roy got some inspiration for his grand project from my recent walk. I'm also wondering if he'll pass the end of our road on the Transpennine Trail on the next leg of his journey, and if so whether he'll drop in for a cuppa.
    Friday, January 18, 2008
    Let us spray
    Let us spray
    For we know no other way to travel
    than the wet road way

    Let us spray
    Let us aquaplane
    Let us thrash our wheels through a wash
    of wicked water
    Let us squint through a screen of grey

    Let us spray
    Though we endanger
    Our companions on the sluicing skid-surface
    Let us spray
    between their dazzling foglights
    and their indistinct headlights
    Let us spray
    through the terror of dabbed brakelights
    and the torment of the torrent
    Let us spray

    O blackened cloud protect us
    Let us spray
    O dreadful deluge purge us
    Let us spray
    O glassy tarmac shift us
    Let us spray

    -- today, my first M62 journey since the walk. Good to reaquaint myself with the road on a 200-mile round trip. But... it was very wet.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008
    A merry meet
    A Golden Number, the Paschal Full Moon, and a set of complex calculations to determine a code called the Sunday Letters: these ciphers are elements in the arcane art of finding the date of Easter Day. Fundamentalists both Christian and pagan (Julian Cope, take a bow) may very shrilly insist on separating their worldviews from the 'other', but the reality is that spirituality, mysticism and religion of all shades share a great deal in common.

    There ought to be joy in discovering where these traditions connect. It might tell us a lot more about ourselves than we've dared to acknowledge. This Easter is as early in the year as it's possible to be; it's come round immediately after Christmas to hit us between the eyes. But I shall take some solace, pre-Lent, in reading Wicca and the Christian Heritage: Ritual, Sex and Magic by Joanne Pearson. I'm drawn to an author who 'prowls the borderlands of Christianity' seeking to be truthful about the ties which beautifully bind all kinds of believers (Pentecostals and pagans, Orthodox and occultists, Anabaptists and esotericists, Methodists and magicians, and various spiritualists, mystics, gnostics), whether they're comfortable acknowledging this merry meet or not.
    Tuesday, January 15, 2008
    Music for walking motorways to
    Struck me at 5.47 this morning that if I'm doing a book launch gig then I need to put together a disk of M62 walk themed warm-up music. This is what I've come up with so far: bit too literal perhaps? Please add yours...
    Pink Floyd Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk
    Clinic Walking With Thee
    The Birthday Massacre Walking With Strangers
    Boston Walk On
    The Sisters Of Mercy Walkaway
    Depeche Mode Walking In My Shoes
    Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Walking into Clarksdale
    Julian Cope I Gotta Walk
    Dirty Vegas Walk Into The Sun
    Dionne Warwick Walk On By
    Kellie Coffey Walk On
    Craig David Walking Away
    Jessica Simpson These Boots Are Made For Walking
    Supersuckers Roamin' Round
    Doves M62 Song
    Julian Cope Autogeddon Blues
    It's Immaterial Driving Away From Home
    John Shuttleworth The Man Who Lives On The M62
    Monday, January 14, 2008
    It's not the thrill that's gone (just the cash)

    Inadvisable, sneaking a quick look at the DVD you've bought your Dad for his birthday (tomorrow, and hopefully he won't read this before I see him). I ended up watching the first hour-long episode of Long Way Down before forcing myself to click EXIT and wrap the thing. Couldn't take my eyes off it. Possible reasons why:

    (a) The bike thing - it's getting on for fifteen years since I last rode a motorbike, which is about the number of years prior to that when I was almost exclusively a biker. I don't miss biking very often - certainly not in these winter months - but when I see others enjoying full-on two-wheel speed adventures, like McGregor and Boorman and crew did on their epic trip from John O'Groats to Cape Town, I realise that it's not the thrill that's gone (just the cash);

    (b) The lad thing - I think I envy Ewan and Charlie their comradeship, I warm to their pally competitiveness (first one to put their tent up wins), I sense deeply their satisfaction at planning routes together, solving problems together, fixing machines together;

    (c) The son and dad thing - now there was a surprise: one of the highlights of the first show for me was when Ewan's father and brother joined the crew for their first leg, from John O'Groats, and the crew spent a night at the McGregor family home. There they were, the men, riding south through Scotland's roads in convoy, McGregor expressing his pride at being at the back behind his dad. That's where I usually was when I went out riding with my biker (still a biker) father;

    (d) And then of course there's the whole thrilling journey thing - and my epiphany watching Long Way Down is remembering that epic journeys don't necessarily have to be made on two feet: you can make them on two wheels too...
    Sunday, January 13, 2008
    Book Launch
    Here's a modest contribution to Capital of Culture year. (That's the last time I shall write those words as it could get very dull). I'm 'launching' my book locally with an illustrated talk / performance at The Good Shepherd on Tuesday 5 February, 7.30. If you're in the area you're very welcome. Pancakes will be served.
    Saturday, January 12, 2008
    Not missing out
    Great to see Paul Cookson ('Poet - Performer - Editor - Slade and Everton fan') at Goodison today. He hasn't been to many games this season. He's missing a treat. Hasn't stopped him writing about it though:

    Friday, January 11, 2008
    Adding static to proceedings
    Watching the archive newsreel tonight, of Ringo Starr being mobbed leaving his house in Admiral Grove in 1963, it becomes a little clearer why he and the other Beatles felt they had to leave Liverpool back then... for fear that if they'd stayed home they would have been physically torn apart by their exuberent co-citizens.

    Of the four, Ringo has perhaps most explicitly expressed his feeling for his roots, and this weekend's shows (tonight on top of St George's Hall, tomorrow at the new Arena) see him launch the album Liverpool 8. It says something of the hold Liverpool has on him (40-plus years after he left here) that the album's first single and autobiographical title track is framed as an apologia for leaving, a plea for understanding from his fellow-Liverpudlians: "Liverpool I left you / but I never let you down." That made for a pretty poignant start to the 2008 celebrations this evening.

    It's good that the show got on the road with the modestly-shining Starr rather than a more interstellar expat Scouser like his mate Sir Paul (he's inexplicably playing a miserable shed on Anfield Road in June). Tonight's launch had to be glitzy but the way Ringo went about it has added some grit. His career was defined for many by Lennon's silly quip "Best drummer in the world? He's not even the best drummer in The Beatles." Though many, including a penitent Lennon, are on record expressing their admiration for Ringo's skills, the way he's been unfairly maligned aligns him with the experience of this city's citizens over the years. It's not lost on us that his debut album Sentimental Journey pictures a pub - The Empress - which faces the street of his birth, a street now under threat of demolition due to a government-sponsored strategy of managed decline: thus Ringo's presence today keeps live the issue of the Welsh Streets. Culture, after all, is often contested and highly charged. Good that Ringo's appearance adds some static to proceedings.
    Thursday, January 10, 2008
    A nice bit of power-sharing
    In danger of turning this week's blog into a sober news feed, but after the previous entry I can't neglect to share the pleasure being felt here at today's positive activity: police raids before breakfast all over the parish (28 drug related arrests, guns seized) and later the Home Secretary's Croxteth visit where she announced a welcome refinement to the gun laws, the tightening of a loophole which criminals exploit. A nice little bit of power-sharing from the Home Office, a welcome gift to us here.

    [Support The Gun Control Network.]
    Tuesday, January 08, 2008
    If we had the power
    Gangs do not care
    Their bullets everywhere
    We feel so scared at night
    The guns give us a fright.

    Illegal fighting dogs scare us
    Gangsters throw bricks at our bus
    Needles of death in our street
    Dropped by pale selfish people we meet.

    If we had the power
    We would grow the biggest flower
    We could make a change
    And rearrange the bad for the good.

    Kind people in new parks
    Friendly dogs with quiet barks
    Having fun in the sun
    If we try... all this can be done!
    They don't ask for much, the year 3 children at Croxteth Primary School (Little Croccy, as it's known) who produced this poem last summer, before the shooting of Rhys Jones. These 7 and 8 year-olds are just looking for a little kindness and a place to share it.

    It's not often I quote from a Forward in Faith publication but this poem features in an article published in New Directions last autumn, in which my colleague Ian reflects on the context of Rhys's murder from the deep perspective of 27 years continuous ministry at the heart of the Croxteth estate.
    By 1980, when David Sheppard wrote to ask me to 'come over and help us', he described it as among the most deprived of all the parishes in his diocese, with over 80% of residents on some kind of benefit and nearly 60% unemployment. The Sunday Mass congregation was six on a good day. I was about the twelfth priest approached with the plea to 'build up the congregation and serve the local community.' After much thought and prayer my wife and I accepted the call and began the work in which, twenty-seven years later, we are still engaged.
    They have built it up, because on a good Sunday now they may get 25, and as importantly they have tirelessly served the local community (when I dropped in this afternoon Audrey, off to a meeting carrying boxes and files, stopped to engage me in strategic talk about winning grants for children's work provision; their living room, full of cats, is also a workspace where Ian in his various trustee-treasurer roles has laboured to keep numerous fragile community organisations afloat).

    Though invaluable in helping keep a delicate community together, the church is of course very fragile itself at this time. Twenty-five (on a good day) is not enough to pay the quota which the diocese demands; the Roman Catholics - who have been in Croxteth since the 1400s - closed the doors of St Swithins in August 2004 when their numbers dropped below 200. If we had the power, the children say, we could rearrange the bad for the good. People like Ian and Audrey - rightly - believe them. Power is inevitably held at the diocesan Cathedral buildings, at Bishop's Lodge in posh Woolton, in Westminster; will it be shared with the children and the fragile church in Croxteth?
    Monday, January 07, 2008
    Interested in noticing everything
    3.13am: sleepless due to muscular aches and thudding head-pains brought on by winter cold and new-year work anxieties, I switch on the two-bar fire and reach to the bookshelf (there are shelves of books in every room of this house), spend the next hour reacquainting myself with an old friend, a seminal tome, Iain Sinclair's Lights Out For the Territory. Invigorating writing, it reminds me of all that excites me, in mission, in text:
    Walking is the best way to explore and exploit the city; the changes, shifts, breaks in the cloud helmet, movement of light on water. Drifting purposefully is the recommended mode, tramping asphalted earth in alert reverie, allowing the fiction of an underlying pattern to reveal itself. To the no-bullshit materialist this sounds suspiciously like fin-de-siecle decadence, a poetic of entropy - but the born-again flaneur is a stubborn creature, less interested in texture and fabric, eavesdropping on philosophical conversation pieces, than in noticing everything. Allignments of telephone kiosks, maps made from moss on the slopes of Victorian sepulchres, collections of prostitutes' cards, torn and defaced, promotional bills for cancelled events at York Hall, visits to the homes of dead writers, bronze casts on war memorials, plaster dogs, beer mats, concentrations of used condoms, the crystalline patterns of glass shards surrounding an imploded BMW quarter-light window, meditations on the relationship between the brain damage suffered by the super-middleweight boxer Gerald McClellan (lights out in the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel) and the simultaneous collapse of Barings, bankers to the Queen. Walking, moving across a retreating townscape, stitches it all together: the illicit cocktail of bodily exhaustion and a raging carbon monoxide high.
    I am going to start a 'quotes page' on my walk website. This will be the first one in it.
    Sunday, January 06, 2008
    And death shall have no dominion
    Combative poetry this evening for a church full of the recently-bereaved:
    And death shall have no dominion.

    Dylan Thomas: Paul Peter Piech
    Saturday, January 05, 2008
    Allowing people to overhear themselves
    I never really got into John O'Donohue as a writer. In a recent Church Times interview he said (a little playfully) that he couldn’t read spiritual books: "The stuff on spirituality is like candyfloss.” Agreed, and that's how his bestsellers Anam Cara and Eternal Echoes read to me.

    But where John O'Donohue touched me was as an inspirational speaker. His talks held audiences spellbound, uplifted. That, to me, was the great gift he shared with us. He has died, this week, gently in his sleep, but the vigour of his performances will live on with all who heard them, and his devotion to the art of public speaking will continue to be an inspiration to others (like me) who aspire to work the same craft:

    "I always look on a public talk as an almost liturgical event. If the words are presented in the right way and the proper silence is created, then people become implicated in listening to themselves in a way they’ve never listened before. What I’m trying to do is to create a sequence of words - this is exactly it - to create a sequence of words that allow people to overhear themselves. An awful lot of us don’t listen to ourselves at all."
    Thursday, January 03, 2008
    A kaleidoscope, a hall of mirrors, a rainbow

    Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan? Well it works for me. I don't go to FACT that often so I'm clueless as to how to begin reviewing this two-and-a-half-hour-long piece of unique cinematic trickery. Anyway, there's plenty about I'm Not There all over the WWW and it's late and I'm slowed-down full of post-show tapas and Spanish beer. So all I shall add is that of this marvellous film the scene which moved me the most was the one where the Marcus Carl Franklin 'Dylan' (ie the eleven-year old black hobo Dylan) visits the dying Woody Guthrie in hospital and sheds a tear at the outsider genius's deathbed. The scene is overlaid with one of Dylan's most poignant songs, Blind Willie McTell, one which tugs at my heart-strings every time I hear it, and in this filmic context, well...

    That scene brilliantly expresses the idea that Dylan - who the film portrays consistently as the antihero, the reluctant star - is perhaps most 'Dylan' when he's humbling himself before his muses: honouring the hobo maestros, Woody/Willie: members and champions of the poor and set-aside. It's a strong theme in the film, alongside 'Dylan''s counter-struggle against authority figures and those intent on turning him into an authority figure (this is Blanchett's role and she plays it brilliantly). But there are so many themes in the film. It's a kaleidoscope, a hall of mirrors, a rainbow. A butterfly: too elusive to ever pin down and dissect. Like the man, the genius, himself.
    Wednesday, January 02, 2008
    Dirty Tricks
    Wearing a stylish Dickensian topper, a long back cape, knee-high black Doc Martens and a black t-shirt bearing a gnostic incantation, he looked like a character escaped from his own story. I spent Boxing Day morning with the writer of a most enthralling tale, a twisted tale of terror and torment set on the backstreets of Georgian Liverpool.

    I'd forgotten that last year when I read that story I'd suggested to the then-unpublished writer that he Lulu'd it. He had done, and it's been there freely available as a download for a lot longer than my own - quite different - publication. The cloaked creator's excellently-written short story is called Dirty Tricks and the writer is Timothy Blundell, my godson, born on the Christmas Day when ET: the Extra-Terrestrial made its British TV premiere.

    Dirty Tricks won Tim plaudits at school where he wrote it, and online at Lulu from experienced writers. He's conjured a story set between the gutters and chimneys of a soot-darkened city, a tale of grey horses, flintlocks, instruments of torture, its antihero a mercenary with a cracked moral code. It's a bit like Tarantino with smog. Dark stuff, brilliantly realised, an achievement which brings a spark to the heart of this godparent.
    Tuesday, January 01, 2008
    Turning tradition into invention
    The Salt Companion to Bill Griffiths is introducing me to whole new avenues of investigation and interest. Thrill, for instance, at his stimulating take on the Christmas story (quoted in a fine essay by Tony Baker):
    What sort of tale is being telled?....
    Supernatural and fantastic elements abound, but there is also a hard moral core deriving from generations of cultural warfare and a refreshing honesty about the shortcomings of local government under a one-party system. Are strange paranormal forces really seeking to redress the balance between good and evil, smiting down the mighty at the unexpected hour and leaving them cold crowdie to eat? Well, anything is possible if the storyteller is capable of acting as a true mouthpiece of the folk. Theirs is the ultimately radical voice, turning tradition imperceptibly into invention.
    Crowdie is a Scottish cheese made from sour milk and its quality may be gauged by the observation that the word crowdie is derived from crud. Griffiths uses the dialect of his adopted North-East, a language which he championed in his latter years, to stress the moral dimension described so powerfully in The Magnificat. He's modelling the task of all who wish to 'turn tradition into invention' (which connects for me with the Iona Community intention to find 'new ways to touch the hearts of all'). It's a profoundly local task, that of the storyteller deeply engaged with the people, the task of listening to and creatively re-expressing their voice.